James McVay's life is the hands of a Minnehaha County jury. After hearing seven days of testimony, the jury began deliberations at 12:30 p.m. Monday afternoon.
Jurors have already found that McVay's murder of 75-year-old Maybelle Schein meets the qualifications for the death penalty under South Dakota law, but now they are being asked whether the killer should be executed or get life in prison for his crime.
For more than a week, the jury of seven men and five women has heard how heinous McVay's crime was and why he deserves the death penalty. They've also heard how McVay struggles with a delusional disorder that is compounded by drug and alcohol abuse.
During closing arguments Monday, Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Aaron McGowan said he had no regrets in seeking the death penalty for the 43-year-old who admitted to stabbing Schein nine times and then cutting her vocal cords so she would stop screaming. McVay admits it was part of a plot to steal Schein's car and drive to Washington, D.C., to assassinate the president.
Before deliberations, McGowan asked the jury to put themselves in Schein's shoes on that July morning in 2011.
"The final visions before Maybelle's eyes were seeing this defendant standing over her with a Buck knife. Maybelle fought the last minute and a half of her life," McGowan said.
McVay's defense attorneys pleaded for mercy, saying McVay suffers from mental illness and was not receiving the proper treatment when he walked away from a transitional program at the prison in 2011 before killing Schein. McVay's delusions, they say, were enhanced by drug and alcohol abuse before the murder.
"This wasn't the plan of a rational person. Under the delusion, he saw him sacrificing himself to accomplish a mission. He was completing the mission based on what he thought Lucifer would have him do,” Minnehaha County Public Defender Traci Smith said.
Smith went on to point out that McVay's outlook has changed since his 2011 arrest and she said the 43-year-old is not a danger to society if he receives life in prison.
“Despite what the prosecution might say, he is human,” Smith said.
The jury has to reach a unanimous decision to give McVay the death penalty. If they can't reach a unanimous decision, McVay automatically gets life in prison without parole.