By BRIAN HAWKINS
Convicted murderess Kristi Leigh Fulgham will spend the rest of her life in prison without the possibility of parole for the May 2003 shooting death of her husband.
Judge Lee Howard sentenced Fulgham, 34, to the life prison term in an Oktibbeha County Circuit Court hearing Tuesday morning in response to the Mississippi Supreme Court's recent reversal of the death sentence originally handed down by the same jury who convicted her of capital murder in the slaying of her husband, Joseph T. "Joey" Fulgham.
The Supreme Court, which upheld her capital murder conviction, ordered a new sentencing hearing on the grounds that the trial judge erred in disallowing testimony of a social worker during the sentencing phase of Fulgham's 2006 Circuit Court trial. Writing the majority opinion, Supreme Court Justice Ann Lamar said the rules of evidence allow the social worker to testify to her opinions and observations after a court’s acceptance of her as an expert in the field of social work, particularly if the testimony could offer evidence "as a basis to persuade a jury to return a sentence of less than death."
But on Tuesday, District Attorney Forrest Allgood chose not to pursue the death penalty for Fulgham, which would have meant summoning a jury pool for a second penalty hearing to determine sentence. Under Mississippi law, only a jury can hand down a death sentence.
Addressing Howard in open court Tuesday, Allgood said Joey Fulgham's family — including his mother, Ann Cash, and brother, Shannon Fulgham — had chosen not to pursue a second penalty trial. Because the family did not want to pursue the matter further, the only option for Howard was to sentence Fulgham to life without parole.
Cash and other members of the family did not attend Tuesday's court proceedings.
Allgood, speaking after the hearing ended, said their decision not to pursue the death penalty phase was understandable.
"Homicides are emotionally devastating. When they keep getting revisited, it does nothing but exacerbate things," said Allgood. "They had endured all they had wanted to endure."
Kristi Fulgham had filed a written affidavit stating that she would give up all rights to future post-conviction relief and appeal in exchange for the life sentence she ultimately received. Allgood said he did not believe the affidavit was legally binding.
"I don't think it's worth the paper it's written on," Allgood said.
Flanked by three attorneys — including Stephanie Mallette of Starkville and Andre de Gruy with the Office of Capital Defense Counsel in Jackson — Kristi Fulgham appeared in court wearing a red prison jumpsuit and wrist and ankle shackles. She was also wearing makeup, but remained expressionless and said nothing as her sentenced was pronounced.
Mallette had no comment after hearing concluded.
In the original trial, prosecutors said Joey Fulgham was shot once in the head while he slept in the home he and Kristi Fulgham were sharing in May 2003. They claim his wallet was missing and Kristi Fulgham wanted money. Fulgham’s lawyers argued that Joey Fulgham had abused her and she suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome.