[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, USA, DEL., VA., MD.

Rick Halperin rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Feb 20 22:33:17 CST 2005

Feb. 20


Fathers' pain----Boren, Hughes testify in Andre Thomas capital murder

On Friday, jurors in the Andre Thomas trial for murder heard from 2 men
whose daughters Thomas killed.

Thomas faces 3 charges of capital murder in the deaths of Laura Boren
Thomas, Andre Boren and Leyha Marie Hughes. The trial going on this week
at the Grayson County courthouse concentrates on the death of 13-month-old

Prosecutors contend Thomas killed the youngster, her mother and brother
out of rage because her mother, Thomas' estranged wife, wouldn't take him

Defense attorneys, Bobbie Peterson and R. J. Hagood, say Thomas suffered
from mental illness at the time of the deaths and thought the little girl
was a demon. The defense also contends Thomas thought Andre Boren, his son
with Mrs. Thomas, was the anti-Christ and Mrs. Thomas was Jezebel. Thomas,
the defense says, believed by killing the 3, he could save the world and
find redemption.

No matter which side is right, Thomas' actions forever changed the lives
of Paul Boren and Bryant Hughes.

Boren found his daughter Laura's naked and bloody body spread out in the
floor of her Sherman apartment on March 27, 2004. Her chest had been cut
open. It was only later that Boren learned Thomas had cut out her heart
before turning the knife on her daughter and his son.

Both of the children suffered similar wounds and Thomas removed vital
organs from both of their bodies before he left the apartment.

Boren testified that he went to the apartment that early Saturday morning
because he received a phone call from Mrs. Thomas' boyfriend, Hughes.

Boren said Hughes told him that Andre Thomas was in the neighborhood
around the apartment Hughes and Mrs. Thomas shared, and asked that Boren
go check on things.

When Boren arrived, he testified, he parked where he could see his
daughter's front door. From the ground, he said, he could see it had been
kicked open. On the way up a long flight of stairs, he saw blood on the
railing and feared something bad had happened.

Boren said he knew his daughter was dead the instant he saw her. When
Boren started to explain the injuries that led him to that conclusion,
First Assistant Grayson County District Attorney Kerye Ashmore stopped

"The jury has already seen those pictures. I am not going to make you go
back through it," Ashmore said. Boren smiled in what appeared to be
relief. He testified that he stepped over his daughter's body without
touching her and walked into the bedroom to check on her two small
children. He could tell by looking at them that they were dead, too.

He said something in the back of his head told him not to touch anything
because he was standing in the middle of a crime scene. He left the
apartment in search of a telephone to use to call for help. He found a
phone downstairs and called the police.

Ashmore let Boren finish what had to be the hardest part of his story
before asking him to tell the jury about the beginning of his daughter's
relationship with Thomas. The father never cast an angry look in Thomas'
direction as he told of two children meeting in middle school and
beginning to date. There appeared to be no anger in Boren's voice as he
described finding out his daughter and Thomas had conceived a child, and
he told Ashmore that the family eventually welcomed Thomas into their home
and their lives.

"He wouldn't stay there all of the time, but he was in and out," Boren
said of Thomas' time in the family home. Then, Boren said, the baby, who
they named Andre but called Juicy, arrived, and the Borens started trying
to get the couple to wed.

Boren said Thomas did finally marry his daughter after turning 18. The
couple moved out of the Boren home and into an apartment with Thomas'
mother, Rochelle, but that didn't last long. Laura Thomas took her baby
Andre home to her family. But Thomas, Boren said, refused to go with his
young family.

Boren said the young couple would split up and get back together at least
once before Mrs. Thomas met Hughes and had a child with him. Boren and his
wife stopped trying to get Mrs. Thomas to reconcile with her husband when
her baby with Hughes, Leyha, was born.

However, Boren still welcomed Thomas into his home and testified that he
had seen Thomas a few times in the month before the deaths.

In answers to questions from both Ashmore and Peterson, Boren said he had
even tried to get Thomas to go to a mental hospital once in that time
period. He said he didn't know that Thomas used drugs until a few months
before the crime.

