[Deathpenalty]death penalty news --- UTAH; S.D.; CALIF.
j_sommer at gmx.net
Wed Jul 21 23:49:17 CDT 2004
death penalty news
July 21, 2004
Prosecutors Seeking Death Penalty in 1976 Murder
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against the man accused in a
28-year-old "cold case" murder.
Gayle Gilbert Benavidez was charged yesterday with capital murder in the
death of a 24-year-old woman near a Salt Lake City halfway house back in 1976.
Carolyn Sarkensians was found raped and strangled near the halfway house
where Benavidez had been living following a 1975 conviction for raping a
A recent D-N-A test linked Benavidez to the crime.
Benavidez has a lengthy criminal record dating back to 1973 that includes
two rape convictions.
SOUTH DAKOTA - possible federal death penalty trial
U.S. officials talk death penalty procedures for Sjodin case
The U.S. Attorney for North Dakota traveled to Washington this week to
discuss the possibility of seeking the death penalty for the man charged in
the killing of University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin.
Drew Wrigley, U.S. Attorney for North Dakota, said he met with the Justice
Department's Capital Case Unit on Tuesday. The group helps federal
prosecutors follow the legal requirements in death penalty cases.
"I want to make sure we don't have any undue bureaucratic delay,'' Wrigley
Wrigley said the meeting was not attended by U.S. Attorney General John
Ashcroft, who will make the final decision whether to seek the death
penalty for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.
Ashcroft will not begin considering the case until he gets Wrigley's
recommendation and hears from the defense. Wrigley wouldn't comment on when
he would make his recommendation.
Rodriguez, 51, a convicted rapist from Crookston, Minn., is charged with
kidnapping that resulted in the death of Sjodin, 22, of Pequot Lakes,
Minn., who disappeared from a Grand Forks mall last November. Her body was
found April 17, in a ravine near Crookston.
Rodriguez has pleaded not guilty.
Rodriguez's trial is still at least months away. In June, U.S. District
Judge Ralph Erickson postponed the trial until prosecutors decide whether
to seek the death penalty.
The process, once it reaches Ashcroft, usually takes at least four months,
though it varies case by case, said Dick Burr, a Houston attorney who
serves on the federally funded Death Penalty Resource Council.
"There's really no way that those of us outside of the Justice Department
can predict it,'' said Burr, whose council helps defense teams in capital
Prosecutors Attack Peterson's Character
Prosecutors in Scott Peterson's murder trial are again portraying the
former fertilizer salesman as a lying philanderer who didn't act the part
of a grieving husband after his pregnant wife, Laci, vanished.
Modesto police Detective Richard House testified Tuesday that Peterson
rented a private mailbox on Dec. 23, 2002, a day before he reported Laci
missing. On Jan. 9, 2003, House said, Peterson received a letter to the
mailbox from his mistress, Amber Frey. Prosecutors allege the affair was
the motive for the slaying.
Prosecutor Dave Harris then asked House about a wedding album of the
Petersons, implying Scott Peterson intended to throw out the photographs
less than two months after Laci went missing.
House testified Peterson rented a storage unit that was packed with
miscellaneous items, including the pictures in a small wastebasket, when
police searched it Feb. 18.
Under cross-examination by Mark Geragos, Peterson's lawyer, House
acknowledged that it didn't look like the photos had been thrown away.
Last week, prosecutors implied a plastic pitcher found in a warehouse where
Peterson stored his small boat was the mold for cement anchors they allege
he later tied to Laci's body before dumping it in San Francisco Bay.
But a detective acknowledged that forensic analysis indicated the pitcher
was not the mold, and in a courtroom demonstration the anchor was clearly
not a fit.
Experts said Tuesday that the state's case against Peterson appeared to be
"If you can't convince your own detective about your theory, how do you
convince the jury?" said former San Francisco prosecutor Jim Hammer, who is
watching the trial. "It's devastating if the jury begins to believe the DA
is telling half the truth."
House was scheduled to take the stand again Wednesday.
Prosecutors allege Peterson murdered his wife in their Modesto home on or
around Christmas Eve 2002, then drove to the bay and dumped the body.
Peterson claims he was fishing alone on the bay that day and returned to an
empty home. Geragos asserts Peterson was framed by the real killer.
The remains of Laci Peterson and the couple's fetus washed ashore just two
miles from where Peterson claims he was fishing. He could face the death
penalty or life without parole if convicted on the double-murder charges.
Earlier Tuesday, defense attorneys continued to push their contention that
police didn't thoroughly pursue leads that may have pointed to other suspects.
Under cross-examination, Detective Ray Coyle elaborated on his earlier
testimony that Modesto police investigating Laci's disappearance questioned
hundreds of registered sex offenders and parolees, but decided not to
follow up even though investigators couldn't verify some of their alibis.
While being questioned by prosecutors, Coyle said more than half of the
offenders' stories checked out, though that didn't necessarily eliminate
them as suspects.
"A lot of them had alibis," Coyle said, adding that efforts to track down
the offenders didn't dilute authorities' suspicions that Peterson was the
Prosecutor Rick Distaso also pointed out that several of the offenders were
elderly, dead, sick or incarcerated.
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