[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, N.Y., TENN., NEV., IND.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Dec 13 17:45:25 CST 2005
19 convicted killers put to death in Texas in 2005
Pints of Blue Bell ice cream purchased for the men housed in the Polunsky
Unit of Texas' death row usually mean one thing - someone is about to die.
In what's become somewhat of a tradition, a condemned inmate preparing for
execution empties his prison trust fund and uses the money to buy the
handful of inmates on "death watch" each a $1.29 pint of ice cream.
"I used to like ice cream," condemned inmate Luis Ramirez said. "But now I
eat it out of respect."
Ramirez had eaten his share of pints before buying a round himself in
October, when he was executed for the 1998 murder-for-hire plot in which a
San Angelo firefighter was killed.
Ramirez was 1 of 19 Texas prisoners executed by lethal injection in 2005,
4 less than in 2004 but about average for the past decade in the nation's
most active death penalty state. Texas accounts for more than 1/3 of all
the executions in the United States.
The year marked the 3rd execution of a woman in Texas. Frances Newton, 40,
was put to death in September for the 1987 shooting spree that left her
husband and two children dead. Nationally, she became the 11th woman put
to death since the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 allowed capital punishment
to resume after a decade-long hiatus.
After spending almost 20 years on death row, Troy Kunkle was executed in
January for the $13 robbery and fatal shooting of a Corpus Christi man,
while Alexander Martinez, on death row for only about 2 1/2 years,
voluntarily went to the death chamber in June, asking appeals be stopped
so he could die for killing a Houston prostitute in 2001.
But the largest single exodus from Texas death row occurred after the
Supreme Court ruled in March that it was unconstitutional for states to
execute anyone convicted of crimes committed when the offenders were under
age 18. As a result, Gov. Rick Perry commuted the sentences of 28
condemned inmates to life prison terms, making them eligible for parole
after 40 years behind bars.
"While these individuals were convicted by juries of brutal murders and
sentenced to die for their heinous crimes, I have no choice," Perry said.
Among the inmates were Efrain Perez and Raul Villarreal of Harris County,
convicted with 3 others for a highly publicized gang-rape and fatal
beating of 2 teenage girls in Houston, and Robert Springsteen of Travis
County, convicted in 2001 of the infamous "Yogurt Shop" slayings a decade
earlier when 4 teenage girls were bound, gagged and shot in the head.
The Supreme Court also ruled that a black Houston man wrongly was
condemned for a slaying in Dallas 20 years ago, ruling 6-3 that Thomas
Miller-El's jury unfairly was stacked with whites. Miller-El is back in
Dallas awaiting a new trial.
In another case with ramifications for Texas, President Bush in February
ordered states to conduct new hearings for 51 Mexicans on death row who
said they were denied legal help from their consulates in violation of
international law. More than 2 dozen foreign-born inmates at least 16
from Mexico - are on Texas death row, and the presidential order
effectively halted executions for those inmates until the outcome of the
At least 15 convicted killers joined death row in 2005, down from 22 from
the previous year. The decline mirrors a national trend that reflects
better legal help for capital murder defendants and court decisions
blocking death sentences for those under 18 or determined to be mentally
The Legislature this year approved a law that gives juries in capital
cases the option of deciding on a life-without-parole sentence.
Previously, Texas juries could choose only between death or life in
prison, with parole possible after 40 years. Texas had been 1 of 3 states
among the 38 with the death penalty without the life without parole
option. There has been little impact from the new law so far because it
affects only crimes committed since Sept. 1.
At least 9 inmates are set for executions in the 1st quarter of 2006, 3 in
January, ensuring a small but conscientious group of death penalty
opponents will protest in Huntsville when executions are scheduled.
"I think the interest kind of ebbs and flows," said Dennis Longmire, a
criminal justice professor at nearby Sam Houston State University who said
attendance has been up over the past 10 years at the quiet demonstrations
where he regularly holds a candle.
"I think there's a lot more public awareness of some of the laws and
frailties of the system, and I hope there's going to be more attention
given to it," he said. "I know people are much more suspect about the
integrity of the system."
A look at the 19 inmates executed in 2005
Here's a look at the 19 Texas inmates executed in 2005 and their crimes:
- Jan. 4: James Porter, 33, for using a smuggled rock wrapped in a
pillowcase to fatally pummel Rudy Delgado, 40, a convicted child molester,
during a May 2000 assault at a state prison near Texarkana.
