[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Dec 13 11:15:19 CST 2004
On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to review the appeal of a Texas death
row inmate convicted of murdering a robbery victim nearly 20 years ago.
The Supreme Court had previously voted twice, most recently in a 5-4 order
last month, to stay Troy Kunkle's execution while his attorneys filed
appeals. His attorneys had argued that Kunkle's drug and alcohol abuse
history was not properly considered as mitigating evidence at trial.
Justices declined Monday to accept the appeal, allowing Kunkle's execution
In a concurring opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that he had
initially agreed to a stay because justices believed they had authority to
review the case. However, upon closer review, justices realized the appeal
was based solely on state law.
"That result is regrettable because it seems plain that Kunkle's sentence
was imposed in violation of the Constitution," Stevens wrote.
Kunkle, 38, and several friends were high on drugs and beer and looking
for someone to rob when they offered Stephen Horton, 31, a ride home Aug.
11, 1984. Kunkle, then 18, shot Horton in the back of the head with a
pistol; the victim had $13 in his wallet.
3 companions received prison terms ranging from 30 years to life.
Defense lawyers said Kunkle was raised in a troubled home and left
mentally scarred by parents who had been treated for depression.
The case is Kunkle v. Texas, 04-7271.
ON THE NET----Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourtus.gov
(source: Associated Press)
The end of 2 eras: King leaving office to work on her family's 2 ranches;
Female prosecutors leave office after years of service in Amarillo
Jackie Bolden's life was ripped apart in 1995 when her daughter, Cathy
Jean Barnum, was murdered by her estranged husband.
She credits 47th District Attorney Rebecca King for helping her through
the agonizing ordeal, a painful, personal test that wound through two
separate trials before her son-in-law, Berek Barnum, was convicted of
murder. He was sentenced to a 40-year prison term.
"She always made herself available to me, and always made me feel like she
was interested and really cared; It wasn't just another case to her," said
Bolden, now King's victim's assistance coordinator. "It just gave me a
burning desire to do something with my life, something positive out of
what's happened with our family."
King, who has served as 47th District attorney since 1995, will step down
this month and her successor, Randall Sims, will take over the
prosecutorial reins of Potter and Armstrong counties.
She said she'll miss the law and her staff, but looks forward to working
her 2 ranches with her husband of 46 years, Jack.
King began her career as a teacher in Comanche and moved to teach in
Dalhart in the late '60s, a time when teenage drug abuse began to spiral.
>From time to time, her pupils ran afoul of the law, and King was there to
see it through with them. The Dallam County judge made her a juvenile
liaison, and she took over as county judge when he retired.
She later went on to a two-year stint as Post's city manager when the
city's largest employer, Post Mills, was bought out by Burlington. King
planned to serve a year, but she stayed on another to help Post through
its economic woes.
"That took a huge percent of the work force, which was laid off. It was a
crisis time for that part of the country," she recalled.
In 1984, King enrolled in law school at Texas Tech University and
graduated in 1987. She pondered taking a job in Borger, where her husband
had a prosperous banking position, but Borger, too, was suffering an
economic downturn. So, in 1988, she took a position with former 47th
District Attorney Danny Hill's office.
She prosecuted in various courts, backing up Assistant District Attorneys
Mike Meredith and James Farren, who later became district attorney in
Randall County. She would remain as prosecutor in the 181st District Court
for 8 years.
In 1995, Hill took his life in a suicide, and King, Hill's first
assistant, took over. Later, then-Gov. George W. Bush appointed her
district attorney. She faced a few tough re-election battles, but has
remained Potter County's top felony prosecutor since.
During the years, King has prosecuted hundreds of cases, but a few stick
out in her mind. One is the case of Gregory Van Alstyne, who was convicted
of capital murder in the 1990 slaying of a pizza deliveryman.
At the time of the slaying, Van Alstyne had been out of prison 7 days. Van
Alstyne is now challenging his death sentence under a recent Supreme Court
ruling that banned execution of the mentally retarded.
