Appeals court to revisit Mich. death penalty case

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- An appeals court last Thursday threw out a decision that had overturned a rare federal death sentence in Michigan, agreeing to take a new look at the punishment in the death of a woman in a national forest.

A majority of 16 judges at the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted to set aside the work of one of its three-judge panels, which had found problems with just a portion of Marvin Gabrion's 2002 trial and vacated his death sentence. The full court now will revisit the sentencing phase as well as other issues.

Gabrion was convicted of killing Rachel Timmerman, a 19-year-old woman who had accused him of rape. Her body, bound with chains and blocks, was found in 1997 in a lake in the Manistee National Forest in western Michigan.

If the body had been found just a few hundred feet away on state property, the case would not have been in federal court -- and the death penalty would not have been an option.

In a 2-1 decision in August, the appeals court threw out the sentence because Gabrion's lawyers were barred from making that specific point to the jury as they pleaded for a life sentence instead.

A message seeking comment was not immediately returned by Gabrion's appellate attorney, Kevin McNally, who believes his client is mentally ill and unfit for a death sentence. Timmerman's father, Tim Timmerman of Cedar Springs, was pleased with the new development and wants the sentence upheld.

"The jurors came to the correct decision the first time they had the case," he told The Associated Press.

During the sentencing phase of the trial, prosecutors blamed Gabrion for the disappearance of four other people, including Rachel Timmerman's daughter, Shannon, who was about a year old in 1997. The body of one of the missing, Wayne Davis, was found floating in another lake a few months after the trial. No charges have been filed.

Gabrion, 58, is in federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

Published: Mon, Nov 21, 2011