Jury sentences Ronk to death

Timothy Ronk (Photo source: Biloxi Police Dept.)
Timothy Ronk (Photo source: Biloxi Police Dept.)
Michelle Craite (Photo source: The Sun Herald)
Michelle Craite (Photo source: The Sun Herald)

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -  A Harrison County jury Friday night decided a convicted murderer deserves to die for his crime.

On Thursday Timothy Ronk, 31, was convicted of Capital Murder for killing Michelle Craite in her Biloxi home and setting her house on fire in August 2008.

Assistant DA Alison Baker says Craite's body was so badly burned her family could not hold a viewing at her funeral.

"This defendant deprived Michelle's family of seeing her one last time. Think about the victim. Think about her family and their loss. You are not taking the life of Timothy Ronk. He forfeited his life on August 26, 2008."

Defense Attorney Eric Geiss told the jury, "As the State has said Timothy Ronk has forfeited his life. That is going to happen one way or the other no matter which way you choose to punish him."

Prosecutors urged the jury not to allow the defendant to use a bad childhood and a previous Bipolar diagnosis as a crutch, but the defense argued a chemical imbalance is to blame for a long history of rash, impulsive behavior.

"Timothy is not insane," said Geiss. "He is just incapable of what would in this situation be making a rational decision."

Thursday, during closing arguments, Baker told the jury, "She took him in.  He took her out."

Ronk lived with Craite at the time of the murder, but testimony in the trial revealed Ronk had met another woman on the Internet and was leaving Craite for that woman when a confrontation ended in her death.

"We cannot condone that Tim met Michelle and saw her as a meal ticket.  We cannot condone that he decided to walk away from her after meeting another woman on the Internet," said defense attorney Eric Geiss.

Though Geiss did not contest the fact that his client is guilty of a crime, he argued that crime is not capital murder.

"The arson came after the stabbing. That's evident," Geiss said. "I honestly do not think this is a capital murder.  As for armed robbery, Michelle was stabbed and probably dead before he got around to loading the TVs and other stuff."

Assistant District Attorney Chris Schmidt told the jury, "It doesn't matter in the arson occurred before he stabbed her, after he stabbed her, or on his way out the back gate. Murder and arson fold into the crime of capital murder."

Before closing arguments, Harrison County Judge Lisa Dodson issued a ruling that could have spared Ronk from the death penalty.  That ruling allowed the jury to deliberate on the capital murder charge, which carries the death penalty, or murder which does not.

Prosecutors argued, Ronk killed Craite, then set her house on fire as one continuous action. The defense argued the fire was a separate action done to cover up a crime, not part of the murder.

Judge Dodson ruled a reasonable jury could conclude the arson was an attempt to cover up a crime, and not part of the murder itself.

Wednesday, the doctor who performed an autopsy on Craite testified the victim's internal organs showed signs she was likely alive when the fire started.

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