[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Jul 8 15:53:22 CDT 2004
Lone Star State executions may be under microscope
A former Roosevelt High School student had 9 hours left to live Wednesday
when the U.S. Supreme Court halted his execution and gave itself time to
examine claims that Troy Kunkle doesn't deserve to die.
Stays of execution hardly are unheard of - indeed it was at least Kunkle's
3rd in 20 years - but this one arrived at a time when, experts say, the
nation's highest court is giving closer scrutiny to capital punishment in
Texas and Virginia, the states with the most executions.
The court has reviewed more death sentences from those 2 states than any
other in the past 5 years - 6 from each - and, while the number sounds
small, some say the court's attention is a sign of concern.
By second-guessing five Texas death penalties in that span, the justices
are widely believed to be telling the federal appeals court that oversees
Texas that it's been too quick to affirm capital convictions.
Kunkle's stay of execution can be viewed as the Supreme Court once again
asking the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, "'Did you miss the issue
here, too?'" said Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty
Information Center in Washington.
Now 38, Kunkle was 18, drunk and dropping acid when he shot a man during a
stickup that was part of a joyride he and 4 friends took to Corpus Christi
on Aug. 11, 1984.
After the killing, he chanted lyrics from the heavy metal album, "Kill 'em
His appeal argues in part that his death sentence should be set aside
because the jury wasn't given enough of a chance to consider his troubled
The jury might have spared him, his lawyers argued, had jurors been told
they could consider that Kunkle was abused as a child, that his parents
battled mental illness and that he had been transferred to a school for
youths with emotional problems.
The Texas attorney general's office has argued that Kunkle received a fair
trial and penalty.
While its lawyers refused to comment for this article, other prosecutors
said they do not believe the Supreme Court is gunning for Texas.
The court hears about 80 cases a year, a tiny percentage of the appeals
that are filed.
Only a handful involve capital punishment, so the numbers are too small to
be statistically significant.
Texas owes its place on the Supreme Court's docket to its size, not to
concerns about the quality of its justice, said Robert Kepple, director of
the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.
"Because Texas has a lot of death penalty cases, naturally a lot of major
cases decided by the Supreme Court have been - and are going to be - from
Texas," he said.
Others acknowledge that size plays a role but note that the court focused
on California capital cases only twice in the last five years and say that
the recent Texas cases suggest a rift with the 5th Circuit Court of
Just 2 weeks ago, the justices sent a Texas capital case (Tennard vs.
Dretke) back to the New Orleans-based appeals court after finding that the
5th Circuit gave only "lipservice" to standards of review outlined by the
And recently, the Supreme Court indicated it would consider for a second
time another Texas death case (Miller-El vs. Cockrell) that it previously
sent back to the 5th Circuit last year.
The recent Texas death cases amount to a message for the judges on the 5th
Circuit, said Hofstra University law Professor Eric M. Freedman.
"They are being charged with the duty of bringing Texas into line with the
U.S. Constitution," he said.
Whether Kunkle's case will punctuate the court's message is uncertain.
The justices are in recess until October.
Anytime between now and this fall, they could decide to give Kunkle's case
a full review, or they could simply let the execution move forward.
(source: San Antonio Express-News)
Kunkle's execution is stayed -- Court wants to look at his troubled life
The U.S. Supreme Court stepped in Wednesday to stay the execution of Troy
Kunkle, who has been on death row for 19 years for the 1984 murder of a
Corpus Christi man.The high court said it needed more time to consider a
writ filed by Kunkle's lawyers. The court meets again in October, and the
justices could make a decision then.
"They are basically trying to decide what to do," said Dana Recer,
Recer said the stay was based on a 12-day-old Supreme Court decision that
said Texas courts have been applying an unconstitutional standard that did
not allow juries to consider mitigating circumstances, such as mental
illness, during capital murder trials.
Recer said jurors did not get to understand Kunkle's troubled background.
His parents have both been medicated for depression, he was abused, his
mother suffered from postpartum depression and was neglectful, and Kunkle
turned to hard drugs like LSD in an effort to self-medicate. She also
noted his age at the time of the murder was 2 1/2 months past his 18th
She added her client has since been diagnosed with mental illness.
Kunkle's appeal said: "Evidence demonstrated that Mr. Kunkle was the
product of a troubled and turbulent home environment, including parents
who had been medically treated for depression, which would naturally have
left him psychologically and emotionally scarred."
In a document filed by the Texas Attorney General's office with the high
court, lawyers said Kunkle's claims that mitigating circumstances should
have been considered were unmerited.
Kunkle's lawyers failed to demonstrate his parents' emotional problems or
that his removal from the family home affected him, according to lawyers
in the attorney general's office.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday rejected requests that
his sentence be commuted to life or he be given a 6-month reprieve.
Kunkle was convicted in the murder of Steven Horton, who was returning
home from playing pool at a local bar Aug. 12, 1984.
According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Kunkle and his
friends, Lora Lee Zaiontz, Russell Stanley and Aaron Adkins, were visiting
the beach from San Antonio. They saw Horton walking along Paul Jones
Avenue and offered him a ride. They demanded his wallet, which contained
Kunkle, according to the state's report, then told Stanley to kill Horton.
When Stanley refused, Kunkle took the .22-caliber pistol and shot Horton.
