[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, CONN., MO., UTAH, PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Dec 3 09:31:18 CST 2004
Condemned Texas Woman Maintains Innocence
The last time Frances Newton saw her husband and 2 children alive was
April 7, 1987, 5 days before her 22nd birthday.
She says she went out with a cousin to run a few errands, then came back
to her Houston-area apartment to find her loved ones -- 23-year-old
Adrian, Alton, 7, and 2-year-old Farrah -- shot to death.
2 weeks later, Newton was charged with murdering her family, convicted and
condemned for a crime she insists she didn't commit.
Newton spent the next 16 years on Texas' death row. On Wednesday, she was
just 2 hours away from becoming the 1st black woman executed in the state
when Gov. Rick Perry granted a reprieve.
"I was hopeful someone would hear us," Newton said from a cell only a few
feet from the death chamber.
Perry agreed with a rare recommendation from the state parole board that
Newton should be spared 120 days so experts could retest evidence -- a
.25-caliber pistol described by prosecutors as the murder weapon,
gunpowder residue they contend was on her clothes -- using technology that
wasn't available when she was convicted.
The governor, who supports the death penalty, said he saw no evidence
Newton was innocent but thought allowing the new tests was the responsible
thing to do.
"Everything's going to be fine," a teary-eyed Iva Nelms, Newton's mother,
said outside the prison after hearing Perry's decision. "God is taking
care of this situation."
Perry's rationale for his decision was understandable to Newton's lawyers.
"I think there's been real increase in skepticism people have about
reliability of convictions in many kinds of criminal cases, and that
includes death penalty cases," said David Dow, one of Newton's attorneys.
"And in that respect, I think Frances Newton benefits."
Harris County prosecutors had opposed the reprieve, saying her claims
offered nothing new and had been resolved at her trial.
"She gets another 120 days and then we'll start all over," assistant
district attorney Roe Wilson said.
Newton believes the real killer is a drug dealer named Charlie who was
upset with her husband for not repaying a $500 debt.
She says she remembers walking into the apartment, looking for her family,
then finding Adrian's bloody body on the couch. He had been shot in the
head; Alton and Farrah were shot in the chest.
"That's the worst feeling I've ever had," Newton said. "When I walked in
and I found them, it was a scary feeling. It was overwhelming, very
With no eyewitnesses and no confession, prosecutors built a circumstantial
The murder weapon was found in a blue bag Newton left in an abandoned
house that belonged to her parents. Three weeks before the deaths, Newton
took out $50,000 life insurance policies on herself, her husband and her
daughter, with herself as beneficiary. A day before her arrest, she
applied for the death benefits.
The insurance money was the motive, prosecutors said. The jury convicted
her in 1988.
Newton, 39, said the gun belonged to her husband, who had dealt drugs, and
she hid it at the abandoned house to keep him from getting into trouble.
The gunpowder residue, she said, really was fertilizer rubbed on her dress
by her daughter, who stayed with relatives during the day while she worked
at a tax accounting office. Her uncle had a large garden, where he used
fertilizer, and toddler Farrah would have collected it on her shoes.
The insurance policies, she said, were a long-standing goal she was able
to achieve by saving money and keeping it secret from her husband.
Newton's case is the kind that shakes the confidence in the criminal
justice system, according to lawyers trying to help her, and provides
fodder for death penalty opponents questioning the competence of legal
help, particularly for the poor.
Newton's court-appointed lead trial attorney was Ronald G. Mock, notorious
for having his clients, perhaps as many as a dozen, wind up on death row.
Mock has been suspended or placed on probation by the State Bar of Texas
at least 3 times since he was licensed in 1978. Earlier this year he was
reprimanded for taking a case he wasn't competent to handle, accepting
payment, then refusing to refund the money.
Mock, whose office telephone number is disconnected, couldn't be reached
Newton's mother contacted another Houston lawyer, David Eisen. He asked
the Harris County court if he could join the case and investigate it.
