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Old 05-30-2003, 06:02 PM
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Default Appeals court upholds five capital murder convictions

Appeals court upholds five capital murder convictions

The Associated Press
5/30/03 7:05 PM

Associate Press Writer

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- An appeals court has upheld the capital murder convictions and death sentences of five death-row inmates, including a former state trooper convicted of burning his wife to death in her car.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in rulings released Friday denied an appeal by George Martin, convicted of killing his wife, Hammoleketh Jackson Martin, 33, in 1995. The judges also affirmed lower court rulings in the cases of Earl Jerome McGahee, convicted of killing his ex-wife and another student at a junior college in Selma in 1985; Christopher Lee Price, for killing a minister in 1991; Cuhuatemoc Hinricky Peraita, for murdering Holman Prison inmate Quincy Lewis in 1999 and Gerald Patrick Lewis, convicted in February 2000 for the murder of Misty McGugin in Baldwin County.

In Martin's petition from Mobile County Circuit Court, the state appeals court voted unanimously that the death sentence was appropriate after considering the trial proceedings.

Prosecutors had argued that Martin, who was approaching bankruptcy, had $377,000 in life insurance policies on his wife when she was found burned in her Ford Escort on an isolated road near the couple's home in Theodore.

The trial jury, in an 8-4 vote, recommended a sentence of life in prison without parole, but the trial judge rightly overrode the jury's decision and imposed the death penalty, the appeals judges ruled.

"Martin killed his wife in order to collect approximately $377,000 in life insurance," appeals court Judge Kelli Wise wrote for the majority. "Similar crimes have been punished by death on numerous occasions."

The trial judge noted that the victim's body was burned so badly, forensic experts could only recover 24 pounds of it. There also was evidence she was alive when the gasoline-doused vehicle was set afire.

Attorney Al Pennington, who penned Martin's appeal, said there were numerous reasons the case should be overturned.

Those included the fact that a state forensic sciences department expert testified that a pair of pants used as evidence could have easily been tainted by other evidence stored with them. The expert testified that gasoline on newspapers could have gotten on to the pants prosecutors said Martin was wearing to commit the crime after both were stored in a paper bag in the trunk of a law officer's cruiser.

"It's just beyond me that they upheld this conviction," Pennington said Friday. "I've been working on death penalty cases since 1977 and I cannot imagine that this conviction would be upheld."

Assistant Attorney General David Clark, who initially prosecuted the case for the state, was on military duty and unable to be reached for comment.

Appeals court judges also upheld the conviction and death sentence of Earl Jerome McGahee, who was convicted in Dallas County Circuit Court for the 1985 killing of his ex-wife, Connie Brown, and Cassandra Lee, a student at George C. Wallace Junior College in Selma.

Among other claims, McGahee argued in his second round of appeals that he was denied a full and fair hearing because his attorneys were not allowed to fully develop evidence and testimony during the trial.

Judge Sue Bell Cobb, writing for the majority in the unanimous opinion, said the court found "no abuse of the trial court's discretion in the court's rulings."

The appeals justices also upheld without an opinion the conviction and death sentence in Christopher Lee Price's second round of appeals.

Price, of Winfield, was convicted in 1991 of murdering Church of Christ minister Billy Lynn, 57, with a knife and a sword at his Fayette County home.

State courts previously rejected Price's appeals, which included a claim that potential jurors joked about the murder weapon being an ax.

Appeals court judges also denied the appeal of Cuhuatemoc Hinricky Peraita, convicted of murdering Holman Prison inmate Quincy Lewis while already serving life without parole for three murders in Gadsden.

Prosecutors argued that Peraita held Lewis down while inmate Michael Castillo stabbed him with a prison-made knife. Peraita told investigators he and Lewis had been "partners" who protected each other. Peraita allegedly had arranged to "buy" Castillo with cigarettes.

When Peraita refused Lewis' demands that he also have sex with Castillo, Lewis threatened both men. The disagreement ended months later with Lewis' death, according to Peraita's account.

In his appeal, Peraita argued that he was deprived of due process, a fair trial and a reliable sentencing as a result of numerous allegations of error during his trial.

But Judge Pam Baschab, writing for the majority, said after researching trial records, no error was found that "may have adversely affected the appellant's substantial rights."

Judge Sue Bell Cobb dissented, saying she believed the trial court erred when it prevented an expert on prison psychology from testifying during the trial's guilt phase.

Gerald Patrick Lewis also had his capital murder conviction and death penalty upheld by the criminal appeals court judges. Lewis was convicted of killing two women in Alabama and received a death sentence for murdering 21-year-old Misty McGugin in Baldwin County.

The appeals court justices, however, did remand the case to the trial court for resentencing on his attempted kidnapping convictions, saying a life sentence was too harsh for the crimes.

The Lewis ruling Friday marked the first time that an Alabama appeals court recognized mitochondrial DNA as evidence, said Tom Parker, spokesman for the state courts system.

Mitochondrial DNA can identify a person as belonging to a particular family line, Parker said. Nuclear DNA, which can identify a specific person, has been accepted in the courts for years.

Mitochondrial DNA became an issue in the case because McGugin's body was too badly decomposed to identify her based on nuclear DNA evidence.

Besides McGugin's murder, Lewis was sentenced in August 2000 to life without parole for the killing of Kathleen Bracken in Mobile County.

Judge Sue Bell Cobb dissented from the majority in part, saying the jury could have concluded that Lewis raped McGugin after he killed her, requiring he be charged with abuse of a corpse.
Monica Danielle
On September 22, 2003, my better half came home after 657 days in an Alabama prison!!!

And he's now forever free - passing away from this life and into the next - on January 9, 2010.

My Sweet Wayne
January 21, 1954 - January 9, 2010

I'll always love you.
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