[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Nov 17 17:07:57 CST 2004
Walter escapes needle----Collin County jury sentences Outback killer to
life in prison
It took a Collin County jury almost 4 hours on Tuesday to sentence Stephon
Lavelle Walter to life in prison.
As they started deliberating about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, jurors were asked
to answer 3 questions:
- if Walter, 25, might commit future violent acts and be a potential
danger to society;
- if he had intended to kill the three victims at Texarkana's Outback
Steakhouse on Sept. 1, 2003; and
- if life in prison was the appropriate sentence for the crimes.
Shortly after noon Tuesday, jurors asked for some clarification on the
first question about whether Walter could pose a future danger.
The judge instructed them to continue deliberating and they were
ultimately able to hand down the sentence of life in prison.
However, prosecutors had asked jurors to come back with a death sentence
for the killings of Rebecca "Becky" Shifflett, Chrystal "Chrissy" Willis
and Matthew Hines.
Hines was the proprietor of Texarkana's Outback Steakhouse, having worked
himself up in the restaurant chain. Shifflett was the general manager and
Willis was the assistant manager.
"Stephon Walter went in and carried out a retaliation, revenge killing
when he had been written up, reprimanded and fired by the same people he
executed," argued Bowie County Assistant District Attorney Mike Shepherd.
"He admitted to his own mother that he was the mastermind of this crime.
These murders were done in cold blood. They were ruthless. They were
calculating. He's proven to be a thief and a liar and now he's proven to
be a violent felon," Shepherd said.
The three Outback employees were shot to death, each in the head, in the
cramped back office of the restaurant.
Shepherd reminded jurors that Shifflett was 6 months pregnant at the time
of the killing.
"When Stephon Walter looked at her on the floor and without hesitation,
executed her, that alone, should answer special issue No. 1 (potential
danger)," Shepherd said. "From that point on, he became what our society
fears the most: a killer without a conscience."
Shepherd recalled Walter's testifying on his own behalf.
"Not one ounce of remorse was included in his testimony," Shepherd argued.
He said prison is a place to rehabilitate felons.
"How can Stephon Walter be rehabilitated when he has not taken any
responsibility for these crimes," Shepherd argued.
He recalled that Walter had scrapes with the law as a youngster and racked
up convictions on both sides of the state line when he moved to Texarkana.
"For most of his adult life, he's either been on probation or in jail,"
But Jeff Harrelson, Walter's court-appointed lawyer, argued that a life
sentence is more appropriate for Walter.
Harrelson referenced Walter's stay in the Bi-State Justice Building Jail,
where he has not been involved in any incidents or participated in the
recent escape there.
Shepherd argued defendants are usually on good behavior while they await
But Harrelson disagreed.
"When you're bad, you're just going to be bad," Harrelson said.
He said despite a troubled and unstable upbringing, Walter graduated from
high school and attended two years of college and that Walter, who is
proficient in working on cars and some small appliances, could find a role
Harrelson argued that Shepherd and his co-counsel, Assistant Bowie County
District Attorney Adam Fellows, did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt
that Walter was a continuing threat.
"Stephon is a husband, maybe not in the traditional sense like you or me,
a loving father, which is unlike what he had," Harrelson said. "Life in
prison, the life penalty, is real and significant and appropriate in this
Under Texas statutes, Walter must serve at least 40 years of his life
sentence before he is eligible to apply for parole.
(source: Texarkana Gazette)
Confession read during murder trial
A stolen white Jeep Cherokee and a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol were used to
rob the Wah Lee Food Market, but in a confession read to jurors Tuesday,
the defendant stated he did not intend to get into a gunfight with store
Joe Louie Glover, 25, is on trial on capital murder in the Oct. 9, 2003
shooting of storeowner Larry Eng, 55.
Glover's confession was read to jurors by homicide Detective Timothy
Rawson, over the objection of defense attorneys Ray Fuchs and Joel Perez,
who said their client was coerced.
