Only woman on Tennessee death row asking for commutation of sentence

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Convicted murderer Christa Gail Pike is asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to commutate her death sentence on the grounds of mental illness ahead of the state’s motion to set an execution date.

According to Pike’s request to the court, “Her youth, her sexual victimization and traumatic upbringing, as well as her severe mental illness justify a commutation of the death sentence.”

Pike, 18 at the time, along with Tadaryl Shipp, 17, and Shadolla Peterson, 19, were charged in the 1995 death of Colleen Slemmer, 19, in Knox County. Pike became the youngest woman to be sentenced to death in the United States since 1972. There have only been 17 women executed in the U.S. in the last 49 years.

Shipp was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole plus 25 years. Peterson, who served as lookout, received probation after turning informant for the state’s case against Pike and Shipp.

Pike’s request describes her horrific childhood that began with brain damage before she was even born. The document describes Pike’s mother as an alcoholic who drank during her pregnancy and says Pike “endured abuse, neglect, multiple violent rapes, and suffered from severe mental illness.”

The four teens were were participating in Job Corps, a federal jobs training program for troubled adolescents. The three defendants invited Slemmer with them to a secluded area, where Pike killed her. Slemmer was stabbed multiple times, her head was struck by Pike with a large piece of asphalt, and a pentagram was carved into her chest. Pike also kept a piece Slemmer’s skull as a trophy.

Following Pike’s conviction to the gruesome crime a clinical psychiatrist testified at her post-conviction hearing that she suffers from bipolar disorder, dissociation, and posttraumatic stress
disorder. The evidence of Pike’s abuse and trauma were never presented in the murder trial.

Pike appealed her conviction and death penalty sentence in 2012. That appeal was denied.

On August 24, 2001, Pike strangled inmate Patricia Jones with a shoe string nearly choking her to death. She was convicted of attempted first degree murder on August 12, 2004.

If Pike is executed by the state, she would be the first woman executed in Tennessee since 1819. Nearly 200 women have been convicted of, or plead guilty to, first-degree murder in Tennessee since 1976. Pike is the only woman, of the 200, to receive a death sentence.

The following statement was released from Christa Pike’s attorneys Steve Ferrell, Kelly Gleason and Randy Spivey:

“On June 7, Christa Pike’s attorneys filed a response to the State’s motion to set an execution date. As detailed in the filing, it is premature to set a date for execution for several reasons. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is investigating her case and needs time to conclude its investigation. Additionally, Dr. Bethany Brand, an expert specializing trauma, has reviewed Christa’s records and is eager to meet with Christa as the previous year’s restrictions are lifted to better understand her life-long struggle to overcome childhood trauma and severe mental illness. If Christa’s execution is carried out, she will be the first woman executed by the state of Tennessee in more than 200 years, as well as the youngest U.S. woman at the time of the offense to be executed in the modern era. The extraordinary nature of the execution warrants careful consideration.”

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