[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, ARIZ., FLA., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Nov 2 09:46:54 CST 2004
Inmate set to be executed for death of Houston man
Condemned inmate Lorenzo Morris asked that no last-day appeals be filed
for him to try to block his scheduled execution this evening.
"He's made peace with the situation," Morris' lawyer, Rob Morrow said
Morris, 52, would be the 19th Texas inmate put to death this year and the
1st of 2 this week.
The former laborer and Nacogdoches native already had arrests for assault,
robbery, weapons and drug possession and had served at least 2 prison
terms when he was arrested for stabbing and beating with a hammer a
70-year-old Houston man.
When Jesse Fields died nine months after the August 1990 attack, Morris
wound up charged with capital murder, was convicted and condemned.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 6-0, refusing to either
commute his sentence to life in prison or grant a temporary reprieve. The
U.S. Supreme Court last month declined to review his case.
Last week, in another Harris County case, condemned inmate Dominique Green
won a temporary reprieve in an appeal that cited problems at the Houston
Police Department crime lab as reason to halt his punishment.
Green's lawyers contended boxes of improperly stored and catalogued
evidence kept by the crime lab and recently discovered could contain
information relevant to his case and the injection should be delayed at
least until the contents of those files could be inspected. State lawyers
won an appeal that overturned the reprieve and Green was executed.
Morris' case falls into the same time frame for the contested lab files,
although prosecutors said they had accounted for all the evidence
presented in his case.
"He doesn't want to go through or put his family through what Dominique
went through," Morrow said. "I don't think anybody wants to live through
what Green did -- you're gonna die, you're not gonna die. He was just down
a couple of cells from Green and I think it's a horrible thing for anybody
to go through."
Court records indicated Morris, who contended he became a drug addict
while serving in the military in Vietnam, blamed Fields' death on poor
health care after the beating. Fields died a day after doctors had to
amputate a leg that had become infected.
Previous unsuccessful appeals also said jurors in his case should have
been allowed to hear he had been affected by the deaths of his two sisters
in a house fire and that his mother was an alcoholic who often neglected
Fields never recovered from the attack during a robbery at his home and
was in a coma when Morris was arrested in March 1991 for shooting the
operator of a coin-operated laundry. In interviews with police, he told
them about the attack on Fields, but contended the victim first had come
at him with the hammer, according to prosecutors.
His girlfriend at the time, however, testified she saw Morris sitting on
the elderly man while holding a knife and demanding to know where he kept
his money. She said she never called police because she feared for her own
On Thursday, inmate Robert Brice Morrow, 47, was set to die for the
abduction and fatal beating and slashing of a 21-year-old University of
Nevada-Las Vegas student, Lisa Allison, who was at home in Liberty County
east of Houston on spring break in 1996.
ath penalty sought in man's slaying
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for a man accused of shooting a
borderline mentally retarded fast-food worker last year during a robbery
in north Houston.
Gerald Marshall, 22, is the first of three people facing trial in the
death of 38-year-old Christopher Martin Dean. The victim was working the
graveyard shift at the Whataburger restaurant in the 1700 block of West
Loop 610 North when the holdup took place on May 18, 2003.
Marshall is accused of planning the robbery with the restaurant's
then-manager, Gregory O'Neil Love, 39. Love and Ronald Worthy, 26, also
are charged with capital murder.
Dean was working the drive-through window about 4 a.m. when Marshall,
wielding a pistol, climbed through the window and demanded keys to the
safe, prosecutors Colleen Barnett and Vic Wisner said.
Once inside, Marshall expected to find Love, who had agreed to ensure that
$7,000 would be in the safe, the prosecutors said. But they said that
Love, whom Marshall knew from a previous job, had left hours earlier.
When Dean said he did not have the keys to the safe, Marshall shot him in
the face, prosecutors said.
One of the witnesses expected to testify is Clarence Green, an inmate who
said Marshall confessed to the crime while they were cellmates last year.
The trial resumes today.
(source for both: Houston Chronicle)
Ariz. awaits ruling on teen death penalty
Lonnie Bassett is personable, chatty and looks like an average teenager.
