Halt of federal executions could spare Michigan killer


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The U.S. attorney general announced a moratorium on the federal death penalty on Thursday after a rush of executions during the Trump administration.

At first blush, that shouldn’t mean much in Michigan, which was the first English-speaking government in the world to ban capital punishment.

But in one case, it could mean life or death.

Marvin Gabrion Jr., now 67, has been on death row for nearly 20 years for a murder on federal property in Newaygo County.

On Friday, his attorney in the federal case, Paul Mitchell, told News 8 he hopes the moratorium will help keep Gabrion from getting on the death row “conveyor belt.”

“I mean, Marvin’s Marvin,” Mitchell said. “Whatever he did, whatever they accused him of doing, whatever he was convicted of, he is no greater than anybody else and no less of a person than anybody else, in many respects.”

There’s no doubt that many would disagree.

Gabrion was convicted of killing 19-year-old Rachel Timmerman in 1997, throwing her into a lake weighted down and alive to keep her from testifying against him in a rape trial.

Her body surfaced in Oxford Lake in the Manistee National Forest, giving the federal government jurisdiction.

not-sized-rachel timmerman-and-baby-121616_268800
An undated photo of Rachel Timmerman and her 11-month-old daughter, Shannon Verhage. (July 26, 2019)

The body of Rachel’s baby, Shannon Verhage, was never recovered. Gabrion also is suspected of killing three others.

A federal jury sentenced him to death in 2002.

In 1847, Michigan became the first government in the English-speaking world to outlaw the death penalty. That didn’t stop the feds from hanging a robber for killing a man during a heist at a federal bank in 1938; the state’s last execution.

“Exacting this penalty, it goes against all the citizens of the state of Michigan when they do that,” Mitchell said. “I can see them doing it, if I can see them doing it at all, in Louisiana or Texas or some of the less civilized states, but I can’t see them doing it here and they should not do it here.”

The feds halted executions in 2003, but the Trump administration reinstated them, putting 13 to death over six months.

“The Trump administration decided to have a conveyor belt towards the end and that was unseemly by any standards, by any civilized standards,” Mitchell said.

On Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered a moratorium while the Justice Department reviews policies and procedures, including the use of the lethal injection drug pentobarbital.

“We are the last of the civilized countries to still exact this penalty,” Mitchell said.

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