death penalty news-----TEXAS, CALIF., KY., OHIO, PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Dec 29 23:54:12 CST 2005
Condemned gang member loses appeal in double slaying case
Convicted killer Derrick Sean O'Brien, 1 of 5 gang members condemned for
the savage rape-slayings of 2 teenage Houston girls more than a dozen
years ago, lost an appeal Tuesday before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of
O'Brien, now 30, was 18 in June 1993 when he and 5 companions attacked
Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, both high school sophomores
who were walking home at night after visiting a friend.
The brutality of the attacks shocked Houston and gave the slayings
In the ruling released Tuesday, a three-member panel of the New
Orleans-based appeals court denied O'Brien's request for a certificate of
appealability, which is needed before he can appeal a federal district
court's denial of his case. The lower court rejected his claims in
O'Brien, who does not have an execution date, raised four constitutional
claims in his most recent appeal: that his legal help at trial was
ineffective; that additional witnesses, primarily relatives and family
friends, should have been called to testify to provide mitigating
evidence; that his gang affiliation and tattoos improperly were used
against him at his trial; and that jurors should have been told that a
life prison term would have kept him locked up for at least 35 years.
According to court records, O'Brien raped both girls as part of a gang
rape and beating both endured before they were strangled, one with
O'Brien's belt as he and a companion pulled so hard that the belt broke.
The other girl was believed to have been strangled with shoelaces.
O'Brien was arrested five days after the attack. When police showed up at
his Houston home, he tried to run out the back door, but officers already
were stationed there. Police also found in the apartment the belt used in
one of the killings.
In a statement to police, he said he gave the belt to companion Jose
Medellin, who used it to strangle one of the girls and told him to grab
one end of it while they both pulled on it to kill her.
The girls' bodies were found four days after the attack. At O'Brien's
trial, a medical examiner testified Ertman's body was so decomposed she
couldn't determine what was used to strangle the girl, although the
evidence pointed to a belt or hands. Ertman also had 3 fractured ribs.
Pena had several missing teeth after she was punched or kicked in the
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals earlier rejected an appeal from
O'Brien that raised some 30 points, including that he did not get a fair
trial because of publicity surrounding the case.
2 of the gang members also condemned for the slayings, Efrain Perez and
Raul Villarreal, had their sentences commuted to life in prison after the
U.S. Supreme Court early this year barred the execution of offenders who
were under 18 when they committed their crime. Perez and Villarreal were
17. Both had execution dates in June 2004, set by a judge in Houston to
coincide with the anniversary of the slayings, but those dates were
withdrawn when the Supreme Court took up the issue of age and capital
Still on death row with O'Brien are Peter Cantu and Medellin, whose case
was returned to the state courts under an order last February from
President Bush. Medellin, born in Mexico, is among some 50 Mexican
offenders who argue that under international law, they should have been
allowed help from the Mexican consulate before they went to trial.
A 6th participant in the attack on the girls, Medellin's brother,
Vernancio, was 14 at the time, and received a 40-year prison term.
(source: The Associated Press)
A Chosen Path: A Youth Speaks On Deathr row Speaks Out
"What am I seeking for this unnormal act of self-expression, with thoughts
I share, the secrets of my mind, to the open vulnerability of my heart?"<
How many times have I wandered astray on the chosen path before me, only
to crave a new path at the forked cross?
All my life I have wandered endlessly with no regards for the future, my
future. No plans or desire to do anything with my life but to live
selfishly, enjoying the pleasure of a drifters life. Till the day I found
myself on Texas death row - even then, it took a few years before I
understood the opportunity that was before my eyes, within reach of my
hands, if I chose to reach out with fingers to grab, to hold, to make a
change in my life, and perhaps, help make a change, an everlasting
impression in the lives of others.
Through years of experiencing life on the streets, vividly I recall the
lessons it taught me, and what it did to me, as I slowly conditioned
myself with a plate of armor to hide my inner emotions. My eyes are not
blind, nor does my heart lack compassion or remorse. I simply did not
express it; the troubles of my mind and turmoil of my heart were for me
alone to deal with, fight over, and work out. I usually managed to do as
much, caring little about how others perceived me - heartless,
emotionless, remorseless. Because I did not live by what others thought of
me. I did not let their opinions dictate my life. I only lived as I
pleased and chose. Was my life not mine to lead?
