Jury recommends death penalty in Kirkland trial

CINCINNATI (AP) - A jury Wednesday recommended the death penalty for an Ohio registered sex offender convicted of killing two teenage girls and burning their bodies.

Jurors deliberated nearly four hours before recommending that Anthony Kirkland, 41, be executed for the slayings of Esme Kenney, 13, and Casonya Crawford, 14, both of Cincinnati.

On Friday, the jury convicted Kirkland of aggravated murder, attempted rape, aggravated robbery and gross abuse of a corpse in the deaths of the two teens. Kirkland, with tears in his eyes, told jurors in a statement in court Tuesday that he didn't deserve to live but asked them to spare his life.

"I can't believe how horrible I am," he said. "They say I am evil and a monster. They are right."

Judge Charles J. Kubicki Jr. will impose sentence March 31. He can follow the jury's recommendation or choose to sentence Kirkland to life in prison.

The Cincinnati man was to be tried for four deaths but pleaded guilty before the trial started to charges of murder and gross abuse of a corpse in the deaths of Mary Jo Newton, 45, and Kimya Rolison, 25. Those cases did not carry the death penalty.

Kirkland faces 32 years in prison or two life sentences for his guilty pleas. A halfway house released Kirkland weeks before Kenney's slaying. Police said they found Kirkland near Kenney's partially burned body in woods near her home in March 2009. She had left home to go jogging at a reservoir.

In investigating Kenney's death, authorities later charged Kirkland in the other slayings, which all occurred in 2006. The teens and Newton were strangled; Rolison was stabbed. All four bodies were burned. In closing statements Wednesday, prosecutors recounted the way the teens died and pointed out his guilty pleas in the deaths of Newton and Rolison.

"He killed and he killed and he killed and he killed," said Mark Piepmeier, a Hamilton County assistant prosecutor said. "Four victims. Four lives shattered, and how many other lives affected?"

Defense attorney Norm Aubin asked jurors to recommend life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"We're not asking for a break," Aubin said. "It's not a game. This is life and death."

Killing Kirkland will accomplish nothing, defense attorney Will Welsh told the jury.

"You don't have to be like him, you can choose life," Welsh said.

Defense attorneys also said that Kirkland had a mental health condition and was raised in an abusive family situation, but prosecutors downplayed that argument.

Prosecutor Joe Deters said Kirkland was not mentally ill and "couldn't care less" about the four females he killed. Messages seeking comment on the jury's recommendation were left at the offices of prosecution and defense attorneys Wednesday evening.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)