[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----CALIF., USA, FLA., CONN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Jul 30 10:43:58 CDT 2004
D.A. will not seek death penalty -- Prosecutors believe that chances of
conviction would be more likely
A man who pleaded no contest earlier this month to stabbing and raping an
Oakland woman nearly 20 years ago won't receive the death penalty, Alameda
County prosecutors said Thursday.
Jim Anderson, Alameda County assistant district attorney, said his office
won't seek the death penalty against Richard Dean Wilson, 39, because it
was unlikely a jury would have returned a favorable verdict.
Wilson pleaded no contest to the murder of Angela Marie Bledsoe earlier
this month. Her partially decomposed body was found by hikers on Jan. 12,
1986 along Eden Canyon Road in Castro Valley.
The charges were enhanced with special circumstances because the killing
occurred during the commission of a rape and Wilson has a previous murder
He now is serving a minimum 26-year murder sentence at Mule Creek State
Prison in Ione. He is expected to be sentenced to life without parole on
Monday for Bledsoe's rape and murder.
"This was the best penalty phase mitigation I have ever seen," Anderson
said. "We thought ... the likelihood of getting a death vote on this guy
was small. The best we would have ever gotten was hung jury after hung
If prosecutors had sought the death penalty, Wilson would have been housed
in an Alameda County jail for up to four years while the penalty phase of
the case was argued. The decision to seek life saved taxpayers that cost,
Wilson has been in jail for more than 15 years for the Oct. 23, 1986
murder of 33-year-old Chester Ballard, a security guard at a San Leandro
DNA recently connected Wilson to Bledsoe's death. She was found
blindfolded, gagged and bound, stabbed more than a dozen times and wrapped
in a blanket.
James Giller, Wilson's attorney, said there was a "great deal of remorse"
from his client who has been in custody for the past 18 years.
"He didn't want to put this woman's family through a trial and just wanted
to get this over with," Giller said. "He's already serving a prison term
that has a life top and his chances of getting paroled on that were not
Giller admitted Wilson's move to plead no contest right away was a gamble.
He said Wilson made statements about what happened to police as soon as
investigators sat him down.
"I think he thought if he made an early plea, he might have a pretty good
chance of getting life without parole," Giller said. "At no time did (the
District Attorney's Office) promise me if he did this we would get life
(source: Tri-Valley Herald)
It's time to re-examine the death penalty
Earlier this month, 48 nations and a host of religious groups and other
organizations filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to abolish
the execution of minors in this country.
Those filing included former President Jimmy Carter, former Soviet
President Mikhail Gorbachev, the American Bar Association, the American
Medical Association, countries from the European Union, and Canada and
As the Supreme Court ponders whether or not the U.S. will continue to
allow those under 18 to be subjected to the death sentence, perhaps it
should consider whether or not the criminal-justice system is flawless
enough to support the death penalty at all.
In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled in Furman vs. Georgia that capital
punishment as it was administered by the states was "cruel and unusual
punishment" and therefore violated the Eighth Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution. The decision was based on findings that the death sentence
was disproportionately imposed on minorities and the poor; it resulted in
the commutation of the death sentences from death to life with the
possibility of parole for the more than 600 people on death row in 38
states around the country.
Among these inmates was a man named David Keaton. He was sentenced to
death in Florida in July of 1971, after he was convicted of killing a
police officer during an armed robbery, based on a coerced confession. In
1974, he was exonerated. He was released from prison in 1979. Keaton has
never fully recovered emotionally and psychologically from the experience.
Had his sentence not been commuted under Furman, he may have been executed
as an innocent man.
The Supreme Court, however, left the door open for states to reform their
death-penalty statutes to make them fairer and less discriminatory, and,
in 1976, the court allowed the states to resume capital punishment.
But has the system really been reformed?
Last year, Illinois Gov. George Ryan decided to grant clemency to all 167
death-row inmates in his state after holding exhaustive clemency hearings
prompted by the discovery that 13 inmates on death row were in fact
innocent. Ryan, a conservative Republican who had long been a staunch
supporter of the death penalty, was so disturbed by the uneven way in
which capital-punishment cases were being handled that he could no longer
allow the practice to continue in good conscience.
As Ryan explained, "We now have 13 death-row inmates exonerated. That
means that we have more people exonerated from death row than the 12 we
executed out of 25. It's like flipping a coin, heads or tails. Live or
die. Can you believe that?"
