death penalty news----TEXAS, CALIF., N.Y., KY., PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Dec 16 14:57:31 CST 2004
Murderer unlucky in appeal
A Texarkana man on Texas death row has lost his first round of federal
William E. Wyatt Jr. was hoping a federal judge in Beaumont would find
cause to reverse his capital murder conviction and death sentence.
After a federal hearing on Aug. 20 in Beaumont and written arguments, U.S.
District Judge Thad Heartfield sided with prosecutors.
The new federal ruling remains in line with the state court rulings
upholding the conviction and punishment.
Wyatt, 39, molested and smothered to death his live-in girlfriend's
3-year-old son, Damien Willis. The boy was in Wyatt's care at the time of
the crime on Feb. 4, 1997.
Wyatt initially called for emergency help saying Damien had drowned in the
bathtub. During their investigation, authorities found the tub was dry
with no evidence of anyone bathing in it at the time of the call.
Wyatt gave police three different statements regarding Damien's death.
During Wyatt's trial, Bowie County Assistant District Attorney Mike
Shepherd called them "self-serving" statements.
Wyatt raised 22 reasons why he thinks his conviction should be overturned.
Chief on his list is taking the advice of his lawyer Don Cooksey by not
testifying in the punishment phase of the trial. He claims his lawyer
didn't effectively defend him.
"Wyatt contended that had he known he was allowed to testify, he would
have done so in order to show the jury that he was a human being, and not
a monster," according to the opinion docketed on Oct. 18.
Heartfield wrote that in order for the jury to sentence Wyatt to death,
they would have to find that there was a probability that he would commit
future acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to
"... As to the crime itself, therefore, the court finds that Wyatt's
testimony would likely generate even less sympathy than his third
confession, and the fact that he contradicted that confession probably
would have lessened the credibility of the rest of his testimony,"
The next for Wyatt is to take his appeals to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals in New Orleans, which has oversight of constitutional issues in
"This case is going through the system at a good pace, with the 5th
Circuit probably getting the case sometime in 2005. There is a
possibility-a possibility-that by the end of 2005 we might be able to get
an execution date," Shepherd said.
(source: Texarkana Gazette)
Death row inmate moved to Paris
A man on death row for killing an elderly Paris couple in 1996 is back in
the Lamar County Jail to get an IQ test as part of his appeal to have his
death sentence overturned.
Lamar County Sheriff B.J. McCoy said Larry Wayne Wooten, 46, "is in a
special section of the jail where we have murderers."
Wooten was convicted May 12, 1998, of capital murder in the deaths of
Grady Alexander, 80, and his wife, Bessie Alexander, 86. They were stabbed
and their throats were cut. Police said Mrs. Alexander was beaten with a
pistol with such force that the grips and portions of the trigger
mechanism of the pistol broke off.
Their bodies were found Sept. 3, 1996, in their residence in the 300 block
of Jackson Street.
Wooten, who lived in Paris, then robbed the couple of $500 to $600 in
cash, police said.
Allan Hubbard, a spokesman for the Lamar County Attorneys office, was a
reporter for The Paris News at the time of the slaying. He said it cost
the county $96,000 for Wootens defense attorney.
McCoy is upset that the state sent Wooten back to Paris for an IQ test.
"As part of his appeal, his attorney wanted him to have an IQ test, and he
wanted it in Paris, so the judge granted it," McCoy said.
"I could see it if it was a hearing for a new trial. But an IQ test? We've
got a convicted murderer, out in the public, going down the road just for
an IQ test, something that could have been administered in Huntsville in a
secure environment," McCoy said.
"It took 2 of our officers to go get him. We brought him here in a secure
car, but you give crooks an opportunity to escape when you get them out of
confined areas. We're dealing with a capital murder case, someone on death
row with nothing to lose. Why do that for an IQ test?" McCoy said.
"We had to drive 8 hours to go get him, and then 8 hours back, and you
have to stop to let him use the bathroom or whatever the case may be.
Theres just too many opportunities for bad things to happen. You stop at a
red light, theres the possibility of windows being kicked out or doors
forced open. Sometimes an officer can make a mistake," McCoy said.
