Saturday, August 22, 2009

Florida man spared death penalty, gets life without parole of hammer death of wife

A 25 year old NE Florida man who killed his wife in a hammer attack in his parents' house will spend the rest of his life in a Florida prison. Nassau County Circuit Court Judge Robert Foster sentenced Michael Ratley to life without parole Tuesday, August 18 after the punishment phase of his death penalty trial. Ratley was found guilty by a jury in the murder of Effie Ratley. She was 29 when she was killed.

The relationship between the Ratley's did not start out as plagued by domestic violence. In late 2006, Michael saved his wife Effie and their then 2 week old son from a trailer fire in Bryceville, FL. "I might have lost everything physical, but I've still got my two most precious things," he told WJXT-TV.

However, on January 27, 2007, with his parents watching TV downstaris and his son in the next room, Machael took some gloves, a hammer, and started bashing his wife Effie with it. When he was through, Effie was dead, her head suffering at least seven different blows.

During the trial, Ratley said he had nothing to do with the slaying. His defense lawyers argued that an intruder, who Ratley alleged attacked him in the barn the night before, was the culprit. But prosecutors said that was part of Ratley's plan, setting up for a scenario in which an intruder killed his wife by cutting the wire on their window.

The prosecution focused on what it believed to be aggravating circumstances in the murder. Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda said the murder was cold, calculated and premeditated and the attack on Effie Ratley heinous, atrocious and cruel - all of which are conditions that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order for the jury to render an advisory sentence of the death penalty."(Effie) attempted to fight for her life," de la Rionda said.
"She did the best she could," but the defendant "had the upper hand. It took at least seven blows to the head to finally get her under control."

[After the guilty verdict, the] defense focused on Ratley's lack of criminal background and a nonviolent disposition as mitigating factors. "The death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst," defense attorney Lee Hutton said. "A sentence of death is never required by law."

Ratliff's mother testified on behalf of her son and grandson Aidan. We were a close family that watched out for each other," Ratley's mother Cindy said. "He has always been a caring, nonviolent person- He'd give you the shirt off his back...I could sit here all day and give memory after memory, but we've lost a daughter and a son. You can go out in the future as far as you want, but Michael Ratley will be in prison until the day he dies. At a minimum Aiden should be given the opportunity to have a father, to a very limited degree, if he chooses."

However, the prosecution disputed the picture of Michael Ratley's mother gave the court, stating that the turest measure of his character was the bludgeoning of his wife.

"Unfortunately, the best example we have of his character is in what he did. This shows his best character...This loving father had no problem whatsoever -- a short distance from his son -- exterminating the life of his son's mother," Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda stated.

The prosecutor called the victim's father and stepmother as character witnesses. The father, Duane Williams, stated that "The death of any child is a nightmare. The death of a child due to homicide is almost too much to bear..She's the first thing I think about in the morning when I wake up. And the last thing before I go to bed."

Effie Ratley, who enjoyed listening to '50s music and watching black-and-white movies, was thrilled when she and her husband had their baby, her family told the court Tuesday.

"Her son was her pride and joy," said her stepmother, Joy Williams, wearing a purple and pink "Justice for Effie" bracelet. "But she never knew more than six weeks of her motherhood dreams."

While both familes did not speak to reporters after the verdict, De la Rionda stated that for the victim's family, life without parole was the next "best" outcome to the death penalty. "They were always hoping for death , but they're happy he's going to get life and he's not going to be able to get out. He's going to die in prison."

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