Death penalty trial draws opponents

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(Host) Vermont’s first death penalty case in more than fifty years drew opponents of capital punishment to the federal courthouse in Burlington on Wednesday. The protesters plan to stand vigil once a week during the trial of Donald Fell. He’s accused of kidnapping and killing a Rutland woman five years ago.

The victim’s family was also at federal court. And as VPR’s John Dillon reports, they’re convinced that the death penalty is justified in this case.

(Dillon) On one sidewalk, about twenty-five yards apart, two strongly different views of the death penalty were on display.

(Welch) “The federal prosecutor’s pursuit of the death penalty in this case is not about justice.”

(Dillon) Nancy Welch from Burlington stood with about twenty other death penalty opponents.

(Welch) “It is about trying to have a death penalty imposed nationwide when the people have said, we’re against this.”

(Dillon) Vermont has outlawed capital punishment. But Donald Fell faces the ultimate penalty for the murder of Terry King because he and another man allegedly kidnapped the Rutland woman and drove her across to New York State.

The carjacking makes it a federal crime, potentially punishable by death. Law enforcement officials say Fell and his accomplice killed King as she prayed by the side of the road.

Welch and the other protesters on the street in Burlington acknowledge the horrific nature of the crime. But they say it’s wrong on principle for the government to take someone’s life. And they say federal Justice Department shouldn’t impose capital punishment on Vermont.

Cherry Racusin held a sign with the words: “Why do we kill people to show that killing people is wrong?”

(Racusin) “I also have been touched by violence, and death, and trauma and it never crossed my mind when it happened to want to kill the perpetrators. The death penalty is primal. And it is a form of revenge. And it’s unjust.”

(Dillon) But Terry King’s family says it’s justice, not revenge, that they want from the twelve jurors that will ultimately be selected to hear the case.

(Tuttle) “I don’t think it’s very nice that they’re here doing it right in front of our face. But this is America and they have a right to their own opinion.”

(Dillon) Barbara Tuttle is Terry King’s sister. Tuttle, her nieces and her sister were walking back to the courthouse as the protesters staged their vigil.

(Tuttle)” The death penalty is an option for people that murder a perfectly innocent victim for no reason, no excuse. It wasn’t self defense. He brutally murdered her as she prayed for her life. And if this isn’t a case for the death penalty, then you tell me one that is.”

(Dillon) The family plans to attend every day of the trial. The case is now in the jury selection phase. So far, thirty-eight jurors have been qualified, and the court hopes to select a pool of about seventy. The judge has said he expects the trial to start on June 20.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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