On Aug. 7, eight days after the fourth anniversary of his brutal murder of Oak Park resident Catherine McAvinchey, Rodney Adkins was himself sentenced to death. Adkins, who was convicted of McAvinchey’s murder on March 16-along with home invasion and residential burglary of her Washington Boulevard condo-was found eligible for the death penalty in June.
The following day, Adkins, a career burglar and drug addict who has spent 22 of his 26 adult years behind bars, was transported to Death Row at the Pontiac Correctional Center.
The sentence followed over six hours of testimony from members of both the Adkins and McAvinchey families. Prior to final statements from the prosecution and defense, Judge Thomas Tucker allowed Adkins to read a rambling, disjointed statement for nearly 20 minutes. In it, Adkins thanked his mother and several relatives for their love and support. Five times he used the phrase, “Before you kill me,” when addressing Tucker.
Prosecutor Alan Lynn reviewed the brutal events of McAvinchey’s last day on earth, then, one by one, summarized the legally mitigating factors that could lead the judge to spare Adkins life, arguing that none applied.
“There’s a special place for Rodney Adkins,” Lynn concluded. “It’s called Death Row.”
In his closing statement, an emotional defense counsel, Preston Jones, made it clear that while he was no fan of his client, his actions did not rise to a level deserving of the death penalty. He asked the judge to see Adkins as a self-involved man who had committed a horrible crime, but who was not “the worst of the worst,” and who had endured a horrible, abusive, loveless childhood.
On July 31, 2003, Jones said, Adkins was “a pathetic crackhead thief.” What Adkins wasn’t, Jones told Tucker, was the type of person who should be executed. Saying that society was safe from Adkins in prison, he asked for natural life without the possibility of parole.
Lead prosecutor Maureen O’Brien scoffed at the idea that only the worst killers are eligible for the death penalty. She painted a picture of a cold, remorseless and calculating career criminal who could have let McAvinchey live, but chose to kill her. O’Brien then asked the judge to see Catherine McAvinchey for who she was and what her family had lost. Adkins, she said, was allowed to speak to his family and the court before his fate was decided, something he denied Catherine McAvinchey.
“Do you hear her now?” O’Brien asked several times as she revisited the murdered woman’s life. Handing the judge a picture of McAvinchey taken before July 31, 2003, she said, “This is what she looked like in life.”
She then walked over to Tucker and laid before him copies of photos taken of the crime scene in McAvinchey’s apartment.
“And this is what the defendant did to her.”
Tucker told Adkins that he had listened to all the witnesses, considered all the evidence, read the pre-sentencing report, and heard the arguments for both aggravation and mitigation. “There is not sufficient evidence of mitigation,” said Tucker, who then sentenced him to death.
Adkins was transported to the Pontiac Correctional Center last Wednesday. Jones said Tuesday that he would appeal Tucker’s decision.
“Nothing anybody could ever do or say could ever heal their hearts,” O’Brien said of McAvinchey’s family. “They seem to be shells of their former selves.”
Oak Park Deputy Chief Bob Scianna, who called the McAvinchey crime scene one of the ugliest he’d witnessed in 36 years on the Oak Park force, said.
The decision to sentence Adkins, still, likely wasn’t easy for Tucker.
“I’m sure he agonized over it, but he did the right thing,” said Scianna.