death penalty news----TEXAS, N.J., CALIF., ARK., COLO.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Dec 30 00:13:18 CST 2005
Mother awaits justice as trial nears for accused
Patricia Townsend's anguish over her daughter's disappearance nearly 5
years ago is measured in hugs missed, grandchildren denied and justice
Hopeful uncertainty about why Bridget Townsend vanished on Jan. 15, 2001,
turned to chronic heartache after her remains were found 21 months later.
"The hard part was not knowing where she was," Patricia Townsend, 58,
recalled of the vibrant 18-year-old she calls "my baby."
"Every time the phone would ring, I'd think, 'It's her,'" she said at her
home. "Every time someone knocked on my door, I'd think it was her."
Investigators had no leads about Bridget Townsend's fate until Ramiro F.
Gonzales, whom she'd known since middle school, told police in October
2002 that he'd slain her.
Gonzales, then 19, led police to Townsend's skeleton just days after he
had been sentenced to life in prison for the kidnapping and sexual assault
of another Bandera woman, who had escaped and helped police find him.
In an interview Oct. 9, 2002, with the San Antonio Express-News, Gonzales
claimed he'd intended only to burglarize the trailer of Townsend's
boyfriend but, while high on cocaine, he kidnapped and shot her after
finding her there.
"I did do it. I regret it," he said from jail. "I wasn't in a right state
Earlier this month, visiting District Judge Antonio Cantu denied defense
motions to suppress incriminating statements previously made by Gonzales
for his trial on 3 counts of capital murder, slated to begin Feb. 1 in
The case is being tried in Medina County because Townsend's remains were
found on a ranch there. It's being prosecuted with help from lawyers at
the attorney general's office, who plan to seek the death penalty for the
defendant whose scrapes with the law date to middle school.
If Gonzales is convicted, his attorneys hope jurors will spare his life on
hearing of his troubled upbringing.
Abandoned at birth and raised primarily by a grandmother, Gonzales was
sexually abused by a male relative as a child and corrupted with alcohol
and drugs by age 12, Emmett Harris, a court-appointed defense attorney,
said last week.
"When I look at this case, I see a little boy about 2 years old on his
hands and knees drinking out of a drainage ditch like an animal, and
there's nobody there to tell him otherwise," Harris said. "I'd like to
save his life, and the state of Texas wants to kill him. If they succeed,
that will not resurrect Bridget Townsend."
Early entries on Gonzales' rap sheet include a 1996 criminal mischief
complaint and, in 1997, being a minor in possession of alcohol and public
intoxication, court records show.
Beside the 2001 kidnapping and sexual assault that he admitted to a year
later, Gonzales' adult transgressions include convictions for theft,
burglary and forgery, records show.
Gonzales told mental health officials he was "obsessed" with dead bodies,
the records show.
As a youth, the records state, Gonzales "on numerous occasions shot
animals and then watched their bodies decay over time."
They also state that he repeatedly went to the ranch where Townsend's body
was dumped to look at it after her death.
That sort of graphic testimony is upsetting to Patricia Townsend, who
repeatedly left a recent pretrial hearing after being consumed with tears.
"It's a nightmare. I've been crying all day because of what was said at
the hearing," she later said while secluded in her darkened home,
comforted by a dog and cat. "How would you feel if your daughter was
picked up piece by piece?"
Until recently, Patricia Townsend refused to accept that the bones
belonged to the youngest of the three kids she raised alone.
She came to terms with that grim reality after a visit a few weeks ago to
the spot where Bridget was found, joined by a woman whom Gonzales
kidnapped at knifepoint and then raped on the same remote rural ranch
after Bridget's death.
Both Patricia Townsend and Gonzales' past victim are eager for the trial
to start, calling a conviction and death sentence key to their emotional
"For 3 years I've just taken every day as it comes," said Townsend, a
waitress. "I haven't been working. I'm just waiting here for them to turn
off my electricity. My family's been helping and some organizations, but
it's just hard to get a grip on reality."
She takes some solace in her sister Clara Kunkler's assurances that
Bridget is at peace.
"She was one of the sweetest, kindest and most gentle children you'd ever
know," said Kunkler, 75.
"Any time she saw an elderly person she'd say hello. She never could pass
a newborn baby or a child without saying hello. She was always giving
(source: San Antonio-Express-News)
COURTHOUSE SECURITY TIGHTENED AFTER SHOOTING
Efforts were made to beef up courthouse security in 2005 following the
Feb. 24 shooting outside the Smith County Courthouse. But not everyone is
satisfied the facility is safe enough yet.
