RAPID CITY, S.D. -- By the time he reached adolescence in Anchorage, confessed murderer Briley Piper was destined for a life of violence, a defense witness testified during his sentencing hearing Tuesday.
At age 13, Piper had already exemplified 20 of 27 factors recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice as predictors of youth violence, mitigation specialist Jeanette Sheldon of Tucson, Ariz., testified Tuesday.
Defense attorneys John Van Norman and Michael Stonefield are attempting to persuade a jury that the 30-year-old Piper should not be put to death for the 2000 murder of Chester Allan Poage near Spearfish.
A judge had sentenced Piper to death, but the state Supreme Court ruled that a jury, not a judge, should decide whether the Anchorage man should get death or life in prison.
Two other men also were found guilty of Poage's murder. Darrell Hoadley was sentenced to life in prison by a jury. Elijah Page, who dropped his appeals, was executed after being sentenced to death by the same judge who sentenced Briley Piper.
Sheldon said she spent approximately 200 hours interviewing Piper, his family and reviewing his school and juvenile court records.
Lawrence County State's Attorney John Fitzgerald noted to the jury during cross-examination that Sheldon is a paid consultant hired by the defense, The Rapid City Journal reported in a story published Wednesday.
Sheldon said in court Tuesday that a therapist who saw Piper in 1994 concluded it "was imperative that Briley get help."
The therapist predicted that without help, Piper would end up incarcerated, Sheldon said.
Fitzgerald challenged the reliability of Sheldon's conclusions, pointing out that she had not spoken with school officials, legal professionals or therapists who worked with Piper.
He said Sheldon's work was problematic because it was based upon "secondhand information."
Sheldon maintained, however, that the documents she reviewed revealed an overweight teenager with low self-esteem who acted out to get attention and win friends. His parents worked long hours and he was left at home with an abusive older brother each time he was expelled from school.
According to Sheldon, Piper's parents continued to insist that the school system was responsible for their son's behavior and would not cooperate with the legal system when he was criminally charged as a teen after groping and insulting a woman on an Anchorage bike path.
Under questioning by Fitzgerald, Sheldon acknowledged that she did not explore Piper's life during the months leading up to Poage's killing. Nor did she discuss the murder with Piper.
Fitzgerald also pointed out that while Piper was on probation in Alaska at ages 13 and 14, there were "indications that Briley was faking good."
Also taking the stand on Tuesday was Justin Falon of Renner who worked with Piper in prison.
Falon testified that Piper was attempting to make the best out of his life in prison by setting goals and seeking an education.
On several occasions Piper proposed schemes to raise money for a better defense attorney, Falon said. One of those schemes would have involved a pornography website, he said.
When questioned by Fitzgerald, Falon testified that Piper believed he would eventually be set free and never expressed remorse for Poage's death.
The closest Piper ever come to remorse was when he told Falon that Poage's death "was a messed up thing," he said.
Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com