Thirty-five years after Kennewick college student Mike McMahan was shot in a Texas river bottom, his murderer reportedly has died in jail as he awaited hearings for a retrial.
McMahan’s sister, Janna McMahan, was notified Friday by a prosecuting attorney that Ronald Chambers, 55, died Thursday.
Chambers was on death row for the 1975 abduction and shooting of the 22-year-old Texas Tech University student and his date, Deia Sutton.
Chambers’ death does not bring her brother back, but Janna McMahan said it’s a huge relief that there will not be another trial.
She and her parents sat through three trials for Chambers as one death sentence conviction, then another, was overturned. She was set to fly to Texas in early 2007 to witness Chambers’ execution when Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court granted a reprieve on the third conviction.
“It takes the life out of you going through this all again,” Bennie McMahan, Mike’s mother, said then. Mike’s father, Mabry, died in 2007, and Bennie died in 2009.
“I wish my parents had lived to see it,” Janna McMahan said. She wanted them to know that Chambers would not get another trial.
The McMahan family had been concerned that Texas did not have a life-without-parole penalty when Mike McMahan was killed, and that if Chambers was not again sentenced to death, he would be eligible for parole.
McMahan graduated in 1971 from Kennewick High. He was a good math student and dreamed of attending Texas Tech, just like his dad. In 1975, McMahan was a senior engineering student at the university in Lubbock.
At Chambers’ initial trial, the jury took less than 30 minutes to reach a decision.
But the verdict was overturned on appeal after questions were raised about whether a psychiatrist who interviewed Chambers had made clear that anything he said could be used as evidence.
A second trial was held in 1985. But the guilty verdict was overturned because there was not a black person on the jury and Chambers was black.
The third trial was in 1992, but on appeal Chambers’ attorney had argued that a jury instruction did not specify that factors such as character evidence and Chambers’ upbringing in government projects could be considered in choosing the sentence.
The new sentencing trial was set for June.
No information was available Friday evening on how Chambers died.
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