By Danny Gallagher, McKinney Courier-Gazette
(Created: Thursday, October 18, 2007 3:19 AM CDT)
Prosecuting attorney Curtis Howard used words such as “kind,” “quiet,” “intelligent” and even “artist” to describe Kosoul Chanthakoummane in his closing statements.
He said, however, that “evil” comes in many forms and appearances can be very deceiving, especially when it comes to the defendant.
“Evil manifests itself in many different ways,” Howard said. “Something that evil that manifests itself can be a polite, kind, quiet artist and when evil manifests itself that way, it can be hard to make that determination.”
The jury in the Sarah Anne Walker capital murder trial unanimously determined Wednesday after more than three-and-a-half hours of deliberation that the state proved Chanthakoummane, 27, is a future danger to society and should be sentenced to death. Each juror confirmed their vote for 380th District Court Judge Charles Sandoval with a simple “yes it is” or “yes, sir.”
Years will likely pass before Chanthakoummane is executed by lethal injection. Appeals are automatic in death-sentence cases.
Howard, in his closing arguments, said in order to answer those special-issue questions when rendering their verdict, the jury would have to take an objective look at the defendant’s entire background, not just the background the defense presented to them.
“You have to look at this defendant, and who he is goes to the heart of both of these questions,” Howard said. “You heard on the opening statements from [defense attorney Steven Miears], and he gave you two faces of Kosoul Chanthakoummane. The first one is when he is out and he’s bad, and the second one is when he’s in … he’s good. It’s really not that simple. He’s all the same person.”
Miears said he believed the state didn’t prove his client would become a risk if the jurors sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole, their only other option. He cited testimony from former Anson Correctional Center inmate Tony Shank, and prison guard Lawrence Parson and corrections Sgt. Bruce Chabot, who described Chanthakoummane as a calm, quiet and behaved inmate before he was released on parole and allowed to move to Texas with his sister.
“The last thing they [the prison guards who testified for the defense] want on their hands is for harm to come to another Texas prison guard,” Miears said. “That should give you the answer to the future danger question and where it should stop is no.”
First Assistant District Attorney Greg Davis said Chanthakoummane was a model prisoner in Anson because he knew good behavior would speed up his parole. He cited incidents committed by Chanthakoummane at other North Carolina jails and juvenile detention facilities, including weapons possession, disobeying an order, possessing contraband and escape.
He said he had numerous opportunities to turn his life around through his probation, his parole and even his unique talent for drawing. Davis said he chose a much different path, and was the only person in the courtroom who chose to be there.
“When you write those answers yes and no (on special issue No. 1 and special issue No. 2), you’re simply tracing over the answers this defendant placed on the verdict form himself,” Davis said.
Jackie Mull, Walker’s youngest sister, delivered a victim impact statement on behalf of the family after Sandoval read the verdict and dismissed the jury. She said Chanthakoummane has no one to blame but himself for earning a “cold, hard seat” on Death Row. The defendant sat motionless and stone-faced during Mull’s statement.
“I suspect that for the rest of your days on this planet, you will blame everyone else for your fate,” Mull said. “Life is about choices, and you have yet to make a good one in your life. It’s clear you possess a talent that most of us do not have, but instead of using your hands to draw pictures, we had to sit and see pictures of my sister’s mutilated body.”
Randy Tate, Walker’s ex-husband, said after the trial that he has been taking care of their 5-year-old son, Josh Tate, since her death. Dawn Tate, Josh’s grandmother and Randy’s mother, said her grandson has suffered a great deal of fear and shock since her mother’s death and underwent counseling to help him deal with his loss.
“From that day forward, my parents have given up their life,” Tate said. “My mom [Dawn Tate] basically moved into my house to take care of him, and we’ve been taking care of Josh since that day forward, and we have done everything in our power to make sure he’s taken care of properly … He’s doing really well since he’s been to counseling. Our priority has been Josh Tate.”
Joe Walker, Sarah Walker’s father, said he wasn’t surprised by the verdict. He said in earlier statements that based on his religious beliefs, he did not want Chanthakoummane put to death. He also said he continues to pray for Chanthakoummane and that even though he doesn’t condone his actions, he still forgives him.
“As far as the verdict, I would have found it very hard for them to find it any other way after listening to the evidence and the people,” Mr. Walker said.
He also said he respects other family members’ beliefs, including Mull, his daughter, that Chanthakoummane should receive the death penalty because its extent in the law matches the extent of his crime.
“I respect all of my family,” Mr. Walker said. “I respect what they believe totally.”
Davis said after the trial that he had spoken to Mr. Walker about his stance regarding the death penalty in this case.
“I have had cases before where the family did not favor the death penalty for one reason or another,” Davis said. “I respect Mr. Walker’s beliefs based on his religious faith, but he also understood why we needed to do this and we had an agreement that he understood why I needed to do what I needed to do and I agreed that I would respect his opinions, so we had a good working relationship throughout the entire matter.”
The death penalty is reserved for the “worst of the worst” or individuals who have no remorse or hope of rehabilitation through a life prison sentence, and Davis said Chanthakoummane meets that criteria.
“You have to look at the crime itself to begin with and you have to ask yourself just how and why was that crime committed,” Davis said. “Then you start to look at the person and start to look at the history of that individual. Lack of remorse is one thing. Has he been violent in the past? Has he come into the system before? Has he had the opportunity to rehabilitate before and all of that leads up to this question, do we really believe the death penalty is necessary to protect this community from this individual? And in this case, the answer was yes and the jury agreed with us.”
Walker said he hopes his family can begin healing after suffering for so long.
“Now we try to heal everything and hopefully we can go on from there because the suffering of my family, tens of thousands of hours they’ve suffered so terribly,” Mr. Walker said. “We all have.”
Miears and defense attorney Keith Gore could not be reached for comment after the trial.