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Starns convicted of murder

By Staff
AFTER THE VERDICT Defense attorney Bill Jacob stares ahead stonily as he walks with his client, Peggy Lynn Sloan Starns, to the Lauderdale County jail. Starns received a mandatory life sentence Saturday for the 1984 murder of 4-year-old Angela Schnoor. Photo by Suzanne Monk / The Meridian Star
By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
April 21, 2002
After an 18-year wait, justice for Angela Schnoor was swift Saturday morning at the Lauderdale County Courthouse.
The jury took just 45 minutes to convict Peggy Lynn Sloan Starns of smothering the 4-year-old in July 1984. Circuit Judge Larry Roberts imposed a mandatory life sentence.
The brevity of the deliberations took everyone by surprise. The jury retired to the jury room to consider its verdict shortly before 11 a.m. Lunch was scheduled to be delivered about 11:30, box lunches from a Relay for Life fund-raiser.
The verdict came about 11:40.
Startled friends and relatives hurried back to the courtroom. Dan Self, one of three attorneys who defended Starns, had gone to Jeff Anderson Regional Medical Center's cafeteria to get something to eat. He arrived after the jury foreman had read the verdict, and turned to Special Assistant Attorney General Scott Leary to ask what had happened.
A mother's day in court
Spectators had been warned about outbursts and talking after the verdict, but hands reached out from all sides to touch Angela's mother, Debbie Boswell. Her efforts over almost two decades to convince someone to re-investigate the death of her daughter had finally come to an end.
She says investigator Bill East of the attorney general's office made the difference.
Michael Schnoor, Angela's father, felt the same way.
Because they testified, Boswell and Schnoor were not allowed to attend the trial. They were in the spectator section for the first time on Saturday morning. Boswell said, for the most part, that's okay.
Expert medical
testimony critical
Leary said in his opening argument Monday that he didn't know why Starns killed Angela. Testimony from medical experts would prove that the little girl was manually smothered. The only person who could have done it, who had the opportunity to do it, was the child's step-mother, Peggy Lynn Sloan Starns.
Starns testified that when she found Angela on the couch, the child was not breathing. She told doctors at the emergency room that Angela's arm had gotten stuck in the mechanism of a folding couch.
Three expert medical witnesses, all of them board-certified forensic pathologists, testified for the prosecution the doctor who performed Angela's autopsy, the doctor who supervised him and signed off on the autopsy report and a doctor who specializes in unexplained child deaths.
In 1984, Angela's death was attributed to asphyxia, but doctors could not determine what caused her to smother. None of them had ever seen a photograph of the couch. Once they saw it, all agreed that Angela had been deliberately smothered.
The defense presented one expert witness, Dr. Rodrigo Galvez, who is a pathologist but has twice failed the test for certification as a forensic pathologist. Galvez testified that the autopsy was "botched" when no slides were taken. Without slides, he said, natural causes of death could not be ruled out.
A different world
Boswell said it's going to take her some time to get used to a world not clouded by unresolved questions.
Boswell said she could have accepted either verdict.
She had originally planned to return to work on Monday, but says now she plans to take a couple of days off to think about what's happened and gather her composure.
Members of Boswell's immediate and extended families gathered Saturday night to celebrate the day and remember Angela her new husband, Charles Pepple, and her former husbands, Michael Schnoor and Thomas "Bubba" Boswell. Grandparents, cousins, in-laws and aunts. And Brandi Boswell, Angela's half-sister who was only a year old when Angela died.
In another part of Lauderdale County, Starns served the first night of a life sentence. Her attorneys could not be reached for comment about whether they will consider an appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court.