Posted on AL.COM, Written By Ivana Hrynkiw | [email protected]
An Alabama inmate who is set to be executed in May has asked the Alabama Supreme Court to stay his execution while the U.S. Supreme Court reviews his case.
Michael Samra, 42, is set to die by lethal injection on May 16 at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. The Alabama Supreme Court set his execution date on April 11.
Samra’s attorneys, Steven Sears and Alan Freedman, argue in court filings that the Eighth Amendment bans the execution of offenders- like Samra- who were under the age of 21 at the time of their crimes. They petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, and now have asked the Alabama Supreme Court to stay Samra’s execution until the nation’s highest court can rule.
Samra was convicted of capital murder in 1998 and was sentenced to death for his role in the killings of Randy Duke, his fiancée Dedra Mims Hunt, and her two daughters, 6-year-old Chelisa Nicole Hunt and 7-year-old Chelsea Marie Hunt.
According to Samra’s filings to the Alabama Supreme Court, his attorneys argue that people under the age of 21 at the time of their crimes are not eligible for the death penalty under the Eighth Amendment. Sears, a Montevallo-based attorney for Samra, said the nation’s highest court’s 2005 ruling banning execution for people who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes should be modified due to “evolving standards of decency.”
In the state supreme court filing, Sears writes that Samra’s case presents “an issue that is percolating in the courts. One Kentucky court has already held that the reasoning of [case law] banning the execution of offenders under 18, has now been shown to apply to those offenders under 21 years old.” The filing also states the claim is supported by legal scholars and the American Bar Association.
Sears called the quadruple slaying a “terrible tragedy,” but said he and his co-counsel “don’t think that killing one more person is going to help.”
“It’s not fair to kill the small fish and let the whale go,” Sears said, referring to Mark Duke’s sentence of life in prison without parole. Mark Duke was also sentenced to death for the killings, but in 2005 the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Mark Duke’s death sentence because he was 16 at the time of the murders, and ordered he be resentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
Mark Duke is also now eligible for a re-sentencing hearing, where a judge will decide whether he should continue serving a life sentence or if he should be eligible for a shot at parole.
Samra was several years older than his friend Mark Duke and was 19 at the time of the murders, which Sears said has made more difference than anything in Samra’s case.
The slayings happened on March 22, 1997 after, according to court records, Randy Duke’s sixteen-year-old son Mark Anthony Duke came up with the murder plot because Randy Duke refused to allow his son to use a pickup truck.
Records state Samra and Mark Duke went to the Duke home, along with two other friends, David Collums and Michael Ellison. Those two friends waited outside while Samra and Mark Duke went inside, according to an appeals court ruling.
Randy Duke and Dedra Hunt were shot to death, court records state, while the girls throats’ were slashed.
In 2013, Samra lost an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court after he argued his punishment was unfair because his “more culpable” co-defendant Mark Duke’s sentence was reversed. In court filings, Samra claimed his constitutional rights were violated because Duke’s sentence was changed.
In 2015, a three-member panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s denial of Samra’s appeal. That appeal focused on two claims, both centering on ineffective counsel.
Collums and Ellison were convicted of lesser crimes and served time in prison.