- Last Updated on 10:42 AM 01/06/10
- BY MATT TOMSIC/DANVILLE REGISTER & BEE
At a funeral home months ago, Courtney Marie Servais lay covered — except for one hand for family to hold — while loved ones viewed her body, which had been too brutalized for an open-casket funeral.
Dennis Lee Daniel, 43, was found guilty by jury Monday of first-degree murder, abduction, carjacking and robbery in the Dec. 19 killing of Servais. He received three life sentences plus 10 years and a $100,000 fine.
Before Daniel was sentenced, family testified to the impact of Servais’ death.
Steven Servais, Courtney’s husband, said he didn’t know what to tell his three children — ages 10, 8 and 3 — after they ask about their mother.
Lawrence Turpin, Courtney’s father, talked about the day Courtney was born, and his role during the early years of her life. By preschool, Turpin said he learned how to fashion his daughter’s hair into a couple of different hairstyles; though on the first try, he couldn’t get her pigtails even.
Turpin said Courtney was a daddy’s girl.
“Anyone here would think that the last year of my daughter’s life was how she lived her entire life,” Turpin said. “It was not.”
Pittsylvania County Commonwealth’s Attorney David Grimes showed the jury photographs of Servais’ life as her mother smiled at each photo from the witness stand.
“There are no words in the English language to describe how her death has altered my life,” said Debra Emerson, her mother.
Daniel spoke before the judge imposed the jury’s sentences. Daniel said he deserved the death penalty, and he acknowledged Servais’ family.
“I know this is a hell of a loss for them,” Daniel said. “There’s nothing I can say that will help them right now.”
He added that the trial has been hard on his family as well. Daniel maintained that he did not rob Servais on Dec. 19.
“Today I forgive myself,” Daniel said. “I won’t fight it, but I have to put it behind me. I love that girl, and she didn’t deserve it.”
Judge Charles Strauss struck the capital murder charge Monday morning as court proceedings began. To be charged with capital murder, a defendant must commit a first-degree murder in the commission of another serious felony, in this case, robbery. Defense attorneys had moved twice to strike the capital murder charge because they said the prosecution had not established that the robbery of Servais was the motive for the killing.
Strauss said the evidence did not establish that Daniel took Servais’ money or jewelry. Daniel also did not kill Servais to take her car, Strauss added. He disagreed with Grimes’ argument that the car was the “fruit of the robbery,” and the killing was part of the same criminal enterprise.
“The evidence is simply insufficient,” Strauss said.
Grimes and defense attorney Steven Milani gave closing arguments after the judge struck the capital murder charge.
Servais was the victim of Daniel’s sense of justice, Grimes said.
“Her trial began Dec. 5, 2008,” Grimes said of the day that Daniel learned Servais slept with his son. “It’s the kind of trial the defendant would have. This is not a case about respect. Respect is something that a person earns.
“It’s a case about a bully, who seemed to believe he was entitled to respect.”
Grimes said that Daniel planned on killing Servais since that day in December.
Milani, one of Daniel’s defense attorneys, said that Servais’ killing was not premeditated. Milani said that testimony portrayed Daniel as an impulsive person who went back and forth between extreme emotions. He cited Daniel’s testimony during the trial, when he said that he didn’t mean to kill Servais.
Milani asked the jury not to find Daniel guilty of first-degree murder.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is reprinted with permission from the Register and Bee.)