Jessie Dotson – Black, age 33

Sentenced in Shelby County, Tennessee
By: a jury
Date of crime: March 2, 2008
Victims: Cecil Dotson, 30, Marissa Rene Williams, 27, Hollis Seals, 33, Shindri Roberson, 22, Cemario Dotson, 4, Cecil Dotson II, 2
Prosecution’s case/defense response:  Dotson killed four adults and two children and injured another three children by a combination of twenty gunshots, beating, and stabbing with a kitchen knife.  The prosecution argued aggravating factors including a prior second-degree murder conviction, posing a great risk of death to others during the killings, eliminating witnesses, the mass murder of three or more people within a 48-month period, the ages of the child victims, and the heinous, atrocious, and cruel method involving abuse well beyond that necessary to cause death (the children were repeatedly stabbed and beaten with boards).  The defense argued mitigating factors including a broken family that moved frequently, a history of disciplinary problems at home and school due to a learning disability, dropping out in 8th grade, and going to prison when he was only nineteen.
Sources: Com. Appeal (Mem. TN) A1 9/20/10 (2010 WLNR 18673513), Com. Appeal (Mem. TN) A1 10/13/10 (2010 WLNR 20481444), AP Alert – Crime 10/13/10 00:44:48

John Freeland Jr. – Black, age 26

Sentenced in Madison County, Tennessee
By: a judge (jury trial waived by defendant)
Date of crime: March 2009
Victim: Carolyn Ward, 61
Prosecution’s case/defense response:  Freeland and two accomplices carjacked Ward, forced her to drive to a deserted road, and shot her once in the head while she was lying face down on the ground.  The prosecution brought 34 witnesses including Freeland’s cellmate who related Freeland’s confession.  Freeland, over the objection of his lawyers, waived his jury trial and insisted on taking the stand.  He contended that he was in no way involved in any of the events and had lied to police investigators about his involvement.  The prosecution rebutted with a mountain of evidence and argued that several aggravating factors were present including murder to prevent testimony, an execution style killing, and murder while committing a felony.
Sources: Jackson Sun (TN) 1/6/11 A1 (2011 WLNR 300534), 5/24/11 AP Alert – TN 21:01:10,  Jackson Sun (TN) 1/5/11 (

James William Thomas aka James Hawkins – Black, age 30

Sentenced in Shelby County, Tennessee
By: a jury
Date of crime: February 2008
Victim: Charlene Gaither, 28
Prosecution’s case/defense response: Thomas aka Hawkins killed and dismembered the mother of his three children.  The prosecution noted aggravating factors in the mutilation of the victim after death and the extensive criminal history of the defendant including aggravated robberies and aggravated assaults.  Thomas claimed that his 12-year-old daughter had committed the murder and that he had only dismembered the body to protect her.  The defense argued that he had been a model prisoner, accumulated many self-improvement certificates, and acted as a mentor to other inmates.  The prosecution argued that those improvements did not stack up against 17 lifetime robbery/assault victims, the brutality of the murder, or his near daily sexual assault of his daughters.
Sources: Memphis Commercial Appeal (TN) 6/12/11 A1 (2011 WLNR 11797994).