US high court rules against convicted Miss. killer

Published 1:25 pm Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear an appeal from Lisa Jo Chamberlin, who was seeking a new trial after being sentenced to death in the slayings of a Hattiesburg couple whose bodies were found in a freezer in rural Kansas.

A Mississippi court denied her post-conviction petition last fall. Chamberlain sought U.S. Supreme Court review of her petition, which the justices denied without comment.

Chamberlin had claimed — among other things — that her trial attorney failed to question prospective jurors about their feelings about the death penalty, failed to raise the issue of her drug addiction and failed to raise the issue of her dominance by a co-defendant.

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In a post-conviction petition, an inmate argues he or she has found new evidence or a possible constitutional issue that could persuade a court to order a new trial.

The Mississippi Supreme Court said last fall that Chamberlin failed to show how she was denied a fair trial or that the outcome would have been different. The court said it also would not second-guess decisions that appeared to part of the defense’s trial strategy.

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

Chamberlin was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to death. The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld her conviction in 2008.

The other defendant, Roger Lee Gillett, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2007.

Prosecutors said Gillett and Chamberlin fled Mississippi to cover their tracks and hide the crime.

The investigation began when authorities learned in March 2004 that Chamberlin and Gillett had a stolen vehicle and were making methamphetamine at the Kansas farm.

Officers arrested the couple on March 29, 2004, at the Kansas home and a search found illegal drugs. A second search uncovered a freezer in which a dismembered body was found. The body was determined to be Vernon Hullett, Gillett’s cousin. When they pulled the body out, Linda Heintzelman’s frozen body was found underneath.

Prosecutors said Gillett and Chamberlin were living with the victims in Hattiesburg, Miss., at the time of the slayings.

Chamberlin, in a taped confession played at her trial, said the victims were killed because they wouldn’t open a safe in Hullett’s home, according to court records.