Halifax judge considers death penalty for convicted murderer

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HALIFAX, Va. (WDBJ7) A Halifax County man is expected to learn this week whether he will live or die for carrying out a 2011 rape and murder.

Charlotte Rice

James Lloyd Terry entered guilty pleas in March on counts of capital murder, rape, and robbery related to the death of Charlotte Rice in South Boston. Under Virginia law a person found guilty of capital murder can face a punishment of death or life in prison.

A neighbor found Rice, 84, beaten and lifeless in her home on Hamilton Boulevard in April of 2011. According to prosecutors, the neighbor who found Rice reported seeing a man matching Terry's description "nude from the waist up" and fleeing Rice's home shortly after she was attacked.

Arguments opened Monday in what is expected to be a four-day sentencing phase for Terry. In presenting their opening arguments, Terry's defense team indicated they will use their client's intellect as a means for helping him avoid the death penalty.

"He took full responsibility and accepts his punishment," a member of Terry's defense said of their client Monday. "He's not the worst of the worst, because he is intellectually disabled."

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 2002 that executing people with intellectual disabilities violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, however individual states are open to define what constitutes an intellectual disability.

Prosecutors argued in opening statements that Terry is "a continuing threat to society," citing prior criminal incidents and convictions over a period of 20 years. "Nothing will stop this defendant and he remains a future danger," prosecutors said.

Judge Joel C. Cunningham will decide whether Terry should face Virginia's death penalty or life in prison. His decision is expected following the presentation of evidence by prosecutors and defense attorneys later this week.