Murder appeal denied; Reeves remains on death row

By Lisa Addison

laddison@americanpress.com

The state Supreme Court has denied an appeal for a man found guilty and sentenced to death for the murder of 4-year-old Mary Jean Thigpen in 2001.

Jason Manuel Reeves, 43, was convicted in 2004 of abducting Thigpen from Moss Bluff on Nov. 1, 2001, and then raping her before stabbing her 16 times and slicing her neck.

His first trial began Oct. 27, 2003, but was declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to meet a unanimous verdict on the first-degree murder charge.

Reeves’ second murder trial ended with jurors finding him guilty on Nov. 4, 2004. He was sentenced to death by legal injection on Dec. 10, 2004.

Judge Mike Canaday signed a death warrant in 2012, but the defense appealed, saying Reeves suffered from an intellectual disability. Canaday ruled in May 2015 against that assertion. In April 2016, the state’s Supreme Court upheld that ruling and Reeves’ death sentence.

Last year, Canaday heard motions in state district court that centered on Reeves’ statement that he had received ineffective counsel.

The proceedings were contentious at times as prosecutors clashed with the defense over various issues.

"Your client confessed to this murder, did he not?" asked then-prosecutor Carla Sigler to defense attorney Kerry Cuccia of the Capital Defense Project.

Cuccia fired back, "Yes, after three days of intense interrogations."

Sigler continued, asking Cuccia, "Your theory was degraded DNA, correct?"

"No, ma’am," said Cuccia. "It isn’t a theory. It’s fact; it’s science."

Sigler, who has since left the Calcasieu Parish District Attorney’s Office to go into private practice, shook her head before asking, "Are you suggesting this DNA evidence was planted or faked?"

"That could be one reasonable conclusion," Cuccia said. "All I’m saying is that there is reasonable doubt in this case. Especially when it concerns where this DNA sample even came from."

Sigler also questioned state district Judge Ron Ware, who had worked as an attorney on Reeves’ case for his second trial, asking him how he and his co-counsel prepared for the case.

"We had 12 boxes of materials from the first trial, transcripts, and many things to go through," Ware said. "I read through all of those, spoke and visited with Jason Reeves from time to time, and tried to process everything. But I had other big cases going on at the same time. I didn’t have adequate time to fully prepare for the case. My time was compressed."

But Ware did tell Sigler he felt prosecutors had a strong case against Reeves.

In denying this latest appeal by the defendant, the state Supreme Court said, in part, "Once again, Reeves improperly attempts to re-litigate an issue upon which he has already sought review." Reeves had previously raised the issue of what he called ineffective counsel. He has continued to push for a new trial and to appeal his conviction and death sentence.

The court also said, "Reeves contends penalty-phase counsel failed to discover and present evidence and additional expert witnesses to help explain the effects of his difficult childhood, and the history of sexual abuse he suffered."

The court found that Reeves "did not disclose to his penalty phase counsel any of the additional sexual abuse revealed in these newly-discovered documents, meaning that the best potential source of this information proved most unhelpful to his own defense. As a result, it is not clear that counsel failed to engage in a reasonable mitigation investigation."

Reeves has been on death row at Angola since 2004.””<p><span class="caption-text">Jason Reeves was convicted in 2014 of raping and killing 4-year-old Mary Jean Thigpen.</span></p>American Press Archives

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