Longform

Lethal Rejection

Page 9 of 10

"Why did you kill her?" she asked.

He told her that his satanic spiritual advisers needed a human sacrifice; he believed it was the only way he could get rid of his headaches.

"Did it work?" she asked him.

"For a while, but they came back," he said.

"That's because you can't send an angel to Satan."

He said he was sorry, and she said if he was really sorry, he could save her a lot of pain by pleading guilty to two life sentences.

His response would stun her: Life in a Texas prison was too hard, he told her. He wanted to stand trial and be executed.

For the next several minutes they dug into their positions: she, the mother of the victim, asking that the murderer's life be spared; he, the killer, insisting he be executed. He did agree to take her request under advisement with the elders of his church.

Although Popp says she felt little compassion for Marino, she was pleased the meeting occurred. "What happened to my daughter was horrible, yes, but nowhere near as demeaning as the cruel lies made up by the Austin police. At least she didn't know she was going to die."

After the meeting, Popp held a news conference and urged people to call Ronnie Earle and ask him not to seek the death penalty against Marino. "Help me save this man's life," she said.

Bryan Case doesn't remember anyone phoning his office, but a week later the district attorney decided not to seek the death penalty. Unmoved by his show of mercy, Joe Marino decided he wanted to go to trial anyway. By pleading insanity, he hoped to put the entire Texas prison and justice system on trial, "which I have said from the beginning was a co-defendant in the murder of Nancy DePriest," he says.

As he readied himself for trial, Case decided he would call upon Jeanette Popp one last time to use whatever influence she might have with Marino to get him to accept a guilty plea. Popp agreed, on the condition that she would be allowed to videotape the encounter, so victims groups could use it in their educational materials. But at the last minute Case called off the meeting when he learned that Popp also planned to give the tape to the media, which were gathering outside the jail. When Popp arrived, she called Case on her cell phone, and the TV cameras only captured her side of the conversation.

"You can't believe I would behave this way? Mr. Case, you don't want to bring my daughter into this...I am not getting anything out of this...So what you are saying is, I am trying to profit from my daughter's death. Is that what are you saying?...I am a death penalty activist; that is my only agenda."

Case claims he never said Popp was trying to profit from her daughter's death--that she was putting words into his mouth. "It is clear she set me up for the cameras, and it was an extremely manipulative thing to do. All I told her was that her agenda was entering into the case."

On camera, Popp's lip quivered and she began to cry, falling into the consoling arms of Scott Cobb. Playing two roles in the same trial was difficult even for her: She raised hell like an activist but melted like a victim.

On October 12, a jury brushed aside Joe Marino's insanity defense and found him guilty of the murder and aggravated sexual assault of Nancy DePriest. Because of his prior convictions, he received two automatic life sentences, which the judge ordered would run consecutively. After the sentence, Popp was allowed to address the court and gave a statement that even Case found "impressive and quite moving."

Taking the witness stand, she turned to the jury and held up a photograph of her daughter, wanting them to see her not as a victim lying naked and bloody in some trial exhibit but the way she saw her: smiling, beautiful, full of life. She thanked the jury, thanked Bryan Case, then turned to the defendant with tears streaming down her face and said, "Mr. Marino, may God have mercy on your soul."

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Mark Donald
Contact: Mark Donald