Crime

At 16, he killed his family; at 37 he gets another shot at sentencing

MARGARET BAKER/SUN HERALD 
 Stephen McGilberry confers with his attorneys Thursday in Jackson County Circuit Court. He was there to schedule his second resentencing for killing his family at age 16.
MARGARET BAKER/SUN HERALD Stephen McGilberry confers with his attorneys Thursday in Jackson County Circuit Court. He was there to schedule his second resentencing for killing his family at age 16.

PASCAGOULA -- Stephen Virgil McGilberry was 16 years old in 1994 when he killed his family with a baseball bat.

McGilberry's previous sentence of four consecutive life terms without parole was set aside because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. He is scheduled for resentencing Nov. 14.

Assistant Attorney General Larry Baker has submitted the names of 32 potential witnesses, including at least three witnesses who said McGilberry, now 37, admitted killing his parents. Another witness said McGilberry thought he'd go to juvenile jail for the killings.

One of those witnesses said McGilberry asked her to help him kill his parents, and yet another said McGilberry confessed to the killings; that witness also saw McGilberry driving one of the victims' cars.

Circuit Judge Robert Krebs set a March 10 hearing to discuss the final number of witnesses attorneys plan to call.

The high court had ruled it was unconstitutional to automatically sentence someone to life without parole if they were younger than 18 when they committed certain crimes, including murder, without first considering their age and the heinous nature of the crime.

The new sentence will be the third for McGilberry because of high court rulings.

In 1996, a Jackson County jury convicted him and sentenced him to death, but another U.S. Supreme Court ruling took the death penalty off the table. He was later resentenced to four consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole.

Attorneys Tom Fortner and Michael Cunningham are representing McGilberry. They said Thursday they would need time to gather experts and other witnesses to testify at the resentencing.

Also among the witnesses are current and former deputies, relatives of the victims and the woman who drove McGilberry to his home in the Sweetbriar subdivision shortly after the killing.

At age 16, McGilberry had recruited a friend to help him beat to death his mother, Patricia Purifoy, his stepfather, Air Force TSgt. Kenneth Purifoy, his stepsister, Kimberly Self, and her son, Kristopher Self, 3, at the family's St. Martin home. McGilberry's co-defendant, Chris Johnsen, pleaded guilty to the murder and armed robbery of Patricia Purifoy and received a life sentence plus 15 years. He has been released on parole.

The crime was so gruesome that seasoned investigators at the scene of the October 1994 killings got physically sick by what they'd seen.

The 3-year-old was found lying face down on a couch with his tiny hands over his head in an effort to protect himself, authorities have said. His stepfather and his sister were found in their beds. His mother was in a recliner.

He took a money order and a family car and left after the killings.

He later told authorities where to find the murder weapons. He claimed he killed Kenneth Purifoy and his sister. Johnson, he said, killed McGilberry's mother and nephew. McGilberry said he did strike his mother once in the head because she was suffering.

McGilberry told investigators he had committed the crimes because he was mad at his mother for grounding him from using the family car. She did so, authorities said, because he'd stopped going to school and lost a job.

He also claimed he was the victim of abuse.

McGilberry said he's changed since the killings, found God and received his credentials as an ordained minister. He's also married and says he's been a trusted inmate over the years who worked different jobs.

McGilberry said he deserves at least a chance at parole, something relatives of those he killed oppose. They want McGilberry in prison for the rest of his life.

The family and others close to the victims have written to prosecutors to let them know how the crimes affected them and to ask that he remain imprisoned.

Charlotte James, Kenneth Purifoy's sister, told the Sun Herald the family had moved on with their lives "just to have him open up the can of worms again.

"We are victimized all over again, and yet the court is worried about his rights and treat him like this poor, little victim.

"He had no remorse for what he did," she said. "Four people no longer have their lives. My brother was the most loving, caring, easygoing guy that you could ever meet these four people, these innocent people, will never get up again and have a life. Why should he?"

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