COLUMBIA, S.C. - The South Carolina Supreme Court on Monday upheld the death sentence of a 30-year-old man who admitted he killed four people across the Carolinas during a 2002 crime spree in the delusional hopes of becoming a mafia hit man.
Quincy Jovan Allen's lawyer had appealed based, in part, on the sentencing judge saying in his decision to issue the death sentence that he hoped it would act as a deterrent to abusive parents - something his lawyer called an arbitrary factor beyond Allen's control.
But the state's highest court ruled that issue was only a small part of sentencing Judge Thomas Cooper's decision and that his primary reasoning was that "the murders were deliberate, premeditated and cruel."
The entire court record clearly shows the sentence was "based upon the characteristics of Allen and the circumstances of the crime, such that the penalty is warranted," the court said.
Allen pleaded guilty to using a homeless man on a Columbia park bench as target practice in July 2002 to test his new shotgun, twice wounding him. Days later, he fatally shot 45-year-old Dale Hall three times - putting a .12-gauge shotgun in her mouth as she pleaded for her life - then went to buy gasoline and returned to set her body on fire.
Weeks later, Allen also threatened a pregnant co-worker, then shot into her boyfriend's car, killing 22-year-old passenger Jedediah Harr. He then tracked down the boyfriend and set fire to his home. He set on fire the cars of two other people, then went to a Columbia strip club, where he pointed the shotgun at a customer, before heading to New York City.
On his way back, in August 2002, he killed 53-year-old convenience store clerk Richard Hawks and a 29-year-old customer, Robert Roush, in Dobson, N.C. He was arrested two days later in Colorado City, Texas.
Allen told police he would have killed more but his time in prison for stealing a vehicle prevented him from being able to legally buy a handgun.
The high court noted Thomas' descriptions of the murders included "the fact that Allen changed the load in his shotgun to hollow point slugs to make it more destructive. He commented on the fact that it was Allen's intention to become a serial killer in order to garner respect."
Allen is currently on death row at a maximum-security prison in Ridgeville.
His South Carolina attorneys had argued his life should be spared because of his schizophrenia and other mental disorders. But Cooper, the sentencing judge, said he was not convinced Allen had a major mental illness.
Allen's mother, who was strict in her Jehovah's Witness faith, beat him and frequently locked him out of the house as punishment; his father lived in Colorado, said public defender Robert Dudek.
"So he would do things like live in treehouses and out on the street," sometimes staying with friends, Dudek said. "He was left to fend for himself."
While he said none of the abuse excused Allen's crimes, Dudek believes the mental illness should be a factor. He noted that in New York, Allen bizarrely approached people on the street and said, "I want to be a mafia hit man."
"This guy had a really bad upbringing. He became very bitter. He's deeply mentally ill. None of this is said to justify anything," he said Monday. But "this guy, the wheel's came off the track."
The state Supreme Court also rejected Dudek's argument that state law requiring a judge to decide sentencing when a defendant pleads guilty is unconstitutional.
Dudek said he would petition the court for a rehearing, which is rare. If turned down, he plans to petition the U.S. Supreme Court. He acknowledges the odds are long that the nation's high court would take the case, but hopes they want to weigh in the constitutional argument against a judge deciding a defendant's fate after a guilty plea.