death penalty news----PENN., CALIF., U.S. MILIT., OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Apr 5 17:51:25 CDT 2005
Other recusal reasons cited in Downs' letter to AG
Among the reasons cited by Bradford County District Attorney Stephen Downs
to recuse himself from the Dustin Briggs case were a lack of resources
available to his office and the possibility he might be called as a
witness in the event the matter went to trial.
It was recently brought to light that one of the reasons Downs asked the
Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office to take over the case was that he
was upset with Bradford County Sheriff Steve Evans and how his office had
handled the situation involving Briggs. Evans in turn blasted Downs in a
recent press statement, saying the district attorney had no concept of
what it is like to arrest someone.
However, in the letter, dated Aug. 17, 2004, from Downs to the attorney
general's office, the sheriff is but one of a number of reasons given by
the district attorney in his reasons to be recused from the Briggs case.
Briggs, of Gillett, has been accused of shooting and killing Bradford
County sheriff's deputies Michael VanKuren and Christopher Burgert on
March 31, 2004, at a junkyard in Wells Township owned by his father, Arlan
Briggs. The deputies were on the property, intending to serve a warrant on
Dustin Briggs' girlfriend, April Harris, when the incident occurred.
Dustin Briggs was later arrested and is in the Bradford County jail,
awaiting trial on criminal homicide charges in connection with the case.
One of the reasons cited by Downs was an "actual or apparent conflict of
interest" concerning the possibility that he could be called to testify as
a witness if the case went to trial. Downs explained in the letter that he
had been with investigators at the Bradford County jail who were
interviewing Briggs a few days after his arrest, and that as a result he
might be called to testify by the commonwealth as a result.
"Because Bradford County is a rural county, I worked closely with the
fallen deputies, and I may be perceived as having a conflict of interest
in prosecuting Briggs, or in seeking the death penalty against him," Downs
explained in the letter. "Likewise my closeness to the fallen deputies
might well interfere with my ability to clearly identify and deal with
potentially problematic issues in this prosecution."
In his letter, Downs also explained that he believes his office did not
have sufficient resources to properly prosecute the case, which was why he
was asking the attorney general's office to step in. Downs pointed out
that he works full-time as district attorney, even though he is designated
as part-time as defined by law. He said that his office handles about
1,500 adult criminal cases per year as well as 300 juvenile cases. Another
factor that keeps him and his office staff busy, Downs said, is the fact
that there are four magisterial district judges in Bradford County --
which is geographically the second-largest county in Pennsylvania. With no
central courts for preliminary hearings in Bradford County, Downs said,
each district judge must hold such hearings in the local magisterial
office. In addition, Downs said, Bradford County is served by 2 full-time
judges of the Court of Common Pleas, both who hear criminal cases,
sometimes at the same time.
"Finally, it is my sincere belief that the significance of this case,
involving as it does the murder of on-duty law enforcement officers, is
and ought to be seen by the public as transcending merely local concern.
No less that the direct involvement of the Office of the Attorney General
itself in the prosecution of this case will send the much-needed message
throughout this commonwealth of the gravity of these crimes, and the
well-warranted widespread revulsion which such crimes deserve," Downs
Downs has been recused from the case, which is now being handled by
Pennsylvania Assistant Attorney General Patrick Blessington. Both Bradford
County judges Jeffrey Smith and John Mott also recused themselves, and the
case is being heard by Senior Judge Barry Feudale of Northumberland
(source: Daily and Sunday Review)
Peterson costs climb to $3.83M----District attorney's office says it
devoted 20,000 hours on case
P> Scott Peterson's journey through the justice system cost taxpayers at
least $3.83 million, according to new estimates provided by government
The Stanislaus County district attorney's office invested more than 20,000
hours into the high-profile trial at a public cost of $637,000, the office
Prosecutors spent far more time preparing their case, officials said. None
of three attorneys dedicated to the trial received overtime pay, and
accounting stopped at 40 hours per week. In reality, they sometimes put in
twice that amount.
Peterson, 32, dumped the body of his pregnant wife, Laci, in San Francisco
Bay on Christmas Eve 2002. Remains of mother and son washed ashore near
his boating route 4 months later.
Jurors in December returned a death penalty verdict for the fertilizer
salesman from Modesto, and the judge affirmed the death sentence March 16.
Peterson is on death row at San Quentin prison.
County and Modesto officials continue to hope state legislators will
reimburse some or all of the money. Hearings on the request are scheduled
for this month.
(source: Modesto Bee)
Ruling delayed on inmate's records
A Superior Court judge delayed action Monday on whether the medical and
psychological files of suspected killer Jon Christopher Blaylock can be
used in his upcoming murder trial.