Boren confirmed the defense team's contention that Thomas was fascinated
with the Book of Revelation in the Bible and often talked of religious
issues. Boren said Thomas had stopped by his house once in the months
before the crime and asked to use a computer. He said Thomas wanted to get
on the computer to try to get "the word out" that he was going to try to
save the world. Thomas, Boren said, felt that if he could get the whole
world to stop and utter 3 words at once, he could bring about the second
coming of Jesus Christ.

Ashmore countered all of that by trying to get the jury to remember the
ungodly acts Thomas committed. The prosecutor recounted, for the jury, all
of the kindness Boren had showed Thomas before saying, "and he repaid you
by killing your daughter and your two grandchildren, didn't he?" Boren
left the stand after shaking his head up and down.

The other father to take the stand was less kind about Thomas. Bryant
Hughes stared daggers through Thomas every chance he got as he discussed
the months leading up to the day his girlfriend, their daughter and the
little boy he had treated as his own were killed.

At times, Hughes talked in an anger-filled voice about how needy and
clingy Thomas was toward the woman both men loved. Hughes spat out words
as he said Mrs. Thomas had called Thomas a "punk" and gay. Hughes said the
knife wound Thomas inflicted on himself just days before the killings was
"nothing that you would even need to put a Band-Aid on" and an obvious
ploy to get Mrs. Thomas' attention.

But not every word Hughes uttered about Thomas rang out with anger. He
talked quietly about how he and Thomas had some things in common. He said
he also has children he does not live with and he tried to keep that in
mind when dealing with Thomas' relationship with little Andre. Hughes said
he and Thomas also shared an interest in religion. In fact, that interest
led them to spend together part of the last night of Mrs. Thomas' life.

Hughes said his girlfriend called him into the room whenever Thomas was
over because she was afraid of Thomas. When Thomas went to the apartment
the Thursday before the killings, Mrs. Thomas gave him what Hughes
described as a severe "tongue lashing" for showing up so intoxicated and
high that he passed out on the living room floor.

Even though that had happened, Hughes said, Mrs. Thomas let her estranged
husband in the next night when he showed up at the apartment. Hughes said
he, Mrs. Thomas, Thomas and the children all stayed in the apartment
together for several hours that night. Thomas asked Hughes to play a
religious program he had recorded from the stereo and Hughes did so.

After Mrs. Thomas and the children all fell asleep, Hughes said, he
offered Thomas a ride home. He said he mentioned his new job and the fact
that he would have to get up early the next morning to Thomas as a reason
for them to end the evening.

When it was her turn to question Hughes, Peterson played part of the tape
the two had listened to that Friday night. The tape, which played for more
than 30 minutes, touched on a number of themes that jurors have been
hearing about since the trial opened on Tuesday.

The preacher on the tape discussed the Book of Revelations and the
possibility of redemption for those who had been cast out of heaven. It
also talked about the anti -Christ and his ability to take many forms and
be assisted by demons. Those same themes appear in statements Thomas gave
police about why he committed the savage acts he performed in Mrs. Thomas'
apartment on that spring morning in 2004.

In addition to the two fathers, prosecutors called people who worked with
Thomas in the years and weeks before the crime. The man who hired Thomas
for his seasonal job with the city of Sherman said Thomas was a good
worker who seemed to need people to listen to him.

The idea that Thomas desperately craved attention is a theme in the
prosecution's case. They contend that his ranting about religion and his
suicide attempts were all done in effort to get noticed, rather than out
of some deeply seeded mental impairment.

The defense contends his need to be so special in some monumental way is
proof that he suffered from some sort of mental impairment.

The case continues Monday in the east courtroom at the Grayson County


Thomas case could top $300,000

A number of folded brown-paper grocery bags covered the top of a table in
the east courtroom at the Grayson County Courthouse Friday afternoon.

Instantly recognizable to most as bags usually filled with life's
necessities, these bags were filled with key evidence in the case. That
made them a symbol of how even the most mundane items take on unique
significance in high stakes criminal litigation.

