SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - A South Dakota judge formally sentenced a man to death for killing a woman as part of what he said was a plot to assassinate President Barack Obama.
The hearing Tuesday formalized the unanimous vote of a jury to sentence 44-year-old James McVay to death. McVay would have been sentenced to life in prison without parole if the jury's decision had not been unanimous.
McVay pleaded guilty, but mentally ill, to murder in the 2011 stabbing of 75-year-old Maybelle Schein. McVay said he killed Schein and stole her car as part of his plan to drive to Washington and kill the president. He was later arrested in Madison, Wisconsin.
Schein's family declined to speak during the hearing. Prosecutors, McVay and his defense team also did not comment.
"I don't have a lot to say here," said Circuit Judge Peter Lieberman. This is a situation where a jury's verdict has a lot more weight than what I could say."
Minnehaha County public defender Traci Smith filed a motion hours before the hearing asking Lieberman to vacate the sentence based on remarks made by the prosecution during closing arguments last month.
Smith argued that closing arguments about protecting the community "inflamed the passions" of the jury creating a bias against McVay, the Argus Leader newspaper reported. Lieberman rejected the motion saying the jury reached a decision after a thoughtful process.
McVay's sentence will be automatically reviewed by the South Dakota Supreme Court.
The state's highest court considers three issues in such reviews. They include whether the sentence was affected by passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor; whether the evidence supports the finding of a judge or jury of a statutory aggravating circumstance, and whether the sentence of death is out of line with the penalty imposed in other, similar cases.
Messages left Tuesday for Smith and Amber Eggert, also a public defender for McVay, were not immediately returned.
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