Lonnie Blackmon wasn't the first of his family to be murdered.
That revelation brought tears to the eyes of some jurors Monday who hold the fate of the man's killer in their hands. Blackmon's older brother, who traveled from Arkansas to testify, told the jury his sister was shot to death in a Kansas City, Kan., nightclub in 1981."It is hard enough to lose one loved one, but to lose a second child by the hands of a murderer is almost unbearable. But by the grace of God my family has been able to maintain some sense of purpose," said Larry Blackmon.
His sister's killer was never brought to justice - something Blackmon's family wanted to make sure happened in the death of their brother and son.
"That's why we're here," Blackmon's father, Paul Sr., said after court.
The 12-member jury will decide as early as Wednesday whether Troy Michael Kell should receive the death penalty for stabbing fellow inmate Lonnie Blackmon 67 times.
Larry Blackmon also testified that after hearing of the murder, their mother was unable to eat or sleep for months.
"She was haunted by nightmares - dreaming of and reliving the murder over and over again," he said. "She collapsed during the funeral and had to be carried from the church."
The handcuffed Blackmon was attacked on July 6, 1994 - within 45 seconds of being released from his cell for a medical visit in the Central Utah Correctional facility.
Kell straddled the man and "systematically" jabbed him with a dull, 3-inch-long shank, witnesses said. An autopsy revealed more than 50 of the wounds were concentrated around the man's eyes and neck - all delivered in no less than a minute and a half.
Prison video cameras captured the stabbing on tape. Prosecutors played it for the jurors in opening statements last week, but Black-mon's brother and father have not seen it.
"We don't want to. I don't think we could stand it . . . you'd never forget the pictures," Larry Black-mon said.
Prosecutors contended the killing was racially motivated and premeditated. Kell, who is white, testified he is a white separatist, but not a racist, and that Blackmon, who was black, had threatened to kill him.
Larry and Paul Blackmon said they had "no doubt" Lonnie'sdeath was racially motivated and didn't believe Kell's word from the stand.
The jury took just under two hours Friday to convict Kell of capital murder. They unanimously agreed four aggravating circumstances existed at the time of the stabbing, including that it was committed in an atrocious and heinous manner.
Members of the panel will now weigh evidence about Kell's life and character before deciding whether he should be executed or spend life in prison without parole.
Kell is already serving two consecutive life-without-parole terms plus 40 years for shooting a Nevada man in 1986. Prosecutors sought the death penalty then, but the jury returned with the life sentences.
Jurors on Monday looked at a 5-inch-long by 4-inch-wide color photograph of Kell's victim in 1986, a 21-year-old man. He had been shot six times in the face and head at point-blank range.
Defense attorney Stephen McCaughey argued against introducing the photograph into evidence. It was gruesome and would only inflame the jury against his client, he said.
Sixth District Judge David L. Mower disagreed, noting it was relevant evidence regarding Kell's character and life before he entered the prison system.
Prosecutors also called about a dozen former or current Utah and Nevada prison officers to testify about Kell's actions during his incarceration the past 10 years in both states.
Nevada investigator Geoffrey Swann said Kell was a confirmed member of a white supremacist gang known as "Aryan Circle," a splinter group of a larger gang that is no longer active.
Other Nevada and Utah officers testified that Kell:
- Head-butted a Utah officer who was helping to search him outside his cell in April 1994. Before the incident, Kell reportedly said to the officer, "I've (expletive deleted) guys tougher than you. . . . Let's take off the cuffs and see how tough you are," the officer testified.
- Gathered intelligence reports about the Utah prison SWAT team, including work schedules and what weapons and equipment members used.
- Beat another Utah inmate in October 1993 so severely that he required several stitches to his face.
Threw boiled water and baby oil on a Nevada guard, who suffered first-degree burns to his groin.
- Threatened to kill a rookie guard and cut her head off. He also solicited the Ely, Nev., guard to bring drugs into the prison for him.