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Convicted Witness Killer Sentenced

June 20, 2000

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) _ A man convicted of ordering the slaying of an 8-year-old witness in a murder trial was spared the death penalty Tuesday after jurors could not agree on a sentence.

Judge G. Sarsfield Ford, refusing a prosecution request for a mistrial, said he would sentence Russell Peeler to life in prison without parole.

Peeler was convicted of killing 8-year-old Leroy ``B.J.″ Brown Jr., who was scheduled to testify against Peeler in an earlier murder case, and the boy’s mother, Karen Clarke. The two were gunned down in their Bridgeport home on Jan. 7, 1999.

Prosecutors say Peeler had his brother, Adrian, shoot the mother and son to keep the boy from testifying. Adrian will tried later.

Jurors had sent Ford a flurry of notes Monday, saying they could not reach an agreement. They had begun deliberating the penalty phase on Friday.

Peeler already was serving a life term in the earlier murder case, and a separate life term for a federal drug trafficking conviction.

At the time of the killings, he was free on bail awaiting trial in the murder of Clarke’s boyfriend, Rudolph Snead Jr. Peeler and Snead were partners in a lucrative crack cocaine ring in Bridgeport.

In September 1997, B.J., then 7, was riding in a car with Snead when a man he would later identify as Russell Peeler pulled up and started shooting. Snead was only grazed in that shooting, but eight months later he was gunned down in a barber shop.

Jurors convicted Peeler of two capital counts, one for killing someone under 16, the other for killing more than one person. But in considering whether to impose the death penalty, they couldn’t agree on aggravating and mitigating circumstances.

Prosecutors had argued that the crimes were especially cruel because of the anguish of a mother seeing her son shot, and a son seeing his mother shot. For mitigating factors, defense lawyers noted he did not actually pull the trigger and presented family members who said Peeler was deeply affected by the loss of his own mother, who died of cancer when he was 21.

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