State Seeks Death Penalty in 2004 Murder
Jose Miquel Ventura will face the possibility of the death penalty, a Moore County Superior judge has ruled.
Ventura is charged with first-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon for the December 2004 death of Keith Ellis.
At a recent hearing in Moore County Civil Court before Judge Lindsay Davis, the state put on evidence to show Ellis had been beaten with a brick, was incapacitated from the beating, and then his neck cut from behind. Testimony from a medical examiner indicated he was virtually decapitated. The state contends this was heinous, atrocious and cruel.
Ventura's attorneys have filed documents with the court indicating a defense that could include self-defense, intoxication, and diminished capacity.
Defense attorneys Arthur Donadio and Bruce Cunningham had requested a pre-trial hearing to determine whether or not sufficient evidence of aggravating factors existed to warrant the death penalty.
In North Carolina, the penalty for first-degree murder is life in prison without possibility of parole, or death.
Murder committed during the course of certain felonies can call for such a punishment phase under what is known as the "felony murder rule." Defense attorneys have challenged the constitutionality of this rule, but courts have upheld it.
District Attorney Maureen Krueger had requested a trial date of Monday, May 12, but at a pretrial hearing last month, defense attorneys requested a continuance because of scheduling conflicts.
Cunningham is handling a capital murder trial in another county later this summer. The defense request for a continuance was granted, and trial was set at that hearing to begin in February 2009.
Davis also ordered the state to file another bill of particulars specifying what theory of first-degree murder the state will show at trial.
Krueger and Assistant District Attorney Peter Strickland had filed a Bill of Particulars enumerating some of the aggravating factors the state contends would justify imposition of the death penalty if found by the jury after conviction.
Davis read a statement previously given by the defendant, but did not read it aloud. He ruled that Krueger may pursue the death penalty against Ventura at trial next year.
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