Thursday, May 10, 2007
By JAY STAPLETON
DAYTONA BEACH -- Convicted killer Ray Jackson tried to hang himself from a tree when he was 8 years old, a Volusia County jury was told Wednesday.
But mental health problems, childhood neglect and years spent in and out of foster homes did not convince the jury that Jackson's life should be spared for killing a 23-year-old Daytona Beach woman over stolen money and cocaine.
"She can rest now," Margie Paulk, 74, said of her murdered granddaughter, Pallis Paulk, whom she raised. "I won't be able to see my baby again, but now she can rest in peace."
Eight women and four men voted 9-3 to recommend to a judge that Jackson be put to death for the 2004 kidnapping and killing of Paulk. No date has been set for his sentencing.
Jackson, 31, killed Paulk because she stole cocaine, his cell phone, jewelry and $800 after spending the night with him, prosecutors said during his trial last month.
The same jury voted Wednesday against the death penalty for Michael Wooten, 32, who was sentenced to two consecutive life terms for his role in the kidnapping.
The case was unusual for its lack of forensic evidence. Paulk's skeletal remains were found in a grave on Williamson Boulevard five months after witnesses saw her being carried to a car by Jackson. The two men were seen driving off with Paulk tied up in the trunk -- she was never seen alive again.
Jackson, who served time for drug dealing, warned a group of younger Daytona Beach drug users not to talk about what they had seen after he abducted Paulk. He'd bragged "no body, no case," and stuck a missing poster with her picture on his wall, according to testimony at his trial. But after Paulk's body was found, several key witnesses came forward.
At the trial, defense lawyers seized upon the fact that police could not say for certain how Paulk was murdered because of the condition of her remains. One of Jackson's attorneys, Gerard Keating, suggested Paulk could have fallen victim to someone else because of her lifestyle.
During Wednesday's sentencing phase, jurors were told of Wooten's desire to start a nonprofit agency and his hard work with the Freemasons fraternal organization. "There was significantly more favorable mitigation on behalf of Mr. Wooten," one of his attorneys, Bill Hathaway, said later.
But testimony about Jackson didn't convince the jury his life is worth saving. He was described as a depressed child who lost a baby sister. He was sent to a mental hospital after he tried to commit suicide at the age of 8. He was said to be generous and caring with children. At least one local lawyer said it sounded like the jury was "outraged" by the crime.
Many legal experts say the death penalty has lost popularity among juries in recent years. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of prisoners held on death row nationally has been declining for several years.
While the reasons vary, an average of six have been released each year since 2000 because their innocence was proven.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Florida leads the nation in exonerations, with 22 inmates released from death row since 1973.
Such exonerations could be one reason the public may be growing less favorable of the death penalty, Public Defender Jim Purdy said. "The faith in the infallibility of the criminal justice system has been shaken," he said. "There's recognition we're not an infallible criminal justice system, and death is irreversible."
Another argument has been how executions are handled.
Gov. Charlie Crist recently ordered the head of the state prison system to conduct a study of how lethal injection is carried out by the federal prison system and 37 other states.
Crist's order came a day after a commission recommended Florida explore the use of newer chemicals for lethal injections and evaluate whether a paralytic drug should continue to be used in executions.
The Governor's Commission on Administration of lethal injection made those recommendations to find out what went wrong with the Dec. 13 execution of Angel Diaz, 55, who took 34 minutes to die -- twice as long as usual -- and recommend how to prevent it from happening again.
Prosecutors declined to comment on Jackson's penalty until Circuit Judge R. Michael Hutcheson decides whether to follow the jury's recommendation.
Did You Know?
In June 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state death penalty laws were unconstitutional. The death sentences of 95 men and one woman on Florida's Death Row were commuted to life in prison as a result.
· Within two years, the Florida State Legislature, as well as legislatures in 27 other states, had created new death penalty legislation and were delivering death sentences under these new laws.
· The Supreme Court overturned its ruling and upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty in 1976.
· The first Florida death row inmate executed under the new statutes was John Spenkelink. He was sentenced Dec. 20, 1973, and executed May 25, 1979.
· Sentenced to Florida's death row April 11, 1974, and still there, Gary E. Alvord is believed to be the longest-serving death row inmate in the country.
Compiled by News Researcher Janice Cahill from Dallas Morning News, Florida Corrections Commission and Florida Department of Corrections.