Progress made on the issue in 2005 included a new federal law that
officials call an important tool in protecting judges and the public.
"The courthouse shooting illustrated just how dangerous family law has
become," says state District Judge Carole Clark. "In my court, we see
angry people daily and the level of anger is ever escalating."
It was a conflict stemming from a family law case that led to the shooting
by David Arroyo Sr., she notes.
Within weeks, Congressman Louie Gohmert, a Tyler Republican who served as
a judge in the Smith County Courthouse, was introducing legislation to
help protect against such assaults. State District Judge Cynthia Kent went
to Washington in April to testify before the House Judiciary Committee's
subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security.
"Threats and attacks against any courtroom personnel harm our judicial
branch," Judge Kent told the members of Congress. "The protection of
judges, prosecutors, jurors, witnesses and courtroom personnel is an
important issue in America. When judges and courthouses are threatened,
then our very judicial system is at risk."
Gohmert's bill would increase penalties for crimes against judges,
witnesses, jurors, attorneys and others involved in the criminal justice
It passed in the House in November, and is pending in the Senate.
Still, the bill doesn't address physical flaws in courthouse security. It
provides for punishment, not direct protection. That protection comes from
the security measures implemented by Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith.
"I have said all along our sheriff does a great job of protecting the men
and women who work in the courthouse and the citizens who have to enter it
to conduct their business," says County Judge Becky Dempsey. I'll remind
that the shooting took place outside of the courthouse. There is nothing
the sheriff could have done to prevent that."
Still, things can be done to make a facility more secure. One set of plans
was presented in July by architect Steve Fitzpatrick, based on some
recommendations by the U.S. Marshals Service.
For an additional $2.6 million, he said, the ongoing renovation of the
Smith County Courthouse could be made more secure.
Those recommendations quickly became a point of contention between Smith
County commissioners and the Council of District Judges and the Council of
The judges asked in October that commissioners halt renovations until
those recommendations - or at least some security measures - could be
Commissioners voted to continue with the renovations, saying they simply
didn't have the $2.6 million for the upgrades.
But Commissioner JoAnn Hampton looked for ways to compromise.
"If we can find a cost-effective way to make it secure, we should," she
said. "And I think we should add some courtrooms to our jail project so
that when we have high-profile or capital trials there, they can be
In November, commissioners and judges met to see if their differences
could be worked out. It was an executive session - closed to the public -
but both groups emerged saying the meeting was constructive.
"I thought the meeting was extremely productive," said Commissioner David
Stein. "We focused on solutions, both long-term and short-term."
One solution, implemented by Sheriff Smith, was to close off the east
entrance of the courthouse. At first, the entrance was open for county
employees who had a pass card, but the flaws in that system soon emerged.
People are just too polite, Smith said.
"We're going to have to tighten up security," he said in late October.
"The employees coming through are being too lax. They're not doing it
intentionally, but when you start letting friends in, then friends let
friends in, security can be breached."
The door is now closed to all (though an alarm is on it, and it can still
be used as a fire exit).
Officials can't comment on many security measures, they note. But Smith
pledges to continue working to make the courthouse safer.
(source: Tyler Morning Telegraph)
We must fix injustices
Thank you to columnists Alberta Phillips (Dec. 14, "His name is Ruben M.
Cantu, he was framed, and we killed him") and Leonard Pitts (Dec. 4, "Did
Texas kill an innocent in our name?") for keeping the possible wrongful
execution of Ruben Cantu front and center.
When the system is so broken, all of us, regardless of our views on the
death penalty, should demand change. While we go about our business these
holidays, the victims of the 1984 crime, now possibly also including
Cantu, have no such option. All of us deserve better from our justice
MARY CLOSMANN KAHLE -- Austin
(source: Letter to the Editor, Austin American-Statesman)
Regarding "Do executions deter murderers? Yes, but... " (Other Views, Dec.
My wife and I have always been adamantly opposed to the death penalty. We
believe state-sanctioned taking of life is a cruel, barbaric and biased
way of administering justice. In no way does it act as a deterrent since
it is, for the most part, imposed on persons who have neither the
financial or mental capacity to have themselves defended to the maximum
ability of quality attorneys.
If the state truly believes in ending the killing and murdering cycle, it
must lead by example and say the murdering stops here - we will no longer
kill our citizens, we have developed beyond that mentality as a mature and
The beliefs of my wife and me in this matter were put to the most severe
of tests on March 1, 2004, when my wife's daughter and only child and my
stepdaughter of 16 years, Morgan Kelly Cameron, was brutally and
senselessly murdered as she lay sleeping in her bed in her home in
Our lives have been terribly changed since this impossible event took
place and yet we still hold to our beliefs in regard to capital
A horrible incident of domestic violence took our daughter from us. The
justice we seek for the person who did this to her is lifetime
incarceration, not another murder.
