Alexandria Jury Sentences Man To Death For Brutal 1993 Murder

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 2, 2007

A federal jury yesterday sentenced a convicted killer to death for stabbing a 19-year-old single mother 82 times in her bathtub and leaving her infant daughter to die, bucking a national trend and marking the first time a jury has voted for capital punishment at the Alexandria federal courthouse.

After less than two full days of deliberations, the 12-member jury said Thomas M. Hager should die for the 1993 slaying of Barbara E. White, who was beaten before being repeatedly stabbed in her Fairfax County apartment. As White begged for her life, her 13-month-old daughter toddled in the next room. The baby was left alone for the next 18 hours, tracking bloody footprints through the apartment and reaching into the tub, where her mother lay face-down in bloody water.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III immediately imposed a death sentence on Hager, 34, because the jury's verdict was technically a recommendation that he was obligated by law to follow. The judge said White's death was as heinous as any crime he has seen in his 20 years on the bench, observers said. Hager, who has been convicted in two other murders, declined a chance to speak.

His attorney, John Kiyonaga, said that he was "very saddened" by the verdict and that Hager would appeal.

White grew up in suburban Maryland before falling in with a rough crowd in Southeast Washington. Prosecutors said that led to her death. Her father, Paul White, said yesterday that while "no one's death is a reason for joy," the verdict "certainly provides some closure on Barbara's case, a sense of justice that people cannot just commit murder after murder and know all they're going to do is spend the rest of their life in prison."

White attended most of the two-week trial but left the courtroom and cried during the most graphic testimony. "It was like Barbara dying all over again," he said.

The verdict was a first in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, where jurors have chosen life in prison in cases ranging from last year's death penalty trial of convicted Sept. 11, 2001, conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui to the 2005 trial of two members of the Mara Salvatrucha street gang for killing a pregnant 17-year-old government witness.

It also ran counter to recent trends nationwide, where the death penalty is under intense scrutiny. In 17 of the 22 federal capital trials begun in the past year, juries have chosen life in prison over death. The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked three executions in recent weeks as it prepares to review whether lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, a move that legal experts have said might signal a nationwide halt to the procedure until the issue is decided next year.

Federal officials face a potentially long road before Hager's sentence can be carried out. Only three federal inmates have been executed since the Supreme Court restored capital punishment in 1976 -- including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 2001 -- and experts said appeals and post-conviction reviews take an average of seven to eight years. All federal executions are by lethal injection.

White was stabbed by three men who returned to the kitchen for more knives when the blades broke or bent. Her assailants also tried to electrocute and drown her. Her daughter, Alexis, was taken to the next room. She is now a high school freshman.

Federal prosecutors became interested in the case after it was investigated for years by two Fairfax cold-case homicide detectives. Two other men, Lonnie T. Barnett Jr. and Arlington Johnson Jr., pleaded guilty to similar federal charges in White's death and were sentenced to life in prison. They testified against Hager.

Jurors convicted Hager of one count of murder while engaging in drug trafficking. During the penalty phase, they endorsed on their verdict form all 12 of the "aggravating factors" suggested by prosecutors, including Hager's lack of remorse and his future danger to prison guards and inmates.

The jurors also appeared sympathetic to one of the defense's primary arguments: that Hager was the victim of a traumatic childhood in Southeast Washington, where he was beaten by his father and his parents abused drugs and alcohol.

Ten jurors found that Hager's lack of supervision or guidance from his parents as a young child was a "mitigating factor.'' The panel was required to balance the aggravating and mitigating factors before voting for death or life in prison.

U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg said yesterday that his " thoughts and prayers are with Barbara's family, now and always."

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