On 4 march 1999, a Shelby
County Circuit Court jury in Alabama needed less than 35 minutes to find
17-year-old Mark Duke guilty of four counts of capital murder.
convicted in the March 23, 1997 murders of his father, Randy Duke, 39;
the elder Duke's fiancee, Dedra Mims Hunt, 29; and Ms. Hunt's daughters,
7-year-old Chelsea Hunt and 6-year-old Chelisa Hunt. Defense attorneys
did not disputed he killed his father, but painted Randy Duke as a heavy
drinker who abused his son.
Witnesses testified Duke was
angry that his father had denied him use of a truck, and that he and
Samra entered the house intending to kill the four. According to
testimony, Duke shot his father after telling him "I'll see you in
hell." The woman was shot and the girls stabbed and their throats
Samra, 21, was convicted of four
counts of capital murder last year and sentenced to death. He testified
against Duke, saying Duke shot his father and Ms. Hunt and slashed
Chelisa's throat. Samra admitted cutting Chelsea's throat, but said Duke
was holding the little girl down.
Michael LaFayette Ellison, 18,
and David Layne Collums, 19, pleaded guilty to murder and were sentenced
to 16 years in prison in exchange for testifying against Duke.
Prosecutors claimed Collums and Ellison provided Duke and Samra with
transportation to and from the house the day of the killings.
Whatever happened to Mark
By Sara Foss - DailyGazette.com
Friday, June 20, 2008
As a reporter, you’re always learning. It’s not
always clear how useful the information you accumulate is — does it help
you in Trivial Pursuit? does it make you better at the crossword? — but
you do develop an ability to talk about anything, with almost anyone,
which at least gives you the ability to survive a dinner party. My
moment of triumph came a couple of years ago, when a friend was
complaining about her boyfriend’s tinnitus — a persistent ringing in the
ears — and how she can never hear anything he says. “I just wrote a
story on tinnitus,” I announced, as my friend Ed practically fell over
with disbelief. “The problem is, there’s no cure.” You know you’ve
reached some weird pinnacle in the accumulation of random information
when you can discuss tinnitus with your friends. And not just discuss it,
but discuss it with authority.
This week I began researching a story that will run
in Sunday’s Gazette about the juvenile justice system and why certain
crimes are prosecuted in adult court. (The article is inspired by the
Albany 15-year-old who allegedly fired a gun and killed a 10-year-old
girl.) As I surfed the web and looked for information, I began thinking
about Mark Anthony Duke.
Duke, a resident of Shelby County, Ala., was
sentenced to die for killing his father, father’s girlfriend, and the
girlfriend’s two young daughters. His 1999 trial, which lasted a week,
was one of the first things I covered in my job as a reporter at the
Birmingham Post-Herald, my first newspaper. I don’t think about Duke
often, but occasionally he pops into my head, like the name of a book I
never finished, and I wonder: Whatever happened to Mark Anthony Duke?
I’d never tried to answer this question, but this
week it became impossible not to. One of the people I interviewed for my
juvenile justice story mentioned a 2005 Supreme Court decision barring
the execution of 16 and 17-year-olds. When I took a look at it, there he
was, Mark Anthony Duke.
The details of his case were outlined in grim detail,
and I scanned through them. I’d forgotten how awful it all was, how Duke
enlisted several friends to help him (one of the friends, 19-year-old
Brandon Samra had already been convicted and sent to death row; he
testified against Duke during one of the more riveting days of trial),
how he told these friends he planned to kill his father and that he
would kill the girls to eliminate witnesses.
Duke and Samra (the other two friends didn’t enter
the house, which is why they received lengthy prison sentences but
didn’t end up on death row) found the 6-year-old hiding in the shower
and slit her throat. Then they found the 7-year-old hiding under a bed
and slit her throat. They shot the adults, and ransacked the house to
make it appear as though a burglary had occurred. Why did Duke decide to
do this? The only explanation we heard in court was that he was angry
because his father wouldn’t let him borrow the truck.
Duke never said a word at trial, though several
people testified in his defense, saying he wasn’t all that bad. His
mother and sisters attended the trial, but didn’t speak on his behalf.
One of the more surreal aspects of covering a capital murder trial day
in and day out is hanging out in the courthouse.
