[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----VA., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Jul 27 16:57:44 CDT 2004
VIRGINIA----federal death penalty to be sought
Feds to seek death penalty for killer of JMU students
Federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty for a Pennsylvania man who
is already serving 20 years in prison for the 1996 shooting deaths of two
James Madison University students.
Brent K. Simmons, 31, entered Alford pleas in 1998 to reduced charges of
second-degree murder after a Rockingham County Circuit Court jury
deadlocked in his capital murder trial. The plea meant he did not admit
guilt, but acknowledged that the prosecution had enough evidence to
At the time of the trial, there was no physical evidence linking Simmons
to the deaths of his former girlfriend, Ann M. Olson, 25, and her
boyfriend, Keith J. O'Connell, 23.
However, two years later a diver found a 9mm handgun similar to the one
used in the execution-style slayings in a lake near Simmons' hometown of
Carlisle, Pa. Harrisonburg police said the serial number on the weapon
matched one on a gun Simmons bought 2 months before the murders.
In March, a federal grand jury indicted Simmons on 2 counts of a use of a
firearm in the commission of murder and on an interstate stalking count.
The new charges were made under the federal Violence Against Women Act,
which former President Clinton signed into law in 1996, a month before the
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft filed notice of intent to seek the
death penalty Monday, U.S. Attorney John L. Brownlee said Monday.
Simmons' trial is scheduled for Feb. 7 in federal court in Harrisonburg.
(source: Associated Press)
Jury sees Scott Peterson's boat, hears from fishing expert
Jurors took a brief field trip Tuesday to inspect the boat that
prosecutors allege Scott Peterson used to dump his pregnant wife's body
into San Francisco Bay.
Prosecutors later planned to question an employee from the company that
makes the 14-foot Gamefisher that Peterson bought weeks before Laci
The boat is important because prosecutors want to establish that Peterson
could have heaved the 153-pound body overboard without the boat capsizing.
The defense disputes that theory.
The judge did not let reporters accompany jurors Tuesday.
A day earlier, Peterson's fishing alibi was attacked as prosecutors
questioned his choice of bait and anchor the day he said he went fishing
on the bay on Christmas Eve 2002, the same day he reported his wife
Prosecutors maintain Peterson wasn't fishing for sturgeon and striped bass
on Christmas Eve in 2002, but instead used the story as a cover.
Commercial fisherman Angelo Cuanang led the jury Monday through his
conclusions about the defendant's story: Peterson's gear was all wrong and
his homemade cement anchor wouldn't have held his boat against the bay's
During cross-examination, however, Cuanang conceded that it wasn't unusual
that an amateur angler such as Peterson might make a trip without
preparing like a professional.
(source: Associated Press)
Death penalty tossed for double murderer
The California Supreme Court overturned its 2nd death penalty in as many
weeks Monday, ruling that the trial lawyers for a Whittier man convicted
of a double murder failed to include testimony that he was abandoned by
his mother and then brutalized as a child.
By a unanimous vote, the seven justices upheld the murder conviction of
Larry Douglas Lucas but tossed out his death sentence, finding that if the
jurors had known about the constant beatings and abuse he had endured as a
child, they might not have sentenced him to die.
Lucas, 54, was sent to death row for the 1986 fatal stabbings of an
elderly couple who lived next door to him in Whittier.
In reversing his death sentence, the court faulted his lawyers, James
Patterson and Richard LaPan, for not presenting any evidence at the
penalty phase of his trial, saying they had failed to conduct an "adequate
investigation" in preparing for the sentencing stage.
"Evidence readily could have been discovered that would have demonstrated
the severe emotional and physical abuse suffered by petitioner as a
preschooler and a young child,'' Chief Justice Ronald George wrote in the
He noted that Lucas' sister and others who lived with the family had said
at an evidentiary hearing on Lucas' appeal that he was regularly beaten by
his mother and stepfather, burned with cigarettes and barely given enough
to eat. At age 7, he was placed in the first of a string of homes for
abused and neglected children.
Instead, the court said, the jury had to make its decision based only on
the violent and ruthless nature of the murders.
The court's decision follows a decision less than 2 weeks ago in which the
justices threw out the death sentence of a Richmond man who killed his
mother, stepfather and their boarder 15 years ago because certain jurors
were dismissed without being questioned about their opposition to capital
Steven Friedlander, a lawyer at the San Francisco law firm of Cooley
Godward, which is handling Lucas' appeals, said he and other lawyers were
assessing whether the ruling means their client will be retried on the
sentencing phase of his trial.
He noted that Lucas was still pursuing appeals of his conviction in
"From the beginning of his life, he had a pattern of abandonment and
abuse," Friedlander said. "It's exactly the kind of evidence that juries
find compelling in these kinds of cases in determining whether someone
gets life or death."
Patterson, who was appointed by the court to be Lucas' lead counsel at his
trial, is retired from practicing law.
LaPan, who was brought in as co-counsel 7 months after work began on the
case and played a peripheral role in the trial, said he was happy that
Lucas' death sentence had been reversed. But he said that Patterson had
gotten a "raw deal" in being blamed for not putting on any evidence in the
If Patterson had known Lucas had been abused as a child, he certainly
would have put on the evidence, LaPan said. But Patterson told him that
Lucas and his wife and mother had refused to provide him with any
"It's tough when the family doesn't even help you," LaPan said. "It's
great that he now says that he wants to live."
(source: San Francisco Chronicle)
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