Killer wants off Va. death row
Lawyers for a death row inmate asked the Virginia Supreme Court Tuesday to overturn his sentence because a juror's co-workers urged her to give him death.
Joshua Andrews, 27, was convicted in a 2002 shooting spree that left two dead and three others injured in Virginia and New York.
Prosecutors said Andrews forced three men to undress and get into a bathtub in a Dumfries-area apartment on Jan. 2, 2002, before shooting them. Two of them died and another survived.
After that shooting, Andrews and another man fled to New York, where they robbed and shot a convenience store clerk in Queens and shot another man in the Bronx. They were convicted of attempted murder in those shootings.
Andrews was acquitted in three other deaths.
During a break in the sentencing phase of Andrews' 2007 trial, a juror returned to her job at a Washington, D.C., law firm, where her boss and a co-worker urged her to sentence Andrews to death. One co-worker asked “Why don't you just fry him?”
Lawyers didn't find out about the contact until after the jury recommended death, and a judge later held a hearing to question the juror about the remarks. She testified that her boss was abusive and belittling, but that his comments did not affect her judgment.
“This was her livelihood. She had to go back to her office day after day and work in this case directly under someone” who urged her to sentence Andrews to death, said Matthew Engle, one of Andrews' attorneys.
Steven Witmer, senior assistant attorney general, acknowledged the contact was inappropriate, but said the juror's poor opinion of her supervisor shows she would not take his advice.
“This juror testified that she placed no value on the opinion of this person in matters unrelated to her employment,” Witmer said.
The justices asked whether the juror would have feared for her job if she didn't take his advice.
Andrews' attorneys also argued that the trial judge erred by not allowing a poem Andrews wrote to be introduced as mitigating evidence during his sentencing, while allowing prosecutors to dehumanize him to the jury.
At age 8, Andrews was pushed into a shed by some kids who set it on fire. He was horribly burned and disfigured, and kids taunted him by calling him “crispy critter” and “mummy.”
Also as a child, Andrews went to visit his father on death row in Texas. Before his father could be executed, another inmate stabbed him to death.
Police seized a poem written by Andrews describing his struggles as a child and how the events had hardened him, but the judge would not allow it as evidence. Meanwhile, the judge allowed prosecutors to refer to Andrews as a “killing machine,” leaving the jury with the instructions to, “Turn this machine off.”
“There is no greater evidence that Josh Andrews is not a machine,” Engle said of the poem.
Witmer called the poem “nothing more than self-serving hearsay” and said it was rightfully omitted.
Witmer did agree with Andrews' attorneys that the judge improperly allowed the victim of an unrelated shooting to testify during the sentencing phase of the trial. But Witmer said the testimony was harmless because of all the other evidence relating to the vileness of Andrews' crimes and his future dangerousness — considerations that must be made in death penalty cases.
Andrews' attorneys also questioned whether two of his convictions constituted double jeopardy, the constitutional protection against being tried twice for the same crime.
Jurors convicted Andrews of both killing more than one person as part of the same act and of killing more than one person within a three-year period.
The justices could rule on the case by the fall.
This item has been updated since it was first published.
-- Associated Press
Washington Post Editors
June 8, 2010; 2:58 PM ET
Categories: Death Penalty , From the Courthouse , Pr. William , Updates , Virginia
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