[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----OHIO, CONN., LA., N.J., MISS., PENN.

Rick Halperin rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Oct 19 23:59:50 CDT 2004






Oct. 19


OHIO:

State's law one is of strictest in nation


Chris Bennett thought he was responsible for his best friend's death in a
Stark County crash three years ago, but now hopes a DNA test will prove he
pleaded guilty to a crime he did not commit.

Bennett, 28, suffered serious head injuries in the May 2001 crash that
killed Ron Young, 42, and did not remember much about the accident when he
pleaded guilty.

Months after he began serving his nine-year prison sentence, the memory of
the crash returned and he recalls being the passenger, not the driver, he
claims.

Now Bennett is among more than 140 Ohio inmates who have turned to groups
like Ohio Innocence Project, one of 26 nonprofit groups dedicated to
helping inmates who have been wrongly convicted of crimes.

In the last decade, 4 Ohio inmates who served a combined 45 years in
prison for crimes they did not commit have been freed from prison after
DNA tests unlocked their innocence.

A state law passed last year allows inmates to request DNA tests under
certain conditions.

The inmates must have significant time left to serve and must have new
evidence that can exonerate them. If an inmate succeeds, the state will
pay for the tests, which can cost as much as $20,000.

With the Oct. 29 application deadline approaching, local prosecutors and
defense lawyers are scrambling to prepare cases that will bring convicted
killers and rapists back to local courts to plead their case.

Innocence Projects across the country have freed 151 wrongly accused
inmates in the last 10 years.

The Innocence Project in New York helped free Clevelander Michael Green in
October 2001 after he served 13 years for a rape he did not commit. Ohio
established its own Innocence Project in May 2003 at the University of
Cincinnati Law School. Law students and professors there are sorting
through cases to find ones with merit.

The Ohio attorney general's office said only four inmates have been
granted hearings so far.

Mark Godsey, an assistant law professor at UC and faculty director of the
Ohio Innocence Project, said Ohio's law is one of the strictest in the
nation.

"Inmates have to prove with 100 percent certainty that the outcome of
their case would be different if DNA were tested," Godsey said. "In other
states they need only show likelihood."

Godsey said the restrictions mean very few cases will ever get inside a
courtroom.

One that did, thanks to Godsey's group, was Bennett's case. Godsey's
students found Bennett's mangled car in a scrap yard just days before it
was to be crushed.

They recovered blood and hair imbedded in the passenger side dash. DNA
tests proved they were Bennett's.

Godsey argued the case in Stark County Common Pleas Court on Oct. 1 and is
submitting written arguments this week in an effort to win either a new
trial or freedom. Prosecutors there claim Bennett's DNA could have been
thrown across the car during the accident.

In Lake County, Donald Soke, 37, is the only inmate there to seek DNA
tests. Soke made headlines in 1990 spinning tales of mayhem and murder
when he confessed that he killed Eastlake housewife Karen LaSpina stabbing
her 55 times during a burglary.

Now after 14 years in prison, Soke is recanting and says DNA tests can
prove someone else killed her.

"I falsely confessed to the murder. I could not have been the murderer,
blood found at the crime scene was not mine," Soke said in handwritten
motions.

He fabricated the confession, he said, to win favors like beer, pizza and
a jailhouse wedding from police.

Lake County Prosecutor Charles Coulson is opposing the DNA tests and said
Soke is not likely to prevail.

Much of the evidence from the crime scene has been contaminated or
destroyed after his appeals ran out, Coulson said.

Assistant Prosecutor Lisa Neroda, handling the DNA portion of the case,
said it was not DNA but the confession and witnesses who saw Soke covered
with blood that night that sealed his fate.

Godsey said Ohio doesn't allow more advanced DNA tests that are more
conclusive.

While other states have no time limits, Ohio's one-year limit denies
inmates the time they need to gather the crucial evidence that police have
trouble locating years after a conviction, he said.

