Convicted killer Derrick Todd Lee loses state appeal

Ann Pace was delighted to hear Wednesday that a Baton Rouge state judge rejected condemned serial killer Derrick Todd Lee’s request for a new trial in the 2002 slaying of her daughter, Charlotte Murray Pace, but knows years more of appeals remain.

Lee’s case now goes to the Louisiana Supreme Court, and if the justices also reject his arguments, the case would move to the lengthy federal post-conviction relief stage.

“We are only part way through a series of appeals. In a forensically supported case, that seems almost madness,” Pace said, referring to the fact that DNA linked Lee to the murder of her 22-year-old daughter.

At the penalty phase of Lee’s 2004 first-degree murder trial in the killing of Pace, prosecutors introduced evidence of four other murders that he allegedly committed: Pam Kinamore, Gina Wilson Green and Carrie Lynn Yoder, all of Baton Rouge, and Trineisha Dene’ Colomb, of Lafayette.

Kinamore, 44, disappeared July 12, 2002, from her home in Briarwood. Her body was found four days later under Interstate 10 near Whiskey Bay.

“It’s been over 12 years and I hope to see justice done as soon as possible,” Kinamore’s 78-year-old mother, Lynne Marino, said Wednesday.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office continues to seek justice for the families of the murder victims and for a Breaux Bridge woman who survived an attack by Lee.

“In October it will be 10 years since Derrick Todd Lee was convicted for first-degree murder,” he said. “We have fought to have the sentence pronounced by the jury carried out and will continue to do so. We are glad that we are one step closer to giving the families the only closure we can offer.”

The federal post-conviction relief stage can take years, noted New Orleans lawyer Nick Trenticosta, who is handling the federal post-conviction appeal of condemned killer Kevan Brumfield in the 1993 ambush slaying of Baton Rouge police Cpl. Betty Smothers.

Brumfield was convicted and sentenced to death in 1995, and his federal post-conviction relief petition is only now before the U.S. Supreme Court, Trenticosta pointed out. He noted that he was appointed for the federal post-conviction work in Brumfield’s case a week before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

If the Louisiana Supreme Court turns Lee down, his federal appeal would begin at U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge, then move to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, and ultimately to the nation’s highest court, he said.

The state Supreme Court affirmed Lee’s first-degree murder conviction and death sentence in 2008.

State District Judge Richard Anderson on Tuesday denied Lee’s state court petition for post-conviction relief. He rejected, among other things, Lee’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel at the guilt and penalty phases of his trial in Baton Rouge.

Lee, 45, of St. Francisville, was found guilty and sentenced to die in the May 31, 2002, killing of Pace — a former LSU graduate student — in her Sharlo Avenue home. Authorities testified she had been raped, bludgeoned and stabbed more than 80 times. DNA lifted from semen found on her leg matched Lee’s profile.

In the post-conviction relief stage, defense attorneys typically seek to raise broad, constitutional issues to demonstrate that the trial was unfair. The constitutional issues often deal with alleged improper actions of attorneys or flawed decisions by judges.

Gary Clements, director of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, contended in Lee’s petition for post-conviction relief that Lee was incompetent when he was put on trial, and he also alleged Lee is mentally ill and brain-damaged and cannot be executed.

“The jury obviously rejected the testimony of the defense witnesses that the petitioner was mentally retarded …” Anderson wrote in his ruling.

He said nothing in the court record supports the contention that Lee was not competent to stand trial.

“He was able to communicate with his attorneys and with the Court during all proceedings,” the judge noted.

Clements could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Anderson also rejected Lee’s complaint that a juror brought a Bible into the jury deliberation room and consulted it prior to voting for a death sentence. Clements, in Lee’s petition, accused the juror of “trying to impose her religious beliefs on the other jurors.”

“The petitioner cannot demonstrate that he was prejudiced by the juror’s reading or quoting from the Bible,” the judge stated.

Lee also was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in the January 2002 killing of Geralyn Barr DeSoto, 21, of Addis.

He is suspected of killing seven south Louisiana women between 1998 and 2003.

At the penalty phase of Lee’s trial in the slaying of Pace, prosecutors also offered evidence that accused Lee of attempting to rape and kill Diane Alexander, of Breaux Bridge. She testified against Lee at the DeSoto and Pace trials.

Clements argued in Lee’s petition that Lee’s court-appointed trial attorneys were “forced to defend against this onslaught of evidence with insufficient funding and time to mount a complete defense.”

Authorities also believe Lee is responsible for the death of Randi Mebruer, of Zachary.