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Trial date set in death penalty case

By Kathy Jefcoats

A tentative date of March 21 has been set in the death penalty trial against a former U.S. Customs inspector suspected of killing and dismembering his girlfriend and her toddler.

The trial is expected to take several weeks.

Raymond Mark Jenkins, 42, is charged with murder in the July 3, 2003, shooting of Guilene Marie Cherisme, 31, and the stabbing of Joyce Isabell Cherisme, 3, both of Jonesboro. If he is convicted, Flint District Attorney Tommy Floyd will present evidence for a jury to determine if Jenkins should be put to death or serve out his life in prison.

But defense attorneys Lee Sexton and Ricky Morris argue that Jenkins is not a candidate for lethal injection because the deaths occurred after Jenkins suddenly stopped taking anti-depressants. Sexton alluded to a medical defense during a pretrial hearing held Friday morning in Henry Superior Court.

"We feel this maybe should not be a death penalty case," Sexton told Judge Arch McGarity. "The FDA just issued a black label warning on this very medication when given to young people. Our data shows otherwise, that it is not just young people."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered all antidepressants carry a black label warning that use by children and teenagers can increase their suicidal thoughts and behavior. The FDA relied on a study involving 4,400 patients that showed 2 to 3 percent of children taking the drugs have increased suicidal thoughts and actions.

The study goes on to state there is a greater risk during the first few months of treatment, according to the FDA. The study does not address adult patients but Sexton said his client's defense will rest on his dependence on antidepressants.

"There is a growing body of evidence that if you are on large doses and suddenly stop as Mr. Jenkins did, it can cause homicidal and suicidal thoughts," he said.

Sexton said he will present an expert from the University of Georgia pharmacology school to testify in favor of that theory.

Jenkins' physical condition after the deaths may also come into play when evaluating a taped conversation between Jenkins and a law enforcement officer on the ride from Louisiana back to Georgia.

Police allege Jenkins shot his girlfriend, a translator working at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, stabbed her daughter and dismembered their bodies. Jenkins reportedly led police to Louisiana where the remains were found dumped in the water off the coast.

On the ride back to Georgia, Jenkins reportedly confessed to the crime to an officer. The hours-long conversation was taped and is expected to be presented as prosecution evidence. Sexton argues that the tape may also be beneficial to the defense.

"They may be an indication he was not fully aware of what he was saying at the time," he said. "I don't know that but it is possible."

Floyd said he hopes he and the defense can agree on editing the tape because of its length and irrelevant material discussed in between the reported confession. Sexton agreed the confession is in bits and pieces.

McGarity ruled Friday jurors, who will be sequestered, will not have access to any communication devices.

"Their communication will have to be monitored anyway," he said. "We can't have people offering their opinions to them through cell phones."

The next hearing in the case is set for Dec. 10 at 9:30 a.m.