Judge Ingrid A. Uhler also put off Blaylock's arraignment and set a date
to consider whether prosecutors from the District Attorney's Office should
be required to recuse themselves from the case.
Blaylock, who faces murder charges in the Jan. 10 death of correctional
Officer Manuel Gonzalez, made his 1st court appearance in that case
Uhler told prosecutors to turn over all medical and psychological files
they'd received on Blaylock from the California Department of Corrections
so that she could review them and determine their relevance to the case.
"I'm going to retain those in chambers,' Uhler said. "I want an
opportunity for a ... review before I return those to the prosecution.'
Blaylock's attorneys have argued that his confidential medical and
psychological files were improperly obtained without his permission.
They are also seeking to have San Bernardino County prosecutors removed
from the case, saying District Attorney Michael Ramon was politically
motivated when he announced in February that he would seek the death
penalty against Blaylock.
Such an early announcement that the death penalty would be sought went
against the customary practice of the District Attorney's Office, which is
to hold off on such a determination until evidence has been presented at a
Uhler put off ruling on that motion as well. She did allow media in the
courtroom to photograph the proceedings, in opposition to a motion filed
by Blaylock's attorneys.
Blaylock, 35, is accused of stabbing Gonzalez, 43, three times with a
homemade weapon. At the time, he was serving a 75-year sentence at the
California Institution for Men in Chino for attempted murder of a police
It was the 1st killing of an on-duty correctional officer since 1985, and
the reports issued after the death criticized prison management for lax
security and failure to follow correct procedures.
Blaylock sat slouched in a chair at the defense table throughout the
hearing, responding "Yes' when asked by the judge if he was OK with the
He was shackled throughout the hearing and led in and out of the courtroom
by four sheriff's deputies wearing latex gloves.
Outside court, family members of the slain officer gathered and spoke with
prosecutors and their own attorneys.
David Gonzalez said he was struggling with the death of his brother, but
planned to attend every hearing in the murder trial.
"It's difficult,' he said. "I could sit here and tell you it's not, but it
Gonzalez said his brother had six children, including a 17-year-old son
who is now living with Gonzalez and his family in Whittier.
The difficulties faced by that son and the rest of the family have
prompted Gonzalez to rethink his previous opposition to the death penalty,
"I hope (Blaylock) dies. God forgive me, but I hope he dies,' Gonzalez
said. "I wish they'd let me put the needle in him myself, because I'd do
(source: San Bernardino County Sun)
Double-murder case to begin Tuesday at Robins
Pretrial motions will begin April 5 for Senior Airman Andrew Witt, who is
accused in a double-homicide case at Robins Air Force Base, Ga.
The trial, which is expected to begin in July, will mark the 1st Air Force
death-penalty case in more than a decade.
Witt is charged with 2 counts of premeditated murder in the stabbing
deaths of Senior Airman Andy Schliepsiek and his wife, Jamie, in their
base home July 5, 2004. Witt, an avionics technician with the 116th Air
Control Wing, also is charged with stabbing the couples friend, Senior
Airman Jason King.
Lamar E. Cromwell, an Air Force Office of Special Investigations agent,
testified during an Article 32 hearing in November that Witt confessed to
the stabbings, stating that he "let go and did these things."
The defense did not present evidence during the hearing.
Witnesses testified that the stabbings followed an exchange between Andy
Schliepsiek and Witt a day after Witt tried unsuccessfully to kiss
Hours after Schliepsiek warned Witt that he would call his first sergeant
and commander, Witt appeared in BDUs in Schliepsiek's house, King
Cromwell said Witt confessed to stabbing King and then returning to the
couple "because he didn't want to leave any evidence and because he didnt
want to leave a witness."
After visiting the crime scene, Witt is said to have led authorities to
the alleged murder knife. Tests have shown fibers on it are consistent
with fibers in King's and Schliepsieks shirts, according to testimony.
The pretrial hearings will be held in the Bibb County Courthouse in Macon,
(source: The Macon Daily Telegraph)
ACLU Plans Lawsuit to Block Death Row Inmate Transfer
The American Civil Liberties Union plans to file a motion next in court
that could prevent the moving of death row inmates from Mansfield to
Youngstowns Supermax prison.
ACLU attorneys claim inmates have a right to a hearing as to whether they
deserve to be placed in solitary confinement. They also claim access to
phone calls for lawyers at Supermax is inadequate.
State Senator Bob Hagan who is on the Correction Institution and
Inspection Committee agrees. Hagan says, "This is costing us millions of
dollars to defend over and over again, because they are not following the
rules other states are following, and quite frankly a person regardless of
the charge has a right to an attorney."
The ACLU recently took on the state of Ohio in front of the U.S. Supreme
Court over the transfer of inmates to Youngstowns Supermax. A decision on
that case is expected in June.
(source: WYTV News)
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