But perhaps thats why I sit here now, expressing a part of me that would
otherwise be forever locked in my heart. What am I seeking for this
unnormal act of self-expression, with thoughts I share, the secrets of my
mind, to the open vulnerability of my heart? Is it to seek sympathy or
pity? No, it is seeking for you to momentarily know me - me as a person,
me as a human being, me as a boy whos matured into a man, but mostly me as
who I now am: Son Tran, a condemned prisoner who resides on Texas Death
Two monkey seasons old. Twenty-four summers my eyes have been fortunate to
see; life around me has become a masterful painting no penitentiary walls
can deny. No longer do I call myself a drifter. A man without a course to
follow. Because I am now a man with a purpose who possesses a sense of
direction in life. True, I can no longer live my life as I once did, for
the shackles of man's oppression have found my flesh; but the will of my
spirit refuses to be oppressed, or denied its chosen path.
Daily confined behind walls so thick that sounds of nature are elusive:
the slamming of steel on steel, the yelling of mans despair, and the sad
but forced laughter of men condemned, are all I hear. Most days pass
uneventful. Even on the day someone is executed. These walls do more than
confine and isolate men; they break down their bodies, minds, spirits, and
cause them to surrender, believing its better to submit to the systems
design than to fight. And, refuse the oppression of being denied food,
recreation, commissary, visitation rights, mail, etc., thinking that if
they simply comply everything will be okay, or get better. But they are
only fooling themselves. Because even basic privileges and rights are
slowly being taken away day after day.
Each cage for each man is a world of his own. Over 450 men are sentenced
to die. So many of those worlds consist of what many see as the
inevitable. Others are filled with endless dreams. Some are plagued by the
ills of insanity. Then there are the few who still cling to hope - looking
beyond the concrete walls and razor wire-lined fences for a place that
allows them to cast reflection and give voice to the cruel and inhuman
conditions in which they exist, in the hope that they can create change,
that even if they arent alive to see it, it will at least be possible for
the next man. This is the world in which I live.
What is my story? How is my life different from the next man? Where does
it all begin?
I dropped out of school in the ninth grade. I was a bright curious boy
growing up, and did well in school. During my early teens, my eyes caught
the glitter of the streets - and I fell in love with them - head over
heels. They educated me in ways no school could. But they also continued
to blind me, and caused me to rebel against all that was good for me.
In the fall of 1997, at the age of 17, it all came to a head. I was
arrested and charged with capital murder. And in late 2000, at the age of
20, I was sentenced to death. My arrival on Texas Death Row came shortly
thereafter, in early 2001.
During the years of my incarceration, I tried to seek an education, one
that I had denied myself so long ago. But I wasnt allowed for whatever
reason of convenience the prison administration chose to invoke. I came to
the realization that if I wanted an education I had to do it myself. I
began reading, writing, drawing, devising poetry, and everything else to
Sadly, one of my childhood dreams was only achieved because of my
incarceration. I had always wanted to write poetry, even dreaming of one
day becoming a famous poet of my time! However, it took getting
incarcerated before I would even take the steps to make this a reality.
But this dream has opened my eyes to something I also never would have
imagined - using poetry as a form of speaking out, reaching for the ears
of the masses, and teaching others about the chaos within these walls.
Poetry became an instrument for me to voice the unseen, and to bring the
plight of prisoners across America to light.
As the days pass by and I reminisce on my younger ones, I smile at the
memories I now cherish. Because this tomb can imprison my body, but these
walls will never invade my mind and steal me away from me. If anything,
they are allowing me to find out more and more about my true self, which
hopefully is someone I may continue to reveal to you, and to the world.
This is my chosen path.
Youthful dreams shattered by my own hands, contained by shackle and chain.
No longer allowed to be called a man.
No longer free to control my destiny.
No longer able to become who I aspired to be, a true Vietnamese.
A Mothers Love
As I stare into my mothers eyes
and see her love for me,
my eyes get teary, my vision clouds.
I do everything I can
to fight back my tears-
I havent cried since I dont know when, but seeing the sadness in my mother
as she attempts to smile, just breaks my heart.
I try to reach out and comfort her,
to reassure her I will be okay-
but the glass window between us wont budge.
So, I just stand staring, feeling hopeless, with silent tears running down
To Be Vietnamese
Through years of harassment,
hardships, and inhuman existence-
the life of a man entombed alive
I have fought,
a fate unknown and unsure,
but I do not worry
nor do I weep.
I hold my head high
striving to survive
to focus on the road to freedom.
A difficult path I shall journey on
but Im not alone.
I feel the spirits of my ancestors-
strength and courage raging within.
