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Killer of 10-Year-Old Girl, Mother To Be Executed

Wednesday November 12, 2014    7:50 PM

Chadwick Banks, 43, is scheduled to die at 6 p.m. at Florida State Prison in Starke for the 1992 slaying of Melody Cooper, who was found on her knees naked from the waist down and her body slumped on her bed at a Gadsden County home. The body of her mother, Cassandra Banks, was nearby.

Banks, who was 21 at the time, is serving a life sentence for his wife's murder. It would be the 20th execution carried out since Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011, one fewer than under Jeb Bush, who presided over the most executions since capital punishment was reinstated in the state in 1979. Bush was governor for two terms, while Scott, who was re-elected last week, is finishing his first.

Chadwick Banks entered Cassandra Banks' trailer with a gun at approximately 2:50 a.m. on September 24, 1992. He shot Cassandra Banks in the head while she was asleep. Cassandra died without ever gaining consciousness.

Banks then went to Melody Cooper's bedroom at the other end of the trailer. He set the gun down and sexually battered her for approximately twenty minutes before shooting her in the top of the head, killing her. Banks was married to Cassandra Banks. Cassandra had one child from a previous relationship, Melody Cooper, who was not quite 11 years old at the time she was murdered. They lived in a trailer near Dut's place, a nightclub owned by Cassandra's grandmother Bernice Collins and run by her son (and Cassandra's uncle) Leonard Collins.

The evening before the murder, Banks was at Dut's, drinking malt liquor and shooting pool. Cassandra was there for a while, but left sometime before 2:15-2:30 a.m. Just before 3:00 a.m., Bernice Collins saw Banks drive to the trailer he and the victims shared, and sit in his car for a few minutes. Then he went "onto the front" of the trailer.

About an hour later, Collins heard a car "spin off" in front of her house. The next morning, Collins sent her son (and Cassandra's father) Buddy Black to the trailer to check on Cassandra. He discovered the bodies of Cassandra and Melody Cooper. Cassandra had been shot in the head while she lay sleeping. Melody had been sexually battered and then shot in the top of her head. Following his arrest, Banks admitted to police that, after shooting his wife, he had gone to his stepdaughter Melody Cooper's bedroom. She was awake, and asked his what he was doing. Banks admitted that he "spanked" her, "molested" her for "about twenty minutes," and then shot her.

He denied having anal sex with her and claimed that she had not tried to get away or to fight him. The physical evidence was to the contrary, however. Melody Cooper's body had been found face down, on her knees, on the floor beside her bed. She was nude below her waist, and her posterior and genitalia were exposed. Her underpants had been torn and lay under a T-shirt that had what appeared to be a footprint on it. A pubic hair deep inside her body was microscopically consistent with Banks's pubic hair. In addition, there was significant trauma to her anus, indicating the girl had been sodomized. Banks's semen was found inside her anus, on her t-shirt, on her inner thigh, on the floor, and in Banks' own underwear. Melody's bedroom and her bed were in disarray.

She had a bad bruise on the right side of her forehead and an abrasion on her right eyebrow. There was a blood stain on the bed sheet. Blood identified as Banks's was found under Melody's fingernails and on the pillowcase, while blood on her t-shirt was identified as hers.The medical examiner testified that, given the position of Melody's body, which had not moved after the shot, her head must have been "pulled back real far . . . to get the gun to shoot in the top of the head".The State presented an information, plea and adjudication of guilt for the murder of Cassandra Banks and, as well, two prior aggravated assaults which Banks had committed a little more than a year before he murdered Cassandra and Melody. He was on probation for these crimes when he committed the two murders in the instant case.

"Maybe the most solemn duty is capital punishment. I take it very seriously," Scott said. "I think about the victims. I think about their families. It's what I think about. I'm going to continue to do the job that I committed to do."

Most of the 19 people executed have been the perpetrators of some of the most horrific cases Florida's seen, and many of them left no doubt that the condemned committed the crime. That includes David Alan Gore, a serial killer who raped and dismembered his victims and was caught with the body of a teenage girl in his car trunk and a live girl bound in his parents' attic.

Like Gore, Banks admitted to his crime.

Banks' attorneys have asked the federal courts to intervene, arguing Florida's lethal injection process violates the ban on cruel and unusual punishment and that he received ineffective legal counsel. His lawyer, Terri Backhus, didn't return a phone message and email seeking comment Wednesday.

Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young was an officer with the Quincy Police Department in 1992 when he got word of a double murder just a few blocks outside of the city line.

He and others responded to the trailer where the bodies of Cassandra Banks and Melody were found, both killed by gunshot wounds to the head.

"It was one of those gruesome things that happened in the community that had everyone in shock. It was a small town and a huge case," Young said this week. "They just couldn't believe such a thing could happen in a small town."

Banks was drinking and playing pool at a neighborhood bar called Dut's the night of the slayings. His wife left the bar and went to their home late that night. Banks left less than an hour later and went into their trailer and found his wife asleep. Without waking her, he shot her point-blank in the head then went to his stepdaughter's room.

After his arrest, he told investigators he had "spanked" Melody and molested her for about 20 minutes, but she didn't resist or try to get away. Evidence showed the assault was much more violent. Banks' blood was found under Melody's fingernails and on her pillow, and she had a bruise and cut on her face. She had also been sodomized and Banks' DNA was found inside her.

Forensic experts testified that given the position of her body, and that it had not moved after the shot was fired, Banks had to pull her head far back in order to fire the gun through the top of her skull.

Young spoke with Chadwick Banks' father, Dennis, and Cassandra Banks' mother on Monday. He said both families accept the execution.

"As sheriff, now I stand with both sides of the family," said Young, who added he has known Banks' parents for years. Dennis Banks was a longtime corrections officer and ran a security company.

"He and his wife are true believers in God and they've turned this over to him," Young said, adding that the Banks have visited their son in prison and have prayed with him. "Their son turned his life over to God and they are content with everything that's going on."

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