By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Alabama Department of Corrections officials announced this week that an Alabama man, convicted and sentenced to die more than 20 years ago for his role in the 1997 slayings of four Shelby County residents, is scheduled for execution this Thursday.
Michael Brandon Samra, 42, is set to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. on May 16 at William C. Holman Correctional Facility near Atmore. The Alabama Supreme Court set the execution date last week.
Samra was found guilty in 1998 of assisting a friend in the March 22, 1997 shooting of the friend’s father and the father’s fiancé and the cutting of the throats of the fiancé’s two young daughters. He has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of execution, asking the court to consider that he was only 19 at the time of the slayings.
Court documents show that Randy Duke, Dedra Mims Hunt, 6-year-old Chelisa Hunt and 7-year-old Chelsea Hunt died after Mark Duke, angry that his father wouldn’t let him drive the man’s pickup, gathered three accomplices and drove to the Duke home to confront his father.
Duke was convicted of killing three of the victims, but evidence showed that Samra, who was the only one of the group to accompany Duke inside the home, used a kitchen knife to slit the throat of the 7-year-old as she begged for her life. Investigative reports used in his trial show that Mark Duke shot and killed his father, while Samra wounded Dedra Hunt before Mark Duke shot her to death. Mark Duke slit the 6-year-old’s throat, and Samra slit the throat of the 7-year-old as Mark Duke held her down.
The court has barred the execution of anyone who was under 18 at the time of their crimes. Samra’s attorneys have asked the court to weigh whether knowledge of brain development and evolving standards of decency might merit extending that age to 21.
In 2015, a three-member panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s denial of Samra’s appeal, which focused on two claims, both centering on ineffective counsel.
The appeals court rejected Samra’s arguments, stating that Samra’s own confession provided overwhelming evidence of his part in the grisly crime.
“By Samra’s own admission, after he assisted in killing three people, he slit the throat of a seven-year-old girl who was pleading and struggling for her life. We find no reasonable probability that, absent evidence or discussion of Samra’s gang involvement, the jury would not have found these murders to be as especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel as it found them,” the court wrote.
Mark Duke was also sentenced to death for the killings but is now reportedly serving life without parole. In 2005 the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the death penalty against Duke because he was 16 at the time of the murders.