Tenn. woman on death row seeks to stop execution

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The only woman on death row in Tennessee’s prison system is asking a Knoxville federal judge to prevent her execution.

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Christa Gail Pike’s lawyer filed a petition claiming his client’s constitutional rights were violated at the 1996 trial where she was convicted of killing Colleen Slemmer. The petition seeks relief from conviction or sentence.

Both Pike and Slemmer were students at a now-closed Job Corps training center in Knoxville. Investigators said the crime sprang from a love triangle involving another student, Tadaryl Shipp, who is serving a life prison sentence.

Pike’s petition described her as a “mentally ill, cognitively impaired, immature adolescent” at the time of the 1995 slaying.

Slemmer was tortured and fatally struck on the head with a chunk of asphalt.

The filing is the latest turn in Pike’s 18-year attempt to have her death sentence overturned. Pike was 18 years old and Slemmer was 17 when the killing occurred at a remote spot on the University of Tennessee agricultural campus in Knoxville. Prosecutors said a pentagram was cut into the victim’s chest with a box cutter before she was killed. Investigators said Pike saved a piece of Slemmer’s skull as a souvenir.

Shipp was also 17 and could not be sentenced to death because he was a juvenile.

Pike can take her fight to federal court because Knox County Criminal Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz rejected her appeal and the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals sustained Liebowitz’s ruling in 2011. The Tennessee Supreme Court then declined to hear the case.

Pike’s attorney, Assistant Federal Defender Stephen A. Ferrell, raises issues that were previously part of unsuccessful appeals, but adds a claim that his client’s rights were trammeled.

The Tennessee attorney general’s office filed a 90-page response in which it said state court rulings were legally correct.

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