[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----TEXAS, KY., CONN., IND., N.C.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Nov 28 21:45:34 CST 2004
Russeau Claims Wrongful Conviction
Condemned killer Gregory Lynn Russeau will be back in a Smith County
courtroom Thursday to attempt to prove he was wrongly convicted for the
killing of a 75-year-old auto mechanic.
In October 2002, a Smith County jury found the defendant guilty of capital
murder for the bludgeoning death of James Syvertson and assessed the death
Russeau, 35, is set to be in 114th District Judge Cynthia Stevens Kent's
court Thursday for a writ of habeas corpus hearing. His motion includes
three points on why he believes he was wrongly convicted.
The defendant claims trial court action interfered with his right to
counsel. During his punishment trial, he told the judge he did not offer
any mitigating evidence because he did not want his family members to have
to testify. Although he was defended by attorneys Clifton Roberson and
Brandon Baade, the decision was ultimately his, said Michael West, the
assistant district attorney who handles appellate matters.
Russeau also claims that Syvertson's wife should have been called to
testify during the trial about apparent discrepancies in a Tyler police
report, which stated that Gladys Syvertson said she went to her husband's
auto repair shop the morning after the murder and waited for him in her
husband's office. On the stand, she said she waited for him in her vehicle
outside. When he did not show up, she left, West said.
The victim's wife, daughter and grandchildren found his body hours after
his murder in May 2001 in his shop on Vine Avenue.
West said that either the woman was confused because of her husband's
traumatic death or the police officer was mistaken in the report. But that
type of discrepancy would not have made a difference in trial, he added.
The defendant also claims that two hairs found on a plastic bottle after
the initial search should not have been admissible. After the initial
evidence was collected by authorities, the victim's son discovered a
misplaced hammer lying on top of the bottle. Hair found on the bottle was
later matched by DNA testing to Russeau, West said.
He said that other evidence pointed to the convicted killer, including a
palm print on the car by which Syvertson's body was lying. Russeau was
arrested about 12 hours later in Longview driving the victim's vehicle and
had his insurance card and other personal information in his pocket.
The victim's wallet was stolen along with the car.
Russeau is being represented by attorney Jeff Haas for his writ of habeas
corpus motion while another attorney is representing him on his appeal,
which is still pending in the court of appeals.
According to testimony during his trial, Russeau did odd jobs to support
his drug addiction and lived most of his adult life incarcerated.
He was initially sent to prison more than 12 years ago and has been
convicted of numerous crimes, including burglaries, thefts, organized
crime and drug offenses.
He was on parole from prison with a pending violation for theft in May
2001 when he committed the murder.
(source: Tyler Morning Telegraph)
Fletcher meets death row inmate's mother
Gov. Ernie Fletcher had an impromptu meeting Sunday afternoon with the
mother of a death row inmate scheduled for execution later this week.
Iva Lee Bowling, the mother of death row inmate Thomas Clyde Bowling, met
briefly with Fletcher in front of the Kentucky Gov.'s mansion. She was
attending an anti-death penalty rally at the Capitol.
During their face-to-face meeting, Bowling's mother told Fletcher her son
"Ms. Bowling, very good to meet you," Fletcher said to her after they were
"You give this a lot of consideration," Iva Lee Bowling then told the
governor, "because I know my son's not guilty."
Fletcher acknowledged her, before heading back into the mansion.
"It's good to see you all today," Fletcher said to Mrs. Bowling and Mary
Alice Pratt of Lexington, who was standing with her. "And, we certainly
appreciate and respect your ability to express your concerns."
Bowling was convicted of murdering Edward and Tina Earley and shooting
their 2-year-old son outside the couple's Lexington dry-cleaning business
in 1990. Earlier this month, Fletcher set Bowling's execution date for
However, last week the Kentucky Supreme Court and a lower circuit court
both temporariliy blocked Bowling's execution while cases before them are
pending. In one suit, Bowling's attorneys claim he is mentally retarded
and should not face the death penalty.