Michael Massoni----Hackensack, Dec. 20
A letter in "Use death penalty, don't lose it" (Your Views, Dec. 19)
expresses a very limited interpretation of the brutalization effect of
The writer looks at only one field (law) and tacitly assumes that the
brutalization effect should be evaluated only by crimes committed
following an execution. This narrow approach conveniently ignores the vast
and overwhelmingly negative psychological impact.
For almost a half-century, psychologists have carefully studied the
negative social impact of depictions of violence. Causing people to commit
copycat crimes is not one of the social effects. What has been documented
repeatedly is that violence increases fear, shapes attitudes and behaviors
related to aggression and, more relevant here, causes desensitization to
violence by others.
Capital punishment teaches that there is nothing wrong with taking human
life as long as it is legal and popular and advances the careers of
politicians and prosecutors.
People might note changing attitudes about aggression and increasing
desensitization to violence.
Roger N. Johnson--Mahwah, Dec. 20
(The writer is a professor of psychology at Ramapo College of New Jersey)
(source: Letters to the Editor, Bergen Record)
Monday Morning: Higher execution rate is predicted
California's capital punishment debate - ignited by the execution of
Stanley Tookie Williams - will likely intensify as the state prepares to
carry out death sentences at a pace unseen in more than a
generation.Williams, the quadruple murderer and co-founder of the Crips
whose tale of redemption failed to spare his life this month, was the 12th
inmate executed in California since voters reinstated capital punishment
nearly three decades ago. Next year alone, 4 inmates could enter the
execution chamber, including the state's oldest death row resident,
75-year-old Clarence Ray Allen, according to the state attorney general's
Next month, Allen is scheduled to die by lethal injection for
masterminding a 1980 triple homicide in Fresno. He has been on death row
at San Quentin State Prison for 23 years.
Also facing likely executions in 2006, according to the attorney general's
*Michael Angelo Morales, who arrived on death row in 1983 for the rape and
murder of a teenage girl in Lodi. A judge is set Tuesday to schedule an
execution date that could be in February or March.
* Mitchell Carlton Sims, who was convicted 20 years ago of murdering a Los
Angeles-area pizza deliveryman. Sims will soon file a petition in the U.S.
* Stevie Lamar Fields, convicted in 1979 of the kidnap, rape and murder of
a University of Southern California student librarian. A federal appeals
court ruled against him this month, but that court may not be done with
27 years after Californians voted to reinstate capital punishment, large
numbers of death-row inmates are approaching the end of the decades-long
appeals process. Since the practice resumed in 1992, only 3 times has the
state executed more than one inmate in a single year.
The era of multiple executions will likely test the moral and political
pulse of Californians, whose support of the death penalty is strong but is
showing signs of waning.
Dane Gillette, capital case coordinator for the state attorney general's
office, said he expects to see more executions beginning next year.
"2 to 3 years from now, it's possible to have a considerable number of
cases," he said. With more than 640 inmates sentenced to execution,
California has the largest death row in the nation. About 120 inmates'
appeals are pending in federal district court.
Californians have overwhelmingly embraced the idea of justice through
capital punishment for the state's most violent criminals.
More than 70 % of voters approved reinstatement of the death penalty in
1978. And last year, 68 % of California voters voiced their support of the
death penalty, according to the nonpartisan Field Poll.
That number, though significant, was actually down from the 83 % of
Californians who supported capital punishment in 1986.
Another survey, by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California,
found that 57 % of residents polled last year believed in the death
penalty. But support dropped to 38 percent when life without parole was
offered as an alternative sentence for a 1st-degree murderer.
The 2004 polling numbers also show that more than a third of voters do not
agree that the death penalty has been imposed fairly or free of error.
Among the doubters is Donald H. Heller, the Sacramento attorney and former
federal prosecutor who drafted the state's 1978 death penalty initiative.
Heller, now a defense attorney, said he has grown disturbed over the years
at how the law has been applied.
He says the proposition he wrote has been enforced in a way he believes is
unfair and discriminates against the poor and people of color.
At least 6 California inmates sentenced to death were later acquitted of
their murder charges or had charges overturned and not reinstated,
according to San Francisco-based Death Penalty Focus, a grass-roots group
seeking to abolish capital punishment.
