[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, DEL., N.J., MISS.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Dec 6 10:10:36 CST 2005
Texas remains top user of death penalty
Last Friday Kenneth Lee Boyd, who brazenly gunned down his estranged wife
and father-in-law 17 years earlier, was put to death after receiving a
lethal injection, becoming the 1,000th person executed in the United
States since capital punishment resumed 28 years ago.
The Supreme Court in 1976 ruled that capital punishment could resume after
a 10-year moratorium. The first execution took place the following year,
when Gary Gilmore went before a firing squad in Utah.
The countdown had gone on for over a month as the nation's capital
punishment death count passed the 990 mark. If there was a surprise at all
coming from the 1,000th victim, it may have been the fact that the
execution took place in Virginia instead of Texas.
According to execution records, Texas has executed 336 prisoners during
the current death penalty era of 1974 to 2005. Texas clearly accounts for
more than 1/3 of all U.S. executions.
Texas has literally become ground zero for capital punishment. Between
1976 (when the Supreme Court lifted its prohibition on the death penalty)
and 1998 Texas executed 167 people. Next in rank was Virginia, which
executed 60 during the same period.
Texas executes far more people than any other state and is doing so at a
pace that has no parallel in the modern era of the death penalty in the
U.S. There are many legal and cultural explanations for why Texas is the
death penalty leader.
Texas' appellate judges are elected to office, thus requiring a record of
toughness on criminals in order to win re-election. The courts have also
largely turned aside challenges to the state's death penalty law and Texas
has laws in place that knock as much as 2 1/2 years off the appeals
A recent show by PBS explored Texas executions and noted that Texas gives
the bulk of clemency power to its Board of Pardons and Paroles and not to
the governor. The Board must vote to recommend commutation in order for
the governor to grant clemency. Lawyer Stephen E. Silverman used this
example to declare, "There is nothing certain like death in Texas."
Regardless of the reasons, and there are many others to explore, Texas has
embraced our country's use of capital punishment. To many this is an
abominable and inhumane practice that is overused and abused.
For others, Texas' use of the death penalty is an ever present deterrent
to crime. The message is clear, according to proponents. Texas does not
take the crimes of murder lightly.
Many want the death penalty reexamined in our nation. But right now it is
part of our justice system. We only hope that it delivers the intended
message to those who think about committing the most unspeakable crimes.
The crimes, too, most often color the way we often think of this kind of
(source: Editorial, Midland Reporter-Telegram)
Innocence vs. death penalty
In need of reform
I COULD not agree more with Barry Scheck and state Sen. Rodney Ellis [see
the Dec. 4 Outlook article "RIGHT TO KNOW / The question only Texas can
answer / State must convene a panel to investigate whether innocent men
have been executed"]. Considering the fact that many people have come to
the conclusion that Ruben Cantu was innocent of the crime he was convicted
of, it is obvious that Texas and the rest of the country need to handle
death penalty cases with much more sensitivity.
No one benefits when an innocent person is convicted. With our crime lab
in shambles and unable to provide adequate evidence for cases, one would
think that trials would be deliberated with more care and the death
penalty not handed out so easily.
But that is not the case: Harris County continues to be the county that
executes the most people in the country. And now it has finally happened:
a man who was almost certainly innocent has been executed.
Texans deserve to have the best judicial process possible. This is no
longer about whether or not a person believes in the death penalty as a
punishment - this is about doing the right thing. The right thing is to
ensure that innocent people are not executed. The system must be reformed.
MEENU MENON, Kingwood
I AGREE with the Chronicle's Dec. 4 editorial ["Cantu's legacy / Bexar
County district attorney's probe is only the first step needed in a
comprehensive re-evaluation of executed man's case."] that stated that
"the notion that an innocent person was executed is an urgent matter
worthy of attention at the highest level."
I do not believe, however, that having the governor's Criminal Justice
Advisory Council investigate the case of Ruben Cantu would be the best
response to the situation.
The probability that Texas has executed an innocent person should be
treated as a state emergency.
Gov. Rick Perry should add the issue of a moratorium on executions to the
upcoming special session of the Legislature that will be called in the
We cannot wait until the next regular session to enact a moratorium,
because there may be other innocent persons among the 30 to 35 executions
that could take place before a regular session could enact a moratorium in
There will not be enough time in the special session in the spring for
legislators to deal with all the issues that can lead to the execution of
an innocent person. But there would be ample time for them to enact a
I am sure that the results of a vote on an amendment to the state's
Constitution would show that Texans are ready to stop executions until
they can be assured that innocent people are not at risk of execution.
