Convicted murderer James Calvert sentenced to death by lethal injection

Published: Oct. 14, 2015 at 1:39 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 14, 2015 at 10:26 PM CDT
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SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - Editor's note: Get updates from the courtroom here.

A Smith County judge sentenced convicted murderer James Calvert to death by lethal injection on Wednesday.

The announcement followed a decision by a Smith County jury during the sentencing portion of Calvert's capital murder trial.

The jury began deliberations at 1:37 p.m. A verdict was reached 1 hour and 10 minutes later at 2:48 p.m. The jury unanimously entered 'yes' on special issue No. 1, saying Calvert would be a future danger to society. The jury unanimously voted 'no' to special issue No. 2 - that there are no mitigating circumstances that a sentence less than death be imposed.

The jury was then excused and Judge Jack Skeen Jr. issued his sentence.

Remaining stoic, Calvert showed little emotion as the verdict was read.

He then asked the judge if he could represent himself for the appeal and was denied. Calvert previously represented himself throughout pretrial hearings and the start of the murder trial before his self-representation was revoked in September. A few weeks later, on Oct. 1, Calvert was convicted in the 2012  murder of his ex-wife Jelena Sririman at a Tyler residence.

District Attorney Matt Bingham and Assistant District Attorney April Sikes spoke with Jelena's and Calvert's family members after the sentencing and say that they are relieved.

"A lot of these people have dealt with James Calvert, like Dede, since 1997 and to finally be able to close that chapter on their life and know that he got justice is an awesome feeling," Bingham said.

"They really believe that today knowing that she had a voice, that the jury believed the evidence, that to them that's the support they wanted and they needed," Sikes said.

"He is where he will hurt the fewest people, they believe. That gives them comfort. And they feel like they can sleep well tonight without having to live in that fear that they've lived in, some of them, their whole life," she added.

The prosecutors also noted how long the trial has been compared to other capital murder trials. Bingham said they have spent hundreds of hours more in pre-trial hearings with Calvert than they normally do. Judge Jack Skeen Jr. even said that this was the longest capital murder case he could remember. Bingham said that because of the length of the case, he was especially thankful for the jury's service.

"There were people on that jury not getting paid. Originally we thought this was a three week trial. It turned into, because the defendant kept delaying stuff, it got pushed out. And these jurors have made tremendous sacrifices," Bingham said.

Closing arguments

Closing arguments kicked off courtroom proceedings Wednesday prior to the sentencing.

Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham began by thanking the jury and going through the special circumstances again.

"He has hurt so many people," Bingham said of Calvert as he addressed the jury. He then used a mannequin to show where Sriraman was shot.

"The facts of this brutal capital murder alone are sufficient to answer 'yes' to 1 and 'no' to 2. ...The defendant took her life. He took it violently and brutally. ... He has no remorse for what he did," Bingham said.

READ MORE: Jury finds James Calvert guilty of capital murder

Bingham reviewed testimony from doctors who said there is no medication for the personality disorders Calvert has. Doctors also said Calvert could become violent with anyone he had a continuous relationship with.

"He doesn't care about the rules. He doesn't care what people say," Bingham said. "He is a killer and a future danger. ... He's never in control in the penitentiary. That man deserves every day on death row and the death penalty."

Calvert's sister, who was sitting in the courtroom, began to cry during the arguments.

"Death row is the safest for everybody where he's segregated but it's the worst for him," Bingham said.

Defense Attorney Jason Cassel then took the floor to present his closing arguments.

Cassel told the jury things got worse in Calvert and Sriraman's relationship when she planned to move and he thought he would lose his children.

"Is this justified? No. But it shows you the mounting frustration," Cassel said. "He snapped."

He argued that Calvert only began threatening officers in jail when he was representing himself because he was paranoid. He added that Calvert hasn't fought with a single guard.

"Frustration doesn't equal danger," he said.

READ MORE: District attorney says every trigger pulled was motivated by hate, anger

Defense Attorney Jeff Haas addressed the jury next, saying, "There ain't no such thing as a good capital murder. We know that Mr. Calvert is Mr. Calvert."

He encouraged the jury to base their answers to the special issues on the evidence, not on the way they thought it should go.

A tumultuous trial

The jury's decisions and the judge's sentence capped an often tumultuous trial, filled with frequent outbursts from the defendant.

Calvert's self-representation was pulled Sept. 15, when he refused to stand up when talking to the judge, leading a deputy in the courtroom to administer the shock belt worn by the defendant. He defendant screamed for about 5 seconds before Skeen terminated his self-representation.

It wasn't the first time Calvert created a scene in the courtroom. During one pretrial hearing, deputies had to drag the defendant into the courtroom because he refused to walk.

Doctors and family members testified during the trial, with doctors saying Calvert has a clear personality disorder and a cousin of Calvert's noting that his behavior changed significantly after the death of a relative.

READ MORE: Detective says 'I'll never forget seeing that little boy in a Halloween costume'

Police say Calvert murdered Sriraman on Halloween of 2012 before abducting the couple's then 4-year-old son Lucas and fleeing to Louisiana, where he was eventually arrested. When police stopped his vehicle, the child was found still wearing his Halloween costume.

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