[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TENN., S.C., USA, FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Sep 22 15:48:19 CDT 2004
Mothers of slain Captain D's workers take stand
A mother never expects to bury her son, let alone testify in court about
his abbreviated life. As the triple-homicide trial of LaTonya Taylor
continues, the mothers of the three slain Captain D's employees each took
the witness stand and testified about their son's families and
Scott Myers, Bryan Speight and Troy Snell were murdered in the early
morning hours of July 12, 2000. Myers and Speight were left in the Smyrna
restaurant's freezer, while Snell was found in his car in a nearby parking
The small but tight band of mothers offered one another support while on
the witness stand. They privately shared looks of encouragement and smiles
of hope while publicly sharing their loss.
Eleanor Myers testified her son was married with three daughters and was
scheduled to return home to Memphis in a matter of days. Speight had a
daughter and had worked at Captain D's for less than six months, according
to his mother, Daphne Taylor. Snell had just gotten a new car and was
excited about his job so he could spend his paycheck fixing it up, said
his mother, Billie Teresa Snell.
When asked how she learned of her son's death, Eleanor Myers said she got
a call from ''someone at Captain D's corporate'' office.
''They said my son was dead, and I insisted they were wrong, but they said
there was no mistake,'' Myers testified, her voice cracking at the end.
In the trial's second day, prosecutors again did not connect Taylor to the
crime scene, but they did show she was at the BP gas station next door.
Salam Alhasmawy, a former BP employee, identified video surveillance tapes
that show Taylor and Percy Lee Palmer in the convenience store buying beer
more than an hour and 15 minutes before Snell clocked out of the Captain
The clerk described Palmer and Taylor as "regular customers" who came in
the store often and usually bought cigarettes and beer.
As the video played, jurors and spectators studied the plasma TV screens
as the figures identified as Palmer and Taylor moved in and out of video
frames. The figure identified as Taylor wore a blue shirt, as previously
described by a witness Monday, but she did not have on khaki pants that
one witness testified to. Also missing from the video was the backpack, or
duffel bag, that at least two witnesses said she carried on that night.
Taylor, 27, of Nashville and Palmer, 24, have been charged with 2st-degree
murder in the slayings. They also have been charged with kidnapping and
robbery. The 2 are being tried separately. Palmer's trial date has not
Witnesses, suspects offer few details in slayings
The killings at the Captain D's at 402 N. Lowery St. were the worst mass
homicide in Smyrna's 135-year history. Here is what happened in the early
morning hours of July 12, 2000, according to witness and suspect
interviews and other court records:
Captain D's workers Troy Snell and Scott Myers went into a nearby BP gas
station just after 11 p.m. July 11 and bought a few things. They were
filmed by a BP security tape.
Also, at some point that night, Troy Snell clocked out of the restaurant,
but court records do not say at what time.
Investigators believe the slayings took place between 12:06 and 12:40 a.m.
At 2:30 a.m., a garbage-truck driver saw someone in a car parked behind a
nearby Kmart. Police arrived and found Snell in his purple Mazda Protege,
dead of a gunshot wound.
At 3:30 a.m., a pest-control worker found the bodies of Myers and Speight
in the walk-in cooler at Captain D's. Myers lay on his side, his hands
apparently still tied behind his head, while Speight's body was found in a
All three victims had been shot in the head with the same .22-caliber
handgun that police have never found, according to a report from
Investigators discovered that an undisclosed amount of money had been
taken from the restaurant. Also missing was a set of store keys that
belonged to Speight.
Key events after the slayings
May 2001 - Television show America's Most Wanted airs a segment about the
July 2001 - LaTonya Taylor is arrested in Nashville on unrelated charges.
July 30, 2001 - A supervisor for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation asks
one of his agents to help the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in
arresting Percy Lee Palmer.
Aug. 2, 2001 - Palmer is arrested at the Blue Spruce Motel in Aurora,
Colo., where he has been living with his mother, stepfather and their
three small children.
Nov. 6, 2001 - Palmer and Taylor are indicted in the triple homicide.
Police also say America's Most Wanted helped solve the case.
Sept. 20, 2004 - Taylor's trial begins. Palmer and Taylor remain jailed
without bail. Palmer is awaiting a trial date.
State seeks death penalty for Taylor
Charged: LaTonya Taylor, 27, of Nashville is charged with three counts of
1st-degree murder, three counts of felony murder - a charge levied when
someone is accused of murder while committing another felony - 3 counts of
especially aggravated kidnapping and one count of especially aggravated
Victims: Scott Myers, 42, of Memphis; William Troy Snell, 18, of La
Vergne; and Bryan Speight, 29, of Nashville.
