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Tennessee Death Row Inmate Gets New Sentence Hearing for Rape, Murder of Ft. Campbell Nurse

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)-- A Tennessee death row inmate won a new sentencing hearing because he was compared to the "devil incarnate" and Jeffrey Dahmer during trial.


Ronnie M. Cauthern was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for the rape and killing of Fort Campbell nurse Rosemary Smith, a captain in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps at the military post on the Kentucky-Tennessee line. Her husband, Patrick Smith, also a captain and nurse, died in the attack at couple's home in Clarksville, Tenn.


Prosecutors said Cauthern and a co-defendant, Brett Patterson, placed Rosemary Smith in a closet and forced her to listen to Patrick Smith's death in the next room. Rosemary Smith was then raped twice, lived through an unsuccessful strangling attempt then strangled to death.


Patterson, 49, was sentenced to life in prison and is eligible for parole in 2047. Cauthern received a life sentence for Patrick Smith's death.


In addressing the jury at a resentencing hearing in 1995, then-Assistant Attorney General Steve Garrett cited the Rolling Stones song "Sympathy For The Devil," and referenced Dahmer, a Wisconsin man convicted of killing and eating parts of his victims. The prosecutor also repeatedly referred to Cauthern as "the evil one."


"The evil one took the name of Ronnie Cauthern on that day," Garrett said. "That was his name, and he's beyond redemption."


Lower courts have found that it is a stretch to think anyone would conclude that Cauthern really was the devil and jurors didn't base their decision on those remarks.


"While that may be true, it's real relevance is that it highlights the outlandish nature of the prosecutor's remarks," Judge Eric Clay wrote for the court's majority. "And, one would not need to believe that (Cauthern) was himself the devil in order to have been improperly inflamed such that the verdict cannot be trusted."


This will now be the third time Cauthern faces a new sentencing.


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