Mock, he said, had conducted no investigation and never even talked to one
The court refused.
"She didn't get a fair trial, not even close," Eisen said. "
(source: Associated Press)
Judge's ruling leaves family reeling----Slain woman's relatives want
Theodore Goynes executed or in prison for life
Ruby Tucker's knees nearly buckled when she read in Wednesday's paper that
the man who abducted, raped and murdered her daughter-in-law might be
spared the death penalty.
"I was weak in the knees," the 58-year-old Houstonian said. "I thought I
was going to pass out."
A federal judge determined earlier this week that the jury that sentenced
Theodore Goynes to death for the 1990 slaying of Linda Tucker, 25, had not
considered his mental illness and low IQ when deciding his sentence.
U.S. District Judge Sim Lake said in his opinion that Goynes, 42, should
either be resentenced or released from prison. The Texas attorney
general's office is considering whether to appeal Lake's ruling.
Tucker said she was unsure how to break the news of Lake's ruling to her
grandsons, Chris Tucker, 15, and Lawrence Tucker, 19. She had decided to
hold off, but Chris learned of it through a classmate the same day. He
told Lawrence when his older brother picked him up from school Wednesday.
"I remember the day she got killed like it was yesterday," said Lawrence
Tucker, who was 5 at the time.
It was his mother's birthday, he recalled. Linda Tucker had planned to
pick up diapers for Chris, then 1, and cookies for Lawrence. She also was
going to pick up a birthday cake, Lawrence Tucker said Thursday.
According to court testimony from Goynes' 1991 trial, Linda Tucker left
her clerk's job at a drugstore about 9:30 p.m. Oct. 7, and drove to a
supermarket in the 8400 block of Mesa. Courtroom testimony indicated
Goynes spotted Linda Tucker as she was returning to her car, and shoved
her inside it, igniting a brief struggle that ended when she saw the gun
in his hand, testimony showed.
Her body was discovered the next day at the bottom of a rusty stairwell in
an abandoned apartment complex a few miles away. She had been raped and
shot in the head.
"I want him to be executed, and if that can't be done, I don't want him
out," Ruby Tucker said Thursday at her home. "He devastated a lot of
Chris and Lawrence Tucker are struggling with the idea of Goynes escaping
the death penalty, concerned he somehow could be released if he were to
win a life sentence.
"He better keep his distance - I'll knock him out," Chris Tucker said.
Lawrence Tucker is finishing up a week's leave from Army duty in Iraq. He
returns to Fort Lewis in Washington today and expects to be back in Iraq
on Dec. 8.
"He should get the death penalty," Lawrence Tucker said. "He admitted to
it. They're going to free this man while I'm fighting for my country. I'm
a million miles away, worrying about my family."
Goynes confessed to abducting and killing Linda Tucker, but later appealed
his conviction on several claims, including ineffective counsel and the
admissibility of his confession. Lake denied all of Goynes' claims
regarding his conviction. It was only in the sentencing phase of the trial
that Lake found fault.
He ordered the state to schedule a sentencing hearing for Goynes within
120 days or release him.
In his federal appeal, Goynes' attorney, Alex Calhoun, argued that the
jury should have considered his client's IQ and history of mental illness
as mitigating evidence. Calhoun said he will seek a life sentence for
Goynes on the grounds that he is mentally retarded.
In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to outlaw the execution of mentally
retarded killers as unconstitutionally cruel. The IQ level typically
considered mentally retarded is 70 or below.
Goynes has scored as low as 65 and as high as 77 on 4 IQ tests.
The Tucker family disputes the characterization of Goynes as mentally
retarded, pointing to his actions after Linda Tucker's slaying. They asked
whether a mentally retarded man know to shave his hair to alter his
appearance and know to hide the murder weapon.
Prior to his arrest in Tucker's slaying, Goynes served 14 years of a
40-year prison term in connection with three rapes committed in 6 days in
1973, court records show. He also was convicted of attempted murder for
tying 1 of the rape victims to her bed and setting fire to the mattress.
