- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

CHARLESTON, Ill., Feb. 27 (UPI) — A former student convicted of killing an Eastern Illinois University co-ed was sentenced to death, the first inmate to be placed on Illinois' recently emptied death row.

Anthony Mertz was convicted earlier this month of the June 2001 mutilation-murder of 21-year-old Shannon McNamara.

A Coles County jury took less than three hours Wednesday to sentence him to death by lethal injection. During the trial, Mertz testified he didn't know if he killed McNamara because he was drunk.

Mertz, 26, had a history of substance abuse and physical and sexual abuse during childhood. His lawyer said the anti-malaria drug Lariam he took while serving in the Marine Corps in Japan in the 1990s might have contributed to his violent, psychotic behavior.

"When the Marines gave Lariam to my client they set in motion a chain of events that cause the death of Shannon McNamara," said defense counsel David Williams.

The possibility Lariam could trigger homicidal violence was raised last year when three soldiers who returned to the United States from duty in Afghanistan allegedly killed their wives at Fort Bragg, N.C.

McNamara, a high school track star and top student, was fatally choked and slashed in her off-campus apartment near EIU.

"He deserves the death penalty if anyone does," said prosecutor Ed Parkinson. Death sentences are automatically appealed under state law.

Last month, former Gov. George Ryan granted blanket clemency converting all former death sentences to life in prison because of flaws in the capital punishment system led to the release of 17 previously condemned prisoners because of new DNA and other evidence.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich extended Ryan's moratorium on executions in Illinois until the state Legislature enacts reforms.

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