By LICI BEVERIDGE, Hattiesburg American
HATTIESBURG, Mississippi (AP) – Many people are fascinated by the real criminal cases, of which Hattiesburg has had his fair share, including that of Roger Gillett and his then-girlfriend Lisa Jo Chamberlin, who killed the Gillett’s cousin and girlfriend in 2004.
Interest in the case has not waned over the past 17 years. Chamberlin, 49, was recently featured in an episode of Investigation Discovery’s “Deadly Women” with Mary Farmer and Carol Dawson.
The case was also featured in a 2013 episode of “Wicked Attraction”, also by Investigation Discovery.
Gillett was 29 when he and Chamberlin, then 31, killed his cousin, Vernon Hulett, 34, and Hulett’s girlfriend, Linda Heintzelman, 37, at Hulett’s house in March 2004.
The couple placed the bodies of Hulett and Heintzelman in a freezer and transported them to an abandoned farm near Russell, Kansas, which belonged to Gillett’s grandfather.
Although Gillett and Chamberlin were arrested in Kansas after the bodies were found, authorities believed the murders took place in Mississippi, so the couple were sent back to Mississippi for trial.
They were charged and convicted of capital murder with the underlying charge of robbery. Both were sentenced to death.
GILLETT: “THIS JUDICIAL SYSTEM MAKES TOO MANY MISTAKES”
In a letter written in the first few months after being charged with capital murder, Gillett wrote a letter to her aunt, explaining how the events leading up to her arrest had changed her life for the better.
“I believe this is a blessing in disguise,” he wrote. “It brought my life to a complete halt, but in the process it showed me what is important.”
Gillett, now 47, is serving a life sentence without parole after her death sentence was overturned in 2007. Chamberlin, the only woman on Mississippi death row, has been sentenced in 2006.
In the letter, sent sometime before March 2005, Gillett told his aunt he believed he would never be sentenced – if only Chamberlin kept his mouth shut. It has also taken a hit against the state and county court systems.
“If she is silent and does not make a deal, we will be released,” he said. “This legal system makes far too many mistakes and steps on human rights all the time.”
This, for Gillett, was part of the good news, he wrote.
âIt’s all part of the blessing,â he said. âNowhere else could a couple be charged with the most serious crimes and even have a chance to win. “
Gillett never denies that the couple committed the murders, nor does he mention them in the letter, but tells his aunt, “I understand him for what I think he is (a blessing).”
The letter was filed as one of two exhibits in a lawsuit brought by Chamberlin in federal court to show why she needs to have her case reconsidered.
PSYCHOLOGIST SAYS EFFORTS TO HELP CLIENT WERE ‘INSUFFICIENT’
The other document is an affidavit from psychologist Beverly Smallwood, who examined Chamberlin before her trial, in which she says the work she did on Chamberlin’s behalf was inadequate because she did not have the resources to conduct a full investigation in order to present findings that would best serve her client.
“I recognize that my efforts were insufficient and that the services of a mitigation investigator would have provided a lot of additional and important information on which to base my assessment and testimony,” Smallwood said in the affidavit.
His testimony alone was presented during the sentencing phase of the trial, according to a habeas corpus Chamberlin order filed in federal court in 2011. This case is still ongoing.
“In a 1,000-page transcript, the evidence from the defense sanction phase consumed only 62 pages,” Chamberlin said in his petition. âThe jury returned a verdict of death. The entire trial, including jury selection and the penalty phase, lasted four days. “
After their convictions, Chamberlin and Gillett, who were tried separately and both sentenced to death, launched their respective appeals for their convictions.
Years later, Gillett’s death sentence was overturned. A new sentencing hearing was ordered but to spare the families of the victims from facing another trial, he was offered and accepted a life sentence without parole.
Chamberlin’s legal route, however, was less successful. She’s hoping her conviction will be overturned for a number of reasons, including Smallwood’s lack of expertise and Gillett’s alleged control over her.
ALLEGATIONS OF ABUSE, USE OF DRUGS INDICATED AS GROUNDS FOR DISMISSAL
In her petition, Chamberlin claims that she was abused by Gillett. She also says she was drugged on methamphetamine the day she made her statements to investigators, but those statements were entered into evidence against her.
Gillett’s letter, Chamberlin says, is proof that Gillett even used some members of her family to control her by sending her money and showing her affection.
The state has challenged all of Chamberlin’s claims and is currently protesting Chamberlin’s claim that her case was stayed in federal court by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves so that she could seek further remedies in court. state court.
Reeves has not decided whether the case will be returned to the state, but the state is asking the judge to rule in his favor, claiming that Chamberlin did not fulfill the conditions he ordered for the case be referred to a state court.
Capital murder cases typically take years to go to court, so 10 years is not long for a case to stay open in the court system. Reeves is currently reviewing the most recent round of motions in the Chamberlin case.
Gillett also has a petition in federal court in which he seeks relief. He too hopes to see his convictions overturned. U.S. District Judge Taylor McNeel has not ruled on the latest round of motions in the Gillett case.
NO EXECUTION AT MISSISSIPPI SINCE 2012
Mississippi has not executed any death row inmates since June 2012 and no executions are planned. But a new court record shows that the state Corrections Department has acquired drugs to perform deadly injections in recent months, The Associated Press reported in August.
Mississippi has 38 death row inmates, including Chamberlin.
Several Mississippi inmates have had their convictions overturned in recent years, including Curtis Flowers, who has been tried six times for the same crimes, and Eddie Lee Howard, who was convicted based on testimony debunked by an expert witness.
The two men spent more than 20 years in prison before their sentences were overturned.
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