Justice Department lawyers at an Oct. 31 hearing rejected a plea offer from a man accused of killing and burning the body of a mail carrier.
James Wayne Ham is on trial in a Houston court for the 2013 killing of 52-year-old postal carrier Eddie “Marie” Youngblood.
Youngblood was working her rural route in Coldspring, Texas, about 60 miles north of Houston on May 17, 2013 when she was allegedly confronted by James Ham.
Youngblood was sitting in the Jeep Cherokee she used to deliver mail, talking on the phone with her youngest son, Postal News reported.
Ham fired a 30/30 rifle at Youngblood from close range, striking her several times in the chest, while Youngblood’s youngest son listened to her pleading for her life.
According to Polk County Today, Youngblood’s son hung up and called 911.
Ham then got into the Jeep and drove to a secluded area, where he ignited the vehicle, which still contained Youngblood’s body. He also burned the clothes he was wearing, hoping to destroy any evidence.
San Jacinto County Firefighters followed the smoke plume and put out the fire, only to find Youngblood’s body inside the car.
Ham became a suspect because he had complained about Youngblood not delivering his mail properly. For some reason, Ham thought that Youngblood was conspiring with his ex-wife to divert his mail to her, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Family Wants the Death Penalty
Ham has repeatedly offered to accept a guilty plea if the prosecution would give him a life sentence. However, the prosecution has repeatedly stressed that Ham has committed a capital offense and must be punished accordingly.
U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharad S. Khandelwal why the prosecution was so determined to seek the death penalty, especially since the trial had already taken so long and cost so much, and since Ham would be jailed for life if the prosecution accepted his plea.
“It’s not your money, it’s everybody else’s money,” the judge said, according to the Houston Chronicle. “Either way he’s incapacitated. He’ll either be dead or in prison.”
“To the United States, this is not a question of money but of justice,” Khandelwal said.
Khandelwal said that Ham had bragged about killing Youngblood while making calls from jail before his trial. He showed no signs of remorse.
Eddie Youngblood’s surviving family—her husband, two sons, and daughter-in-law—attended the hearing. They all want Ham to face death.
Youngblood’s sons, Mark Youngblood, 33, and his brother George Youngblood Jr., 36, are both postal carriers. Mark was on the phone with his mother at the time of the alleged murder.
“It completely changed my life,” he told the court, according to the Chronicle. “I want justice.”
A History of Depraved Violence
The government is apparently seeking the death penalty both to set a precedent for killing federal workers and because Ham had shown himself to be a violent, destructive man with no compassion for others.
United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson, speaking just days after the killing, said “The safety of our workforce and, ultimately, the surrounding communities is of paramount concern to me and this office,” Polk County Today reported.
“The killing of a Postal Service worker in the course of his/her official duties is a crime that affects us all.
“Anyone who is believed to have committed a crime against an employee of the United States will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
In court filings, the prosecution argued that Ham should receive the death penalty because of his record, the Houston Chronicle reported.
The prosecution pointed out that Ham had previously been prosecuted for raping a female relative and for sexually assaulting a woman he met in a bar.
Ham had threatened to kill his wife, the one with whom he believed Youngblood was colluding with to steal his mail. He had shot and killed his wife’s goats, shot at a pair of dogs that belonged to another family, and stolen firearms.
The filing further noted that Ham had “a propensity to set things on fire when he feels he has been wronged.”
According to court records, Ham had set puppies on fire, started a blaze in a national forest, and torched a mobile home.
Ham’s defense lawyers said they would need two more years to prepare their case. The prosecution asked for a date in February 2019. Judge Hughes said he would consider both propositions and would probably decide on a trial date by the end of November.
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