[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, CALIF., VA., CONN., KY.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Jul 7 09:58:49 CDT 2004
Woman awaits execution date----Exhausts appeals in family's deaths
More than 17 years after she began complaining about her court-appointed
attorney, death row inmate Frances Newton is scheduled to be in a Houston
court today to hear a judge set her execution date.
Newton, 39, was convicted in 1988 of shooting her husband and 2 children
to collect on a $100,000 life insurance policy.
Since then, she repeatedly has appealed to state and federal courts
concerning her trial attorney, Ron Mock. A longtime Harris County defense
lawyer and former bar owner, Mock has seen 16 of his clients sent to death
row and frequently has been accused of doing shoddy work on capital cases.
Defense attorney David Eisen, who worked on Newton's case briefly before
her trial, said he was stunned to learn that all of her avenues for appeal
had been exhausted.
"I was shocked that she never got a new trial," Eisen said recently. "I
thought it was a clear case of ineffective assistance of counsel."
Mock, who no longer handles court-appointed capital cases, defends his
"I had nothing, really, to work with other than Frances saying that she
didn't do it," he said Tuesday.
By any criteria, it was a tough case for a defense attorney.
Sheriff's deputies found the bodies of Adrian Newton, 23, and the couple's
children, Alton, 7, and Farrah Elaine, 21 months, in April 1987 in the
family's northwest Harris County apartment.
April 7, 1987: Harris County sheriff's deputies find Frances Newton's
husband, 7-year-old son and 21-month-old daughter dead from bullet wounds.
April 22, 1987: Newton charged with capital murder.
December 1987: Judge denies Newton's request to remove her court-appointed
Oct. 17, 1988: Judge denies Newton's request to hire new attorneys and
delay the trial for them to prepare.
Oct. 21, 1988: Newton tells jurors she is innocent.
Oct. 25, 1988: Jury sentences Newton to death.
June 17, 1992: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upholds death sentence.
May 20, 2004: Federal appeals court rejects final appeal.
July 7, 2004: Judge scheduled to set Newton's execution date.
Authorities said Frances Newton took a gun from her boyfriend's home and
hid it in an abandoned house after the killings. Newton contended that a
drug dealer had killed the victims because her husband had failed to pay a
Police recovered a pistol that experts said was the murder weapon, and
prosecutors offered tests revealing gun residue on the clothes Newton wore
the day of the murders. Also, witnesses said Newton had forged her
husband's signature on $100,000 worth of insurance policies.
Court records show Mock's preparation for the trial was minimal. He filed
no motions, failed to submit a subpoena list when the trial started and
interviewed none of the witnesses.
Newton complained that Mock hardly spoke to her in the 18 months leading
up to her trial.
"Mr. Mock has never sat down with me and went over the case in depth at
all," she said at a September 1988 hearing.
Newton first asked state District Judge Charles Hearn to replace Mock as
her attorney in August that year. Hearn refused, instead appointing a 2nd
attorney, Catherine Coulter, to assist him.
Several days before trial in October 1988, Newton told the judge that her
family had obtained money to hire private attorneys. She asked him to
delay the trial while her new lawyers prepared.
Before rejecting that request, Hearn held an unusual hearing in which
Newton's hired attorney, Eisen, put Mock on the witness stand and asked
about his preparation for the trial.
"Can you give me the name of any witnesses, either state or defense
witnesses in this case, that you have talked to?" Eisen asked.
"Not off the top of my head, no, I can't," Mock said, according to court
In the 18 months in which he was Newton's attorney, Mock said, he met with
her in jail "3, maybe 4 times" for "probably 1 hour each."
He said much of his knowledge of the case was based on information from
prosecutors and that Newton's family was uncooperative and failed to give
him names or phone numbers of possible witnesses.
In her numerous appeals, Newton claimed ineffective assistance of counsel
and argued that the judge denied her right to choose her lawyer.
Most recently, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Newton failed to
show how she was harmed by the judge's decision not to let her change
attorneys and allow time for them to prepare.
Federal courts did not address several of Newton's claims because state
appeals courts already had rejected them. The attorney appointed to handle
her state appeal has since died.
"She's had bad representation at every stage of the process. That's partly
how she got where she is today," said Kenneth Williams, a former Houston
lawyer and law professor who handled the case in its final stage of
Prosecutors dispute the contention that Newton was poorly represented at
"Ron Mock did a lot of these death penalty cases a long time ago. At the
time, he did a good job with them," said Assistant District Attorney Roe
Wilson, who handles capital appeals.
"If you go back and look at the facts of this case, he did a more-than-
adequate job," Wilson said. Some lawyers disagree.
"For so many of the people whom Ron was appointed to represent, their
death warrant was signed when the ink was dry on the appointment form,"
said Brian Wice, a defense lawyer who was appointed in 1991 to review one
of Mock's cases.
