Marcus Benn – black, age 34

Sentenced to death in Jefferson County, Alabama
By: a judge after a jury recommendation by a vote of 10 to 2
Date of crime: 12/27/2010
Prosecution case/defense response: Marcus Benn, released a year earlier from a 1994 reckless murder conviction and a life-sentence of which he served 16-years; killed Jamie Luna Gutierrez, 43; Jose Manuel Martinez Calderon, 24; and Evelyn Peralta, 22.  In 1994, Benn, 17-years old at the time, was the driver in a mistaken identity drive-by shooting which killed Parrish Tabb, 18.  Benn admitted to shooting Gutierrez and Calderon in what was a suspected drug deal gone bad, but he denied killing Peralta.  A passerby found Gutierrez’s body in a ditch along the side of the road and 6.5-hours later and 3.5 miles away, while investigating a burning truck, police found Peralta’s partially clothed body also in a ditch.  Detectives received information linking Benn to the crimes and arrested him after obtaining a warrant.  Benn then led police to Calderon’s body. Gutierrez was shot before being dropped in the ditch and shot again and Peralta was shot in the head at least twice.  In 2016, Benn was re-sentenced to death, after the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court should have sentenced him in open court instead of a written ruling made a month after his conviction on seven capital murder counts.  Three of the counts were for being convicted twice of murder within a 20-year period.  It took the trial judge but a few minutes to re-sentence Benn to death.
Sources: Birmingham News (Alabama) 12/31/2010, 6/24/2016; 2010 WLNR 25736260, 2016 WLNR 19428086

Sherman Collins – black, age 36

Sentenced to death in Sumter County, Alabama
By: a judge after a jury recommendation by a vote of 10 to 2
Date of crime: 6/17/2012
Prosecution case/defense response: Sherman Collins, from New Orleans, Louisiana was a hired-gun and killed Detrick Bell, 31, at a rap concert near Cuba, Alabama.  Kelvin Wrenn was suspected of hiring Collins but the death penalty was not sought in his case.  The “beef” was apparently from 4-5 years prior.  Collins armed with a .454 pistol shot Bell in the head from point-blank range, causing so much damage that the pathologist thought a shotgun slug had to be involved.  The prosecution’s case lasted about three days and the no defense was presented, which is not unusual for this type of case.  The prosecution relied on witnesses’ with firsthand knowledge of the conspiracy and shooting.  The jury deliberated for less than 1-hour.
Sources:…1#incart_river (12/16/2014)

John DeBlase – white, age 26

Sentenced to death in Mobile County, Alabama
By: a judge after a jury recommendation by a vote of 10 to 2
Date of crime: 3/04/2010 and 6/20/2010
Prosecution case and defense response: When facing sentencing, John DeBlase pleaded, “I am not going to beg for mercy. I am not going to ask for mercy. I am going to ask for my life. I loved my kids. I did not kill my kids.” At this point, DeBlase was already found guilty of three counts of capital murder in the killing of his children; Natalie DeBlase, 4, and her brother, Chase DeBlase, 3. Along with his common-law wife, Heather Leavell-Keaton, 21 at the time, tried separately, the couple tortured the children under the guise of discipline, duct-taped Natalie, and stuffed her into a suitcase, and put her into a closet on March 4, 2010. Chase was killed on Father’s Day 2010. Both bodies were disposed of in wooded areas, Natalie in Alabama and Chase in Mississippi. The father in a self-described mercy acts, ended the kids suffering by choking them to death before leaving them for scavenging animals. The mother of the children gave up custody to DeBlase in 2009 and gave emotional, sorrowful testimony at the sentencing as pictures of her children were displayed in the courtroom. She described Natalie as “the perfect big sister” who was “loving and quick to smile” and Chase as “rambunctious” and loved to eat.  Family friend, Heather Rios, also testified as to how her children love to play with the DeBlase children. The jury heard evidence in the case for 3-weeks with nearly 50 witnesses. DeBlase’s defense attorney tried to place the majority of guilt on Keaton while arguing for a life-sentence without parole. He described DeBlase as an accomplice and his common-law wife, Keaton, as the dominant figure in the murder and also in the relationship, who was hostile towards the children and not afraid to show her hostility in front of strangers. He further described Keaton as a “monster” and a “domineering, manipulative, deceitful, morally unhinged, controlling, violent psychopath … consumed with jealousy over a 4-year-old girl’s love of her father.” When DeBlase’s cellmate testified against him, his attorney argued the confession letters written by DeBlase were coaxed through intimidation. A year later, Keaton would also be sentenced to death by lethal injection.
Sources: Press Register (Mobile, Alabama) 1/9/2015, 11/5/2014; 2015 WLNR 764299, 2014 WLNR 30971897

