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Robert Bell, choose who issued uncommon Michigan dying sentence to convicted killer, useless at 79

Robert Holmes Bell, a federal choose for 30 years whose trials included one which led to a uncommon dying sentence in Michigan, has died. He was 79.

Bell died Thursday, Michelle Benham, the courtroom’s chief deputy clerk, stated Friday. A trigger was not disclosed.

He was “one of many giants” on the federal bench, stated Chris Yates, a choose on the state appeals courtroom who typically appeared in Bell’s courtroom as a protection lawyer.


Bell was a choose within the Lansing space when President Ronald Reagan in 1987 appointed him to the U.S. District Court docket in western Michigan, based mostly in Grand Rapids. He retired in 2017.

Bell presided over many vital circumstances, however none was greater than the 2002 trial of Marvin Gabrion, who was convicted of drowning a lady in a distant lake in a nationwide forest in Newaygo County.

Michigan outlawed the dying penalty in 1847, however it’s accessible beneath federal regulation. Federal prosecutors had the flexibility to cost Gabrion as a result of Rachel Timmerman’s homicide occurred on authorities property. The U.S. Justice Division at the moment informed prosecutors to ask jurors for the dying sentence.

The jury unanimously agreed, and Bell ordered it.

Gabrion stays on dying row 21 years later whereas legal professionals pursue appeals. He might be an intimidating determine in Bell’s courtroom and even slugged considered one of his attorneys within the jaw in entrance of the jury.


Bell stated Gabrion may put on a menacing look.

“He tried that on me,” Bell informed WOOD-TV in 2016. “I simply seemed proper again at him, after which I stated, on the file, ‘The file ought to replicate Mr. Gabrion is watching me and has stared at me for the final two hours, and it’s having no impact no matter upon me.'”

Bell took pleasure in personally giving encouragement to individuals who had returned house from jail.

“Often, I’ll say to their mom, ‘What does your son want? What does your grandson want?'” Bell informed The Grand Rapids Press. “I often spend 10 minutes making an attempt to have interaction them and inform them I care. They will’t consider it.”

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