death penalty news----CALIF., ILL., PENN., FLA., N.Y.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Jul 11 19:40:18 CDT 2004
Death sentence brings closure---- The family of a Costa Mesa boy who was
murdered 25 years ago says they can now begin the healing process.
The death sentence ordered by a Riverside County judge for a man who
kidnapped, molested and murdered a 13-year-old Costa Mesa boy and molested
another in Newport Beach marks the end of years of legal ordeals and the
dredging of memories that have haunted Newport-Mesa for a quarter-century.
James Lee Crummel, 60, will face the death penalty for abducting and
killing James "Jamey" Trotter, who disappeared on April 19, 1979 while he
was on his way to Gisler Middle School. The boy was reportedly last seen
walking on Harbor Boulevard from the motel where he and his mother,
Barbara Trotter Brogli, were staying. But he ended up dead in a remote
area off Ortega Highway.
After investigators spent years piecing together forensic evidence,
linking Crummel's proximity to Trotter in 1979, and uncovering what
prosecutors said were Crummel's frequent trips to the wooded trail where
the boy's remains were found, Crummel was found guilty May 18 by a
Riverside County jury.
Riverside Superior Court Judge Dennis A. McConaghy handed down the
sentence Friday. The Trotter family had urged the judge to sentence
Crummel to death.
The trial was held in a Riverside court because Trotter's remains were
found on a section of Ortega Highway in Riverside County.
Family and friends now hope that the tragedy that befell them does not
destroy other lives while they try to piece their own back together.
"He'll get neither mercy nor forgiveness from me," Jamey's brother, Jeff
Trotter, said Saturday. "I'm a Christian, but I'm not Christ."
Trotter, who spoke in court on Friday, said making statements in front of
the judge gave him the opportunity to "vent and release a great deal of
Trotter implored Crummel to tell the parents of other children he might
have murdered about where he left or buried their remains so that those
parents could have some closure, he said.
Trotter said his younger brother's death left a void in his life that has
never been filled.
"It doesn't matter what picture you look at or what memory you pick up,
there's someone missing there and that'll never change," he said. "At this
point, the healing will probably start, but our wounds will never close."
Crummel's defense has argued that the prosecution built its case on
conjecture about Crummel's past, which includes a history of pedophilia.
Public Defender May Ann Galante, who could not be reached for comment
Saturday, had said that her client "had expected the worst" and that the
case would automatically be appealed. She also said that it would be
several years before Crummel would be put to death.
Crummel was already serving a life sentence for molesting a boy in his
Newport Crest condominium. He was arrested in 1997, and was a part of one
of Newport Beach's 1st high-profile Megan's Law cases. Many neighbors
protested day and night outside his home in an effort to evict him from
the neighborhood.Officials said in 1997 it was Crummel himself who led
police to Jamey's charred remains. Jamey's death has made his family come
closer and become stronger, Trotter said.
"But Jamey shouldn't have been the cause of it," he said. "He should've
been a part of it."
Barbara Brogli said Saturday that she was pleased that Crummel "got what
"If someone does something so horrible to so many little children, they
deserve to die," she said.
She said she realized the appeal process could take as many as 22 years,
and that Crummel's life would probably end before his execution by law.
"But this is a strong statement that such crimes will not be tolerated and
deserve this kind of punishment," she said. "I'm relieved that he has been
put away for the rest of his life and won't be able to do to any other
child what he did to mine. No parent should have to go through this."
Jamey's friend, Keith Johnson, who also testified during the trial, said
he felt "relieved that it's over."
"I'm glad they saw through him for who he really was, not who [the
defense] said he was," Johnson said. "I'm glad he'll never get out and do
this to another kid."
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Sentencing ruling splits court
In a lightning-fast reaction to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision
last month that left federal sentencing laws in upheaval, a split federal
appeals court in Chicago agreed Friday on this much: More guidance is
needed from the nation's highest court.
Ruling in the appeal of a man sentenced in Wisconsin to 30 years in prison
for dealing crack cocaine, a 3-judge panel of the 7th Circuit U.S. Court
of Appeals concluded in a 2-1 decision that federal sentencing guidelines
violate the 6th Amendment right to a fair trial as a result of the Supreme
Court's recent Blakely vs. Washington decision.
