Fell formally sentenced to death

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(Host) Donald Fell has been formally sentenced to death for the murder of a Rutland County woman nearly six years ago.

At his sentencing hearing, Fell apologized to the victim’s family. But they said the remorse didn’t ring true for them.

VPR’s John Dillon was at the courthouse.

(Dillon) Vermont has banned capital punishment. But Fell was tried under a federal law that allows for the death sentence because he kidnapped Teresa King and took her across state lines to New York.

In court, Fell spoke to King’s family, his head bowed and his voice barely audible.

He apologized twice for the crime. And he said – quote “What I did was horrible. I know the wounds will never heal. If it comes down in the end that I do die, I accept that it’s no less than what I deserve.”

Five members of King’s family spoke to Fell in court. They said they could not forgive him- that he had robbed them of their mother, their sister, their grandmother. They told him he deserved to die.

Barbara Tuttle, Teresa King’s sister, says she does not believe Fell feels true remorse.

(Tuttle) “I think he made a half attempt to apologize to the family and say that he was sorry, but it doesn’t mean anything to us.”

(Dillon) In court, Tuttle thanked then-Attorney General John Ashcroft for rejecting a plea deal that would have sent Fell to life in prison without the possibility of release. It was Ashcroft’s decision that led to Vermont’s first death penalty trial in nearly 50 years.

But Tuttle also criticized U.S. District Judge William Sessions, who presided over the case. Sessions in 2004 ruled that the federal death penalty statute was unconstitutional. The ruling was overturned by an appeals court.

Tuttle said that her family was – quote “held hostage” by the court for almost six years.

(Tuttle) “The family should not have to, nobody, not just our family, nobody under these circumstances in the United States of America should have to go six years without getting justice for their family.”

(Dillon) Several members of the jury that convicted Fell a year ago were in the courtroom for the sentencing.

Some said they wanted to offer condolences to King’s family. And they said they wanted to hear what Fell had to say.

John Lepore of Northfield said it took the jury only about 45 minutes to decide that Fell should be put to death.

(Lepore) “Basically, this was about as clear and cut as you can ever get. And I think we came to the right decision. We reached the verdict a lot quicker than we came out that day. And that’s ’cause we had to gain our composure. It’s not a light subject to deal with it. I know all of us, the jurors, our lives have changed with the victim’s families, and that’s why we’re here today.

(Dillon) Lepore said he wasn’t impressed with Fell’s statement of remorse.

(Lepore) “A little too late. Too little too late. He should have done that during the penalty phase.”

(Dillon) The case has rekindled debate in Vermont about the death penalty. Opponents of capital punishment held a rally in Burlington Thursday night. Rachel Lawler, is the anti death penalty coordinator in Vermont for Amnesty International.

(Lawler) “I don’t think we should be killing another human being. I think it sends a very bad message about our society when we execute someone, because it’s basically sending a message that we don’t believe people can change. We don’t believe that there’s anything redeemable in a person that does a bad act. And a person is more than the worst thing they’ve ever done.”

(Dillon) Fell’s lawyers said they plan to appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. They said the case will be the first direct challenge to the federal death penalty statute in almost 40 years for the district that covers Vermont, New York and Connecticut.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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