Jan. 15–The no-parole terms are better than the two death sen- tences he received at a 2004 murder trial.
A man who originally was sentenced to death for a double-murder in Tulsa accepted two no-parole life prison terms at his resentencing Monday.
Wesley Deion Jones waived his right to have his new sentence decided by a jury. He instead accepted a negotiated resolution in which District Judge William Kellough imposed the two consecutive terms of life without parole.
Jones, who will turn 30 on Wednesday, incurred two death sentences in 2004 for murdering a convenience store operator and a customer.
His original jury imposed that punishment after finding him guilty of the Sept. 15, 2002, slayings of Mohammed “Sonny” Rahaman and Sterling Mullis at a Lucky Trip store at 41st Street and 129th East Avenue.
Prosecutors theorized that Jones went to the store to kill Rahaman and that Mullis, a customer, tried to intervene when Jones pulled a revolver.
The state Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Jones’ murder convictions in 2006 but set aside his death verdicts, ordering a resentencing.
procedure began last week, when Kellough and lawyers spent four days questioning members of the jury pool one at a time — with no other potential jurors in the courtroom. The potential punishments in the case were death, life without parole or life with parole possible.
That time-consuming procedure, which was on pace to require a few more days this week, is not typically used in Tulsa County capital cases.
In agreeing to drop the request for the death penalty, First Assistant District Attorney Doug Drummond said he “felt there were legitimate appeal issues that surfaced” during the current jury-selection process.
Picking a jury in a capital case, either by individual questioning or a panel approach, “is getting more and more difficult because of appeal issues,” he said.
Drummond said the no-parole life sentences mean that Jones “will never see light of day outside a prison.”
Defense attorney Jack Gordon said he is “terribly pleased” with the outcome, which spares Jones’ life.
Gordon, who did not represent Jones at the original trial, said questioning each member of the jury pool separately and outside the presence of other jurors is “slower than hell” but “the best way to do it. You are talking about somebody’s life.”
In an e-mail, Drummond said he does not think this process worked well, “but I also know there’s no magic way of selecting an impartial jury in a death penalty case.”
He indicated that one particular concern is that the length of this process asks jurors — “who have jobs and families and responsibilities outside the courthouse” — to put their lives “on hold indefinitely.”
In the opinion that ordered a resentencing for Jones, Appeals Judge Charles Chapel wrote that in the original trial, District Judge Tom Gillert erred in jury-selection matters and in letting jurors use a single verdict form to cover the issue of aggravating circumstances on both murder counts.
Chapel urged trial courts to question jurors individually — outside the presence of other jurors — in capital cases, although he noted that this selection method is not required by law.
In a statement to police, Jones said his co-defendant, Murtaza Ali, gave him a gun, drove him to the Lucky Trip and told him to “take care of” the man who was running the store.
Jones indicated that the reason could have been business-related or a personal conflict.
Ali pleaded guilty to two counts of being an accessory to murder after the fact. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison in a plea deal in which his charges were reduced from murder.
Janice Mullis, Sterling Mullis’ stepmother, said Monday that “Sterling’s family has been so affected by the killing. We will always miss him.”
Bill Braun 581-8455
Braun B. Killer accepts two life terms. Tulsa World (OK) [serial on the Internet]. (2008, Jan 15), [cited August 2, 2009]. Available from: Newspaper Source Plus.