The case: Statements by witnesses and suspects to police suggest the three
men were killed when Taylor and co-defendant Percy Palmer, 24, went to the
restaurant that night to collect a $400 drug debt from Snell. Neither the
police nor prosecutors have ever said if there was any physical evidence
to support their case.
Details: All 3 of the Captain D's employees were shot execution-style -
Myers and Speight were left in the freezer, while Snell was found in his
car in a nearby parking lot.
It took police more than a year to make an arrest in the case, but even
then, neither Taylor nor Palmer was arrested in the slayings. Both were
initially arrested on unrelated charges and were served with the murder
charges after the initial arrests.
The prosecution will attempt to prove Taylor killed the men with intent
and premeditation. The state seeks a death sentence.
The defense maintains Taylor had nothing to do with the slayings.
Suspect's background: Taylor has a history of a troubled childhood and
criminal activity. She has been arrested on drug charges before, and
earlier this month, she was found guilty of aggravated robbery, especially
aggravated kidnapping and two counts of kidnapping for a robbery at an
Arby's restaurant in Donelson.
Bail: Taylor has been held without bail at the Metro Detention Facility,
5115 Harding Place.
(source: The Tennessean)
E-courtrooms designed to reduce trial time
In Columbia, every word spoken in the courtroom where Branden Basham is on
trial for his life appears immediately before U.S. District Judge Joseph
Anderson on a computer screen. Basham, accused in the 2002 abduction and
death of Alice Donovan of Galivants Ferry, is having his case heard in one
of 3 E-courtrooms in the new Matthew J. Perry Jr. Federal Courthouse here.
There are 7 such courtrooms in South Carolina, three in Columbia and at
least 1 each in federal courthouses in Florence, Greenville and
Lawyers say the courtrooms help reduce trial time by making evidence
display and tracking documents more efficient.
Advanced courtroom technology has been gaining acceptance with federal
judges since the mid-1990s, according to a 1997 survey of judges. The
survey by the Administration Office Electronic Courtroom Project indicated
80 % of judges then had experienced or planned to use the newest
The electronic courtroom here includes monitors in the jury box, one
between every 2 seats. There is also a witness-box monitor with
touch-screen features. There are also large-screen monitors for public
"It made the Chadrick Fulks' case three to five days shorter," said
Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Schools, referring to Basham's co-defendant.
Fulks pleaded guilty and has been and sentenced to death.
Lawyers estimate Basham's trial will last up to 6 weeks. Schools said it
would be longer without the courtroom technology.
Jack Swerling, one of Basham's lawyers, has found no drawbacks with the
Defense lawyers, prosecutors and Anderson use the courtroom's real-time
transcription feature to receive a printed version of the trial as it's
being recorded by the court reporter.
"It helps us stay more on top of the case," Swerling said. "You can get
the printed version and review it at night."
The greatest timesaving feature is the evidence presentation system with
the video monitors, Schools said.
Before the system was installed, lawyers had to show evidence to
witnesses, then carry it over to jurors, he said.
There are more than 300 pieces of evidence in Basham's case, Schools said.
About 3/4 of the items can be shown to jurors on the video monitors, he
Schools said trials in E-courtrooms require extensive preparation, but it
is worth the effort.
(source:The Associated Press)
Supreme Tipping Point
The Supreme Court -- and who should get to name its justices -- is about
to make its quadrennial cameo appearance as a presidential campaign issue.
But this time around, a rarely heard question is being asked: Does the
outcome of the election really matter all that much for the Court?
Advocates on both sides insist it does, energizing their base with
warnings that the Court is "one vote away" from adopting some heinous new
doctrine or doing away with a cherished old one.
But some are questioning that premise -- or at least its urgency -- in
ways that complicate the importance of the Supreme Court as an election
issue. A combination of factors -- the seeming moderation of the current
Court, the prospect of Senate confirmation gridlock and the almost
mythical power of stare decisis and tradition on the Court -- have led
some to wonder whether the next new justices, no matter who appoints them,
will have the ability or desire to change the direction of the Court
Liberal Georgetown University Law Center professor Mark Tushnet has even
offered the heretical and hotly contested view that the outcome Nov. 2
will be a wash for the Court. "The politics in the Senate make it likely
that a newly appointed Democratic Supreme Court justice would look a lot
like a newly appointed Republican one," Tushnet wrote in the current issue
of Legal Affairs magazine.
