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Judge denies motion to drop capital charge in murder case

Halifax County Circuit Court Judge Joel Cunningham denied a defense motion to dismiss the capital murder charge against James Lloyd Terry during a motions hearing held Monday in Halifax County Circuit Court.

The defendant’s capital defense team, led by Richmond attorney David Baugh, had argued for dismissal of the capital charge, alleging the sentencing standard for such an offense was “arbitrary and capricious.”

Baugh argued aggravating factors necessary for imposition of the death penalty in a capital case were vague.

Under capital sentencing procedures, one of several aggravating factors must be proven in order for the defendant to receive the death penalty, including the probability a defendant would commit violent criminal acts which would constitute a continuing threat to society (future dangerousness); or a defendant exhibiting outrageous, vile, inhuman, wanton conduct that involved torture, depravity of mind or aggravated battery to a victim (vileness).

“The defense is in a position of going to trial without knowing the standards that raise [the case] to the level of a capital charge,” argued Baugh.

“What does the government have to prove, and what do we have to defend?” he added.

White told Cunningham the Virginia Supreme Court addressed and subsequently rejected the defense’s very argument in several cases reviewed by them.

“The Supreme Court rejected those arguments.  It’s all been argued before…we’re faced with a long line of jurisprudence issues reviewed by the Supreme Court and rejected,” White told the court.

Cunningham said he “acknowledges that the court wishes all things were perfectly clear in the administration of justice.” 

“The court is obliged to follow case law,” Cunningham said before rejecting the defense motion.

Judge Cunningham also denied a defense motion to take judicial notice of various conclusions Baugh argued the appellate courts had reached.

Judicial notice is a rule in the law of evidence that allows a fact to be introduced into evidence if the truth of that fact is so well known that it cannot reasonably be doubted.

Facts or materials admitted under judicial notice are accepted without being formally introduced by a witness or rule of evidence.

Baugh’s argument has already been made and rejected, and the issues he was asking this court to take notice of are irrelevant at the trial court stage, White said Tuesday.

Cunningham told Baugh at Monday’s motions hearing he would allow him to submit an agreed statement to the court whether or not the Virginia Supreme Court has ever dismissed a case based on the mandated proportionality review.

Proportionality review is a general assembly’s directive to insure that the death penalty is administered as fairly as possible.

All cases in which a defendant has been sentenced to death must automatically undergo a review by the Supreme Court of Virginia to determine that the sentence is neither excessive nor disproportionate to the sentence imposed in other cases.

Terry, a Halifax native is accused of capital murder and rape related to the April 2011 death of 84-year-old Charlotte Osborne Rice.

Terry was arrested on the murder charge in April 2011 after the body of Rice was discovered in her North Main Street home when authorities responded to a report of a possible breaking and entering.

Acting on a 911 call to police from Taylor, police arrived at the North Main Street residence where they apprehended Terry following a foot pursuit through yards neighboring Rice’s house.

Terry, a registered sex offender, has been held without bond since the time of his arrest.

No trial date has been set, and Terry could face the death penalty if convicted.