Tears echoed through the courtroom Wednesday afternoon as Kelly Dodson told jurors why her ex-husband should get the maximum penalty for stabbing her parents to death.
Bryan Cooke had been found guilty on two counts of first-degree murder about an hour earlier. Now it was up to the jury to decide if he would be sentenced to life in prison, or life in prison without possibility of parole.
Jurors gave Cooke the maximum penalty they could deliver, life in prison without possibility of parole. The decision means Cooke will never again live outside the walls and fences of a prison.
My immediate thought is what purpose does it serve to keep Cooke alive for what could be decades, all so he can live in a cell? A ruthless killer like him, a man who thrust a knife 7 inches deep inside another person's chest, doesn't deserve the privilege of living.
Bryan Cooke is the perfect example of a man who deserves the death penalty.
So why wasn't the death penalty pursued in this case? That's a question I asked District Attorney General Lisa Zavogiannis, who admitted it's a decision she struggled to make.
Zavogiannis told me she consulted with several other district attorneys in Tennessee, including one that's still dealing with appeals from a death penalty verdict that was handed down nearly 30 years ago. She said ultimately the tiring and seemingly endless death penalty appeals process is what deterred her from seeking that punishment.
"You're not just seeking justice for the person who committed the crime," said Zavogiannis. "You're seeking justice for the family of the victims. Having them sit through all those hearings and appeals and making them live this over again and again is not worth it. That's not fair to them."
After the emotionally draining testimony I heard this week, I completely agree. You'd think there would be a way to bypass so many of the death penalty technicalities in a case where the evidence is as overwhelming as this one.
If the hard evidence isn't enough, Cooke took the stand and fully admitted to killing both Gary and Gail Dodson, but he made the woefully unbelievable claim it was in self-defense.
In a case like this where two parents are taken from their children and grandchildren by a maniacal killer, there isn't really justice, no matter the sentence imposed. Personally, I think it would have been appropriate to lead Cooke from the courtroom Wednesday and go directly to a public hanging or firing squad. His actions terminated his right to live in my book.
However, it's much easier for me to say that in a newspaper column than for our government to obtain a death sentence and follow through with an execution. In the end, Cooke will never again be a free man. It's a tremendous victory for our local prosecutors.
Standard editor James Clark can be reached at 473-2191.