[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----TEXAS, N.C., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Dec 2 02:02:15 CST 2004
Condemned Woman Given Reprieve in Texas
Hours before she was to have been executed for the murders of her husband
and children, a Texas woman was spared on Wednesday when Gov. Rick Perry
granted her a 120-day reprieve to review disputed evidence that convicted
Although Mr. Perry said that after a lengthy review of the case "I see no
evidence of innocence," he accepted a recommendation made Tuesday by the
Board of Pardons and Paroles to delay the execution of the woman, Frances
The delay is to be used to apply "new technology" in a retesting of a gun
prosecutors say Ms. Newton used and a skirt she was wearing at the time of
the killings in 1987.
Ms. Newton, 39, who has maintained her innocence throughout her 16 years
on death row, took the news with a smile at the execution unit, in
Huntsville, a prison spokeswoman said, and said she was not surprised
because "I was hopeful someone would hear us." One of her lawyers, John
LaGrappe, said that he had spoken to her earlier and that she was praying
with her mother and members of a Baptist prison ministry and was resigned
to her death, saying "I will finally be reunited with my family."
The state charged that on April 7, 1987, Ms. Newton shot and killed her
husband, Adrian, and their two small children, Alton and Farrah, for
$100,000 in life insurance. Ms. Newton said that she had come home to find
them murdered and that a gun she had earlier found in the house and
removed had nothing to do with the killings. Her lawyers at the time
failed to investigate her claims, her appeals lawyers later claimed.
Ms. Newton's lead lawyer, David R. Dow, who said he was on the phone with
the United States Supreme Court seeking a stay when the governor's action
was announced about 4 p.m., was jubilant.
"I am extremely relieved and pleased that Governor Perry recognizes that
the question about her innocence is an actual question," he said. Mr. Dow,
a University of Houston law professor whose Innocence Network represents
inmates claiming wrongful conviction, said his next step was to arrange
for retesting of the gun and the skirt.
District Attorney Charles A. Rosenthal Jr. of Harris County, whose office
prosecuted Ms. Newton and who had opposed a reprieve, said, "I'm very
disappointed." Mr. Rosenthal noted that earlier this week both the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals and the United States Court of Appeals for the
Fifth Circuit turned down a stay of execution.
In an effort to sway the governor, Mr. Rosenthal said, he submitted an
affidavit on Wednesday from the Texas Department of Public Safety saying
that the test on the skirt, which it had originally performed for the
trial in 1988, could not be duplicated today.
"Rick didn't call me," he said of the governor, a fellow Republican. "I
kind of thought he would."
The skirt had tested positive for nitrites, which prosecutors said showed
that Ms. Newton had fired a gun. But the defense claimed the chemical was
only residue of garden fertilizer.
The .25-caliber automatic pistol that Ms. Newton said she had removed from
the house was tested at the Houston police crime laboratory and presented
in court as the weapon used in the killings. But the lab was later
tarnished by revelations of sloppy procedures. Ms. Newton's lawyers have
claimed that the gun should show traces of the victims' blood if fired in
the point-blank manner described by the state and that no such evidence
Mr. Rosenthal said he was confident that any review would back up the
state's case, which he said had already survived the scrutiny "of 50 or 60
"On the other hand," he said, "it doesn't make any difference to me if she
is executed today or in 120 days." He said that the state court that tried
Ms. Newton in 1988 could set a new execution date around April, after the
reprieve runs out.
Mr. Dow said the next step was to talk to the district attorney's office
about gaining access to the gun and the skirt. He said it would be
difficult after so long to investigate other leads.
The reprieve capped days of jockeying over the case and put off what would
have been Texas's 24th execution of 2004.
The tension built Tuesday after the pardons board, in an action the
governor's office could cite no precedent for, recommended 5 to 1, without
comment, that Governor Perry grant Ms. Newton a 120-day delay.
Among those appealing to Mr. Perry to grant it was Mayor Bill White of
Houston, a Democrat, who faxed him a letter on Wednesday saying, "as a
supporter of capital punishment, I believe it absolutely necessary that
there are legal safeguards that would remove any questions or doubts that
an innocent person may be executed."