That happened in a Summit County case where prosecutors have been unable
to locate the DNA that inmate Robert Crider is seeking. Crider, 55, was
convicted in the 1983 rape of a Cuyahoga Falls woman and said he was
wrongly convicted by a witness who changed her description of her attacker
11 times at trial.

In court documents, Cuyahoga Falls police said they couldn't find the DNA
evidence and a state lab said their samples were contaminated when a power
outage cut their refrigeration.

A case that may be headed to court soon in Summit County started with a
family so dedicated to clearing convicted killer Clarence Elkins' name
that they raised more than $25,000 to pay a private lab to test the
crime-scene DNA.

Elkins, 41, of Magnolia, was convicted of the June 1999 murder and rape of
his mother-in-law and rape of his niece.

But DNA evidence tested recently excludes him in any of the crimes. His
defense attorney Jana DeLoach is seeking a new trial and has a meeting
planned this week with court officials.

"Clarence Elkins is an innocent man," said DeLoach, adding that Elkins has
served 6 years for a crime he could not have committed. "This has been
horrible on him and his family."

Elkins' case clearly demonstrates there are innocent men in prison, she
said.

"Since this law will expire in a few weeks, it's very scary because there
may be others who can't get their cases filed on time.

"Even scarier," she added, "is the fact that the real killer is still out
there."

(source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)

******************

Convicted Killer Wants Off Death Row


A convicted murderer from Trumbull County will remain on death row.

Andre "Kokomo: Williams claimed he was mentally retarded and therefore
should not be put to death.

Judge Wyatt McKay does not agree and ruled Tuesday that Williams should
die for his crimes.

He was convicted of the August, 1988, murder of George Melnick and the
beating and blinding of his wife, Katherine.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the execution of mentally retarded inmates is
cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. Constitution.

(source: WYTV News)






CONNECTICUT:

Hitman could be first Conn. federal death sentence in decades


While officials prepare for Connecticut's 1st execution in 44 years, a
hired underworld hit man sits in prison, waiting to learn whether he will
become the 1st person to face a federal death sentence in Connecticut in
at least 77 years.

Fausto Gonzalez was hired in 1996 to kill the leader of the Savage Nomads
street gang. For $6,000, he rode up on a motorcycle and fired 13 times,
killing Theodore "Teddy" Casiano, prosecutors said.

He was convicted Friday of murdering Casiano as part of a drug and
racketeering enterprise, a crime that carries a possible death penalty. A
jury will begin deciding Wednesday whether Gonzalez should join 29 people
across the nation awaiting lethal injection on federal death row.

Though Casiano was killed in Hartford, Gonzalez would not be held in
Connecticut's death row, where serial killer Michael Ross awaits his Jan.
26 execution.

Since federal prosecutors resumed seeking the death penalty in the
mid-1980s, all federal executions have been carried out at the federal
prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

Gonzalez's attorney, Robert M. Casale, said he isn't a death penalty
opponent but doesn't understand how his client faces the same penalty as
Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

"It just shouldn't be this guy. There's so many bad operators who've gone
through the system," Casale said. "This guy probably just wasn't smart
enough to get in the door and make the early deal. If that's the reason
for executing somebody, this system is really screwed up."

Casale pointed out that the mastermind and money man behind the killing,
rival drug dealer Wilfredo Perez, was spared the death penalty and
received a life sentence. Several other figures in the killing could have
faced execution, but cooperated with investigators.

"How do we arbitrarily execute one guy in all this mishmash?" Casale said.
"There's been an awful lot of blame shifting. I don't know what we're
doing with the death penalty when we use it only on those who don't
cooperate in making other cases."

(source: Newsday)






LOUISIANA:

Death sentence upheld in killing of Plain Dealing woman


A death sentence handed to a man convicted of kidnapping and killing a
Plain Dealing woman was upheld today by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Without dissent, the high court backed the 1st-degree murder conviction of
Jeremiah D. Manning in the December 2000 killing of 62-year-old Mary Ann
Malone.