The case was King's 1st capital murder case, one of many during the years.
"I tried that one with Danny Hill. The victim's aunt and uncle live here.
His mother and dad lived here. We were just very close there during that
terrible time for them," she said.
But another attempted murder case from the 1990s seems to stand out in
King's mind. The defendant, Feliciano Gonzales, was convicted of
attempting to kill his wife in the IBP parking lot. King still keeps in
touch with the victim's wife.
"She is an absolutely lovely lady whom I have kept up with from afar since
that time because I believe he will try to kill her when he gets out,"
King said. "We got 99 (years) on that one, I believe. On the way out, he
threatened to kill her. I believe he would carry that out."
Her 1st big case - actually 3 - focused on a child sexual abuse
prosecution that centered around a man eventually convicted of sexually
abusing 3 victims in the same family. Victims such as these never stray
far from her mind.
"You remember those forever," she said. "The victims have a great effect
on you, old or young or right in the middle, man or woman. All types. So
you're being swayed by those and what they need, watching the words that
you use so you don't cut them worse, and sometimes that happens."
In looking back, King said the district attorney's job is a multifaceted
one, an occupation that must balance the rights of victims against a
defendant's right to a fair trial. The prosecutor, she said, serves as a
middleman between law enforcement, the courts and the citizens who must
sort out the facts as jurors.
"You're not wanting to take advantage, illegally, of anything, so you're
trying to balance what is aggressive prosecution with what would not be
right," she said.
Former Potter-Randall Special Crimes Lt. Ed Smith, who worked with King
through many murder investigations, remembers calling her husband many
nights to wake her up with yet another investigation. Smith said King was
always professional and well-prepared.
"Rebecca and I go back a long way from when she was an assistant district
attorney. I tell you when she goes to court, she always had her cases
complete, she knew everything that was going to be asked. There were no
surprises," he said.
"It was always a joke with us. I'd call her house at 2 or 3 o'clock in the
morning and talk to her husband and say, where's Rebecca at? He'd say,
where do you think she is? Tell her to wake up."
Judge Abe Lopez of 108th District Court, a former 1st assistant for Hill,
said he had forgotten that he interviewed King for an opening in the
district attorney's office. King, he said, rose quickly through the ranks.
"We had hired many assistants and she was a good hand, learned well. She
was not afraid to go into the courtroom and try cases," he said. "She
carried herself real well before jury panels and before juries, and she
has, throughout her tenure as district attorney, handled some difficult
cases. ... She has had her share. She has done good work for the county,
and we're going to miss her."
As King looks to the future, her thoughts are focused on her family's two
ranches, a cattle operation near Hedley and another in Central Texas that
has its own pecan orchard.
The decision to leave the district attorney's office was a difficult one,
prompted, in part, by last year's death of her brother, who helped run the
"We were not going to be able to keep them if we didn't work 'em. We
bought them ourselves; they were not handed down," she said. "When you're
still having calves in January, you know you didn't do a good job last
year ... but Jack and I can still build a pretty good fence."
(source: The Amarillo Globe-News)
Witness in Edinburg massacre withholds testimony
The only man to escape the 2003 massacre that left 6 others dead refused
to testify on Friday in the trial of Juan Raul Navarro Ramirez, one of 11
suspected Tri-City Bombers gang members charged with capital murder. Days
after the slayings, Juan Delgado Villa, 35, told Edinburg police he dove
through the window of the small house at 2515 E. Monte Cristo Road and
ran, leaving behind his cousins and childhood friends as rounds of
gunshots ensued. Arrested 2 days after the murders on Jan. 7, 2003, for
being in the country illegally, Villa was transferred from federal custody
to Hidalgo County Jail under a subpoena to testify in Ramirezs trial.
Ramirez, 20, is the youngest defendant charged with the murders of rival
gang members during a drug and weapons raid and the 1st to stand trial for
those murders. He pleaded innocent to the charges.
Though Ramirez has not been identified as a shooter, Hidalgo County
prosecutors are seeking the death penalty under the law of parties, which
allows for a person to face the punishment if he or she conspires with
others to commit a criminal act that ends in a slaying.
