RICHMOND, Va. - An inmate whose death sentence was overturned will avoid the possibility of another one after brokering a deal in which he gets life in prison in exchange for admitting guilt in another killing.
A Prince William Circuit Court judge on Thursday approved the deal to spare Joshua Andrews, 30, who was sentenced to death in 2007 for a shooting spree that left two dead and three injured in Virginia and New York.
The Virginia Supreme Court overturned that sentence in 2010 because it said two of his four capital murder convictions constituted double jeopardy, the constitutional protection against being tried twice for the same crime. Jurors convicted Andrews of killing more than one person as part of the same act and of killing more than one person within a three-year period.
In the deal, Andrews pleaded guilty to the 2001 murder of Clayton Kendall Breeding at a Woodbridge middle school parking lot. A jury had acquitted Andrews of that murder in 2007, but he agreed to switch his plea to guilty in exchange for a guarantee that he would be sentenced to life instead of receiving the death penalty.
"From the commonwealth's perspective, they can do something fairly remarkable, which is to undo a jury acquittal in a capital murder case and obtain a conviction in a case that would otherwise remain unsolved," said University of Virginia law professor Matthew Engle, one of Andrews' attorneys. "And the deal is, they take the death penalty off the table. That's what makes it possible for Josh to admit his guilt."
Prosecutors said Andrews forced three men to undress and get into a bathtub in a Dumfries-area apartment during a robbery on Jan. 2, 2002, before shooting them. Two of them died and another survived. After that shooting, Andrews and another man fled to New York, where they robbed and shot a convenience store clerk in Queens and shot another man in the Bronx. They were convicted of attempted murder in those shootings.
Andrews was acquitted in three other deaths, including Breeding's killing.
The Virginia Supreme Court said that the trial court erred by excluding from mitigating evidence a poem Andrews wrote and that it improperly excluded the testimony of a social work expert on how Andrews' horrific childhood diminished his moral culpability.
At age 8, Andrews was pushed into a shed by some kids who set it on fire. He was horribly burned and disfigured, and kids taunted him by calling him "crispy critter" and "mummy." Also as a child, Andrews went to visit his father on death row in Texas. Before his father could be executed, another inmate stabbed him to death.
Police seized a poem written by Andrews describing his struggles as a child and how the events had hardened him, but the judge would not allow it as evidence. Meanwhile, the judge allowed prosecutors to refer to Andrews as a "killing machine," leaving the jury with the instructions to, "Turn this machine off."
Andrews' poem read: "I've been struggling in this smokeless fire for 19 years, over my lifetime I shed my pain through unwanted tears, been through hell back burning since adalescence (sic), will I enter heaven or return for final destination, born into a world filled with complete darkness, didn't understand love so my heart hardened, forereal forreal (sic)"
An attorney for the state argued the poem was "nothing more than self- serving hearsay," but justices disagreed, saying it provided evidence of his character.
"Josh had _ and I've been doing capital defense work for about a decade now _ probably the most horrific upbringing of any that I've seen," Engle said. "He suffered some of the worst trauma and abuse and poverty and neglect of any of the clients that I've ever represented."
The court upheld Andrews' convictions, but sent his case back to Prince William for a new sentencing, which was scheduled for June.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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