In the confession, Glover told police he acted alone.
Rawson told jurors police got a break in their investigation when a
witness came forward and said Glover claimed to have done the crime and
that police would find a stolen Jeep in Glover's back yard.
(source: San Antonio Express-News)
Power of forgiveness for healing
Terry Donovan gathered up the grief-stricken police officer in his arms,
comforting him with a gentle embrace.
Adrian Valdovino leaned his head on Donovan's shoulder as he wept at the
funeral of a fellow Austin police officer.
At first, it seemed we were witnessing an outpouring of grief over the
tragic death of an officer and mother of four. But when we realized what
was happening, we were spiritually lifted - and we were amazed.
This was something more than grief. This was forgiveness.
Despite losing his wife, Amy, Terry Donovan reached out to comfort
Valdovino, her fellow police officer and her partner the night she died.
When Donovan collected Valdovino in his arms, he embraced the person
responsible for Amy's death.
In a bizarre accident, Valdovino backed his patrol car into Amy, pinning
her against a 6-inch-wide pole as they chased a fleeing suspect. He was in
his patrol car, attempting to cut off the suspect she was pursuing by
foot. She died in surgery several hours after the accident.
There are poignant moments when regular folks rise above their pain and
circumstances to do something for others. This was such a moment.
The photograph in the American-Statesman of the two held my attention and
stirred a prayer: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who
trespass against us."
Since we were children, we have prayed those words. I've come to realize
that they are easy to say but difficult to do.
As a value, forgiveness has largely been relegated to Sunday sermons. From
talk radio to television reality shows, we're seeing the proliferation of
traits that masquerade as values - revenge, arrogance, even bigotry.
Tolerance and forgiveness are receding from the political and social
landscape. Forget about turning the other cheek, a centerpiece of
Christian teachings. We all know that's for "girlie men."
In politics, victory goes to those with the most attack ads. But the fruit
of those bitter, divisive campaigns, including the presidential election,
has reignited America's culture wars.
Growing up in the 1960s, I remember the rage we felt when Martin Luther
King Jr. and other civil-rights activists were beaten, hosed, jailed and
But King preached the politics of forgiveness - of loving our enemies and
resisting passively. That approach yielded full citizenship rights for
blacks through the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
I think about what that might have meant to the Palestinian people, who
have a just cause in their struggle for statehood. How much closer to that
objective would they be today had their leaders employed the passive,
forgiving tactics of King rather than taking up arms?
In the criminal justice system, families who have lost loved ones to
violent crime push for harsh penalties. That is right. Criminals shouldn't
But most often, it's our personal drive for revenge that fuels our quest
for the death penalty. For prosecutors, convictions that yield the death
penalty are political gold.
If putting people to death once was a suitable punishment because the
prison system couldn't protect society from murdering predators, that's no
longer the case. We do it now to satisfy a need for vengeance - an eye for
In Texas, it's common for victims' families to gather at the death house
and watch killers get the needle. That recalls another stunning act of
A few weeks ago, Bernatte Luckett Lastrapes and her 2 sons pleaded for the
life of Dominique Green, who was sentenced to death for robbing and
killing her husband and their father in 1992.
Noting that Green had turned his life around in prison, the family asked
that his death sentence be commuted to life in prison.
"All of us have forgiven Dominique for what happened and want to give him
another chance at life," Bernatte Lastrapes wrote in a letter to Gov. Rick
Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. "Everyone deserves
Their pleas fell on deaf ears. Green was executed on Oct. 26.
It's odd that we've come to a point where the strong and virtuous have
been made to look weak and defective. For a moment, a grieving husband
pierced that facade - and we saw the awesome power of forgiveness.
(source: Alberta Phillips, Omaha World-Herald)
Testimony begins in amusement center murder trial
The prosecution spoke of a "moment of truth" in which a robber became a
murderer while a defense attorney said it has yet to be proven beyond a
reasonable doubt that his client fired the fatal shots as lawyers squared
off in the opening arguments of the capital murder trial of John
Quintanilla Jr. on Tuesday in Victoria.