- Jan. 25: Troy Kunkle, 38, for the 1984 shooting death of Stephen Horton,
31, who was robbed of $13 in Corpus Christi.
- Feb. 17: Dennis Wayne Bagwell, 41, for the slayings of his mother, Leona
McBee, 47; her niece, Libby Best, 24; Best's daughter, Reba, 4; and Tassy
Boone, 14, the granddaughter of McBee's common-law husband, in a bloody
1995 spree in Wilson County near Stockdale.
- March 8: George Anderson Hopper, 49, for being the hit man in a
complicated scheme that left Rozanne Gailiunas, 33, raped, choked and shot
at her suburban Dallas home.
- April 20: Douglas Roberts, 42, for the death of Jerry Velez, 40, of
Round Rock, who was abducted in San Antonio in 1996 and beaten and fatally
stabbed in Kendall County.
- May 3: Lonnie Pursley, 43, for the fatal beating and robbery of Robert
Earl Cook, 47, of Livingston.
- May 18: Bryan Wolfe, 44, a Louisiana parolee arrested for the 1992 fatal
stabbing of Bertha Lemell, 84, at her home in Beaumont. The victim was
stabbed 26 times and robbed of about $40.
- May 19: Richard Cartwright, 31, for the stabbing and shooting of Nick
Moraida during a robbery in Corpus Christi.
- June 7: Alexander Martinez, 28, for the robbery and fatal shooting of a
prostitute in Houston in August 2001.
- July 28: David Martinez, 29, for the 1997 rape and strangling of Kiersa
Paul, a 24-year-old former art student from Minnesota at a popular Austin
- Aug. 10: Gary Sterling, 38, for the beating death of John Carty, 72,
killed in May 1988 at his home in Navarro County near Corsicana. At least
3 other slayings were tied to Sterling.
- Aug. 23: Robert Alan Shields, 30, for the fatal stabbing and beating of
Paula Stiner, 27, at her Friendswood home in Galveston County in 1994.
- Sept. 14: Frances Newton, 40, for the 1987 fatal shootings of her
husband, Adrian, 23, and their 2 children, Alton, 7, and Farrah, 21
months, at their Houston apartment.
- Oct. 6: Ronald Ray Howard, 32, for fatally shooting Bill Davidson, 43, a
Texas state trooper, during a traffic stop in 1992 outside Edna in Jackson
- Oct. 20: Luis Ramirez, 42, for organizing and carrying out what
authorities said was a murder-for-hire scheme that culminated with the
shotgun slaying of a San Angelo firefighter, Nemecio Nandin, 29, in 1998.
- Nov. 3: Melvin Wayne White, 55, for the 1997 abduction, sexual assault
and beating death of a 9-year-old girl, Jennifer Gravell, who lived in his
neighborhood in Ozona in Crockett County.
- Nov. 9: Charles Daniel Thacker. 37, for the strangling and attempted
rape of a suburban Houston elementary teacher, Karen Gail Crawford, 26,
outside her apartment in Tomball in Harris County in 1993.
- Nov. 15: Robert Dale Rowell, 50, for the 1993 shooting spree that killed
Raymond Mata, 38, and Irvin Wright, 52, at Wright's home.
- Nov. 16: Shannon Charles Thomas, 34, for a 1993 Christmas Eve shooting
spree that killed a Baytown man, Roberto Rios, 32, and 2 of his children,
Victor, 11, and Maria, 10, at their Baytown home.
(source for both: Associated Press)
Capital punishment is a perversion of justice
There is nothing more final than death. When someone dies by error, it is
At the end of November, the United States had executed 1,000 men and women
since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. This solemn news coincides
with the admission by Texas authorities that 17-year-old Ruben Cantu may
have been wrongfully executed 12 years ago.
Even its supporters should admit the death penalty is fallible in Cantu's
case and in the cases of 122 people exonerated by DNA evidence, which was
not available when they were arrested.
Thirty-eight states have death penalty laws. New York's was restored In
1995, but it is "on hold."
New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty is a statewide coalition of
organizations and individuals committed to the abolition of capital
punishment in our state through education, grassroots activity and
lobbying. We are active despite the "hold."