And the stakes just don't get any higher than those in the State of Texas
vs. Andre Thomas. If Grayson County District Attorney Joe Brown and his
first assistant Kerye Ashmore get their way, Thomas will die for killing
his estranged wife's 13-month-old daughter Leyha Hughes in March 2004.

Defense attorneys R.J. Hagood and Bobbie Peterson are equally determined
to see that Thomas' life be spared.

While both sides throw their all into the case, Grayson County tax payers
wait to see who will win and what that victory will cost.

County Auditor Richey Rivers said his office has already paid more than
$130,000 in bills for the case.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see it top $300,000," Rivers said Friday.
After all, Rivers added, the trial has really just started and there are
bound to be more charges for experts and security.

"It's going to be expensive, but what can we do?" said Grayson County
Judge Tim McGraw when asked about the case on Friday.

McGraw said law enforcement "is the principal function of county
government and this is the most extreme example of that." He added that
county administrators will do what they can to contain the costs, but the
case has to be tried, and both sides must have the resources it takes to
get it accomplished.

On Brown's side, those resources include himself, Ashmore, Karla Baugh, an
assistant district attorney, and investigators Mitzi McEvoy and Terry
Dunn. The team also includes secretaries Deborah Stephens, Sandye Brown
(no relation) and Becky Blomstedt. Mona Robnett and Tara Wall, victim
assistance coordinators, have also worked on the case.

"Everyone else in the office has really stepped up to take over things for
those who are directly involved in the case," Brown said when explaining
how his whole office has taken part in the case.

Brown said he and Ashmore have worked on nothing except the Thomas case
since October and have had to have Baugh doing research for the case

"This case is, by far, the biggest effort that we have had in my four-plus
years in office," Brown said before noting that all of the effort has paid
off. The prosecution left the courtroom Friday just a little bit ahead of
where they had planned to be at that point. To get there, prosecutors
presented 30 witnesses and introduced more than 85 pieces of evidence in
the case. And there are more still to come as they seek what they say is
the ultimate justice in the case.

On the defense side, the staffs are much smaller, but the effort isn't.

"We basically live at the office 7 days a week, Peterson said when asked
how she and her assistant, Leah Eastep, are managing the tide of material
in the case. Hagood said he and his assistant Terri Belknap, are also
working around the clock on the case. Both defense attorneys said their
other clients have had to take a back seat to the case at hand.

"And most of them have been very understanding," Peterson said. Hagood
said the local courts have also tried to be as helpful as possible with
rescheduling cases and helping the 2 clear their calendars to concentrate
on defending Thomas' life.

"For those of us who work with the people accused of crimes, this (kind of
case) is highest essence of what we do," Hagood said.

It is also the most expensive form of criminal case. Rivers said this is
the first in which the state has actually sought the death penalty since
he joined the county staff. For that reason, he said, he really doesn't
yet know how the costs will continue to climb.

If the jury finds Thomas guilty of capital murder and returns a death
sentence, then the case, Rivers pointed out, will automatically be
appealed. And the county gets to pay those bills, as well.

Should the jury reject the capital murder charge, then Brown still has two
more waiting in the wings. Thomas could be tried for one or both of those
deaths in the future.

(source for both: The Herald Democrat)


Legal counsel is unequal

Imagine 2 men went out into the country to fight to settle their
differences. Unbeknownst to one of them, the other had his friends lurking
out of sight. They subdued the man, tied him to a tree, and blindfolded
him. At that point, someone cried: "Let the fight begin."

As the other man approached his seemingly defenseless victim, the
blindfolded man, who was tied to the tree, began kicking, to which the
incredulous onlookers shouted in unison, "Fight fair!"

That story, ridiculous as it may be, aptly describes our country's
approach to providing indigent legal assistance, according to a report by
the American Bar Association.

The report stated that thousands of low-income suspects who are unable to
afford lawyers are wrongly convicted each year. The report further states
that many are pressured to accept guilty pleas or have incompetent
attorneys, suggesting that the system of providing legal representation
for those unable to afford an attorney is in a state of crisis.