"It's a waste of time, and you can quote me on that," the sheriff said.
The sheriffs office is waiting for someone out of Dallas to come to Paris
to administer the IQ test, McCoy said. The test should take 2 or 3 hours,
"Then we've got to ship him right back to Huntsville, and you've got all
those risks all over again," McCoy said.
At the time of the double murder, Paris police were searching for the
person who killed Mary Moore Searight, 87, after sexually assaulting her
in her home in Paris.
Wooten was investigated in connection with that murder, which occurred in
mid-August 1996, but was never implicated or charged in that case, which
In an Internet advertisement in late 2003 for prisoners desiring people to
correspond with them, Wooten wrote:
"I am on Texas Death Row now. I have been here for 5 years and 3 months.
My family is not helping me down here. My mom and dad have both passed
away. I have sisters and a brother, but they are not helping me. I need
someone I can talk to and that can help me ever now and then. I hope and
pray to hear from you soon. This letter comes to you with all peace and
love from Larry W. May our God bless you all."
(source: The Paris News)
CALIFORNIA----new execution date
Death date is set today
Donald J. Beardslee will die in 1 month.
At least that is the desire of state and local prosecutors who will ask a
judge this morning to set a Jan. 19 execution for the former Redwood City
man who killed two young women over a drug debt. San Mateo County Superior
Court Presiding Judge Mark Forcum has the ultimate say in choosing a date
for Beardslee to end two decades on death row. However, prosecutors will
ask for the date just into the new year, said prosecutor Martin Murray.
On Tuesday, a state court refused to postpone todays hearing to set the
execution date. The court, though, did not refuse to prevent future stays.
That may give Beardslee one last glimmer of hope he will have more than
weeks to live.
Beardslee's defense team still has one last shot at a new trial. His
attorney is asking San Mateo County Superior Court Judge John Schwartz to
rule that handwritten notes jotted by former San Mateo County prosecutor
Carl Holm during the 1983 trial should be turned over to them. With state
and federal appeals exhausted, they believe those notes by Holm - now a
Superior Court judge himself - may contain information that warrants a new
trial. Prosecutors argue the notes are privileged information.
Yesterday, two boxes of documents were delivered to Schwartz for his
review and he will rule in a hearing separate from Forcums setting of the
In 1984, Beardslee was sentenced to death for the murders of Stacey
Benjamin, 19, and Patty Geddling, 23, three years before during a day-long
crime spree. Beardslee allegedly helped another drug dealer, Frank
Rutherford, kill the 2 women in revenge for Benjamins alleged cheating in
a drug transaction. The jury believed he shot Patty Geddling twice with a
shotgun and slashed Benjamins throat. Only Beardslee, on parole for a
Missouri murder, was sentenced to death for his role.
In January, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco
declined to reconsider his sentence. On Oct. 4, the U.S. Supreme Court
refused to hear Beardslees appeal and an execution date was about to be
set. Only the unexpected resignation of long-time defense attorney Steven
Lubliner postponed the setting.
Beardslee will be the 1st California inmate executed in 3 years and the
1st from San Mateo County since capital punishment was re-instated in
1978. Ironically, his execution date is being set the same week the county
made the most recent addition to death row: Scott Peterson.
Once Forcum sets the date, Beardslees defense will likely ask Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger for clemency. The request can either be documents or a
full-scale hearing. The execution will be the 1st under the freshman
governor and his consideration of clemency could be seen as a litmus test
of his stance on crime.
Beardslee remains in custody at San Quentin while his attorneys appear on
his behalf in San Mateo County.
(source: San Mateo Daily Journal)
A law whose time has come - to die
Now that the state Assembly has decided to debate whether it should
restore New York's now-defunct death penalty law, I offer this advice:
Do nothing. Let the death penalty stay dead.
Yesterday several hundred people showed up at a public hearing in
Manhattan - the consensus seemed to be that it's time to put the death
penalty away for good.