SCOTT COBB president, Texas Moratorium Network, Austin
(source: Opinion, Houston Chronicle)
Pleasanton man spared execution
In Floresville, prosecutors have decided not to seek the death penalty
again for a Pleasanton man accused of participating in one of South Texas'
bloodiest police ambushes, which left 3 officers dead in 1999.
Last year, the state's highest criminal appeals court threw out Kenneth
Vodochodsky's 2001 capital murder conviction, sparing him from lethal
injection. Instead, the Court of Criminal Appeals sent the case back to
But at a hearing last week, the district attorney for the 81st Judicial
District waived the death penalty against Vodochodsky.
Ren Pea said he still plans to retry the capital murder case against
Vodochodsky, who is in Atascosa County Jail without bond.
Pea said that if Vodochodsky is found guilty he will have to serve a life
sentence. Vodochodsky would be eligible for parole after serving at least
40 years in prison.
"I can't tell you how relieved I am," said Vodochodsky's attorney, Alan F.
Futrell, of Pea's decision.
Vodochodsky, 24, spent a little more than four years and a month on death
row in Livingston before the Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his
conviction for the Oct. 12, 1999, death of Atascosa Sheriff's Deputy
Thomas Monse Jr.
Though Vodochodsky wasn't the trigger man, he was tried and convicted
under a Texas law that says anyone who encourages, assists or tries to
help someone commit murder is equally culpable of the crime.
But the appellate court ruled that the evidence against Vodochodsky was
circumstantial and "so weak as to undermine confidence in the jury's
"Instead, Vodochodsky had the bad luck of being the friend and roommate of
a man determined to kill police officers and himself," the court ruled.
Vodochodsky's friend Jeremiah Engleton committed suicide the night of the
The new trial for Vodochodsky is now set for mid-March.
(source: San Antonnio Express-News)
Execution Date Postponed For DNA Tests
He was supposed to be executed this Wednesday...but 14 years after the
crime, the execution has been postponed. Now Tony Ford's lawyers say DNA
tests will prove his innocence.
Ford was sentenced to death for his role in a 1991 home robbery that ended
in the death of one man and injured his sister and mother. Eyewitness
identified Ford as the shooter, but his attorney's say DNA evidence will
prove it was someone else.
Ford's execution date was set for this Wednesday, but it's been postponed.
In the meantime, DNA tests will be done on clothing worn by another man
who was with Ford the night of the crime.
Today Judge William Moody granted the defense's request to have their own
DNA expert examine the clothing. It belonged to Victor Belton -- a man who
was arrested but never charged because the state claims he was only a
driver for Ford and another accomplice -- Victor's brother, Van Belton.
But the defense says Ford was the driver, and Victor was the shooter. They
say eyewitnesses misidentified Ford in a line-up because he and Victor are
similar in appearance.
"It would be easy to make a mistake in identifying him because there was a
lot going on during the robbery, there was a gun and a tremendous amount
of stress," Attorney Richard Burr said.
DNA tests will be done on blood stains found on Victor Belton's clothing.
Judge William Moody says if they match the DNA of any of the victims -- it
could be very signifigant for Ford's appeal. For now his execution has
been delayed to March 14th.
(source: KTSM News)
DA To Investigate Murder Witness' Lying Claims
Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed said Monday that her office
plans to investigate claims by a local man who admitted he committed
perjury at a murder trial that ulimately ended in the execution of a
"There will be an investigation to get to the bottom of this," Reed said.
"Our laws have consequences to causing someone's death.
"It is very important that it be looked into ... because you have someone
who lied and caused a man's death. It would be no different than taking a
gun out and shooting you through the heart."
Speaking through his attorneys, Moreno admitted last week that he wrongly
pointed the finger at 26-year old Ruben Cantu in 1984 after feeling
pressure from police to do so.
Reed said Moreno hasn't officially come forward to change his story with
the District Attorney's Office.
Reed said the statute of limitations for perjury is three years in Texas,
so she can't pursue perjury charges against Moreno, but if she determines
he did lie, he could face murder charges.
Moreno's attorney, Gerald Goldstein, said he feels that Reed's actions are
not the appropriate response.
"It is a shame that our district attorney sees fit to investigate someone
who was a victim of a brutal crime shooting, then victimized by
overzealous police. And now she seeks to victimize him again," Goldstein
said in a statement.
But Reed stands by her decision to investigate.
"If there is a lying witness, that witness has to be held accountable for
those actions," she said.
(source: KSAT News)
Convicted killers aim to avoid executionDefense attorneys: 3rd man
involved in 1995 shooting
Attorneys for 2 men convicted of the 1995 murder of a department store
security officer pleaded for their lives Monday and suggested a 3rd man
was actually responsible for the killings.
Prosecutors, however, told the jury that Michael R. Manley and David D.
Stevenson, both 31, were solely responsible for killing 25 year-old
Kristopher Heath outside his apartment on Nov. 13, 1995.