Prosecutors in Bossier Parish said Manning, who had done yard work for
Malone, kidnapped her from her home, forced her to drive to a remote area
and then beat her and slit her throat. Police arrested Manning as he ran
along a highway after crashing Malone's car into a ditch.

Manning contended that his low I-Q, along with his drinking on the day of
the killing, made it impossible for him to knowledgeably waive his right
against self-incrimination before he made statements to investigators.
Manning's appeal said those statement should have been thrown out.

Manning also complained that pre-trial publicity made it impossible for
him to get a fair trial and that prosecutors failed to prove he had
committed aggravated kidnapping -- a compounding felony that qualified him
for the death sentence.

The Supreme Court rejected all of the contentions.

No execution date has been set. Manning can still ask the U-S Supreme
Court to review the conviction and pursue other appeals in federal court.

(source: Associated Press)






NEW JERSEY:

Court upholds conviction, death sentence in slaying of artist


In Trenton, the state Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the murder
conviction and death sentence of Ambrose Harris in the brutal rape-slaying
of a Pennsylvania artist.

Harris was condemned for the killing of Kristin Huggins, 22, of Lower
Makefield, Pa., whom he kidnapped in Trenton and raped in 1992. Before his
arrest, the Trenton man drove Huggins' car with her body stuffed in the
trunk.

The ruling affirms a lower court decision 2 years ago not to overturn
Harris' conviction or send his death sentence back to the trial court for
a hearing.

Harris' lawyers on appeal sought to have the conviction overturned on the
grounds that he did not receive competent legal counsel at his 1996 trial.

His new lawyers contended the trial counsel should have had Harris
interviewed by psychiatrists and then presented the findings to the jury.
Jurors were only told about Harris' medical records from birth to age 13.

Harris also challenged his death sentence, alleging he was mentally
retarded and that his execution would therefore be barred under a U.S.
Supreme Court ruling.

But the New Jersey Supreme Court found that Harris' trial counsel's
conduct was reasonable and based on a viable strategy.

On the mental retardation issue, justices said the case record contains
sufficient evidence to refute the claim, including IQ test results for
Harris when he was young and the opinion of Harris' own expert in his
trial's penalty phase who disagreed with any diagnosis that Harris was
mentally retarded.

(source: Newsday)




MISSISSIPPI:

Prosecutor Will Not Seek The Death Penalty


A Wiggins man accused of killing a Moss Point police officer will not face
the death penalty, if he is found guilty. That announcement came Tuesday
before testimony started in Jonathan White's capital murder trial.

District Attorney Tony Lawrence said he will not seek the death penalty
against White, at the request of Larry Lee's family.

Police say White killed Lee in 2002 when he rammed his patrol car while
fleeing a routine traffic stop.

"We had a meeting this morning with the family. At the consultation with
the family and discussing the actually laws and facts of the case, they
asked me to consider not going for the death penalty, and I respect their
wishes. I believe victims should have rights in the court room. They lost
a family member and I'm certainly going to abide by their desires,"
Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence said.

In opening statements Tuesday, prosecutors said White could have stopped,
instead of hitting Lee's car.

Defense attorneys claim that White did not intend to harm Lee, and that
White should have been charged with manslaughter, not capital murder.

The trial turned emotional for the Lee family. For the 1st time, they
heard a dispatch tape of Lee's last words before his car was hit on
Highway 63.

(source: WLOX TV News)






PENNSYLVANIA:

Murder Victim's Father: Death Penalty will Be Justice


The father of a murdered teenager says justice will only be served when
the 2 men who killed his daughter are also killed.

Police say Lester Johnson, 20, and Jaurvon Hopkins, 21, kidnapped and
murdered Shawnte Betts, 17, and her friend James Jones, 26, this summer.

Now Allegheny County's district attorney is planning to pursue the death
penalty against the 2 men.

For Betts' father, the DA's decision is welcome news.

(source: KDKA News)






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