The road to freedom will never be easy, but till I see that day I shall
not rest, I shall not falter, I shall not be defeated.
Move with me,
or become dust beneath my feet.
For when I fight,
I am the grandson of the Dragon and Fairy.
(source: Pacific News - Son Tran was born in Cayuhoga, Ohio in 1980 and
grew up in Houston, Texas. He was convicted of capital murder at the age
of 17, tried as an adult and sentenced to death. He had no prison record
prior to his conviction. Tran is on Texas Death Row. He can be reached at:
Son Tran #999372, Polunsky Unit, 3872 FM 350 South, Livingston, Texas
USA----re: federal death row inmate
Death-row inmate gets new hearing
A federal judge Tuesday vacated the death sentence of an inmate convicted
of strangling to death his cellmate nearly a decade ago.
U.S. District Judge Malcolm Muir ruled that prosecutors should have
disclosed to David Paul Hammers lawyers the existence of four interviews
that may have supported Hammers claim that he used rope made from
bedsheets for bondage sex.
Those interviews could have led jurors to conclude Hammer did not engage
in substantial planning before he killed Andrew Marti at Allenwood Federal
Penitentiary in 1996.
Muir vacated the death penalty and ordered a new sentencing hearing but
said Hammer did not prove he was mentally incompetent when he pleaded
guilty in 1998 or when he subsequently sought to abandon his appeals.
Phone messages seeking comment from several lawyers who represent Hammer
and 3 federal prosecutors involved in the case were not immediately
returned Tuesday afternoon.
Hammer, 47, had more than 1,200 years remaining on sentences for crimes
that included attempted murder and kidnapping in his native state of
Oklahoma in the early 1980s when he was charged in federal court with
He is currently incarcerated at the federal prison in Terre Haute.
(source: Associated Press)
Rejecting Arnold's medieval murder
The medieval town in which Arnold Schwarzenegger grew up has rightly
rejected his medieval murder of Stanley "Tookie" Williams.
The Terminator's nickname has taken on a twisted new dimension. His
Austrian home town is horrified, along with sane human beings throughout
the rest of the world. Above all, this was a fascist killing.
For the full horror of what Schwarzenegger has done in American terms, we
must hearken back to the witch trials of the 1600s.
In Salem and elsewhere in New England, Puritan fanatics took the loud
hysteria of scheming adolescents as "evidence" of deviltry. In 1692-3 a
score of citizens---nearly all of them women---were "convicted" of
The charges were sick and absurd. Many of the accused were esteemed
grandmothers. Most were independent gardeners, farmers, craftspeople or in
business for themselves. In many cases, family feuds or the coveting of
land and property were at the core of the accusations.
Though written as an attack on 1950s McCarthyism, Arthur Miller's
"Crucible" and the brilliant movie most recently made of it (starring his
son-in-law, Daniel Day-Lewis) stand as intensely powerful warnings against
the kind of lethal hysteria that has gripped the America of George W. Bush
and the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Williams was a founder of the notorious Crips gang who reformed and worked
ceaselessly to end violence. He renounced his past, wrote a children's
book and became a model citizen. Living a prison life in productive
dignity, he came to embody precisely the kind of quiet integrity so
distinctly lacking in those who put him to death.
In their Puritan eyes, Williams' ultimate crime was not the murders he may
or may not have committed---it was his refusal to confess to them.
Throughout his years in prison, Williams steadfastly insisted on his
innocence. It was this insistence that Schwarzenegger cited as the
ultimate reason for having him killed. His lack of "repentance" said the
governor, was what justified his execution.
It was a purely medieval decision. The Puritans are Schwarzenegger's
spiritual predecessors in this. They gleefully slaughtered Quakers,
Indians, Baptists and all others who refused to toe the God Squad line.
Pioneers in frontier totalitarianism, the Puritans always demanded one
thing: a confession. If you admitted to being a witch, they might not kill
you. If you held fast to your convictions, they certainly would. Break you
or kill you, take your pick.
In some cases their "trials" made Kafka seem sane. Accused witches were
bound and thrown into lakes or rivers or tubs of water. If they sank, it
meant they were embraced by the Lord, and thus innocent (but dead). If
they floated, they were rejected by the Divine, and thus guilty---and
That's about the level of Schwarzenegger's reasoning in his ritual murder
of Tookie Williams. The Puritans ruled New England for nearly a century
with an iron hand that punished non-conformity and political dissent with
torture and death. Like the Bush-Rove GOP, they based it all on God and
the Bible. Like McCarthy and Schwarzenegger, they demanded confession and
a broken spirit as the price of physical survival.