"We cannot be certain of this," said the majority opinion, written by
Judge Richard A. Posner. "But we cannot avoid the duty to decide an issue
squarely presented to us. If our decision is wrong, may the Supreme Court
speedily reverse it." Judge Michael S. Kanne joined in the decision.
Judge Frank H. Easterbrook closed his dissent in dramatic fashion,
writing, "Today's decision will discombobulate the whole criminal-law
"I trust that our superiors will have something to say about this," he
said in reference to the Supreme Court. "Soon."
Lawyers said the Blakely decision is among the most important Supreme
Court decisions for criminal defendants since the Miranda ruling in 1966.
Although it dealt with a case in Washington state, the Blakely ruling
raised constitutional problems with an everyday practice as well in
federal courts: judges increasing convicted defendants' sentences based on
evidence not presented to juries. Also problematic, the high court found,
was that judges base their decisions on a preponderance of the evidence,
not the higher standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt required of
Legal experts believe the Blakely ruling will have an impact on
potentially tens of thousands of criminal cases nationwide that await
trial or sentencing or are on appeal.
In its ruling, the 7th Circuit said it expedited its decision in an
attempt to provide guidance as a result of "an avalanche of motions for
resentencing" in Blakely's aftermath.
In deciding the appeal of the Wisconsin case, the court ordered
resentencing for Freddie J. Booker for his crack-cocaine conviction,
suggesting he may face a maximum of about 22 years in prison.
In papers filed last week, one Chicago lawyer contended his client, once
likely facing life imprisonment because of a federal drug-conspiracy
conviction, should be freed from custody because he has been incarcerated
longer than the 21-month prison terms he now faces as a result of the
Blakely fallout. Prosecutors didn't prove during the trial that Andre
Seymour personally sold any drugs, dramatically reducing the sentence he
faces, said attorney Robert Loeb.
(source: Chicago Tribune)
Starved boy's father avoids death penalty with guilty plea
The father of an 18-month-old boy who starved to death in Streamwood 3
years ago has pleaded guilty to 1st-degree murder.
Kristian Fredrickson, 27, entered the guilty plea in Cook County Circuit
Court on Friday. He faces 20 to 100 years in prison when he is sentenced
Prosecutor Tom Byrne said Saturday that Fredrickson's crime was so brutal
and heinous that he plans to seek as long a term as possible. But the plea
agreement means prosecutors will not seek the death penalty, Byrne said.
"Based on the facts of this case, we are going to seek an extended term,"
Amanda Fredrickson, the boy's mother, has not entered a guilty plea and is
awaiting trial on murder charges. Her trial date has not been set.
James Fredrickson weighed less than 11 pounds in December 2001 when he was
found emaciated in his crib in a home that was "filthy and unlivable." He
had gained only about a pound since his birth. Experts said a normal child
that age should weigh 2 to 3 times more than he did.
Prosecutors said the boy was so severely malnourished that his body was
forced to consume itself in an effort to survive.
But the Fredricksons and their 5-year-old daughter had plenty of food at
home, authorities said at the time. They admitted to not caring for the
child, authorities said.
The couple had met in high school in upscale Barrington. They married in
1996 and later moved into a condominium in Streamwood.
Kristian Fredrickson is in Cook County Jail.
(source: Chicago Sun-Times)
Sullivan County District Attorney Max Little announced this week he would
seek the death penalty in the murder trial of Jason Gottstein of
Gottstein, 20, of Elizabeth Street, is accused of shooting to death
74-year-old Roger F. Bardman during the course of a robbery at the man's
Laporte Township home in early April.
"I filed the notice of aggravated circumstances," Little said on Saturday.
"That puts the defendant on notice that if the commonwealth goes to trial
we will seek that sentence," Little added.
Gottstein will remain incarcerated in the Wyoming County Prison until his
murder trial, which is set to begin with jury selections on Oct. 25. The
accused murderer was on the run for more than a week, before being
apprehended on April 15 by police in North Las Vegas, Nev.
He was taken into custody at a large Pilot truck stop, with a cardboard
sign next to him reading "Los Angeles."
In his backpack, police allegedly found an unloaded 9mm gun and drug
paraphernalia. He told North Las Vegas police that he skipped across the
country by hitchhiking with truck drivers.
Gottstein was placed in the North Las Vegas Detention Center before being
extradited to Pennsylvania about a week later.
