Penalty phase begins for murderer

September 24, 2008 12:33:12 PM PDT
Lawyers for a sexual predator who's been convicted of murdering five young women in the East Bay in a four-month span in 1985 objected today when a prosecutor briefly choked up while describing the impact their violent deaths has had on their family members.

Defense attorney Alex Selvin, who was joined in his objection by co-counsel Michael Berger, said the effect of prosecutor Jim Meehan's emotions on jurors while he presented his opening statement in the penalty phase of Anthony McKnight's trial "was not appropriate."

In a brief hearing outside the presence of jurors, Selvin said, "I'm not suggesting he (Meehan) did it on purpose, but that's as close to tears as any prosecutor I've ever seen."

But Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner said he doesn't think that Meehan was trying to influence the jury, and told Selvin that he should remember the context of the case, which involves the deaths of five young women.

"To be purely automatous and speak with no feelings or empathy asks too much of the human condition," Horner said.

He added, "We can excuse a quaver in the voice or a lump in the throat."

Jurors last week convicted McKnight, 54, a former Navy-enlisted man, of five counts of first-degree murder as well as five special circumstances murder clauses.

Three of the special circumstances are for committing murder during the course of a rape, one is for committing murder during sodomy and one is for committing multiple murders.

During the penalty phase of McKnight's trial, which began with opening statements by Meehan and Selvin today, the same jurors will choose between recommending either the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

McKnight, who lived in Oakland and was assigned to the Alameda Naval Air Station, is already serving a 63-year term in state prison because he was convicted in August 1987 of 11 felony counts, including attempted murder, mayhem, kidnapping and forced oral copulation, for attacks on six prostitutes between 1984 and his arrest in January of 1986.

After he began serving his prison sentence, authorities used new DNA analysis techniques to connect McKnight to the murders in his current case, which occurred in secluded locations in Oakland, Emeryville, Berkeley and Richmond between September and December 1985.


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