Bright gets 30 years for murder

Prior to being sentenced to 30 years in prison for the 2017 murder of James Skinner last Tuesday, David Leroy Bright had very little to say.
When Judge Kimberly Koester asked Bright whether he wished to make a statement of allocution, to express any remorse, he initially said, “No, ma’am.”
Asked a second time, Bright said, “I’m not guilty.”
But Bright, 71, was found guilty of two counts murder by a Fayette County jury in a weeklong trial at the end of September.
The charges against Bright, of Mulberry Grove, alleged that on Sept. 17, 2017, he murdered Skinner by striking him on the head with a sledgehammer.
Bright has been in the Fayette County Jail since his arrest in January 2018, and he was given credit for 1,019 days served in the county jail.
Prior to last Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Koester denied motions for a new trial filed by Bright’s attorney, Fayette County Public Defender William Starnes.
Starnes made two claims in seeking a new trial for Bright, the first alleging a judge improperly allowed the prosecution motion to admit into evidence Bright’s prior conviction for aggravated criminal sexual abuse if he chose to testify at his trial.
Starnes based his argument on a statement made a juror in a post-trial questionnaire.
That juror stated that the prosecution had more evidence than the defense, and Starnes claimed that showed “the state (prosecution) was successful to trick box the defendant” by allowing the prior conviction to be used.
Starnes claimed that that juror violated his or her oath by not objectively deciding on a verdict, and told Koester that with such a violation, “one juror is sufficient” to grant a defendant a new trial.
Fayette County State’s Attorney Joshua Morrison, in response to Starnes’ claim, said it’s commonplace for a jury to know a defendant’s criminal history."
Starnes’ second argument for a new trial claimed that that juror and also a second juror made reference to Bright not testifying.
Starnes argued that a defendant has a right to not testify and if he does not, it should not be held against him, and that jurors “had a duty to follow” the jury instructions given by Koester.
On whether jurors could suggest anything that strengthened either the prosecution or defense case, one juror said, “For the defense, maybe have the defendant testify or at least have him stay awake during his trial.”
A second juror wrote, “I would have liked to have heard Mr. Bright’s testimony. To me, by not testifying, in my eyes, he was saying he was guilty.”
Morrison argued that a juror making such a statement “doesn’t mean the juror would have changed their mind … that they didn’t follow your (the judge’s) instructions.
Arguing that such statements warrant a new trial, Morrison said, “is ludicrous.”
On the issue of jurors knowing about Bright’s prior conviction, Koester said, “The court took opportunity to weigh the probative value versus the prejudicial effect of that prior.”
On the second issue, Koester said that during jury selection, it was explained that a defendant has a right to either testify or not testify.
“Each and every one said they understood the proposition and would follow the proposition,” Koester said.
Saying after the trial that he or she would have liked to have heard Bright testimony, Koester said, “is not a violation,” and there was no evidence that those jurors held against Bright his decision not to testify.
“The fact that a juror wanted to hear more doesn’t mean (he or she) failed to adhere to the proposition.”
The sentencing hearing began with Ryan Skinner, the son of James Skinner, delivering an victim impact statement.
September 17, 2017, Ryan Skinner said, “Is a day I will never forget. It haunts me every day.”
He said that he met his father for coffee at 5:30 that morning, “and like every other 20-year-old, I was not happy to be up that early to work.
“I said maybe 10 words that morning, and ‘I love you’ was not any of those words,” Ryan Skinner said.
“There are so many things I wanted to tell you before you left,” he said.
“What hurts me most is that you never got to hold your granddaughter. She is adorable – you would lover her,” Ryan said.
“This June, I will be getting married in Florida, and I don’t know how I can mentally be ready for that knowing that you won’t be there for that special day,” he said.
“The few weeks after were so hard for me,” Ryan said, “because I would pick up my phone when I would think of something to tell him.
“But I would never get an answer, and all of a sudden it would hit me” that his father was dead.
To commit a murder because of jealousy or money, Ryan said, “I can’t understand.”
In making a recommendation for the maximum sentence for Bright, 60 years, Morrison said, “There is nothing redeeming about a crime such as murder.”
James Skinner “will never meet his granddaughter, never see his son again.
“David Bright gets to live,” Morrison said.
The state’s attorney added that Bright “received compensation for this,” referring to the trial testimony alleging that Bright took Skinner’s wallet after committing the murder.
“This was a jealousy, money, anger, frustration murder,” Morrison said.
Before recommending a sentence of 20 years, Starnes claimed the prosecution’s case did not present evidence of Bright’s fingerprints on the murder weapon or James Skinner’s blood on Bright’s clothes, which were voluntarily given to investigators.
“What happened to James Skinner is unconscionable, intolerable,” Starnes said.
However, he said, with the jury taking three hours to reach a verdict, “there is residual doubt there.”
The length of Bright’s sentence is not really an issue, Starnes said.
“Whatever you sentence him to is a lifetime,” he said.
Because of the “extraordinary expense” in continuing to house Bright in the county jail, in light of the Illinois Department of Corrections not accepting all inmates at this time, Starnes recommended that Bright be monitored in some type of alternative housing.
Morrison said the “only logical sentence” is one served in the Illinois Department of Corrections, and that he had not heard back from IDOC on whether it would accept Bright right away.
With any kind of alternative housing, Morrison said, “The county would foot the bill.”
In pronouncing sentence, Koester acknowledged the lack of fingerprints and blood evidence.
“However, regardless of that lack of evidence,” the jury found Bright guilty of murder.
“I’m not going to second-guess the jury in this case,” Koester said.
She pointed out that Bright is “in physical declined … and will live the balance of his life in the Department of Corrections.
Koester included in her facts of aggravation against Bright Morrison’s claim that Bright benefitted financially in committing the murder in that “he did take money from the victim.”
As to factors in Bright’s favor, Koester said, “the court really finds none to be there in regards to mitigating this defendant’s actions.”
“The court is well aware” that because of Bright’s age, any sentence “is basically a life sentence.”
Bright displayed no emotion throughout the sentencing hearing, including during Koester’s pronouncement of his sentence.

David Bright

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