Despite the brutal and grisly manner in which Kevin Ray Underwood killed a 10-year-old girl, the convicted murderer’s fate was not taken lightly.
For the jury, deciding whether the man who killed Jamie Rose Bolin in his Purcell apartment in 2006 should die in prison or by lethal injection took more than eight hours Friday night.
For Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn, the decision to seek the death penalty was made after hearing the killer’s eerie, matter-of-fact confession.
"There are murder cases where life without parole is appropriate," Mashburn said. "But this was not the case. And if I thought that was justice, I would have pleaded it over a year ago."
Long before the jury struggled through Friday afternoon and nearly into morning, Mashburn and his staff deliberated about Underwood’s fate.
Life or death?
At first blush, even those who support the death penalty might wonder if the state would be best served by Underwood’s death.
Couldn’t psychologists study his mind — the mind of a man whose dark fantasies inspired a twisted plan involving torture, murder, decapitation, necrophilia and cannibalism?
Couldn't Underwood be used to help identify others with similar urges before another 10-year-old girl's mutilated body is found in another bedroom closet?
Those are questions Mashburn asked himself. He found the answer to be no.
Mashburn said the defense called three mental health experts to interview Underwood, 28, and none of them could ever really get inside the man's mind to find out why he chose to act out his fantasies.
As sick as some people's thoughts are, Mashburn explained, having sick thoughts is not a crime. And even the country’s best experts can't predict what a person is capable of doing and what makes them go from fantasy to action.
"There's no test or pill that can predict these things," he said. "It almost always takes a person getting caught in the act."
If anything were to be gained from allowing Underwood to live, Mashburn said, he would have considered the case differently — but that wasn't the case.
"They studied him backwards and forwards," Mashburn said. "And they got all the info they could get out of him. There's nothing else to study."
For more than a year, Mashburn and Assistant District Attorney Susan Caswell prepared for the high-profile case. Opening arguments were about two weeks ago.
The only thing left was convincing 12 others that taking the life of a human being — even one with obvious mental disorders — is sometimes the right thing to do.
Seven angry men and five women
The conviction was the easy part.
The mutilated body of Jamie Rose Bolin was found stuffed in a plastic storage tub in Underwood's apartment. There was a detailed video confession in which Underwood spared no details about his crime.
Defense attorneys, who did not present a case or even cross-examine most witnesses, told jurors they expected them to find their client guilty.