, Muskogee, OK

May 18, 2013

Board denies clemency for inmate

Associated Press

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board denied clemency Friday for a death row inmate scheduled to be executed next month for the slayings of an elderly Le Flore County couple 13 years ago.

The five-member board voted 3-2 against recommending that Gov. Mary Fallin commute the death sentence of James Lewis DeRosa, 36, who is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on June 18. He was convicted in the stabbing deaths of Curtis Plummer, 73, and Gloria Plummer, 70, on Oct. 2, 2000.

Board Chairman Marc Dreyer of Tulsa and member Currie Ballard of Langston voted to reduce DeRosa’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole after DeRosa took responsibility for the victims’ deaths and expressed remorse.

“I can’t express how truly sorry I am for the pain I’ve caused the Plummer family,” DeRosa said in a teleconference from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

“I take full responsibility for their deaths. If not for me, they wouldn’t have died that night.”

DeRosa said he had turned to religion since his arrest and convictions and urged the board to set aside his death sentence so he could be a positive influence on the prison system’s general population.

“My faith just took on a life of its own,” said DeRosa, who indicated he practices Messianic Judaism, which combines elements of Christian and Jewish theologies and practices.

He added: “I am genuinely not the man I used to be.”

DeRosa addressed the board after members of the victims’ family described the impact their deaths have had on them.

“Mother and daddy’s murder, it took everything from me,” said Janet Tolbert, the Plummers’ daughter.

Tolbert wore a white T-shirt that bore an image of her parents. “Closure for this, there is none. Our lives have been messed up something terrible.”

Tolbert and other family members were skeptical of defense claims that DeRosa had turned his life around on death row.

“He planned this awful crime,” said Jo Milligan, Gloria Plummer’s sister. “He showed no mercy.”

Defense attorneys Tom Hird and Patti Ghezzi told board members that DeRosa had a troubled childhood and was the victim of neglect and abuse.

Dr. Michael Gelbort, a clinical neuropsychologist who had examined DeRosa, said his childhood experiences had made him impulsive as a young adult but that he had changed in prison.

“He has progressed to a level of appropriate behavior,” Gelbort said.

DeRosa’s brother, Army Capt. Jason Cole DeRosa, said his brother was abandoned and abused as a child in ways he was not.

“James is simply a different person than he was 13 years ago,” he said.

Prosecutors said DeRosa had worked at the Plummers’ ranch. They alleged DeRosa and John Eric Castleberry talked their way into the victims’ rural Poteau home, slashed their throats and left the scene with $73 and the couple’s truck.

Castleberry, 33, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole in an agreement with prosecutors in which he testified against DeRosa.