But he's not average at all: According to Phoenix police reports, he
confessed to shooting two people in the head with a .12-gauge shotgun in
Now, as he approaches his 17th birthday, he faces two counts of 1st-degree
murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. advertisement
But a pending decision in the U.S. Supreme Court could change the sentence
he receives. And it could change the future of four other young Arizonans
on death row and two more whose death sentences are being reconsidered by
At issue in the Supreme Court is whether the "evolving standards of
decency" in American society would consider it cruel and unusual
punishment to execute a person for crimes he or she committed as a minor.
The question has been argued before the high court, and the justices could
issue an opinion as early as this month or as late as June.
When juveniles are condemned to death, it's because the murders they
committed were so cruel or heinous that the killers' age could not sway a
judge's or jury's mind to instead impose a life sentence.
The Missouri case before the U.S. Supreme Court is no exception.
Christopher Simmons was 17 in 1993 when he and a friend kidnapped a woman
just for fun. They bound her with duct tape, hogtied her with wire, then
threw her, fully conscious, from a railroad trestle into a river.
Simmons was sentenced to death. But in August, the Supreme Court of
Missouri threw out the death sentence and ruled that Simmons should spend
his life in prison with no chance of parole. The prosecutors appealed to
the U.S. Supreme Court.
What happens next to Simmons will affect what happens to Bassett in the
Simmons' fate was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 13.
The justices not only will decide whether he lives or dies, but also
whether criminals can be put to death for murders they committed while
they were 16 or 17 years old.
Across the country, there are 72 young men on death row who fit that
description, including the 4 in Arizona.
In 1988, the high court ruled that people 15 or younger were not eligible
for the death penalty; a year later it balked at forbidding executions of
16- and 17-year-olds. And in 2002, by a 5-4 vote, the court refused to
"Everyone agrees that there is some age below which juveniles can't be
subjected to the death penalty," Seth Waxman, Simmons' attorney, said as
he addressed the Supreme Court in October.
"The question here is where our society's evolving standards of decency
now draw that line."
The phrase "evolving standards of decency" comes from a 1910 court
decision and is generally applied to the Eighth Amendment, which guards
against cruel and unusual punishment.
According to the Death Penalty Institute, a Washington-based non-profit
organization, 14 states allow executions at age 16; five set the age at
17; 10 set the age at 18. 12 states have no death penalty statute. In
short, 31 states forbid the execution of minors, up from 28 states when
the court last considered the issue in 2002.
And many states that can theoretically execute juveniles do not. Arizona
has not done so since 1934, although perhaps because all of the young men
on death row here have been convicted since 1992 and have not yet
exhausted their appeals.
4 of the U.S. Supreme Court justices went on the record against executing
juveniles in 2002; three adamantly support the status quo. Justices
Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor remain on the fence. If either
votes to abolish the practice, it will become law.
"The . . . states that have statutes that theoretically permit execution
of offenders under 18 are not only alone in this country," Waxman told the
court, "they are alone in the world."
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, all but one foreign
country has either abolished juvenile executions or plans to do so.
During oral arguments before the court last month, the justices and
attorneys bandied about whether the U.S. courts should be influenced by
laws in other countries.
In October 2003, O'Connor told an audience in Atlanta that the court did
in fact pay attention to world opinion, and said justices had considered
it in a 2002 decision to prohibit executions of the mentally retarded. She
reiterated the remarks on Oct. 27 of this year.
In the end, the decision may come down to numbers: How many states do? How
many states don't?
And the only comment during the oral arguments made by O'Connor was about
"The statistics of how many states have approved 18 years as the line is
about the same as it was in the retardation case," she said.
If the notion of executing juveniles is appalling, so are the crimes they
committed to end up on death row. By definition, their youth already has
been considered as a mitigating factor during sentencing.
Bassett confessed to killing Joseph Medrano Pedroza and Frances Tapia,
both 22, on June 16.
Bassett had purchased a .12-gauge, sawed-off shotgun from Pedroza and
still owed him $50. When Pedroza came to collect, Bassett and another
young man got into the back seat of a car driven by Tapia, who was
Bassett told police that Pedroza was threatening him and that he thought
Pedroza was reaching for a gun in his belt, so he put his new purchase to
the back of Pedroza's head and fired, then turned the gun on Tapia before
leaping from the speeding car.
2 days later, when police arrested him, he was making a getaway on his BMX
Bassett was indicted on two counts of 1st-degree murder.
"That's a capital murder," Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Paul McMurdie
said. "Then you ask yourself: Should we impose it on somebody of his age?
Our position has always been that that's for the sentencer to decide after
they've weighed all the evidence."