Mock said Newton's trial went about as well as could be expected, given
his busy schedule and the facts of the murder.
Mock said he was not surprised that Newton's appellate attorneys
criticized his work.
"It's always like that: 'The lawyer should have done this, the lawyer
should have done that,'" he said. "Of course they attacked me. That was
their only grounds for appeal.
"We were stuck with what we had. We had nothing else to work with. It was
just overpowering. I tell you, it still hurts me today."
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Jurors Appear Distressed by Laci Photos
Jurors in the murder trial of Scott Peterson appeared distressed as
prosecutors displayed pictures of the remains of his wife, Laci, and the
Peterson, charged with both deaths, did not look at the large screen where
the pictures were displayed. Laci's parents, who have been present
throughout the trial, left the courtroom.
Michael Looby testified he and his wife were walking their dog along the
shore of San Francisco Bay on April 13, 2003, when he came upon a body in
a marshy area.
"It was a body of a small baby," Looby said, adding he and his wife walked
to a nearby home and asked the residents to call 911.
The body of Laci Peterson washed ashore a day later, not far from where
the fetus was found.
Last week, prosecutors focused on witnesses who testified about Peterson's
affair with a massage therapist.
Peterson's affair, according to the government, drove him to kill his
pregnant wife on or around Dec. 24, 2002. They say he then dumped her body
in San Francisco Bay. The defense contends someone else abducted her near
their Modesto home as she walked her dog, held her captive before killing
her and dumped her body to frame Peterson.
Elena Gonzalez testified she found the body - mostly just a torso -
half-submerged in the water along a rocky embankment. Gonzalez said she
saw a dog sniffing around the remains.
Defense attorney Mark Geragos questioned 2 police officers who responded
to the scene where the fetus was found. He pursued his theory that the
fetus was killed after birth.
"Did you notice ... what appeared to be some tape or twine around the
baby's neck?" Geragos asked Officer Tod Opdyke, using hand gestures to
motion in a manner as if he was tying something around his own neck.
Opdyke called it "tapelike substance."
Geragos has previously charged that the fetus had something physically
tied around its neck. Prosecutors say it was simply debris from the water.
Geragos then asked Officer Timothy Gard if he found anything in the area
that resembled the tape or twine "tied" around the fetus' neck.
"No," Gard replied.
Prosecutors objected to the use of the word "tied." Judge Alfred A.
Delucchi said he would leave it up to jurors to determine whether the
material was tied around the fetus' neck or simply wrapped.
Earlier in the day, California Department of Justice polygraph expert
Douglas Mansfield testified he interviewed Peterson on Dec. 25, 2002, the
day after Laci vanished.
Mansfield said Peterson told him neither he nor Laci were having an affair
and called his marriage fine.
On cross-examination, Mansfield described Peterson as "very cooperative"
during the interview that lasted about 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Mansfield was identified to the jury only as a state Justice Department
employee and the context of his questioning of Peterson that day was not
made clear in court. Polygraph examinations are generally not admissible
(source: Associated Press)
Moussaoui's Mental Health May Be an Issue
The mental health of terrorism defendant Zacarias Moussaoui is likely to
play a significant role if the potential death penalty case reaches the
penalty phase, a government said in a motion Tuesday.
Prosecutors asked a judge for an order that would permit the government to
conduct a mental examination - and receive mental health information on
Moussaoui - if the defense plans to raise the issue.
The government would only use the evaluation and medical information to
rebut any defense strategy to spare Moussaoui the death penalty by citing
his mental condition, the motion said.
The prosecution said it raised the issue because a federal appeals panel
last April had restored the government's right to seek the death penalty.
The trial judge, Leonie Brinkema, previously had barred the government
from seeking Moussaoui's execution.
Moussaoui is the only U.S. defendant charged with participating in the
al-Qaida plot that included the Sept. 11 attacks. He has denied a role in
the airplane hijackings that day, but acknowledged he belonged to
"Like most capital cases, the mental condition of the defendant is likely
to play a significant rule during the penalty phase," the government
Moussaoui lawyer Gerald Zerkin, who specializes in death penalty cases,
would not say whether the defense team would raise the mental health
"I wouldn't be discussing what I was or wasn't going to do in a trial that
may or may not take place," Zerkin said.
The case of Moussaoui, who was indicted in late 2001, has been on hold
because of a legal dispute over his access to al-Qaida witnesses held
abroad in secret locations.
