Appeal of convicted Dothan nurse killer rejected

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Atlanta (WTVY)-- The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week rejected a request by Artez Hammonds that his conviction for killing nurse Marilyn Mitchell in Dothan should be overturned.

Hammonds’ attorneys unsuccessfully argued that comments made during trial by then-Houston County District Attorney Doug Valeska improperly influenced the jury.

Like the Alabama Supreme Court previously, the federal court agreed that what Valeska said in the jury’s presence, though judicially inappropriate, didn’t prejudice the case. However, the justices admitted they were tempted to overturn the conviction due to the comments.

In its order, they noted Valeska presented overwhelming evidence, including DNA, of Hammonds guilt and that was enough to override concerns regarding misconduct.

“In light of this overwhelming evidence, we cannot conclude that the cumulative effect of and the less -than -perfect curative instructions were harmful.”

The court noted the trial judge took reasonable measures to advise jurors they should disregard comments involving whether Hammonds would testify—prosecutors can’t do that-- and that Hammonds was serving a prison sentence on an unrelated conviction.

Mitchell, 22, was stabbed and raped May 15, 1990 inside the Dothan townhome she had recently rented.

Hammonds, arrested more than six years later, had delivered furniture to Mitchell two days before she died.

It’s not immediately known when an execution date will be set though additional appeals are anticipated.