A century after the Salem killings, the newly independent United States
adopted a Bill of Rights whose very first demand was to separate church
and state. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion," reads the opening line of the First Amendment, an iron rule of
new American life now being obliterated by the Bush-Rove GOP.
The irony becomes even deeper with the bitter rejection of
Schwarzenegger's hypocrisy by his Austrian hometown of Graz. Arnold has
danced around a personal past heavily tainted with overt or covert Nazism.
But Graz was undeniably in the fascist grip during World War 2.
Now Graz has set its sights in direct opposition, with official revulsion
against a death penalty it (and most of the rest of the world) considers
5 years ago the Graz City Council unanimously voted to deem itself
Europe's premier "city of human rights." For many, Williams had become
precisely the kind of citizen with whom Graz wanted to associate.
In protest against Schwarzenegger's refusal to pardon Williams, a majority
of the city council accepted a petition to rename the local 15,000-seat
stadium which was named after Schwarzenegger in 1997. Before the petition
could be formally approved, Schwarzenegger had his name removed.
"It was a clever step," said one council member.
There have since been proposals to rename the stadium after the Crips, or
after Hakoah, a Jewish sports club banned by Hitler after he annexed
Austria in 1938.
But Schwarzenegger proclaims no remorse for Williams's death. The ritual
slaughter in California, Texas and Iraq continue as the rest of the world
recoils in horror.
Public revulsion against the bloody excesses of the Salem witch trials
ultimately sped the downfall of a Puritan reign of terror. Graz has added
hope that Schwarzenegger's ghastly, medieval murder of Tookie Williams
will now find a similar meaning.
(source: Harvey Wasserman, Free Press)
Petersons hire noted attorneys
Scott Peterson's family has hired 2 attorneys to begin appeals they hope
will overturn his conviction.
Rather than waiting for an appellate attorney to be assigned, Lee and
Jackie Peterson chose Cliff Gardner of Oakland and Lawrence Gibbs of
Berkeley to represent their son in state habeas corpus proceedings.
"Since he is innocent, we don't want him sitting there any longer than he
has to," Lee Peterson said Tuesday.
The state can take four to 5 years to appoint an attorney because there
aren't enough lawyers who can do post-conviction work, Gardner said. The
Peterson family interviewed several appellate attorneys, Gardner said,
Peterson was convicted in December 2004 of killing his wife, Laci, and
unborn son, Conner. He arrived on death row at San Quentin in March.
Death penalty appeals are automatic and have two distinct parts: the
direct appeal, based on any errors within the trial; and habeas corpus
proceedings, based on such issues as new evidence in the case, evidence
that should have been heard, or errors by the defense attorney.
Peterson's high-profile trial lawyer Mark Geragos could have handled the
appeals but said he felt the case warrants "a fresh set of eyes."
Geragos said he still will be involved, from reviewing court transcripts
to preserving documents for whoever is going to handle the direct appeal.
Geragos said he has never worked with Gardner or Gibbs but knows Gardner
"I think the world of him," Geragos said. "He's a very accomplished
Gardner said he believes Geragos is a good lawyer, and that reduces the
chances of finding attorney error. However, he said, mistakes are common.
Geragos said that with more than 10,000tips received in the Peterson case,
Gardner and Gibbs have "ample room" to search for new evidence.
Gardner started working on death penalty cases about 25 years ago after
reading about an Idaho prisoner who was about to be executed but had no
Gardner had no death penalty experience but volunteered to help the
inmate. The death sentence was overturned and the inmate still is alive,
Since then, he has argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He has had
three death penalty reversals in the past 2 years, Geragos said.
Gibbs, who was out of town and could not be reached for comment, has about
24 years' experience in post-conviction work, Gardner said. The two have
worked together often.
They are high-profile, like Geragos. Among other notable clients, Gardner
represents Lyle Menendez, and Gibbs represents Erik Menendez, the brothers
convicted of murdering their parents in Southern California in 1989.
Gardner said the appeals process is lengthy, and he and Gibbs have just
begun learning the case. They'll look through thousands of pages of
transcripts, evidence and other documents in which they might find dozens
of angles on which to base appeals.
"It was a long, complex case," Gardner said.
Years likely will pass before any appeals are filed, Gardner said, though
lesser motions will be filed as needed.
