A man now twice convicted of sexually assaulting and killing a woman in her Springhill Avenue home in 2010 has avoided the death penalty, a feat he accomplished serving as his own legal counsel and presenting no defense.
Before Carlos Edward Kennedy was sentenced to die three years ago for beating 69-year-old Zoa White to death with a clawhammer, he had initially requested to defend himself. However, Kennedy’s right to due so was revoked by former Circuit Judge Rusty Johnston, who deemed him unfit to act as his own counsel.The Alabama Supreme Court later overturned his conviction on appeal, and though it made noise in the legal community, Kennedy was silent throughout his retrial — calling no witnesses and speaking only to say “yes sir” and “no sir.”
Prior to the May 5 hearing on his punishment, retired prosecutor Jo Beth Murphree asked jurors to think about the final moments of Zoa White’s life asking them to recommend Kennedy be put to death.
“He has not earned the gift of life without parole,” she said. “Today is not the day for mercy for Carlos Edward Kennedy. Today is the day for justice.”
While the jurors on Thursday arrived at the same conclusion as those in 2013 — that Carlos Kennedy sexually assaulted and beat a woman to death while breaking into her home to commit burglary — eight of them didn’t feel he deserved to die for it.
Under Alabama’s death penalty statute, it takes 10 jurors to impose the death penalty but only seven to impose life without the possibility of parole.
Presiding Judge Charlie Graddick said he respected the recommendation of the jurors, but wasted no time telling them he thought they’d only gotten “the first part right.” He also reminded them a previous jury “heard the same evidence and choose to impose the death penalty.”
“I have no idea what the point of this trial was, other than to possibly get this verdict. He never even opened his mouth,” Graddick said. “He begged and pleaded to represent himself a year and half ago. Then he walks in here and requires this family — five years after their mother and grandmother had been savagely beaten — to relive this for no apparent reason other than he was enjoying sitting there looking at those pictures on the monitor.”
Under Alabama law, Graddick could still override the jury’s recommendation and sentence Kennedy to death. However, in court Thursday, he deferred, citing a January U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring Florida’s “judicial override” statute unconstitutional for its judicial override provision.
Though he said watching Kennedy put the White family through two murder trials “makes (him) sick to (his) stomach,” Graddick said Alabama’s law is nearly identical to Florida’s, and overriding the jury could invite another legal challenge and even a third trial.“The law allows for it, and I could do that,’ Graddick said. “But I know we’d be right back here again in the shape we’re in today five years after this happened.”
After the trial concluded, Murphree addressed the media for the first time, telling reporters she “felt strongly about the case” and came out of retirement to prosecute Kennedy a second time because she already knew the evidence.
“We were hoping for something else, but life without parole means life without parole,” Murphree said. “He will never leave the prison until he is dead.”
Kennedy had some family in court throughout the trial, though they declined the opportunity to make comments to members of the media. As Kennedy was led out, a court security officer returned to his family the shirts and pants he utilized during his brief stint as an attorney.
As for White’s family, some testified about their mother and grandmother’s life prior to Kennedy’s sentencing, and many said the aftermath of her brutal murder is something they live with every day. Though she was visibly upset, White’s daughter Caryn said she understood the jury had “a really hard decision to make” in weighing the death penalty.
“As long as he’s in prison for the rest of his life, he can’t hurt another woman like this,” Caryn White said. “No family and no person should ever be subjected to what he did to my mother and what he’s put us through in having to do this all over again.”
White’s granddaughter, Logan Miller, said her family was just happy to finally have the incident behind them. She said it would be “really great for us to just get some time to rest.”
“I can’t see why we’d need to go back through this again if everyone has agreed both times that (he’s guilty),” Miller said. “And if (a new) death penalty were to get reversed … now I don’t have to worry about going to court to deal with that.”