Juror Questions High Court; She Thinks McGilberry Still Deserves Death - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

03/01/05

Juror Questions High Court; She Thinks McGilberry Still Deserves Death

On Tuesday, a majority of the United States Supreme Court ruled it was cruel and unusual punishment for anyone under the age of 18 to receive a death penalty sentence. So, Stephen McGilberry and four other Mississippi death row inmates got a constitutional free pass back to Parchman's general population.

McGilberry was 16 when he committed the murders, and 17 when a jury convicted him of capital murder and ordered him to die by lethal injection.

Beverly Grace was on that jury. When she was asked if she still felt McGilberry should die for the crimes he committed on October 24, 1994, she said, "That's the way I voted then, and I still think so."

Grace tries not to think much about the testimony she heard of a baseball bat wielding teen striking four people, including a three year old child. She said it was pretty easy to convict McGilberry of capital murder.

"I think he got what he deserved. And I've never had second thoughts about it at all," she said.

Grace does remembers her jury wrestling with the fact that it was a 16 year old who brutally attacked his family.

"I think this child was, and he was a child, was a true bad seed," she said.

The jury took just an hour and a half to convict the teenage killer. It agreed that McGilberry deserved to be executed.

Nine years later, the United States Supreme Court overturned that sentence, saying the Constitution forbids the execution of killers who were under the age of 18 when they committed their crimes.

Grace isn't comfortable with the high court's ruling, especially after hearing the McGilberry testimony.

"He is evil. That's my feeling. And apparently the feeling of 11 others," she said.

Tony Lawrence and David Ishee were McGilberry's first court appointed defense attorneys.

"As a court appointed attorney, we did everything we could to protect his rights," Lawrence said.

Almost a decade later, the defense attorney is Jackson County's DA -- a prosecutor who in this case has a much different view on the death penalty than the Supreme Court.

"I'm shocked that they would take the position that regardless of the crime a juvenile 16-17 commits, that he wouldn't be subjected to the death penalty," Lawrence said. "They certainly understand the seriousness and the consequences of their acts at 16 and 17."

Grace will never forget how McGilberry showed no emotion while jury heard gruesome testimony and his taped confession. She stands behind her decision to sentence him to death.

"He was a young kid. But he had done an awful thing. And he would do it again," she said.

There are 72 juvenile offenders in 19 states who had their death sentences thrown out by Tuesday's Supreme Court ruling. According to a legal expert in Jackson, the five Mississippi inmates will likely receive life sentences without parole.

by Brad Kessie

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