death penalty news----TEXAS, FLA., CALIF., IND., S.C.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Apr 18 23:31:21 CDT 2005
Attorneys to request DNA testing in case of executed man
Defense attorneys on Tuesday plan to ask Texas Gov. Rick Perry to order
DNA testing in the case of a man executed nearly 5 years ago, when George
W. Bush was governor, saying the testing might help determine if an
innocent man was executed.
Barry Scheck, co-founder of Benjamin Cardozo School of Law's Innocence
Project, is scheduled to make the request before the Texas state Senate's
Criminal Justice Committee, which is holding a hearing on whether to
establish a state innocence commission.
In his testimony, Scheck and other witnesses also will highlight the case
of Cameron Todd Willingham, whose execution in February 2004 for the 1992
arson murders of his 3 daughters was the subject of a recent Chicago
The Tribune investigation found that the forensic evidence the authorities
used to show the fatal fire was arson has been repudiated by scientific
advances, and was even being re-evaluated when Willingham went to trial.
The hearing Tuesday is being convened by legislators concerned that, in
the state that is the nation's busiest executioner, a panel that Perry set
up earlier this year - the Criminal Justice Advisory Council for the State
of Texas - will be ineffective.
The panel, according to critics, has little authority or power to
effectively investigate wrongful convictions or to assess the criminal
justice system's shortcomings. The council will not be able to issue
subpoenas for testimony or documents, for instance.
DNA tests have contributed to the release of 15 prison inmates in Texas.
In addition, several other inmates have been set free from death row
Scheck is requesting DNA testing on a single strand of hair in the case of
Claude Jones, who was executed in December 2000 for armed robbery and
According to prosecutors, Jones shot and killed Allen Hilzendager while
robbing his liquor store in Point Blank, Texas, in November 1989.
Jones, who had spent time in prison for robbery and murder, was captured 2
weeks later in Florida, where he was charged with robberies at several
Jones' convictions were based largely on what Scheck says is dubious
evidence. It included testimony from an accomplice who linked Jones to the
slaying, and the report of a state forensic scientist who examined a
1-inch length of hair found at the scene and said that it was similar to
Accomplice testimony has been proven to be unreliable, while the method
used to analyze the hair - microscopic hair comparison - has given way to
more precise DNA testing. Hair comparisons have contributed to numerous
Jones maintained his innocence until his execution on Dec. 7, 2000.
A spokesperson for Perry could not be reached for comment Monday.
Scheck said in an interview Monday that while he is not prepared to argue
that Jones is in fact innocent, there is a question of whether then-Gov.
Bush knew of Jones' request for the DNA testing when refusing to grant a
last-minute plea for a stay of execution.
According to records gathered by Scheck, a request for a 30-day stay to
allow DNA testing of the hair was filed with the governor's office on the
day Jones was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection.
According to notes found in Jones' file at the Texas Department of Public
Safety, the agency that handled the hair comparison at Jones' trial, a
member of Bush's staff called that day to ask about the hair comparison in
The governor's aide was urged, according to the notes, to contact the FBI
about "the likelihood of obtaining ... DNA results from a 1" hair
But when the final summary of the case was sent to Bush to make the final
decision on whether to stop the execution, there was no mention of the
request for DNA testing of the hair, according to a copy of the summary
obtained by the Chicago Tribune.
"The only decision to be made is whether to grant a 30-day reprieve," the
summary, written by an assistant general counsel for Bush, said. "At this
time, I do not recommend that a reprieve be granted ..." That attorney
declined to comment on Monday.
Dana Perino, a spokeswoman for the White House, declined to comment Monday
on whether Bush knew of the request for the testing.
Of late, Bush has supported expanded DNA tests. In his 2005 State of the
Union address, the president said he hoped to broaden such testing to
"make doubly sure" innocent people are not convicted.
DNA testing after an execution is rare. In 2000, DNA testing was done in
the case of Ellis Wayne Felker, who was executed in Georgia.
For the past 2 years, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner has been considering a
request for DNA testing in the case of Roger Coleman, who was executed in
1992 for a rape and murder. Coleman maintained his innocence.
(source: Chicago Tribune)
Death penalty considered for David Onstott----Man confesses to 13 year
A Florida prosecutor is considering using the death penalty against the
man who allegedly confessed to killing a 13 year-old girl.
David Onstott, 36, has an extensive criminal past, which includes a past
rape conviction. He also has outstanding warrants in Genesee County.
Onstott was denied bail Monday morning. It was his 1st court appearance
since being charged with 1st-degree murder for 13-year-old Sarah Lunde.
While Onstott was in court, authorities returned to the scene and drained
the pond where the girl's body was found in search of more evidence.
Although they've released very little information, authorities say Onstott
broke down and admitted over the weekend of strangling Lunde.
The girl apparently let Onstott into her house when he came looking for
her mother. Onstott reportedly argued with Lunde, put her in a chokehold
and killed her.
The Hillsborough County state attorney will be weighing aggravating
factors -- including a past history of violence -- before deciding to seek
the death penalty or life without parole against Onstott.
"I will tell you this: I assure you that this is a very significant case,
not only in this county and in this state and in this country, but I am
going to personally lead the charge in the prosecution of this case," said
Florida State Attorney Mark Ober.
"I will be in the courtroom during the course of this case with my staff
and we will ... my focus is on bringing this individual to justice."
The recent incidents in Florida involving past sex offenders has one local
law enforcement agency re-evaluating its sexual offenders registry.
(source: WJRT-TV News)
Jury Nixes Death Penalty in Grill Killing
A man who killed five of his children by lighting a charcoal grill inside
his home and closing all the doors and windows was spared the death
penalty by a jury Monday.
The jury decided Adair Javier Garcia, 33, should be sentenced to life in
prison without parole.
Garcia was convicted of murder charges last month. Prosecutors said he
tried to kill himself and his 6 children in 2002 to spite his wife, who
had left him.
In a goodbye video to his wife, he said: "I just want to let you know this
is the only option available. You've broken me. You don't care, so I don't
care. ... What I'm about to commit is the most cowardly, selfish act
The children, ages 2 to 10, were asphyxiated by the carbon monoxide.
Garcia and his then-9-year-old daughter survived.
(source: Associated Press)
Group Seeks Clemency for Death Row Inmate
The Indiana Civil Liberties Union is asking Governor Mitch Daniels to
grant clemency to Bill Benefiel, who`s scheduled to be executed this week.
The ICLU argues a judge did not consider Benefiel`s mental illness when he
sentenced him to death for the 1987 rape and murder of Delores Wells of
Gov. Daniels will get a legal briefing and review other materials on the
Benefiel is scheduled to die by lethal injection early Thursday at the
state prison in Michigan City.
(source: WTWO News)
U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Overturned Death Sentence For Easley Man----Man
Convicted Of Killing 2 Girls In 1992
The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to hear an appeal of a lower court
ruling that threw out a South Carolina death sentence.
Larry Eugene Hall was convicted in 1992 for murder, rape, kidnapping,
armed robbery and resisting arrest.
Prosecutors said he shot and killed 2 teenage girls in a store parking lot
Monday, justices upheld the South Carolina Supreme Court's ruling last
August that Hall was entitled to a new sentencing trial.
The state Supreme Court said Hall's attorneys failed to object when
prosecutors asked jurors to compare the worth of Hall's life with that of
the 2 girls.
The state court has said the failure to object created an "arbitrary,
misconceived" sentencing analysis.
(source: The CarolinaChannel.com)
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