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Judge denies Rickey Bell’s death row appeal

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Last month, an appellate court denied Rickey Bell Jr.'s appeal for a new trial, upholding a 2012 first-degree murder conviction and subsequent death row sentence.
Bell, now 34, was convicted in the 2010 murder of Starr Harris, a Drummonds mother whose death was recently made famous throuth the Investigation Discovery channel's series "Nightmare Next Door."
Harris, in her mid-30s at the time of her death, was sexually assaulted in the woods behind her Richardson Landing Lane home, beaten and died of blunt force trauma to the head.
Her body was discovered several hours later by one of the teenagers living with her and her husband, Rick.
Bell, who lived around the corner on Richardson Landing Road, was one of Rick Harris's employees.
According to testimony, Bell was accused of killing Starr after growing angry over a shorted paycheck. Other Harris employees testified Bell missed a day of work for a doctor's appointment and that it was widely known that employees were only paid for days in which they worked.
The first person to be sentenced to death in a Tipton County court, Bell filed an appeal based on a variety of factors, including accusations that the trial court erred in its denying motions for mistrial, in sentencing him to death because he is intellectually disabled and in refusing to allow testimony regarding an extramarital affair in which Rick was engaged with his previous wife.
The appeal also suggests there was a lack of evidence to support the convictions and that the sentence was disproportionate for several reasons.
Judge John Everett Williams disagreed, however, ruling Bell, with an IQ of 77, is not intellectually disabled and is, rather, in the borderline range.
Additionally, a handgun-shaped lighter and condom were found at the scene, each linking Bell to the murder, which the courts ruled was committed in the perpetration of raping the victim.
One of the reasons for which the defense attorney requested a mistrial was the denial of testimony regarding an affair Rick admitted to having with his ex-wife.
Judge Williams's opinion is that the trial court, presided over by Judge Joe Walker III, erred in excluding this evidence as its relevance relates to the making his involvement more probable than it'd otherwise be, but that the exclusion "harmless beyond a reasonable doubt."
Bell is also contesting the death sentence because there was an absence in the intent to kill, which Williams believes is a challenge to the constitionality of the death penalty as a punishment for felony murder.
The State of Tennessee requires appeal on first-degree murder convictions with death sentences to determine whether or not the sentence was arbitrarily imposed, the evidence supports the jury's findings and the death sentence is excessive when compared to similar cases.
Williams concluded that the penalty fit the conviction and denied the appeal.
Bell is currently serving time on death row. An execution date has not yet been set.

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