After being processed by State Police at Laporte, he was charged with
first-, second- and third-degree murder, along with robbery and burglary.
At his preliminary hearing on June 3, District Justice Linda Baumunk,
Laporte Township, ruled there was enough evidence to bring Gottstein to
trial in the Sullivan County Court of Common Pleas.
At the hearing, Gottstein's self-proclaimed best friend, Matthew Martin,
18, of Glen Lyon, testified that Gottstein confessed to shooting Bardman,
who lived near Gottstein's parent's summer home, 4 times in the stomach
and once in the head.
Gottstein showed Martin $300 he allegedly stole from Bardman, as well as
Bardman's driver's license and Social Security card.
Also at the hearing, State Trooper Vince Shreffler revealed a note found
at the home of Gottstein's parents in Wilkes-Barre, shortly after
It read: "I've done something terrible. I wish I could take it back. The
last few years of my life have been a slope headed straight down to the
bottom floor. You will probably never see me again."
Little declined to speak about any specifics of the case.
(source: Citizens Voice)
An uncertain capital case
Before the state takes a life, which it does in your name and mine, it
should be clear to a moral certainty that the prisoner is guilty and that
he is among the worst of the worst.
Florida has been moving in that direction for a long time, but we're not
there yet. A case in point is that of Michael Lambrix, who was condemned
20 years ago for the deaths of a man and woman near Fort Myers. The state
claimed he killed them to take their car. His story is that the man killed
the woman and that he killed the man while trying to save her. For reasons
that only lawyers understand, Lambrix has never been able to tell it to a
He was once a day away from the electric chair when a stay came through.
Later, the U.S. Supreme Court said that sentencing proceedings like his
weren't fair, but when he asked for the same break the court held 5-4 that
because he had already lost his direct appeal the "new rule" did not
A few months after that, the Florida Supreme Court ruled against him a 7th
time and he wanted a new lawyer. So he wrote to Gov. Lawton Chiles. Sign
my death warrant, he said. Set my execution date. That will make them find
me a new lawyer.
When I last wrote about him, it was to deplore the inhuman
hypertechnicality of a judiciary that would let one man die under
circumstances identical to those under which it spared another.
The Lambrix case has now taken an even stranger turn.
It brings to mind why smart cops and prosecutors have a saying that to
sleep with a witness is to mess up the case. (That is not the precise
phraseology, but this is a family newspaper, not the well of the U.S.
At a hearing before a circuit judge three months ago, a witness who was
instrumental in sending Lambrix to death row said under oath that she was
having a brief affair with a lead investigator during the prosecution. The
witness, Frances Smith-Ottinger, had been Lambrix's girlfriend, was caught
driving the stolen car, and for a time was a suspect herself.
No one else knew about the alleged affair when Lambrix was tried. Had his
attorneys known, they could have used it to attack her testimony. The
average time from conviction to execution is 11.85 years, and if the state
had succeeded in killing Lambrix that quickly no one would know now.
"There were some rumors about this that came to light," says Dan
Hallenberg, Lambrix's lawyer from the Capital Collateral regional office
at Fort Lauderdale. "We simply asked her, I expected her to deny it,
everybody's mouth dropped open."
What's more, there's a second witness who says under oath that she lied at
the trial to make it look as if Lambrix killed in cold blood to steal the
car. That witness, Deborah Hanzel, says in a sworn affidavit that she lied
about what Lambrix told her in a telephone conversation. She says she lied
because Smith-Ottinger put her up to it.
"Because of the stories the police and Francis Smith were telling me about
Mr. Lambrix," she said in an affidavit, "I was convinced that he likely
would come after my children and me . . ." So she let Smith persuade her
to "back up her story by telling the police that Mr. Lambrix told me that
he killed the people in order to steal their car. . . .
"When I asked Frances if that was what really happened, she told me she
didn't really know what happened outside but that Mr. Lambrix had told her
that the guy went nuts and he had to hit him."
It would be an understatement to call this a messed-up case. With so much
in doubt about it, how could anyone still insist on Lambrix's execution?
Yet the game goes on. The state is concededing nothing. From its
viewpoint, witnesses who say now that they were lying then could as easily
be lying now.
"I don't think the taxpayers would want to pay for an entire new trial
when there was no constitutional error committed in the trial in 1984,"
says Carol Dittmar, the assistant attorney general in charge of the case.
