[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Feb 11 15:02:22 CST 2005
ABA study says system failing poor defendants----Report urges better
training and funding of lawyers
Indigent defendants in Texas and across the country receive inadequate
representation that routinely leads to unjust punishments, according to a
report released today by the American Bar Association.
The study praised Texas' Fair Defense Act, which in 2002 increased
compensation and resources for appointed attorneys, but found the system
locally and nationwide is in a "state of crisis" that has led to numerous
wrongful convictions, some in death-penalty cases.
"Thousands of persons are processed through America's courts every year
either with no lawyer at all or with a lawyer who does not have the time,
resources or in some cases the inclination to provide effective
representation," the report says. "All too often, defendants plead guilty,
even if they are innocent, without really understanding their legal rights
or what is occurring."
Right to representation
A committee of the nation's largest lawyers group studied testimony from
experts in 22 states, including Texas, as it sought to measure the impact
of a 1963 Supreme Court decision that established indigent defendants'
right to representation.
The report refers to high-profile problems in Texas, including the lawyer
who defended Calvin Burdine in a capital murder case and slept through
portions of the trial. The report made the following observations about
- There is no systematic training of attorneys for the indigent.
- Only 7 of the state's 254 counties have public defender offices, which
allow appointed counsel to develop expertise. Harris County is not one.
- Few of the indigent-defense systems use an outside authority or agency
to qualify, appoint and compensate counsel, whose independence is
undermined by the influence of interested parties such as judges, who
oversee their assignments. In Harris County, judges appoint and oversee
- In some counties, judges advise misdemeanor defendants to ask
prosecutors about plea agreements before they request appointed counsel.
- Defendants released on bond are presumed not to be indigent and are, at
times, forced to hire attorneys.
Crisis in funding
Jim Bethke, director of the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense, said the
"crisis" in indigent defense is one of funding.
"Since the Fair Defense Act went into effect, Texas has taken strides to
improve the overall delivery of services," he said. "There is a lot of
work to be done, but that cannot be accomplished without funding."
Sandra Guerra Thompson, a professor at the University of Houston Law
"Adequate compensation is a big issue, especially if part of the lawyers'
strategy is to accept a caseload that is too large, then pressure clients
to plead guilty," she said.
The study recommended several remedies to problems with indigent defense.
Chief among them is a call for more resources for the defense counsel,
which should have funding equal to that of the prosecution.
David Dow, a UH professor and a founder of the Texas Innocence Network,
noted that political support for such measures can be difficult to build.
"The climate is never right because what you're talking about is a
constituency that is not popular," he said. "What you need to have happen
is for the Legislature to appropriate more money, not because it is
politically expedient but because it is right."
The bar association also recommended the establishment of oversight
organizations to monitor the quality of defense.
(source: Associated Press)
Houston attorney suspended by State Bar of Texas
The State Bar of Texas has suspended a Houston defense lawyer who was
heavily criticized for his handling of numerous cases, including appeals
of capital murder convictions.
The suspension, which will run through October 2007, is the latest in a
series of disciplinary problems for Ron Mock. The State Bar also has
publicly reprimanded him twice in the past decade and placed him on
probation 3 times.
The 58-year-old former bar owner was placed on probation most recently in
February 2004 after state officials found that he had accepted $4,600 to
handle a woman's sexual harassment claim, but failed to tell her that he
had little experience with such cases. The woman's lawsuit was dismissed
after Mock failed to respond to a preliminary motion, records show.
Originally, Mock was to have served one month of active suspension in
March 2004, followed by 35 months on probation. The bar's Board of
Disciplinary Appeals ordered a 35-month suspension in December, however,
because he violated terms of his probation, which included notifying his
clients and the courts in which he worked about the disciplinary action,
state records show.
Mock could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Mock handled 19 capital murder cases between 1986 and 2001, and 16 of his
clients ended up on death row. More than 10 have been executed, according
to state records.
He stopped accepting court-appointed capital murder cases in 2001, after a
new state law set stricter requirements for indigent capital defense.
"I was tired of the heat, so I got out of the kitchen," Mock said in an
interview last year.
Several death row inmates he represented claimed on appeal that Mock
failed to represent them adequately.
Most recently, Frances Newton of Harris County, one of 9 women currently
on death row, said Mock met with her several times but never thoroughly
discussed with her the case involving the 1987 murders of her husband and
Other attorneys also have criticized Mock's work.
"For so many of the people whom Ron was appointed to represent, their
death warrant was signed when the ink was dry on the appointment form,"
said defense lawyer Brian Wice, who was appointed in 1991 to review one of
Mock has said he was never surprised when his clients criticized his work
on their appeals.