"It's political, it's revengeful, and it ultimately doesn't work," said
David Kaczynski, head of the advocacy group New Yorkers Against the Death
Penalty. The brother of notorious "Unabomber" serial killer Ted Kaczynski,
he's been campaigning against the death penalty ever since he turned in
his mentally ill brother to federal authorities in 1996, only to have them
try to impose the death penalty. Ted Kaczynski eventually got a plea deal
that gave him life without the possibility of parole.
New York went for years without a death penalty, because our Democratic
governors wisely kept vetoing it. George Pataki and the State Legislature
restored it in 1995. But last June the state's highest court ruled that
the law was unconstitutional because the required jury instructions tended
to coerce jurors to recommend death sentences.
The ruling left life in prison without the possibility of parole as the
most severe penalty available for the most heinous crimes.
And it should stay that way. During the 9 years that the death penalty was
in effect in New York, only 7 people were sentenced to die, and none was
executed. Of those who got the death penalty, three had their sentences
vacated for a variety of reasons.
During the same period we learned a lot more about the capricious,
racially and dangerous way the death penalty is administered. Thanks to
the new DNA science, more than 100 death row inmates nationwide have been
exonerated and released from prison. [note: Of these exonerations, only a
small percentage was due to DNA, which is not available in most cases.]
The most dramatic reaction was in Illinois, where Gov. George Ryan was
prompted to commute the death sentences of 167 people on his state's death
row after 13 of them were proven innocent.
Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who has been prosecuting
criminal cases for 30 years, is one of the state's most adamant opponents
of the death penalty. He told the Assembly members that he opposes it
because it doesn't deter crime, it's expensive, its only reason is
vengeance, its application "mostly closely resembles the lottery," and its
main purpose is to allow public officials to prove how tough they are on
Morgenthau quoted FBI figures showing that the murder rate is higher in
states with the death penalty than in those without it. It was 44 % higher
in 1996, and 36 % higher in 2002.
"They need to stop waltzing around and just get rid of it," he said of the
The matter is now totally in the Assembly's hands. When the Court of
Appeals struck down the 1995 law, the state senate, at Gov. Pataki's
urging, quickly passed a new one. But many of the Assembly's current
members weren't around when the old law was passed, and they didn't want
to rubber stamp a new law.
The political climate has also changed in the past 9 years.
Not only has the crime rate dropped dramatically - there were 1,183
homicides in New York City in 1995, compared with 595 in 2003 - but the
state and local governments have spent an estimated $170 million
administering the death penalty system. Meanwhile, a majority of New
Yorkers say they favor life in prison over the death penalty for the most
heinous crimes. Pataki should back off, and not pressure the Assembly to
pass a new bill.
The evidence of recent years suggests that the death penalty is applied in
a capricious and discriminatory manner, that it sends innocent people to
death row, and wastes time, energy and money that could be spent in more
productive ways. New York doesn't need to bring it back. The Assembly
could put it to a vote, and vote it down. But better yet, it should let it
die a natural death.
(source: Column, Sheryl McCarthy, Newsday, Inc.)
Foes condemn death penalty
Opponents of capital punishment told state legislators yesterday not to
bother fixing New York's death penalty law because it fails to deter
criminals, wastes money, discriminates against the poor and minorities,
and can't guarantee that innocent people won't be executed.
"Some crimes are so depraved that execution might seem a just penalty,"
Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who has refused to seek the
death penalty in any eligible case, testified at a hearing in midtown.
"But even in the virtually impossible event that a statute could be
crafted and applied so wisely that it would reach only those cases, the
price would be too high. When the state kills, it sends the wrong message.
The death penalty is an endorsement of violent solutions, and violence
In the wake of the summer's Court of Appeals' ruling that put the death
penalty on hold in New York, 3 Assembly committees are conducting hearings
to determine how the death-penalty law should be revised, if at all. 2
more hearings are scheduled for January in Manhattan and Albany.
Yesterday's 1st hearing coincided with the formation of a new coalition to
combat the death penalty, New Yorkers to Execute Justice, Not People. Its
supporters filled the meeting hall of the New York City bar association
and cheered speakers, including defense lawyers, members of the clergy and
exonerated death row inmates. [note: This is inaccurate, in that most of
those who came did so due to pre-existing groups, such as New Yorkers
Against the Death Penalty.]
