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Inmate, 19 at age of crime, seeks execution reprieve

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - An Alabama inmate’s attorney has asked the governor to halt his Thursday lethal injection while a Kentucky court weighs the appropriateness of the death penalty for people who were under 21 at the time of their crimes.

Michael Brandon Samra was 19 when he participated in the 1997 slayings in Shelby County of four people, including two children.

Samra was convicted of helping friend Mark Duke kill Duke’s father, the father’s girlfriend Dedra Mims Hunt, and her two daughters, 6-year-old Chelisa Hunt and 7-year-old Chelsea Hunt. Prosecutors said the teens plotted the slayings after Duke became angry when his father wouldn’t let him use his truck.

Duke’s death sentence was overturned because he was 16 at the time of the crime.

Samra’s attorney, Steven R. Sears, sent a letter to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey asking for a temporary reprieve. The U.S. Supreme Court prohibits the death penalty for defendants under 18, and he argued there is growing concern about the appropriateness of the death penalty those under 21 because of brain development and issues of maturity.

A Kentucky judge in 2017 ruled the death penalty is unconstitutional for defendants younger than 21. Sears asked the governor for a reprieve until the Kentucky Supreme Court decides the appeal.

According to a state summary of the case included in court filings, Mark Duke killed his father, Hunt and the 6-year-old girl and that Samra slit the throat of 7-year-old Chelsea at Duke’s direction while the girl pleaded for her life.

The letter to Gov. Ivey also argued that Duke, who had his death sentence overturned because of age, was the more culpable defendant. He also notes Samra confessed to the crimes.

“His culpability paled in comparison to that of Mark Duke, who plotted, planned and killed three of the victims, including his own father, for revenge” the letter states.

Attorneys for Samra have also asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay. The Alabama attorney general’s office is opposing the request.

The U.S. Supreme Court has a “bright line” of age 18 for eligibility for the death penalty and state and federal appellate court have consistently refused to extend it beyond that age, attorneys for the state wrote in court filing with the Supreme Court.

State attorneys said the teens entered the home that night with a plan to kill everyone in the house and argued there is no consensus against executing inmates younger than 21 at the time of their crimes.

“Of the thirty states that retain the death penalty, the number that have passed statutes specifically barring the execution of persons who committed murder between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one stands at zero,” attorneys for the state said.
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