The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

March 27, 2014

Jurors recommend life for Alabama campus killing


Associated Press

— OPELIKA — A jury has recommended that an Auburn man spend the rest of his life in prison for killing his mother-in-law on a community college campus when he fired into a van in which his estranged also was sitting.

The jury recommended the punishment over the death penalty by a 10-2 vote on Thursday. Circuit Judge Jacob Walker will make the final decision.

Jurors deliberated about 90 minutes Tuesday before finding 37-year-old Thomas Franklin May III guilty of one count of capital murder for the death of his mother-in-law, Brenda Marshall Watson, and attempted murder of his estranged wife, Bethany Mitchell.

Prosecutors said May pulled up alongside the family's van during a class change on Southern Union State Community College and opened fire, killing Watson. Mitchell and her grandmother were also wounded and her 4-year-old daughter was injured by flying glass.

Defense attorneys, who sought a recommendation of life in prison without parole, said May had a history of mental problems and was taking medications that impaired his ability to make rational decisions. May's mother testified earlier in the week that her son began having mental problems when he was 12.

"We're very pleased with the recommendation of the jury. We think it is the correct recommendation in this case," defense attorney William Wayne Whatley said.

Walker set sentencing for May 21.

Lee County District Attorney Robert T. Treese said they intend to ask Walker to override the jury's recommendation and impose the death penalty.

Treese said that the shooting happened in the middle of a busy campus, "covered up with students." He also noted that Mitchell had recently obtained a protective order against her husband.

"This is what happens when domestic violence goes unchecked," Treese said.

Mitchel told jurors Wednesday how she and her husband had separated several months before the shooting. She said her family was picking her up from classes at the community college when the shooting happened. Prosecutors said many people, including bystanders, could have been injured or killed.

"Brenda Watson, she wound up being a shield unintentionally for the rest of the family. She gave up her life and wound up blocking some of those bullets," Treese said.