Earnest Daise will never again be a free man, a Beaufort County jury decided Wednesday.
His family wept for joy.
Because the same jury that convicted him in a November 15, 2009, double murder spared him the death penalty for his crimes.
His mother, Tracey Daise, and his sister Marida Daise gave tearful testimony about his difficult childhood during the sentencing phase of a trial that stretched over parts of two weeks.
Daise was convicted Oct. 17 of the murders of Jeanine Mullen, his ex-girlfriend, and her 4-year-old son, Waltfredo Davis-Mullen.
Daise was also convicted of assault and battery with intent to kill in the wounding of his son, 2-year-old Jeremiah Daise, trafficking crack cocaine, and possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
On Wednesday, the jury of seven men and five women deliberated two hours before deciding Daise should receive life in prison without the possibility of parole, rather than capital punishment.
Daise was embraced by defense attorney Micah Leddy after the sentence was read at the Beaufort County Courthouse. Leddy said Daise was "very relieved" when the verdict was read, which he called "the greatest moment I've ever had as a lawyer."
Jeanine Mullen's family was silent when Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen read the jury's decision.
Mullen's parents, Frank and Roberta Mullen, hugged and thanked 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone as they exited the courtroom. Stone talked to several other members of the family before they departed.
Both families declined to comment on the sentencing.
Stone said afterward that the Mullens are a "phenomenal, resilent family."
"They are such quality people," he said. "They were very supportive, and I had a lot of conversations with them along the way. They're a tremendous family."
Leddy said the Daise family thanked the defense team after the sentence was announced.
"They told us, 'Thank you for working so hard and God bless you,' " he said.
Leddy was one of seven lawyers on Daise's defense team. Leddy said most worked the case pro bono, with three working for free.
Stone said he knew it would be difficult to convince the jury to choose the death penalty.
"The most important thing is that Earnest Daise will spend the rest of his life in jail," he said.
Closing arguments in the sentencing phase ended at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Stone and defense attorney Casey Secor delivered the arguments, which took nearly two hours to complete.
Stone argued that Daise should be put to death for his "gruesome" crime, one in which Jeanine Mullen and her children were shot at close range.
"This wasn't a murder in some kind of drunken rage," he said. "This wasn't him shooting wildly. He stood over them and executed them one by one."
Stone said prison would be no different for Daise than his actions after Mullen's death in 2009 -- going home and going to sleep.
"A life sentence will be the same (life for Daise)," Stone told jurors. "He will go home and he will go to sleep. Jail is his home."
Stone also argued Daise's difficult upbringing, which included drug dealing, did not excuse or explain his crime. He noted Daise's sisters had the same upbringing but stayed out of trouble, went to college and made a life for themselves.
"He chose the life he lived -- to kill, to beat, to sell drugs," Stone said.
Secor asked the jury to consider mitigating circumstances in sentencing Daise, and to "be merciful to the people who love" him by choosing life imprisonment.
"He will stay in prison until he dies -- there is absolutely no doubt about that," Secor said. "Nobody is trying to tell you an excuse or a justification of these crimes. There are victims on both sides of this courtroom."
Secor said Stone's argument that no child should witness the tragedy Jeremiah Daise did was true for his father, too.
"The solicitor said no child should have to go through what Jeremiah did," he said. "No child should have to go through what Earnest Daise did."
Stone said after the trial he had talked to Jeremiah several times, and called him the "bravest boy in all of Beaufort County."
Secor said Jeremiah may someday want answers about his past -- answers only Daise could give him.
Secor pointed to Daise's mother as proof: She testified Monday she was never able to ask her father why he had left the family before she was born.
"If you sentence Earnest Daise to death, you're slamming the door shut on Jeremiah's chance to get answers," Secor said.
Video by Delayna Earley, staff photojournalist
Tweets from the trial:
- Family: Emotional issues caused Daise to consider suicide, Oct. 22, 2013
- Sentencing phase in Dale double-murder trial begins, Oct. 21, 2013
- Earnest Daise found guilty in Dale double-murder trial, Oct. 17, 2013
- Dale double-murder victims shot at close range, expert says, Oct. 16, 2013
- Homicide victim's family: Mullen feared ex-boyfriend Daise, Oct. 15, 2013
- Dale double-murder death penalty trial starts, Oct. 14, 2013
- Trial date not yet set for 3-year-old Dale death-penalty case, Feb. 4, 2013
- http://www.islandpacket.com/2011/01/24/1522655/dale-man-accused-of-killi... ">Dale man accused of killing girlfriend, 4-year-old boy, faces death penalty, Jan. 24, 2011
- Bond denied for suspect in shooting deaths of mother, son, Dec. 14, 2009