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Dickerson sentenced to death

Victim was tortured for 18 hours before being killed

By Robert Behre
The Post and Courier
Friday, May 8, 2009


For the first time in 13 years, a Charleston County jury decided Thursday that a defendant's crime of murder was horrible enough to merit a sentence of death.


The jury needed about two hours to recommend the ultimate penalty for William O. Dickerson Jr., who was convicted of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering Gerard Roper.


William O. Dickerson

William O. Dickerson


Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she hopes the verdict sends a message that the county won't tolerate this level of violence. She noted that Dickerson had two guns and could have killed Roper quickly in March 2006, but instead kept him hostage and tortured him for 18 hours.


"This was about pain. It was about making Gerard suffer, and the jury got that," she said. "The facts of this case were so over the top."


After kidnapping Roper from another James Island home, Dickerson took him to a Fleming Road apartment where he burned him, cut him 200 times, knocked out his teeth and sodomized him with two objects before finally killing him by strangulation. The motive was not revealed during the trial.


During the ordeal, Dickerson made a phone call to describe what he was doing — and a recording of that call was played during the two-week trial.


Roper's mother Shareen Roper said she was overwhelmed and speechless when the jury recommended death, but while the verdict gives her some peace, she also felt for Dickerson's family. she also felt for Dickerson's family.


"I know they've taken a loss just like I have, and it's not a great feeling," she said.


Previous story


Dickerson guilty on all counts, published 05/01/09


Dickerson was wearing a red and white prison outfit when Circuit Judge R. Markley Dennis formalized the sentence after the verdict. "Good luck to you sir," Dennis told him. "God go with you."


Defense lawyer Andrew Carroll said he figured it was a bad omen that the jury took only about two hours to decide whether Dickerson should spend the rest of his life in jail or be put to death. He explained that to Dickerson moments before the verdict was read.


"(Dickerson) said, 'OK,' and waited to hear it. I think his only reaction was to put his head down," Carroll said. "He didn't have a comment as such. He came into the courtroom optimistic."


The death sentence will be subject to review by the S.C. Supreme Court, and appeals are expected.


Wilson said initial indications were that the 12 jurors were likely to lean toward giving a sentence of life in prison, but the facts in this case tipped the scale. She also thanked the Roper family for its support of her office in the years since the crime.


One juror who asked not to be identified said Wilson's read on the jury was basically correct. "All of us didn't really like the idea of us deciding that someone should be put to death, but the case itself was just so clear.


"I think we all really liked in the first part that we did know without a shadow of a doubt he was guilty. ... It was such a brutal crime. As much as we didn't like the idea of the death penalty, we really felt for the family of the victim and the children a lot."


Wilson's office now will turn its attention toward three others charged in the case, including Dickerson's half brother Armon "Bubba" Dickerson and Rashid "Popcorn" Malik, who also face a charge of murder.


Armon Dickerson's wife Selena Rouse faces a charge of obstructing justice and being an accessory after the fact of a felony. All three testified at William Dickerson's trial.


"After the family has had a chance to decompress, we'll talk with them about whether or not there should be any offers put on the table," Wilson said.


In an unusual step, William Dickerson spoke to the jury before it reached its guilty verdicts last week in the trial's first phase, and Wilson said his performance, which included a loud plea and waving arms but no sense of regret or sadness about the crime, likely didn't win him any points.


"He was, in my view, very aggressive and claimed to have had no part of it," she said, adding that Dickerson never expressed remorse.


The solicitor's office last sought the death penalty in Charleston County several years ago, but was unsuccessful. The most recent death sentence occurred here in 1996, when James Earl Reed was convicted of murdering an Adams Run couple in 1994. The state put him to death last year.


For William Dickerson, murder runs in the family. His father William O. Dickerson Sr. died in Lieber Correctional Institution in October 2001 while serving a life sentence for murder. Carroll said Dickerson would be taken to the same prison.


Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771 or at rbehre@postandcourier.com.

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