Mr. Perry acted about 4 p.m., his office releasing a statement quoting him
as saying: "Justice delayed in this case is not justice denied. The courts
are the ultimate arbiters of evidence, and this case is now back in the
hands of the courts."
Soon, Ms. Newton was on her way back to the women's death row in
Gatesville, near Waco, where she is the longest resident of the 9 women
(source: New York Times)
INMATE GRANTED REPRIEVE----Governor halts execution for 120 days so
evidence can be retested
The reprieve that Gov. Rick Perry granted for Frances Newton is the 3rd
delay he has approved in a death penalty case.
- Jeffery Tucker: On Sept. 11, 2001, he granted a 30-day stay of execution
to Jeffery Eugene Tucker of Parker County. The stay was granted because of
the terrorist attack in Washington, D.C., and the subsequent closure of
federal offices, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Tucker was executed on
Nov. 14, 2001.
- Rodolfo Hernandez: On March 21, 2002, Perry granted a 30-day reprieve to
Rodolfo Hernandez of Comal County to allow San Antonio authorities time to
investigate claims that he could provide evidence in several unsolved
murders. Hernandez was executed on April 30, 2002.
- Robert Smith: Perry commuted his death sentence to life in prison in
March this year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is
unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded.
Gov. Rick Perry halted the execution of Frances Newton on Wednesday, one
day after the state Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended that she be
temporarily spared while her attorneys retest crucial evidence.
Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal expressed doubts about
those tests, however, and predicted that nothing about the case will
Newton, 39, was scheduled to die by injection Wednesday evening for the
1987 slayings of her husband and their 2 children in the family's
northwest Harris County apartment. She claims innocence.
The 120-day reprieve, the 3rd time Perry has granted a stay, came about
two hours before Newton was to be executed. Perry cited the need to retest
evidence with new technology.
Newton, in a holding cell near the death chamber when she got the news
from the prison warden, did not appear surprised, said Michelle Lyons,
spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
"I was hopeful someone would hear us," Lyons said Newton told her. "I'm
relieved for my family."
One of Newton's attorneys, David Dow, said he wants to analyze the clothes
she wore the night her family was killed and complete new ballistics tests
on the .25-caliber pistol that prosecutors said was the murder weapon.
Defense attorneys also claim other problems with the investigation and say
they were not properly investigated because Newton's trial attorney was
"This is a victory for us," said Dow, director of the Texas Innocence
Network and a professor at the University of Houston Law Center. "We've
been waiting to do this testing and now we can."
He said tests on Newton's skirt would not be definitive, but said that if
ballistics tests show that the fatal shots were not fired by the gun that
prosecutors call the murder weapon, she will be proved innocent.
But, said Rosenthal: "Gov. Perry can grant a reprieve, but it doesn't
change anything. In 120 days, we'll be in the same place we are today,
with Frances guilty of the crimes."
The Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 5-1 on Tuesday to recommend that
Perry delay Newton's execution. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
dismissed her appeal Monday by a 5-4 vote. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals in New Orleans rejected her claim.
Newton's petition to the parole board raised questions about ballistics
tests by the Houston Police Department crime lab, which has faced
criticism in recent years for providing unreliable evidence.
Several political leaders, including Mayor Bill White, encouraged Perry to
stay the execution.
"After a lengthy review of the trial transcript, appellate court rulings
and clemency proceedings, I see no evidence of innocence," Perry said in a
statement announcing the stay.
"However, I am granting the additional time to allow the courts the
opportunity to order a retesting of gunpowder residue on the skirt the
defendant wore at the time of the murders and of the gun used in the
murders. Although this evidence was evaluated by the jury and appellate
courts, new technology is available for testing gunpowder residue."
Prosecutors said Newton killed her husband, Adrian, 23, their son, Alton,
7, and daughter, Farrah Elaine, 21 months, to claim $100,000 in life
insurance money. Newton claimed that a drug dealer she knew only as
Charlie killed her family because her husband owed him money. She and a
cousin returned to her apartment from a shopping trip in April 1987 to
find the victims' bodies. The cousin said Newton was surprised and
Sheriff's deputies initially had no suspects, but Newton was arrested 2
Tests on her hands hours after the slayings showed that she had not
recently fired a gun, according to her clemency petition. Blood stains
were found in the apartment, but none was found on Newton's clothing.
