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Hearing starts in immigrant attacks

One defendant pleads, sentence being decided

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POSTED: December 24, 2008 5:00 a.m.
TIFTON -- A sentencing hearing for one of the people charged in the 2005 killings of six Mexican immigrants in brutal attacks in and around Tifton began Monday and is expected to last at least a week.

Jamie Underwood pleaded guilty in September to all four indictments against him. Tift County Superior Court Judge Gary McCorvey sentenced him at the time to 120 years in prison on three of the four indictments. The sentencing on the fourth indictment, which includes murder charges, is being held separately because the prosecution is seeking the death penalty.

The brutality of the September 2005 attacks - in which the victims were beaten, shot and, in at least one case, raped - shocked the thousands of immigrants who have come to south Georgia for agricultural and manufacturing jobs.

Tift County District Attorney Paul Bowden said in his opening statement that he is seeking the death penalty because of aggravating circumstances surrounding the killings, which he says were carried out in the course of attempted robberies and burglaries.

Defense attorney Dennis Francis opted to wait until the prosecution has rested before giving his opening statement.

Tony Clark, who was a Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner at the time of the attacks, answered questions about the victims' injuries with the aid of graphic photos from the autopsies. He said most of the injuries were consistent with those inflicted by a baseball bat or hammer.

One of the victims was shot to death, and the others died from blunt force trauma, according to Clark's autopsy reports.

The prosecution also called as witnesses the GBI specialists who processed the crime scenes. They used photos, diagrams and evidence from the scenes to describe what they found upon arriving on Sept. 30, 2005.

Dressed in a suit, Underwood sat between two of his attorneys throughout Monday's proceedings, occasionally talking to them but never registering any reaction as the sometimes gruesome photos were shown on a monitor in front of him.

The prosecution is also seeking the death penalty against co-defendant Stacey Bernard Sims. The men face multiple charges, including murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, armed robbery, burglary and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime in the deaths of six men and the injury of at least six others in the attacks in and around Tifton, a rural town about 170 miles south of Atlanta.

Two women, Jennifer Lafay Wilson and Emma Jean Powell, were indicted on the same charges, but the prosecution isn't seeking the death penalty against them. Bowden has said in the past that that is because the women only drove the men from place to place.

Bowden said he expects Underwood's sentencing hearing to last into next week. The other three defendants have not entered pleas and their trial dates have not been set.


 

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