With time off for good behavior, he was released in 1988.
The Tuckers said they have waited 14 years for justice. Now, Ruby Tucker
said she will renew her campaign to ensure Goynes gets the death penalty.
She has written letters, she said, to the governor, her congressman and
state representative, and Lake.
"I want to be there to look him in the eye," Lawrence Tucker said about
witnessing Goynes' execution. "I think I will feel relief after he's
executed. My family will and my mom will rest in peace."
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Appeals 'Irritate' Ross -- Legislators Weigh In On Death Penalty, Reprieve
The scheduled execution next month of serial killer Michael Ross is
prompting a tug of war on both the political and legal fronts, with
tensions expected to escalate as the 1st execution in New England in
nearly 45 years draws closer.
Ross' former public defenders Thursday filed their second set of appeals
on his behalf, this one to the U.S. Supreme Court. Also Thursday, Rep.
James Amann, D-Milford, who is almost certain to be the next House
speaker, discouraged Gov. M. Jodi Rell from invoking her power to issue a
reprieve and effectively suspend Ross' death sentence for up to two
"Why? Why delay another year, have another debate?" Amann said during an
interview. "I think we've had this discussion on Mr. Ross' case numerous
times. ... God forgive me, but I don't think anyone is going to lose sleep
when Mr. Ross leaves this planet."
Ross, 45, has waived appeals still open to him and has become a
"volunteer" - expediting his own execution, now set for Jan. 26. He has
said he wants no one to intervene on his behalf. His lawyer, T.R.
Paulding, visited Ross Thursday and said Ross is "irritated" by his former
public defenders' actions. "He frankly finds the fact that they are
questioning his competence to be insulting, as do I," Paulding said. "I
respect and admire the abilities of the public defenders but I disagree
with their actions."
Paulding said that Ross has written a long letter to Rell urging her not
to grant any type of reprieve.
Ross' former public defenders, who say they feel ethically bound to take
every measure to halt his execution, Thursday filed a petition asking the
U.S. Supreme Court to review his case and their claims that he is
"incompetent" mentally and emotionally to wage his own appeal.
In the court documents shipped to Washington, D.C., late Thursday, the
lawyers make references to motions they filed in Superior Court in New
London Wednesday, asking to be allowed to intervene - preferably as "next
friend" - for Ross and continue to litigate on his behalf. Because the
public defenders represent numerous other death row inmates and capital
felony defendants, they also asked to intervene as interested parties.
Attorney John Holdridge, a member of the elite capital defense unit of the
chief public defender's office, said the deadline for filing a petition
asking the nation's highest court to review the case would have expired
early next week.
"We're trying to stop the clock," Holdridge said. "And we're trying to
raise what we think is a very powerful issue on the constitutionality of
Connecticut's death penalty statutes."
Rell said she is continuing to research the history of the reprieve power
vested in her by the state constitution, and whether it has ever been used
in the past. She deflected reporters' efforts to pin her down on whether
she might invoke it.
"When I make that decision, you will know about it," Rell said.
Rell recently said she supports the death penalty for cases in which the
crime is heinous, adding that Ross' case "certainly fits that." Thursday
she was circumspect, when a press conference on assisting those who need
financial help with heating their homes veered radically, and predictably,
to the topic of the death penalty.
"There has not been an execution in this state, a carrying-out of the
death sentence, in over 40 years," Rell noted. "Decisions surrounding the
events right now should not be taken lightly and should be weighed very
carefully. I also believe I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be
doing as governor of the state of Connecticut, and that is to be looking
at everything, literally everything - the statutes, the constitution and
case law that surround the death penalty in the state of Connecticut. Our
lawyers are doing that as we speak, and they are going back as far as
Amann in a brief statement issued Thursday said he is "puzzled" that Rell
is even considering a reprieve.