"It's always like that: 'The lawyer should have done this, the lawyer
should have done that,'" he said. "Of course, they attacked me. That was
their only grounds for appeal."
(source: The Houston Chronicle)
Deliberation lasts more than 4 hours in restaurant death
A 10-woman, 2-man Potter County jury Thursday acquitted a homeless man of
murder in the 2002 slaying of an Amarillo restaurant owner.
Miguel Angel Asuna Cervantes, 25, was charged with murder in the March 27,
2002, beating death of 59-year-old Maria Manquero, owner of La India
Bonita Restaurant, 1533 E. 10th Ave.
Shortly before returning their verdict, jurors sent a note to the
courtroom asking about procedures for a hung jury. The jury, which
deliberated for more than four hours, filed into 320th District Judge Don
Emerson's court about five minutes later with its decision.
News of the jury's verdict seemed to stun some members of the victim's
family, who sat through the 4-day trial. One man in the group said he did
not wish to discuss the case.
Defense attorney J.R. McNeeley said the jury's decision showed the
strength of the U.S. justice system.
"My only reaction is that whether you're from this country or an illegal
alien, justice is prevalent in this country. The system works for
everybody," McNeeley said.
District Attorney Randall Sims said his prosecution team and the victim's
family were unhappy with the jury's verdict.
"While we accept the verdict rendered in this case as we must under our
criminal justice system, we are disappointed, as are the victims, in the
verdict reached," he said. "My condolences and prayers are with the family
of the victim."
During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors Jim Yontz and Hillary
Netardus told jurors that DNA evidence on a bloody jacket and conflicting
testimony by Cervantes, a former worker at La India Bonita, pointed to the
defendant as Manquero's killer.
In her summation, Netardus likened the case to pieces of a puzzle and cast
doubt on Cervantes' claim that he left his jacket behind at the restaurant
the day before the victim was slain.
Cervantes, she said, admitted the jacket was his, and evidence indicated
that Maria Manquero let her killer into La India Bonita the day she was
"We know that because there was no forced entry. Mrs. Manquero had a habit
of only opening the door for people she knew," Netardus said. "What's
important about that jacket is it has the victim's blood on it."
Netardus and Yontz also questioned defense claims that Cervantes left his
jacket behind at the restaurant and that another person donned the coat
before killing Manquero.
"That jacket was his life at night, and he's not going to suddenly leave
it in some back room. Ladies and gentlemen, his story has more colors than
a chameleon," Yontz said. "The one thing he can't deny - his DNA is on
During his closing argument, McNeeley said the slaying belongs in the
Amarillo Police Department's cold case files and should be reopened.
Investigators failed to seek DNA testing for major pieces of evidence in
the case and should have sought DNA tests for other suspects, he said.
"They decided they didn't want to do that. You know why? They've got
somebody," McNeeley said.
The prosecution's case, he said, hinged on flimsy evidence and focused
largely on DNA found on the suspect's bloody coat, which investigators
found in a Dumpster about a block from La India Bonita.
"I want the right culprit brought to justice - not just the most
convenient culprit," McNeeley told the jury. "If you've got a puzzle and
don't have all the pieces, you can't complete it."
After the verdict, Cervantes shook his attorney's hand and quietly thanked
him in Spanish.
Federal authorities, however, have placed a hold on Cervantes, an illegal
immigrant who now faces deportation to Mexico.
(source : The Amarillo Globe-News)
Fatal errors don't kill support for executions
Most Americans believe innocent people have been executed but, according
to a study of death penalty attitudes released Thursday, most also believe
capital punishment is applied fairly.
"That, to me, is unbelievable," said James Unnever, a co-author of the
report that appears in this month's edition of Criminology & Public
Unnever and a fellow sociologist Francis Cullen set out to examine whether
support for capital punishment would be shaken by proof that the system
made fatal mistakes.
The answer was a qualified yes when the authors analyzed a May 2003 Gallup
Poll of 1,005 adults, which had a 3-point margin of error.
Seventy-five percent of respondents said they believed an innocent person
had been executed in the last five years. At the same time, 64 % believed
that capital punishment was applied fairly.
The answers may seem contradictory at 1st glance, said Richard Dieter,
executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
But people who believe the system is fair, even if it kills the wrong
person, may believe that mistakes are exceedingly rare while most of the
time the death penalty is deserved and effective.