The introduction of DNA evidence and accounts of innocent inmates on death
row - including the death sentence commutations in Illinois by then-Gov.
George Ryan 2 years ago - have inevitably influenced attitudes in
California, Heller said.
The practical application of the death penalty has also been fraught with
Heller said he initially thought inmates' appeals would take about 10
years - not more than 20. He didn't realize that it would take the courts
so long just to appoint an attorney for an appeal.
The appeals process is bogged down at every stage, starting with
transcribing and correcting trial records that can exceed 100,000 pages.
Appeals don't begin to move until the California Supreme Court appoints
defense lawyers. But with willing and qualified defenders in short supply,
that takes about three years on average, and new lawyers usually must be
appointed as cases progress from one phase to the next.
Once a defendant is sentenced to death, an automatic appeal process begins
in the California Supreme Court. In addition to the appeal, a condemned
inmate also has three years to file a new case with the same court, making
claims based on new evidence and asserted constitutional violations before
or during the trial.
If the state Supreme Court denies all relief, as it almost always does,
both cases move to the federal system.
The appeal goes to the U.S. Supreme Court with a request for review. The
constitutional case, known as "habeas corpus," goes to federal district
court, then the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, before making its way
to the U.S. Supreme Court. New cases may be filed as investigators
continue to dig for new evidence.
Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, is backing new legislation to limit
federal review of inmate appeals. He said "interminable delays" in the
appeals process have allowed cases to pile up over the years, delaying
justice for victims' families and the courts that imposed the sentences.
The bill has encountered unexpected resistance, however, from the chief
justices of the 50 states, who have voted unanimously to oppose it.
"We are concerned with speed and efficiency, but we're also concerned with
fairness," said California Chief Justice Ronald George, a former death
penalty prosecutor who has done much to expedite death penalty cases in
the state court system.
George also warned that the speedup bill could backfire. Congress passed a
similar bill in 1996, but questions of interpretation led to additional
court proceedings, slowing many cases while expediting others.
Tricia Pendergrass of Galt has been waiting close to a quarter of a
century for the execution of the man who killed her brother. She plans to
be at San Quentin on Jan. 17 to see Allen for the last time.
"It's not that I have this terrible hatred of him, but ... I've had this
numbness that has stayed with me all of these years," she said. "I want
him off the face of this earth."
Allen was convicted in 1982 for orchestrating from prison the shotgun
murders of Pendergrass' brother, Bryon Schletewitz, 27, and 2 teenage
co-workers at the Schletewitz family's grocery store in Fresno. At the
time, Allen was serving a life sentence for an earlier murder of a witness
who linked him to a burglary at the same store.
Pendergrass said her parents were adamant about seeing the death sentence
carried out. But in 2000, Pendergrass' mother, Fran, died from
complications of a stroke. Earlier this year, Ray Schletewitz, the father,
was killed in a car accident.
"I am the only one left," she said. "I want to see that justice is
(source: Sacramento Bee)
JUSTICE PUTS LIFE ON PAPER
Retired Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Lawrence E. Dawson developed
a life-long opposition to the death penalty when he lost his 1st case
after graduating from law school. He agreed to defend a poor white Lonoke
County sharecropper who had confessed to killing his wife by beating her
to death with a hammer and murdering their two children.
"I tried to get him a life sentence instead of the death sentence,"
Dawson, 82, said in an interview. The jury gave the man, Harvey Rorie of
near Coy in Lonoke County, the death sentence. He was executed in Arkansas
electric chair in July 1949, Dawson said. At his last meal, Rorie "ordered
enough to feed everybody on death row," the judge said.
"I never handled another criminal case," Dawson said. "I was just turned
off. It turned me against capital punishment."
Dawson, who served in the Arkansas Legislature as state representative in
1953, said he considered introducing legislation dealing with the death
penalty, but didnt. Although the judge changed his views on the death
penalty later because of the vicious nature of some people who have been
charged with capital offenses in recent years, he said he remains opposed
to the death sentence in many instances.
"I still would not send somebody to the death penalty if it was a crime of
passion," Dawson said. He said Harvey Lorie was charged with a crime of
Dawson said he intends to use his favorite movie, "To Kill a Mockingbird,"
to illustrate a point in a book he is writing. The 1962 film of a novel by
Harper Lee depicts small town Southern life in Alabama and a lawyer named
Atticus Finch played by Gregory Peck. Finch defended a black man falsely
accused of raping a Southern white woman in the Depression-era South.
Dawson said that just as Atticus Finch represented a black man wrongly
convicted and murdered by a lynch mob, he represented a sharecropper
wrongly sentenced to death and executed in the electric chair. "I just
developed a mind-set of being against the death penalty," Dawson added.
