Post by SoulTrainOz on Jul 20, 2006 20:18:15 GMT -5
Prosecutors in Beaufort seeking the death penalty against a woman accused of killing a brain-damaged and physically disabled man have completed their case.
Prosecutors played more of 24-year-old Samantha Morgan-Major's confession before ending their presentation yesterday.
Morgan-Major already has pleaded guilty to murder in the death of Brett Kinney in 2004. Circuit Judge Roger Young must decide whether she is sentenced to die.
Morgan-Major told authorities the details of the attack on Kinney, which lasted more than 40 hours. She says she and co-defendant John Francis d**eman Junior beat, strangled and stabbed Kinney. Morgan-Major says they also tried to inject an air bubble into a vein on his neck.
Post by SoulTrainOz on Jul 21, 2006 2:24:14 GMT -5
Defense: Family, drugs led woman facing death penalty to violence
In Beaufort, untreated psychiatric disorders, substance abuse and a troubled family life led a 24-year-old woman facing the death penalty for killing a brain-damaged man to a life of crime and violence, attorneys for the woman argued.
Lawyers for Samantha Morgan-Major opened their case Wednesday by saying although their client readily admitted to the May 2004 murder of Brett Kinney, mitigating circumstances should compel Circuit Court Judge Roger Young to spare her life.
Morgan-Major pleaded guilty in January to murder, meaning Young will decide if she gets life in prison or the death penalty.
If she is sentenced to death, Morgan-Major would become the first woman on South Carolina's death row since 1992. South Carolina hasn't executed in a woman in nearly 60 years.
A Charleston social worker who evaluated Morgan-Major said the defendant had displayed a number of risk factors for violence since birth.
"You could expect that without intervention, there'd be violence," Jeff Yungman testified Thursday.
Both of Morgan-Major's parents and all but one of her nine siblings have been arrested. Her father robbed banks to support his cocaine habit, and Morgan-Major claimed her stepfather physically abused her, Yungman said.
Morgan-Major began exhibiting violent behavior at an early age, trying to burn her brother with a lighter and being arrested for assault by age 12, Yungman said.
To cope with her chaotic childhood, Morgan-Major began drinking alcohol at age nine and was regularly using LSD by age 14, another defense witness testified.
"Any feeling is better than what she feels on a daily basis," said Alex Morton, a psychiatric pharmacologist at the Medical University of South Carolina.
The day she and co-defendant John Francis d**eman Jr. abducted Kinney, Morgan-Major said she took large amounts of LSD, cocaine and painkillers.
d**eman also faces murder charges and is awaiting trial.
Kinney's family members, who have been in the courtroom throughout the sentencing, said they didn't think drug use and a dysfunctional childhood should excuse her from the death penalty.
"I have empathy for her, but it still doesn't give her the right to go out there and hurt someone else," said Connie Cormier, Kinney's sister.
Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday by playing Morgan-Major's taped confession to authorities.
In a statement made days after leading police to Kinney's body, Morgan-Major told authorities the details of the attack on the man, which lasted more than 40 hours.
Morgan-Major said she and d**eman beat, strangled and stabbed Kinney, tried to inject an air bubble into a vein on his neck and left him in a freezer before deciding to take him to a graveyard where he was finally killed.
The sentencing hearing is scheduled to resume Thursday morning.
Post by SoulTrainOz on Jul 22, 2006 7:47:33 GMT -5
Closing arguments to be presented today
By LORI YOUNT, The Beaufort Gazette
During the 40-hour murder of a brain-damaged and physically disabled Brett Kinney, Samantha Morgan-Major was suffering from an array of mental illnesses and effects of drugs, including hallucinations, a psychiatrist testified Thursday in her death penalty sentencing hearing.
However, Morgan-Major, 24, knew what she was doing was wrong, psychiatrist Donna Schwartz-Watts said in her more than two-hour testimony.
"It didn't cause her to kill," Schwartz-Watts said of Morgan-Major's psychiatric disorders, adding that they might have been exacerbated by a drug prednisone given to her a month earlier. "She was seeing the faces of people who harmed her and was having flashbacks. ... It was difficult for her to conform her impulses to the law because substance abuse and underlying mental illnesses were involved in what happened."
The defense rested Thursday in its case to spare the life of Morgan-Major, who pleaded guilty in January to Kinney's murder in May 2004, with expert witnesses describing her extensive illnesses and traumas and the hard life she faces in prison.
If sentenced to death, she'll be the first woman on death row in South Carolina since 1992 and if executed, the first woman in the state since 1947.
