Jury recommends death penalty for Varner
A Shasta County jury unanimously agreed this afternoon to recommend the death penalty for a 28-year-old Redding man convicted of murdering a Redding woman in 2005.
Scott Paul Varner, who stared straight ahead and showed no visible reaction as the jury’s verdict was read, is to have a sentencing date set on Jan. 21 — his 29th birthday.
A death penalty sentence carries with it an automatic appeal.
The seven-man, five-woman jury was given the case about 4 p.m. Tuesday after attorneys delivered lengthy closing arguments.
It resumed its deliberations about 9 a.m. today and its verdict was reached shortly after 1:30 p.m.
The same jury convicted Varner in October of first-degree murder and other related charges in the strangulation death of 35-year-old Jeanette Renee Mariedth of Redding.
Deputy District Attorney Kelly Kafel, who met with jurors outside the courtroom following their decision, hugged several.
“Thank you so much,” she said, telling them that the seven-month trial was one of the longest — if not the longest — in Shasta County history. “You guys sick of this place, or what? I get paid for being here.”
Jury foreman Richard Heath of Redding said later that recommending the death penalty for Varner was not done lightly.
“That was the main theme,” he said. “Who are we to decide if someone lives or dies? It is the hardest decision I ever made.”
Varner and his former co-defendant, Joanna Peterson, kidnapped Mariedth from her State Street home in November 2005 after targeting her for robbery, police and prosecutors have said.
They forced Mariedth at knifepoint to drive them in her 1999 Chevrolet Cavalier to several locations where they used her money to buy fast food and other items before she was beaten and strangled and her body dumped near Whiskeytown Lake.
They were later arrested after burglarizing her apartment.
Peterson, now 21, testified during the guilt-phase of Varner’s murder trial that he punched and strangled the terrified woman, but also admitted that she did nothing to stop him.
“She was kicking and fighting for air,” Peterson testified at trial as she recounted the final moments of Mariedth’s life. “She was asking him not to kill her and pleading for Jesus.”
Peterson pleaded guilty in November 2008 to second-degree murder in exchange for a 15-year-to-life prison sentence. She was ineligible for the death penalty because she was 17 at the time of the slaying, but she could have received life in prison without the possibility of parole had she been convicted at trial.
She has not yet been sentenced.
During her closing arguments on Tuesday, Kafel urged jurors to recommend the death penalty for Varner, who was described as an evil psychopath and merciless killer who gave no second thought to the nightmarish murder Mariedth.
“It (the death penalty) is what he has earned and deserved,” she said, noting that Varner’s long and violent criminal history includes rape, arson, assault and attempting to kill a paraplegic.
“Mr.Varner is a brutal man,” she said. “He chooses to hurt people because he doesn’t care. What I can tell you is that Mr. Varner is evil.”
But Varner’s two defense attorneys, John Webster and David Osborne, pleaded with jurors to spare his life and to sentence him to life in prison without parole.
Osborne, noting that Varner suffers from brain damage, said his client was neglected and severely abused as a child and turned to drugs at a young age as an escape from his troubled life.
Varner’s death penalty trial was the first in Shasta County’s first since Paul Gordon Smith was sentenced to death in 2002 for the April 1998 torture-murder of a 20-year-old Washington woman.http://www.redding.com/news/2010/jan/13/varner-gets-death-penalty/?partner=yahoo_feeds