Death Penalty Upheld in Grisly Memphis Murders

     JACKSON, Tenn. (CN) – The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for a man convicted of six counts of first-degree murder, including in the brutal deaths of his brother and two nephews.
     As recounted in the court’s opinion, Jessie Dotson went to his brother Cecil Dotson’s house in Memphis on Saturday, March 1, 2008, to watch a University of Memphis basketball game with his father Jessie Sr., his brother, his five nephews, Cecil’s fiancée Marissa Williams, and his half-brother William Waddell.
     Jessie Sr. left because the game was not coming in on Cecil’s television, and Waddell left later that night, the opinion said.
     Dotson was not ready for work Sunday morning when Jessie Sr. came to pick him up. He later called his dad, explained he had gotten in a fight with his girlfriend, and went out to dinner with Waddell that night.
     Erica Smith, the mother of one of Cecil’s children, was unable to reach Cecil on Sunday and feared something was wrong. When he did not show up for work Monday, she decided to call the police.
     The officers sent to Cecil Dotson’s house discovered a gruesome scene when they arrived that evening, the opinion said.
     “Officer Randall Davis arrived first. As he walked in the front door, he could ‘smell the dead bodies.’ The storm door was closed but the interior door was partially open, and he could see a person’s foot lying on the floor inside,” the ruling states. “Entering the front door, Officer Davis discovered four adult bodies, later identified as Cecil, Ms. Williams, Hollis Seals, and [22-year-old] Shindri Roberson. All appeared to have sustained multiple gunshot wounds. Officer Davis did not check for vital signs because it was obvious to him that they were deceased.”
     Davis then discovered 9-year-old C.J. in the bathtub with a knife in his head but still alive.
     Dotson’s 4-year-old nephew Cemario was found dead in one bedroom, and two others appeared to be dead in another room. Cecil II was pronounced dead but Cedrick was still alive when paramedics found him.
     A fifth nephew of the assailant, 2-month-old Ceniyah, was found alive.
     The officers noted that the bodies of Cecil and Roberson were staged with marijuana and crack cocaine strewn on or near them.
     A firefighter who responded to the scene described the bathroom as a “mess” with “blood everywhere,” according to the ruling. He described seeing C.J. with a knife in his head as the worst thing he has ever seen in his life.
     Dotson had killed Cecil and his fiancee, Seals, Roberson, Cemario and Cecil II, according to the ruling. He had also attacked C.J., Cedrick and Ceniyah with kitchen knives and wooden boards.
     A jury convicted Dotson of six counts of premeditated first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. He was sentenced to death for each of the six murder convictions and also given three 40-year consecutive sentences for the attempted murder charges.
     The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Dotson’s convictions and sentences, but state law requires that the Tennessee Supreme Court also review death sentences.
     On Tuesday the justices held that Dotson’s death sentences are not excessive compared to similar cases in Tennessee.
     “This case is not identical to these earlier capital cases primarily because the murders and assaults the defendant perpetrated are some of the most horrendous ever committed in Tennessee. However, taken as a whole, this case is by no means ‘plainly lacking in circumstances consistent with those in similar cases in which the death penalty has been imposed’,” wrote Justice Cornelia Clark. “Thus, we conclude that the sentences of death are not excessive or disproportion to the penalties imposed in similar cases.”
     The Tennessee Supreme Court held that Dotson’s warrantless arrest was based on probable cause, including the testimony of his nephew C.J. – who not only witnessed, but was a victim of the crimes. Delaying an arrest to question a victim about possible motives was not necessary in this instance, Clark wrote.
     “C.J. testified at trial, and the defendant had an opportunity to question him on cross-examination about his motivations for identifying the defendant as the perpetrator,” the judge wrote. “The record contains no evidence that C.J. had any ulterior motive for identifying his uncle, the defendant, as the perpetrator of these crimes.”
     Evidence also supports the jury’s finding of statutory aggravating circumstances in the murders and assaults, the court ruled.
     “The proof established that each victim was stabbed repeatedly and severely beaten and that the physical abuse was beyond that necessary to cause death,” Clark wrote. “The proof is more than sufficient to support the jury’s finding of this aggravating circumstance.”
     The court has scheduled Dotson’s death sentences to be carried out on Nov. 17, 2015.

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