Usually, Gardner said, he is appointed by the state to handle death
penalty appeals, and would be paid by the state. However, the Petersons
hired him privately. He would only say he is not being paid by the state
in this case, and said the financial arrangements are between him and the
Gardner said he has met with Scott Peterson at San Quentin.
"I think, all things considered, he's doing fine," Gardner said.
(source: Modesto Bee)
'Sausage King' Dies in Prison----Stuart Alexander, 44, sentenced to death
for murdering 3 meat inspectors in 2000, dies in San Quentin of unknown
5 1/2 years after he murdered three meat inspectors in his Bay Area
processing plant, self-proclaimed "Sausage King" Stuart Alexander died
Tuesday morning of undetermined causes in a maximum surveillance hospital
cell at San Quentin State Prison, prison officials reported.
Alexander, 44, had been treated repeatedly for mental problems at San
Quentin and in the corrections system medical facility at Vacaville since
an Oakland jury sentenced him to death row in February, prison spokesman
Sgt. Eric Messick said.
On Christmas Eve, Alexander was placed under suicide watch in a special
cell that is under constant video surveillance and is visited by guards
every 15 minutes. When checked at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, Messick said, the
burly inmate was still breathing and appeared to be sleeping.
15 minutes later a guard reported that Alexander was "unresponsive" and
summoned medical assistance.
Prison officials were at a loss to explain the sudden death of an inmate
under what was described as the "highest level of observation" in the
prison. The cell's only furniture is a mattress on the floor.
"At this point we have nothing to suggest suicide," Messick said. Other
than his mental illness, Messick said, Alexander had "no other serious
health problems." Results of an autopsy conducted Tuesday by the Marin
County coroner are expected later this week.
The brother of a meat inspector killed in the June 2000 shooting described
Alexander's death as the "final chapter" in a painful ordeal for the
families and friends of the slain inspectors. The attack was captured in
grisly detail on video surveillance cameras at the Santos Linguisa Factory
in San Leandro.
"At long last," said John Quadros of Fremont, "the victims have some
justice. It has been 5 1/2 years since this occurred and we won't have to
wait another 20 to 25 years for the execution."
Of the 650 inmates on death row, 92 have been awaiting execution for more
than 20 years.
Stanley Tookie Williams, the last person to be executed in California, was
sentenced to death in 1981.
Alexander's victims, federal meat inspectors Thomas Quadros, 52, and Jean
Hillery, 56, and state inspector William Shaline, 57, were the first
agricultural agents killed in the line of duty since meat inspections were
enacted nearly a century ago.
Because of previous confrontations with Alexander, a volatile former San
Leandro mayoral candidate who believed that he was being unfairly harassed
over sanitation standards at his sausage factory, the 3 inspectors, along
with another state inspector who managed to escape, went to the factory in
what they thought was a protective group.
The video showed Alexander loading several weapons in his office as the
inspectors waited in the factory showroom. Alexander then entered the
showroom and opened fire, felling the 3 inspectors and chasing the 4th,
state inspector Earl Willis, down the street.
After Willis escaped, Alexander returned to the showroom and fired more
shots into the heads of the prone victims, who were still writhing from
their initial wounds.
Overshadowed by the sensational Scott Peterson trial that was occurring at
the same time across San Francisco Bay in San Mateo County, Alexander's
capital murder trial played out in relative obscurity in a dingy Alameda
Public defenders who were representing Alexander, a fourth-generation
Portuguese sausage maker, portrayed him as mentally disturbed. They
produced a psychologist who testified that tests that he administered to
Alexander showed "moderate brain impairment."
Alexander's mother, Shirley Eckhart, who attended most of the trial, said
her son had suffered 5 concussions.
"He just lost his mind," Eckhart told reporters at the time. "You can't
even reason with him."
During the trial one witness, former girlfriend Charlotte Knapp, testified
that Alexander had once talked about killing the inspectors and making
sausages out of them.
"No one would know," she said he told her.
After a 21-month trial and capital sentence hearing, the jury ruled that
Alexander was responsible for his acts and deserved to die.
Public defender Michael Ogul, a capital punishment opponent who
represented Alexander in the trial, said his former client's mental
problems and his death in prison came as no surprise.
"Stuart had serious mental health problems that should have been treated,"
Ogul said. "Stuart needed help. Without help, this was inevitable."
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Next in line on Death Row seeks stay of execution ---- 76-year-old Allen
is blind and crippled, his lawyers say
Lawyers for Clarence Ray Allen, scheduled to die by lethal injection Jan.
