Crime

Teen who beat 4 to death may have had mental disorder, report says

Stephen Virgil McGilberry talks to with his attorney, John Kerr, before appearing in Jackson County Circuit Court in Pascagoula on Friday, July 17, 2015
Stephen Virgil McGilberry talks to with his attorney, John Kerr, before appearing in Jackson County Circuit Court in Pascagoula on Friday, July 17, 2015 jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

Stephen McGilberry could suffer from a mental disorder, possibly caused by fetal alcohol syndrome, that may have affected his ability to control his actions as a teen, according to a 2001 psychological report.

The report — which refers to possible “brain dysfunction” and a cognitive disorder — as well as updated reports from experts are expected to play a role in a judge’s decision to resentence McGilberry, 37, on four counts of capital murder. He was convicted in the beating deaths of his mother, Patricia Purifoy, his stepfather, Air Force TSgt. Kenneth Purifoy, his half sister, Kimberly Self, and her 3-year-old son, Kristopher.

McGilberry, sentenced to four consecutive life terms without parole, is hoping for a chance at parole.

Hattiesburg attorney Tom Fortner is one of two attorneys representing McGilberry this week. In such cases, Fortner said, people focus on the the horrific details of the crime rather than what the law says should be considered.

“For 22 years now, he (McGilberry) has been in a prison and done everything he possibly can under extreme circumstances to better himself,” Fortner said Monday. “It’s certainly easy to get mad at him and it’s certainly easy to condemn him. Most people aren’t going to try to look at the overall picture because then they might find themselves not hating him. They certainly don’t want to give him any break or cut him any slack.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling that is giving McGilberry a chance at parole, Fortner said, considers that “juveniles are psychologically different and developmentally different and often times they cannot control their activities very well and they cannot control their impulses.”

“And when they are abused after years and years, they act even stranger,” he said. “So, you’ve got a kid like McGilberry who has been convicted of something horrible, no question about it, but at the same time he has made a tremendous effort to redeem himself in a very, very difficult circumstance.”

According to the 2001 psychological report, McGilberry’s suspected cognitive disorder could have affected his ability to control his actions.

During his school years, reports show, McGilberry had engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior, “such a bringing condoms to school, throwing them on people, mooning people, and making sexually inappropriate remarks.”

Before age 10, McGilberry was accused of breaking into a school and molesting a young girl, though he was never charged with any sex crime.

And in the last six months before the murders, McGilberry’s life “began to spiral downward,” report says.

In those last months, McGilberry lost a job and was expelled from school after he “ripped off his shirt and wanted to the fight the vice-principal.”

After that, the family sent McGilberry to live with his father in Oklahoma only to have him return to Mississippi a short time later.

Soon after, McGilberry’s half-sister, Kimberly Self, and her son moved in to the St. Martin home and tension mounted because the the siblings didn’t get along.

“Most adults and certainly the community in which all of this happened, the Coast community, doesn’t want to like this guy and they certainly don’t want to give him a break or give him any slack. But if you follow the law in this case, he doesn’t warrant a life-without-parole sentence.”

The victims’ families say otherwise.

Margaret Baker: 228-896-0538, @Margar45

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