[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----TEXAS, OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Jul 15 11:24:31 CDT 2004
Actress visits death row inmate--Sarandon meets pen pal, set for execution
With a brisk walk, actress Susan Sarandon made an unannounced trip
Wednesday to Texas to visit her pen pal a convicted murderer on death row.
She had corresponded with the inmate, James Vernon Allridge III, for
several years after buying some of the detailed drawings of flowers and
animals he creates with colored pencils.
Prison officials said she had only recently been put on his visitation
list, and she would not tip her hand as to why she had come to see
Allridge, who is scheduled for execution Aug. 26.
"I'm trying to be as low-profile as possible. It fits the strategy at this
time," Sarandon said, declining to comment further. She wore tennis shoes
and a loose pants outfit without a belt to avoid setting off the metal
"Susan is just here for a visit. It's just communication between two
friends," said David Atwood, founder of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the
Death Penalty, after escorting Sarandon to the prison near Livingston.
"She just told him to stay strong, that she would pray for him and was
thinking of him."
He said they had discussed the possibility of her doing something on
Allridge's behalf but "that will be left up to his attorneys."
Sarandon became more acutely aware of the death penalty when she portrayed
a nun who was a spiritual adviser to a death row inmate in Dead Man
Walking, for which she earned a best actress Oscar in 1996.
After the movie was released, she told the Houston Chronicle, "I've always
thought intellectually that (the death penalty) didn't make sense. It's
expensive; it's arbitrary and capricious; it's not a deterrent."
She said the role crystallized her feelings to the point that she
realized: "It's not important who is to die, but who is to kill and what
it means to recognize the humanity in everyone. I feel more clearly now
that there is no reason to kill."
Wednesday, she did not want to publicly discuss her views.
Allridge, who speaks to visitors by telephone through a Plexiglas barrier,
had initially agreed to be interviewed by the Chronicle after Sarandon
left. He later declined on the advice of his attorney.
"It's not important who is to die, but who is to kill and what it means to
recognize the humanity in everyone. I feel more clearly now that there is
no reason to kill."
The 41-year-old inmate has spent the past 17 years on death row much
longer than the average inmate, including his older brother, Ronald, who
was executed in 1995.
James Allridge was sentenced to death for fatally shooting Fort Worth
convenience store clerk Brian Clendennen while robbing the store of $300
The same year, during another robbery, his brother fatally shot a
19-year-old diner at a fast-food restaurant. He shot her because she was
"penniless," news accounts at the time said.
Ronald had spent 3 1/2 years in prison in the late 1970s for killing a
high school student and had been accused of killing the store manager of a
pizza-delivery business where he worked, authorities said.
"In 1985, the 2 brothers had gone on a spree of robberies and killings.
Each was driving the getaway cars for the other when their capital murders
happened," said Mike Parrish, the Tarrant County prosecutor in James
James Allridge knew his victim would recognize him because they had
attended a management training school together, Parrish said.
"He came out of the store and thought about it, but then went back inside
to rob the place and shoot him," he said.
Parrish said other robbery cases, including one in which Allridge
allegedly pointed a gun at a 4-year-old, were dropped after the murder
About Sarandon's visit, Parrish said, "Nothing surprises me anymore. Like
all those people from Europe who send (Allridge) money. It's surreal."
On a Web site where Allridge sells his art, he writes about his past and
does not deny killing the clerk.
"I'm not making excuses," he said. "But there was a lot of pressure from
my older brother ... who was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic."
He also expresses regret that anyone had to "lose their life for me to
become the person I am today." He writes he has been rehabilitated and is
no longer a danger to society.
He, along with Atwood and Sarandon, wants his sentence commuted to life.
"Susan has written to him for a number of years and sees him as a person
who has changed and developed. She is impressed by his accomplishments
like his art and intelligence," Atwood said.
"I've never met any death row inmate that is more rehabilitated," he said.
