Lewes cab driver appeals conviction, death sentenceLeslie Small seeks to overturn verdict in murder of June McCarson
Leslie Small was sentenced to death for the murder of June McCarson in November 2009. His attorneys say Small’s death sentence should be overturned because prosecutors made unfair comments during Small’s penalty hearing.
Small, 54, was found guilty of seven felony charges, including two counts of first-degree murder for stabbing McCarson, 78, with a pair of scissors in her Lewes home because, he testified, he wanted to steal her pocketbook and use her money to buy crack cocaine.
After a trial and penalty hearing, a jury found Small guilty of the crime and unanimously recommended the death penalty. Sussex County Superior Court Judge Richard Stokes imposed the death sentence July 22.
Appellant attorneys Bernard O’Donnell, Nicole Walker and Santino Ceccotti filed a Feb. 20 opening brief in Delaware Supreme Court, appealing Small’s death sentence. According to the appeal, prosecutors tried to convince the jury that the mitigating circumstances in Small’s case were just excuses for his actions.
If mitigating factors outweigh aggravating factors in a capital murder case, a jury could likely recommend a lesser sentence for the defendant.
On April 14, the day jurors gave their recommendations, Small took the podium and asked the jury to spare him from a death sentence. “I have no excuses for what I’ve done,” he said.
According to the appeal, “The prosecutors repeatedly and erroneously mischaracterized Small’s presentation of mitigating circumstances as an effort to excuse his conduct and shift the blame for his conduct to someone else.”
The appeal said prosecutors are supposed to represent all people, and they have an obligation to avoid insinuations. The appeal said the jury likely rejected Small’s plea for a life sentence because it mistook mitigating factors for excuses.
Appellant attorneys also said the state’s expert witness, psychiatrist Stephen Mechanick, told the jury Small refused to talk about what happened the day of McCarson’s murder. The appeal said Small’s attorneys had advised him not to discuss the murder with Mechanick. “This, in turn, allowed the jury to draw a negative inference from Small’s exercise of his right to counsel and right to remain silent,” the appeal said.
Attorneys asked the Supreme Court to reverse Small’s conviction and sentence. According to Jason Miller, spokesman for the Department of Justice, the state's answer to the brief is due Wednesday, March 21.