17 for ordering three murders from his prison cell in 1980, asked the
California Supreme Court for a stay of execution Tuesday, saying the
state-sponsored killing of a blind, wheelchair-bound and seriously ill
76-year-old would be cruel and unusual punishment.
In their brief to the high court Friday, Allen's attorneys made arguments
similar to those they presented to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Dec. 13 in
asking for clemency. They did not dispute his guilt or the proceedings at
his trial, but stressed instead that he would be the oldest and sickest
man California has ever executed, and the 2nd-oldest to go to any U.S.
death chamber in the last 30 years.
"To wheel Mr. Allen, a blind, aged, crippled and enfeebled man, into the
execution chamber at San Quentin to be put to death would be a bizarre
spectacle that shocks the conscience and offends fundamental notions of
human decency," defense lawyers wrote.
"If confined to prison for the rest of his natural life, Mr. Allen bears
no practical risk of harm to anyone."
State lawyers have argued that Allen's crimes showed he was a menace even
in prison, and that his age and illness should not spare him from his
"Mr. Allen has shown that imprisonment is simply no guarantee of public
security," Deputy Attorney General Ward Campbell wrote last week in urging
Schwarzenegger to deny clemency. "... The fact that Allen has been able to
live his life after depriving so many innocent people of theirs is no
reason to show him mercy now."
Allen's lawyers asked the state court to block his execution and order his
sentence reduced to life without parole. As an alternative, they said, the
court should suspend the death order while they look into possible brain
damage as additional grounds for clemency, an investigation they said they
were unable to complete by a Dec. 13 deadline because prison officials
limited Allen's access to lawyers and doctors.
Allen, who once ran a security company in Fresno, became the leader of a
theft ring in the San Joaquin Valley and was convicted of ordering the
1974 murder of his son's girlfriend. While serving a life sentence at
Folsom Prison, he was convicted of ordering 3 more murders at a Fresno
supermarket in 1980, including the killing of a witness from his earlier
trial. The gunman, Billy Ray Hamilton, a former fellow inmate, is also on
In their clemency motion and Friday's court appeal, Allen's lawyers said
their client suffered a near-fatal heart attack in September and has been
denied medication for his diabetes and surgery for his heart and vision
problems. They also told the state court that California's "moral sense of
decency" should be offended by executing him after he's spent 23 years in
the dank, filthy and cramped conditions of death row.
(source: San Francisco Chronicle)
Racial politics in death penalty?----Attorney of Stockton man scheduled to
die says yes
Michael Angelo Morales, the Stockton man awaiting execution in February
for the 1981 rape and murder of a Tokay High School student, could be the
1st Latino put to death in California since the state revived capital
A dozen men -- white, Black and of Asian ancestry -- have preceded
Morales, 46, in California's death chamber since 1992, when the execution
of Robert Alton Harris ended a 25-year suspension on capital punishment in
Clarence Ray Allen of Fresno, an American Indian and the state's oldest
death-row inmate, could be the next put to death by injection. His
execution is scheduled for Jan. 17, the day after he turns 76.
San Joaquin County prosecutors expect Morales to be executed Feb. 21.
There are 646 inmates on California's death row.
8 of the 12 executed since 1992 were white, and whites make up nearly 40 %
of the inmates on death row. The others were 2 Blacks, an Asian and an
Latinos make up more than 33 % of California's population and 14 % of
inmates on California's death row.
Death-penalty opponents argue that race plays a major role in
death-penalty convictions such as Morales'.
"It has nothing to do with the details of the crimes," said Lance Lindsey,
executive director of Death Penalty Focus. "It is about race, place and
Juries from San Joaquin Valley communities are more likely to convict a
minority defendant and sentence him to death, said Lindsey, whose San
Francisco-based organization lobbies for a moratorium on all executions.
Men from impoverished backgrounds who were convicted of crimes against
white victims are especially subject to unfairness, Lindsey said. Morales'
victim was a white girl.
"There's a continuing drum beat as you look at capital cases to see these
inequities," Lindsey said.
Morales has been on San Quentin State Prison's death row for more than 2
decades since his conviction for slaying 17-year-old Terri Winchell.
Winchell left home one evening to get food for her ill mother, court
papers said. Days later, her stabbed, beaten and partially nude body was
found in a vineyard outside of Lodi.
Morales' attorney, David Senior of Los Angeles, said his client has
acknowledged his part in Winchell's murder and expressed remorse. Senior
said Morales doesn't want to hurt his and Winchell's families anymore.
