James Neil Tucker
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|James Neil Tucker|
January 12, 1957|
|Died||May 28, 2004
South Carolina, U.S.
|executed by electric chair|
James Neil Tucker (January 12, 1957 – May 28, 2004) was a convicted murderer executed by the U.S. state of South Carolina by means of the electric chair. The electric chair would not be used again in the United States until July 20, 2006, in the state of Virginia. He had been convicted of the murders of Rosa Lee Dolly Oakley and Shannon Lynn Mellon.
Childhood and life before murders
Tucker was born in Utah, the youngest of three children. After his mother divorced, she remarried to a man with four children of his own. An eighth child came from this marriage. Tucker claimed during his trial and appeals that his stepfather had punished him severely, and as a youth, Tucker had committed petty crimes in an attempt to be taken out of the home by the authorities.
In 1974, Tucker was convicted of raping an eight-year-old girl and an 83-year-old woman. He received a sentence of one to 15 years from the Salt Lake County District Court. Four years later he was again before the courts, this time for escape and theft, receiving another one to 15 years sentence. He would spend most of his adult life in jail, escaping a total of three times. His longest time as a fugitive was five years in the 1980s.
While in prison, he became friends with a fellow inmate from South Carolina. The two went to Calhoun County, South Carolina, where in 1984 they worked at the Webb Carroll's Training Center, a horse farm east of St. Matthews. He went back into prison in Spartanburg County after being arrested for housebreaking and larceny. He was sentenced to a 10-year sentence. After being released in 1988, he was sent back to Utah where he received another one to 15 year sentence for escaping prison. On being released in March 1992, Tucker returned to South Carolina. He married his pregnant girlfriend, Marcia, in Sumter. After he was sentenced to death, she divorced him.
Rosa Lee Dolly Oakley was gardening in the front yard of her Sumter home on June 25, 1992, when Tucker drove his car up her driveway. After talking to her and making sure she was alone, he pulled out a .25-caliber handgun, and forced her inside into her bedroom. Joe Black and James Howard then arrived at the house, looking for Oakley's husband. Tucker allowed her to answer the door, where she told them that her husband wasn't home. They left, but as they backed down the driveway, she ran out of the house screaming "Don't leave me, he's going to kill me." Tucker dragged her back into the house and stole $14 from her purse. As she went for the telephone, Tucker fired the gun, hitting her in the head. According to Tucker:
- "I shot her again before I left just because, as stupid as it sounds, I thought she was suffering. So I put her out of her misery."
Tucker managed to evade police capture for the next week. During this time, he hid in delivery trucks, one time hiding in the undercarriage of a semi-trailer. He also continued his burglary, breaking into the Christian Fellowship Church and the mobile homes of Kenneth Parker and Myron Baker. He hitched rides to St. Matthews, where he stole a station wagon from a funeral home, but abandoned it after getting it stuck in a wooded area. His next destination was a cottage owned by the Webb Carroll's Training Center on July 1.
The cottage was home to Shannon Lynn Mellon, who was training to be a jockey. In the yard was a Chevrolet Blazer and a Ford Mustang. While Tucker was deciding what to do, a man emerged from the cottage and drove off in the Blazer. Tucker then entered the house and found Mellon asleep. He bound her with masking tape and decided to kill her and dump her body in the woods. He shot her once in the back of the head and stole $20. According to Tucker, she was not killed by the first shot and said "I can't see", so he shot her again. As he started to leave, she was still breathing, so she was shot once more, this time in the temple region. He drove to Spartanburg in her stolen Mustang.
Ten days after killing Mellon, he was arrested in Maggie Valley, North Carolina and the next day gave a 48-page confession to police.
Trial and appeals
He received two capital murder trials. The first was for the murder of Mellon, where he was sentenced to death on December 8, 1993. The jury took less than 30 minutes to convict him. He received a second death sentence on December 11, 1994 for the murder of Oakley. This time, the jury took 45 minutes to condemn him to death.
The death sentence in the Mellon case was overturned by the South Carolina Supreme Court because the jurors were not told that Tucker was ineligible for parole. A second sentencing phase was therefore carried out, resulting in another death sentence.
He was diagnosed by psychiatrists as having antisocial personality disorder, and was described as being very intelligent.
While on death row, about a month before the execution, Tucker pulled a razor blade on a correctional officer who was escorting him inside from the exercise area.
Under South Carolina law, electrocution is administered to prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed before June 1995 unless they choose lethal injection. Likewise, lethal injection is administered to prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed after June 1995 unless they choose electrocution. Tucker, having committed his capital crime before June 1995, declined to select a method and electrocution was the prescribed method.
Two jolts were required to execute Tucker for the murder of Rosa Lee Dolly Oakley. Witnesses said that his body jerked upwards as the current flowed through his body. The second jolt lasted two minutes. He was officially pronounced dead at 6:11 p.m..
His final statement was read by his lawyer:
- "To everyone, I have thought of a million things to say, but they can all be summed up like this. To those I have harmed, my abject apologies and regrets. I am ashamed. To those who must remain and deal with this insane world, my condolences. But be of good cheer. Christ has overcome the world! I know that my redeemer lives. I am leaving this world with a cheerful attitude. Hallelujah."
He was the 912th person executed in the United States since the Gregg v. Georgia decision in 1976.
Witness to the execution included Mr. Oakley (Rosa's husband), Mr. Mellon (Shannon's father), Major Gary Metts (Sumter County Sheriff's Office), and Wade Kold (Sumter County Solicitor) all seated on the front row directly in front of Tucker as he sat in the electric chair. Seated in the third and final row were the three media witnesses invited to the execution. No one from Tucker's family chose to attend the execution.
- "A tough family life, poor choices and years in prison shaped James Neil Tucker into a killer". The Times and Democrat. May 2004.
- Clark County Prosecutor