The only notable dissent came from Robert Blecker, a New York Law School
professor, who argued that the death penalty is not only just, but is
mandatory in the case of society's most egregious killers, and Joan
Truman-Smith, whose daughter was one of John Taylor's victims in the
Wendy's restaurant massacre in Queens 4 years ago.
"The death penalty is not violative of human dignity, not when it is
applied to the worst of the worst," said Blecker, who urged the
legislators to establish a commission to "patch up" the capital punishment
law, not eliminate it. "I am as certain the death penalty is morally
commanded as I am that my hand has 5 fingers."
Truman-Smith said she was always against the death penalty until she
thought of Taylor laughing in court and being able to have visitors in
prison. "He never once listened to those people who were begging for their
lives. ... What can we do to stop these kinds of crimes?" Truman-Smith
said. "Just make sure justice is served for these people. ... I'm for (the
death penalty). Kill them."
Truman-Smith said legislators could not fully appreciate the need to
impose capital punishment until violent death robbed them of a loved one.
But several of yesterday's speakers were family members of murder victims
who actively oppose the death penalty. Kate Lowenstein of Murder Victims'
Families for Reconciliation said that her "heart was mangled" following
the shooting death of her father, former Rep. Allard Lowenstein, a civil
rights activist, but that victims' relatives need counseling and support
and for the killers to be brought to justice.
"We do not need an execution," she said. "The state cannot undo a murder."
New York has not executed anyone since 1963 and had no death penalty for
30 years until a new law was enacted in 1995. Seven defendants were sent
to death row since then. But the state's highest court overturned three of
the death sentences on technical grounds before finally ruling in June
that the law could not be enforced because of the "deadlock instruction"
provision. The Court of Appeals found there is a substantial risk of
coercing jurors into voting for death when they are told that a judge will
sentence a defendant to life with parole if the jury can't decide between
death and life without parole.
Republicans in Albany were intent on simply reworking that part of the
law, but Democrats opted to take it slow, to decide whether the $170
million spent statewide enforcing the death penalty since 1995 was worth
it or whether they should end capital punishment.
Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School,
which uses DNA testing to exonerate those wrongfully convicted, told the
legislators that there were several reforms needed in New York's criminal
justice system before they should consider a new death-penalty law. Among
them, he cited better standards for eyewitness identification, preventing
false confessions through mandatory videotaping of suspects in serious
crimes, improvements to crime laboratories and more money for public
"Public support for capital punishment is diminishing. It's no longer the
third rail of American politics," Scheck said.
Manhattan 10 a.m. Jan. 21. Meeting Hall, Association of the Bar of the
City of New York. 42 W. 44th St.
Albany 10 a.m. Jan. 25. Roosevelt Hearing Room C, Legislative Office
Building. Empire State Plaza. To obtain information or testify at either
hearing, contact Shannel Arrington or Seth Agata at 518-455-4313.
(source: Journal News)
Morgy: KO death penalty
New York's senior prosecutor urged state lawmakers yesterday to kill the
death penalty rather than revise the old law to pass court scrutiny. "The
death penalty does not deter crime," insisted Manhattan District Attorney
Robert Morgenthau, who testified at a hearing sponsored by three Assembly
Although Morgenthau publicly opposed the death penalty when it was revived
in 1995, he had not spoken out on the issue since, aides said.
The state's highest court tossed out key parts of the death penalty law 5
Morgenthau said the death penalty is more expensive to use than life
without parole, it is not uniformly applied and the danger of executing an
innocent person is ever present.
"There is no correlation between executions and low homicide rates,"
Morgenthau argued. In fact, he said, studies suggest that death penalty
states have higher rates of homicides.
Morgenthau said crime dropped sharply in Manhattan over the past decade
because his office and the NYPD put drug gangs and violent recidivists in
prison for long sentences.
When Assemblywoman Adele Cohen (D-Brooklyn) asked Morgenthau to put aside
the deterrence issue and talk about "retribution," he quoted the Bible.
"'Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord,'" Morgenthau said.