It would be nave to think that Illinois is the only state in the union
that was capable of putting an innocent person to death, and that the
problems Ryan encountered were absolutely unique and isolated aberrations.
In Washington state, Benjamin Harris was sentenced to death in 1984 for
the alleged murder of an auto mechanic. In 1994, U.S. District Court Judge
Robert Bryan ruled that his case had been handled so incompetently over
the years (he was misadvised by his original attorney to confess to the
murder in order to avoid the death penalty, among other things) that he
had serious questions about Harris' guilt, and ordered that Harris be
During those 10 years of appeals, Harris came close to being executed on
several occasions. Had one of his subsequent lawyers been as incompetent
as his first, or an appellate judge not quite as attentive, Washington
could have executed an innocent man. While the system did eventually
prevent this from happening, it is chilling and unjust that Harris was
ever in the position to be racing against the clock to save his own life
because he was appointed a lawyer who didn't spend enough time to properly
Discovering the innocence of any person who has had to live under the
ominous shadow of execution is an alarming indication that there are still
rampant problems with the machinery through which the death penalty is
Ryan, the former Illinois governor, is currently encouraging all governors
to impose moratoriums on the death penalty in their states until these
problems are truly resolved beyond any doubt. They would be wise to heed
(source: Guest Column; Kirsten Johnson is a documentary filmmaker
originally from the Seattle area whose most recent film, co-directed with
Katy Chevigny, is "Deadline," a documentary about capital punishment in
the U.S. It will air in a special 2-hour presentation of "Dateline" on NBC
tonight; Seattle Times)
Hodges faces death penalty
Willie Hodges, a suspect in a 2001 Sumter County murder, will face a
murder charge August 9, in a Florida Courtroom.
2 1/2 years have passed since Winnie Johnson was found dead in her home in
On Monday, Nov. 26, 2001 at 9:45 a.m., Johnson was found lying on her bed
by her husband Richard. Her hands had been bound, and she had suffered a
fatal gunshot to the face. Her husband was in Livingston at the time of
According to Sumter County Sheriff Johnny Hatter, no forced entry or
burglary was apparent.
Several burglar arrests followed in the Epes area however, the killer was
Willie James Hodges, 44, most recently of 331 Massachusetts Ave.,
Pensacola, Fla., and formerly of 475 Pedetti, Cincinnati, Ohio, has been
questioned in connection with Johnsons murder. Hodges has also lived in
Sumter County. Hodges' alias is Willard Pratt.
Around the time of Johnson's murder, an unusual number of burglaries had
been reported in the Epes and nearby Greene County area. Epes is only
about 10 miles from Gainesville and is considered as being in the same
Unusual numbers of burglaries, robberies and assaults on elderly women
seem to occur near wherever Hodges makes his home. Both Ohio and Florida
police have connected Hodges with a rash of similar crimes in their
Hodges is currently being held in the Escambia, Florida County Jail where
he has resided since he was arrested by Florida police on September 5,
Hodges was initially arrested in Florida on May 1, 2002 as a fugitive from
justice. He was released to Ohio on May 13, 2002. Hodges previously had
been sentenced to 2 years in prison in Ohio for a 1998 robbery, according
to the Cincinnati Post. Information was not readily available regarding
Hodges 2002 extradition to Ohio.
Hodges was again arrested in Florida on September 5, 2003 for attacking a
woman. He was charged with Criminal Mischief, Burglary, Aggravated Assault
and Battery. His bond was set at $25,000.
On September 12, 2003, Hodges entered a plea of Not Guilty. The trial date
was set for December 29, 2003.
On November 26, 2003, nearly 2 years to the day that Winnie Johnson was
found murdered in her home, Hodges was arrested again by Florida
authorities for Murder in the First Degree (premeditated with a weapon).
Hodges did not receive bond on this charge. After indictment by a
16-member grand jury, Hodges plead Not Guilty, and the trial was set for
February 23, 2004.
According to WEAR News in Pensacola, Hodges was arrested one day before
Thanksgiving in 2003 for the December 19, 2001 murder of 58-year-old
Patricia Belanger, of Pensacola, Fla.
In the Belanger murder, family members witnessed a man escaping through a
window of Belanger's home just before discovering she had been beaten to
death. The family was able to provide police with a description of the
man. However, according to Florida Investigator Frank Fillingin, it was
Hodges' family who provided just enough evidence to locate Hodges who was
already in the Florida jail.
