Convicted killer pleads with jurors to spare his life

May 08, 2007|By Nick Shields | Nick Shields,sun reporter

His hands shaking as he clutched a stack of wrinkled paper and a Bible, Jamaal K. Abeokuto told the jurors asked to decide whether he should be executed for killing his girlfriend's young daughter that he's sorry, but added that he's not sure why he committed the crime.

"Many of you may have asked, `Well, if you know so much about Christianity, how could you do such a thing?'" Abeokuto said yesterday. "The true answer to that is I don't know. I'm still trying to figure that out to this day. It's beyond me."

After Abeokuto's statement to the jury, and closing arguments from lawyers on both sides of the case, the jury began deliberating the convicted murderer's fate. After about five hours of deliberations, the jury was sent home for the night.

Deliberations are to resume today.

Abeokuto, 27, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2004 for kidnapping and fatally stabbing 8-year-old Marciana Ringo. The Baltimore girl's body was discovered in woods near Joppatowne in Harford County on Dec. 12, 2002, nine days after she disappeared.

Maryland's highest court reversed the death sentence last year when four Court of Appeals judges voted, for two different reasons, to grant him a new sentencing hearing.

In court yesterday, prosecutors told jurors that there is no doubt that Abeokuto alone is responsible for the girl's grisly death.

"We have to end this case with justice," read a line from the printed display that accompanied Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly's presentation.

Defense attorney Amanda E. Bull told jurors that Abeokuto's life should be spared.

Abeokuto had a clean record before Marciana's death, she said, and he suffered from paranoid personality disorder and delusional disorder. She also said he struggled to maintain a steady job.

Bull also said that Abeokuto had failed to develop emotionally, and that it was his mental illness that convinced him that "he needed to kill."

"That's disorder," she said. "That's mental illness."

Earlier yesterday, Abeokuto addressed the jury for about five minutes.

"I must offer my most sincere and deepest apologies," he said at one point.

"This event was against my entire character, my entire lifestyle and my entire nature," he said. "This event does not define me. It will never define me because I will never allow it to define me."

"It's my faith that's kept me these four years and continues to keep me," he said.

Abeokuto also talked of the pain he had caused the girl's family by violating the trust they had placed in him.

"I know it was if I snatched their heart away," he said.

Maryland law requires judges or juries at capital sentencing hearings to determine whether a defendant is guilty of first-degree murder and whether an aggravating factor to the crime exists, such as the killing of a police officer or a killing committed during a robbery, kidnapping or rape. They must then decide whether the aggravating factors outweigh mitigating factors, such as a defendant's youth or troubled upbringing.

The case was moved to Baltimore County from Harford County after Abeokuto requested a change of venue.

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