TEXAS—-new death sentence
Verdict in Sparks case a relief to family, friends of victims
Family and friends of murder victims Chare Agnew and her 2 sons had been
warned throughout the killer's trial that any emotional outbursts would
lead to their banishment from the courtroom.
So when a Dallas County jury decided Thursday that Robert Sparks should
die for the brutal crimes, they held their emotions in check until they
reached the hallway, where they openly wept, shouted and thanked God for
"Yes! I just feel relief," said Nicole Agnew, Chare Agnew's sister.
"What's next? We're living our lives. We're moving on to bigger and better
"He's going to have to wait to die."
In September 2007, Mr. Sparks fatally stabbed his wife and his two
stepsons Harold Sublet Jr., 9, and Raeqwon Agnew, 10. He later told
police that he raped his two stepdaughters on the same night but left them
alive so that they would suffer. The girls were 12 and 14 at the time.
He justified his actions by telling police and news reporters that Ms.
Agnew, 30, had been putting insecticide in his food to poison him and that
the boys helped.
Mr. Sparks' stepdaughters, who are not being named because they are minors
and sexual abuse victims, addressed Mr. Sparks after his sentencing as
part of the "victim impact statement."
Before they spoke, Dallas County Assistant Attorney Heath Harris told the
girls that they should rein in their anger and think about their mother.
They heeded his advice.
"I forgive you. You deserve what you get," said the oldest girl, who is
"I forgive you for real. I put that on my mama," she said, using a slang
term to vouch for her words in the name of her slain mother.
The youngest girl also told Mr. Sparks that she forgives him, adding that
she and her sister are stronger now. But an angry Nicole Agnew told Mr.
Sparks that she is not as tolerant as her nieces, who now live with her.
"I ain't going to say I forgive you," she said. "God's going to have to
help me with that. You're a coward. Don't be a coward when they are
sticking that needle in your arm."
Mr. Sparks, 34, did not move or say anything as the three gave their
speeches. He looked at his former sister-in-law as she spoke but hung his
head when the two girls talked.
Defense attorney Paul Johnson said Mr. Sparks continues to believe that
his wife was poisoning him and that he should have been found not guilty.
Mr. Johnson called two psychologists who testified that Mr. Sparks suffers
from mental illness. He's been found to have schizoaffective disorder,
paranoid delusions and anti-social disorder.
In telephone conversations from jail, Mr. Sparks told his mother, Viola
Sparks, that he'd rather die than spend life in prison with no chance at
parole, the only other punishment option the jury had besides the death
penalty. Mrs. Sparks tried to convince him otherwise during the phone
conversation played in court during the trial.
"Robert has always been adamant that he didn't want to live in prison,"
Mr. Johnson said. "I think his family was resigned to that."
None of Mr. Sparks' family was in the courtroom Thursday.
Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Andy Beach, who was the lead
prosecutor on this case, said, "This is my 13th [death penalty case]. No
guy I've ever tried is more deserving of death. This fellow, the way he
lived his life and the crimes he committed, he's an absolute menace to
society no matter where he lives."
Mr. Beach said he's proud of the 2 girls and called them his heroes. He
said they suffered horrible abuse for which they are receiving weekly
counseling but they have been strong since the attack.
Both testified during the trial, recounting the rape and seeing their dead
mother and brothers. They cried and were wrought with emotion on the
witness stand. But outside the courtroom, they acted like normal siblings.
The youngest was regularly seen skipping down the halls with her curly
braids bouncing. The oldest one, though more serious, laughed and joked
with relatives while keeping a watchful eye on her younger sister.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, who took the rare step of
personally participating in the case, said a prime reason for that
decision was the girls. Mr. Watkins even gave closing arguments during the
sentencing phase of the trial in which he asked the jury for the death
penalty, despite his own well-documented misgivings about capital
"This wasn't really about" Robert Sparks, Mr. Watkins said outside the
courtroom Thursday. "It was really about those little girls and them
moving forward in their lives. I had to take my views on the death penalty
out of the equation."
As the family of Chare Agnew laughed and celebrated together nearby, Mr.
Watkins nodded in their direction and added, "After going through this, it
makes me rethink my position" on the death penalty.
"Obviously from what you see there, some people do get closure."
(source: Dallas Morning News)