According to the report, more than 150 people convicted in 31 states and
the District of Columbia served a total of 1,800 years in prison for
crimes they did not commit.

The ABA report recommends:

-States provide money for public defenders on par with funds provided

-States establish oversight organizations to police potential abuses, such
as forced plea agreements or otherwise negligent and inadequate counsel.

-Lawyers refuse new cases if workloads substantially impair their defense

-Judges report prosecutors who seek to obtain waivers of counsel and
guilty pleas that are not voluntary and on the record.

What does the ABA's report say about our democracy willingly allowing for
the increased possibility of wrongful conviction and unjust punishment,
including the death penalty, because the accused cannot afford adequate
legal defense?

I was pleased when the president placed this issue on the radar screen at
his State of the Union address.

In the 42 years since the Supreme Court ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright that
the government must provide legal counsel to indigent defendants charged
with serious crimes, we have seen that constitutional commitment wilt
under the pressure of the political rhetoric to be tough on crime.

In a number of the states surveyed, money for prosecutors outpaced money
for public defenders. California allocates defense counsel an average of
$60.90 for every $100 the prosecution receives.

The ABA report further cited a policy practiced in a number of southern
states known as "meet 'em and plead 'em lawyers" whereby attorneys
negotiate a plea deal the first day they meet a client.

This is a moral issue in which the church and the community have been
silent. There have been more than enough studies to conclude that the
state of indigent defense adversely affects people of color.

Innocent people are going to jail, and some are receiving the death
penalty, not because they are guilty, but because they are poor. There can
be no extenuating circumstances that justify our current implementation of
indigent defense as keeping with the American tradition.

Bush is right when he says: "Because one of the main sources of our
national unity is our belief in equal justice, we need to make sure
Americans of all races and backgrounds have confidence in the system that
provides justice."

But this is not an issue to be left solely to the will of Capitol Hill and
various state legislatures. It was elected officials on both sides of the
political aisle that aided the current situation.

Because the fundamental right to an attorney, which we assume applies to
all, is in name only, we must now conclude it is a farce. The difference
between a competent legal defense and the type of inadequate legal
representation that the poor are often forced to accept could be the
difference between O.J. Simpson being acquitted and Leroy Simpson being
convicted of a crime that he did not commit.

(source: Oakland Tribune--Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and
syndicated columnist)


Judge will consider decision at Jones' sentencing

In Wilmington, a Superior Court jury recommended overwhelmingly Friday
that a double murderer be put to death.

The jury voted 11-1 that Michael L. Jones, 22, be sentenced to death for
the first-degree murder of Maneeka D. Plant, 24. Jurors voted 10-2 that
Jones should receive the death sentence for the 1st-degree murder of
Cedric U. Reinford, 30.

Superior Court Judge Peggy L. Ableman will make the final decision on
Jones' sentence, but she is required to give great weight to the jury's
recommendation. A sentencing date was not set.

"I believe the record and the case we presented in the penalty phase
certainly justified the jury's findings," prosecutor Stephen M. Walther

Defense attorney Kevin J. O'Connell said he was disappointed with the
verdict, but he held out hope that Ableman would give his client a life
sentence. "We're hopeful she will show mercy," he said.

O'Connell told jurors Thursday during arguments in the sentencing phase of
Jones' trial to consider the circumstances in which Jones was raised,
including the lack of a positive father figure and a brain dysfunction
that affects his moral judgment.

Jones' dysfunction, however, didn't prevent him from distinguishing right
from wrong, prosecutors told jurors. They also said Jones is accused of
murdering someone else in Hartford, Conn.

Jones' co-defendant, Darrel D. Page, 28, also of Wilmington, was convicted
of the murders of Plant and Reinford in June 2003. A jury recommended 8-4
that he be executed. He has not been sentenced.

According to prosecutors and court testimony, Jones and Page forced
Reinford to give them the combination to his home safe before shooting him
3 times on Nov. 21, 1999. Jones and Page then set Reinford and his 1999
Lexus on fire.

