A judge has ruled that 42-year-old James McVay can face the death penalty after pleading guilty but mentally ill to first-degree murder.
McVay entered the plea more than a year ago but his attorneys in the Minnehaha County Public Defender’s Office have argued that South Dakota law does not specifically lay out guidelines for how guilty but mentally ill defendants should be handled when it comes to capital punishment.
McVay admits to killing 75-year-old Maybelle Schein in her Sioux Falls home back in July 2011. After the murder, he fled the state and was caught by authorities in Madison, Wisconsin. McVay told a TV station in Madison that Schein’s murder was the first part of his plot to go on a cross-country killing spree that would end with the assassination of President Barack Obama.
Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Aaron McGowan argued at a motions hearing Wednesday afternoon that South Dakota law allows for ‘any’ punishment available for defendant’s who plead guilty but mentally ill. In this case, first-degree murder carries the maximum sentence of the death penalty.
Judge Peter Lieberman sided with McGowan Wednesday but asked the defense to file an intermediate appeal with the South Dakota Supreme Court. That means the Supreme Court will make a ruling on Lieberman’s decision to allow the death penalty in McVay’s case before the sentencing hearing is held.