In June 2004, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled in People vs.
Stephen Lavalle that the state's death penalty was unconstitutional,
citing problems with the law as written, and sent it back to the
Legislature to be remedied. Although the Senate complied, the Assembly's
Codes Committee voted not to offer a quick fix, but to put a legislative
"hold" on it. However, the statute was not removed from the books. New
York still has its death penalty, which could be revived in a new
Follow the world's lead
New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty opposes capital punishment for
several reasons. First, most of the world's advanced democracies have
abolished it, some for decades. In this time of terrorist activities, our
stand hinders the extradition of American suspects captured abroad. Then,
no matter how it is inflicted, we regard capital punishment as barbaric, a
form of state-sponsored violence. And due to the number of appeals, it is
ultimately more expensive that life in prison.
Worse still, capital punishment is disproportionately imposed on the less
advantaged members of society: the poor, the uneducated and the socially
unacceptable who are represented by grossly incompetent or inexperienced
The death penalty is hardly a deterrent for crimes. Think of the case of
Allan Cameron, who shot and killed Officer Dillon Stewart on Nov. 28. Did
Cameron think when he fired his gun he might be executed? If he had, would
that have stopped him? I doubt it. The shooting happened at a moment of
excitement when Cameron was trying to escape from the officers. Probably
the notion of consequences never crossed his mind.
The case has brought about cries for the reinstatement of New York's death
penalty by Gov. George Pataki, but David Kaczyinski, executive director of
New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, has urged against taking any action
in the heat of the moment. "Any time you craft a law out of emotion, it is
a bad law," he said. And what is left?
One of the reasons often given for the use of capital punishment is that
it provides closure for the victims' families. Yet some families say that
execution only perpetuates pain for other families. They are left with two
caskets rather than one. The brutal nature of violent crimes should not
determine the limits of appropriate punishment. Long periods of
confinement will meet the needs just as well. Capital punishment should be
abolished once and for all in the United States. Given this option, our
course is clear.
(source: Poughkeepsie Journal - Frances Sandiford is president of the
Mid-Hudson Chapter of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty)
Death penalty appeal denied for convicted murderer
According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, there are 103 people
currently on death row. There hasn't been an execution in Tennessee since
2000. That year, Robert Glen Coe was executed by lethal injection for the
1979 murder of an 8-year-old Greenfield girl. On Tuesday, the Tennessee
Supreme Court issued an order clearing the way for the state's next
On August 22, 1985, a Coffee County jury sentenced Gregory Thompson to
death after the 23-year-old was convicted of kidnapping and stabbing
Brenda Blanton Lane to death. Lane was just 28 years old and a budding
journalist at The Shelbyville Times-Gazette. She was once voted
"Outstanding Young Woman of Bedford County." After the sentencing, Steve
Lane - her husband of only 5 months - spoke out about Thompson's death
"I'm happy the decision has been made, but he still hasn't been executed,"
he said. "Till I see he has been executed, I won't be completely happy."
20 years have now passed. D.O.C. sources say that Thompson lives in a
solitary cell in maximum security on Death Row at Riverbend Prison.
Earlier this year his lawyers argued that he was mentally incompetent to
be executed. On Tuesday, the Tennessee Supreme Court denied that motion
and put the execution back on-course.
The date is currently set for February 7. Though he's next on the list,
News 2 was told that Thompson has not exhausted all the appeals available
to him, meaning his execution date will more than likely be postponed.
What warrants a penalty of death?
A man charged with murder is facing the death penalty because of a
previous conviction for 2nd-degree arson.
The case of Arie Redeker is in front of the Nevada Supreme Court and has
raised the question of what it takes to qualify for the death penalty.
"I've been handling these cases day to day for four years and this just
doesn't smell like a death penalty case and the whole thing has me
confused," Redeker's public defender, Scott Coffee, said. "Not every
murder case is a death penalty case. If this is a death penalty case, then
I guess every murder case is."
Prosecutors say that on Oct. 22, 2002, Redeker strangled his girlfriend,
Skawduan Lanna, with a telephone cord and dumped the body in the desert
near Red Rock.
