[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----VIRGINIA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Feb 15 23:51:47 CST 2005
Jurors set to debate man's fate----Convicted of stalking, Simmons faces
death penalty in slaying of JMU students
A federal jury is to deliberate today whether to impose the death penalty
or sentence to life in prison a stalker convicted of killing his
ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, both students at James Madison
The jurors deliberated more than 3 hours before convicting Brent Simmons,
32, late Monday in the murders of JMU students Ann M. Olson and Keith J.
O'Connell, in October 1996. Simmons graduated from JMU in May 1996.
He was convicted of 1 count of interstate stalking and 2 counts of using a
firearm to commit murder.
Federal prosecutors have asked the jury to impose the death penalty.
Simmons had pleaded guilty to the double murder in a Harrisonburg court in
1998 and is serving a 20-year prison sentence, but U.S. Attorney John
Brownlee charged Simmons with interstate stalking specifically to seek a
jury's permission to put Simmons to death for the murders.
The charge was brought under the federal Violence Against Women Act and
therefore carries the potential for a death sentence.
According to testimony last week, Sim- mons was obsessed with his former
girlfriend and repeatedly harassed her with phone calls from Florida,
where he had moved after graduation. When he learned Olson was seeing
O'Connell, he drove 12 hours to Harrisonburg and shot them with a 9 mm
Smith & Wesson pistol.
Defense attorney Chris Kowalczuk told jurors that the murders were not the
premeditated results of stalking, but an enraged act by a man who snapped
when he saw his ex-girlfriend with another man.
In Simmons' 1st trial, in Harrisonburg, a circuit court jury deadlocked
because prosecutors could not produce the murder weapon. Unsure if they
could win a conviction in a new trial, prosecutors accepted an agreement
in which Simmons pleaded guilty to two counts of 2nd-degree murder.
In 2000, though, a diver found Simmons' pistol in a lake near his hometown
of Carlisle, Pa. Ballistics tests introduced during the federal trial
showed it was the gun that killed the two JMU students.
The trial was moved to U.S. District Court in Abingdon because of fears
that widespread news coverage in Harrisonburg could influence prospective
(source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
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