The case pending before the Franklin Circuit Court questions the
constitutionality of Kentucky's method of administering lethal injections.
More than 100 people attended a rally at the Capitol in protest of
Kentucky's death penalty and to ask Fletcher to commute Bowling's sentence
to life in prison without parole. Some also criticized Fletcher for
signing the death warrant, even though he's a medical doctor.
Sunday's meeting between Fletcher and Bowling's mother occurred after the
governor - who was wearing blue warm-up pants and a T-shirt - went to
retrieve his dog from the front lawn of the mansion. Fletcher, still
holding the dog in his arms, came out to greet the anti-death penalty
Before meeting Bowling's mother, Fletcher told reporters he wanted to let
the people in attendance know that he acknowledged them and their
concerns. There were "obviously legitimate views on both sides" of the
debate, Fletcher said.
Fletcher said he made the decision after "reading most of the case as well
as the clemency requests." His move to set Bowling's execution date was
aimed at honoring his jury's decision, Fletcher said.
Fletcher told reporters he signed the order for Bowling's execution as
governor and not as a doctor.
"There's a difference between me recognizing and honoring the jury's
decision and my direct responsibility when I'm acting as a physician
taking care of a patient," Fletcher said. "I'm acting as governor. And, I
think clearly if you followed that line of reasoning, then physicians
wouldn't be able to serve on juries. They wouldn't be able to do a lot of
The Rev. Patrick Delahanty, head of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the
Death Penalty, said he hoped Fletcher would commute Bowling's sentence to
life in prison.
"I think it's a positive sign for the governor to come out and meet with
people who obviously disagree with him," Delahanty said.
(source: Associated Press)
Rell Should Back Off Ross Execution Delay
Letters To The Editor:
Doesn't Gov. M. Jodi Rell have more important things to do than get
involved in the Michael Ross case? This case has dragged on for 20-plus
years. The wheels of justice have turned slowly, but they have not gotten
to the point. It is time for Michael Ross to die.
Michael Ross's death will be nothing like the deaths he inflicted on
several Eastern Connecticut and Western New York women. He will peacefully
be put to sleep, in antiseptic surroundings, not like the woods, where he
savagely strangled his victims.
Gov. Rell, do not delay this by sending it to our legislature, which we
all know will talk this to death, thereby delaying his execution even
longer. Do not listen to the liberal bleeding hearts, who say that it is
cruel to execute Michael Ross. If it is so cruel, what do you call what he
did to his victims? Remember, he even admitted to stopping strangling one
of his victims because his hands cramped up, but then resumed his work.
And that is not cruel?
The wheels of justice have gotten us to this place. Michael Ross has
exhausted all his appeals; do not put another barrier in the way of
justice. Do the right thing. Put him to death. The victims of his cruelty
will thank you, and they will finally have the closure they desire.
Mike Tirone, Putnam
(source: Letter to the Editor, The Day)
Lab inquiry results are nearly complete----Investigators expect findings
soon as employees remain optimistic about their jobs and facility's future
As of this month, analysts in the Marion County Forensic Services Agency
were struggling with a backlog of 368 cases.
The breakdown by type*
- Firearms: 190 cases - 52%
- Latent prints: 120 cases - 33%
- DNA/biology: 58 cases - 16%
Cases analyzed in 2004, by type
- DNA/biology: 196
- Drug chemistry: 7,897
- Firearms: 471
- Latent prints: 1,499
- Documents: 430
- Trace chemistry: 475
- Illustrators: 374
* Numbers do not add up to 100 due to rounding
(source: Indianapolis Police Lt. Pete Mungovan)
The Forensic Services Agency is searching for new management and new
direction but is still haunted by ghosts of the high-profile accusations
surrounding DNA testing performed by a discredited analyst.