When another lawmaker suggested the increased use of DNA makes it less
likely innocent people will be executed, Morgenthau said most murder cases
don't have DNA evidence.
(source: New York Daily News)
Governor Urges Prompt Renewal Of Death Penalty
Governor George E. Pataki yesterday called on the state Legislature to
promptly address a Court of Appeals decision striking down the death
Mr. Pataki, at a year-end press conference, said he was unhappy that a
Court comprised primarily of his appointees struck his signature
initiative. He said lawmakers should move quickly to amend the statute.
"I am disappointed in that decision," the governor said. "I am not going
to comment on the Court, but I am disappointed in the decision."
Mr. Pataki was elected 10 years ago on a platform to restore capital
In June, before anyone was executed under the law, the Court of Appeals
found a key provision unconstitutional and unseverable. Consequently, the
statute is essentially unenforceable.
All of Mr. Pataki's appointees to the Court of Appeals, except for one,
voted to uphold the law. Judge Albert M. Rosenblatt voted with 3
appointees of former Governor Mario M. Cuomo, who repeatedly vetoed death
penalty legislation, to cast the decisive fourth vote. Also in the
majority in People v. LaValle were Chief Judge Judith S.Kaye and Judges
George Bundy Smith and Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick.
"I believe the death penalty is part of a balanced and fair approach to
criminal justice, and we were unable to get the Court decision fixed," Mr.
Pataki said, citing the Legislature's lack of action on capital punishment
as one of the major frustrations of the legislative session.
In LaValle, the death penalty case, the Court of Appeals found the
so-called "deadlock provision" unconstitutional.
That provision requires the judge to advise the jury that its failure to
reach unanimous agreement on a sentence of either life without parole or
death will result in a court-imposed sentence that would make the convict
eligible for parole. The Court, over the dissent of Pataki-appointees
Victoria A. Graffeo, Susan Phillips Read and Robert S. Smith, found the
provision unconstitutionally coercive.
Mr. Pataki is eager for a legislative "fix" - presumably a fairly easy
chore since the Court of Appeals' concern would seemingly be resolved by
making the default sentence life without parole. However, the Democratic
Assembly is leery of taking quick action and is holding hearings on the
viability of the entire statute. The 1st hearing was held yesterday at the
Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Another hearing is slated
for Jan. 25 in Albany.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, has said the fact that New
York has spent about $170 million administering the law without performing
a single execution suggests the entire concept needs to be revisited.
(source: New York Law Journal)
Submitted in Writing:
TESTIMONY OF THE PUERTO RICAN LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND (PRLDEF) BY
JOSE A. GARCIA
POLICY ANALYSIS AND ADVOCACY COORDINATOR BEFORE THE NEW YORK STATE
ASSEMBLY WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2004
ASSOCIATION OF THE BAR OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK NEW YORK, NY
Good day. My name is Jos* A. Garc*a, the Policy Analysis and Advocacy
Coordinator for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund
(PRLDEF), based here in New York City.
We are a nonprofit and nonpartisan civil rights organization established
in 1972 to promote justice for Latinos.
I am here today to express our organizations position [in] opposition to
the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York State. We feel that it
is unjust, is not an effective deterrent, and is disproportionately and
improperly applied to the poor and people of color.
We strongly oppose Governor Pataki and the New York State Senates efforts
to "fix" the constitutionality of the death penalty statute and encourage
the legislature to overturn it in its entirety.
In recent polls, the majority of New Yorkers support sentencing offenders
to life without parole over applying the death penalty and over time
support for the death penalty has been declining.
The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund believes that you cannot
fix such an unjust punishment and urge the end of capital punishment in
the State of New York.
Lethal injection hearing is set----Prisoners Claim Method Is Inhumane
A Franklin Circuit Court judge will hear evidence in February to decide
whether the state's method of executing prisoners is humane.
Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr. and Ralph Baze, two Death Row inmates, sued the
state in August, arguing that the state's method of lethal injection could
cause undue pain and suffering.
Bowling, 51, was scheduled to be executed Nov. 30, but the execution was
delayed in part because Franklin Circuit Court Judge Roger Crittenden
issued a temporary stay, saying more evidence needed to be gathered before
he could rule on whether lethal injection was humane.
