[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----USA, TEXAS, KAN., FLA., PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Jul 1 11:02:02 CDT 2005
Justice O'Connor Says She Will Retire
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the 1st woman appointed to the Supreme Court
and a key swing vote on issues such as abortion and the death penalty,
said Friday she is retiring.
O'Connor, 75, said she expects to leave before the start of the court's
next term in October, or whenever the Senate confirms her successor. There
was no immediate word from the White House on who might be nominated to
It's been 11 years since the last opening on the court, one of the longest
uninterrupted stretches in history. O'Connor's decision gives Bush his 1st
opportunity to appoint a justice.
"This is to inform you of my decision to retire from my position as an
associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, effective
upon the nomination and confirmation of my successor. It has been a great
privilege indeed to have served as a member of the court for 24 terms. I
will leave it with enormous respect for the integrity of the court and its
role under our constitutional structure."
The White House has refused to comment on any possible nominees, or
whether Bush would name a woman to succeed O'Connor. Her departure leaves
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the only other woman among the current
Possible replacements include Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and
federal courts of appeals judges J. Michael Luttig, John Roberts, Samuel
A. Alito Jr., Michael McConnell, Emilio Garza and James Harvie Wilkinson
III. Others mentioned are former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, lawyer
Miguel Estrada and former deputy attorney general Larry Thompson, but
Bush's pick could be a surprise choice not well known in legal circles.
Another prospective candidate is Edith Hollan Jones, a judge on the 5th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who was also considered for a Supreme Court
vacancy by President Bush's father.
(source: Associated Press)
'Please forgive him': Emotions run high following Mendoza death sentence
After 3 weeks of jury selection, 1 week of testimony and 4 hours of
deliberation, 6 women and 6 men on Wednesday sentenced Moises Sandoval
Mendoza, 21, to die by lethal injection.
Last Thursday, Mendoza was found guilty of the capital murder of Rachelle
O'Neil Tolleson, 20, whom he strangled, raped and stabbed in March 2004.
Mendoza tried to dispose of the body by burning and dumping it in an
eastern Collin County creek bed, First Assistant District Attorney Gregory
According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Mendoza is the 12th
defendant to receive the death penalty in Collin County since 1976.
Upon explicit instructions from 401st District Judge Mark Rusch, both
families tried to show as little emotion as possible after the verdict was
read in open court. Pam and Mark O'Neil, Rachelle's parents, shook in
complete silence in their seats. Pam cried openly while reading a
statement to Mendoza while holding a picture of her daughter and
"You know what you have done," she said while being held by her husband.
"You took our only daughter, Austin's only sister and, most importantly,
you took away Avery's mommy. In our eyes, you're worse than an animal. Not
only have you hurt our entire family, but you've also torn apart your
"You took from [Rachelle] what she wanted most," O'Neil said. "She wanted
more than anything in life to watch her baby take her first steps, say her
1st word, and she'll never get to hear her daughter call her Mommy."
Mendoza, who appeared in ankle and wrist restraints, was turned over to
the custody of the Collin County Detention Center. He showed little
emotion during the reading of the jury's decision and O'Neil's statement.
Juan Sanchez, Mendoza's attorney, said Wednesday was not just a sad day
for his client.
"It's a sad day for everyone involved," Sanchez said after the trial.
"Mendoza's family, O'Neil's family. It's not easy for anybody, even the
state, the defense, and it's certainly been hardest on the jurors."
Sanchez said Mendoza feels "sad" and noted the trial and the jury's
decision have "taken a toll on him."
During his closing statements, Sanchez recapped the "explanations" for
Mendoza's behavior, including the depression Mendoza suffered after a
serious injury left his father Jos unemployed and suicidal. Sanchez also
spoke about the negative influences placed upon Mendoza by his friends and
girlfriend, Amy Lodhi.
Sanchez told the jury that in order to determine a fitting punishment,
they had to "have a look at his face and look over his shoulder at where
he came from."
He also said a sentence of life in prison would make Mendoza think about
his actions and change his behavior and demeanor for the better.
"I think the world is tired of death; I think Texas is tired of death,"
Davis, however, said he was "very relieved" by the jury's sentence. He
said he hopes it will bring closure to Tolleson's family and friends in
the midst of their grief.
"Moises Mendoza is one of the most violent, sadistic men I have ever
encountered, and this death penalty is totally justified," Davis said.
"The jury's decision will ensure that no one in society will ever be
victimized by him again."
During the state's closing statements, he and Assistant District Attorney
Michelle Voirin said the defense's claim of a dysfunctional home "blames
and shames" his family.
"It's pathetic to blame the very people who tried to help him," Voirin
said to the jury.
She also reminded jurors that Mendoza killed more than 1 person last year
by taking the love of a mother that her child will never know.
"It may not bring back her mother's voice," Voirin said, "but when you do
what the defendant is forcing you to do, she will remember what the 12 of
you did for her [Avery]."
Following the dismissal of the jury and the closing of the courtroom, both
families wept openly and comforted the parents. Members of Pam's family
held her as they asked her not to cry. Pam responded, "It's something I
have to do."
As the Mendoza family exited the courtroom, Mendoza's older sister,
Elizabeth Palos, embraced Pam. The two sobbed uncontrollably. Palos begged
O'Neil to forgive her younger brother for what he had done.
"We will," Pam told her. "We just need time."
(source: McKinney Courier-Gazette)
KANSAS----re: federal death penalty
Death penalty OK'd for Cheever
U.S. Attorney General Albert Gonzales has authorized federal prosecutors
in Kansas to pursue the death penalty for Scott Cheever, accused of
killing Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels.
