Teen killer wants shot at freedom after 22 years for quadruple murder

‘I knew he was a psychopath,’ victim’s sister says

Murder victim's sister, Sherry Wright, speaks out about the resentencing of Stephen McGilberry on four counts of capital murder. McGilberry was 16 when he beat four people to death with a baseball bat. Now 37, he is eligible for resentencing after
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Murder victim's sister, Sherry Wright, speaks out about the resentencing of Stephen McGilberry on four counts of capital murder. McGilberry was 16 when he beat four people to death with a baseball bat. Now 37, he is eligible for resentencing after

Stephen McGilberry wants out of prison.

He etched “Free Stephen” on a shower door at the Jackson County jail in August, a jail incident report says. Though McGilberry denied making the inscription, jailers said he did and he was placed on lockdown, meaning he lost all privileges and remained in his cell for all but a few hours a day, for 14 days.

The infraction is one of many jailers have cited McGilberry for since his return to the Jackson County jail last year for resentencing on four counts of capital murder.

Testimony in his resentencing begins Tuesday in Jackson County Circuit Court before Judge Robert Krebs.

McGilberry’s family says he feels no remorse for the October 1994 clubbing deaths of his mother, Patricia “Pat” Purifoy, his stepfather, Air Force TSgt. Kenneth Purifoy, his half-sister, Kimberly Self, and her son, Kristopher, 3. McGilberry, who lived in St. Martin, used baseball bats to kill the family with the help of a 14-year-old accomplice, Chris Johnson. Johnson is now a free man.

McGilberry said he committed the crimes because he was mad at his mother for grounding him from using the family car. She had done so, authorities said, because he’d been expelled from school and lost a job.

“There are cold-blooded murderers and then there are killers,” Pat Purifoy’s sister, Sherry Wright said. “I think there is a difference. He is a cold-blooded murderer. When you don’t have a conscience about what you are doing, you are a cold-blooded murderer. He planned all of this.

“People today keep talking about victims’ rights,” she said. “Victims do not have any rights. He has all the rights. What about my family’s rights? I want this to end. I want justice for my family. Every time this comes up, we have to relive it all over again.”

Murder victim's sister, Sherry Wright, speaks out about the resentencing of Stephen McGilberry on four counts of capital murder. McGilberry was 16 when he beat four people to death with a baseball bat. Now 37, he is eligible for resentencing after

Most horrific scene

Jackson County Sheriff’s Lt. Randy Neal says the crime scene was one of the most horrific he’s seen in his career in law enforcement. Patricia Purifoy, he said, was beaten about the head with such force that authorities couldn’t recognize whether she was a man or a woman.

And Michael Purifoy, he said, was still in the bed when he was clubbed to death. He said McGilberry’s sister and nephew fought to stay alive.

But what haunts him most, he said, is seeing Kristopher’s “little bitty bloody hand prints” behind a big-screen TV, about 10 feet away from where the young boy would die on a couch near the front door.

The killing, he said, was an act “of pure rage.”

A shot at freedom

McGilberry, now 37, is hoping to for a shot at freedom this week because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said it is a violation of the Eighth Amendment — which prohibits cruel and unusual treatment — to automatically sentence anyone 18 or younger to life without parole for certain crimes, such as murder.

McGilberry was 16 when he committed the crimes.

Under the higher court ruling, certain factors should be considered first, such as the person’s age and maturity; whether the person appreciates the risks and consequences of his or her actions; and other key elements, such as the heinous nature of the crime.

It will be the third time McGilberry has faced resentencing because of a higher court ruling. In 1996, a Jackson County jury convicted him of four counts of capital murder and sentenced him to death, but another U.S. Supreme Court ruling took the death penalty off the table.

In 2015, McGilberry was sentenced a second time to four consecutive life terms without parole, but the latest high court ruling means a third chance at sentencing.

Wright and her husband, Richard Wright, and son, Mark Wright, drove to Mississippi from Oklahoma to speak on the behalf of the victims of McGilberry’s actions.

“This was my sister,” Sherry Wright said Monday. “I can’t let him get out. I can’t let that happen. That’s my whole purpose in being here.”

He’s changed

After 22 years in prison, 10 of them on death row, McGilberry says he’s changed for the better.

He says he’s found God and earned his credentials as an ordained minister. He also married a girl he knew from St. Martin prior to being imprisoned.

Over the years, he’s earned his GED and says he’s worked his way up through the prison system to become a trusted inmate, because he doesn’t cause problems.

However, the Sun Herald learned through a records request that McGilberry has been cited for various rule violations during his years of his imprisonment.

Over the years, prison officials wrote him up after guards found handmade knives, or shanks, hidden in a toilet in his prison cell, and confiscated cellphones from him that had been smuggled into the prison.

And since his return to Jackson County, jail records the Sun Herald requested show he has been cited for 10 different infractions.

In some cases, he was cited for disrespecting jail staffers, while in other cases he was written up for being in another inmate’s cell or for hoarding or refusing to follow orders.

In addition to the incident in which he allegedly inscribed “Free Stephen” on a shower door, he was accused in October 2015 of threatening behavior after he was told to write down the number of razors he had received to shave and he wrote “X4,” a report said.

The deputy told McGilberry he needed to change the number to two because he’d received two razors, one to shave his face and the other to shave his head, the report said.

McGilberry said he was “confused” and thought they were asking for the number of people he had murdered, then broke out in laughter. The deputies took the gesture as a threat and seized the razors. The deputies said they had to use force to place McGilberry in a cell. He was placed on lockdown and lost all privileges for 14 days.

Outbursts and fits of rage

Over the years, McGilberry’s relatives say he angered easily and had sudden outbursts and fits of rage.

On one occasion, Michael Purifoy, Kenneth Purifoy’s son, remembers McGilberry placing him in a choke-hold because he’d gotten into some cereal that McGilberry said was his.

By the age of 5, Sherry Wright said, her nephew had set fire to a closet in his mother’s apartment in an attempt to burn down the place. Afterward, she said, he laughed.

On another occasion, Wright remembers McGilberry using a hot glue gun to burn a boy’s hand. When Wright asked him why he did it, she said he blamed the boy for putting his hand under the glue gun.

McGilberry, she said, was also jealous when his half sister moved into the home in St. Martin with her son, Kristopher.

“He was so jealous of Kimmy and that baby,” she said. “He didn’t like Pat’s attention off of him.”

Kenneth Purifoy, she said, tried to be a father figure for McGilberry, but still he had fears of his own.

“Ken told me one time he was afraid he’d wake up with a knife in his back,” she said.

The last time Wright saw her sister was not long before her death.

“I said, ‘Pat, be careful,’” she said. “Stephen doesn’t like you.”

Margaret Baker: 228-896-0538, @Margar45

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