Killer's death sentence ends saga for widow

Started by Granny B, September 19, 2012, 06:31:58 PM

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Granny B

Killer's death sentence ends saga for widow

33 comments by JJ Hensley - May. 12, 2008 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

On the early afternoon of March 7, 1997, corrections officer Brent Lumley was minutes from finishing an overtime shift at the Perryville Prison Complex.

As he was wrapping up some reports, several inmates distracted Lumley just enough for another prisoner, Leroy D. Cropper, to sneak up and plunge a knife into the side of Lumley's neck.

The slaying rocked the state Department of Corrections. There was an uproar about faulty cell locks, a lack of funding and lax safety standards.

On May 2, more than 11 years after the killing, Cropper was sentenced to death.

Cropper's date to die by lethal injection is still years away, but the jury's sentence brings his widow's anguishing journey through the legal system to an end.

"I probably best could describe it as being stunted," said Doreena Lumley-Wiegert, speaking publicly about the case for the first time. "I feel like my life has been stunted."

Corrections officers discovered the stabbing scene in a secure room at the Goodyear prison complex and were baffled by how prisoners could have gotten to Lumley.

Normally a transportation officer, Lumley was working an overtime shift that day to earn extra money for a trip to San Diego to see his identical-triplet brothers Bruce and Barry.

Lumley was attacked over what appeared to be an innocuous act earlier in the day. An inspection of Cropper's cell had turned up a tattoo kit and a makeshift knife, and Lumley and another guard conducted a follow-up search. During the second inspection, a photo of Cropper's mother ended up landing on the floor, and for that, Cropper vowed before other inmates that Lumley would die.

Cropper didn't act alone.

The knife he plunged into Lumley's neck was sneaked into Cropper's cell through an air vent, prosecutors said.

Another prisoner had to "spin the lock" on Cropper's cell so the killer could sneak out, and still other prisoners distracted Lumley while he was writing reports, giving Cropper the opportunity to kill the five-year veteran corrections officer.

Eugene Long, 40, received a life sentence after he was convicted of first-degree murder for his role in the slaying; Bruce Howell, 47, received a 10-year sentence for his role; and Dino Kyzar, 42, got 21 years for conspiring in the crime.

Lumley's widow doesn't blame the Department of Corrections for his death.

A Phoenix police officer, Lumley-Wiegert said she understands the type of people corrections officers have to work with.

After Lumley's death, state corrections officials immediately upgraded the locks in prisons, and ultimately added surveillance cameras. Officials also converted the unit where Lumley was killed into a women's facility, naming it the Lumley Unit.

In response to the slaying, corrections officers created a Web site, the Lumley Vampire Newsletter, which serves as a public forum where they can air grievances about conditions in state prisons and other law-enforcement issues.

But while the agency moved on, for Lumley's family and attorneys working to either prosecute or save Cropper, the case was always there.

For Lumley-Wiegert, there have been agonizing years of waiting, punctuated with momentary relief and disheartening setbacks.

"I want to move past it and close that door and move on and I just haven't been able to," she said. "It keeps tugging me back in and drudging up all the old hurts and all the old sores."

There was the initial trial and guilty verdict in 2000 that came along with a death sentence from Judge David Cole.

Lumley-Wiegert was prepared for closure then, but a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling served to only lengthen her wait.

The high court ruled that juries, not judges, get to weigh and decide whether a defendant gets the death penalty. It sent back 27 cases, including Cropper's, for re-sentencing. Cropper's was among the last of that series of cases to be resolved.

"It was a huge shock," she said. "Here I was thinking now I can close the door and now I can't."

Lumley's family was hopeful when the case went before a jury two years later, but that panel ended up hung. Prosecutors said the jury couldn't agree that there were enough aggravating circumstances, such as the cruel nature of the crime, to sentence Cropper to death.

"You're at the mercy of the makeup of the jury, and what each individual juror's point of view is on the death penalty," she said.

Some of the moments following Lumley's death are frozen in time: Three-year-old Blake Lumley walking into his dad's funeral service, one hand clutching a teddy bear, the other grasping his uncle, one of the pallbearers.

"He had some questions right in the beginning that were very basic, like 'How's Daddy going to eat food in heaven with a hole in his neck,' " Lumley-Wiegert recalls.

Between the court hearings and rulings, everyday life filled the space.

Lumley-Wiegert stayed on as a Phoenix police officer. She eventually found love again and remarried. Blake, Lumley's 3-year-old son, is now a teenager.

Cropper stabbed another prisoner in 1999 and attempted to shoot another inmate with a blow dart in 2002.

Still, his sentence for killing Brent Lumley went unresolved.

On May 2, there was finally peace for Lumley's family. It took the jury 20 minutes to agree that there were enough aggravating circumstances to give Cropper the death penalty.

"There was just a gush of relief," she said. "I was very, very happy that the jury saw through the defense that was put before them."

We had no info on this inmate, so I was updating to find out.
" Closure? Closure is a misused word in the English language.  There is no such thing as closure for the family of a murder victim.  There will never be any closure for the death of our loved ones until we are dead ourselves.  The families have a lifetime sentence of anguish and sadness." 
Susan Levy

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