In Arizona, the death sentence is imposed by a jury.
If convicted and sentenced to death, Bassett would join 4 other young men
on death row for murders they committed while they were 16 or 17.
But within the past 14 months, two more young men were removed from
Arizona's death row.
Christopher Huerstel was convicted of killing three Pizza Hut employees
during a robbery in 1999. His conviction was reversed and remanded to
Superior Court because the Arizona Supreme Court worried that the jury in
his trial had been unduly coerced into passing a verdict by the trial
The other, James Davolt, buried a hatchet in a man's head at Lake Havasu
City in 1998, then shot him, took the man's wife hostage and made her
empty her bank account before killing her, too. In February, the Arizona
Supreme Court threw out his death sentence and asked the lower court "to
determine whether Davolt, a juvenile, possessed the maturity and moral
responsibility at the time of the offenses sufficient to make him eligible
for the death penalty."
That concern on the part of the Arizona Supreme Court goes to the heart of
the case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Recent studies have shown that the human brain does not fully develop
until sometime in the 20s, meaning that teens do not have the same level
of impulse control or reasoning as adults.
The Supreme Court justices discussed that research and wondered how it
applied to the Simmons case since it had never been entered into evidence
during his trial. Still, looking at how adolescents think draws parallels
to the reasons the court used to abolish executions of the mentally
"The question that the court will be asked to resolve is whether executing
a juvenile violates the Eighth Amendment," said Larry Hammond, a Phoenix
defense attorney who has tried death penalty cases for 20 years.
"No one really knows what those words 'evolving standards in a maturing
society' mean," he said. "But it's a close enough question that you can
come to the judgment that the society in this country and around the world
has come to a point at which the execution of juveniles is unacceptable."
'Dead Man Walking' gets school discussing execution
Beckie Miller kept the details of her 18-year-old son's murder to herself
during her chat Monday at the Brophy College Preparatory school in
But the 1,200 students did not need to hear how her son Brian was shot to
death, by a teen in 1991 over $10, to understand the enormity of her loss.
"The guilt and 'what ifs' families struggle with never goes away," Miller
said as some students bowed their heads. "The pain is always there."
Miller, head of the Phoenix chapter of Parents of Murdered Children,
helped begin Brophy's "Summit on Human Dignity," a four-day affair tied to
the school's production of Tim Robbins' Dead Man Walking. The play, which
explores the final days of a character on death row, runs through Saturday
at the private school's Black Box Theatre.
Brophy jumped at the chance to mount the production after learning Robbins
would allow only Jesuit high schools and universities willing to hold
capital-punishment discussions to perform it. The request backs the
Jesuits' tenets of "Men for Others" and Brophy's goal of educating
students who can help enact change, said Adria Renke, the school's vice
"While capital punishment is an ugly topic, we would be doing our students
a disservice if we didn't prepare them for these harsh realities," she
said. "We're not telling them how they should think, but we want them to
know how these policies impact their lives."
Students attended a two-hour forum Monday in the school's gymnasium before
heading to class for further review. Speakers included lawyer Larry
Hammond, who questioned the "inferior" defense secured by indigent
inmates; the Rev. Stephen Barber, chaplain of the San Quentin Penitentiary
parish, who spoke of death-row inmates who want to do die to "relieve
families' suffering"; and lawyer Dan Maynard, who mentioned the 117
national inmates exonerated from death row.
Kent Cattani, a lawyer with the Arizona Attorney General's Office, said he
valued all life but wasn't "morally opposed" to the death penalty.
"Because there's a fundamental difference between the taking of an
innocent life and carrying out the will of the people," said Cattani, who
represents the state in death-row appeal cases.
Lawyer Rudolph Gerber, a former Maricopa County Superior Court judge,
spoke of the Bible's reference to "an eye for an eye," saying: "We don't
apply this to other crimes. We don't rape the rapists, steal from the
thieves or beat up the batterers."
Sophomore Dakota Serna, 15, said, "It's intense how scriptures can be used
effectively to argue both sides. It really makes you question your stance
on the death penalty." Freshman J.J. Micallef, 15, said, "This is the
perfect play and summit for us because we should be reflecting on this
now. We're the next generation that has to deal with this issue."
(source for both: Arizona Republic)
Death penalty sought in 2003 assault, strangulation in Fort Pierce
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against a man accused of raping
and killing a local woman in May 2003.
