‘Career criminal’ gets 3 consecutive life sentences in store slaying, robberies

Updated: Apr. 28, 2017 at 9:13 PM CDT
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Jerry Dean Purnell (Source: Montgomery County Jail)
Jerry Dean Purnell (Source: Montgomery County Jail)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: Montgomery County District Attorney's Office)
(Source: Montgomery County District Attorney's Office)
(Source: Central Alabama CrimeStoppers)
(Source: Central Alabama CrimeStoppers)

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, AL (WSFA) - (WARNING: Video above contains graphic content)

A Montgomery man who has been in and out of prison his entire adult life and racked up more than a dozen felony convictions will never walk the streets of the community again after pleading guilty to a "heinous" murder inside a local business.

Jerry Dean Purnell, 63, was convicted Friday of capital murder and two counts of robbery. The charges stem from two different 2014 crimes.

He received three consecutive sentences of life in prison without parole. He will never be eligible for release, prosecutors said.

On May 10, 2014, Purnell went to the Super Stop on Mobile Road at 9:30 p.m. and tried to rob the store armed with a sawed off shotgun, but two employees had already closed up for the night and set the alarm. They told Purnell they couldn't go back inside the store without setting the alarm off because they didn't have the code so he knocked one of them, a woman, to the ground and robbed her of her phone, keys and money. He also took the manager's keys, phone and wallet at gunpoint and then took off.

Four days later on May 14, 2014 at 5 p.m., Purnell went to the 4 Way convenience store on Mobile Road armed with what officials say was the same sawed off shotgun and robbed the man working behind the counter, M. Manik, 43. Purnell put a handkerchief up over the lower half of his face and demanded the money from the cash register.

Manik complied and handed over the drawer, allowing Purnell to remove cash from every slot.

"The clerk gives him the till and after he collects the cash, he is pointing to the clerk to get him a pack of cigarettes. The clerk, who has his hands up in the air, turns around and grabs a pack of cigarettes and gives it to Mr. Purnell. As soon as he hands him the cigarettes, Mr. Purnell shoots him in the chest, killing him," said Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey. "Then he just calmly puts the money in his pockets and puts the gun in his pants and walks out the door."

Manik fell onto the floor back behind the counter. Other customers coming in after the shooting found the empty register drawer sitting out, found Manik and called 911.

The entire thing was caught on cameras recording at the business, from multiple angles.

Surveillance footage of the store's exterior that captured Purnell walking in and then leaving after the murder was released to the media and a reward was offered through Central Alabama Crimestoppers for information.

"The video is absolutely sickening. There's absolutely no reason that he had to kill Mr. Manik. It's absolutely one of the worst cold-blooded murders I have ever seen in my career," Bailey said.

The next day, a man flagged down a police officer and said he thought he knew who committed the crime because he grew up with Purnell and was talking to him before he went to the store. The man gave authorities a name and they printed out a photo and the tipster confirmed it was Purnell, leading to his arrest.

He was charged with capital murder in Manik's death and two counts of robbery stemming from the armed holdup of the two employees at Super Stop.

The state initially sought the death penalty against Purnell due to the heinous nature of the crime at the 4 Way and because of his long criminal record, the district attorney said.

Throughout his life, Purnell's had 14 felony convictions, mostly for all violent crimes. His priors include aggravated assaults (including one in prison), sodomy, rape, and multiple robberies and burglaries.

"Every time he got out, he committed a new offense," said DA Bailey. "Mr. Purnell is a career criminal. Since 1971, he has been in and out of prison, mostly in prison. There's no reason he should ever have been out of prison. The criminal justice system has done a disservice to our community and to this victim just by the sheer fact that he was out walking the streets of Montgomery."

In exchange for taking the death penalty off the table, Purnell offered to plead guilty to the murder and robberies and the District Attorney's Office accepted the plea agreement.

"He received three consecutive life without parole sentences which assures us that he will never leave prison again. He will never get out. He will die in prison," Bailey said. "He's 63. The last time I checked, most our death row inmates have been there 28, 30 years. He would never have seen an execution date in my opinion. In order to save taxpayer money and state resources, we allowed him to plead guilty knowing that he would never be able to get out of prison."

M. Manik's family was not available for comment on Friday. According to the District Attorney's Office, they traveled to the United State from India to take his remains back to India after the 2014 slaying. They did not return for any of the court proceedings.

Prosecutors say the surveillance footage from the 4 Way convenience store helped put Purnell away for good. The quality of the video was extremely clear and the cameras were at the proper angles, which police and prosecutors say is extremely important.

"The video was a very key part of solving this case and resolving this case and getting justice in this case. It was the key piece of evidence in this case," the district attorney said. "All the video in the world didn't deter this guy from coming in there and committing this cold blooded killing but we do encourage business owners when they invest in video system to make sure they're good quality."

Jerry Purnell did not complete high school, Bailey pointed out. He says it's a prime example of how dropouts often fall into a life of crime. He's committed to working with multiple classes each week to teach students that dropping out of school will set them up for failure.

"Even someone who is 63 still committing crimes, you can go back and see that it started once he dropped out of 10th grade. That's what I preach and teach every day," Bailey added.

Copyright 2017 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.