Federal court denies Mark Duke’s appeal request

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Shelby County District Attorney Robby Owens said he was pleased with a federal court’s recent decision to deny an appeal rehearing for a Pelham man convicted of killing his father and three others.

Pelham resident Mark Anthony Duke was convicted in 1999 of killing his father, Randy Duke, in 1997 after an argument over the family’s truck. Duke and his accomplice, Brandon Samra, were also convicted of killing Randy Duke’s girlfriend, Dedra Hunt, and her daughters, 7-year-old Chelsea and 6-year-old Chelisa.

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.

In May, attorneys for Duke requested the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta hear Duke’s appeal of his life sentence. Duke’s attorneys said the appeal should be heard by the federal appeals court because prosecutors improperly commented in front of a jury about Duke’s silence during his original trail in the Shelby County Circuit Court.

In May, a three-judge 11th Circuit Court of Appeals panel refused to hear Duke’s appeal from the U.S. District Court in Alabama.

Duke’s attorneys then requested the appeal be considered by the entire panel of 11th Circuit Court of Appeals judges. During a Nov. 23 hearing, the panel of nine judges denied Duke’s appeal to the federal court. Seven of the judges voted in favor of denying the appeal, and two offered dissenting opinions.

“It is what we expected,” Owens said of the federal court’s decision. “We spent a lot of time trying that case. I’m glad to see the appeals court has agreed with us.”

Duke is serving his life without the possibility of parole sentence at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore.