Jury Delivers Guilty Verdict — (Sequoyah County Times)

SSRI Ed note: Mom on antidepressants attempts murder suicide with 6-yr-old son, she overdoses but does not die. Charged, found guilty. Life without parole recommended.

Original article no longer available

Sequoyah County Times

By Monica Keen, Staff Writer

Friday, March 4, 2005 3:23 PM CST

It took jurors less than 40 minutes Wednesday to reach a guilty verdict in the first-degree murder trial of a former Roland resident, Becca Pettit-Duvall.

Pettit-Duvall, 39, was convicted of suffocating her 6-year-old son, David “Adam” Andy Ray Pettit, in April 2000. Sequoyah County sheriff’s deputies found Adam dead in Pettit-Duvall’s mobile home. His decomposing body was found on the bed beside his mother, who had lacerations to her wrists and ankles. Prosecutors said Pettit-Duvall had attempted to commit suicide after killing her son, but failed. According to court records, the medical examiner determined that Adam died from asphyxiation.

The seven-man, five-woman jury began deliberations at 2:29 p.m., and at 3:07 p.m. they filed back into the courtroom to announce their verdict.

The jury recommended a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

District Judge John Garrett ordered a pre-sentence investigation, and set April 28 as the tentative date for Pettit-Duvall’s formal sentencing.

Pettit-Duvall was remanded into the custody of the Sequoyah County sheriff’s office.

“I think it’s a just verdict, and long overdue,” Joan Pettit, the victim’s grandmother, said Wednesday.

Richard Gray, Sequoyah County district attorney, said he was pleased with the verdict.

“It’s the only justice Adam could have received, which is a guilty verdict…life without parole,” Gray said.

Gray said the trial went smoother than anticipated, with the defendant representing herself.

“We gave her as much latitude as possible,” Gray said.

John Duvall, Pettit-Duvall’s husband, maintained his wife’s innocence.

“She didn’t kill her child,” John Duvall said. “She didn’t…and God is in control.”

He said at this point he didn’t know whether they were planning on appealing the verdict. Pettit-Duvall represented herself throughout the trial.

“It seems this is not a just system,” John Duvall said.

Duvall was upset with how long it took for his wife’s case to come to trial – almost five years. Gray was not the Sequoyah County district attorney at that time.

Duvall added that four out of the last five years, his wife had court-appointed attorneys, and those attorneys were taken off her case because she married him.

Duvall said his wife was offered a plea agreement of 11 years probation with no jail time if she would plead no contest, but Duvall said his wife was not able to sign that agreement because she did not kill her child.

“No contest means you’re guilty,” Duvall said.

Instead, Duvall said his wife elected to defend herself without any knowledge of the court system.

Pettit was originally represented by the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System (OIDS), but after hearing arguments by prosecutors in July, Judge Garrett ordered the court-appointed attorneys off the case because she was no longer considered indigent since her marital and financial status changed. At the time of her son’s death, Pettit-Duvall was single.

Garrett said in the July order that evidence was presented that the defendant posted a bond, moved to Tennessee, married John Duvall, and became employed, all after she was arrested for her son’s death. Pettit-Duvall was released on a $100,000 bond Dec. 21, 2000, while awaiting her trial.

Duvall said he will stand by his wife of three years.

“If she’s in jail, she’ll serve God, and if she’s outside she will serve God. She’s a good, Christian woman,” he said, becoming emotional. “I will continue to stand at her side always.”

Closing Arguments

Jeff Sheridan, Sequoyah County assistant district attorney, argued that Adam’s death was caused by the defendant and was caused with malice aforethought, meaning a deliberate intent to take the life of a human, both of which are elements of first-degree murder.

Sheridan argued that according to the medical examiner, the cause of Adam’s death was asphyxiation and the manner of his death was considered a homicide.

“It’s not a natural death,” Sheridan said. “Somebody killed Adam. Somebody killed Adam.

“The boy was only 6 years old. He hadn’t begun to live. He had his whole life ahead of him.”

Sheridan said Adam’s death was a tragedy, but his death was caused by the defendant.

He asked the jury to remember the testimony they heard in the courtroom. He asked them to remember the testimony of one of Pettit-Duvall’s sisters, who told of how her sister threatened to kill her parents and herself years earlier. Sheridan also brought up witness testimony of an ex-boyfriend who said Pettit-Duvall told him about a plan to smother both her sons after they fell asleep, drive them into the country, and use kerosene to burn herself and them in her vehicle. That plan was thwarted because one of her sons would not fall asleep.

“I submit to you, Rebecca Pettit is a violent person…is capable of violent acts,” Sheridan said.

Sheridan said Pettit-Duvall was upset because she did not have custody of Adam, and her ex-husband did.

“She has a pattern of planning murder-suicides,” Sheridan said.

Sheridan theorized that Pettit-Duvall may have already been planning to commit suicide, but “unfortunately Adam comes to visit.”

“This (Adam’s visit) gave her the opportunity to act out on what she’s been talking about for a long time,” Sheridan said.

Sheridan said the medical examiner’s testimony was equivocal about the fact that the blood-alcohol level in Adam’s body was the result of alcohol that was ingested or as a result of the decomposition of the body.

After the verdict, Gray said the medical examiner testified that the body was decomposed to the point that he was unable to tell whether the alcohol was given to Adam before he died or because of the decomposition. Gray said the medical examiner testified that after a dead body begins fermenting, alcohol is usually present.

Throughout the trial, the prosecution theorized that the defendant gave Adam cough syrup to make him fall asleep and then smothered him before she tried to overdose on antidepressants. The prosecution conjectured that Pettit-Duvall awoke to realize she wasn’t dead, but her son was, and at that point, she allegedly tried to cut her wrists and ankles in another suicide attempt.

Sheridan said there was no indication of struggle inside the mobile home and it was locked from the inside.

“There was a dead boy and a mother,” Sheridan said. “There is no evidence of a third party.”

Sheridan asked the jury to consider what was reasonable.

“Is it reasonable to believe someone else came in the house and smothered Adam?” Sheridan asked. “Is it reasonable to believe the
defendant stayed in the house with her dead son and did not call police?”

Sheridan said the defendant talked about murder-suicide and it finally came to pass. He said the defendant killed her child, and because of her guilt, she attempted suicide again by cutting herself.

“Folks, it comes down to this. This person took everything that he (Adam) had. She took his life, his love, his smile, his happiness. She took everything because she indulged herself in hate and vengeance (at her ex-husband),” Sheridan said.

“Recognize the defendant’s acts for what they were and for what she is – a murderer.”

Sheridan asked the jury to hold Pettit-Duvall accountable for her actions.

“She killed her son. She killed innocence. She killed trust,” Sheridan said.

Defendant’s Closing Argument

“They’re saying some pretty horrible things and it hurts,” Pettit-Duvall said.

Pettit-Duvall picked up the note alleged to be a suicide note that was found at her home. She read a part of the handwritten note on the backside of the card that read, “Please remember I’m always here to help.”

Inside the card read, “I’m so very sorry. Please forgive me.”

“It appears to be my handwriting,” Pettit-Duvall said. “I don’t know who it (the card) was to.”

Pettit-Duvall said the note on the backside of the card didn’t sound like it was someone who was committing suicide.

“They say I’m a very violent person,” she said. “I don’t have a record.”

She said two of the prosecution’s witnesses had felony records, but was stopped short by objections by the prosecution.

“What am I allowed to say?” she asked the judge in exasperation.

Judge Garrett told her to give her closing arguments.

“I have to ask you…if you believe they have proven this…do what your heart tells you. I came here for answers,” Pettit-Duvall said.
Gray Closes

In the prosecution’s final closing argument, Gray showed the picture of Adam alive and smiling – a picture taken shortly before his death.

“She came here looking for answers?” Gray said. “She came her to blame this on someone else or something else, and not take the blame.”