At the time of the killing, Kunkle reportedly quoted lyrics from heavy
metal band Metallica's song "No Remorse," from the album "Kill 'em All,"
when he said, "another day, another death, another sorrow, another
All 4 reportedly had taken LSD and were drinking. They were eventually
convicted of murder. Only Zaiontz remains incarcerated, prison officials
While Kunkle and his family rejoiced at the news of the stay,
disappointment filled the victim's family.
"It's not helping any of us," Mary Horton, the victim's mother, said
Wednesday. "I just hope they will change their minds and go through with
what they were supposed to do. I don't think he is getting what he should
get. I don't think he should be able to talk his way out of murder."
Grant Jones, who was Nueces County's district attorney when Kunkle was
prosecuted, said he understands the family's frustration, but added that
the process is important and can be lengthy.
"I want the appeals process to run its course," Jones said. "It's probably
a good idea for the Supreme Court to make sure all these issues have been
Recer said the court will likely kick the case down to federal court, and
Kunkle could get another day in court.
"I think Mr. Kunkle is going to get a new sentencing hearing," she said.
"It's the only fair thing."
But while the courts decide the next steps, the Hortons' anxiety will
mount, Horton said.
"They've had time enough to get this over with and let us rest a little,"
she said. "It's just like bringing memories back and doing it over again,
and again, and again."
(source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times)
Witnesses: Inmates fought to the death in cages
Rival inmates and gang members faced off in prison exercise cages where
they could fight, according to witnesses in a southeast Texas capital
Prisoners sometimes called the 15-by-20-foot exercise cages "the thunder
dome" or "gladiator school."
After one such beating in a cage in 2001, Luther Plant, of Orange, died.
Shannon Wayne Agofsky, of Noel, Mo., who is accused of killing him,
already was serving life without parole and faces the death penalty if
Christopher Matt, a prison guard at the U.S. Penitentiary in Beaumont,
testified that he was putting prisoners into the last in a row of 6 cages
when he heard "a thumping and a grunting sound."
Matt turned in time to see Agofsky, 33, using his foot to stomp another
inmate's head 3 cages away, Matt said. He called for backup and started
shooting the scene with a video camera.
Jurors on Tuesday saw a videotape of a dying Plant, 37, with his arms and
legs twitching, his face bloody and mangled. Testimony in the case
About two minutes after the beating, prison officials pulled Plant out of
the cage. He was pronounced dead less than 2 hours later.
Forensic pathologist Tommy Brown testified that Plant's throat was crushed
and he drowned in his own blood, according to Thursday's online edition of
the Beaumont Enterprise.
In the prison's Special Housing Unit, rule-breakers are allowed one hour
out of their cells each day. Matt testified that for that hour out, he
must determine which prisoners to put in which cages, based on who can get
along with whom.
But Matt said he detected no hostility between Agofsky and Plant.
Court documents show that Agofsky, who is taller than 6 feet and weighs
about 170 pounds, is a master of the Korean martial arts practice Hwa Rang
Do. Plant, who was 5-foot-8, was a heroin addict who suffered from
hepatitis C, according to testimony.
Plant was serving a 15-year sentence at the time of his death for arson
and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
(source : Associated Press)
Prosecutors present inmate as bully
Federal prosecutors this week painted Shannon Agofsky as a prison bully
fixated with fitness who preyed on weaker men.
The 33-year-old Noel, Mo., man is serving a life sentence without the
possibility of parole. He now is accused of killing 37-year-old Luther
Plant of Orange in a high-security recreation cage at the federal prison
here on Jan. 5, 2001.
If convicted of capital murder, he could face the death penalty.
Both sides rested their cases Wednesday and closing arguments are expected
Agofsky, who stands over 6 feet and weighs about 170 pounds, has a 1st-
degree black belt in Hwa Rang Do, a Korean martial arts discipline. In
1989, he earned a certification from Executive Security International
Ltd., a bodyguard training school in Rifle, Colo., that teaches the
The school's founder, Robert E. Duggan, testified Wednesday that Hwa Rang
Do is a fighting style with hundreds of moves, using the feet and hands
for kicking and striking. The school's training, he said, is comparable to
that of the Secret Service.
"Actually, I think we're better than them," he said.
Agofsky was a "talented" student, courteous and well-behaved, Duggan said.
3 federal inmates who witnessed the attack testified on Agofsky's behalf
Scott A. Lawson, who was Plant's cellmate for several weeks in 2000, said
Plant had made threats against Agofsky.
All 3 prisoners said Plant threw the 1st punch but didn't land one,
butressing the defense contention that Agofsky acted in self-defense.
Another inmate gave testimony supporting earlier statements from a prison
Federal prison inmate Richard C. Ward said he saw Agofsky repeatedly
stomping Plant's head and neck as he lay defenseless on a cement floor.
Plant was pronounced dead less than two hours later.
"I just never seen nothing like that in my life," said Ward, who is
serving time for two Florida bank robberies. "(Plant) didn't know what was
coming. There's no way he could have."
Plant, who was serving a 15-year sentence for arson and felon in
possession of a firearm, was 5-foot-8 and pudgy, addicted to heroin and
had hepatitis C, according to testimony.
Agofsky also is accused of beating another inmate - 60-year-old Michael
Miele - in a similar, if less severe, fashion 6 months before the attack
on Plant. A prison guard described Miele as fat, aging and out-of-shape.
Agofsky was disciplined for the earlier attack, but formal criminal
charges never were filed.
(source: The Beaumont Enterprise)
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