MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A federal sentencing hearing took a surprising turn Tuesday when prosecutors revealed that a Memphis gun dealer who already pleaded guilty to killing a code enforcement officer in a 2001 hate crime also bludgeoned a Baltimore doctor to death three years earlier.
U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald called the crimes of Dale Mardis abhorrent when she sentenced him to life in prison plus 10 years without parole for shooting code officer Mickey Wright, then burning his body and putting his remains in junked cars that were later crushed.
Mardis pleaded guilty in March to violating Wright's civil rights in what the federal government called a racially motivated killing. Mardis is white and Wright was black.
Relatives of Wright, media members and others in attendance at Tuesday's hearing expected to hear a day's worth of arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys about the length of Mardis' sentence for killing Wright.
Instead, prosecutor Steve Parker made a stunning disclosure when he said Mardis acknowledged last week to killing Dr. Henry Ackerman in June 1998 in Memphis. Prosecutors said Ackerman came to Memphis to purchase a truck and had gone to visit Mardis at his business. The men, who knew each other from gun shows, got into an argument over a debt and Mardis beat Ackerman to death with a hammer.
Prosecutors said Mardis disposed of Ackerman's body by burning it in a 55-gallon drum in Marshall County, Miss. The killing of Ackerman, who was white, does not appear to be racially motivated.
Authorities said Mardis has agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder in the doctor's slaying in both federal and state court. He is already serving 15 years in state prison after pleading no contest to second-degree murder in Wright's killing.
Mardis faces another life sentence from the state in Ackerman's death. It would run concurrently with the federal sentence.
Ackerman's daughter has been contacted by prosecutors in Memphis about the guilty plea. Prosecutors said Ackerman was reported missing in June 1998.
Wright was last seen April 17, 2001, at an auto sales and repair business whose owners leased property from Mardis. The two men had a history of conflicts.
Wright's widow, Frances Wright, said she was grateful to prosecutors for continuing to pursue the case over the years. More than a dozen of Wright's relatives attended the hearing.
"Mickey would be so happy to know that we, his family, that we did not give up pursuing one of Satan's disciples," she said in a statement in court.
Mardis didn't offer an apology at the hearing, saying "No" when asked by the judge if he had anything to say.
Donald said that Mardis showed an indifference to human life and the pain and suffering of others.
She said the crimes "involved a course of conduct by this defendant that was almost macabre."
"This manifests almost an absence of humanity," Donald said.
Prosecutors agreed to recommend to the Bureau of Prisons that Mardis be held in a federal medical facility. Mardis was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair and said he takes medicine for high blood pressure.
Mardis is not eligible for parole on the federal life sentence.