The Supreme Court of Georgia has unanimously upheld two death sentences for Lawrence Rice, who was convicted in 2008 of killing Connie Mincher and her teenage son, Ethan, in their east Cobb home in April 2003.
This is only the beginning of appeals in Rice’s case, and Cobb District Attorney Pat Head said it could be two decades before he is put to death. Rice, now 63, is on death row at the state prison in Jackson.
In Monday’s opinion, written by Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham, the court rejected each of the 10 errors alleged by Rice’s attorneys and found that “the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find Rice guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on all counts.”
Connie and Ethan Mincher were found dead in their home on Beaver Dam Lane, off Holly Springs Road near Old Canton Road, by 12-year-old Marlee Mincher on April 17, 2003.
According to case documents, the family’s next-door neighbor told police she had seen Connie Mincher arrive home around 2 p.m. that day. About 20 to 30 minutes later she saw a champagne or gold-colored car parked in the Minchers’ driveway. She said a man, later identified as Lawrence Rice of Tucker, got out of the vehicle and removed what appeared to be a tool box from the back. He then went into the house.
Twenty minutes later, she saw Ethan Mincher, a freshman at Pope High School, arrive home and go inside. Twenty minutes after that, she watched Rice quickly go down the stairs and drive away in his car. Other witnesses had seen Rice and his older-model gold Mercedes in the neighborhood the weeks before the murders.
Ethan Mincher was found lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor. Unresponsive but still breathing, he had duct tape on his mouth and handcuffs attached to one wrist. He died later at a hospital.
In her parents’ bedroom, Marlee found her mother lying face down on the bed with her hands duct-taped behind her back. Duct tape was also wrapped tightly around her neck. A bloody rug covered her head.
A medical examiner testified at trial that the wounds of both mother and son were consistent with having been struck repeatedly with a hatchet. Connie Mincher had suffered at least five blows to her head, and her skull had been fractured and pushed into her brain. Ethan Mincher had also suffered blows to his skull as well as two blows to his back, which broke his ribs.
Trevor Mincher, the husband and father of the victims, told detectives he had a history with the owner of the Mercedes.
In 1990, Trevor Mincher’s company, Videotape Associates, had hired Rice to work as a maintenance engineer. Trevor Mincher said that while working there, Rice drove a gold Mercedes. He said that after less than six months on the job, Rice resigned after learning that another employee was earning a higher salary. Rice subsequently wrote letters to Trevor Mincher and others, saying Trevor Mincher had “blackballed” him and thwarted his efforts to find another job in the video industry. Eventually, Rice lost his home and was living in his car.
Evidence at trial showed Rice had called Trevor Mincher at home numerous times, mostly around holidays. Trevor Mincher said he considered Rice unpredictable and dangerous. Connie Mincher once answered the phone and told Rice to stop harassing them. Trevor Mincher also told police he’d once received a Christmas card from Rice depicting an angel with a blackened eye and blood dripping from its wings. The card said the “curse of Akbar” would be on the Mincher family.
After the murders, a friend was using Rice’s computer when she discovered a disturbing entry and called police. After seizing Rice’s computer, police found a 138-page autobiography written by Rice called “Culture Shock.”
In it, he detailed his complaints against Trevor Mincher and his plan to murder him and his family with a hatchet if his situation did not improve.
Trevor Mincher died of cancer in 2005, before Rice’s trial.
In July 2008, after a month-long trial before Cobb Superior Court Judge Mary E. Staley, a Cobb jury convicted Rice of murder and burglary. He was given two death sentences plus a 20-year prison sentence for burglary.
In his appeal to the Supreme Court of Georgia, Rice argued that errors were made regarding his competence to stand trial, during jury selection, during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial, during the sentencing phase of the trial, and regarding the issues he raised in his motion requesting a new trial.
In Monday’s 47-page opinion, the high court found no reversible errors and concluded “that the sentences of death in this case were not imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor.”
“Upon our review of the record, we conclude that the evidence at Rice’s trial was sufficient to support the statutory aggravating circumstances found as to both murders.” Georgia law requires that at least one of 11 aggravating circumstances accompany a murder to impose the death penalty.
Finally, “considering both the murders in this case and Rice as a defendant, we find that the death sentences imposed were not disproportionate punishment within the meaning of Georgia law.”
Lawyers for Rice could file a motion to reconsider, or the automatic habeas petitions in the county where he’s being held, in an attempt to get a new trial. If the habeas is denied, he can appeal it, and after that Rice will start filing his constitutional challenges in the federal court system, first in the district court, then the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state Attorney General’s office represents the state in those actions.
“The whole process is just lengthy,” Cobb District Attorney Pat Head said. “It’ll be 20 more years at least before he could be put to death. It takes that long to go through the appellate system.”
(Reprinted from the Marietta Daily Journal. Written by Kim Isaza, October 30, 2012. Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – Death sentence upheld in 2003 Cobb murders)