Man found guilty of ’88 slaying at Pizza Hut
By David Hafetz
Friday, October 11, 2002
Achim Josef Marino was sane and understood what he was doing when he raped and killed a young woman at a Pizza Hut in 1988, a Travis County jury found Thursday.
In convicting Marino of capital murder, jurors brushed aside defense attorneys’ claims that he was insane and Marino’s own testimony that he had acted under the spell of demonic spirits, which he said had gripped him since childhood.
Marino received an automatic sentence of life in prison for slaying Nancy De Priest, a 20-year-old mother who was found dying on Oct. 24, 1988, after she had been handcuffed, raped and shot in the back of the head.
Prosecutors said Marino “should never see the light of day.” The life sentence will be added to three life sentences he already is serving for aggravated robberies. In 2005, he will be eligible for parole for those crimes, and then will begin serving his life sentence for killing De Priest.
Under 1988 law, Marino must serve 15 years of the life sentence for capital murder before becoming eligible for parole.
De Priest’s mother, Jeanette Popp, had urged Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle not to seek the death penalty.
After Marino was sentenced, Popp walked delicately to the witness stand. Under state law, she is allowed to speak to the court after sentencing.
“My daughter has been gone for 14 years, and it’s just like it was yesterday,” Popp said.
She then held up a photograph of a smiling, blond De Priest. Popp had clutched her daughter’s picture during the trial, even as prosecutors showed jurors gruesome crime scene photos.
“Nancy was a beautiful girl. This is how I remember her. This is how I want you to remember her,” Popp said.
For Popp, it was the second time she watched a jury send someone to prison for her daughter’s death.
Richard Danziger and Christopher Ochoa were convicted of crimes related to the slaying after Ochoa confessed — falsely, it turned out — to helping kill De Priest. He then implicated Danziger.
Danziger was tried and sentenced to life in prison, where he suffered a severe head injury from a beating that has left him incapable for caring for himself.
Both men were freed in 2001, in large part because Marino began a letter-writing campaign from prison, starting in 1996, to proclaim his guilt in the killing. Later, DNA testing exonerated Danziger and Ochoa and implicated Marino.
During the trial, different motives were presented for the De Priest killing and for Marino’s eventual confessions.
Marino testified that he had been constantly surrounded by evil spirits from an early age.
Marino told jurors that he had a violent and unstable youth. He said he was put in psychiatric care, used drugs heavily and was repeatedly sentenced to prison for robberies and other crimes.
Marino said he killed De Priest as a sacrifice. But he also testified that he killed her out of revenge. He said he hated white, blond women because, while he was in prison, white female guards had relationships with black and Hispanic inmates.
Marino said he had been planning to plead guilty, but changed his mind to call attention to his opinion that Texas laws need to be more understanding of people who are mentally ill.
A psychiatrist who testified for the defense said Marino was psychotic.
“There’s no more dangerous beast on the face of the planet,” Dr. Jay Fogelman told jurors.
But Fogelman also undercut the defense by saying Marino knew right from wrong when he killed De Priest, and therefore did not meet the legal definition of insanity.
In their closing arguments, prosecutors said Marino had carried out the crime methodically, disguising himself as a repairman to persuade De Priest to let him into the locked restaurant.
They said Marino later searched the floor for a bullet casing that might have had his fingerprint. Prosecutors said Marino might be delusional, but above all is a manipulative liar who just wants attention.
“This man chose evil, and that’s been the pattern of his life,” Assistant District Attorney Bryan Case said.
Marino has said that he decided to confess to killing De Priest after his conversion to Christianity freed him from demonic possession.
In court, Popp thanked the jury for convicting Marino.
Crying, she turned to address Marino.
“May God have mercy on your soul,” she said, and stepped down.
Man found guilty of ’88 slaying at Pizza Hut
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