The defendants, prosecutors argued, deserve to die.
Deputy Attorney General Mark H. Conner said the pair killed Heath because
he was going to testify that day in a theft case against Stevenson.
Murdering a witness strikes at the heart of the court system and society
and deserves the ultimate sanction, Conner said. "This case is the worst
of the worst."
The jury also heard directly from Manley, who said he was not the
triggerman, as prosecutors charged. "I did not shoot Kristopher Heath," he
said in a calm address to the jury. He did not, however, deny involvement
in the crime.
Manley, wearing glasses and a shirt and tie, said the charge "burns in my
stomach" because it is not true.
"I do ask you not to take my life, not so much for me," he said, but for
his mother and family. "I just ask you not make any more victims out of
Stevenson did not speak.
Manley and Stevenson were convicted in 1996 and sentenced to death in
Prosecutors said Stevenson enlisted his high-school friend Manley to kill
Heath and thereby derail the theft case against him.
After the 1996 trial, the jury recommended death for Manley by a 7 to 5
vote and death for Stevenson by an 8 to 4 vote. Superior Court Judge
Norman A. Barron then imposed the death penalty on both.
But in 2001, the Delaware Supreme Court threw out that sentence, saying
Barron's involvement in Stevenson's theft case and his request to be
assigned to the murder case created the appearance of unfairness.
Judge Jerome O. Herlihy is presiding over the resentencing.
The jury this time will not decide if the pair are guilty -- that
conviction remains from 1996 -- but only if the two are eligible for the
death penalty, and if so, whether they deserve to be executed.
The jury deliberated for about an hour Monday and is expected to resume
its work today.
Possible gang involvement
In closing arguments, attorneys for both defendants suggested a 3rd,
unknown man -- possibly a gang member -- could have been the killer.
According to testimony, Stevenson had been involved with a gang in
Philadelphia and eventually moved with his mother to Wilmington to escape
But, in September 1994, while working at the Macy's in Christiana Mall,
his past caught up with him. Stevenson told authorities that two gang
members called "Pooger" and "Buckie" spotted him at Macy's and demanded he
steal from the store to repay a $2,500 drug debt he owed the gang.
Stevenson's defense attorney, Michael C. Heyden, said police and
prosecutors never followed up on that lead to find Pooger or Buckie.
Heyden suggested the gang members had motive to kill Heath so they would
not be drawn into the case and charged.
Manley's defense attorney, Joseph A. Gabay, pointed to inconsistencies in
eyewitness accounts of Heath's killer. Some described a man much taller
He also noted an unidentified fingerprint -- never explained in 10 years
-- on a piece of paper with the name and address of another witness
against Stevenson in the theft case.
But prosecutor Conner told the jury there was no evidence of a third man
Witnesses key to case
Witnesses put Manley and Stevenson together a short time before the
murder, and identified Stevenson's car outside Heath's apartment before
and after the murder. Police arrested Manley and Stevenson a short time
after the murder fleeing from Stevenson's car.
One of the witnesses picked Manley as the killer out of a photo lineup,
Also Monday, defense attorneys explained how a series of defense witnesses
testified that Manley and Stevenson had been good, upstanding young men
who got good grades, were gainfully employed, had supportive families and
had clean criminal records.
Conner said such testimony cut both ways. "They threw it out the window,"
(source: News Journal)
Death penalty costly
When New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982, little thought was
given to how much it would cost taxpayers. Punishing murderers was the
But 23 years and more than a quarter-billion dollars later, questions are
being raised about whether capital punishment makes sense in New Jersey -
especially since no one has been executed during that time.
As surveys show public opinion shifting away from capital punishment in
favor of life in prison without parole for murderers, more states are
looking at the financial consequences of a justice system that includes
A year in prison approaches the cost of a year at Harvard. This year, it
cost almost $35,000 to maintain an inmate at New Jersey State Prison, the
maximum-security prison in Trenton.
Keeping someone on death row costs even more - more than $52,000 a year.
That information might lead people to conclude that life in prison costs
so much money that sentencing someone to death would have to be cheaper.
Sometimes what seems logical is wrong. And this is why: Prosecuting a
death-penalty case is different in many ways from non-capital cases,
largely because of the potential punishment.
A death sentence, once carried out, cannot be undone. So with someone's
life at stake, the process becomes more deliberate, complicated,
time-consuming - and expensive.
More attorneys are involved. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney
(the case in most murder trials), the state provides two instead of one.
Both sides do more investigation.
The trial (which is more likely to occur, because there is no reason to
plea-bargain in a capital case) takes place in two parts instead of one.
