As these words are being typed, the jurors over in Sarasota, Florida, are deciding whether or not Michael King should die.
Who is Michael King? The Mitigating Circumstances
Michael King has just been convicted of the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Denise Lee. He is 38 years old. The prosecution does not contest that King has been a good father to his 13-year-old son and he has a low IQ. Or that King was devoted to his girlfriend of many years, that he has been a stellar prisoner, has no prior record of crime, and doesn't drink or do drugs. Plus, King suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child (it happened during a sledding accident) which caused permanent damage.
Victim of Traumatic Brain Injury
Just yesterday, the hearing on whether or not Michael King is legally competent, due to that brain injury, concluded after the testimony of mental health experts and family witnesses of his behavior over the years, as well as the accident itself. There was evidence that King complained for years of always having a "buzzing" in his head and that he periodically suffered from hallucinations. One brother described how Michael would see ghosts, and that he would shoot at them. The judge ruled that King was competent for trial, and the penalty phase of the case resumed.
The Aggravating Factors
These are the mitigating circumstances that his defense attorney has argued to the jury, asking them to keep emotion out of the jury room as they decide between life and death. Michael King will live the rest of his life behind bars, and this is justice, she argued.
The State's attorney brought forth aggravating factors: (1) King committed the murder after he already kidnapped and raped Ms. Lee; (2) the killing itself was heinous, atrotious, or cruel; (3) he killed his victim in an attempt to escape arrest for the kidnapping and rape; and (4) the killing was cold, premeditated, and calculated.
The jury will return with a recommendation for the judge; it need not be based upon an unanimous vote. Then the judge, Sarasota Circuit Court Judge Deno Economou, will decide whether or not Michael King will be sentenced to die.
This is the same jury that took only two hours to decide Michael King was guilty of the murder of Denise Lee.
The Underlying Crime - The Murder of Denise Lee
Denise Lee and Michael King were strangers. Lee, the daughter of a detective for the Charlotte County Sheriff's Department and the mother of two small children, was taken from her home one afternoon and driven to King's residence where she was raped, shot, and later buried in a ditch. During the drive between her home and his, Lee called 911 using King's cellphone and her six minute call was played to the jury. Another 911 call, by a witness who followed the Camaro but lost it before it arrived at King's home, was also played. A third 911 call was also placed by a family member of Michael King's, who saw the victim in the Camaro when King stopped by his home. The failure of these 911 calls has led to legislation and continued efforts for legal change by the victim's family.
It is Friday afternoon. It only took this jury two hours to decide on the guilt of Michael King. Many would argue that there will be a swift recommendation vote, and the life of Michael King will be placed in the hands of Judge Economou before sunset. We'll know soon enough.