Quintanilla, 27, is charged with the Nov. 24, 2002, shooting death of
60-year-old Victor Billings, a former Jackson County deputy and Edna
resident, during the robbery of Action Amusement Center at 3805 N. John
Stockbauer Drive in Victoria. District Attorney Dexter Eaves is seeking
the death penalty.
"That moment of truth is when everything somebody believes in crystallizes
and they realize that it is not going according to plan," Eaves told the
jury of 5 women and 7 men.
Quintanilla and his partner had a plan for the robbery at the amusement
center, Eaves said. "His intent was to go in, steal money, rob them and
It was while one of the men was inside the office and Quintanilla was
standing in the customer area of the business that Billings approached
Quintanilla, Eaves said. "Right next to where the clerk was being robbed
was (Billings') wife."
Billings grabbed the barrel of the rifle and pulled the muzzle against his
chest "so that no one else would be shot," Eaves said.
Quintanilla fired the 9mm carbine rifle 3 times, he said.
Eaves said it was during that second before the sound of the 1st bullet
echoed through the building that Quintanilla had his moment of truth.
"What are you willing to live for and what are you willing to die for?"
Eaves said. "I believe the evidence will show you that John Quintanilla
for $2,000 was willing to take anybody's life....
Eaves added that right after shooting Billings, Quintanilla noticed two
other customers trying to leave through the front door. "He aims and fires
at the doorway, head high," Eaves said.
"While Victor Billings was laying on his face trying to get his last
breath, police were outside trying to secure the scene so that EMS did not
get shot," said Eaves.
Jim Beeler, one of Quintanilla's appointed attorneys, spent much of his
opening statement reminding the jury that it will be the task of the
state, through Eaves and Assistant District Attorney Ian Hernandez, to
prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Quintanilla pulled that trigger on
the gun that killed Billings.
"There is no dispute about Mr. Billings dying but what are the
circumstances that brought about his death?" Beeler asked of the jury.
Beeler reminded jury members of their oaths.
"Please remember people are like coins, some of them have two sides to
them," Beeler said. "It will be your job to determine what you believe and
what you don't."
Beeler asked the jury for patience, explaining that the trial will at
times seem to move slowly and that he and his co-council Steve Cihal will
be objecting to evidence and statements made by prosecuting attorneys.
"From time to time you will see Mr. Cihal or myself jump up with some
objection. We are not trying to keep anything from you," Beeler said. "We
can't rush to present this case to you. We have to take our time and we
don't want you to rush your judgment."
After opening arguments, Victoria police officers testified that when they
received the report of shooting at the game room, they didn't know whether
or not the shooters were still inside.
Senior Patrol Officer Eddie Stevens was in the 9000 block of North Navarro
Street when he was dispatched to the call shortly before 7 p.m. It took
him 2 minutes to get across town. He was the 1st person on the scene,
One of the customers who had run out of the business during the shooting
came up to him, Stevens said.
"He advised me he did not see anybody else run out," Stevens said. "We did
not know if we still had an active shooter inside."
When Sgt. Ralph Buentello arrived a couple of minutes later, the scene was
still chaotic, Buentello said. "The immediate situation was extremely
unstable as we tried to determine if we still had people inside."
Knowing that the department's Special Response Team would take about 40
minutes to mobilize and be at the business, Buentello decided to send
three officers in through the front door.
Standing behind a 4-foot-tall ballistic shield, the officers made their
way in, thus allowing the dead man's wife, Linda Billings, and another
woman to run out.
Bradley Hill, Victoria Fire Department emergency medical technician,
testified that he and his partner had waited at a distance from the game
room until police had assured its safety. He testified that Billings was
lying face down in the floor and showed no respiration or pulse.
Testimony continues today at the Victoria County Courthouse.
