[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, WASH., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Nov 24 10:41:31 CST 2004
Death row guard injured in spear attack----Authorities probing how weapon
got onto high-security prison
A condemned murderer on death row armed with a 25-inch, homemade spear
injured a prison guard Tuesday after narrowly missing another death row
prisoner he was trying to attack, officials said.
Authorities immediately launched an investigation into how Pablo Melendez
Jr., 25, was able to make the spear - with an inch-long head made from a
sharpened piece of metal - on a cellblock that is among the prison
system's most secure.
Officials said the high-security Polunsky Unit just outside Livingston,
east of Huntsville in East Texas, was placed on lockdown after the 11:35
a.m. attack that sent Correctional Officer Bradley Davison to the hospital
with a head wound.
A preliminary investigation showed that Davison was escorting handcuffed
death row convict Robert Lynn Pruett back to his cell when the spear - its
shaft made of rolled-up paper with a sharpened head - shot from Melendez's
cell and struck the guard on the right side of his head. Officials said
Davison suffered a 2-inch wound along his scalp near the right temple.
The injured officer immediately summoned help, and other officers moved
Pruett to safety and recovered the spear. Davison was transported by
ambulance to a hospital in Livingston, where he required stitches and was
expected to be released Tuesday evening, according to Mike Viesca, a
spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
John Moriarty, the prison system's inspector general, said his office was
investigating the incident. Ethnic tensions between the 2 convicts were
being investigated as a possible motive in the attack, officials said.
Pruett is white, and Melendez is Hispanic.
Prison records show Melendez, 29, was sentenced to death for the September
1994 shooting death of Michael Sanders, 29, during a robbery in Fort
Worth. Sanders and another man had stopped at a car wash to use a pay
phone when Melendez approached them and demanded money, then opened fire.
The second victim was shot in the neck but recovered, police said.
Pruett, 25, is awaiting execution for the December 1999 slaying of a
correctional officer at the McConnell Unit outside Beeville. At the time
of that killing, Pruett was serving a life sentence for murder with a
deadly weapon stemming from a Houston attack.
Officials said Melendez has been on death row since May 1996, and Pruett
has been there since April, 2002. Neither has a pending execution date,
Tuesday's attack came a month after Rhonda Osborne, a 33-year-old prison
clerk, was assaulted and killed by convict Gary Laskowski at the Connally
Unit outside Kenedy, near San Antonio. Laskowski, serving a life sentence
for aggravated sexual assault from Nueces County, killed himself after the
attack by slashing his neck and wrists.
The Polunsky prison, located 5 miles southwest of Livingston, was opened
in 1993 and has a maximum capacity of 2,900 offenders, including 436 men
on death row.
(source: Austin American-Statesman)
Officer injured by inmate-made spear
A Texas correctional officer was injured Tuesday when a death row inmate
struck him in the head with a homemade spear, officials said.
Officer Bradley Davison, 20, was treated for his injury and released from
a hospital in Livingston, where the Polunsky Unit is located.
Pablo Melendez, 29, who was condemned for fatally shooting a Fort Worth
man in 1994, will probably be charged with aggravated assault of a public
servant, officials said.
Investigators are examining how Mr. Melendez made the weapon, said Mike
Viesca, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Officials believe Mr. Melendez actually intended to stab another death row
inmate, Robert Pruett, Mr. Viesca said. Mr. Pruett is on death row for
fatally stabbing a correctional officer at a prison in Bee County in 1999.
(source: Denton Chronicle)
Officer's killer is spared death penalty in plea deal----Attorneys for
Champion point to Ridgway fallout as having swayed case
King County prosecutors cut a deal with cop-killer Charles Champion
yesterday that spared his life and underscored the increasing difficulty
in seeking and imposing the death penalty in Washington.
After several weeks of negotiations, King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm
Maleng agreed to reduce Champion's aggravated-murder charge for shooting
to death Des Moines Officer Steven Underwood. In exchange for pleading
guilty to the lesser charge of 1st-degree murder, Champion agreed
yesterday to serve a 26- to 34-year prison sentence.
This was the second high-profile murder case in as many years in which
Maleng took the death penalty off the table to help secure a conviction.
The first was Green River killer Gary Ridgway, who pleaded guilty a year
ago in exchange for life in prison. And that came after Maleng pledged
that he "will not bargain with the death penalty."
Yesterday Maleng denied that Ridgway's plea deal influenced his decision
in the Champion case. But Champion's attorneys -- as have death penalty
opponents around the state -- strenuously argued that their client should
not be eligible for state execution if Ridgway, who killed 48 women,
No high court judge has yet ruled on whether Ridgway's plea should mean
other murderers should not face execution.
The debate is growing louder and has made prosecutors generally more
skittish about asking for the death penalty, juries more reluctant to
impose it and judges more likely to overturn any such convictions, legal
"There certainly are going to be requests for the death penalty, but
there's going to be a diminishing number of requests," said John Junker, a
professor of criminal law at the University of Washington.
Champion, 22, could face as few as 22 years in prison if given credit for
time already served and for good behavior, said Champion's attorney Jackie
The courtroom yesterday was packed. Champion stood quietly before King
County Superior Court Judge Anthony Wartnik as deputy prosecutor Nelson
Lee read the terms of the plea.
On 4 different occasions, Champion paused for several seconds before
telling Wartnik that he agreed to the deal.
Members of the Champion and Underwood families cried during the court
Underwood, 33, was killed early on March 7, 2001, after stopping along
Pacific Highway South to question a group of teenagers. Within two
minutes, witnesses told police, they saw Champion take out a gun and fire
several rapid shots.