The state Supreme Court also issued a stay, giving it more time to decide
whether Bowling might be mentally retarded and therefore exempt from being
The state Supreme Court has not released an opinion on Bowling's claim.
If Bowling were to lose both lawsuits, a 2nd execution date would not be
set until after the February hearing.
Defense attorneys and lawyers for the state hammered out a definite
schedule yesterday in Frankfort to wrap up the case.
David Smith, an assistant attorney general, told Crittenden that defense
attorneys were dragging out the case and wanted to take depositions, or
recorded interviews, of people who had nothing to do with the execution
"Some of these people, we don't even know who they are," Smith said.
But defense attorneys countered that some of the people they wanted to
depose had first-hand knowledge of the execution process and were present
at the execution of Eddie Lee Harper.
Harper was the 1st person in Kentucky to be executed by a three-drug
lethal cocktail in 1999.
In court papers, defense attorneys argued that there is more than a 50 %
chance that Harper was awake when the third and fatal drug was
administered, and he could have felt tremendous pain. Because the state
uses a drug called Pavulon, which paralyzes the muscles, Harper could not
have communicated that he was in pain, the defense attorneys said.
Lawyers for the state, however, said the three-drug cocktail is used in 28
other states and by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Protocols similar to
Kentucky's have been upheld by other courts, they argued.
Depositions and other discovery should be finished by Jan. 28 and a bench
trial, at which defense attorneys will call experts on the drugs and
method used in lethal injection, will be set sometime in mid-February,
Threats may move Banks hearing to federal court
Several death threats made to George Banks' lawyer, Albert J. Flora Jr.,
may move the competency hearing for the convicted mass murderer to the
more secured federal courthouse in Scranton.
Flora told Luzerne County President Judge Michael Conahan Tuesday he is
concerned about security at the county courthouse, especially in the
parking lot, due to a number of death threats he received in recent weeks.
He also expressed concerns about security for Banks, 62, at the Luzerne
County Correctional Facility.
Judge Conahan suggested moving the competency hearing to the federal
courthouse in Scranton that has stricter security measures and much less
Banks is being held at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford in
Sheriff Barry Stankus, who was asked by Judge Conahan to attend the brief
hearing, said he has been kept advised of the death threats and plans to
be included in the scheduling process of Banks' competency hearing.
Judge Conahan said he will communicate with federal court officials in
Scranton to determine if Banks' competency hearing can be held there, as
well as with LCCF Warden Gene Fischi.
Afterward, Flora said he received several death threats by telephone and
"I would have to go back and check but (I) received at least one by phone,
and a few by mail," Flora said.
Meanwhile, Judge Conahan compelled the state Department of Corrections to
release their psychological records of Banks within 30 days to Flora, the
Federal Public Defenders Association of Philadelphia, and to Luzerne
County Assistant District Attorney Scott C. Gartley.
A status conference to determine the progress of the case is set for
Thursday, Feb. 14 at 11 a.m. before Judge Conahan at the Luzerne County
Courthouse when it is likely the competency hearing will be scheduled.
2 issues will be addressed at the competency hearing.
The 1st involves whether Banks is mentally sane to be put to death by
lethal injection for the September 1982 shooting spree that killed 13
people, including 5 of his children, in Wilkes-Barre and Jenkins Township.
The 2nd involves Banks' competency to determine if he is mentally stable
to initiate clemency proceedings with the state Board of Pardons or have
someone designated on his behalf.
Less than 29 hours before Banks was scheduled to die at 7 p.m. on Dec. 2,
the state Supreme Court issued a stay of execution.
The appellate court sent the case back to Luzerne County Court to hold the
competency hearing expeditiously in accordance with the 1986 U.S. Supreme
Court case Ford v. Wainwright, which banned the execution of the mentally
Flora claimed Banks suffers from several mental illnesses and is unable to
make rational decisions about his case.
Flora said he expects Banks to attend the competency hearing when it is
"When a competency hearing is held, the defendant is present," Flora said.
(source: Citizens Voice)
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