SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Twice-convicted and confessed killer Eric Mickelson will spend the rest of his life in prison, but it won't be on death row.
The jury of 8 women and 4 men began deliberating shortly after 5 p.m. Friday. They returned the verdict less than an hour later. Jurors had the option of sentencing Mickelson to death, as he previously had been sentenced following his first conviction in the murder of retired painting contractor Charles Martin during a home invasion in 2007.
Mickelson, 46, was convicted again Wednesday on the same charge during a retrial that came after the Louisiana Supreme Court threw out his 2011 conviction and death sentence over a procedural error during jury selection.
During the penalty phase of the retrial, his attorneys went back to their formula of framing the issue as one of Mickelson being mentally ill, not evil.
A forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Shawn Agharkar, testified that Mickelson suffers from schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The doctor said Mickelson has disorganized, abnormal thoughts and is psychotic.
Under cross-examination, Agharkar said Mickelson still knew right from wrong when he killed Martin.
Then a neuropsychologist, Dr. Craig Beaver, testified that Mickelson is severely impulsive and has a severe case of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD. He also testified that Mickelson did not originally intend to kill the 86-year-old.
It was all part of the defense team's overall strategy to show that Mickelson should be disqualified from the death penalty because of "mitigating factors," which include mental illness and heavy drug use.
But the real fireworks began during closing arguments of the penalty phase, beginning shortly before 3 Friday afternoon. Acting Caddo District Attorney Dale Cox used Mickelson's own words against him - from a signed confession in 2007.
Cox quoted from Mickelson's confession, "I'm a killer and I love wringing people's necks." Cox reminded jurors that Mickelson confessed to strangling both Martin and Kristy O'Pry 11 years before that crime, in 1996.
Cox also reminded the jury that Mickelson admitted chopping up and bagging both victims' body parts before dropping them off in various spots throughout Caddo Parish. "Sometimes the truth is so, so, so simple. ... He's a killer. He's evil," Cox concluded.
Defense attorney Kathryn Sheely later told jurors, "You have already punished Mickelson to die at Angola." She then pleaded to them, "One person (juror) can vote to save his life. One of you can kill him."
That remark prompted Caddo District Judge Katherine Dorroh to send the jury out of the courtroom and admonish Sheely against implying that jurors are killers if they vote for the death sentence.
After deliberating for just 58 minutes, jurors returned with a verdict of life without the possibility of parole.
Mickelson will be returned to Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, where he will serve out that life sentence.