HALIFAX COUNTY (WSLS 10) - "He deserved the death penalty."
That's what 84 year-old Charlotte Rice's niece, Judy Thompson, said after the man convicted of raping and murdering Rice was given multiple life sentences Monday morning instead of the death penalty.
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The judge could have sentenced James Terry to death, but during the explanation of his decision he said the evidence showed that Terry was intellectually disabled and therefore, according to state law, not allowed to be sentenced to death.
He pointed out that although Terry was not declared intellectually disabled by the Halifax County school system, which Terry attended, based on a "preponderance of evidence" it was clear that Terry was, in fact, intellectually disabled.
To support his argument, he referred to a previous case in Virginia in which the suspect was, like Terry, not declared intellectually disabled by his school system but was found to be intellectually disabled based on the evidence presented in the case.
In Terry's case, the Commonwealth had argued that not being declared intellectually disabled by the school system indicated that Terry was not intellectually disabled and therefore eligible for the death penalty.
Thompson doesn't buy the judge's argument.
"When you spend as much time in jail and in prison as he has, you become a real good con artist at how to pull this off," Thompson said.
During his explanation the judge listed Terry's previous convictions dating back to the mid 90s, including multiple cases of sexual assault, assault and battery, and failing to register as a sex offender.
Thompson says this makes her aunt's death even more tragic.
"She was his twenty second victim," Thompson stressed. "How could the courts even allow him to be on the streets?"
Charlotte Rice was found raped and murdered in her South Boston home in April of 2011.
In the five and a half years since, the case has been continued numerous times and over one hundred motions have been filed.
Thompson says she is emotionally drained, but the feeling is worth the effort it took to get to this point.
"If it had been your mother or your sister, would you have not fought for it," Thompson asked rhetorically. "Would you have not fought for justice? I was not just fighting for my aunt's justice, I was fighting for the citizens of Halifax, the people of Virginia."
Terry's defense offered a pre-prepared, written statement regarding the judge's decision. It reads, in part:
"Life without the possibility parole is a severe punishment, the harshest sentence the law allows for persons who suffer from intellectual disability. There was overwhelming evidence that Mr. Terry is intellectually disabled."
Terry's family declined to comment after sentencing.
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