Appeals Court Upholds Eizember Death Penalty
Thursday, July 26th 2007, 5:14 pm CDT
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday upheld the murder convictions and death sentence of Scott James Eizember, who was found guilty in the Oct. 18, 2003, deaths of an elderly Depew couple that launched a multistate crime spree.
The five-member court was unanimous in affirming Eizember's first-degree murder conviction for the bludgeoning death of A.J. Cantrell, 76, and second-degree murder conviction in the shotgun slaying of Patsy Cantrell, 70. Eizember, 46, was sentenced to 150 years in prison for her death.
But the court was divided 3-2 in affirming Eizember's death sentence for A.J. Cantrell's murder. Dissenting judges said they disagreed with the sentence because jurors who were biased toward imposition of the death penalty were allowed to sit on Eizember's jury.
The court also upheld Eizember's other convictions in the case, including shooting with intent to kill then-16-year-old Tyler Montgomery, the son of his ex-girlfriend, Katherine Biggs, and assault with a dangerous weapon against Karla Wright, Biggs' mother.
He was also convicted of breaking into the homes of the Cantrells and Wright. Biggs was staying in Wright's home.
Eizember was the focus of an intense manhunt following the shootings but managed to elude law enforcement authorities for 37 days. He was discovered on Nov. 23, 2003, by a 75-year-old volunteer at a Depew church where Eizember was hiding. Eizember escaped by stealing the volunteer's vehicle, which he abandoned near Waldron, Ark.
He was captured later that day outside Lufkin, Texas, after kidnapping an Arkansas physician and his wife, holding them at gunpoint for six hours and forcing them to drive to Texas. The physician eventually shot Eizember four times with a gun his wife kept in the couple's van.
A federal jury in Arkansas convicted Eizember in December 2005 on two counts of kidnapping and one count each of carjacking and using a firearm in a crime of violence. He was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison.
The Oklahoma appellate court, in an 84-page majority opinion written by Judge Gary Lumpkin of Madill, rejected Eizember's claims that his death sentence should be reversed because the trial judge did not excuse prospective jurors who Eizember claims expressed bias toward imposition of the death penalty during the jury-selection process.
Aside from death, Eizember faced possible penalties of life in prison with or without parole on the first-degree murder conviction.
``It is clear from their responses, both written and oral, that each of these jurors could be a fair and impartial juror, consider all three penalty options and follow the law and instructions given by the court,'' the opinion states.
But Judge Charles Chapel of Tulsa, in a six-page dissenting opinion, wrote that Eizember's trial ``was tainted when biased jurors who sat on his jury should have been excused.'' Chapel said the death penalty should be set aside.
``Biased jurors were allowed to serve on Eizember's trial, even though he requested they be removed for cause, and despite clear pretrial statements indicating their biases,'' the decision states. ``A capital juror must be able to fairly consider all three punishment options.''
Joining Chapel in dissent was Judge Arlene Johnson of Oklahoma City.