COLUMBIA, S.C. — A decision in the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the death penalty for a man who had plead guilty to the 2002 deaths of two people in Richland County.
Quincy Allen had plead guilty in 2005 by reason of insanity to the shotgun deaths of Dale Evonne Hall, 44, and Jedediah Harr, 22, and was sentenced to death by Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cooper Jr. Allen was given an execution date of Sept. 18, 2005, but the appeals process needed to be played out through the court system.
Attorneys for Allen had appealed the death sentence, saying his life should be spared because of Allen's history of diagnosed mental illness was a mitigating factor. He had been sentenced to life in prison in North Carolina for two murders in that state, based on evidence that Allen was mentally ill.
In a 2-1 decision, the judges wrote that the sentencing judge in South Carolina "considered Allen's mitigation evidence as presented" was an "unreasonable determination of the facts and its conclusion that the sentencing judge gave 'proper' consideration was contrary to clearly established federal law."
The Court of Appeals continued: "Our examination of the record compels us to conclude that the sentencing court did not consider all of Allen’s mitigating evidence.
"That the sentencing judge found that the evidence presented did not support the existence of mitigating circumstances, despite undisputed expert testimony regarding two disorders and childhood abuse, shows that the sentencing judge excluded the uncontroverted expert testimony from the analysis."
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Allen's killings were described by law enforcement as a "killing spree" that began with the killings of Harr and Hall in Columbia and ended with the killing of two employees at a North Carolina convenience store near Interstate 77.
According to reports at that time, Allen had repeatedly told investigators the killings of a convenience store clerk and customer in North Carolina were "fate" and he was "operating under control of the Grim Reaper."
Allen's attorneys in South Carolina provided testimony about his history of abuse, dating back to the age of twelve months, and unstable family life. According to testimony from Allen's stepfather, Allen's mother "would have sold Allen if she could have made money off him."
From the second grade onward, Allen's mother repeatedly beat him and his siblings, starved him, threw him out of the house, attempted to give up custody of him, and locking him out of the family home. Before he was in the ninth grade, Allen spent time in a juvenile correctional center after an incident where he brought a large glass bottle to school to "go after one of his bullies."
According to submitted testimony, Allen began seeing mental health care professionals and was diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder in the sixth grade. He was in and out of psychiatric hospitals seven times between the ages of 17 and 20, and had his first attempted suicide.
He attempted suicide a second and third time, and became homeless, at age 18. He spent time in jail for attempted theft of a car and repeatedly attempted to kill himself before the age of 21.
On July 10, 2002, while on break from his work at Texas Roadhouse Grill, Allen picked up Dale Hall on Two Notch Road and drove her to an isolated cul-de-sac and shot her three times. After dragging her body into nearby woods, he purchased gasoline and set her body on fire. Allen returned to the scene after law enforcement began their investigation, pretending to walk a dog atop a bridge that had a good view of the crime scene.
On August 8, 2002, Allen got into an argument with two sisters at the same restaurant on Two Notch. The confrontation carried outside to where the boyfriend of one of the sisters was in a vehicle driven by Jedediah Harr. When Allen pulled out his shotgun and attempted to shoot the boyfriend, he shot Harr in the head instead. Allen later set fire to the boyfriend's home and the car of a Texas Roadhouse Grill coworker.
On August 9, 2002, Allen set fire to a stranger's car before pointing a gun at a patron of a strip club in Columbia. He then left the state and drove to New York City. On his return south, Allen shot and killed two men in a Surrey County, North Carolina convenience store.
Allen was apprehended in Texas on August 14, 2002.
In North Carolina, Allen plead guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of armed robbery, and one count of larceny of an automobile, and received a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. The North Carolina court found "evidence convincing that Allen is mentally ill" and recommended psychiatric evaluation, counseling and treatment upon entering the Department of Corrections.
In South Carolina, a Richland County grand jury in September 2002 indicted Allen on two counts of murder, assault and battery with intent to kill, second degree arson, two counts of third-degree arson, and pointing and presenting a firearm. On April 5, 2004, prosecutors filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Allen and a trial date was set for February 2005.
On February 25, 2005, Allen plead guilty on all charges and waived his right to a jury trial.
On March 7, 2005, the penalty phase of the trial began with expert witness testimony from a team of five specialists presenting evidence of Allen's troubled childhood and history of mental illness as mitigating evidence not for the death penalty but for life in prison.
Judge Cooper sentenced Allen to death.
In his appeal, Allen argued he had plead guilty because he had been promised a life sentence from the judge and if the judge hadn't made that promise, then his lawyers "rendered ineffective assistance of counsel in advising him to plead guilty without adequate assurance that there was any benefit to doing so. He also argues the court "made various constitutional errors in weighing the aggravating and mitigating factors before imposing the death sentence, including that it failed to consider all of his mitigating evidence, instead improperly focusing only on whether he was competent to be executed."
The South Carolina Attorney General's Office could appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court or bring the case back to Richland County for a new sentencing hearing.