Federal Appeals Court Overturns Murderer’s Death Sentence

A divided panel of the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has overturned the death sentence of a South Carolina man who murdered four people in two states.  Associated Press writer Jeffery Collins reports that in its July 26 ruling the Appeals court concluded that the judge in Quincy Allen’s 2005 sentencing hearing had excluded, ignored or overlooked the murderer’s “serious mental illness history of childhood abuse” which the court believes had a “substantial and injurious effect or influence on the outcome of the sentencing proceeding.”   The ruling came a week before a judge hears a lawsuit brought by several other condemned South Carolina murderers who argue that the electric chair and the firing squad, utilized by the state, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.  The state has been forced to use these execution methods because anti-death penalty groups, including the European Union, have pressured drug manufacturers not to sell the state lethal injection drugs.

According to a March 25, 2020 Federal District Court decision, Allen’s crimes began on July 7, 2002, when he found a 51-one year old homeless man in park in Columbia.  Allen ordered the man to stand up, then shot him in the shoulder with a shotgun.  Allen then ordered the man to stand up again, then shot him again.  Allen later told police that he used the homeless man to try out his new shotgun.   The Court continued:

A few days later, on July 10, 2002, Allen met a prostitute named Dale Hall on Two Notch Road in Columbia; he took her to an isolated dead end cul-de-sac near I-77 where he shot her three times with a 12 gauge shotgun, placing the shotgun in her mouth as she pleaded for her life. After shooting her, Allen left to purchase a can of gasoline, and came back to douse Hall’s body and set her on fire. He then went back to work at his job at the Texas Roadhouse Grill restaurant on Two Notch Road.

Several weeks later, on August 8, 2002, while working at the restaurant, Allen got into an argument with two sisters, Taneal and Tiffany Todd; he threatened Tiffany, who was then 12 weeks pregnant, that he was going to slap her so hard her baby would have a mark on it. Tiffany’s boyfriend Brian Marquis came to the restaurant, accompanied by his friend Jedediah Harr. After a confrontation, Allen fired his shotgun into Harr’s car, attempting to shoot Marquis; however, Allen missed Marquis and instead hit Harr in the right side of the head. As the car rolled downhill, Marquis jumped out and ran into a nearby convenience store, where he was hidden in the cooler by an employee. Allen left the convenience store, and went and set fire to the front porch of Marquis’ home. A few hours later Allen set fire to the car of Sarah Barnes, another Texas Roadhouse employee. Harr died of the shotgun blast to his head.

The following day, Allen set fire to the car of another man, Don Bundrick, whom he apparently did not know. Later that evening, August 9, 2002, Allen went to a strip club, Platinum Plus, in Columbia, where he pointed his shotgun at a patron. Allen left South Carolina and proceeded to New York City. On his way back, while in North Carolina, Allen shot and killed two men at a convenience store in Surrey County.2 Allen then went to Texas, where he was apprehended by law enforcement on August 14th.

Allen gave statements to police outlining the details of his crimes. He told police he began killing people because an inmate in federal prison, where Allen spent time for stealing a vehicle, had told him he could get a job as a mafia hit man. Allen got tired of waiting and embarked on his own killing spree. Allen told police he would have killed more people if he had had a handgun, but his prior record prohibited him from obtaining a handgun.

Allen was then transferred to South Carolina for trial for the murders of Dale Hall and Jedediah Harr.  Prior to trial in the face of overwhelming evidence, Allen plead guilty to the two murders, planning to argue for a life sentence at the sentencing hearing.  At that hearing Allen’s attorneys presented hours of testimony regarding his abusive childhood and evaluations from mental health experts who concluded that Allen suffered from numerous mental illnesses.  Prosecution experts countered these conclusions, with their finding that Allen was faking his psychiatric problems.

Although the Appeals Court accused the trial judge of ignoring Allen’s mental claims, at sentencing the judge stated:

In considering the outcome of this sentencing hearing I have tried to understand the unique forces and events which have put Mr. Allen in the situation in which he finds himself today. I have considered his upbringing so masterfully chronicled by Debra Grey. I’ve considered his list of mental illness as described by Dr. Pam Crawford. I’ve considered the facts of the various murders that Mr. Allen does not deny. I’ve considered the impact to [the victims]. I’ve also considered the effect of this trial on Quincy Allen’s two younger brothers who have sat through the majority of this trial. And I have considered the passionate arguments of counsel on both sides of this case.. . . I have listened to and read the accounts of all of the psychiatrists and psychologists in this case: Doctors Hilkey, Gupta, Lavin, DeBeck, Hattem, Crawford, Mirza, Tezza, Corvin and Schwartz-Watts. J.

There was no real discussion of the facts in the Fourth Circuit opinion.  It held that the trial court had engaged in an “unreasonable determination of the facts…contrary to clearly established federal law.”  The first fourteen pages of the opinion documented the defense’s portrayal of Allen’s abusive childhood.   On direct appeal and PCR (post conviction relief) Allen made multiple claims including: that his guilty plea was involuntary; that the sentencing judge ignored his terrible childhood and mental illness; and that his lawyers were incompetent; that the judge implied that if he plead guilty he’d get a life sentence.  His claims were rejected by the state Supreme Court, a state PCR court, another state court on appeal.  On habeas corpus, the Federal District Court denied all of Allen’s claims but issued a certificate of appealability on his claims of ineffective assistance of council and involuntary plea agreement.

The Fourth Circuit’s ruling, ignored the crimes committed by a brutal admitted multiple-murderer, the decisions of four state courts and the federal district court, and federal law and precedent in order to reverse his sentence.  South Carolina should appeal this turkey.


1 Response

  1. Daniel Garcia says:

    Skipper v. South Carolina is definitely one of the top 5 worst SCOTUS decisions on capital punishment. Non-relevant mitigating factors shouldn’t be permitted.