After a death sentence was handed down to convicted murderer Kimberly Diane Cargill on Thursday night, the victim's stepmother told Ms. Cargill that her stepdaughter had loved her.
“Ms. Cargill, Cherry loved you and she loved (your son),” Rueon Walker said during the victim impact statement. “She didn't deserve the horrible thing you did. You took her away from people that loved her.”
Smith County Judge Jack Skeen sentenced Ms. Cargill to death by lethal injection Thursday night after jurors returned a decision following nine hours of deliberation on punishment.
Ms. Cargill, a 45-year-old Whitehouse woman, was convicted May 18 of murdering Cherry Walker and setting her on fire in June 2010. She showed no reaction when the punishment was read but did tear up when Mrs. Walker read her victim impact statement.
“We don't hate you,” she told Ms. Cargill. “We only have love, pity and compassion for you. Jesus loves you, and he will forgive you.”
Mrs. Walker also said during her victim impact statement, “There are no winners, but there is justice. God gave her life, and it matters. Every life matters.”
When the defendant took the stand in her own defense during the guilt-innocence phase, she said Cherry Walker had a seizure in her car while the two were driving and that she panicked. She said she dumped the body on County Road 2191 and set it on fire.
Cherry Walker had received a subpoena to testify against Ms. Cargill in a child custody hearing before she was killed.
After the punishment phase concluded Thursday, Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham thanked the jury for their weeks of service and for their verdict.
“It was truly an honor to have the opportunity to represent Cherry, her family and the community in this case,” he said.
Prosecutor April Sikes said she and her staff put in about 1,200 hours on the case, beginning on March 22. “It's been an emotional two years for me. I have become so emotionally attached to Cherry Walker and her family — she's so childlike,” Ms. Sikes said. The prosecutor added that in her opinion, Ms. Walker left a legacy of protection for Ms. Cargill's children.
“They are safe, now,” she said.
Defense attorneys left quickly after punishment was pronounced and could not immediately be reached for comment late Thursday.
He told jurors there were two questions they must answer when deciding punishment. He said they must decide whether Ms. Cargill presents a continuing threat to society and whether there were mitigating circumstances that would have caused her to commit the crime.
He told the jury that they must answer “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second. If the jury were to answer those questions in that manner, then Judge Jack Skeen Jr. would sentence her to death.
“Cherry Walker had a life, and it was hers and she was living it. The defendant took her life,” Bingham said.
He said although the defendant didn't choose the characteristics that define her personality disorder, she chose the conduct.
He added there was nothing mitigating about her behavior.
“She chose to do this,” Bingham said to the jury.
“If you could do that (choking and hitting) your children, who wouldn't you hurt?” Bingham asked the jury.
He added Ms. Cargill chose to take the stand during the guilt/innocence phase and lie to the jury.
Defense attorney Brett Harrison argued for his client to receive life without the possibility of parole and said she would do well in the structured environment provided by the jail. He said that someone who has a mental disorder such as the defendant's usually is not violent while they are in jail and pointed out that Ms. Cargill had not had any violent outbursts while being housed for the past two years in the Smith County Jail.
Although Harrison said he was not making excuses for Ms. Cargill, he said that “there was sufficient evidence to say her conduct is being driven by her disorder.”
Defense attorney Jeff Haas told the jury that regardless of what they choose, “the defendant is going away.” He told the jury that by convicting Ms. Cargill, “that justice had already been done.”
“Cherry Walker achieved justice on May 18 when Ms. Cargill was convicted. “She goes away for life and she is convicted. She told her mother, 'I hope you die a miserable old lady.' That's exactly what will happen to her — she will die a miserable old lady,'” Haas said.
Ms. Sikes told the jury in her closing statement that “evil was sitting right there, in a purple shirt,” as she pointed to Ms. Cargill. Ms. Sikes said there is no separate moral code for men and women.
“Cherry's life mattered to me … she stole Cherry Walker's chance to say goodbye,” Ms. Sikes said.