The leading attorney for James Worley told the jurors in the Sierah Joughin murder trial on Wednesday to give the defendant life in prison without parole so he can contemplate his crime.
“The general (prison) population is no picnic. It’s a pretty miserable place. And I’m asking you to put him there, so he can think about this every day until he dies,” Mark Berling said.
During his closing argument in the sentencing phase of the capital murder case, Berling recapped Tuesday’s testimony that Worley was the product of a violent, dysfunctional home. He mentioned Worley’s alcoholic, abusive father, his sister’s claims that Worley witnessed their stepfather rape her, and the emotional toll Worley faced over failing at both business ventures and personal relationships.
Worley was convicted last week of 17 counts in the Joughin case including abduction and aggravated murder. Joughin, 20, disappeared during a bicycle ride the evening of July 19, 2018. Her body was found in a grave in a cornfield on County Road 7 three days later.
During his presentation, Berling reiterated much of the testimony given Tuesday. He included a forensic psychologist’s suggestion of a possible incestuous relationship between Worley and his mother. “If that happened it explains a whole lot. It would have completely fried his brain,” Berling told the jurors.
He touched upon Worley’s sister’s refusal to testify on his behalf and his repeat of a grade in elementary school due to lack of motivation.
“He had to repeat third grade because he’s been conditioned by that family life to just go off in (a) fantasy world. The fantasy world continued to the day of the crime,” Berling said.
He told the court that while, individually, Worley’s diagnoses of narcissism, paranoia, and OCD would not cause him to commit murder, “combined, it puts you right in the category where you do not process information…(But) not one of these diagnoses is sufficient to explain how any of this could have happened.”
Berling also spent several minutes presenting evidence of the hundreds of adult diapers stored on Worley’s property, which he said played into the defendant’s sexual fetishes. Berling mentioned Worley’s constant viewing of pornography, saying, “A lot of people can watch it…then go their own way. Some people can’t do that.”
He said, with an at best average IQ, and with unsuccessful business ventures and no personal relationships with women, Worley’s outlook was dismal. “Everything the man has tried to do he’s failed at. Everything,” Berling said.
In a surprising move not taken during the trial, Berling mentioned being troubled over the DNA found under Joughin’s fingernails from an unsubstantiated male, and the supposition that Worley was able to dig a six-foot deep grave through hard soil in the three hours the case’s timeline suggests.
“You cannot dig a hole that deep through that much clay in a three-hour period and do all the things that were done in this case. I think maybe there was an accomplice,” Berling said.
That said, the attorney told the jurors he doesn’t want to see Worley back on the street.
“The facts in this case are horrible, they are horrendous, they make me sick to my stomach,” he said.
In his final argument prior to Berling’s, Fulton County Prosecutor Scott Haselman told the jury the aggravated circumstances connected to the conviction for aggravated murder “carry a lot of weight, so much weight that you couldn’t carry it unless you had a semi-truck. If the aggravated circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances without a reasonable doubt, it must be the death penalty.”
Haselman also revisited testimony in the sentencing phase, calling Worley’s actions “his history of choice.” He said Worley understood the difference between right and wrong, “and it comes down to choices that were made by the defense. He chose all of those things.”
He said Worley was likely aroused sexually by the control and domination he had over Joughin, and likely inflicted cruel, torturous acts upon her. He emphasized, however, that other people with similar disorders to Worley’s don’t act them out.
“His brother and sister lived in the same house, and they did not end up sitting in that chair,” Haselman said. “He had choices. He knew he had choices. He chose not to comply with the law. He made the conscious choice to kill Sierah Joughin so that he could escape detection.”
The jury was given the case for deliberation at 10:57 a.m.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.