Judge rejects court of inquiry----Rules legal time frame has expired in
ex-DNA lab chief's alleged perjury
A court of inquiry that was to investigate problems related to the
discredited Houston police DNA laboratory came to an abrupt end Wednesday
with the release of a judge's ruling that the legal time frame had passed.
In an order dated Monday, state District Judge Dean Rucker ruled that the
statute of limitations has expired regarding an allegation that former
Houston Police Department DNA lab chief James Bolding committed aggravated
perjury during a June 2002 sexual assault trial.
Transcripts from the trial of Keith Grimes indicate Bolding testified that
he had a doctorate in biochemistry, which he does not.
Defense attorney Butch Bradt, one of the lawyers who requested the rare
court of inquiry, has maintained that Bolding exaggerated his
qualifications to give his testimony more weight with the jury.
Bolding has insisted that he never made the statement, blaming the
confusion on a court reporter's mistake. He declined to comment Wednesday
on Rucker's ruling.
The determining factor for Rucker was the 2-year statute of limitations,
which expired last month.
"Even if this Court found probable cause that James Bolding committed the
offense of perjury or aggravated perjury on June 14, 2002, and issued a
warrant for his arrest, charges would be subject to dismissal because the
statute of limitations has expired," the judge wrote.
Rucker, of Midland, was appointed in June to oversee the case by Olen
Underwood of Conroe, the presiding administrative judge of the Houston
State District Judge Jan Krocker of Houston had asked Underwood to convene
a court of inquiry after she concluded there was compelling evidence that
Bolding had committed aggravated perjury.
The brief history of the court of inquiry:
June 1 : State District Judge Jan Krocker rules there is probable cause
that former Houston Police Department DNA lab chief Jim Bolding committed
aggravated perjury. Krocker asks state District Judge Olen Underwood to
appoint a judge to oversee a court of inquiry.
June 15 : Underwood assigns state District Judge Dean Rucker to preside
over the court.
July 1 : Rucker convenes the court and hears oral arguments from
July 12 : Rucker signs an order terminating the court of inquiry.
In addition to his ruling on the perjury issue, Rucker rejected a request
by Bradt and two other local lawyers that the scope of the court of
inquiry be expanded. They wanted the court to also explore allegations
that two prosecutors with the Harris County District Attorney's Office
solicited false testimony from witnesses in other cases.
Rucker also rejected that idea, writing that "to continue the court of
inquiry proceedings would constitute a waste of valuable resources."
District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal had opposed convening the court, even
though all of the local state criminal district judges had asked him to
recuse himself and his office from any investigation of the police crime
lab because of a possible conflict of interest.
Rosenthal noted that the perjury allegations against Bolding already had
been reviewed by at least two grand juries, which declined to issue
indictments. He said Wednesday that Rucker's ruling was not unexpected.
"I thought, to begin with, that the allegations were more (argumentative)
than substantial," Rosenthal said.
He added, however, that he does not believe the DNA lab debate will end
Stan Schneider, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers
"There are more cases out there," Schneider said, although he would not
Kathryn Kase, one of the lawyers who originally requested a court of
inquiry, also urged a closer review of DNA lab-related problems and the
Harris County criminal justice system.
"I think what's important to remember is that there has been a systemic
failure here," said Kase, who is married to Houston Chronicle editor Jeff
Cohen. "And a case-by-case review is obviously warranted. There has to be
a systemic inquiry into what went wrong."
The police DNA lab was shut down in December 2002 after an independent
audit revealed poor scientific methods and substandard working conditions
at the facility.
The district attorney's office is reviewing evidence processed by the lab
in almost 400 cases, and potential problems have been found in about 20 %
of the almost 300 retests conducted thus far.
(source for both: Houston Chronicle)
Volunteer never said why he killed girlfriend, daughter
A man who killed his girlfriend and their daughter, then hid their bodies
in the family apartment's refrigerator and freezer for a month, kept
silent about his motives to the end.
