march 17, 2014
After hours of deliberation a Spartanburg County jury issued the death sentence for Ricky Blackwell.
A short time later the judge confirmed the death sentence for the murder of 8-year-old Brooke Center.
The judge said the sentence is to be carried out on June 14, 2014.
Blackwell was also found guilty of kidnapping Brooke Center, he was sentenced to 30 years in jail on that charge.
Prosecutors called the fatal shooting revenge because Blackwell’s now ex-wife was dating the girl’s father.
The jury’s options were life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.
The seven men and five women seated on the jury found him guilty as charged in just 20 minutes of deliberations earlier in the week.
At 3 p.m. Sunday, the jurors began deliberating Blackwell’s punishment, they returned the sentence just after 8:30 p.m. Sunday.
Before they were released to discuss a possible sentence, a judge told them they must decide whether Blackwell suffers from an intellectual disability, or as stated in court, a mental retardation.
If jurors had found him not to be mentally competent at the time of the crime, they would not have been able to proceed with the death penalty, according to South Carolina law.
The judge told the jurors to come to a death sentence, they had find aggravated circumstances were present when Blackwell committed the crime. The judge said the two things they could consider aggravators in this case were the age of the victim and the fact it happened during a kidnapping.
The death sentence recommendation had to be a unanimous vote.
Closing arguments began in this sentencing phase began Sunday at 11 a.m., when Blackwell asserted his right to remain silent when the judge asked him if he’d like to make remarks.
Blackwell did not address the jury at any point during the case.
“What a wonderful individual Brooke was,” said solicitor Barry Barnette in his closing arguments.
He told jurors to look at the case closely.
Barnett expressed his disgust with the defense’s assertion that Blackwell suffers from an intellectual disability.
“I got mad,” said Barnette. “You look at the evidence and no other doctor has ever diagnosed him as such until they paid a doctor from North Carolina to come down and testify that he was. He is not mentally retarded. It’s an insult to people who have this disability. They only did it to spare his life.”
Furthermore, Barnette said Blackwell was a certified employee of several companies where his mental competence would have been questioned.
Barnette got on his knees to illustrate how tall Brooke was and said Blackwell “meant to kill Brooke Center.”
The solicitor said Brooke was shot four times – once in the leg, neck, head and a final shot in her back after she fell to the ground.
“It was no accident,” Barnette shouted in the courtroom.
The solicitor put a Nelson Mandela quote on a projector for the jury to see – which read, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.”
Barnette then showed a picture of a memorial already set up in Brooke’s honor in her community.
“This will affect people for the rest of their lives,” said Barnette.
Barnett began to tear up as he showed the final images to the jury. It was a side by side comparison of Brooke playing baseball and her lying dead by a swing set after the shooting.
Several jurors were observed wiping tears from their eyes.
The defense presented its closing arguments after a short recess.
Blackwell’s attorney, Bill McGuire, opened up saying he wished photos like they’d just seen not be shown in court.
“He is 55 years old, in poor health and will not last long, but I’m asking you to send him to prison,” McGuire told the jury. “If the death penalty can do some good, if it could bring Brooke Center back, I’d be the first to say do it, but it won’t.”
McGuire said the jury should let Brooke’s legacy be celebrated by the memorials and ceremonies in her honor instead of sentencing Blackwell to death.
“Imagine if a sign said, “In honor of Brooke we killed a man,” said McGuire.
The public defender portrayed Blackwell as a distraught individual whose marriage was ending. McGuire said Blackwell was suicidal and tried to kill himself by overdosing on prescription pills before the deadly shooting.
“(If) he’s not a danger to us, then don’t use lethal force,” said McGuire. “Ricky is mentally retarded. He scored in the bottom 2 percent on IQ tests. Those were reliable tests,” said McGuire.
McGuire stated a person with an intellectual disability like Blackwell could learn skills to perform the jobs he held in the past, referring to the prosecution’s attack on why he was not diagnosed with a disability before this point.
“He has a relationship with God,” said McGuire. “Everybody he has touched in his life says he is caring, gentle, a good man. See him through the eyes of the people who knew him.”
“He is sorry for what he has done,” said McGuire. “Do you, as a human being, have to kill him? The answer is no. You don’t have to kill Ricky Blackwell.’”