Records show that tests found traces of possible gunpowder on her skirt,
but her attorneys say that may have been garden manure, which, like
gunpowder, has nitrates and can trigger a false positive test result.
A .25-caliber pistol was found in an abandoned house near the cousin's
home, and the cousin testified that she had seen Newton put it there.
Newton explained that she had found the unfamiliar gun at home and removed
it as a safety precaution.
A man who answered the telephone Wednesday night for Virginia Louis,
Adrian Newton's mother, said the family did not want to comment.
This was the 2nd time this year that the parole board recommended clemency
for a condemned inmate. In May, Perry rejected the board's recommendation
and permitted the execution of mentally ill murderer Kelsey Patterson.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Jury recommends life for Grant
A Wake County jury has recommended life in prison for Matthew Charles
Grant for the first-degree murder of Wake Deputy Mark Tucker. The jury
deliberated for nearly 6 hours before returning the sentencing
Prosecutors and defense attorneys made their closing arguments to the jury
Tuesday afternoon, and the jury started deliberating the sentencing at
4:15 p.m. Tuesday before taking a break for the night at 5:15 p.m. They
resumed deliberations at 9:30 today before returning the decision at 3:20
The sentence that was recommended by the jury will be reviewed by the
judge in the case. The jury took 7 hours to decide Grant was guilty on
Nov. 17, when he was convicted of 1st-degree murder for killing Wake
County Deputy Mark Tucker.
Just before the lunch break today, however, the jury sent a handwritten
note to the judge with a question. The jury asked how they could recommend
either sentence if they were not unanimous about whether the death penalty
is warranted due to the aggravated nature of the crime.
Prosecutors had argued Grant deserved the death penalty because of two
aggravating factors; 1st, that he killed an officer in the line of duty
and 2nd, that Grant's motive was to avoid being caught for violating his
probation by having a firearm.
The jury's decision involves a 4-step process. 1st, they decide if
prosecutors proved the existence of aggravating factors. If they do, they
move on to consider the mitigating factors, and individually decide which
ones exist. 3rd, they decide together whether the mitigating evidence
outweighs the aggravating factors. If they do not believe so, they then
consider whether the aggravating factors warrant the death penalty. Jurors
cannot get to the 4th question without previously finding that prosecutors
proved the existence of at least 1 of the 2 aggravating factors. And the
jury must have decided that the defense failed to convince them that such
mitigated evidence as Grant's age and his abusive childhood outweighed the
Wake Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Donald W. Stephens told the jury
that they had to come to an unanimous decision, and if that was not
possible, they had to inform him of their deadlock.
Tucker, 49, was shot to death on Feb. 12 in a field along Holly Springs
Road after coming upon Grant, who was starting to practice shoot. Tucker
was a detective and former U.S. marshal for eastern North Carolina.
(source: News & Observer)
Peterson's dad pleads for son's life
Scott Peterson's father took the stand Wednesday in the penalty phase of
his son's murder trial and described a friendly boy who sang at a senior
citizens' home on Sundays, tutored young students, and distributed clothes
and food in Tijuana.
"You don't know who Scott Peterson is, and it's going to be our job to
show you," defense lawyer Pat Harris said on the second day of testimony
in the penalty phase of the trial. "I believe that you will agree that
this is a life worth saving."
Lee Peterson said his daughter-in-law's death and the subsequent trial of
his son have taken a heavy emotional toll.
"I'm frightened, deeply saddened," he said, looking tired on the witness
stand. "Losing someone you love and now having our son in such jeopardy
-it's just beyond belief."
He recalled a toddler who was always smiling.
His son grew into a good student, and captained his high school golf team
and dreamed of a pro golf career, Lee Peterson said. He sang to senior
citizens, tutored and gave to the poor in Tijuana.
Prosecutors claim Peterson strangled or smothered his pregnant wife in
their Modesto home on or around Christmas Eve 2002, then dumped her
weighted body into San Francisco Bay. The remains of Laci, 27, and the
fetus were discovered 4 months later.
(source: Associated Press)
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