One part determines guilt; the other imposes a sentence. Jury selection
takes longer, in part because every potential juror must be quizzed in
some detail as to whether he or she would ever be willing to sentence
someone to death.
Appeals take place on many levels and take time. Every death sentence is
reviewed by the state Supreme Court, and the court must rule on its
The complexity of the process is reasonable, given the stakes. But it
takes time and money.
Since 1982, New Jersey jurors have returned death verdicts 60 times - in
some cases, more than once on the same defendant.
The courts have overturned most of these sentences. Currently, 10 men
remain on death row.
The cost for these 60 cases and nearly 140 others in which the death
penalty was sought exceeds $253 million. That averages $11 million a year
- or more than $4 million per death-penalty conviction.
What is startling is that incarceration, the easiest cost to calculate, is
the most insignificant cost - only 3 % of the total.
In contrast, prosecutors' offices account for more than 70 % of the costs
of capital punishment and public defenders almost 25 %. The cost contrasts
become easier to believe when you consider we pay lawyers a lot more than
And, if anything, this cost estimate is conservative because the state
does not make it easy for researchers to break out capital-punishment
Now that we have a sense of what capital punishment has cost, it is
important to look at what the future could hold.
First, let's assume that New Jersey abolishes the death penalty today. No
new inmates are added to death row, and each of the 10 men there now -
ages 28 to 75 - is resentenced to life in prison without parole.
By the time the last of the current death-row inmates dies of natural
causes, New Jersey taxpayers will have spent $15.1 million to house these
men in a maximum-security prison.
But if New Jersey continues the current system, with prosecutors
continuing to seek the death penalty and inmates added to death row, the
cost could reach $845 million during the same period.
Take away the emotion and the politics that often cloud debate on capital
punishment, and the financial cost stands out clearly as a big reason to
rethink this particular piece of state policy.
(source: Philadelphia Inquirer - Mary E. Forsberg is research director at
New Jersey Policy Perspective in Trenton, a nonprofit organization that
conducts research on state issues. Her report "Money for Nothing? The
Financial Cost of the Death Penalty in New Jersey" can be read at
Jury: Hargon should get death penalty
In Yazoo City, a jury decided Monday that a truck driver who killed a
couple and their toddler son in anger over a lost inheritance should get
the death penalty.
Earnest Lee Hargon, 45, was convicted Saturday in the Valentine's Day 2004
murders of his cousin Michael Hargon, 27, Michael's wife, Rebecca, 29, and
the couple's son, James Patrick, 4.
Hargon showed little emotion as the verdicts were read.
"I'm not going to be happy to see Earnest Lee Hargon suffer the death
penalty, but he earned it," District Attorney James Powell said.
Prosecutor Wilton McNair told the jury that Hargon should be executed
because "these people weren't just killed, they were tortured."
Defense attorney Wesley Evans argued that a sentence of life in prison was
"When you succumb to the human emotion of vengeance, you may feel good for
a little while but that feeling goes away," Evans told the jury. "Then
you're left with the notion that you took a human life."
Juror Barbara Samuell said the panel voted for the death penalty largely
because of Hargons confession to investigators.
"It was very direct and very matter of fact," she said of the confession.
"I didn't feel any remorse in it."
The 3 victims were killed in their home - the father was shot, while the
mother and children were strangled. Their bodies were found in a shallow
grave nearly 100 miles away about 3 weeks later.
Prosecutors said Hargon killed the 3 because his adoptive father had
written him out of his will and replaced Hargon with his cousin.
The defense said prosecutors ignored other possible suspects, including a
gang that may have had a grudge against Michael Hargon for testifying
against one of its members.
Elizabeth Moore, Rebecca Hargon's sister, said the family had spent 2
years being angry at Hargon. "Now my time will be spent remembering
Rebecca, Michael and James Patrick," she said.
High court won't hear death row appeal
The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to hear the appeal of Mississippi
death row inmate Steve Knox.
Knox was sentenced to death in 1999 for the beating and strangulation of
Ellia Mae Spears of Liberty. He was convicted of capital murder.
Spears' body was found in the trunk of her car Oct. 22, 1998. Knox was
tied to the slaying with evidence such as clothing stained with the
woman's blood that was discovered in the home of his parents.
Knox, when arrested, also had in his possession Spears' car and house
The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld Knox's conviction in 2002. In March,
the Mississippi court denied Knox's request to pursue a post conviction
appeal because he has no new evidence that might win him a new trial.
Inmates use post-conviction appeals to argue that they have found new
evidence that could overturn their convictions.
The Mississippi court said Knox, of Amite County, was attempting to
re-argue many of the issues that had been rejected in his original appeal.
The court also rejected Knox's claim that his attorney did not do a good
Knox has not exhausted his appeals, according to court officials.
(source for both: The Associated Press)
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