Chamberlin gets death for killings of couple left in freezer

Published 12:11 am Sunday, August 6, 2006

A jury sentenced Lisa Jo Chamberlin to death by lethal injection after hours of deliberation Friday night.

The sentence was handed down around 8 p.m. Judge Bob Helfrich set Chamberlin’s execution date for Sept. 29, though the sentence likely will be delayed by an automatic appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

The same jury took less than 90 minutes earlier in the day to convict Chamberlin of capital murder in the slayings of two Hattiesburg residents whose bodies were found in a freezer in Kansas.

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Chamberlin was one of two people charged in the March 2004 deaths of Linda Heintzelman and Heintzelman’s boyfriend, Vernon Hulett. Their bodies were found inside the freezer at an abandoned farm in Russell County, Kan., by law officers who were searching for drugs.

Chamberlin faced a possible death penalty in Friday afternoon’s sentencing phase of the trial.

Roger Gillett also faces also is charged with capital murder in the deaths. His trial date is April 15.

Final arguments Chamberlin’s trial were presented Friday morning, one day after the prosecution ended its case and the defense immediately rested without calling any witnesses.

The last witness to testify was a former Forrest County Jail inmate who said Chamberlin showed no remorse about the killings. Chamberlin only expressed sorrow that she was caught, Martha Petrofsky told jurors.

“She said she wasn’t scared of the killings,” Petrofsky testified. “She was really upset because she said they should have disposed of the bodies better, like feeding them to the hogs.”

The jury was selected Monday in Vicksburg and transported to Hattiesburg for the trial.

Defense attorneys had said the state could not prove Chamberlin robbed the couple before their deaths, therefore making her not guilty of the capital murder charge. Before a defendant can be convicted of capital murder, an underlying felony must be proven.

Petrofsky said when Chamberlin arrived at the Forrest County Jail, she admitted to her that she was involved in Heintzelman’s death, but not Hulett’s. Petrofsky said Chamberlin told her that she and Gillett came to Hattiesburg “to make some dope and some money and leave.”

Gillett and Hulett were first cousins.

Petrofsky, who was jailed on a charge of setting fire to her mother’s home, said Chamberlin told her she and Gillett were trying to steal money from a safe in Hulett’s home but were unsuccessful.

According to testimony, Hulett was killed before Heintzelman.

Earlier Thursday, Kansas forensic pathologist Donald Pojman testified that Hulett died of a blunt force injury to the left side of his head.

Pojman said Heintzelman’s official cause of death was listed as multiple injuries that included stab and cut wounds, blunt force trauma and asphyxiation.

Jurors also heard Chamberlin in a videotaped confession to Kansas investigators describe the killing of Heintzelman. In the videotape, Chamberlin described how she had been gone from Hulett’s Hattiesburg home for an hour and returned to find Hulett dead and Heintzelman alive and lying on the floor at Gillett’s feet. The two couples had spent several days together before the killings, authorities said.

Chamberlin said on the videotape that she and Gillett left the house with Heintzelman alive but Gillett said, “Let’s go back and finish what we started.”

She said she gave a bag to Gillett who used it to smother Heintzelman.