Schwartz-Watts, who conducted a thorough report of Morgan-Major's psychiatric history, had diagnosed her with borderline personality disorder, antisocial traits, masochism and post-traumatic stress disorder from physical and sexual abuse, among other diseases.
Morgan-Major's family members and friends sexually abused her as early as age 8, Schwartz-Watts said Morgan-Major and another relative told her. Morgan-Major's 7-year-old son, Sebastian, was a pregnancy that resulted from a rape when she was 16, Schwartz-Watts said.
Morgan-Major, who had worked as a prostitute, had reason to be angry with Kinney, not to his own fault, she said.
"When they engaged in sexual acts, he asked her to dress up like a little girl," Schwartz-Watts told the judge. "It was a reminder of past incidents -- anger tied to her past."
Morgan-Major said she hallucinated while stabbing Kinney in the head, which was hours into his abduction, and Schwartz-Watts said she probably wasn't on drugs but was suffering from withdrawal when Morgan-Major first kidnapped and stabbed him.
Kinney's sister, Marlene Kinney, said she didn't believe Morgan-Major's characterization of a sexual relationship with her brother, who authorities said had known Morgan-Major and loaned her money before his abduction.
"All they have to go on is what (Morgan-Major) says," Marlene Kinney said.
The defense also tried to show a softer side of Morgan-Major with testimony from social worker Caroline Long Burry, who observed the confessed murderer interacting with her son, who Burry said is quite attached to his mother.
Sebastian wasn't brought into the courtroom by Morgan-Major's request, but Burry described a second-grader who is exceptionally bright, unlike his mother was in school, had a "sparkle in his eye" and "lit up" when he saw his mother.
"He loves her," Burry said forcefully. "He'd like to continue to see her."
For most his life, Sebastian has been living with Morgan-Major's mother, who experts have testified didn't provide supervision or stability in Morgan-Major's childhood. He's only able to see his mother occasionally when she's incarcerated.
However, Burry insisted Morgan-Major was interested and knowledgeable of her son's life, including knowing his class schedule, teachers' names and levels he's achieved in his video games. She also "picks" on him and asks if he's brushing his teeth and other motherly inquiries.
Losing not just a parent, but a mother, to execution would be devastating to a child already genetically predisposed to mental illness and substance abuse, said Burry, who has studied children of death row inmates and testified for death penalty defenses before.
"It's not like any other kind of loss," she said. "It's scheduled. It's a human decision that can be made or unmade. It's a death that deals with stigma."
If she receives life in prison, though, Morgan-Major faces anything but a "country club" penitentiary, according to the testimony of Kathleen Powell, program manager for the mentally ill and retarded at the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
"She'll be in a six by 10 cell for the rest of her life with very, very few privileges," she said.
Powell, who has dealt with Morgan-Major before, said she has a team of staff ready to greet her when she arrives in Columbia for any sentence, and Powell reiterated she was confident Morgan-Major could be controlled, as many other difficult inmates have been.
Though Morgan-Major is a memorable patient for her hostility toward officers, including an assault with a chess piece, Powell said Morgan-Major wouldn't be the first inmate in the state's facilities who has used an object to attack an officer.
"That's reassuring to know," 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said during cross-examination.
Despite long discussions with her court-appointed attorneys, Sam Bauer and Nick Felix, Morgan-Major declined to testify at the end of the day. She retains the right to make a statement at the end of the hearing.
"In a way she's already testified," Stone said. "She really gave a statement to the police that's probably the most disgusting, vile statement I've heard."
After closing arguments, which are scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. today, Morgan-Major's life is put in the hands of Circuit Court Judge Roger Young.
Young, 46, assumed the bench in 2003 as a resident judge in the 9th Judicial Circuit after working in private practice handling mostly civil cases and serving in the state House of Representatives, as a municipal judge in North Charleston and as Master-in-Equity for Charleston County. His 2002 nomination for circuit judge has no mention of involvement in death penalty cases.
He was appointed by the S.C. Supreme Court to preside over Morgan-Major's death penalty case, and by her pleading guilty, the decision of her sentence rests with the judge.
Stone, who said he thinks Morgan-Major's decision to plead guilty was based more on strategy than remorse, said he doesn't question pursuing the death penalty in this case.
John d**eman Jr. also faces a murder charge and the death penalty in Kinney's death. He is awaiting trial.
"Had I not asked for the death penalty, I wouldn't be able to ask for it any other case," he said.