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Man's Death Sentence Is Vermont Anomaly

June 17, 2006|From the Associated Press

BURLINGTON, Vt. — A man who kidnapped a supermarket worker and killed her as she prayed for her life was sentenced Friday to die, the first person to get the death penalty in Vermont in almost half a century.

Donald Fell, 26, was sentenced by a federal judge who had ruled the federal death penalty unconstitutional in Fell's case but who was overruled. The state does not have the death penalty.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 01, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 62 words Type of Material: Correction
Vermont death sentence: An article in Section A on June 17 about the first person to get the death penalty in Vermont in almost half a century said the sentence would be appealed in the judicial district covering Vermont, New York and Connecticut. The sentence was appealed to the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees judicial districts in those states.

Speaking in court for the first time after years of court appearances, Fell apologized twice in a brief statement for stomping 53-year-old Terry King to death in November 2000 on a roadside in Dover, N.Y.

"The words are inadequate," Fell said, his voice barely audible. "I truly am sorry for my crime. What I did was horrible and wrong. I know the wounds will never heal. If it comes down to it in the end that I do die, I understand that it's no less than what I deserve. I truly am sorry."

U.S. District Judge William K. Sessions III imposed the sentence, which was issued nearly a year ago by the same jury that found Fell guilty. Sessions had ruled in 2002 that a death sentence for Fell would be unconstitutional, but he was overturned on appeal.

King's sister, Barbara Tuttle, criticized the judge for the amount of time that had passed between the killing and the sentencing.

"For almost six years this family has been held hostage by this court," Tuttle said.

Then she turned to Fell, saying: "There is no way you will ever comprehend what you did to this family, not for lack of intelligence, but because you are less than human."

Fell was the first person sentenced to death in Vermont since 1957, and no one has been executed in the state since 1954. The state abandoned the death penalty in the mid-1960s, although the law remained on the books for another 20 years.

Federal prosecutors brought charges under a U.S. law that allows the death penalty for a carjacking that results in a death. Then-U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft rejected a plea bargain that would have given Fell life in prison.

Death-penalty opponents who held a rally against capital punishment Thursday appeared in the courtroom Friday and denounced the federal government for pursuing the case.

Fell's lawyer Alexander Bunin said he did not argue against the sentence because federal law required that it be imposed. But he filed an immediate appeal, which he said would lead to the first direct appeal in 40 years of the death penalty in the judicial district covering Vermont, New York and Connecticut.

"We will continue to defend and stand by Donnie in the years ahead," Bunin said in a statement.

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