Florida International University College of Law professor Thomas Baker, a
longtime Court-watcher, agrees and thinks the increasing moderation of the
current Court muddies the question of how much change a new justice or two
would actually bring. "There's almost a hydraulic pressure once they get
on the Court to move to the left of where they start," he says, pointing
to votes by Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy and even by
Chief Justice William Rehnquist that they might not have cast a few years
To Elliot Mincberg, legal director of the liberal group People for the
American Way, these factors don't detract from the importance of the
Supreme Court as an issue. "It may be hard to run against this Court," he
acknowledges, "but a lot of those moderate votes were awful close. It
takes simple math to figure that if you get another [Antonin] Scalia or
[Clarence] Thomas on there, it tips the balance. A lot depends on who
leaves." At the Supreme Court, the math is never simple, but it is true
that a Rehnquist departure will mean more if John Kerry replaces him than
if George W. Bush does. The reverse is true if the more liberal Justice
John Paul Stevens departs. And if swing vote O'Connor leaves, it means a
lot no matter who replaces her. Mincberg's group has issued a report,
"Courting Disaster," detailing cases that could be reversed by Bush
On one aspect of the debate, there is general agreement: After 10 years of
stability -- a modern-day record -- it seems almost impossible that the
next 4 years will pass without a high court departure. Rehnquist, who
turns 80 on Oct. 1, and Justice John Paul Stevens, 84, have already hired
their law clerks for the 2005-06 term, though that is not a reliable
indicator of their plans. Neither they nor any other justice appears to
have pressing health concerns. But change seems inevitable.
So the winner on Nov. 2 will likely have 1 or more Supreme Court
appointments to make in the next 4 years. But what will that mean for
Last year in Grutter v. Bollinger, the Court upheld a University of
Michigan affirmative action program by a 5-4 vote, with Justice O'Connor
casting the deciding vote and writing the opinion.
That slim margin guaranteed that affirmative action would be on Democrats'
list of endangered doctrines. Indeed, longtime abortion rights advocate
Kate Michelman, who is heading the Democratic National Committee's new
Campaign to Save the Court to highlight the Court as an election issue,
wrote in a position paper last week that "the conservative justices need
just 1 more vote to eliminate affirmative action."
But it's not that simple, says John Payton, a partner at Wilmer Cutler
Pickering Hale and Dorr who is second to none in advocating for
affirmative action. Payton argued one of the 2003 Michigan cases at the
For 25 years before the Court ruled in Grutter, Payton notes, the high
court "left affirmative action alone," at least in the education context,
relying on Justice Lewis Powell Jr.'s concurrence in the 1978 case Regents
of the University of California v. Bakke that was "written for the ages"
to give guidance to universities.
"I think the way that O'Connor wrote in the Michigan case was in the same
spirit as Bakke," says Payton. "It was intended to give universities
guidance on which they can rely for a long time."
The heft and reach of O'Connor's opinion leads Payton to conclude that
even if O'Connor departs and is replaced by a Bush nominee, "I would be
surprised if the Court would go out of its way anytime soon" to overturn
Grutter and consign affirmative action to oblivion. "You have to see who
the personalities are. But I would be surprised."
Payton is quick to add that "it really matters" who is elected. "We can't
anticipate what the next issue will be" in matters of race, he says.
"There are issues we haven't thought about, issues we will guess wrong
on." An example of an issue making its way to the Court: litigation over
race-conscious programs in K-12 education, which, Payton thinks, could
produce different votes.
The right to an abortion, like affirmative action, seems safe for now,
protected by the troika of Justices O'Connor, David Souter and Anthony
Kennedy, who affirmed Roe v. Wade in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v.
Casey. It was a 5-4 decision, too, with Stevens and the late Harry
Blackmun joining the 3 in the majority. But with abortion rights
supporters Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer on the Court now, it
would probably take two or more committed abortion foes appointed by Bush
-- and replacing, say, O'Connor and Stevens -- to overturn Roe.
Like the affirmative action opinion, the Casey decision seems to have been
written to ward off attack, with the O'Connor-Souter-Kennedy opinion
waxing eloquent about stare decisis, the institutional tug that leads
justices to uphold -- or at least not quickly overrule -- precedent. "An
entire generation has come of age" relying on Roe v. Wade, they wrote.
But justices disagree over the importance of stare decisis, and new
nominees are likely to be grilled on the subject. In the new biography
"Judging Thomas," author Ken Foskett quotes Justice Scalia as telling him
that Justice Thomas "does not believe in stare decisis, period. If a
constitutional line of authority is wrong, he would say let's get it
right. I wouldn't do that." Though he was apparently trying to distance
himself from Thomas by the remark, Scalia also has mixed views on stare
decisis, especially on constitutional issues. Since it is so hard to amend
the Constitution -- unlike federal laws, which Congress can change with
relative ease -- Scalia has said that if the Court has ruled incorrectly
in constitutional cases, only the Court can fix the mistake, and it should
not be reluctant to do so.