"If you give him a new trial, you're giving him a chance to litigate
another 20 years in postconviction. I don't think that's a good way to
spend taxpayer money."
Maybe not. But if the judge decides that Smith-Ottinger is telling the
truth about the affair - the former investigator, Robert Daniels, hasn't
been heard from yet - it seems to me there would remain only one decent
alternative to a new trial. That would be to offer Lambrix a plea bargain.
His case has its own holes, chiefly that he did bury the bodies and did
take off with the car. His excuse, that he was technically an escapee,
having walked away from a work release center on a forgery conviction,
might not be persuasive with a jury.
But neither does it prove that he killed in cold blood, or that this case
merits the death penalty more than the 99 % of homicides in which it is
not sought or imposed.
It is cases like this that reiterate a fundamental question: Is capital
punishment worth whatever good anyone thinks it does?
(source: Column, Martin Dyckman, St. Petersburg Times)
Death penalty ruling brings Assembly foes back into play
Opponents of capital punishment in New York say they hope a court ruling
invalidating the state's death penalty statute will prompt the state
Legislature to make a detailed analysis of how the law has worked since it
took effect on Sept. 1, 1995.
The state's highest court on June 24 ruled that a sentencing statute in
the law is unconstitutional. That decision has prosecutors and supporters
of capital punishment looking to the Legislature to make amendments to the
statute to correct its legal infirmities, and to do it fast.
Prosecutors have been prohibited from seeking the death penalty against
defendants since the ruling.
"We will fix whatever we have to fix," state Senate Majority Leader Joseph
But the latest Court of Appeals ruling on the death penalty had Sen. Dale
Volker, an Erie County Republican and chief capital punishment proponent
in the Legislature, discouraged about the chances that a death sentence
would ever be upheld by the court under its current makeup.
"My heart is not in it because I don't think there is necessarily a need
for a fix," Volker said. "I think that no matter what we do, they're going
to find something else wrong with the law."
Still, Volker said he would "play the game" and work with the Assembly and
Gov. George Pataki's office to develop amendments to the law.
The Senate and Assembly both plan to come back into session the week of
The June 24 ruling marked the fourth time the Court of Appeals threw out a
death penalty in the four capital sentence appeals it had heard. The
ruling also eliminated death as the punishment for the remaining three
prisoners on death row in New York.
No one was executed under the 1995 law that Pataki promised to establish
during his successful campaign in 1994 against anti-capital punishment
Gov. Mario Cuomo.
The absence of executions under the 1995 statute should prompt Pataki and
the Legislature to take a longer, more analytical look at the law to find
ways to make it better, capital punishment opponents said.
David Kaczynski, head of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, estimated
that the 1995 death penalty law has cost taxpayers about $170 million so
"I guess at this point the Legislature has a choice _ Do they want to
start from scratch or do they want to realize it's not worth the cost to
continue this?" Kaczynski said.
Putting death penalty legislation before the state Assembly could also
renew the divisiveness the law originally created in 1995. The Democrats
who dominate the Assembly were against reinstating capital punishment
52-41, though the bill was approved overwhelmingly thanks to 53 "yes"
votes from Assembly Republicans.
Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, a Buffalo Democrat, said DNA evidence showing that
people convicted of crimes were innocent, moratoriums in other states on
the death penalty and other experiences with capital punishment nationally
should cause the Legislature to rethink the issue.
"I am hopeful that the court decision will allow us to open the
discussions about the merits of the death penalty," said Hoyt, who voted
against the legislation in 1995. "Is it working? The short answer is
nobody's been put to death. Is it working to act as a deterrent? I don't
think there is any empiric data that shows that."
Hoyt said a moratorium on use of the death penalty should be considered.
Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, a Queens Democrat who also voted against the
1995 legislation, said he thinks the Assembly and Senate are inclined to
"fix" the death penalty statute to address the court ruling. But he said
the experience of New York and other states with capital punishment,
especially in its uneven application to white and minority defendants,
should give both foes and supporters in New York pause.
"For those of us who are morally opposed to it, any opportunity to slow it
down is welcome," Aubry said.
The leader of the Democrats in the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, has promised
only to discuss whether to take up amendments to the capital punishment
law with his Democratic conference. Silver voted to reinstate the death
penalty in 1995, and in several previous years the bill came before the
(source: Associated Press)
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