Note: This story was updated at 11:15 a.m.
CLINTON—An Anderson County man convicted of first-degree murder on Tuesday avoided the death penalty on Thursday, but he did receive a sentence of life without parole.
A jury of eight women and four men unanimously agreed on that decision after more than seven hours of deliberations on Wednesday and Thursday. Besides death and life without parole, they could have also returned a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
The jury said that prosecutors had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing of Samuel “Sammie” J. Adams, 79, sometime in mid-December 2011 was especially, heinous, atrocious, or cruel, and that Adams was 70 or older. Those were two of the four aggravating factors the jury could consider during the deliberations over whether to impose the death penalty against Norman Lee Follis Jr., 52.
Follis is Adams’ nephew, and he was convicted of first-degree murder for killing his uncle in Anderson County Circuit and Criminal Court on Tuesday.
Adams’ decomposing body was found buried under at least 10 blankets in a closet underneath a staircase at his apartment on Patt Lane in Claxton on January 24, 2012. A couch was shoved against the closet door. Adams had been reported missing. He died of strangulation.
In taped interviews with Anderson County Sheriff’s Department Detective Don Scuglia, Follis said he was defending first himself and then his girlfriend, Tammy Sue Chapman, 47, from Adams. His uncle had been on top of Chapman, groping her, and when he intervened, Follis said, his uncle grabbed him. During the struggle, the two fell to the floor, according to Follis and his defense attorneys, and Follis grabbed a white extension cord to defend himself and push Adams off him.
Follis said the killing occurred in mid-December 2011, and he hid his uncle in the closet because he was scared and didn’t know what else to do.
But during the month before Adams was found, prosecutors said, Follis misled others about where Adams was, telling them he had taken his uncle to a hospital, even though he knew Adams was dead in an apartment closet in Claxton.
Prosecutors questioned Follis’ credibility throughout the trial. They said Follis had told “lie after lie after lie” to family, friends, neighbors, and law enforcement officers, and that his explanation of the killing was a story that he had latched onto and then elaborated upon during the interviews with Scuglia.
Prosecutors said Follis and Chapman profited from the death of Adams. Follis sold his uncle’s car to a Knoxville man for $1,000 cash on January 16, 2012, according to testimony.
Danny Adams, Sammie Adams’ son, said he and his sister Melinda Hackett, Sammie Adams’ daughter, were pleased with the conviction and the sentence of life without parole.
“It’s closure for my father,” Danny Adams said. “The system worked this time…My sister and I are pleased with the decision of the jury.”
It was the first death penalty trial in Anderson County since 1991.
“We are glad that this defendant will not ever walk as a free man again,” said Tony Craighead, deputy district attorney general in the Seventh Judicial District (Anderson County), who prosecuted the case along with assistant DA Emily Abbott.
The trial started with jury selection on Wednesday last week, and the sentencing hearing started Wednesday this week.
Don Elledge was the judge.
Follis was represented by defense attorneys Mart Cizek and Wesley Stone.
Chapman has also been charged with first-degree murder, and she is also facing the death penalty. Her trial is scheduled for August.
More information will be added as it becomes available.