In spite of the potency of the Casey decision, abortion rights advocates
see peril if Bush nominates even a single justice. The so-called
partial-birth abortion issue is likely to return to the Court, which
struck down a Nebraska ban on the procedure by a 5-4 vote in the 2000
Stenberg v. Carhart decision. Kennedy, a Roe supporter, nonetheless
switched sides and was one of the dissenters in Stenberg, and if a
2nd-term Bush got to replace one of the majority justices -- O'Connor, say
-- that precedent could be in danger.
Bush's nominees would be "much too smart to vote against Roe v. Wade
outright," says American University law professor Herman Schwartz, author
of "Right Wing Justice," a new critique of Republican judicial nominees.
"But they'll cut it back. Bush will come up with people who have a smooth
surface, but are very, very conservative."
Gay rights is another issue on which the impact of a new justice would be
unclear. The Lawrence v. Texas ruling of 2003 was a 6-3 decision, with
only the staunchest conservatives -- Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas --
agreeing that criminal anti-sodomy laws should be upheld. With Kennedy and
O'Connor powerfully siding with the majority to strike the laws down,
Lawrence seems immune from quick reversal -- especially since Lawrence
itself reversed a relatively recent precedent, the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick
"Lawrence could be reconsidered if you get a Court that really wants to
reconsider all the Court's privacy opinions, including Griswold v.
Connecticut," says Jenner & Block partner Paul Smith, referring to the
1965 case in which the Court ruled unconstitutional state laws that made
the use of birth control illegal for married couples. But it would take 4
or 5 new and ideological conservative justices before that would happen,
estimates Smith, who argued and won Lawrence.
But on the next wave of gay rights litigation -- gay adoptions, for
example, or federal recognition of Massachusetts' same-sex marriages --
Smith thinks the justices may divide differently, making the views of even
1 or 2 new justices important.
On the other side of the fence, one 5-4 decision that has Bush supporters
worrying about a John Kerry win relates to school voucher programs. In the
2002 decision Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the Court, with O'Connor in the
majority, said voucher programs could benefit students attending parochial
schools without violating the First Amendment. Kerry has been critical of
such programs, and if he got to replace O'Connor, the Court could shift,
though in this case, too, stare decisis would be a factor.
"You can never predict the importance of precedent," says Clint Bolick,
president of the Alliance for School Choice. "But the appointment of a
single justice could swing the balance. The boundaries of school choice,
for better or worse, are set by the courts."
Bolick, a longtime supporter of conservative court nominees, sees the
future of the Court as "the single most galvanizing issue for movement
conservatives. This election could be a twofer -- we win the White House
and the Supreme Court."
Bolick also points to federalism cases, most of them decided in favor of
states by 5-4 votes with justices deeply committed on both sides, as
another area of the law that the election could affect. The Rehnquist
Court's federalism juggernaut has already slowed somewhat, but if Kerry
got to replace Rehnquist, say, momentum could run the other way -- with
consequences for issues ranging from disability rights to the environment.
Georgetown University Law Center professor Richard Lazarus, an expert on
environmental cases, agrees that in areas like federalism and regulatory
takings that affect environmental law, the Court is closely divided. The
change of a single justice could have an impact, says Lazarus.
One example the Court may face even before a vacancy occurs, according to
Lazarus: the constitutionality of the Endangered Species Act. The law has
been challenged as an intrusion on states' rights, and if Bush gets to
replace O'Connor or Stevens, Lazarus thinks the law could be in jeopardy.
One complication for that calculus: So far, the Bush administration has
defended the law in court, says Lazarus.
And then there is one major issue the high court regularly deals with on
which the presidential candidates differ sharply, but it won't make much
difference for the Court. Bush favors capital punishment and says that
when he was governor of Texas, he was confident that everyone executed by
the state was guilty. Kerry opposes the death penalty, except for some
But even if Kerry wins, it would take a long time to change the Court's
pro-death-penalty course. Since the departures of Justices William Brennan
Jr., Thurgood Marshall and Blackmun, no current justice opposes capital
punishment per se.
Instead Diann Rust-Tierney, the new director of the National Coalition to
Abolish the Death Penalty, will be looking for fair-minded new justices,
no matter who is elected. Many of the current justices have become
increasingly attuned to issues of due process in death cases, Rust-Tierney
says. "The system is so disturbing and gets it wrong so often, that when
they see how the sausage is made, they are very troubled."
