The father of a woman killed by a convicted sex offender dove across a courtroom table to attack him Thursday, shortly after a judge sentenced the defendant to death for killing three people and wrapping their bodies in garbage bags.
Van Terry, the father of Shirellda Terry, had walked to the front of the courtroom to give a victim-impact statement and turned toward Michael Madison, who gave him a malicious smile. Terry, 46, lunged at Madison and was immediately swarmed by sheriff’s deputies as Madison and his attorneys scrambled to get out of the way.
Law enforcement officers dragged Terry out of the courtroom and ushered him out of the courthouse. A spokesman for the Cuyahoga County prosecutor said the situation was being reviewed.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Nancy McDonnell declined to clear the courtroom, and after about a 15-minute delay, the hearing continued.
McDonnell accepted a jury’s recommendation that Madison, 38, receive the death penalty. She could have instead chosen to sentence Madison to life in prison without parole. McDonnell said the horrific nature of Madison’s crimes far outweighed evidence presented to spare him, including an abusive and chaotic childhood.
The same jury convicted Madison last month of multiple counts of aggravated murder and kidnapping.
Madison didn’t make any statements during Thursday’s hearing except to answer questions posed by the judge. Defense attorney David Grant declined to comment after the hearing.
County Prosecutor Tim McGinty said the death penalty was meant for criminals like Madison, whom he called the “worst of the worst.”
Any execution is likely years away because of lengthy appeals. In addition, Ohio currently lacks supplies of lethal drugs, meaning it’s unclear whether the state can even begin a new round of executions, currently scheduled to start in January and stretching into 2019.
The bodies of 38-year-old Angela Deskins, 28-year-old Shetisha Sheeley and 18-year-old Shirellda Terry were found in July 2013 near the East Cleveland apartment building where Madison lived. Madison told police he strangled two of the women but couldn’t remember killing the third. Prosecutors say they were killed over a nine-month period, starting with Sheeley in October 2012, Deskins in May 2013 and Terry in July 2013.
Other relatives of the victims spoke of their heartbreak and loss during the hearing.
Linda Deskins, the stepmother of Angela Deskins, spoke about the grief that Angela’s father has endured.
“Nothing anyone can say or do can make it better for him,” Linda Deskins said.
The discovery of the bodies in July 2013 drew national attention to the possibility that another serial killer like Anthony Sowell had been killing women in and around Cleveland. Sowell was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to death for killing 11 women whose bodies were found at his Cleveland home. The Ohio Supreme Court is considering whether to uphold his conviction and sentence.
Madison’s attorneys never contested his guilt at trial. They instead focused on saving his life by presenting evidence that Madison suffered lasting psychological damage from physical abuse as a youngster. There was testimony that Madison was abused by his drug-addicted mother, a stepfather, some of his mother’s boyfriends and other family members.
“This history of abuse and his dysfunctional upbringing certainly doesn’t excuse what happened here but certainly provides a basis for understanding the type of person Michael Madison evolved into,” Grant told the judge Thursday.
The case began when a cable television worker reported a putrid smell coming from a garage shared by Madison at the apartment building. Inside, police found the decaying body of a woman wrapped in garbage bags that were sealed closed with tape. The next day, searchers found bodies in the basement of a vacant house and in the backyard of a home nearby.
Prosecutors argued both at trial and during the mitigation hearing that Madison deserved to die because of the circumstances surrounding the killings.
A death sentence “will send a message to the community that the strongest possible sentence will be imposed upon crimes of this nature,” Christopher Schroeder, a Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor, told the judge.
Madison was classified as a sex offender in 2002 when he was sentenced to four years in prison for attempted rape.