But Senior said race partly fueled his client's case.
"There is overwhelming statistical evidence that race and gender were
factors relied upon in seeking the death penalty in this case," Senior
California still runs far behind Texas, which has executed both the
largest number of people overall -- 355 -- and the most Latinos -- 51.
Todd Slosek, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation, said his office carries out the death warrants issued by
the court on inmates under state law regardless of race.
"There's no rhyme or reason why people commit crimes against others,"
(source: Stockton Record)
Ex-athlete may face death penalty ---- Man, 28, charged with killing
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Francois Cunningham, a
one-time high school football standout charged with murdering a couple in
Fern Creek Park.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ryane Conroyfiled the death-penalty
notice in Jefferson Circuit Court yesterday at Cunningham's arraignment.
Cunningham pleaded not guilty and asked for a public defender.
The bodies of Trevor Alexander, 28, and Tykea Sanderson, 24, were found
Oct. 12 in the Fern Creek Park parking lot. They had been shot and burned.
Cunningham, 28, is charged with 2 counts of murder and 1 count each of
tampering with evidence, arson and being a persistent felon. He is jailed
under a $1 million bond.
The decision to seek the death penalty was based on aggravating factors in
the killings, including arson and multiple deaths, according to court
Cunningham is scheduled to return to court Jan. 24.
Police say Alexander and Sanderson were on the way to meet Cunningham to
buy drugs the day they were killed. Cell phone records show that Alexander
and Cunningham called each other several times before the murders,
according to court records.
The couple, who lived together in the Newburg area, were pronounced dead
at the park of gunshot wounds, though their burns also could have been
fatal. An accelerant was used on the victims, according to court records.
Sanderson and Alexander had two children together, including a 4-month-old
baby, said Sanderson's aunt, Victoria Thompson of Radcliff, Ky.
In the mid-1990s, Cunningham, who then was known as Francois Jackson, was
a running back for Fern Creek High School.
In 1998, Cunningham, under the name Jackson, was indicted on murder and
robbery charges in the shooting death of Rafael Morales, who was found in
the Outer Loop Landfill in May 1997.
Cunningham pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and tampering with
physical evidence. The charges were combined with others, and he was
sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2000.
He was released on parole in September 2003.
Prosecutors to seek death penalty in murder case
A Louisville man has pleaded not guilty to a double homicide, but
prosecutors say they plan to seek the death penalty against him in the
case. Francois Cunningham, 28, entered his plea Tuesday in Jefferson
Commonwealth's Attorney Ryane Conroy filed the death-penalty notice during
Cunningham was charged with murder and arson in the deaths of Trevor
Alexander, 28, and Tykea Sanderson, 24. The remains of the victims were
found Oct. 12 near a burned-out car in Fern Creek Park. Both had been shot
The decision to seek the death penalty was based on aggravating factors in
the killings, including arson and multiple deaths, according to court
Police say Alexander and Sanderson were on the way to meet Cunningham to
buy drugs the day they were killed.
(source: Associated Press)
OHIO----new execution date
Court sets execution date for man convicted of double homicide
The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday set a Feb. 7 execution date for a man
sentenced to die for raping and killing 2 women 20 years ago. The man's
attorney said she expects the execution to go ahead.
Glenn Benner, 43, of Summit County, has been on death row since 1986 for
the killings that took place during a 5-month stretch in 1985 and 1986.
Benner was convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering Cynthia Sedgwick,
26, in August 1985 in woods at the Blossom Music Center near Akron where
she had attended a concert.
He also was convicted of raping and murdering 21-year-old Trina Bowser in
Akron in January 1986.
In addition, Benner was convicted of raping and trying to kill 2 other
women in the months between those killings.
Benner has no appeals left and the execution will likely take place, his
attorney, Kate McGarry, said Wednesday.
The court previously set a Jan. 19 execution date for John Spirko,
convicted of murdering a northwest Ohio postmistress in 1982.
If their executions proceed, Spirko and Benner would be the 20th and 21st
men, respectively, put to death since the state resumed executions in
(source: Associated Press)
Death penalty may be sought
If he had to decide today, Campbell Commonwealth Attorney Jack Porter said
he would seek the death penalty against Michael Richardson Sr.
The case certainly fits the criteria under state law - intentional,
multiple homicides. And it's certainly among the worst cases he has seen,
the Northern Kentucky prosecutor said.