(source: Legal Times)
Survivor calls capital punishment 'madness'--He urges people to get
involved in the movement to abolish it
2 numbers have dominated Juan Roberto Melendez Colon's life in the past
The 1st is 8-046466, his inmate number during the nearly 18 years he spent
on Florida's death row.
The 2nd is 99, his ranking among condemned prisoners nationwide who have
been exonerated and released since capital punishment was reinstated in
"When it [his case] first started, I was naive to the law," Melendez said
Tuesday about the 1984 arrest that started his journey through the justice
system. "I thought when I was done with the process, I would be let go.
"I was wrong."
Convicted for a murder he insisted he hadn't committed, Melendez sat in a
cell for the next 17 years, eight months and one day, while the Florida
Supreme Court rejected three appeals. Finally a judge ruled he deserved a
new trial and prosecutors decided to drop the case.
Since his release from the Florida State Prison on Jan. 3, 2002, Melendez,
53, has traveled the nation to speak out against capital punishment. In
Utah this week, Melendez said the system of imposing the death penalty is
flawed beyond repair.
"Once you are indicted with a grand jury, there is no turning back,"
Melendez told The Salt Lake Tribune a few hours before he spoke at the
S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.
Judi Caruso, a New Mexico attorney and human rights activist who also
spoke at the university, said that Melendez's experience is not unusual.
"The death penalty system is error-prone," Caruso said.
Melendez, a migrant worker who grew up in Puerto Rico and spoke little
English at the time, was convicted of the 1983 murder of Delbert Baker, a
cosmetology school owner. He claims prosecutors targeted him after cutting
deals with 2 acquaintances, including a now-deceased man believed to be
the real killer.
After years of being ignored by the courts, a new lawyer took over
Melendez's appeals and discovered a cassette tape with incriminating
statements by the real killer at the trial attorney's office. That tape,
along with other favorable evidence, was turned over to Judge Barbara
Fleisher, who struck down the conviction in December 2001.
Fleisher said the prosecutor had withheld crucial evidence that
substantiated Melendez's claim of innocence. The state, without
acknowledging any wrongdoing, declined to retry the case.
"If I would have lost this appeal, I wouldn't have lasted long," Melendez
He captivated his audience Tuesday night with his dramatic story of being
convicted of 1st-degree murder and armed robbery despite having an alibi
backed by 4 witnesses.
"When they sentenced me to death, my heart got full of hate," Melendez
said. "I was scared, very scared, to die for something I didn't do."
The hatred and fear accompanied him to his rat- and roach-infested prison
cell, he said. He first planned to get into shape so he could fight the
guards who one day would come to take him to the death chamber; he also
"I'm not walking to that chair," Melendez said.
But then he found hope. The condemned men around him, the ones considered
monsters by many, taught him to read, write and speak English, he said. He
followed the example of many and embraced a faith, in his case,
And he started having dreams of Puerto Rico, a sign that God knew he
didn't do it, Melendez said.
One month after his conviction was overturned, Melendez walked out of
prison to the cheers of his fellow death-row inmates. During his years of
incarceration, he said, "I learned how to forgive, how to have compassion
for others, how to love."
He moved back to Puerto Rico, where he lives with his 74-year-old mother
in Manuabo. He also counsels troubled youths who are hired at the plantain
field where he works.
"The years are gone," Melendez said. "I'm just taking a negative situation
and making something positive."
He urged his audience to form a coalition in Utah to abolish the death
"We can get rid of this madness," he said.
2 U. law professors at the event also encouraged listeners to get involved
in the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center (RMIC), which works to clear
wrongly convicted defendants in Utah, Nevada and Wyoming. Jensie Anderson,
RMIC president, said the group is on the verge of exonerating two inmates,
one of them in Utah.
Melendez is scheduled to speak again today at 6 p.m. at the Union Theater,
Olpin Student Union Building, at the University of Utah. The talk is free
and open to the public.
The groups sponsoring his appearances include the Minority Law Caucus and
the Public Interest Law Organization at the Quinney law school; the
American Civil Liberties Union of Utah; the Utah Minority Bar Association;
the Utah People for Peace and Justice; and the Utah Coalition of La Raza.
"When they sentenced me to death, my heart got full of hate," Juan
Melendez says. "I was scared, very scared, to die for something I didn't
do." He spoke Tuesday at U. of U. law school.
(source: Salt Lake Tribune)
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