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Only Marine on military's death row has sentence overturned

A military appeals court has overturned the death sentence of Lance Cpl. Kenneth G. Parker, who had been the only Marine on the military’s death row, according  to court documents.

In 1995, Parker was sentenced to death after being convicted of two counts of premeditated murder, and one count of armed robbery and kidnapping. The appeals court threw out one of the two murder counts on Wednesday, and instead of the death penalty, Parker will spend the rest of his life in prison.

The first murder took place during a night of drinking and talk of racial tensions on March 26, 1992, according to court documents.

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While a group of six African-American Marines talked at Camp Lejeune, N.C., a rumor was circulating that a group of White Marines had tried to lynch an African-American Marine on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

A witness in legal proceedings testified that Parker said, “We are going to get us a white boy tonight.”

The men left the base and traveled to nearby Jacksonville, where Parker, carrying a loaded shotgun, picked out white Marine Lance Cpl. Rodney Page and shot him in the upper abdomen after he begged for his life.

In another killing several nights later, Parker allegedly shot and killed Lance Cpl. Christopher James, the husband of a woman having an affair with a fellow Marine, with the same weapon. It was in that case in which the court found numerous problems with the trial judge’s improper admission of evidence and other errors.

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“The appellant’s premeditated murder of LCpl Page, his fellow Marine, was carried out with chilling callousness and depravity,” Judge J.A. Maksym wrote in the opinion. “We have upset aspects of this verdict and will set aside the death penalty due to numerous and substantive procedural and legal failures at trial, some leading to constitutional deprivation. Yet no error by the trial judge below should distract us from the overwhelming evidence of the appellant’s guilt as to the robbery and murder of LCpl Page. This was truly a heinous killing and, minus the errors cited above, assuming the death penalty was awarded, we would have affirmed.”

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, five men remain on the military’s death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The last military execution took place on April 13, 1961, when U.S. Army Private John A. Bennett was hanged after being convicted of rape and attempted murder.

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