NORMAN, Okla. – An Oklahoma man sentenced to die for killing a 10-year-old girl whose body was found in his bedroom closet should be granted a new trial in part because his confessions were inadmissible, the man's lawyer argued Tuesday.
Attorney William Luker also told the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals that a roadblock where authorities first stopped 31-year-old Kevin Ray Underwood was improper and that a juror on the case was dishonest. He said one of Underwood's two confessions should be discarded because Underwood had asked for a lawyer.
"Officers are not supposed to be around somebody who has already invoked their rights," Luker said. "You're supposed to be leaving them alone and getting them a lawyer."
Underwood, a grocery store stocker from Purcell, was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2006 killing of Jamie Rose Bolin, whose nude body was found stuffed in a plastic tub inside the closet.
During his trial, prosecutors said Underwood lured the girl into his apartment, beat her over the head with a cutting board and suffocated her before sexually assaulting her corpse. Evidence showed he also tried to decapitate her with a decorative dagger and told authorities the killing was part of a cannibalistic fantasy — although there was no evidence the girl's body was cannibalized.
Underwood first encountered authorities two days after Jamie disappeared after leaving her elementary school in Purcell, about 40 miles south of Oklahoma City. The roadblock was set up near the apartment the girl shared with her father, upstairs from Underwood.
After an initial interview with FBI investigators, Underwood let the two agents search his apartment, where they discovered the large plastic tub. When an agent lifted the lid and spotted some of the girl's clothing, he immediately asked what happened to her. Underwood responded: "She's in there. I hit her and chopped her up."
Luker argued that confession was inadmissible because Underwood had become a suspect by that point and had not been told of his right to legal counsel. A lengthy videotaped confession conducted later at police headquarters after Underwood had been informed of his rights also should be suppressed, Luker said, because Underwood had indicated he wanted an attorney.
Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Dickson, who argued the state's case, maintained that Underwood offered to talk to investigators after he had twice been informed of his rights.
Luker, Underwood's public defender, also argued that a juror wanted so badly to serve in the case that he intentionally failed to disclose as many as eight contacts with law enforcement and the judicial system during juror questioning.
"We're entitled to 12 impartial jurors who uphold their oath, not 11," Luker argued. "And we contend we didn't get that here."
Dickson maintained the juror didn't intentionally withhold information and that it wouldn't have affected the outcome of the case.
Justice Gary Lumpkin, the court's presiding judge, seemed to agree. "What does that have to do with him being a fair and impartial juror in this case?" Lumpkin asked.
The court is expected to issue a ruling in the case within a few months. This is the first stage of state appeals for Underwood, who is housed on death row at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.
Jamie's mother and grandmother both attended Tuesday's hearing and said they were prepared for a lengthy appeals process.
"We just don't want Jamie to be forgotten in all the nitpicking legalities," said Rose Fox, the girl's grandmother. "Somebody needs to stand here and stand for her."