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Jury opts for death penalty for man convicted of killing pregnant woman, 4-year-old daughter

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DOYLESTOWN, Pennsylvania — A man convicted of killing a pregnant woman and her daughter has been sentenced to death.

Jurors in Bucks County on Tuesday imposed the death penalty on Marcel Johnson for the murder of 4-year-old R'Mani Rankins and life in prison for the murder of her mother, 22-year-old Ebony Talley.

Johnson, 23, of Bristol Township was convicted last week in the November 2013 slayings. Jurors began deliberations in the penalty phase Monday afternoon and reached their decision late Tuesday afternoon.

Prosecutors said Johnson, who was homeless, sold heroin with Talley and sometimes stayed at the apartment but wanted her drug business. They said he intended to inflict pain on her before killing her and her unborn child and he then set fire to the Levittown apartment to destroy evidence.

During closing arguments Monday, Matt Weintraub, chief of prosecution for the district attorney's office, called the crimes "heinous, awful and atrocious," arguing that killing the mother in front of her young daughter warranted more than a life sentence.

"He didn't just kill Ebony with evil in his heart and specific intent in his mind, but he tortured her," Weintraub said.

Talley was five months pregnant at the time of the slaying, and Johnson was sentenced to an additional 32 1/2 to 65 years for the murder of the unborn child.

Jurors were instructed to weigh aggravating factors — Talley's 37 stab wounds, the child's young age and the fact that she witnessed her mother's murder — against mitigating factors that included a troubled upbringing.

Defense attorney John Fioravanti Jr. asked jurors to spare his client's life, saying that as a child he had been locked in a basement, tied to a radiator and "beaten like a slave."

"We must consider the human being who is on trial in this proceeding," said Fioravanti. "In my heart, and I hope is in yours, there's incredible mitigation here."

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