Originally created 02/03/01

Deciding on death penalty divides jurors



For most of the jurors who signed a death warrant against multiple killer Arthur Hastings Wise, the decision was easy.

"It was so cut and dry," juror Cedric Debardelaben said Friday in a telephone interview from his Beaufort County home. "If there's ever been someone that did (deserved to die), he did."

But it almost didn't happen. For more than four hours one juror could not bring herself to sentence Mr. Wise to death, said Mr. Debardelaben, a 31-year-old network technician, who was the only juror available for comment Friday.

The female juror believed Mr. Wise had shown mercy to those he didn't kill inside Aiken's R.E. Phelon Co. plant in 1997, according to Mr. Debardelaben. The lone holdout believed the killings could have occurred as Mr. Wise was randomly shooting throughout the plant, where he had been fired.

Her opinion upset the other 11 jurors, who reminded the woman that Mr. Wise had killed four people and wounded three others. He had loaded a fanny pack with extra ammunition, driven to the plant, shot the security guard and ripped out the telephone wires so no one could call for help, they said.

It was clearly premeditated, they said.

"And not only that, he timed it so he would be there right at shift change," Mr. Debardelaben said.

The lone juror wasn't moved.

When someone suggested that the jurors inform the judge they couldn't agree - which would have resulted in an automatic life sentence - Mr. Debardelaben said he wasn't leaving until they all agreed on a verdict.

He pulled out a crime scene photo that showed the desk of Charles Griffeth, the human resources director who was killed by Mr. Wise. On top of the desk, in clear view, sat a picture of Mr. Griffeth's family. Mr. Debardelaben showed it to the holdout.

Another juror told the woman that she needed to separate her emotions from the facts.

"It turns out when she talked through the facts and everything, she did change her mind," Mr. Debardelaben said.

By the time the jurors signed the verdict form, most were in tears.

"Since everyone was so emotional after we came to our verdict, we sat in there about 15 minutes and gained our composure before we came out," he said. "It's easy to say that you agree with the death penalty until you have to sign someone's death warrant."

Jurors were selected in Beaufort County after the judge said pretrial publicity made it impossible to seat an impartial jury in Aiken County. Mr. Debardelaben said he considers his jury duty a service to the community.

"I hope that it brought the victims' families some closure, and the other three people and the people in the plant that were traumatized by it," he said. "I know that I did the right thing. There's no doubt in my mind."

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 648-1395.