"They believe there may come cases where they'll be 100 % sure ... the
bodies are all over and the videotape shows it," said Dieter, whose group
was not involved in the study. While 118 death row inmates have been
exonerated and released, no one has conclusively shown that an innocent
person has been executed.
The study also found striking difference in the way whites and blacks
reacted to wrongful executions.
Among African Americans who believe innocent people have been executed,
support for capital punishment plummets by 51 %.
In contrast, support for the death penalty dipped 13 % among whites who
believed that wrong people were executed.
The authors speculated that many whites see the death penalty as a distant
event, unlikely to affect them. Meanwhile, nearly 1/2 (44 %) of death row
inmates are African American.
"When a black thinks about an innocent person being executed, it's 'by the
grace of God, that wasn't me,'" said Unnever, a sociology professor at
Radford University in Virginia.
The authors concluded that an execution of an innocent person would erode,
but not erase, national support for the death penalty - which stood at 66
% in 2000, according to Gallup.
Additionally, they suggested that more than half of the nation will
continue to support capital punishment unless Americans come to see
wrongful executions as an unavoidable and recurring flaw in the criminal
(source: San Antonio Express-News)
Psychiatrist: Father of armless baby didn't do enough
The husband of a woman accused of killing her 10-month-old baby by cutting
off her arms should have sought medical treatment for his mentally ill
wife and done more to protect the infant and her older sisters, according
to a psychologist's report obtained by The Dallas Morning News.
Dena Schlosser, who turned 36 today, was charged with capital murder in
November after she told a 911 operator that she had severed baby
Margaret's arms. Police and paramedics found Schlosser in her living room,
covered in blood and still holding a knife.
John Schlosser showed a disturbing lack of emotion following his baby's
death and his wife's arrest, psychologist Jana R. Long, who evaluated him
to help determine whether his surviving daughters should live with him,
said in the report obtained by the Morning News.
Nevertheless, a judge ruled today that he can have sole custody of his
surviving children. Judge Cynthia Wheless also issued a gag order in the
John Schlosser regained custody of the girls last month under the
condition that his sister live with the family. The arrangement was
reviewed Friday and the sister, who lives in New York, will leave Feb. 17.
She will stay in daily phone contact with the children.
"This absence of grief is either an immature denial of normal human
emotions that hover under the surface of his controlled veneer or
indicates a true lack of emotion," Long wrote in her report, which a judge
sealed last month.
Long said John Schlosser told her he felt "a little melancholy" about the
baby's death but finds comfort that she is "praising God" in heaven. He
said he was "almost done being very sad when I buried her."
Howard Shapiro, John Schlosser's attorney, disputed Long's analysis.
"If you think that John Schlosser hasn't grieved, you'd be wrong," Shapiro
said in a story in Thursday's online edition of the Morning News. "Maybe
he hasn't cried openly on TV. Maybe he hasn't jumped up and down and
ripped his clothes off, but he's grieved."
Long also said the Schlossers inappropriately relied on prayer and
conversations with their minister as Dena Schlosser's mental health
declined. She said John Schlosser, 35, should have sought ongoing
psychiatric treatment for his wife.
According to the psychiatric report, the Schlossers prayed instead of
following up with doctors after Dena Schlosser attempted suicide shortly
after the baby's birth.
Child Protective Services investigated Dena Schlosser for neglect because
she left the baby alone a few days after her suicide attempt. She was
found running down the street screaming, saying a spirit was in her
John Schlosser also lacked emotion at that time, the report said, adding
"he repeatedly told the caseworker that the situation was in God's hands
and everything would work out." CPS closed that case in August.
The day before the baby's death, the couple argued in the parking lot of
their church because Dena Schlosser said she wanted to give their youngest
daughter to God, according to the psychiatric report and CPS officials.
The couple talked about a Bible passage in which a woman promises her baby
to God. John Schlosser said the conversation was not unusual because his
wife is "very religious but often misinterprets scriptures."
The couple prayed about it and consulted their minister, who told Dena
Schlosser she was misinterpreting the Bible, the report said.
John Schlosser said he thought the problem was solved.
Doyle Davidson, the couple's minister, said he never talked with them
about Dena Schlosser's interpretation of the Bible.
Long also noted that the couple's 6-year-old daughter told CPS caseworkers
that her father spanked her mother with a wooden spoon for not listening
to him when they argued in the parking lot.
Long said John Schlosser could benefit from parenting education, though he
scored within normal limits on a parenting test. But she expressed concern
that his lack of understanding of mental illness and his wife's condition
"will negatively impact his daughters."
(source: Associated Press)
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