Original article no longer available
The News & Observer
Thursday, February 13, 2003 6:51AM EST
By ANGELA HEYWOOD BIBLE, Staff Writer
HILLSBOROUGH — Armed with rope and a .44-caliber Magnum pistol, an extremely jealous Alan Douglas Gates sneaked into his estranged wife’s mobile home last summer to tie her up, have sex and “talk some sense into her.”
Distraught that she had a boyfriend, Gates downed some Ancient Age whiskey from the refrigerator, chased it with Pepsi and waited, according to testimony Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court. But then his daughter unexpectedly came home with a friend and her friend’s 2-year-old boy. Gates forced all three to lie on the floor in a back bedroom. He pressed his gun to each woman’s chest and fired, then shot the little boy in the side as he lay facing his mother.
Gates, 51, pleaded guilty Wednesday morning to three counts of first-degree murder for killing Valerie Michele Gates, 24; her friend, Corda’e Shimira Lee, 21; and Lee’s son, Kendall Alexander Dianis. Judge Wade Barber sentenced Gates to three consecutive life sentences without parole.
“I’d like to apologize to the family and friends of Corda’e Lee and the family and friends of Valerie,” Gates said in a strained voice, a tissue in his hand. “I just don’t understand how one little woman could drive a man to do such a thing. That’s all.”
More than 20 family and friends of the victims — some teary-eyed, some stoic — wedged themselves into two rows behind the prosecution, all of them wearing badges adorned with purple ribbons and pictures of their slain loved ones.
Orange County Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass and at least 13 deputies lined the courtroom, keeping the front two rows empty to maintain distance between Gates and his victims’ families.
Carl Fox, Orange-Chatham district attorney, said he didn’t seek the death penalty because Gates was willing to plead guilty to first-degree murder and the victims’ families, who were aware that no Orange County jury had sentenced a man to death in at least 25 years, wanted closure.
Six relatives pulled tissues from a box at the prosecution table as they took turns sharing their pain with the court. Warned by the judge not to vent their anger at Gates, some read heavily edited statements.
Perhaps most poignant was the testimony of Linda Horne, Alan Gates’ sister-in-law, who said she was disappointed that out of fear she had distanced herself from her sister’s family when it became apparent their home was troubled by domestic violence.
“For several years, I kept silent and didn’t intervene,” Horne said, propping up family pictures. “Alan’s behavior became frightening. … My heart aches that Valerie is gone and I will never have the opportunity to know her. … Alan Gates has destroyed my family.”
Kendall’s grandmother, Fran Bumgarner, read poetry and talked about seeking medical attention for depression since the slayings and having nightmares about saving the young boy and his mother from Gates.
“He was my heart and my future,” Bumgarner said, holding up a picture of her grandson. “My future was cruelly and brutally taken from me, and my heart was ripped from my chest.”
After the first family member testified, Public Defender James Williams requested a short recess for Gates, who was visibly shaken. Wearing a sky-blue shirt, beige pants and a long, white mustache, Gates wiped his eyes throughout the testimony.
On July 1, Janet Clark Gates, Alan Gates’ wife, called sheriff’s deputies to escort her to the family’s home in White Cross, Fox said. She was suspicious because her husband — who had been banned from the house by a court order – had been calling people at numbers he could have obtained only from the caller ID at the home.
When deputies arrived, Fox said, they found Alan Gates passed out on a bed – the gun by his side — and the three bodies lying in pools of blood.
“They were laid down on the floor and a gun placed right to their flesh, one after another after another,” he said. “It is unimaginable the horror that they felt.”
Once awakened, Gates admitted he had planned to confront his wife and kill himself. Deputies found derogatory messages he had scrolled with dark pink lipstick on the bathroom mirrors.
Shortly after his arrest, Gates asked deputies to free him so they could shoot him as he fled, sheriff’s Capt. Bobby Collins testified. Later that night, Gates tried to run out the back door of the sheriff’s office, then banged his head against his cell bars.
“He said, ‘I know what I’ve done. What would you all do if you found your wife with somebody else?’ ” Collins said.
Gates has been held in the mental ward at Central Prison since trying to injure himself in Orange County, Williams said. Shortly after the murders, he tried to hang himself in his prison cell.
A forensic psychiatrist and a pharmacologist determined Gates was in a state of extreme emotional and psychological distress and was highly intoxicated — probably at three times the legal limit — when he committed the crimes, Williams said. Gates, who has a history of severe depression and alcoholism, was prescribed Prozac the week before the shootings.
Gates’ belief that his wife was having an affair made him physically ill, Williams said. “When his suspicions were confirmed, his world fell apart,” Williams said.
Gates even drank the whiskey the night of the shooting because he thought it belonged to his wife’s lover and doing so would in some way get back at him, his attorney said.
Staff writer Angela Heywood Bible can be reached at 932-2014 or firstname.lastname@example.org.