Multiple gunshots killed Jimmy Edward Almendariz, 22; brothers Jerry
Eugene Hidalgo, 24, and Ray Hidalgo, 30; half brothers Juan Delgado Jr.,
32, and Juan Delgado III, 20; and Ruben Rolando Castillo, 32.
Police found five of the bodies in or around the smaller of 2 houses on
the property, where Villa had also been present. In the larger home, the
assailants left Rosie Gutierrez - the mother of the Hidalgo brothers -
alive, tied to her bed with an extension cord near her slain son Jerry
Hidalgo. Gutierrez was publicly thought to be the lone survivor until a
police detectives testimony during Ramirezs trial revealed Villas escape.
Earlier Friday, jurors heard Gutierrezs muffled 9-1-1 call in which she
told a dispatcher that masked men had entered her home and shot her son.
She told the dispatcher she did not see how many men there were or who had
been killed, only that they were armed with semiautomatic rifles. Jurors
heard Gutierrez scream and cry when she untied herself and saw her sons
Brought into Judge Noe Gonzalezs 370 th state District Court handcuffed,
shackled and wearing an orange jumpsuit, Villa said he did not want to
answer the prosecutions questions. Gonzalez excused the jury and appointed
Edinburg attorney Roel Esquivel to advise Villa of his rights.
"You do not have a right not to testify if you are subpoenaed," the judge
told Villa, explaining the constitutional Fifth Amendment did protect him
from answering questions that would incriminate him in illegal activity.
He also told Villa not to tell the jury his reasons for not answering the
Esquivel said Villa felt he had nothing to offer the case, and did not
want to testify out of concern for his health and his family.
"My life is in danger every day," Villa told the court. "I dont want any
publicity. I dont want to be in front of a jury.
"If I have to do more time, Ive already done enough."
In front of the jury, prosecutor Cregg Thompson asked Villa if he had been
present in the home when the shooting occurred and if he heard gunshots
when Ruben Castillo was shot outside.
"You ran when you heard someone tell (Castillo) to get on the ground. You
never saw them push in the door? You didnt see him get shot in the back,
butt and legs as he knelt in front of the couch you were sleeping on?"
To each question Villa responded, "I dont want to answer."
Villa also would not respond to defense attorney Alma Garza. She alleged
that Villa had asked a friend for a bulletproof vest the morning of Jan. 4
and that he had purchased two other bulletproof vests months earlier. She
also alleged that before the murders, Villa took the girlfriend of one of
the alleged assailants to the house where the men were killed and showed
her marijuana. Garza also said Villa had spent time with the woman
"You told (the woman) that you were afraid they were going to pin
everything on you, didnt you?" she asked.
Villa would also not respond when asked if he told a friend that he had
had a gun and fired back at the shooters.
For refusing to cooperate with the attorneys, prosecutors asked Gonzalez
to hold Villa in contempt, which could carry additional jail time, though
Gonzalez did not rule on the matter Friday.
Graciela Delgado, the mother of the Delgado brothers, testified that Villa
had been a good friend of her stepson Juan Delgado Jr., but that the two
had not been getting along for nearly a month before he died. She told
prosecutor Joseph Orendain that Juan Delgado Jr. had lived with Villas
mother, but right before his death he had moved in with Ray Hidalgo in the
home where they were both killed. She spoke in Spanish and an interpreter
translated her statements to the court.
When questioned by the defense, Graciela Delgado said that she visited
with Rosie Gutierrez after their sons were killed and that Gutierrez acted
like "nothing had happened" and that she did not believe Rosie Gutierrezs
account of the killings.
Edinburg Police Det. Daniel Ochoa then testified that he had re-enacted
Villas escape through the window to verify his story.