Dawson was recently given permission by the state Judicial Ethics Advisory
Committee to use a photo of himself wearing a court robe on the jacket
cover of a book he is writing entitled "50 Years as a Judge and Counting."
Dawson, who retired Dec. 31, 1998, still hears cases as a special judge.
In 1998, chancery courts were abolished and judges in those courts became
circuit judges, he said.
"This book will be about before I became a judge," he said, noting that
the 2nd part of the book will be of primary interest to lawyers, "where I
recite interesting cases over which I presided."
Dawson recalled that he had a woman "drop dead in my courtroom" and
another man involved in a trial go home, lay down a wedding dress and put
a gun in his mouth and commit suicide. Dawson said he has never presided
over a jury trial.
"I've sworn in every mayor (of Pine Bluff) except this recent one," he
said, referring to Mayor Carl Redus Jr.
"Daddy wanted me to be a doctor," Dawson said. "I grew up in a small town
in Ouachita County," Dawson said, recalling that his father presided over
cases as a justice of the peace at Buena Vista.
"He held court right in the back end of his store," he said, recalling one
trial over the ownership of a cow. Dawson graduated from the law school at
the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and opened a law office in Pine
(source: Pine Bluff Commercial)
Prison Examines State's History With Death Penalty
Even with her eyes shut, Betty B. Gibson can tell if she's anywhere near
the old gas chamber.
"The odor is still there. I can smell it: cyanide balls and sulfuric
acid," said the 80-year-old Gibson, who as a warden's niece grew up here
watching condemned men shuffle up the hill to the chamber where they would
meet their end.
Few others who visit the out-of-service gas chamber these days would
detect the same scents she does. But most of the 15,000 people who visit
the Museum of Colorado Prisons every year are drawn to the execution
"Most people are fascinated by the gas chamber more than anything else,"
museum director Pat Kant said.
That doesn't stop museum officials from wanting to add other exhibits and
find a way to organize and showcase some of the artifacts and documents
gathering dust in the basement of the former women's prison.
"There are a lot of things wed like to do if we had the money," said Kant,
who wants to buy new carpets, hire a curator, do more advertising, and
replace cracked floors and a leaky roof.
But most of those things probably won't happen soon.
In November, museum supporters backed a sales-tax increase in CaInon City
that would have generated about $200,000 annually to be divided among the
museum, the Dinosaur Depot and the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History
Voters resoundingly rejected the measure, leaving Kant with her wish list
and the same old revenue streams: admission fees, donations and
"We'll just continue and hope we can survive," she said.
Part of the problem, she said, is that the stream of visitors to the
museum has slowed, a refrain heard at other area tourist attractions.
About 15,000 people visit every year compared with 18,000 to 20,000 a
decade ago. Many are curiosity seekers, some are former inmates, Kant
The mint-green building on North First Street, just east of the imposing
Colorado Territorial Prison on U.S. 50, opened in 1935 as a women's
prison, under the direction of Gibson's uncle, Roy Best.
"I grew up right there at the prison," said Gibson, who was raised by
Best. She now lives in California but occasionally visits.
She grew close to one inmate, a woman named Pearl who was convicted of
killing her stepdaughter. "Id go over frequently and visit with her,"
The gas chamber, she recalls, was in a yellow building on a hill near the
Territorial prison. As a child, she said, she'd hide and peek at the
death-row inmates as they made their final walk up that hill.
"I used to watch these poor men walk that last mile," she said.
Those were the days Gibson knew she should avoid her uncle.
"He was always very upset the whole time," she said. "You stayed away from
In addition to the gas chamber in which eight men were executed, the
museum displays the artifacts of the death penalty through the state's
history, such as the last hangman's noose used in Colorado, in 1933.
Each of the old cells contains a separate exhibit, such as one on
notorious prisoners like convicted killer Alferd Packer, suspected of
cannibalizing his travel companions.
Another commemorates the 1929 riot that left seven guards dead. Another
features Gibson's uncle, whose 20-year stint as warden ended when he was
accused of comingling funds and mistreating inmates. He was about to
return to work after a 2-year suspension when he died of a heart attack.
On display is the "old gray mare," a whipping post "one of the things that
got Roy Best in trouble," Kant said.
Like the gas chamber, the old prison still emanates the odors of long ago,
at least to her nose, Gibson said.
"I don't know if its the laundry soap," Gibson said. "But I can walk in
there and it gets me."
The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays through Sundays during the
(source: Associated Press)
More information about the DeathPenalty