(source: Associated Press)
Fixing Virginia's System The Supreme Court ruled in 1963 that states must
provide effective counsel to poor people who wish to appeal their criminal
convictions. Virginia is failing systematically to do so. The Virginia
Court of Appeals resolved more than 11 percent of its criminal cases in
2003 without ever reaching their merits but, rather, on the basis of
technical filing errors -- overwhelmingly missed deadlines by lawyers who
were supposed to be protecting their clients' rights. Many of these
lawyers blew cases repeatedly with no consequences to themselves. And the
result is that, more than 40 years after the Supreme Court articulated the
right to counsel on appeal, many defendants -- preponderantly the poor --
are being denied the basic right the court proclaimed. To make that right
a reality, a lot in Virginia will need to change.
The court's rules, for starters, are nonsensically inflexible. Why should
a defendant lose his right to appeal a conviction because his lawyer files
his transcripts or his appeal petition a day late? Virginia's rules
function as a game of "gotcha," wherein errors that have no bearing on the
guilt or innocence of the defendant or on the legality of his trial become
dispositive grounds for keeping him locked up. Moreover, the law makes it
difficult for defendants to get appeals restored without compromising
their ability to challenge their convictions. None of this is fair or
Lawyers, however, are bound to follow even irrational rules when their
clients' interests depend on it. And the state bar and courts alike
therefore have a duty to keep track of lawyers who can't be troubled to do
so -- and then to discipline them. In a recent interview, the state bar's
ethics watchdog, Barbara Williams, said she hopes a new bar task force on
indigent defense will examine the issue of procedural defaults in detail
and said her office will "follow up" aggressively.
The courts need to assist the bar in learning the full scope of the
problem. Currently, the courts do not refer orders dismissing blown cases
to the bar or even maintain figures on the frequency of such dismissals.
So to know who is throwing their clients' rights away, one has to sift
manually through the large numbers of orders the courts issue on a daily
basis -- which nobody does. The chief judge of the Virginia Court of
Appeals, Johanna L. Fitzpatrick, told us last week that she will consider
recordkeeping improvements and routine referrals of defaults to the bar.
The broader issue is not the blown appeals themselves but the window that
they offer into Virginia's indigent-defense system. It is unlikely that
lawyers who are failing in these most basic, secretarial aspects of legal
practice are aggressively representing their clients at trial or -- when
they manage to file an appeal on time -- arguing effectively on their
behalf. When 11 percent of cases are resolved without even being heard,
one has to worry about the quality of the other 89 % -- particularly those
cases in which the accused is unable to hire a lawyer of his choice and
gets stuck with whatever attorney the state provides.
Virginia's system for defense of the indigent has 2 components: public
defenders' offices in certain jurisdictions and, for most cases,
court-appointed private lawyers. Making the system functional will require
significant investment in both. Public defenders' offices are, in general,
far preferable to the haphazard system of court-appointed counsel. But, as
our data show, these offices also make many errors. They will need new
money so that caseloads can be diminished and so that they can recruit
quality lawyers. And they must be subject to statewide management,
coordination and oversight -- as in Maryland. The creation of a more
robust public defender commission this year was a step in the right
direction, but it was a small step.
The system of appointing outside lawyers also needs to be revamped. These
lawyers are the lowest-paid counsel for the indigent in the country -- and
that fact tends to push skilled, ethical lawyers away from court-appointed
work. Virginia pays an average of $245 for a defense -- only $12 more than
it did in 1971. Crimes that can carry a sentence of life in prison can net
a lawyer no more than $1,096, even when the defense requires a
full-fledged trial. Crimes that can land a defendant as many as 20 years
pay a maximum of $395. So lawyers face a tremendous financial incentive to
reach plea deals. As a recent report for the American Bar Association put
it, the pay structure "puts lawyers at substantial risk of violating
professional rules of conduct when representing indigent defendants" --
and the result is that "substandard practice has become the accepted
It is going to take money and political commitment -- long lacking in
Virginia -- to make the Constitution's promise of fair trials real for
those the commonwealth accuses of crimes. The state's constitutional
obligation is not in question. The only question is whether Virginia's
policymakers care enough to do something about the fact that the system
utterly failed more than 230 times last year alone.
(source: Editorial, Washington Post)
CONNECTICUT----federal death penalty trial
Jury Deliberates In Death Penalty Case
In New Haven, a federal jury began deliberations Tuesday on whether
Wilfredo Perez, convicted of orchestrating the murder of a rival, should
be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without the possibility of
U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton, presiding over Connecticut's 1st
federal death penalty hearing in recent times, told the jury of nine women
and 3 men that for Perez to be sentenced to death for the 1996
murder-for-hire of Teddy Casiano of Hartford, the decision must be
unanimous and beyond a reasonable doubt.
To render a "true and just" verdict, each juror must make a "uniquely
personal judgment" whether aggravating and mitigating factors constitute
grounds for a death sentence, the judge advised. She repeatedly stressed
that jurors should not feel pressured to vote for a death sentence.