Jury selection began Monday in the trial of Eddie Bigham, 45, who was
arrested in July 2003 on charges he killed Lourdes Lu Lu Cavozos, 40, of
Fort Pierce, and left her body in a wooded lot. Selection will continue
today with the possibility of opening arguments starting today or
Bigham is charged with 1st-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery
with the threat of force in the homicide.
Assistant State Attorney Christopher Taylor questioned potential jurors
Monday about their ability to weigh evidence and deliver the death penalty
if necessary. Defense attorneys are expected to pick up questioning today.
Cavozos was last seen by her family around 11 p.m. on May 23, 2003, after
she told them she was going to visit a friend, according to police
Her half-nude body was discovered by a passerby about 7:30 a.m. the next
day, only hours before the family called police to report her missing.
An autopsy revealed strangulation was the cause of death and police found
DNA evidence that they say linked Bigham to the crime.
Bigham reportedly told detectives he had sexual intercourse with Cavozos,
but she was alive when he left her.
(source: Fort Pierce Tribune)
Lawyer Conduct Eyed in Death Penalty Case
The Supreme Court is considering whether a lawyer was wrong to concede a
death row inmate's guilt without his consent, a case that gives justices
another opportunity to consider standards for attorney conduct in death
On Election Day, justices were hearing arguments in a case challenging a
Florida Supreme Court decision to grant a new trial for Joe Elton Nixon.
He was convicted in the 1984 murder of a woman he met at a Tallahassee
At issue is the court-appointed attorney's decision to admit at trial that
Nixon was responsible for the "horrible, horrible death" in hopes that his
candor would persuade the jury to spare the man's life.
Florida prosecutors said Nixon tied Jeanne Bickner, a 38-year-old state
worker, to trees with jumper cables and set her on fire. Facing
substantial evidence against him, Nixon's lawyer offered unsuccessfully to
plea-bargain for life imprisonment before deciding to concede the man's
After he was sentenced to death, Nixon charged he was denied a Sixth
Amendment right to counsel because his attorney had not vigorously argued
his defense. Prosecutors countered that Nixon did not object when his
attorney told him of the trial strategy to build jury sympathy.
The case hinges on a pair of Supreme Court decisions handed down in 1984
amid misgivings among some justices that punishments were sometimes
imposed arbitrarily due to poor attorney representation.
38 states currently allow the death penalty, and about 3,500 convicted
murderers are on death row.
The 1984 rulings limit inmates' ability to claim a Sixth Amendment
violation if their attorneys made the strategic choice not to pursue
certain defenses at trial. The rulings also provide exceptions when
counsel utterly fails to challenge the prosecution with "meaningful
In a 5-2 decision last year, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a new trial
after finding the lawyer did not effectively represent Nixon nor did the
defendant agree to the lawyer's strategy.
"Counsel's duty is to hold the state to its burden of proof by clearly
articulating to the jury or fact-finder that the state must establish each
element of the crime charged," the Florida court said.
Nixon did not attend his trial; instead, he stripped off his clothes and
refused to enter the courtroom. The judge held a hearing in Nixon's cell
to make sure the defendant waived his right to attend the trial. Wearing
only underwear, Nixon told the judge he wanted another attorney, and he
would disrupt the trial if forced to attend.
Under conservative Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the Supreme Court
generally has preserved capital punishment while seeking to fine-tune its
constitutional limits. Since 1986, the court has issued fewer stays of
execution but put a stop to the killing of convicts who are insane or
This term, the court also will rule on the appropriateness of execution
for juvenile crime, the racial composition of juries and potential bias
when convicts appear shackled before the juries that sentence them -
although the justices face the prospect of doing so without Rehnquist.
The chief justice revealed Monday that he is undergoing chemotherapy and
radiation treatment for thyroid cancer, which was taken as an indication
he has a grave form of the disease. He said, however, he plans to work
from home and did not suggest he might leave the court.
The case is Florida v. Nixon, 03-931.
Also Tuesday, the court was considering whether state prisons may separate
new inmates by race as a safety measure.
California routinely segregates all new prisoners by race for 60 days and
whenever they are transferred to new facilities. The Supreme Court has
ruled that racially segregated prisons are unconstitutional. California
officials insist the practice is necessary to reduce prison violence, and
segregation is only temporary.
The case is Johnson v. California, 03-636.
(source: Associated Press)
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