Thursday, May 31, 2007

Jury wants death sentence

Murder defendant Michael James Jackson (center) hears the Circuit Court jury's recommendation Wednesday for the death penalty with his court-appointed attorneys, Gregg Steinberg (left) and Richard Kuritz.

By Jessie-Lynne Kerr

The Times-Union

A Circuit Court jury recommended that Michael James Jackson receive the death penalty for his part in the murders of a disabled Jacksonville couple buried alive.

The jury's 8-4 decision Wednesday came after Jackson, 24, chose not to present anything to urge the jury to spare his life.

"I want them to do it on the facts," Jackson told the judge with the jury out of the courtroom.

"Well, they've already made a decision on the facts," Judge Michael R. Weatherby said, "and if you don't present anything, all they will hear is the aggravating circumstances. Given your position that you were not at fault, you really should put on something, but it is your decision."

Jackson's court-appointed defense attorneys, Gregg Steinberg and Richard Kuritz, will have a chance to present evidence of Jackson's deprived childhood and his birth to a drug-addicted mother before Weatherby pronounces his sentence.

The same jury of seven women and five men found Jackson guilty May 7 of two counts or first-degree murder, robbery and kidnapping in the July 8, 2005, killings of Reggie and Carol Sumner, both 61.

Jackson was the first of three participants to go on trial in the killings. A fourth man pleaded guilty and is testifying against the others. Jackson had contended that he just wanted to rob the Sumners and knew nothing of the plan to kidnap and murder the couple until he walked up on two co-defendants shoveling dirt on the couple.

Prosecutors Jay Plotkin and Alan Mizrahi convinced the jury earlier that Jackson had masterminded the plot whereby the Sumners were kidnapped from their St. Nicholas home, stuffed in the trunk of their car and driven to South Georgia woods where they were buried alive in a grave that had been dug days earlier.

"Relief" was how Carol Sumner's daughter, Rhonda Alford of Charleston, S.C., said she felt after the jury rendered its advisory sentence recommendation after 95 minutes of deliberation.

The jury's recommended sentence "shows the system seems to work. It doesn't take away much of the pain, but it is an end to this part," said Fred Hallock, Carol Sumner's son, also of Charleston.

Of the others charged in the murders, Bruce Nixon, 19, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and testified against Jackson. Tiffany Ann Cole, 25, Jackson's girlfriend, and Alan Lyndell Wade, 19, are awaiting trial and face possible death sentences., (904) 359-4374

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