The reputation of the Marion County crime lab has been battered by
retests, firings and a special prosecutor's investigation into possible
criminal abuses, but the employees have embraced a new sense of stability
and are hopeful about their future.
"There's a new administration, there's a new change," DNA analyst Khalid
Lodhi said. "I hope the new director will bring up changes that will last
There already have been many changes made in the past 2 years.
In August 2002, one of Lodhi's former colleagues, Kuppareddi Balamurugan,
resigned amid accusations that he cut corners and tampered with equipment.
In July 2003, Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi ordered retests of the
64 DNA matches that Balamurugan performed during his six-year tenure with
the lab. Months later, Brizzi announced that he had lost confidence in
Director Jim Hamby, saying in a court document that Hamby has "not always
been readily forthcoming."
In May 2004, Mayor Bart Peterson fired Hamby and Assistant Director John
Special Prosecutor Barry Brown has been investigating the lab since
January. He said two Indiana State Police investigators have sifted
through thousands of pages of documents, and he expects to release his
conclusions in December.
"We're reviewing transcripts of past interviews and essentially trying to
hone this down into a manageable report," Brown said.
Brown said it is too soon to comment on what they have found. Lab
officials insist all problems are administrative, not criminal.
The turmoil and scandal have stained the lab's reputation, but some say a
recent jury verdict proves that the public is regaining confidence in the
In September, defense attorneys exposed the crime lab's blunders during
the trial of accused serial rapist Charles Hill. In the end, the jury
believed the science and convicted Hill of 24 felonies, including rape,
confinement and child molesting.
"I know the science is good," said Indianapolis Police Lt. Pete Mungovan,
who manages the lab's operations while the county conducts a national
search for a permanent director. "Most of the problems are administrative
issues, and it's not affecting the science."
The January retrial of Sterling Riggs might be the crime lab's final test.
DNA tested by Balamurugan is the only direct evidence that links Riggs to
the 1985 murder of 15-year-old Tracey Poindexter.
If jurors show confidence in the science, officials say, Riggs' second
conviction would finally put the crime lab scandal to rest.
Riggs was first convicted of the murder in 2001, before anyone knew about
the problems within the lab. Riggs was serving a 115-year sentence when he
won a new trial in June. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled that acting Judge
Robert W. York had improperly removed a juror after deliberations began.
It's not certain whether Riggs' lawyers will seek to expose the crime
lab's problems during his second trial, but officials aren't taking any
chances. This month, the crime lab gathered DNA samples collected from
Poindexter's body nearly 20 years ago and forwarded them to a private lab
"Certainly, I think what has happened at the crime lab affects us," said
Deputy Prosecutor Barb Crawford, who argued the Riggs case in 2001 and is
preparing to take it to a jury again on Jan. 10. "The problems are not
Labs across the country have been under scrutiny for similar mistakes.
In Florida, a DNA worker admitted to falsifying data designed to test the
quality of work. In Oklahoma, the attorney general ordered the review of
three death penalty cases after the FBI accused a forensic scientist of
shoddy work. In Illinois, an analyst was accused of helping to convict 6
defendants on false evidence.
Meanwhile, labs across the nation have been unable to meet increased
demand for all kinds of forensic testing. Backlogs of several months are
very common, experts say.
"The labs have become overwhelmed," said John K. Neuner, international
program manager for the Florida-based American Society of Crime Laboratory
Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board. "Everyone wants DNA done in
every case now. They don't have enough people and enough equipment to keep
up with it."
Nationally, 81 % of the nation's DNA crime labs had backlogs of 16,081
cases that included more than 265,000 samples, the U.S. Department of
Justice found in 2001.
Such backlogs have created an opening for entrepreneurs with the skill and
the financial backing to invest in private labs. Scott Newman, a former
Marion County prosecutor, and Mohammad A. Tahir, the former manager of the
crime lab's DNA section, are forming a private lab in Indianapolis.
