BURLINGTON, Vt. – A man convicted in the fatal beating of a grandmother as she prayed for her life became the first person sentenced to death in Vermont in half a century Friday.
Donald Fell, 26, said what he did "was horrible and wrong" as he apologized before U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions III formally sentenced him to die.
"I know the wounds will never heal," Fell said. "If it comes down to it in the end that I do die, I understand that it's no less than what I deserve. I truly am sorry."
Fell was found guilty of killing Terry King in Dover, N.Y., on Nov. 27, 2000, after she was abducted in Rutland as she arrived for work at a supermaket.
Fell's lawyer, Alexander Bunin, said he would appeal the sentence and thanked King's family for "the courtesy they have shown us."
The last time a death sentence was issued in Vermont the year was 1957. The state abandoned the death penalty in the mid-1960s, although the law remained on the books for another 20 years. Vermont still does not have a state death penalty; federal prosecutors brought the charges against Fell because the killers had crossed state lines for a carjacking that results in a death.
Since his conviction, Fell has been held at the federal prison in Ray Brook, N.Y.
Prosecutors have asked Sessions to order that Fell be executed at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., the site of the federal Bureau of Prisons' death chamber.
King was 53 when she was abducted outside a supermarket by Fell and his co-defendant, Robert Lee. The two had just killed Fell's mother and her friend after a night of heavy drinking in a Rutland apartment.
In a confession played at his trial, Fell said he killed King because she could identify him and Lee. King prayed as she was beaten to death by the side of a road.
Fell and Lee were arrested in Arkansas three days later.
Lee died in prison in September 2001. His death was ruled an accidental hanging. Fell, a native of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., was charged with two federal crimes, carjacking with death resulting and kidnapping with death resulting.
Fell's attorneys didn't contest his guilt. Instead, they asked the jury to spare his life because they said he grew up in a violent household with two alcoholic parents.
In court Friday, King's sister, Barbara Tuttle, criticized the judge, who at one point in the case declared the death penalty unconstitutional but was overturned on appeal.
"For almost six years this family has been held hostage by this court," Tuttle said.
Then she turned and spoke directly to Fell.
"There is no way you will ever comprehend what you did to this family," she said. "You are less than human. You have created a hole in my heart that will never be filled."