death penalty news--USA--January 2005 National Execution Alert
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Dec 30 00:02:34 CST 2004
JANUARY 2005 EXECUTION ALERT
Jan. 4: James Porter (TX):
Jan. 19: Troy Kunkle (TX)
Jan. 20: Jose Briseno (TX):
Jan. 26: Michael Ross (CT):
Jan. 27: George Jones (TX):
Jan. 4, 2005
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The state of Texas is scheduled to execute James Porter, a white man, Jan. 4
for the May 28, 2000, murder of Rudy Delgado, a Latino man. The murder took
place while both men were serving time in prison at the Telford Unit in
Bowie County. Porter was in prison for murder with a deadly weapon.
Porter, who has been called a white-supremacist, has reportedly maintained
that his killing Delgado was honorable. He killed Delgado, a gay man, by
bludgeoning him to death.
Porter asked U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield in federal district court
to declare him mentally competent so that he could withdraw any further
appeals of his conviction or sentence.
Texas has executed more people in the modern era than the next five states
combined. The state has been under increased scrutiny for its handling of
death penalty cases. In the past year, the Supreme Court has heard three
appeals from inmates on death row in Texas, and in each case reversed the
findings of the lower courts.
According to a recent New York Times article, legal experts maintain that
the Supreme Court's decision to hear these cases demonstrates "its growing
impatience with two of the courts that handle death penalty cases from
Texas: its highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and the
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans."
The article also quoted Sandra Day O'Connor, who wrote in June that the
Fifth Circuit was "paying lip service to principles" regarding appellate law
in upholding death sentences with "no foundation in the decisions of this
The Court of Appeals' apparent disregard for upholding justice coupled with
the massive Houston Crime Lab scandal has caused many prominent Texans,
including former Gov. Mark White, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt, and
State Senator John Whitmire - all death penalty proponents - to call for a
moratorium of executions in Harris County.
Considering the existence of wide-scale problems such as crime lab scandals
and flagrant disregard for international law Texas should not be in the
business of state killing under any circumstances. Yet it continues to
carry out death sentences.
Please take a moment to write Gov. Perry asking for a moratorium on all
executions in Texas and to spare the life of James Scott Porter. Also,
please write the Board of Pardons and Paroles asking them to recommend
clemency in all cases considering the overwhelming turmoil within the state
justice system pertaining to the death penalty.
January 19, 2005
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The state of Texas is scheduled to execute Kunkle, a white man, Jan. 19 for
the 1984 murder of Stephen Horton in Nueces County. Kunkle was 18 and two
months old, had no criminal record, and was under the influence of alcohol,
marijuana, and LSD at the time of the crime. Four other teenagers were
involved in the crime. None of them received the death penalty.
Tragically, Kunkle, a schizophrenic teenager who received no real guidance
or counsel in making the most important decision of his life, turned down a
plea bargain. The case proceeded to trial without any evaluation of
Kunkle's mental health or his competency to make such a momentous decision.
Although Kunkle is schizophrenic with a family history of mental illness who
was subjected to particularly shocking child abuse, no fact finder or court
has ever considered whether this life history mitigates in favor of a life
Kunkle was physically and emotional abused by his father, including an
incident where he was thrown against a wall so hard that his spleen was
bruised. Both parents also suffered from mental illness. When he was a
baby, his mother was committed to a mental hospital for attempting to choke
However, at the time, Texas law did not provide jurors with a mechanism for
giving consideration to this "mitigation", and Kunkle's lawyers never did
the investigation necessary to present these facts to the jury. Recent
interviews with the jurors indicate that this information would have saved
his life. When the U. S. Supreme Court forced Texas to change its laws and
allow jurors a chance to spare the lives of defendants like Kunkle, he asked
for a new trial where he could present this evidence to the jury. However
in a cruelly ironic twist, the appellate courts refused to take his history
into account because it was presented to them too late in the process.
Kunkle was young and had no criminal record. His actions were clearly
impaired by drugs and alcohol. He had a truly horrific childhood, and
suffers from mental illness. Above all, this evidence was never presented
to a jury because he was tried under a statute later found unconstitutional,
and has not received full consideration by the courts due to procedural
Hours before Kunkle's Nov. 18, 2004 execution date, the Fifth Circuit of the
Supreme Court temporarily halted the execution. Then, on Dec. 13. the court
declared that it lacked jurisdiction to uphold the stay. Justice Stevens
concurred with the decision saying that he was "satisfied that the Texas
court's determination was independently based on determination of state
law." However Stevens continued, calling the result "regrettable because it
seems plain that Kunkle's sentence was imposed in violation of the
This cannot be justice, and execution is clearly not the answer. Please
contact Gov. Rick Perry and urge him to stop the execution of Troy Kunkle.
Jan. 20, 2005
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The state of Texas is scheduled to execute Jose Briseno, an Hispanic male,
for the 1991 murder of Dimmit County Sheriff Ben Murray in Webb County.
Briseno already came within four hours of being executed in July of 2002
when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the execution after his
attorneys found a prison record indicating Briseno had an IQ of 67.
Generally, people with an IQ below 70 are considered mentally retarded. The
U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to execute persons with mental
retardation in June of 2002.