Amann cited the numerous debates the legislature has had on the death
penalty in the past 15 years, including sessions Rell attended as a state
"I'm just to the point of saying to the governor we've gone through this
to exhaustion," Amann said. "It's on the books. It's the law. In my
judgment there is no need to go backward again and have this debate.
"If there was some question of innocence, new DNA evidence pending, then I
could see why maybe we should take a little more time. But this guy did
it. He admits it."
Ross was sentenced to death for the kidnappings and murders of 4 eastern
Connecticut young women, ages 14 to 23, in 1983 and 1984. He has also
confessed to killing 4 other women - 2 in Connecticut and 2 in New York.
Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chairman of the legislature's
judiciary committee, said bills will be introduced as soon as the session
opens next month, but he doubts there are sufficient votes to repeal the
death penalty. "But you never know," he cautioned.
"I think quite a few people are uneasy about this whole thing, and the
imminence has taken some people by surprise," Lawlor said. "I think you'll
see a lot of effort in the next month to reach out to the governor. Some
of the faith-based groups are very well-organized. I think what you're
about to see play out in Connecticut is a very thoughtful effort to
convince the people of our state that we may not want to join this club.
This is not Texas. It's not Mississippi.
"This is not about whether Michael Ross deserves this; I'll be the 1st to
say he does," Lawlor added. "But I think we will regret this as a state
and as a community. I think before it's too late, everyone should take a
Protests and vigils will begin soon, with the 1st being a rally and vigil
outside the Capitol at noon Dec. 10, said Robert Nave, executive director
of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty and the state's
top official of Amnesty International. Nave said Dec. 10 is International
Human Rights Day, as declared by the United Nations.
(source: Hartford Courant)
Ex-death row prisoner sues, says he was framed
Joe Amrine, freed last year after 17 years on death row, filed suit
Thursday alleging that officials coerced false testimony against him by
threatening inmates and granting them favors.
Amrine, 48, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1986 for the stabbing
death of fellow Missouri State Penitentiary inmate Gary Barber. The
convictions came largely from the testimony of 3 other inmates who later
admitted they had lied - one to deflect suspicion from himself, the other
2 in exchange for favors or breaks.
In a groundbreaking case last year, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned
Amrine's conviction, ruling that he had presented clear evidence of his
innocence. The state declined to recharge him, and Amrine walked free in
When Barber was stabbed, Amrine was about 9 years into a 15-year sentence
for robbing a supermarket, burglarizing a pawn shop and using a stolen
credit card. Months away from a parole hearing, he was instead convicted
of Barber's murder, sentenced to death and almost executed 4 times. He
served 26 years in prison - more than half his life.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Jefferson City is against four
defendants both personally and in their 1986 official capacities. The
defendants include a Cole County circuit judge, the Cole County sheriff, a
former Cole County sheriff and an analyst for the state parole board.
The lawsuit asks unspecified actual and punitive damages for conspiracy,
malicious prosecution and violation of procedural due process. Amrine
contends the men intentionally framed him and for some reason protected
the main suspect in Barber's murder.
What happened can never be put right but a lawsuit is the right thing to
do, Amrine said at a press conference Thursday afternoon: "Somebody has to
be held responsible."
Defendant Thomas J. Brown III, now a Cole County judge, was the Cole
county prosecutor who handled Amrine's murder case. On Thursday, Brown
said that Amrine's allegations were false and that he was confident that
the truth would come out.
"If we had not been convinced then that Joe Amrine was guilty of murder he
never would have been charged," Brown said. "If we thought any witness we
called would commit perjury, we would not have called that witness."
Cole County Sheriff George Brooks was the chief investigator for the
Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City when he worked on the Amrine
case. He could not be reached for comment.
The other defendants are John Hemeyer, a former Cole County sheriff, who
could not be reached for comment, and parole analyst Richard Lee, who
worked on the case as an investigator for the Cole County prosecutor's
office. Lee declined to comment.
According to the lawsuit, Barber was stabbed in a locked recreation room
that contained about 50 inmates and two guards. One guard saw the wounded
Barber chasing another inmate before Barber dropped dead. A guard
identified that inmate as Terry Russell, who had gotten into a fight with
Barber days before.
