By ED WHITE, Associated Press
DETROIT (AP) – An appeals court on Tuesday upheld the conviction and rare federal death sentence of a western Michigan man who was accused of killing a woman in a national forest in 1997 before she could testify against him in a rape case.
Michigan outlawed the death penalty in 1846. But the victim was killed on federal property, which put the case in federal court and allowed the government to seek the ultimate punishment for Marvin Gabrion.
Gabrion’s conviction and sentence were affirmed, 12-4, by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A key part of Gabrion’s appeal was that his attorneys were barred from making certain argument to jurors during the sentencing phase in 2002. They couldn’t try to sway the jury against death by saying he would only face a life sentence if the trial had been in state court.
But the appeals court said Michigan’s lack of a certain punishment is not a mitigating factor to argue in a death penalty case.
Rachel Timmerman’s body was bound with chains and cinder blocks in a lake in the Manistee National Forest in Newaygo County.
Prosecutors have blamed Gabrion for the disappearance of four other people, including Timmerman’s daughter, Shannon, who was about a year old in 1997. The body of one of the missing, Wayne Davis, was found floating in another lake a few months after the trial. No charges have been filed.
Gabrion, 59, is in federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.
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