Man convicted of murder appeals death sentence

By STEPHEN DAWKINS / The Clanton Advertiser

A man convicted of the 1997 murders of four people in Pelham is appealing his death sentence.

Michael Brandon Samra claims his punishment is “improper” because co-defendant Mark Duke’s death sentence was changed to life in prison based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Duke, who was 16 at the time of the murders in 1997, and Samra killed Duke’s father, Randy Duke, after a dispute over the family truck. In trying to cover up the crime, the two 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 Elementary School in Chilton County.

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 in 2005 that no one could be executed because of crimes committed while under the age of 18.

Samra and his counsel filed an argument on Jan. 23 that Samra’s death sentence is improper because Duke was more culpable in the crimes and was receiving a lesser sentence.

The state attorney general’s office filed a brief refuting the claim.

The dispute is set for an oral argument on Aug. 14 in Montgomery.

Also at question is whether Samra’s appeal was filed in a timely fashion.

Alan Freedman, who is representing Samra, declined to comment on the case until the oral argument takes place.

Alabama Assistant Attorney General J. Clayton Crenshaw, who is handling the case for the state, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

According to court records, Mark Duke became angry with his father and enlisted help from friends to murder him and then make the crime appear as a burglary.

Duke shot and killed his father at their home while Samra shot Hunt, who fled upstairs with her daughters. Duke and Samra then went after the victims and killed them, Duke killing Hunt and one of the girls while Samra killed the other.