The year before, Redeker set fire to his garage. Lanna had moved out, and
no one was home at the time. Redeker accepted guilt in a plea to
Under state law, any number of so-called "aggravators," including previous
felonies and the crime committed, can qualify a defendant for the death
Appellate Chief Deputy District Attorney Steven Owens said a previous
felony conviction that includes "a 'threat' of violence" qualifies Redeker
for the death penalty under state law.
When the facts surrounding Redeker's 2nd-degree arson conviction are
examined it becomes clear a threat of violence existed and seeking the
death penalty is warranted, Owens argued in a court brief.
"Not every 2nd-degree arson case will involve a threat, but he (Redeker)
verbally threatened her, he threatened to kill her and then he torched the
house," Owens said. "The legal question here is whether we can look at all
the circumstances or just at the name of the crime."
But underlying the defense claim is a criticism of how death penalty cases
are charged. The district attorney's office has a committee that reviews
death penalty cases to determine whether the charge fits.
Coffee says the committee is "stretching the facts" of the arson case to
suggest that what is normally considered a property crime is a felony
involving the use or threat of violence.
Coffee also argues that the death penalty review committee should be
required to submit the alleged aggravating circumstances to a judge to
determine whether probable cause exists.
The public defender said he would "like to think there would be due
process, an equal protection of rights" present within the death penalty
committee's decision making or at least a "standardization" that the
committee would follow in determining whether to seek the death penalty.
The review committee decided to seek the death penalty based on two
aggravating circumstances, "namely that the murder was committed by a
person under sentence of imprisonment," and because Redeker "had
previously been convicted of a felony involving the use of threat of
violence to the person of another."
Redeker pleaded guilty to the arson charge under an Alford plea and was
sentenced to probation with the Drug Court as a condition. Under an Alford
plea, the defendant does not technically admit guilt but agrees that
prosecutors could prove their case at trial.
Prosecutor Robert Daskas, who is handling the Redeker case alongside
prosecutor Pam Weckerly, said his experience with murder cases leads him
to disagree with Coffee.
"I've tried three times the amount of murder cases Coffee has and the
Redeker case smells like a death case to me," Daskas said. "The
Legislature has determined what cases warrant the death penalty, and we're
acting accordingly in the Redeker case."
Owens added that Redeker's actions also placed his neighbors at risk
because Redeker not only sprayed gasoline in the garage "but throughout
the house in an attempt to burn it down to the ground."
Owens said even though he believes the Nevada Supreme Court has ruled
countless times in favor of the district attorney's office on the issues
raised by Coffee, he's reluctant to predict what the justices will decide
in the Redeker case.
"The justices have ruled on this before and I think it's become a moot
point, but for some reason they keep entertaining the issue and want it
briefed," Owens said. "It makes me nervous. I really have no idea what the
court will say. The justices are unpredictable."
The case could be decided as soon as next month.
(source: Las Vegas Sun)
Guilty? Insane? Separate the verdicts----Our opinion: Legal issues of
guilt and sanity should be considered separately.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take an overdue look at how states
deal with insanity defenses and the evidence that can be used to argue
them. Few issues are more troublesome to judges, prosecutors, juries and
the public than how to deduce what role mental illness plays in otherwise
The issue came to a head in Indiana when Anthony G. Kiritsis was found not
guilty by reason of insanity on charges stemming from his very public
abduction of an Indianapolis mortgage company executive who was paraded
through Downtown streets at the barrel of a shotgun and held hostage for
several days in 1977. After that verdict, Indiana lawmakers amended the
law to provide for an alternate verdict of guilty but mentally ill, which
does not guarantee treatment for the mental disorder or spare those
convicted of murder from the death penalty.
The issue later received national attention when John Hinckley was
acquitted on grounds of insanity after attempting to assassinate President
Ronald Reagan, motivating some states to toughen laws on insanity
Despite advances in understanding mental illnesses and dramatic changes in
treatment and the use of drugs, the Supreme Court hasn't addressed the
issue in decades. Judges and juries typically are faced with confusing
testimony from mental health experts.
The best answer seems to be a process in which courts first decide guilt
or innocence without considering sanity. After a guilty verdict, a second
hearing could deal with mental competence to determine sentencing, whether
to a correctional facility, a mental institution, or both.
That removes the emotional issue of mental capacity from a finding of
guilt or innocence. And it allows defendants to testify on their behalf at
the second hearing without incriminating themselves.
(source: Editorial, Indianapolis Star)
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