HERNANDO, Mississippi -- The man convicted of shooting and killing two people in a Southaven Walmart in 2019 was sentenced to death by a DeSoto County jury Friday afternoon.
Martez Abram was convicted Thursday on two counts of capital murder and one count of attempted murder. The charges stem from a July 2019 shooting that left two Walmart employees dead and a Southaven police officer injured.
Prosecutors asked the jury to sentence Abram to death, a task that would require a unanimous vote in support. The defense requested the jury to issue a life sentence without the possibility of parole, citing mitigating circumstances to Abram's mental health at the time of the shooting. However, the jury returned and unanimously sentenced Abram to death.
The jury deliberated for just over 50 minutes while deciding to convict Abram, but the deliberations over what his sentence should be took place over the course of almost three hours. They unanimously sent him to death for the killing of 40-year-old Anthony Brown and 38-year-old Brandon Gales.
The jury also found Abram should serve a life sentence for the attempted murder conviction. A judge will formally sentence Abram on a future date.
"The question of guilt, I don't think, was ever an issue," 17th Circuit Court District Attorney Robert R. Morris said after the jury returned its verdict. "I do think that the heavier issue was whether or not to apply the death penalty. And so I'm actually I'm glad they took that long because I do feel like justice was done. It was the right result. And I think they gave due consideration to the evidence from both sides...I'm actually glad that [the jury] took that long, because it shows me that they didn't rush to judgment."
Abram, who will join 36 others on Mississippi's death row, was a Walmart employee himself, working for the grocer for about 20 years, according to a company spokesman.
During the trial, prosecutors said Abram also set fire to the store during the incident. They also said that after he was arrested, following being shot by an officer, an AK47 rifle was found. Officials said police were at the Walmart within three minutes and, Major Seth Kern of the Southaven Police Department said, had Abram reached the rifle, "the AK47 would have cut us in half at that distance."
Abram did not have a criminal history prior to the July 30 shooting, a fact his attorney, John Keith Perry, Jr., cited as a reason for him to not be sentenced to death.
Abram's younger sister, Monique Abram, spoke at the sentencing hearing on behalf of her brother, detailing him pulling away from family to the point where he did not stop to see her when she approached him at the Walmart one time.
"I saw [Martez Abram] walking down the aisle and I smiled, but he walked by me like he didn't know me," Monique Abram said. "I did what I thought was best and left him alone. I feel like maybe I should've put forward more of an effort. I just knew he wouldn't talk to me. He pushed us away."
Monique Abram also said her brother was very different from the one she knew growing up, saying, "This was not the brother I was raised with. This was not the brother my parents raised."
Family members of the victims also spoke during Friday afternoon's proceedings, talking about how they have been since the shooting that killed Brown and Gales.
"He couldn't say anything bad about Brandon, but he still chose to take his life," said Tracy Tucker Norman, who testified on behalf of the Gales family. "I don't understand his reasoning for doing what he did…but God requires us to forgive you for what you did, but with prayer over time, we were able to forgive you for what you've done. We ask this court to punish him to the fullest extent of the law."
After the proceedings were over, multiple family members met with Morris, where he reflected on the unfortunate circumstances that brought them all together, but let them know he wanted to remain in their lives long after the case has seen its last day in court.
"it's been unfortunate that we had to meet under the circumstances, but I was very pleased to have provided them the service that they needed, which was to prosecute the case, to see to it that justice was done," he said. "I advised them that I'm not done being in their life and I hope they will remain in mine, because we have become friends. So, you know, it's this is a bittersweet situation. None of those people in there want to cause harm, but it had to happen."
Lucas Finton is a news reporter with The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached at Lucas.Finton@commercialappeal.com and followed on Twitter @LucasFinton.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Man sentenced to death in 2019 Walmart shooting