Condemned serial killer dies in hospital, not death chamber

AP News
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Posted: Jan 21, 2016 4:18 PM
Condemned serial killer dies in hospital, not death chamber

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Serial killer Derrick Todd Lee was sentenced to be executed years ago, but instead he died Thursday in a Louisiana hospital.

Lee, 47, was taken from prison to the hospital early Saturday and died shortly before 9 a.m. Thursday, Department of Public Safety and Corrections spokeswoman Pam Laborde said in an emailed statement.

He had been sentenced to life for one murder and to death for killing 22-year-old Charlotte Murray Pace, who was stabbed 81 times and bludgeoned with an iron in May 2002. DNA evidence linked him to at least five other killings, officials said.

"It's good that he is not there to take up space that will now be filled up by remembering Murray and loving Murray," Pace's mother, Ann Pace, said through tears in a telephone interview Thursday from her home in Jackson, Mississippi.

She said Lee's death has brought "a tidal wave of memory" and, in a way, has taken her daughter again. Pace, who has attended every court hearing since Lee's 2004 conviction, written to legislators and spoken to prisoners, said Lee's death made her realize that "all of that was just my way of wanting to keep being Murray's mom. ... I no longer have that way to fight for Murray — to keep being her mother."

Privacy laws mean the Department of Public Safety and Corrections cannot discuss why Lee was taken to a hospital Saturday for emergency treatment, Laborde said. She added that an autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of his death.

Lee had been sentenced to life for killing Geralyn DeSoto, 21, in January 2002, and to death for killing Pace four months later. Both women's throats were cut.

In September the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld Lee's conviction in Pace's killing, rejecting claims that his lawyer should have brought up more evidence of mental illness.

"Given the compelling evidence that Lee committed five brutal murders marked by exceptional violence and unsuccessfully attempted another, he cannot show that counsel's failure to present additional evidence that he may suffer from other mental disorders, whether or not related to his troubled upbringing, deprived him of a fair sentencing hearing or resulted in an unreliable recommendation of death," Justice Scott J. Crichton wrote in a concurring opinion.

Pace said relatives of Lee's victims have stayed in touch with each other. She heard from one Wednesday, just keeping in touch, she said, and from others after Lee's death was announced.

DNA evidence linked Lee to five additional killings from 1998 to 2003; Diane Alexander survived a July 2002 attack to testify against him in both trials.

In his first trial, Lee was convicted of second-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence. Jurors voted 11-1 to convict him of first-degree murder, which can bring a death sentence. Because the vote was not unanimous, he was convicted of the lesser charge.

WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge later reported that the juror who voted not guilty had become ill during deliberations, was unable to fully participate and had to cast a vote of not guilty by default.

Lee should have been executed "in punishment for the horrible, horrible things he did," Pace said. "And it will not be. But it is what it is. And he is gone. And that has to be enough."

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This story corrects the spelling of DeSoto's first name from Gerilyn to Geralyn.

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Associated Press correspondent Melinda Deslatte contributed to this story from Baton Rouge.