On December 27, 2003, Cincinnati, Ohio police alerted media that they were
looking for Hodges for questioning regarding several robberies of elderly
women, according to the Cincinnati Post. Cincinnati police told the
Cincinnati Post that dozens of robberies and burglaries of elderly women
had occurred in a concentrated area. Some of the women were seriously
On January 13, 2004, the Florida prosecutor filed an intent to seek the
death penalty for the murder of Patricia Belanger. Hodges' trial was moved
to April 19, 2004.
By January 29, 2004, Cincinnati police had found Hodges in the Escambia
County, Fla., jail.
Sumter County investigators and District Attorney Greg Griggers have
assisted Florida and Ohio police in the continuing investigation.
"We are doggedly pursuing every lead," said Griggers. "They have enough to
convict him in Florida, but neither we nor the Sumter County Sheriff's
Office are giving up on the Johnson case."
On March 8, 2004, the Florida court authorized the taking of Buccal swabs,
photographs, major case fingerprints, palm prints, foot prints and foot
impressions base upon information in the arrest report of Hodges. Swabs
are used to collect DNA from a subject.
On April 2, 2004, Hodges' public defender filed a motion to bar the
imposition of the death penalty on the basis that the death penalty is
unconstitutional citing Ring vs. Arizona.
On April 6, 2004 the trial was reset for June 14, 2004. On April 20, 2004,
the court allowed investigators to collect hair samples from Hodges. A
motion to suppress evidence was filed and later dropped by Hodges'
Florida investigators have collected fingerprint and DNA evidence from
crime scenes that match the fingerprints and DNA collected from Willie
The trial of Willie James Hodges was finally set for August 9, 2004. The
most recent action in the case took place on Tuesday, July 27, 2004.
Florida prosecutors continue to seek the death penalty.
(source: Sumter County Record-Journal)
Death row inmate claims he had inadequate defense during penalty phase
In Vernon, a lawyer has told a Superior Court judge that death row inmate
Sedrick Cobb did not receive adequate representation from another attorney
during the penalty phase of his murder trial 13 years ago.
The comments came Thursday during a 2-hour hearing on Cobb's habeas corpus
complaint challenging his incarceration. Judge Stanley T. Fuger did not
immediately issue a ruling, and both sides waived the 120-day deadline for
making a decision.
At issue is whether public defender Gerard Smyth failed to provide
adequate representation to Cobb, now 44, during the penalty phase of his
trial in 1991.
Cobb was sentenced to death for the 1989 kidnapping, rape and murder of
Julia Ashe in Waterbury. She was abducted from a Waterbury parking lot
while holiday shopping on Dec. 16, 1989. Her body was found on Christmas
Day in a pond.
Fuger heard final arguments in Cobb's case Thursday. He could order a new
penalty phase, if he determines that Cobb was denied his constitutional
right to effective counsel. He could also rule that Smyth had an
appropriate trial strategy.
Whatever the ruling is, the case is expected to be appealed to the state
Under scrutiny is Smyth's decision to not call psychiatrist Dr. Kenneth
Selig to the witness stand. Selig was prepared to testify that Cobb was
severely impaired with mental illness, and tie that illness to Cobb's
actions on the night he kidnapped Ashe.
"That was how you were going to save this man's life, by proving mental
illness," David Golub, Cobb's new lawyer, argued.
But Selig's testimony would have been graphic, and there was a real risk
that additional and lurid details Cobb had told him about the killing of
Ashe would have been revealed, The Hartford Courant reported.
Cobb bound and gagged Ashe with duct tape, raped her, then heaved her off
a remote concrete apron into an icy and junk-strewn culvert below. Selig
would have said the attack was the result of uncontrollable rage that had
been percolating within Cobb since childhood.
Senior Assistant State's Attorney John Massameno argued that if Smyth had
put Selig on the stand, "we would be here in this courtroom litigating
Gerry Smyth's ineffectiveness for having opened the door and letting all
that damaging information come in."
"This was a judgment call, an informed judgment call, by the attorney with
the most experience in capital litigation in the state," Massameno said.
At Cobb's trial, Smyth did put on evidence of mental illness through
psychologist Anne Phillips, but did not tie the illness to the crime.
2 expert witnesses who testified at Cobb's habeas corpus hearing - William
Bloss and Hubert Santos - said that amounted to inadequate representation,
well outside the standards of criminal practice.
(source: Associated Press)
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