In a state where federal death penalty prosecutions are rare, members of two juries in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt found themselves yesterday in the extraordinary position of deciding, in adjoining courtrooms, the fates of two defendants who federal prosecutors believed should be put to death.
One jury decided that a man who kidnapped and murdered an alleged PCP dealer, who happened to be the son of a D.C. police lieutenant, should be put to death.
Next door, a jury convicted a man of shooting a federal informant three times, inflicting 174 knife wounds and setting the victim's apartment on fire. But it found the defendant guilty of murder in the second degree, not the first degree, which means that the maximum sentence is life in prison.
In the first case, the jury sentenced Kenneth J. Lighty, 23, to die for the kidnapping and killing of Eric L. Hayes II, 19. Hayes was abducted in the District and killed in Prince George's County nearly four years ago.
Lighty was convicted Oct. 21 after a trial that took place over about two months. The jury also found a co-defendant, James E. Flood III, 28, of the District, guilty of kidnapping and murder. He faces a mandatory life sentence. In April, a separate jury convicted a third defendant, Lorenzo A. Wilson, 22, of Hillcrest Heights, of conspiracy to kidnap. He faces a maximum life sentence.
Under federal law, U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte is required to impose the jury's sentence on Lighty. He scheduled formal sentencing for Feb. 3.
Lighty would become the second man sentenced to death in federal court in Maryland. In 2001, Messitte sentenced a Laurel man to death for ordering the murder of three young District women in Beltsville in 1996.
D.C. police Lt. Eric Hayes, the father of the victim, said the jury did the right thing by choosing the death sentence. "It was just," said Hayes, 51, who went to court yesterday in his police uniform. "The way this guy Lighty and the other defendants did my son . . . it was unbelievable."
Hayes said the murder of his son was an "execution."
One of Lighty's attorneys, Jeffrey O'Toole, said he was disappointed in the jury's decision. He said the conviction and the death sentence would be appealed.
The victim was abducted at gunpoint from the 3200 block of Eighth Street SE shortly after 8 p.m. Jan. 3, 2002. About 45 minutes later, Hayes was shot three times in Oxon Hill.
A government witness testified that Hayes was trying to sell "dippers," cigarettes laced with PCP, to his attackers, a defense attorney said.
During the penalty phase, O'Toole said, prosecutors opened their case by saying Lighty fired all three shots into Hayes's head, but in their closing statements, they said it didn't matter whether a second gunman had shot the victim
O'Toole argued that there was evidence that three other people -- the two co-defendants and a man who was not charged -- might have shot Hayes.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah A. Johnston argued that Lighty's actions warranted the death penalty.
In the other case, a federal jury convicted James Allen Irby III, 29, of second-degree murder in the killing of a federal informant. Irby also was found guilty of arson and using a handgun in a crime of violence. Irby would have been at risk of a death sentence if the jury had convicted him of first-degree murder.
On the night of March 28, 2003, Irby forced his way into the District Heights apartment of a longtime friend, Terrence Deadwyler, 27. Irby shot Deadwyler three times, twice in the head, stabbed him 130 times, and sliced him 44 times, federal prosecutors said. Then, Irby used Deadwyler's clothes to set his victim's apartment on fire.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Trusty said Irby was enraged when he learned that Deadwyler had told a federal agent that Irby had an illegal handgun in the apartment he shared with his father. Agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had conducted a raid, and about two months later, Irby's ailing father died. Irby blamed Deadwyler's actions for the death, Trusty said.
Assistant Public Defender Daniel W. Stiller acknowledged in his closing statement that Irby killed Deadwyler, but he said there was more to the attack than a desire to retaliate against a federal informant.
A jury member said the jury acquitted Irby of first-degree murder because the government had not proved premeditation. The juror did not want to be identified by name because he did not want to antagonize anyone involved in the case.