Ochoa told jurors how police found and arrested Ramirezs co-defendants
Humberto "Gallo" Garza, 30; Marcial Mata Bocanegra, 27; Roberto "Robbie "
Cantu, 25; Reymundo "Kito" Sauceda, 29; and Jorge Norberto "Choche"
Their statements then lead law enforcement to Ramirez, who was found and
arrested at his aunts home in Hargill on Jan. 29, 2003.
Ramirezs trial will resume Monday. Nine others are in Hidalgo County Jail,
awaiting trail for the same charges. Edinburg police are still searching
for Juan Miguel "Perro " Nuez, 29.
Robert "Bones" Gene Garza, 21, of Pharr is also charged in the Monte
Cristo killings. Last December, a jury found him guilty in connection with
the shooting death of 4 Donna women in 2002. That crime has also been
linked to several alleged members of the Tri-City Bombers gang.
(source: The Monitor, Dec. 11)
TWO-WAY STREET----Supreme Court accepts a case on consular rights of
If authorities in a foreign country accused you of a crime, or even
detained you, one of the first things you would want to do is contact a
representative of your government. In fact, the Geneva Convention on
Consular Rights gives you the right to make that contact. The arresting
authorities would have the additional responsibility under the decades-old
international pact to advise you of that right.
Unfortunately, when a foreign national is arrested in the United States,
that notification often fails to occur. The frequency of those failures
was the central point of a 14-1 decision last March by the International
Court of Justice, the United Nations' ranking judicial body. The case
involved 51 Mexican nationals facing the death penalty in nine states,
The international court, at The Hague, Netherlands, ruled that the
Mexicans' rights were violated when they were not informed, upon their
arrest, of their right to speak with a consular official of Mexico.
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will consider a Texas
case, Medellin v. Dretke, that will provide the first full-dress hearing
of the issue by the nation's highest tribunal since the international
The review is welcome. The justices should use the case to make clear to
state and local law enforcement officials, as well as to U.S. Circuit
Courts of Appeal, that the right to consular contact cannot be trumped by
chest-thumping claims of states' rights or by technicalities.
Texas, in the person of Attorney General Greg Abbott, has chosen the
regrettable course of obstruction. At the time of the decision last March,
Abbott's office said: "We don't believe the world court has standing."
After the Supreme Court's action on Friday, Abbott's office was even more
blindly parochial, saying: "These crimes were committed in Texas, the
cases were tried in Texas courts and the defendants sentenced by Texas
juries. We will continue to enforce Texas state law."
That frame of mind, perhaps popular in the cheap seats, is extremely
shortsighted coming from the chief legal official of a state that depends
more and more on foreign commerce and, hence, foreign travel to generate
and enhance international business. Several diplomats and entrepreneurs
engaged in trade with Latin America have advised the Chronicle's editorial
board of the widespread fear among Latin business executives of
Houston-area police brutality. Texas' rejection of consular rights would
aggravate that fear.
Among the most compelling of the several amicus curiae briefs asking the
Supreme Court to take the Medellin case is one filed on behalf of former
U.S. diplomats led by L. Bruce Laingen, charg d'affaires at the U.S.
Embassy in Iran during the 1979-81 hostage crisis. The diplomats' brief
contends convincingly that failure of the United States to honor consular
rights "will ultimately and inevitably endanger the welfare of United
States citizens abroad."
This is not an argument for a wild-eyed, one-worlder sort of
jurisprudence. It is the question of the domestic enforceability of a
sound principle of international law to which the United States has
subscribed for more than 40 years.
The ruling by the International Court of Justice was not binding. But the
Supreme Court should now make clear that the requirement of consular
contact is, in effect, the law of the land - even in Texas.
(source : Houston Chronicle, Editorial)
Not enough Latinos on juries, firm says -- Law practice uses death-penalty
appeal and research to push for reform
JURIES OF PEERS?----The Vinson & Elkins law firm contends that jury pools
in Harris and Dallas counties are unconstitutional because of a lack of:
2) Low-wage earners
3) People 18-34
Convicted killer Ronald Jeffrey Prible may seem an odd choice for carrying
the banner of a jury-reform effort that would ensure greater Hispanic
participation. Prible is not Hispanic, but his death-sentence appeal is
the 1st in what is expected to be dozens of cases arguing that juries were
chosen from jury pools that were unconstitutional because they did not
represent a fair cross section of the community. Although Hispanic
residents make up an estimated 30 percent of Harris County's eligible
jurors, the jury pool of 300 people summoned for Prible's case included
only 37 Hispanics, or 12 %, according to his appeal. No Hispanics were
chosen for the jury.