Jovon Gaston – black, age 21 

Sentenced to death in Calhoun County, Alabama
By: a judge after a jury recommendation by a vote of 10 to 2
Date of crime: 04/22/2011
Prosecution case/defense response: Jovon Dwayne Gaston took part in the stabbing death of Kevin Thompson, an elementary school teacher. Prosecutors presented a case where Gaston, Tyrone Thompson, 27, and Nick Smith, 22, kidnapped, robbed, and then stabbed the teacher to death.  After kidnapping the victim, the three took him to ATM’s, forced him to withdraw money, before stabbing him to death, and dropping his body off on the side of the road.  Smith was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in a 2013 trial and at the time, Thompson’s trial was delayed as he sought money for a mental health expert.  In Gaston’s trial, the defense attempted to highlight apparent gaps in the case; like, the fact that muddy clothes from where the body was found belonging to Gaston were never found, like they were with Thompson and Smith and that his finger-prints were not found at the crime scenes.  The prosecution explained these gaps by implying that Gaston never turned over a pair of work boots and they were never found and that his finger prints and absence in some surveillance videos was because he was the one holding the gun to the victim’s back.  His defense attorney argued that when confronted with the fact that the others were going to kill Thompson Gaston said, “[n]o not me. I’m not doing that.”  During sentencing both the prosecution and defense called witnesses to the stand in an attempt to sway the jury.  The victim’s mother testified that Gaston was “the monster that kids are afraid of in the night.  You walk on two feet, you have two arms, two eyes, and a brain to make a decision.  Nothing will change the monster that you are.  I will never put your name in my mouth with my son … I forgive you with all my heart, but I will never like you.”  The defense presented testimony to Gaston’s mother’s alcoholism and his father absenteeism.  His half-brother stated, “[h]e had to make too many adult decisions at a young age,” and his girlfriend’s daughter stated that he did provide a positive role model for her.  A mitigation specialist testified that, “[w]hen I think of the death penalty I think it is for the worst of the worst, those that are beyond help … Life without the possibility of parole is the appropriate punishment in this case.”  The judge was not convinced anything less than the death penalty was deserved after hearing the findings of the pre-sentencing investigation and considering the jury’s recommendation.  The jury deliberated for less than two hours.
Sources: Anniston Star (Alabama) 10/6/2015, 10/7/2015; 2015 WLNR 29639962, 2015 WLNR 29763163

Lisa Graham – white, age 39

Sentenced to death in Russell County, Alabama
By: a judge after a jury recommendation by a vote of 10 to 2.
Date of crime: 07/05/2007
Prosecution case/defense response: Lisa Leane Graham joined four other woman on death-row when she hired Kenneth Rognet Walton, 36, to kill her daughter Stephanie Shae Grahm, 21.  The five woman have the murders of their own children or the children-of-others in common. Graham and Walton both were associated with the victim’s father building contractor business.  Walton was also charged with capital murder.  A truck driver discovered the body, which had been shot six times, on the side of a road.  Despite Graham’s IQ of 77, the judge sentenced her to death.  The local Sheriff said, “I’ve worked several murder-for-hire cases in my 30-something years … I’ve never seen one quite like this,” after declining to discuss a possible motive.
Sources: Press-Register (Mobile, Alabama) 7/11/2007, 12/4/2015; 2007 WLNR 13529437, 2015 WLNR 35944587

Heather Leavell-Keaton – black, age 21

Sentenced to death in Mobile County, Alabama
By: a judge after a jury recommendation by a vote of 11 to 1
Date of crime: 03/04/2010 and 06/20/2010
Prosecution case/defense response: Heather Leavell-Keaton along with her common-law husband, John DeBlase, killed Natalie DeBlase, 4, and her brother, Chase DeBlase, 3. A year earlier, John was sentenced to death by lethal injection.  Keaton became the first Mobile County woman sentenced to death.  During sentencing, the judge stated that Keaton failed to protect the children from “needless” suffering and death and unexplainable malice.”  Over the course of the six-week-long trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Keaton cooked anti-freeze into the children’s food, that both children were choked after Natalie was duct-taped, put into a suitcase, and into a closet for 12-hours, and Chase was taped to a broom handle in the corner of the couple’s bedroom overnight, before also being choked to death.  Both bodies were then disposed of in wooded areas.  Prosecutors also claimed that Keaton was jealous of Natalie, as her family members referred to her as a princess and that Chase was killed after asking where his sister was.  Defense attorneys argued against the death penalty because Keaton became a spiritual person, read her Bible, wrote songs and poems, kept to herself, grew up in a dysfunctional family where she was sexually and emotionally abused, and developed bipolar disorder at a young age.  They also stated that if she were to receive a life-sentence, “she will not leave the penitentiary until they carry her out in a box” and that “[i]t’s difficult to stand before you in a case like this.  There are two children who dies and that can’t be erased.  That can never change.”  The prosecuting attorney concluded her final argument by taking out a roll of duct tape, ripping off sections, and telling the jury to imagine Keaton strapping the binding material to Chase’s body and mouth as antifreeze coursed through his veins.  It took jurors just 30-minutes to recommend the death penalty and Keaton displayed no emotion during sentencing.
Sources: Huntsville Time (Alabama) 8/23/2015, 2015 WLNR 24986892; Press-Register (Mobile, Alabama) 6/3/2015, 2015 WLNR 16417675