A trial court judge then rejected the notion that Briseno is mentally
retarded, stating that records showed he had tested at an IQ of 72 or higher
twice since June 2002. The record also shows that Briseno began drinking
alcohol at age nine and was abusing other substances such as LSD before the
age of 18. Both the defense and state experts agreed drug use may have
impaired brain functioning as well as academic and social skills.
Both Briseno's attorney at the time and Judge Charles Holcomb - in a
dissenting opinion - disagreed with this decision. They maintained a jury
rather than a judge should have decided whether Briseno has a mental
disability. Since Briseno's original trial conviction, the U.S. Supreme
Court has ruled that mitigating and aggravating circumstances in a death
penalty case must be weighed by juries and not judges (Ring vs. Arizona).
However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Briseno was not
entitled to a jury weigh-in on the mitigating factor of possible mental
retardation because the Ring decision should not be applied retroactively.
In addition to having a strong mental retardation claim that has not been
fairly reviewed by a jury, Briseno has raised concerns of ineffective
assistance of counsel. His direct appellate counsel failed to object to the
trial court's denial of a defense expert serologist that may have countered
to the state's serologist witness. Briseno has also maintained his defense
counsel failed to investigate mitigating circumstances and was inadequately
prepared for trial.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2001 that Briseno did not prove
beyond a reasonable doubt that error on the part of his attorney constituted
of a violation of his due process rights.
Texas continues to lead the nation in both the number of executions it
carries out and the level of public scrutiny for its handling of death
penalty cases. Amid crime lab scandals, inadequate capital defense
resources, and flagrant disregard for both international law and human
rights standards, the U.S. Supreme Court has recently expressed its
frustration with the highest courts of Texas and their ability to administer
Please contact Gov. Perry and the Board of Pardons and Paroles and urge that
they stop the execution of Jose Briseno. Please further urge the governor
to declare a moratorium on all Texas executions.
Jan. 27, 2005
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The state of Texas is scheduled to execute George Alarick Jones on Jan. 27
for the 1993 murder of Forest J. Hall in Dallas County.
A point of contention in Jones' case involves the wrongful exclusion of a
prospective juror at trial. The juror had stated that she would be more
skeptical of the testimony of an accomplice than someone who was not
involved in the crime. However, she made it clear that she would give the
testimony fair consideration.
The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled 6-3 in September 1998, that the trial
judge had made improperly excluded the juror, but maintained that the error
had not prevented Jones from receiving a fair trial. The Court claimed Jones
did not prove the mistake affected the outcome of the trial - a presumptuous
ruling considering that a single juror can prevent imposition of a death
sentence during the punishment phase of trial.
The Court applied a new rule of appellate procedure which was adopted in
1997. Before 1997, the state had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that
ultimately a trial error did not affect punishment or conviction. Under the
new rule, the burden of proof is now on the defendant to prove that the
error violated his or her constitutional rights. The Court of Criminal
Appeals rarely rules that trial errors meet the heightened standard.
In a dissenting opinion, then-Judge Charles Baird expressed his disapproval
over the court's opinion. Baird wrote that the decision trampled on "the
defendant's constitutional rights to an impartial jury, due process of law
and due course of law."
This is one of countless problems with the death penalty system in Texas.
The state continues to lead the country in executions by putting more people
to death than the next five highest states combined while manifesting
blatant systemic flaws in administration of capital punishment.
January 26, 2005
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The state of Connecticut is scheduled to execute Michael Bruce Ross, a white
man, on Jan. 26 for the 1983 and 1984 New London County murders of Robin
Stavinsky and minors Wandy Baribeault, Leslie Shelley, and April Brunais.
All four victims were white.
If the death sentence is carried out, it will be the first in Connecticut in
nearly 45 years. In 1994, the Supreme Court overturned Ross's death
sentence because the jury had not been able to consider evidence that the
murders were the result of sexual sadism, a psychiatric disorder. At a
re-sentencing in 2000, the jury rejected the sexual sadism claim as a
mitigating factor and once again sentenced Ross to death.
Ross, a graduate of Cornell University, has been diagnosed with mental
illness by several mental health professionals, including the state's own
psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Miller.
According to evidence presented at trial, Ross' childhood consisted of abuse
from his mother. His siblings testified at trial that he often received the
brunt of their mother's anger through physical and mental abuse. Ross'
mother was institutionalized twice for issues pertaining to suicidal
tendencies and for the abuse of her children.
One psychiatrist who evaluated Ross, Dr. Borden, stated, "All you have to do
is look at the Norwich hospital records.and right there in black and white
they talked about the child abuse going on.." Borden went on to note that
there is reason to believe that the abuse was serious as it was rarely
documented at that time.
After spending years trying to prove that he is suffering from a mental
illness which he says drove him to rape and kill eight women in total, Ross
now says he prefers to be executed. He believes it to be the least painful
scenario for the families of his victims.
The execution of the mentally ill is a deplorable violation of international
human rights standards. In April 2000, the United Nations Commission on
Human Rights urged all states that maintain the death penalty "not to impose
it on a person suffering from any form of mental disorder" and "not to
execute any such person."
The Connecticut Board of Pardons and Paroles is not able to grant clemency
because Ross has refused to file a clemency petition at this time. Please
write to Governor Jodi Rell asking her to grant Mr. Ross clemency on the
grounds that the execution of the mentally ill violates international human
rights standards. Also urge her to consider granting this reprieve so that
the Connecticut Legislature will have the opportunity to address the State's
death penalty system during the 2005 legislative season.
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