By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Flanked by more than a half-dozen armed officers in the Lafayette County Courthouse, Caleb Carrothers was sentenced to death by lethal injection Friday night for the July 11, 2009, gunshot killings of Frank Clark and his son Taylor in the Oxford-area home.
The seven-man, five-woman jury from Lee County heard hours of testimony Friday about the defendant’s troubled family background, academic challenges and lack of good role models.
But the jurors concluded that any mitigating factors were outweighed by his history of four armed-robbery convictions and the timing of the murders – just 39 days after being paroled for those crimes.
On Thursday the same jury, brought in for the trial because of local publicity about the case, had convicted Carrothers of two counts of capital murder for the Clarks’ deaths and one count of aggravated assault in the nonfatal shooting of Tonya Clark, Frank’s wife and Taylor’s mother.
Earlier Friday, a clinical psychologist from Germantown, Tenn., testified about the defendant’s troubled family and related character traits.
“The personality tests were consistent. They showed things like Caleb being rebellious,” Dr. Joseph Angelillo said. “He mistrusts other people, and he copes a couple of ways. He may come across as cocky … and on the other hand, someone who is very unsure.”
Vonda Carrothers Agulanna had appealed for leniency for her son, citing a litany of ways she and others had failed him throughout his life.
“I would like to say to the Clark family, I am so sorry that happened to you guys,” she said. “To the jury, I just ask you guys for mercy, for my son’s life.”
Middle-school teacher Arleen Dowd also asked for leniency for the former student whom she said had great artistic talent. Except for Carrothers’ destructive environment, Dowd said, “He wouldn’t be here. He … would be having a gallery show in New York.”
Defense attorney Kelsey Rushing tried to assure jurors that a sentence of life in prison was punishment enough.
“He’ll be away from society and from the Clark family for the rest of his years,” he said. “He won’t come before the Parole Board; he’s gone.”
District Attorney Ben Creekmore told jurors that Carrothers’ four previous convictions for armed robbery would already qualify him for life without parole as a habitual offender with the commission of any felony at all.
“He didn’t commit just any felony,” Creekmore said. “He committed capital murder.”
Judge Andy Howorth set an execution date of Nov. 15, 2011, for Carrothers. That date is a formality, however; under Mississippi law, death-penalty cases are automatically appealed to the State Supreme Court, and most condemned inmates stay on death row for many years.
Rushing said preparing the appeal is “a process that’s just starting.”
Creekmore said the sentence was a just one.
“Caleb Carrothers’ life is a story of violence toward others,” he said. “I certainly respect and understand the verdict by this jury.”
Members of both the Clark family and the Carrothers family declined comment after the sentence was read.
Howorth’s last words to the defendant reflected the somberness that permeated the courtroom: “Mr. Carrothers, may God have mercy on your soul.”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.