It's too soon to tell whether the Newman-Tahir lab could have any impact
on the backlog in Marion County's crime lab. The county has been awarded
$220,000 in federal money, Mungovan said, to pay overtime to analysts and
outsource some of its DNA testing in an effort to cut the backlog.
Marion County's lab has a backlog of 58 DNA cases, 120 fingerprint cases
and 190 firearms cases. The backlog means police, prosecutors and victims
may wait months for their test results.
"We can't do it as easily as it's done on TV," Neuner said, referring to a
growing phenomenon described in forensic circles as "the 'CSI' factor."
In the popular CBS television show, evidence is collected, identified and
linked to a suspect in 60 minutes. Experts say jurors and law enforcement
agents are beginning to expect similar results from the real labs.
"It simply can't be done that quickly," Neuner said. "And many of the
things they do on TV simply can't be done."
Few understand this more than Lodhi, the Marion County analyst who spends
his days collecting and testing DNA linked to local rapes and homicides.
He recently sat at a table and used a marker to label small vials of
genetic material. It's one step in the long process of DNA testing, a
process that can take several weeks or months.
He gets by, he said, by focusing his attention on separating and
amplifying the samples from victims, then attempting to match them with
samples from suspects.
Amid the turmoil, the scandal, the uncertainty, Lodhi stays steady.
"I do my same job."
(source: Indianapolis Star)
NORTH CAROLINA----impending execution
Each execution adds to risk of injustice
Charles Walker's defenders say he's not guilty of the 1992 murder for
which he's condemned to die.
The victim's body was never found. No physical evidence linked Walker to
the crime. He was convicted solely on the testimony of co-defendants who
cut deals with prosecutors in exchange for lighter sentences.
The arguments aren't convincing. The strongest appeal for Walker's life
rests on opposition to capital punishment under any circumstances.
Walker was a 27-year-old reputed drug dealer who was angered by Tito
Davidson's attempt to steal money and drugs, according to testimony at
Walker's trial in Greensboro. He and two young associates, Rashar Darden
and Jesse Thompson, were charged with luring Davidson to an apartment,
where the victim was bound, beaten, cut and shot.
Darden and Thompson pleaded guilty to 2nd-degree murder. Darden served six
years and was released. Thompson remains in prison.
Why did they get off easy? Age and degree of culpability, according to
Guilford County Chief Assistant District Attorney Howard Neumann, who
prosecuted Walker. Darden was 14 and Thompson 17. They acted under
Walker's direction, Neumann said.
But Neumann offered Walker the same opportunity. When Walker turned it
down, Neumann proceeded with the capital case. Although the jury could not
conclude that Walker fired the fatal bullet -- testimony indicated that
Walker, Darden and Thompson all shot Davidson -- it determined that Walker
intended to kill the victim. It recommended a death sentence, citing two
aggravating factors: the especially heinous, atrocious or cruel nature of
the crime; and Walker's previous conviction for attempted murder.
Contentions about the missing body and lack of physical evidence didn't
sway the jury. No one doubted that Davidson was brutally murdered. The
prosecution made effective use of testimony by Darden and others who were
nearby and knew what was happening. The N.C. Supreme Court upheld the
conviction and sentence.
Walker was a dangerous criminal known as "Supreme" who recruited teenagers
to sell drugs for him and ruled by intimidation, Neumann said last week.
He belongs behind bars.
But, if he'd been smarter, he would have pleaded guilty to a lesser charge
and been serving a long prison term rather than facing a short few days
before his scheduled Dec. 3 execution.
That's part of what's wrong with capital punishment. The difference
between life and death can boil down to a foolish decision in court or
some capricious twist of fate.
But the best reason to stop Walker's execution, which Gov. Mike Easley can
do by commutation of sentence, and all others is not that Walker's
supporters say he's innocent. Rather, it's that every execution increases
the chances that someone will die by mistake.
(source: Editorial, News & Record)
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