Some inmate statements implicated Amrine in the stabbing and some
exonerated him. Amrine maintained he was innocent. Investigators found
small blood spots on Amrine's clothes that Amrine said were old
bloodstains not related to the murder.
The blood-stained items were not stored properly to type the blood or
preserve it, the lawsuit contends, and at trial later it was just
identified as human blood.
During the investigation, the lawsuit contends, Brooks and Hemeyer told
Russell they had 2 witnesses who said he had killed Barber and they would
charge him if he didn't tell them who stabbed Barber.
Before Amrine's trial, Russell told Brooks that his testimony against
Amrine would be a lie, the lawsuit alleges. Brown still called him as a
witness and Russell testified that Amrine told him he intended to kill
Barber and afterward told him, "I had to do it."
Brooks told another inmate that he could get a pending prison weapons
charge against him dismissed in exchange for testimony against Amrine, the
lawsuit states, and Brooks also promised to transfer the inmate elsewhere
to stop sexual assaults against him.
Another inmate testified in exchange for promises of protection, a
transfer and parole, according to the lawsuit.
It also states that both those inmates were told that if they did not
testify as ordered they would be thrown back into the prison population
and word would be spread that they were snitches.
All three inmates later recanted the testimony they gave against Amrine.
Russell was paroled days after he testified. Less than a month later, he
robbed and killed an elderly man in St. Louis and is now serving multiple
Amrine said he does not know why officials insisted on coming after him.
He spoke at a press conference with his lawyers, Arthur Benson and Sean
O'Brien, the defense lawyer who won his release order from the Missouri
Supreme Court. Amrine works for O'Brien and he said he is still struggling
to adjust to the outside about 18 months after release.
Amrine said he bears the scars of death row, including post-traumatic
stress disorder and ulcers. He was there when 61 people he knew were
executed, he said. "3 of them I was in the cell with when they came and
His son who was an infant when he went to prison is now a grown man.
He hopes the lawsuit succeeds but tries to keep it all in perspective.
"We lose, it's really no big deal - we won the war; we got me out."
(source: Kansas City Star)
Death Row Inmate Appealing Sentence
Utah's oldest serving death row inmate is appealing his sentence because
the woman who implicated him in court laughed repeatedly during a
Utah's oldest serving death row inmate is appealing his sentence because
the woman who implicated him in court laughed repeatedly during a
The attorney for Elroy Tillman asked the Utah Supreme Court yesterday for
a new sentencing hearing in the 1982 murder.
Tillman's lawyer says 41 of more than 400 pages of transcripts taken from
police interviews with Tillman's former girlfriend were only recently
found in the files of the original trial prosecutor.
Those pages showed the woman laughing, an indication the attorney says,
she might have been toying with police and not being truthful.
The Attorney General's office concedes that witness Carla Sagers laughed,
but says that doesn't mean she was lying.
They say nothing would've changed in Tillman's trial if his defense
lawyers had seen those missing transcript pages.
(source: Associated Press)
Defendant is acquitted in Juniata Park killings
A death-penalty case ended late Monday with the acquittal of a Kensington
man accused of killing 2 people last year outside a Juniata Park bar, said
defense attorney William J. Brennan.
Joel Morales, 24, had stood trial in the shooting deaths of Ezell Santana,
33, and Daniel Gonzalez, 19, outside El Pailon, at G and Luzerne Streets,
on March 7, 2003.
Before the case went to the jury, however, Common Pleas Court Judge Sheila
Woods-Skipper issued a judgment of acquittal in the slaying of Gonzalez,
Brennan said. Woods-Skipper said that Gonzalez's body was found more than
150 feet from Santana's and that no blood trail conclusively linked the
The jury then deliberated less than an hour before finding Morales not
guilty in the Santana killing. Brennan said witnesses gave contradictory
accounts of the crime.
(source: Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 1)
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