The case is among those chosen thus far by the Houston-based law firm
Vinson & Elkins to spearhead an effort to revamp what the firm considers
an outdated jury system.
Vinson & Elkins filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus last month in
Prible's case. Prible, now 32, was convicted in 2002 of the April 1999
murders of Esteban Herrera Jr. and his fiancee, Nilda Tirado.
Prible shot the couple and set fire to their home. The couple's 3 children
died in the fire.
Failure to ensure jury pools include a fair number of people from the
fastest-growing minority in Houston and the state could erode confidence
in the justice system, said Robert Walters, one of the Vinson & Elkins
attorneys leading the project.
"In the long run we will undermine the system, and we just can't afford to
let that happen," he said. "How can they have confidence if people do not
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that juries must reflect the
surrounding community to ensure public confidence in the criminal justice
To achieve that end, the law firm is donating the expertise of 6 lawyers
and a number of researchers to any case to which its research and legal
arguments may apply.
The firm is not alone in its views. The Texas State Bar Association
recently created a committee to examine the underrepresentation of groups
such as Hispanics and low-wage earners and will consider recommendations
for lawmakers, said Austin attorney Broadus Spivey, committee head.
Prible's case, and others in which Vinson & Elkins hopes to join, may be
the first in many years to address the issue of jury representation. The
effort could offer many state inmates a new opportunity for appeal.
"If they are successful, it would be more than a ripple effect. It would
be a tidal-wave effect," said Charles Baird, a retired state Court of
Criminal Appeals judge now teaching at Houston's South Texas College of
"It could affect thousands of convictions that are years old, and it would
certainly immediately impact the way the county clerks across Texas summon
members of the community to serve on the jury pool," he said.
Juror pay highlighted
David Dow, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, said
Vinson & Ellis is known for adopting causes at its own expense.
"What you have at Vinson & Elkins is a combination of first-rate legal
minds combined with a willingness to spend money on unpopular causes," Dow
The firm's research of jury pools in Harris and Dallas counties found that
low-wage earners and the 18-34 age group -- both heavily Hispanic -- also
The causes of the underrepresentation are mainly low jury pay and failure
to update jury lists and enforce summonses, according to the Prible
Walters said increasing the pay would most effectively put more Hispanics
on juries in metropolitan counties. He said many work for hourly wages or
their employers are not willing to pay them during jury service.
The $6-a-day jury pay in Harris and Dallas counties ranks among the
nation's lowest and doesn't cover parking fees.
The Legislature sets the rate, although counties can raise it. Harris
County's rate increases to $12 on the 3rd day.
Vinson & Elkins plans to lobby lawmakers to raise the pay to $40 per day,
El Paso County, where Hispanics are an overwhelming majority, began paying
jurors $40 per day this year.
"Now that the minimum-wage earners are more comfortable serving, the pool
is more of a cross section from the whole county, not only one group,"
said Humberto Ornelas, the county's jury administrator.
In Harris County, the Commissioners Court has asked county Budget Director
Dick Raycraft to look into increasing jury pay and making free or low-cost
parking available. Raycraft said his office will make a recommendation
early next year.
Harris County, like most metropolitan counties, relies on
voter-registration lists and driver's license addresses, which are not
always current. The result is a high number of returned summonses and the
exclusion of many Hispanics, who tend to move frequently, according to the
Summonses at issue
Vinson & Elkins argues that Harris and many other counties make little
effort to enforce summonses, making jury service easier to avoid and
further skewing the population of people who show up.
The result is a perception that jurors have little understanding of, or
empathy for, the people whose cases they judge, said Michael Marin,
another Vinson & Elkin attorney on the project.