Underwood, who had a wife and young son, apparently didn't have time to
respond to the assault; his service pistol hadn't been drawn, police said.
He was rushed to Harborview Medical Center and died an hour later of
multiple gunshot wounds.
Prosecutors said Champion had been avoiding arrest on two outstanding
warrants. The case has been delayed several times, prompting complaints
from prosecutors and Underwood's family. It took more than 3 1/2 years to
reach the deal penned yesterday -- and has cost taxpayers more than $1
million to pursue.
Wartnik will sentence Champion on Jan. 5.
Maleng said at a news conference that "the plea we accepted today has
brought accountability and finality to the case, and was in the best
interests of public safety."
But he conceded that the deal was "the imperfect result of an imperfect
Because of squabbling among the half-dozen defense attorneys who at times
worked on the case, Maleng maintained, the case dragged on far longer than
it should have. During that time, he said, the evidence needed to convict
Champion began to "degrade."
Specifically, two of the 3 witnesses to the crime -- Champion's younger
brother, Lonya, and a man named Antonio Perryman -- have subsequently been
imprisoned on decade-long armed robbery stints, one King County source
Champion's attorney said after the hearing that prosecutors accepted a
deal in part because there's always been a question as to whether they
could prove premeditation -- an element necessary to be convicted of
Walsh added that "both families need to be praised for finding a middle
It is not clear that the Underwood family found any middle ground.
"This case screams for justice, but justice has not been done," said Dick
Underwood, the slain officer's father. "The court system has forced this
unfair outcome by allowing endless delays and countless frivolous legal
maneuvering by the defense."
The Underwood family, and other death penalty supporters, may in fact be
on the losing side of the argument, legal experts said.
County prosecutors statewide still maintain discretion as to whether they
should ask for the death penalty, Junker, the UW law professor, noted.
But for the past several years, and especially since the Ridgway deal,
they have been much more cautious about when they ask for it.
King County prosecutors are not considering asking for death in other
current murder cases, prosecutors say.
"There's a trend that we're seeing definitely in King County toward
sentences other than death," said Mark Larranaga, director of the
Washington Death Penalty Assistance Center.
Since the Ridgway deal, Larranaga said the only death penalty notices he
was aware of had been filed by Pierce County prosecutors last month
against two men charged in the February kidnapping and murder of a tool
salesman earlier this year.
Not only do prosecutors appear more reluctant, but there also have been an
increasing number of death penalty reversals.
Larranaga said there have been 18 death penalty overturns since the law
was enacted in 1981.
And those reversals came before the Ridgway plea, Larranaga noted.
One case lawyers are watching closely is that of triple-murderer Dayva
Cross. His lawyers argued in June to the state Supreme Court that the
Ridgway deal made it imperative that they overturn the man's death
sentence -- as well as the state's death penalty law. The court is
expected to rule on the case soon.
It's clear which way Des Moines police Officer Bob Crane, Underwood's
partner for more than 6 years, would come down on the Cross case.
The deal to scrap the death penalty for Champion, he said, was
"aggravating. It makes you so angry."
When asked if the plea deals for Ridgway and Champion could mean the
effective end of the death penalty in King County, Crane said, "I hope
not. That's not what this system was designed to do."
(source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Appeals court denies Peterson bid for new jury, venue----Sentencing phase
set to begin November 30
A state appeals court Tuesday denied a defense bid for a new jury and
change of venue for the penalty phase of Scott Peterson's murder case.
A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeals in San Francisco
refused to intervene in a petition filed hours earlier by attorney Mark
On Monday, Judge Alfred A. Delucchi denied Geragos' motion seeking a new
jury in San Mateo County or a new jury somewhere else to decide whether
Peterson should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.
After a 5-month trial, Peterson, 32, was convicted November 12 of 1 count
of 1st-degree murder in the death of his 8-months pregnant wife, Laci, and
1 count of 2nd-degree murder for the death of her fetus.
In appealing Delucchi's decision, Geragos asked the appeals court to delay
the penalty phase, set to begin November 30, and to schedule a hearing on
the issues he raised.
Daniel Horowitz, a criminal defense attorney and regular Peterson trial
observer, said Tuesday's appeal was a standard strategy in a death penalty
case. Defense attorneys often seek to insert as much time as possible
between a guilty verdict and a penalty phase to allow for jurors' emotions
Geragos is expected to next appeal to the state Supreme Court.
(source: Associated Press)
State Supreme Court paves way for setting execution date of man who killed
The California Supreme Court on Monday removed a roadblock to scheduling
the execution of condemned San Mateo County murderer Donald Beardslee,
lifting an earlier stay the justices put in place to give the inmate's new
legal team a chance to prepare his bid for clemency.
Without comment, the justices ordered Beardslee's case to go forward,
paving the way for prosecutors to ask a San Mateo Superior Court judge to
set an execution date. The Supreme Court's action makes it likely that
Beardslee will now face execution in January or February for the 1981
killing of two women.
The U.S. Supreme Court last month rejected Beardslee's latest round of
legal appeals, putting his fate in the hands of Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger, who will review his arguments for clemency. There is no
timeline yet for when the governor will consider Beardslee's clemency
Beardslee, now 60, was sentenced to die in 1984 for the murders of Stacey
Benjamin and Patty Geddling in a string of violence spurred by a soured
drug deal. The two victims had been lured to Beardslee's Redwood City
apartment by his roommate and drug dealing associates.
Beardslee was the only participant in the crimes to receive a death
sentence. In what may prove the biggest obstacle to clemency, Beardslee
was on parole for killing a woman in Missouri when the local murders took
California, which has more than 640 inmates on death row, hasn't executed
a murderer in nearly 3 years.
(source: Mercury News)
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