Inside Report: Suffering victims get little public mention

When three condemned killers accused Louisiana corrections officials last June of violating their constitutional right to protection from cruel and unusual punishment by allowing extreme heat indexes on death row, their lawsuit made no mention of their combined seven victims or how they died.

Over the course of the past year since Elzie Ball, James “Jamie” Magee and Nathaniel Code filed suit, there has been no reference during the ensuing legal proceedings to their victims or the cruel and unusual suffering endured by those victims.

As the state prepares to appeal Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson’s December ruling that summer heat indexes on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary constitute cruel and unusual punishment and must not be allowed to top 88 degrees, the victims of Ball, Magee and Code’s heinous crimes once again will no doubt take a back seat.

Lest the judicial system forget, here is a reminder of the horror that occurred north of Mandeville, in Gretna and in Shreveport.

Magee, 36, of Pearl River, was convicted and sentenced to death for the April 2007 shotgun murders of his estranged wife, 28-year-old Adrienne Magee, and their 5-year-old son Zach on a street in the Tall Timbers subdivision in St. Tammany Parish.

The killings occurred one day after Magee was served with a court order to stay away from his wife and their three children. The Magees had separated in November 2006.

Prosecutors said Magee rammed his wife’s car off the road and into a tree before the shootings. A neighbor testified Adrienne Magee screamed, “Oh ,Jamie, no, no, no!” as he walked up to her car. She was shot point-blank in the left temple with a 12-gauge shotgun.

St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed has said Zach was shot — once in the back and once in the head — as he tried to run away. Magee also tried to kill their two young daughters by firing into the car where they were hiding. One of the girls was hit in the shoulder.

Ball, 61, was found guilty and given the death penalty for fatally shooting beer deliveryman Ben Scorsone Jr., 44, during the May 1996 armed robbery of The Pub Lounge in Gretna. Scorsone walked in while the heist was in progress.

Ball knocked Scorsone to the ground and shot him several times in the back, witnesses said. He died before paramedics arrived.

Code, 58, of Shreveport, was convicted and condemned to die for the bathtub drowning of Vivian Chaney, 34; the stabbing and slashing death of Chaney’s 17-year-old daughter, Carlitha; and the shooting deaths of Chaney’s brother, Jerry Culbert, and her boyfriend, Billy Joe Harris, in 1985.

A forensic pathologist testified at Code’s first-degree murder trial in 1990 that Vivian Chaney apparently was forced to watch her daughter’s throat being slashed before she herself was drowned.

Dr. George McCormick testified Harris was killed first, followed by Jerry Culbert. Chaney apparently saw the killer slash Carlitha’s throat, then had to sit in a pool of her daughter’s blood before being taken to the bathroom where she was murdered.

Harris, Chaney and Carlitha all had been bound with either electrical tape or telephone cords, McCormick said. Jerry Culbert was shot once in the head, apparently while sleeping, and Carlitha had duct tape placed over her mouth before her throat was cut.

Joe Gyan Jr. covers courts for The Advocate. He can be reached at jgyan@theadvocate.com.