Many trial articles duly note that relatives and
friends of the victim sit on one side of the courthouse, while relatives
and friends of the defendant sit on the other side, but this observation,
delivered in terse newspaper-style, fails to convey how truly bizarre
this dynamic is. On one side you have people who want the defendant to
live, and on the other side people who want the defendant to die, but
for the most part everybody manages to ignore each other and keep things
civil. At least, that’s what they did during this trial, though it was
certainly tense and uncomfortable, even painful, particularly when the
bloody photos from the crime scene were displayed. I remember several
people leaving the courtroom. When the jury was charged, we knew it
wouldn’t take long. We milled around in the hallway, and after about a
half hour we were called back into the courtroom, where we learned that
Mark Anthony Duke had been found guilty.
Duke is not a famous person, but this week I found
myself recalling the facts of his case and discussing them with people.
“Oh, yeah,” I said to one person. “I remember they attended the movie
“Scream” the night of the murders to establish an alibi.” Because of the
Supreme Court ruling, Duke will not be executed, but he will spend the
rest of his life in prison. I found some information about him on a
website about juveniles on Alabama’s death row. After the Supreme Court
ruling, he was moved to a state prison in Atmore. In a photograph on the
site, he is grinning — I don’t think he smiled once at trial — and it
says: “Mark has been incarcerated since he was 16 years old. He welcomes
new penfriends and encourages the more mature correspondent to contact
him at ...” The website invited me to visit Duke’s website, but when I
tried to pull it up I found that it had been removed. Still, I was
satisfied. My question had been answered.
So that’s where Mark Anthony Duke is, I thought. In a
state prison in Atmore. For some strange reason, it was information I
was glad to have.
ALABAMA COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS
MARK ANTHONY DUKE
STATE OF ALABAMA
May 27, 2005
Appeal from Shelby
Circuit Court (CC-97-383).
The opinion of the
court was delivered by: Wise, Judge.
On Remand from the
United States Supreme Court
Mark Anthony Duke was
convicted of capital murder in connection with the deaths of Randy
Gerald Duke, Dedra Mims Hunt, Chelisa Nicole Hunt, and Chelsea Marie
Hunt, because those murders were committed "pursuant to one scheme or
course of conduct." See § 13A-5-40(a)(10), Ala. Code 1975. We affirmed
Duke's capital-murder conviction and sentence of death on direct appeal.
Duke v. State, 889 So. 2d 1 (Ala.Crim.App. 2003). The Alabama Supreme
Court subsequently quashed Duke's petition for a writ of certiorari. Ex
parte Duke, 889 So. 2d 1 (Ala. 2004). Duke petitioned the United States
Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari.
On March 7, 2005, the
United States Supreme Court granted Duke's petition for a writ of
certiorari, vacated the judgment of this Court and remanded Duke's case
for further consideration in light of Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. ___,
125 S.Ct. 1183 (2005). Duke v. Alabama, 543 U.S. ___, 125 S.Ct. 1588
The record indicates
that Duke was 16 years old when he committed this capital offense. In
Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. ___, 125 S.Ct. 1183 (2005), the United States
Supreme Court held that it was a violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth
Amendments to the United States Constitution to impose a death sentence
on a defendant who was under the age of 18 at the time the criminal
offense was committed. This decision abrogated the Court's previous
decision in Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361 (1989), upholding death
sentences for offenders who were 16 or older at the time the crime was
Because Duke's case was
pending on certiorari to the United States Supreme Court when the
decision in Roper v. Simmons was released, the holding of that case
applies to him. "[A]ll defendants whose cases were still pending on
direct appeal at the time of the law-changing decision should be
entitled to invoke the new rule." United States v. Johnson, 457 U.S.
537, 545 n. 9 (1982). See also Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314
Based on the foregoing,
Duke's sentence of death must be vacated. However, the Supreme Court's
decision has no bearing on Duke's conviction for capital murder.
Accordingly, this case must be remanded for the Shelby Circuit Court to
set aside Duke's sentence of death and to resentence him to life
imprisonment without the possibility of parole -- the only other
sentence available for a defendant convicted of capital murder. See §
13A-5-45(a), Ala. Code 1975. The circuit court shall take all necessary
action to ensure that the return to remand is filed in this Court within
35 days from the date of this opinion.
AFFIRMED AS TO
CONVICTION; REMANDED WITH INSTRUCTIONS AS TO SENTENCE.
McMillan, P.J., and
Cobb, Baschab, and Shaw, JJ., concur.
Mark Anthony Duke