NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has refused to overturn the death sentence for Tennessee’s only female condemned prisoner.
Christa Gail Pike is one of Tennessee’s most notorious prisoners, garnering headlines for the trouble she has caused while on death row.
In a written ruling issued Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr. said the 40-year-old inmate failed to show that her constitutional rights were violated during her 1996 trial when she was sentenced to death.
Pike, who is originally from West Virginia, was 18 years old when she tortured and murdered a fellow Job Corps student on the University of Tennessee’s agricultural campus in 1995, according to authorities.
Prosecutors said she killed Colleen Slemmer because the student was a rival for her boyfriend’s affections.
Slemmer was just 19 years old when Pike, boyfriend Tadaryl Shipp and friend Shadolla Peterson lured the victim to a remote area on the agricultural campus.
In his written ruling, Mattice cited chilling details from the crime that had been detailed in a Tennessee Supreme Court opinion issued in 1998. Pike told authorities that, armed with a box cutter and miniature meat cleaver, she beat and repeatedly slashed Slemmer as the teen begged for her life. The girl’s partially clothed body was discovered the following day. Someone had carved a pentagram into her chest.
“This is not a case where (Pike’s) conviction was only weakly supported by the record,” Mattice wrote.
Pike’s lawyers had argued that her prior attorneys were ineffective at trial and should have presented more evidence of mitigating circumstances in the case. They challenged the decision to allow cameras in the courtroom before the trial, resulting in widespread publicity of the case before a jury could be seated. They also raised questions about whether her attorney had a conflict because he asked Pike to sign media rights away to her story. The lawyer, according to the opinion, said he wanted to write a book telling Pike’s side, but never did.
Pike’s new defense also said she should not be put to death because she has organic brain injury, bi-polar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. After Pike’s conviction, a neurologist would later say that the frontal lobes in Pike’s brain are not put together properly. That portion of the brain, the doctor testified, regulates the ability to make moral and ethical decisions.
It’s not clear if Pike will appeal the ruling. The inmate’s attorney did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Pike made headlines in 2012 after a guard and a New Jersey man plotted to break her out of prison. While on death row in 2001, she tried to strangle another female inmate to death with a shoe string after a fire was started at the Tennessee Prison for Women. She was later convicted of the attempted murder of the inmate.