Afterward, the men went to Reinford's Alban Park house and found the safe,
which at times stored $30,000 to $40,000. To eliminate witnesses at the
home, prosecutors said, Jones shot Plant and Muhammed Reinford, Cedric
Reinford's younger brother.

Plant was killed as she pleaded for the life of her 7-week-old son. The
boy, found in bed with her, was not harmed.

Muhammed Reinford survived the shooting and was able to identify both men.

Plant was the granddaughter of state Rep. Hazel D. Plant, D-Wilmington

(source: The News-Journal)


New hearing for inmate's retardation claim

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond reversed a lower court's
dismissal of a Virginia death-row inmate's claim that he is mentally
retarded. The appeals court sent the case back for a hearing on the

The condemned man, Darick Demorris Walker, was 26 in 1998 when a Richmond
jury convicted him of capital murder for 2 premeditated homicides. Walker
was found guilty of shooting down 2 men Stanley Beale in November 1996 and
Clarence Threat in June 1997 -- in the presence of their families.

The charge was capital murder because he killed with premeditation twice
within 3 years. Walker's appeals in the state court system failed and he
next went into federal court to contest his conviction and sentence.

When he filed a petition in 2003 claiming mental retardation, U.S.
District Judge Claude M. Hilton of Alexandria dismissed the case after
finding that "the evidence presented by Walker is insufficient to
conclude, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he is mentally

But Walker appealed to the 4th Circuit. The 3-judge panel that heard the
case decided that Walker's lawyers had presented information in the
petition "that, if true, [satisfies] the elements of Virginia's definition
of mentally retarded." The panel said Thursday that Hilton "erred by
dismissing Walker's petition before holding an evidentiary hearing."

(source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)


Death penalty ruling awaits judge's review----Hearing concludes in effort
to overturn sentence

After 4 days of testimony and legal arguments, an Anne Arundel County
circuit judge weighing whether a death row inmate's sentence should be
overturned said yesterday that she will read the transcripts of the May
2000 trial and sentencing hearing, and review other evidence before
issuing a written ruling.

Judge Pamela L. North must decide whether an attorney who defended
convicted killer Lawrence Michael Borchardt Sr. at a capital sentencing
hearing provided ineffective counsel.

The death row inmate's current lawyers say that if Borchardt's previous
attorney had called mental health experts as witnesses, their testimony
might have led a jury to sentence the man to life in prison rather than

Borchardt, 53, of Rosedale was convicted of fatally stabbing Joseph and
Bernice Ohler at their Rosedale home on Thanksgiving Day 1998. The couple
had twice given money to Borchardt, a heroin addict who was going door to
door claiming that his wife needed cancer treatments. He killed the couple
when they told him they didn't have any more money to give.

The case was moved from Baltimore County to Anne Arundel County after
Borchardt's lawyers requested a venue change.

Lawyers now representing Borchardt argued that jurors might have been
persuaded to send him to prison for life had they heard from the
psychiatric social worker and psychologist who evaluated Borchardt and
researched his social history.

The two experts testified this week that they had been prepared in 2000 to
offer evidence of Borchardt's abusive childhood, brain damage and low IQ,
evidence that might have been considered mitigating factors.

"All you need is one juror to decide that the mitigators outweigh the
aggravators," defense attorney Brian Murphy said yesterday in his closing
argument. "May this have done that? The answer has to be yes."

William Kanwisher, the attorney who took the lead in defending Borchardt
at sentencing, testified Thursday that he decided against having mental
health experts testify about Borchardt in an attempt to limit testimony
that he feared would be most harmful to his client.

Of that plan, Murphy said, "I think he was afraid of the dark. In a death
penalty sentencing, you have a dark room. You have to turn the light on.
He made all his decisions - a ton of decisions - on ... zero

Prosecutors countered that there was little any attorney could have done
to outweigh the horror of Borchardt's crime, his "graphic and sordid"
confession to police and his criminal history, as documented in the
court-ordered pre-sentence investigation.

"The reason Mr. Borchardt got the death penalty was because he committed a
horrible crime and he's a horrible man," said S. Ann Brobst, an assistant
state's attorney in Baltimore County.

(source: Baltimore Sun)

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