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ICYMI: S.C. seeks death for Stokes; contract killer’s case moving through courts

The S.C. Attorney General’s Office is continuing its effort to make sure contract killer Sammie Louis Stokes gets the death penalty.

Stokes murdered two people in Orangeburg County.

In August, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Stokes’ death penalty after his lawyers argued an Orangeburg County jury should have been told about Stokes’ traumatic childhood.

In response, the S.C. Attorney General’s Office submitted an application to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to keep Stokes on death row ahead of the state’s formal filing of a “petition for writ of certiorari.”

Last Friday, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts denied the request to keep Stokes on death row.

The S.C. Attorney General’s Office expects to file its petition by Dec. 22 in an effort to maintain Stokes’ death penalty.

The petition will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take a closer look at the details of Stokes’ case, rather than a quick view of the case based on the decision of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The U.S. Supreme Court could reinstate Stokes’ death penalty sentence once it reviews the state’s petition.

If the Supreme Court allows the appeals court ruling to stand, the S.C. Attorney General’s Office is allowed to hold another sentencing hearing for Stokes by Oct. 22, 2022. If the state doesn’t hold a sentencing hearing by Oct. 22, 2022, Stokes will continue serving a life sentence.

Stokes, now 54, raped, tortured and murdered Connie Lee Snipes, 21, of Bamberg, on May 22, 1998 in Branchville.

According to U.S. Court documents, Patti Syphrett, then 42, hired Stokes to kill Snipes, who was her daughter-in-law, for $2,000.

At 9:30 p.m., Syphrett and Snipes picked up Stokes at a pawn shop.

The three then went to Branchville and picked up Norris Martin, court documents say.

“The four of them then drove down a dirt road in Branchville and stopped. Syphrett remained in the car while Stokes, Martin and Snipes walked into the woods. When they got into the woods, Stokes told Snipes, ‘Baby, I’m sorry, but it’s you that Patti wants dead …' " court documents said.

Martin, then 37, testified that Stokes forced him, at gunpoint, to engage in a sex act with Snipes.

Then Stokes engaged with a sex act with Snipes.

Stokes then stabbed Snipes multiple times.

Stokes and Martin each shot Snipes once in the head and dragged her body into the woods, where Stokes continued to mutilate her body.

A farmer discovered Snipes’ body on May 27.

Days after Snipes’ murder, Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office investigators attempted to serve a warrant to Syphrett at her Rivelon Road home in Orangeburg. There investigators made a gruesome discovery: Douglas Ferguson, 24, was found dead under a blanket.

He’d died due to suffocation after Syphrett and Stokes bound him with duct tape, including his nose and mouth.

Martin reached a plea deal with prosecutors and received a life sentence.

Syphrett was also found guilty of conspiracy and murder and received a life sentence.

Stokes was 31 when he killed Snipes and Ferguson.

His lawyers believe that if the jury knew details of Stokes’ childhood, they likely would’ve sentenced him to life in prison instead.

According to court records, both of Stokes’ parents were alcoholics. Often, his childhood home lacked running water and he was forced to steal food to eat.

As a child, he was whipped with electrical cords.

He watched as a man, whom he referred to as his stepfather, break his mother’s jaw by stomping on her face.

When Stokes was 9, his father died unexpectedly on the lawn in an episode witnessed by Stokes.

When Stokes was 11, he was sexually assaulted.

Stokes’ mother died when he was 13. She was intoxicated, on the couch and fell into a coma, court documents say. He also witnessed her death.

Stokes repeated eighth grade three times, before leaving school at 18 when he was in the ninth grade.

During the same year, he married a 27-year-old woman, who was one of his mother’s friends.

In 1988, a jury convicted Stokes of attacking his wife with a knife.

After his release from prison in 1990, Stokes again assaulted his wife, choking her and leaving her unconscious.

He was convicted in 1991 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Neither Stokes’ lawyers nor the S.C. Attorney General’s Office would comment about the pending litigation in the case.

Contact the writer: mbrown@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5545. Follow on Twitter: @MRBrownTandD

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