Court Affirms Death Sentence for Wife Killer

     (CN) – A man on death row for the cold-blooded murder of his wife failed to persuade the Delaware Supreme Court with evidence that his father frequently beat him and sexually abused foster children.
     In 2001, Gary Ploof was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at Dover Air Force Base, when he murdered his wife Heidi, two days after the military’s spousal life insurance coverage of $100,000 took effect.
     He shot her in the head while in a parked car at a Wal-Mart in a way he believed would suggest she committed suicide.
     Ploof then constructed an elaborate alibi, making frantic calls to friends, to the police, and even calling Heidi’s cellphone repeatedly feigning concern for his wife.
     But a Wal-Mart security camera captured Ploof walking quickly away from the vehicle.
     Ploof lied to the police about his affair with another woman, and his ownership of several firearms, including the murder weapon. His superior officer also testified that Ploof was well aware of the spousal insurance policy, although Ploof claimed he knew nothing about it.
     In his decision to sentence Ploof to death, the trial judge noted the jury’s unanimous decision that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating ones.
     “While there are mitigating circumstances which have been proved, they are insubstantial when compared to the nature of the crime and the true character of the defendant as revealed by his crime and by his conduct,” the trial judge said.
     At a post-conviction hearing, Ploof presented evidence from foster children who lived in his family’s home while he was a child, describing their physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his father, and testified that Ploof’s father frequently beat him.
     Other witnesses testified to Ploof’s successful 20-year military career, praised his ability to work under pressure, and described his work launching 3,000 missions during Operation Desert Storm.
     The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Ploof’s death sentence Thursday, finding no strong link between his abusive childhood and the murder of his wife, especially as he had no prior criminal background.
     “Ploof revealed his cold-blooded nature after murdering Heidi, by immediately carrying out an elaborate scheme to mislead the police and hide the incriminating evidence, all while making inquiries concerning the life insurance. Although Ploof expressed his remorse to the jury after the penalty hearing, he also feigned sadness while attempting to mislead the police and his friends to believe that Heidi had committed suicide,” Chief Justice Myron Steele said, writing for the court’s majority.
     “The aggravating circumstances in this case are powerful, and we cannot conclude that there is a reasonable probability that the sum total of the mitigating evidence would lead a reasonable sentencing judge or jury to a different result. The child abuse evidence has no nexus to the murder or Ploof’s motivations for it. Nor is it comparable with the humanizing evidence that caused the United States Supreme Court to find prejudice in Williams, Wiggins, and Rompilla,” Steele continued.
     Rather, the Ploof’s evidence of abuse “pales in comparison,” to the Supreme Court cases cited by the court.
     “We recognize that the Court never stated that Williams, Wiggins, and Rompilla represented the minimum level of prejudice required to establish ineffective assistance of counsel. But by the same token, the Court has never articulated a rule or principle that any undiscovered child abuse evidence ipso facto requires a new penalty hearing,” Steele said.
     Chancellor Leo Strine, sitting by designation, wrote a dissent joined by Justice Randy Holland, in which he said a reasonable judge could have chosen to give Ploof a life sentence given his serious child abuse and lengthy military service.
     “This is a classic situation where a reasonable jury and sentencing judge could consider the entire record and reach a reasoned determination to give either a life or a death sentence,” Strine said. “In so concluding, we note that it is a sad reality that murder is all too common in our society.”
     “The related and important reality is that the crimes for which a death penalty is a possible sentence under our law are categorically awful and unsympathetic, because they all involve the taking of another human life, in circumstances that our General Assembly has concluded are particularly worthy of punishment,” he continued. “Murders that could be seen as involving more cruelty and evil than the one Ploof committed have resulted in the imposition of a life, rather than a death, sentence.”

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