february 3, 2014 (Ocala)
Counsel for a Marion County woman sentenced to death row argued for a sentence reversal before the Florida Supreme Court Monday morning, stating his client is less culpable in the crime than her co-defendant — who is serving life imprisonment for the same offense.
Standing before the panel in Tallahassee, Emilia Carr’s attorney, Christopher S. Quarles, argued the Supreme Court should rule on the issue instead of choosing another remedy: sending the case back to the trial court to deal with the sentence question, either in a separate hearing or through a post-conviction relief proceeding.
“I think the evidence is very clear Joshua Fulgham is more culpable,” argued Quarles, referring to Carr’s co-defendant. “He had the motive, he hatched the plan, he brought the victim to the scene of the crime, and it’s very unfair…he is serving a life sentence when she is sentenced to death.”
According to trial testimony, Fulgham, who was Carr’s lover, lured his estranged wife, Heather Strong, 26, to a trailer in Boardman, which is in north Marion County near McIntosh. There, the pair duct taped her to a chair, suffocated her and then buried the body.
The co-defendants were tried in separate trials, and the state sought the death penalty for both. They both were found guilty of first-degree murder and kidnapping.
In the first trial, a jury recommended death for Carr in a 7-5 vote in December 2010. The judge in that case followed the recommendation and put her on death row.
The jury in the second trial returned a recommendation of life imprisonment for Fulgham in April 2012. Again, the judge followed the recommendation.
“They had different judges, they had different juries, they had different legal teams,” said Quarles.
He argued that during each trial the state painted that defendant as the mastermind, even though evidence shows Fulgham had been manipulating both Strong and Carr in the time period leading up to the crime.
Justice Charles Canady pointed out that Carr, 29, has an IQ of 125, while Fulgham, 32, is intellectually challenged.
“In the actual commission of the crime Ms. Carr was heavily involved in what was going on,” countered Assistant Attorney General Sara Macks.
She pointed to several factors motivating Carr including the fact that Carr wanted to raise a family with Fulgham.
Carr gave birth to Fulgham’s child during her time inside the Marion County jail pending trial. Macks also pointed to threats Carr had made of hiring someone to kill Strong.
Justice Jorge Labarga wondered why the two trial court judges didn’t wait and sentence the co-defendants around the same time after receiving the respective jury recommendations.
As part of her explanation, Macks said Fulgham’s trial had been delayed more than one year when counsel from Miami had become involved.
She urged the high court to resolve the direct appeal before redirecting the case back to the trial court. Macks said if the issue is addressed at the trial court level during post-conviction relief, Carr’s defense would also be able to bring up any issues connected with mitigation.
“This is not a death case,” Quarles argued in rebuttal before the panel adjourned.
A ruling is expected at a later date.
Carr is currently housed at Lowell Correctional Institution with the other five women on Florida’s death row. Fulgham is currently housed at Florida State Prison in Raiford, according to state prison records.
In August, Fulgham sent a hand-written letter to the Marion County Jail through his mother intended for convicted murderer Michael Bargo. Inmates are not granted the same privacy as the general public and therefore their mail is public record except for medical records and legal correspondence.
In the letter, Fulgham offered Bargo advice about prison. “A lot of people will tell you a life sentence is the same as death row,” he wrote, adding that such advice is wrong.
“If you do end up in prison at all, it isn’t that bad,” Fulgham wrote, describing his access to an MP3 player, television and Playboy magazine.