Stephen Vrabel, 47, was pronounced dead at 10:14 a.m. Wednesday at the
Southern Ohio Correction Facility. He had asked to be executed for his two
murder convictions, and was the 2nd death row inmate since 1999 to drop
his appeals to speed the process.
Vrabel gave his brief final statement in a clear voice: "I want to thank
my sister for all the joy and happiness she brought into Lisa's life and I
want to apologize to anyone I may have wronged in my life," he said.
Although Vrabel confessed to shooting 29-year-old Susan Clemente and
3-year-old Lisa Clemente on March 3, 1989, he never gave a reason.
Gov. Bob Taft declined Monday to stop Vrabel's execution. The Ohio Parole
Board earlier voted against recommending clemency.
Wilford Berry, dubbed "The Volunteer," was the 1st inmate executed after
Ohio resumed carrying out the death penalty. Vrabel was the 13th man
executed since 1999, and was the 5th this year.
Another inmate who dropped his appeals is scheduled to be executed next
Tuesday. Scott Mink, 40, pleaded guilty at trial to beating his parents to
death with a ball-peen hammer while they slept.
Vrabel's sister and nephew visited Tuesday and witnessed the execution
Wednesday. Karen Koval blew him a kiss and whispered "I love you" after he
was strapped to the gurney. Vrabel turned his head and gave his sister a
big smile. He smiled at her again after making his statement.
Vrabel began blinking rapidly, and after the drugs took effect, he
breathed deeply 3 times, gasped twice, then took a series of shallow
The execution team had trouble inserting a shunt into Vrabel's right arm
before the execution and finally got it in after several tries.
Koval sobbed quietly throughout the execution and leaned on her son, Greg
Koval. Susan Clemente's father, son, two brothers and two brothers-in-law
also witnessed the execution. The men were silent and did not show any
Afterward, one of Clemente's brothers-in-law addressed the media, joined
by 18 other family members and friends.
"Susan and Lisa Clemente have finally been put to rest after 15 years of
legal battles with the court system. They both can rest in peace now
knowing that this nightmare has finally come to an end," Kenneth Kotouch
said, standing near poster-sized photographs of the victims.
"There were no winners today, there was only justice," he said.
Vrabel has never said why he shot Susan Clemente in their apartment in the
Youngstown suburb of Struthers. He said he shot their daughter - whom he
described in an interview Friday as a "perfect child" - because she was
"freaking out" about her mother's death and he thought killing her was
best because her mother was dead and he was going to jail.
Vrabel had bought the handgun that day.
After the shootings, Vrabel fled the apartment but returned days later and
placed Clemente's body in the refrigerator and Lisa's in the freezer along
with her favorite stuffed animals, a bear and a bunny. Vrabel continued to
live in the apartment for a month.
A relative of Clemente's found the bodies when he went to the apartment to
collect overdue rent money. When he learned of the discovery, Vrabel
confessed to a priest and then to police.
Vrabel worked various jobs, including as a floor stripper, gas station
attendant and jewelry salesman. Clemente was a nursing home aide.
After spending 5 years at a psychiatric center, Vrabel was ruled competent
to stand trial in 1995 and was convicted of 2 counts of aggravated murder.
At trial, Vrabel's attorneys tried to prove that he was insane and could
not distinguish between right and wrong. Numerous issues were raised in
his appeal, including that he was incompetent to stand trial.
Vrabel had delusions that his attorneys were acting as spies, according to
a 1990 psychiatrist's report. When Vrabel was later found competent, one
expert concluded that Vrabel had faked his mental illness to avoid
The Ohio Supreme Court upheld Vrabel's death sentence by a 4-3 vote last
year. Chief Justice Thomas Moyer argued that Vrabel didn't fall into the
category of killers the state's death penalty was reserved for because of
his mental health problems.
(source: Associated Press)
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