(source: Victoria Advocate)
Analysis: Texas sentencing change offered
Texas is unique not only in the high number of executions it carries out
for murder but the sentencing procedures its juries must follow.
Texas is one of the few states with the death penalty that don't offer
juries in capital murder cases the option of the life-without-parole
Some opponents of the death penalty believe this contributes to the large
number of inmates, about 445, on Texas death row. California surpasses
Texas in death-row population, but it rarely carries out executions.
So far this year, Texas has carried out 22 executions with 3 others
scheduled before the end of the year. The state has executed 335 convicted
killers since the state restored the death penalty in 1982.
A weekend report from the Justice Department said death sentences
nationwide have fallen to a 30-year low, but the rate in Texas has
remained about the same. Texas continues to send about 34 killers to death
row each year.
Although there are new concerns about the execution of innocent people
because of bungled evidence processing at the Houston police crime lab,
Gov. Rick Perry has refused to impose a moratorium and the death penalty
75 % of Texans surveyed in a poll released last week said they favored
continuing the death penalty, according to a Scripps Research Center poll.
At the same time 70 % said they believed the state has executed innocent
inmates. Although there was no hesitation to support the death penalty,
about 78 % of the 1,000 respondents questioned in the poll said they would
favor a change in the state's sentencing provisions to allow life without
State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, filed a bill to offer the "3rd
option" to the legislative session that convenes in January, but it's the
4th time he has tried to push the measure through the Legislature in the
past 5 years.
Lucio made clear up front the measure is not intended to replace the death
penalty, which he supports. He said the new option would provide another
way of giving the families of victims a sense of closure by knowing that
parole is not an option.
One of the dilemmas that face capital murder case juries in Texas now is
that they have only the two options -- either life with the possibility of
parole or death. And in Texas, a life prison term can mean getting out on
parole in 40 years, which some juries will not accept. They either send
the defendant to death row or set him free on the streets.
"The legislation would provide every victim's family closure in that they
won't have to relive the pain through the parole process," Lucio said.
"These families, who have already suffered enough, would have the
certainty that the murderer will never get out of prison."
Lucio said his legislation would still not prevent a prosecutor from
seeking the death penalty, only give the jury a "third option" in the
sentencing phase of the trial. He said it would be in keeping with the
state's tough law-and-order stance.
No one is predicting the outcome in this session because a number of major
issues will be facing legislators, including the budget and school-finance
reform, but in the recent past the objection has come from those who fear
creating a new class of violent inmate inside the state's prisons.
Keith Hampton, an Austin attorney who represents the Texas Criminal
Defense Lawyers Association, said that's a myth unsupported by hard
"Lifers, just like anybody else serving a long prison sentence, look
forward to the little carrots that they are given and avoid the sticks,"
he said. "The carrots are going out in the recreational yard once a week.
If you act up, you are not getting to go outside."
Hampton said opposition usually comes from some prosecutors who fear the
life-without-parole option will reduce the number of death verdicts they
get, but he also admits that there are signs that prosecutors are coming
"I think that is changing because year after year, session after session,
I notice that more prosecutors sign up for life without parole," he said,
because it offers them another plea-bargaining tool.
The Texas District and County Attorneys Association takes no position on
the legislation, said Shannon Edmonds, director of government relations
for the Austin-based group.
"Prosecutors differ on the merits of life without parole," he said. "Some
support it and others do not."
If the law was enacted, Hampton believes its impact on the number of death
sentences in Texas would be "negligible." Evidence in other states, such
as Florida and Ohio, shows that the number of death sentences has declined
after the adoption of life without parole.
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, supports the Lucio bill because he
said it will give Texas juries a range of sentences to ensure fairness and
accuracy in sentencing.
"If a jury has reviewed all the facts and does not think the death penalty
is appropriate, but doesn't feel a person should be free to walk the
streets, they should have that choice," he said. "The option of life
without the possibility of parole gives them the ability to make that
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