Originally created 11/06/02

Lawyers contest death sentence



Attorneys for the last man sentenced to death by a Richmond County jury have begun the final round of appeals.

In a 294-page petition filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Augusta, attorneys contend that Mark McClain was unfairly and unconstitutionally condemned to die for the Nov. 20, 1994, murder of Domino's Pizza manager Kevin Brown.

While conceding that Mr. McClain, now 35, was guilty of murder for killing the 28-year-old Mr. Brown during a robbery of the Washington Road pizza-delivery business, Mr. McClain's attorneys allege that the jury would not have imposed a death sentence if not for prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective defense work.

Two years ago, a state court judge rejected the allegations of unfairness, and the state Supreme Court declined to consider the matter. The appeal filed in federal court raises the same issues and asserts that the state court judge used the wrong standards in considering Mr. McClain's claims.

The federal petition attacks all aspects of Mr. McClain's 1995 trial but focuses on issues his attorneys contend could have made the difference between a death sentence and life behind bars.

Mr. McClain's attorneys contend that the jury sentenced him to death because it accepted District Attorney Danny Craig's portrayal of Mr. McClain as a violent felon who killed Mr. Brown for sport and tried to escape justice after his arrest by manipulating his girlfriend into hiding evidence and providing an alibi.

Mr. McClain's attorneys allege that Mr. Craig distorted the facts and that the attorneys who represented him should have countered.

The petition alleges that Mr. McClain's attorneys never learned that investigators had spoken to a co-worker of the girlfriend who said she saw Mr. McClain and his girlfriend together shortly after the robbery and murder. That would have countered the contention that the girlfriend was an innocent person who knew nothing of the crime and was coerced into helping Mr. McClain after the killing, according to the federal petition.

The new attorneys for Mr. McClain also contend that the trial defense team was ineffective during the sentencing phase, leaving the jury with the impression that there was no explaining how a man who grew up in a happy, middle-class family could commit murder. In reality, the new attorneys allege, Mr. McClain grew up in an abusive home and turned to illegal drugs, especially steriods, after his mother died of cancer.

The petition represents only one side of the dispute. The state has 30 days to respond.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.