Man who killed four family members with baseball bat as teen needs to stay in prison, high court says

Published 8:47 am Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Mississippi Supreme Court has rejected the latest appeal from a man convicted of killing four of his relatives when he was a teen.

Steven McGilberry was 16 when he used a baseball bat to bludgeon his stepfather, half-sister, mother and 3-year-old nephew to death at the family’s home in 1994 in coastal Jackson County, court records show. He was convicted in 1996 of four counts of capital murder and was sentenced to death.

McGilberry was later resentenced to life without parole after two U.S. Supreme Court rulings that dealt with crimes committed when people are juveniles.

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In a split decision Thursday, the Mississippi Supreme Court rejected an argument by McGilberry’s attorneys who said that a jury, rather than a judge, should handle the resentencing.

A trial court judge had said there’s no constitutional right to have the resentencing done by jurors. In 2019, the Mississippi Court of Appeals disagreed. On Thursday, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the appeals court.

“Because the record supports the trial court’s determination McGilberry should be sentenced to life without parole based on his irreparably corrupt nature, we find no abuse of discretion in the court’s sentencing decision,” Justice James Maxwell wrote in the ruling.

Seven of the nine Mississippi justices participated in the case. Four ruled in the majority. Three dissented, writing that the resentencing should be done by a jury.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the death penalty for people who were convicted of crimes committed before they were 18. The Mississippi Supreme Court ordered a trial court judge to sentence McGilberry to life without parole.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles can’t automatically be sentenced to life without parole. The court later ordered all juvenile offenders held without possibility of parole to be resentenced, including 87 Mississippi inmates.

The nation’s high court ruled that such lifetime sentences should be “rare,” and that only juvenile offenders who show no chance of rehabilitation should be locked up forever.

In 2017, Jackson County Circuit Judge Robert Krebs resentenced McGilberry to life without parole, saying McGilberry had expressed no remorse, had masterminded the plot to kill the family and had a history of rules violations in prison.

The Mississippi Court of Appeals voted in January 2019 to send McGilberry back for another sentencing hearing to let jurors to decide whether he should be sentenced to life with or without the possibility of parole. That’s the decision that the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed on Thursday.

McGilberry, now 41, is imprisoned at South Mississippi Correctional Institution, and where relatives of victims have said they want him to stay in prison.