A man who told his daughter he would see her in hell was sentenced to death by lethal injection late Friday for killing her and 13 other relatives in a 1987 Christmas holiday massacre at the family's rural home.
Judge John Patterson set a March 16 execution date, but defense attorneys were expected to file appeals.A Circuit Court jury of eight men and four women deliberated more than four hours earlier Friday before returning a guilty verdict against Ronald Gene Simmons, 48, of Dover.
After hearing the jury foreman deliver the sentence, Skip May, the father of victim Renata Simmons, 22, said, "Soon, Simmoms will be gone from the face of the earth and never be heard from again, and then maybe we can put our lives back together again."
Relatives of other victims agreed.
"The trial is over, but we've got to get on with our lives," said Linda Lockyear of Marion, S.C. "Four members of our immediate family are gone. How can you get over that?" She is the sister of victim Dennis McNulty, who was Simmons' son-in-law.
Simmons already was under a death sentence after conviction last year for killing two people and wounding four others during a 40-minute shooting rampage in Rus-sellville. He had requested a speedy execution by injection after his first conviction, but delays were granted when a church group intervened.
In front of a crowded courtroom earlier Friday, Sim-mons and lawyers in the case were huddled in conference at the bench of Judge John Patterson when Simmons punched prosecutor John Bynum on the chin.
"R. Gene Simmons jumped at the prosecutor and we grabbed ahold of him and subdued him and put him up in the cell," Johnson County Sheriff Eddie King said.
A spokeswoman in the judge's office said Bynum was not hurt. "It was a very light blow," she said.
It was speculated Simmons was trying to get his hands on a gun.
"One of my deputies had ahold of both of his arms and he said there was no way he could be reaching," King said. "Probably what one of the officers felt was somebody pushing up against his gun."
Simmons was wrestled to the floor, subdued and placed in a cell. The trial broke for lunch after the incident.
Asked how much the attack helped his case, Bynum said, "Nothing, except it shows what kind of violent man we're dealing with here. It shows how fast a man can go from zero to 60."
When testimony resumed, Simmons was allowed to return to the courtroom but in chains. The prosecution rested its case about 2:15 p.m.
Prosecution witness Lt. Jay Winters of the Pope County sheriff's office read a transcript of the five pages of notes found in Simmons' safety deposit box in a Russell-ville bank. Bynum said it was a letter by Simmons to his eldest daughter, Sheila McNulty, 24, of Camden, with whom Simmons was accused of having an incestuous relationship that produced a daughter.
Bynum said the letter showed a love-hate relationship Simmons had toward his daughter and was a motive for his killing her, her husband and two children.