Shelby County DA: Duke’s petition ‘frivolous’ and ‘going nowhere’

Published 7:17 pm Monday, March 14, 2011

By BRAD GASKINS / Shelby County Reporter

It’s unlikely Mark Anthony Duke’s conviction for a 1997 quadruple murder in Pelham will be overturned by a federal appeals court, Shelby County District Attorney Robby Owens said earlier this month.

Attorneys for Duke, a Shelby County resident who was 16 at the time of his arrest, asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on March 4 to overturn his conviction because they claimed a prosecutor wrongly encouraged a jury to question Duke’s decision to stay silent at trial.

Alabama state attorneys argued that the statement was an isolated comment that didn’t impact the outcome of the case.

Owens agreed.

“It is a frivolous habeas petition that is arguing an issue that is not in consideration,” Owens said. “A number of these frivolous habeas petitions are filed from time to time.”

Owens said he’s talked to state attorneys who argued against the petition before a three-judge panel in Atlanta.

“We both agree that it is frivolous in nature and going nowhere,” Owens said.

Duke was convicted of killing his father, Randy Duke, after a dispute over the family truck. In trying to cover up the crime, Duke and accomplice Brandon Samra killed three other people in the Pelham residence: Randy Duke’s girlfriend, Dedra Hunt, and her daughters, 7-year-old Chelsea and 6-year-old Chelisa. The girls were both students at Thorsby School.

Duke was convicted in 1999 and given the death sentence. The death sentence was commuted to life in prison when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that anybody under the age of 18 at the time the crime was committed could not be put to death.

Tommy Lee Hunt Jr., the father of Chelsea and Chelisa, said in a statement March 4 that he was disappointed the incident has made its way back into the court system.

“To have to go through another trial would be devastating for the families, but the evidence hasn’t changed and I feel sure the end result would be the same,” Hunt said.