Defense counsel Richard Reeve and Michael Sheehan worked hard to convince
the jury that Perez, 37, is prepared to continue to be a model prisoner
dedicated to mentoring his son and other inmates.
Ronald Dimmie, a counselor at the Otisville Federal Prison in New York,
testified that Perez has been an outstanding inmate for the years he has
known him - a model prisoner who treats other inmates and staff with
Perez, called to testify as the defense's last witness, said that during
his years of confinement, he's made many phone calls to emotionally
support his mother and son, Christian.
"I'm trying to be a father," Perez stated. "I build trust with him and
kind of guide him, telling him what's right and what's wrong."
Perez promised that if the jury spared his life he would continue trying
to make a difference in the lives of his family and other inmates in need
of guidance and mentoring.
"I don't know if I can really do it better, but I try," said Perez,
dressed in a tan shirt and tie.
James Aiken, a consultant and former prison warden who evaluates inmates'
behavior, testified Perez has a clean record representing a man "straight
as an arrow, adhering to the rules and regulations."
"This individual can make a difference, a positive difference," said
Aiken, noting that he's witnessed over many years as a correctional
administrator that role model inmates set a valuable upbeat tone in a
In closing statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney Shawn Chen urged the jurors
to focus on the issues of truth and redemption. He characterized Perez as
a man who authorized Casiano's murder for hire to protect his drug
trafficking business. The prosecutor called Perez's $6,000 payment for
Casiano's assassination "repugnant."
Imploring the jury to exercise compassion wisely, Chen said the panel must
decide whether Perez, a man who hired murderers, will spend the rest of
his jail time in a positive way to repay his debt to society.
In closing, Sheehan told the jury that Perez is a "complicated, complex
person" who engaged in drug dealing but still exhibits a "goodness" that
should not be extinguished.
"Every life is sacred,' Sheehan said. "The answer resides in your hearts.
Wil Perez in jail will have a chance to make a difference to people around
him in prison. ... Death is the last resort."
The jury, which deliberated more than three hours Tuesday, is scheduled to
resume its work this morning.
There are currently 31 convicts on federal death row - none in
(source: Hartford Courant)
KENTUCKY----female may face death penalty
Murder case may bring death penalty----Woman accused of role in mother's
In Georgetown, prosecutors may seek the death penalty for a Georgetown
woman accused of complicity in her mother's murder.
In a notice filed in Scott Circuit Court, Commonwealth's Attorney Gordie
Shaw states that aggravating circumstances exist that warrant the death
penalty or life without parole if Stephanie Olson is convicted.
Specifically, Shaw writes that the homicide occurred during a burglary and
Olson stood to gain financially.
Shaw's office has previously indicated that it might seek the death
penalty against 2 other alleged accomplices in the 2002 stabbing death of
Diane Snellen, 41, Olson's mother.
A gag order prevents attorneys and most other officials from commenting on
Authorities maintain the killing was part of a plot to gain Snellen's
insurance money. They think her daughter helped David Dressman and Timothy
Crabtree enter the house where they stabbed the Toyota employee to death.
Both Crabtree, 25, and Dressman, 20, are charged with murder and burglary.
Crabtree also faces a separate charge of solicitation to murder Dressman.
Olson dated Dressman at the time.
Olson, now 19, was 17 when her mother was stabbed to death. After her
arrest, her case was moved from juvenile court to circuit court.
Under Kentucky law, a person has to be at least 16 years old to be
eligible for the death penalty. However, more states are raising the age
limits to 18, and juries in recent years have become more hesitant to
impose the death penalty, said University of Kentucky Law Professor
In December, then-Gov. Paul Patton granted clemency to Kevin Stanford,
changing his death sentence to life in prison without parole. Stanford was
19 when he was convicted in the rape and murder of a gas station attendant
in 1981, when he was 17.
Currently, 31 states, plus the U.S. government and military, do not have a
death penalty for juveniles, according to the Death Penalty Information
Center. Of that number, 12 states do not have a death penalty at all.
In October, the United States Supreme Court will consider whether
executing juvenile offenders is cruel and unusual punishment and could
issue an opinion in spring of 2005.
The death penalty is one of several issues that could come up in a hearing
scheduled for Friday afternoon before Scott Circuit Judge Paul Isaacs.
Motions to reduce bonds and move the trial to Fayette or Jefferson
Counties are before the court.
Another big question yet to be answered is whether the 3 defendants will
be tried together. Olson is scheduled to be tried in August, and the 2 men
aren't scheduled for trial until next February.
In May, Shaw filed a motion seeking to combine the trials.
In a separate motion, Olson's attorney, Rodney Barnes, strongly opposed
consolidating the cases, arguing that her defense would be compromised.
(source: Lexington Herald-Leader)
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