"If very few people on a jury panel look like you, you have to wonder if
they know where you're coming from," he said.
Overall, Hispanics make up about 30 % of those eligible for jury duty in
Harris and Dallas counties, but on average only 9 % of those show up for
jury pools in those counties, said Vinson & Elkins attorney Mark Curriden.
Those numbers were questioned by Harris County District Clerk Charles
Bacarisse, responsible for finding jurors among the county's more than 3.5
million residents for dozens of trials each week.
Bacarisse contends that, considering exclusions such as inability to read
and write English, Hispanics actually make up about 17 % of those eligible
Regardless, he acknowledges the extraordinary challenge of getting people
to show up. Only 17 % to 20 % respond to summonses, he said.
Judge Mark Davidson, chief judge of the county's state civil courts, also
questioned Vinson & Elkins' statistics.
Stephen Klineberg, head of the annual Houston Area Survey population study
at Rice University, said the 30 percent figure likely is correct, given
the rapid increase in Hispanics here since the 2000 Census.
Legal scholars said Vinson & Elkin is using a novel approach by arguing
that Texas must provide a remedy even though it is not intentionally
reducing the number of Hispanics in jury pools.
"The question here is, does the state have an obligation to pay more money
so that more lower-income members will be willing to volunteer or comply
with the law?" said Charles "Rocky" Rhodes, a professor at South Texas
College of Law. "It's not a slam dunk."
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Capital punishment is killing in your name
The execution of convicted killers in Texas is so commonplace that it's
hardly worth reporting. The only time the death penalty gets much
attention is during the governor's race.
Every 4 years the candidates promise to support the death penalty. They
deceive the public into believing we will be safer by killing captives in
a penitentiary. Ambition to power allows such warped reasoning.
We are complicit in each execution. We elect candidates who have pledged
to withhold a reprieve. Jaded is our society which equates mercy with
weakness. Mercy is a privilege reserved to the powerful.
It is true most death row inmates deserve to die. Their victims had a
natural right to use lethal force in self defense. There was no mercy for
This truth obscures the critical question. The question for society is not
whether the criminal deserves to die, but does government deserve the
right to kill? Civil governance requires restraint on passions. But even
more necessary are the restraints on the passions of power.
Opposition to the death penalty is widely misunderstood to be only a
liberal cause. It is odd that many conservatives who advocate limited
government are willing to give government the power to kill its prisoners.
Capital punishment should be abolished because government can never be
trusted to have this ultimate power. The authority to execute people is
eventually abused, always followed by a justification for the atrocity or
some promise for reform. American history is full of rationale for murder.
A virtuous government would not need, seek, nor use, its authority to kill
Sure, we are careful in our courts, due process being our guide. The jury
does its best, so does the judge, prosecutor, and defense lawyer. Nobody
wants to execute an innocent person. That would be horrendous, another
The intentional killing of another person is an offense against humanity.
It is in opposition to those who labor against death: physicians and
caregivers sustaining lives; police and firefighters rescuing lives; and
teachers and pastors improving lives.
Capital punishment trashes the concept of the value of human life. The
executioner society is dehumanized in succession with the criminal and the
There is no redemption. The family of the executed criminal writhes in
agony and regret. The misery of the original offense is compounded.
End capital punishment
We can do better. Do not support candidates who advocate capital
punishment. They do not deserve your respect or your vote. Demand that
Texas law prohibit the disqualification of jurors who oppose the death
penalty. Make the courts give jurors the expressed option of choosing life
in prison without parole. End capital punishment.
Do not be deceived by religious frauds who excuse the death penalty with a
skewed measure of morality and sin.
The long hope of mankind is not: "When will some heavenly reign begin?"
It's more urgent: "When does the killing stop?"
Active or passive, we are all involved. We must stop the death penalty for
future generations, and ourselves.
(source: Opinion, Mary Catherine Cassidy, who is a junior at King High
School; Corpus Christi Caller-Times)
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