By Judy Reed
A man found guilty of killing a Cedar Springs woman has been given a chance to escape his death sentence.
Marvin Gabrion, 57, was convicted in 2002 for the 1997 kidnapping and drowning death of Rachel Timmerman, 19, of Cedar Springs. Although Michigan does not have the death penalty, Gabrion was sentenced to death by lethal injection, because Rachel’s body was found on federal land, in the Manistee National Forest.
On Wednesday, August 3, a federal appeals court upheld his conviction but overturned the death penalty on the grounds that the trial judge, Robert Holmes Bell, should have allowed lawyers to tell the jury during the sentencing phase in 2002 that Gabrion would not have faced death if he had been tried in a state court.
The opinion also noted that Bell dismissed three jurors who were against capital punishment but had said they could put that aside and apply the law.
Rachel and her 11-month-old daughter Shannon disappeared on June 3, 1997, when an unidentified man picked them up at Rachel’s father’s home in Cedar Springs. She said she would be home in a couple of hours, but was not seen again until her body was found weighted down by cinder blocks at the bottom of Oxford Lake, in Newaygo County, on July 5, 1997. The baby was never found.
Prosecutors believe Gabrion murdered Rachel to keep her from testifying that he raped her the previous fall. The rape trial was set to begin within days of her disappearance.
According to Wednesday’s ruling, the sentencing phase must start again from scratch unless the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the appeal.
Rachel’s father, L.C. “Tim” Timmerman, was not surprised by Wednesday’s turn of events. “I think this kind of thing takes forever,” he said, referring to the years of appeals the family has faced. “But I do think the jury did the right thing.”
Timmerman and his brother, John, have written a book that tells the story of Rachel and Shannon’s disappearance and Gabrion’s subsequent arrest called The Color of Night. The book can be bought at Schulers, or ordered from either Amazon or Barnes and Noble. He will be doing a book signing in September at the library in Howard City. Watch the Post for more details.