But Porter said he would hold off on any formal decision until he's more
familiar with the details of what happened at 15 Laycock Lane in Newport
on Tuesday morning.
"Knowing what I know now, I'd say the death penalty will be sought,"
Porter said. "But I'll reserve on that until I know all the facts."
Richardson is charged with 3 counts of murder in the deaths of his wife,
daughter and her boyfriend. All were found shot to death inside the
Richardsons' home early Tuesday morning.
No one has been sentenced to death in Campbell County since the U.S.
Supreme Court decision allowing capital punishment's re-implementation in
the mid-1970s. But at least 2 such cases have gone to the jury.
In one, Gregory Scott Combs was charged with arson, murder and attempted
murder for setting a fire in Newport that killed five people. But the jury
convicted Combs of 2nd-degree manslaughter and third- degree arson in the
1989 trial. In a 2nd case that Porter personally prosecuted, 17-year-old
Garry Gampfer faced the death penalty for killing an 8-year-old girl in
Highland Heights. But jurors in 1993 found Gampfer not guilty of
kidnapping, and ultimately recommended a 40-year prison term on the murder
(source: Cincinnati Post)
Court sets standards for retardation in death penalty cases
In Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has set standards by which
murder defendants can prove they are mentally retarded and avoid the death
penalty, but the high court also urged the General Assembly to act on its
The state Supreme Court said Tuesday - more than 3 years after the U.S.
Supreme Court banned executions of people who are mentally retarded - that
it would not rely on a "cutoff IQ score."
Instead, it adopted a system that takes into account both "limited
intellectual functioning" and "deficiencies in adaptive skills."
Ruling in the case of Joseph Daniel "Joey" Miller, a Steelton man
convicted in March 1993 of murdering 2 women in Dauphin County, the high
court unanimously sent the case back to county court for hearings to
establish whether Miller meets the new standard.
His victims, Selina Franklin and Stephanie McDuffey, were found buried in
a Harrisburg-area landfill, as was a third woman, Jeanette Thomas. Miller,
41, confessed to killing Thomas but has not been charged in her death.
He is also serving life in prison for murdering Kathi Novena Shenck, a
woman who he ran over several times with his car and then buried in a dump
in neighboring Perry County.
A county judge had vacated the death sentences on the grounds that Miller
was retarded, but the new hearing ordered by the high court could return
him to death row.
Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico Jr. said his office will argue
that Miller "functioned at a fairly high level in society," holding
several jobs and being married.
"You have to look at the person's life as a whole," Marsico said. "There's
no magic number that should automatically preclude him from being
Miller's lawyer, Robert Dunham of the Defender Association of
Philadelphia, said the Supreme Court's standard of retardation is valid.
"The court is going to look to the diagnostic criteria that professional
mental health organizations have established. I think that's entirely
appropriate," Dunham said.
Justice J. Michael Eakin said the Legislature should act "without further
delay" to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2002 decision in Atkins v.
Virginia. At the time, Pennsylvania was one of 20 states that did not
explicitly ban the execution of the mentally retarded.
"Bills have been introduced, but no legislation has been passed to
accomplish this. Meanwhile, cases languish and courts await action which
has not been forthcoming," Eakin wrote.
Miller's case involved his post-conviction appeal, so the Supreme Court
did not say how the new rules should apply to new murder cases. It's
unclear, for instance, whether a judge or jury should determine
retardation, or if that should be done before trial or after conviction.
State Rep. Dennis M. O'Brien Sr., R-Philadelphia, chairman of the House
Judiciary Committee, said he will reintroduce next year a bill that would
require a unanimous vote among jurors after conviction in order to proceed
with the death penalty sentencing phase. The measure passed the state
House but stalled in the Senate last year.
O'Brien said he does not want to delay trials with years of pretrial
hearings and thinks that starting a murder case with extensive hearings on
retardation could confuse the public.
"Most people are going to have a newly learned prejudice against the
mentally retarded, thinking they, the mentally retarded, have committed
these heinous crimes," he said.
A bill that would have judges make the decision before trial has passed
the state Senate, and that is the approach favored by the Arc of
Pennsylvania, which provides advocacy and resources for people with
cognitive, intellectual and developmental disabilities. The group has 39
chapters in 45 counties.
Dunham said juries that are qualified to hear death penalty cases tend to
favor the prosecution more than other juries, and that makes it unfair to
retarded defendants to wait until after conviction by such a jury before
holding a hearing on their retardation.
On the Net: Majority opinion:
(source: Associated Press)
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