A father leapt across a table in court to attack the man sentenced to death for the murder of his daughter.
Van Terry is the father of victim Shirellda Terry. Shortly before the courtroom incident, Terry had approached the podium to address the judge and speak about the impact of his daughter’s loss.
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“Right now, I guess we’re supposed to, in our hearts forgive this clown, who has touched our families, taken my child,” Terry said.
Terry then paused and turned to look behind him at Madison, who was sitting behind the defense table, before running towards the convicted killer and lunging over the table at him.
Cuyahoga County courtroom deputies wrestled Terry as Madison and others scrambled to get out of the way. The courtroom momentarily burst into chaos, as someone sitting in the gallery repeatedly yelled “No!” and someone else screamed, “Terry!”
Law enforcement officers dragged Terry from the courtroom. Madison didn’t appear to be injured.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Nancy McDonnell declined to clear the courtroom, and after about a 15-minute delay, the sentencing hearing continued.
The outburst happened minutes after McDonnell sentenced Madison to death for the 2013 killings.
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.
Thursday, McDonnell accepted a jury’s recommendation that 38-year-old Michael Madison 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 in efforts to spare him, including an abusive and chaotic childhood.
The same jury convicted Madison earlier this month of multiple counts of aggravated murder and kidnapping.
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 discovery of the bodies in 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 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,” defense attorney David 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.