Gonzales' decision was announced Thursday afternoon by Wichita-based U.S.
Attorney Eric Melgren.
U.S. District Judge Monti Belot had set Thursday as the deadline for the
government to make its decision, weeks earlier than prosecutors requested.
Belot wants to stay on schedule to take the case to a jury early next
"This decision was not made lightly nor quickly, but the United States
believes it is an appropriate decision in this case," Melgren said in a
statement released by his office.
Jay Greeno of Wichita, one of the lawyers representing Cheever, declined
to comment, citing a gag order in the case from Belot.
An official notice to seek death, which will outline the government's
recommendation, will be filed in federal court by July 8.
Melgren had originally picked up the case from state court because federal
law allows capital punishment for killing someone with a firearm during a
drug-trafficking crime, and for a the murder of a witness.
Prosecutors say Samuels died while serving a warrant for Cheever at a home
in a remote part of Greenwood County, where several people were allegedly
operating a methamphetamine lab.
Although the state has provisions for the death penalty, that law was
ruled unconstitutional by the Kansas Supreme Court in December. Many of
the state's death penalty cases have been put on hold as Attorney General
Phill Kline appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
No one has been executed in Kansas since 1965.
"I appreciate the leadership of United States Attorney Melgren throughout
this process and the willingness of Attorney General Gonzales and the Bush
Administration to assist the state as we pursue justice in this case,"
Kline said in a press release.
Federal cases considered for the death penalty must be presented to a
board of senior attorneys with the Department of Justice in Washington,
D.C. Final approval must be signed by the U.S. attorney general.
The U.S. authorized the death penalty in certain cases, beginning in 1988.
As in other death penalty cases, a jury will first decide whether Cheever
is guilty. If he is convicted, the jury will then listen to another round
of evidence and decide whether to give a sentence of death.
The last Kansans executed under federal law were Glenn Crenshaw and Robert
Suhay. They were hanged in August 1938 at the federal prison in
Leavenworth for killing FBI Special Agent Wimberly Baker during a gunfight
at a Topeka post office.
(source: Wichita Eagle)
Smith defense wants death penalty thrown out
In Sarasota, the defense for accused child-killer Joseph Smith has filed 2
motions that could end the possibility of him receiving the death penalty.
Smith, 38, is charged with first degree murder, sexual battery upon a
child younger than 12 and kidnapping in the death of Carlie Brucia, 11, of
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
A nationwide Amber Alert was issued for Brucia on Feb. 2. A video
surveillance tape behind Evie's Car Wash on Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota
showed a man believed to be Smith approaching Brucia and taking her by arm
and leading her away. Her body was found 4 days later near a church on
Proctor Road, a few miles away from the car wash.
Adam Tebrugge, public defender, has filed a motion that would prohibit the
prosecution from questioning prospective jurors about their attitude
toward the death penalty. If that motion is denied, the defense asks a
separate jury be empaneled for the penalty phase.
The state has made known its intention to seek the death penalty if Smith
The prosecution is expected to try to disqualify potential jurors who
oppose the death penalty, a process known as "death qualifying." Tebrugge
argues in the motion that "death qualifying" denies the defendant the
right to a fair trial by an impartial jury.
Tebrugge writes the system excludes potential jurors solely because of
opposition to the death penalty without regard to the ability to render a
fair and impartial verdict.
Dr. Brooke Butler, University of South Florida, is expected to testify
that research has shown that "death qualifying," process tends to select
jurors that are more likely to be conservative, financially-secure, white
men. The jurors selected through this process are also more likely to
doubt psychological defenses, more receptive to pretrial publicity and
more likely to consider inadmissible evidence, the research states.
Tebrugge also writes the death penalty is unconstitutional because the
statutory factors are vague and overly broad. He also writes that the
death penalty is "arbitrary, capricious and racially discriminatory and
inconsistent" in its application.
Smith is set to go on trial the 1st week of November.
(source: The Sun-Herald)
Female death-row inmate is resentenced to life in prison----Delores
Rivers, who admitted killing a 77-year-old Phila. woman in 1988, will not
be eligible for parole.
The 1st woman to be placed on Pennsylvania's death row since the death
penalty was reinstated in 1978 won a reprieve yesterday.
16 years after she was sentenced to die for the murder of an elderly
Philadelphia woman, Delores Rivers was resentenced to life in prison
After a federal judge in May granted Rivers a new penalty phase hearing,
Philadelphia prosecutors agreed not to seek another death sentence if
Rivers would admit her guilt and waive all future appeals.
Rivers, now 51, was convicted of the Jan. 30, 1988, murder of 77-year-old
Violet Burt in the victim's Margaret Street home in the city's Frankford
Investigators said Rivers provided home health care for Burt, but robbed,
beat and fatally stabbed her to get money to buy drugs. Until yesterday's
hearing, Rivers had repeatedly denied killing Burt.
The Common Pleas Court judge who presided over Rivers' 1989 trial, John J.
Poserina Jr., also presided over yesterday's brief hearing.
"I formally withdraw the sentence of death, and resentence the defendant
to life in prison without parole," Poserina said.
"Thank you, your honor... . You look so good!" said Rivers, clad in a
brown Department of Corrections shirt and pants.
"Was my hair dark then?" the white-haired Poserina jovially asked her.
"I'm silver, too," Rivers said in a soft voice, pointing to her own hair.
She was 35 during her trial.
"God bless you," Poserina told Rivers as she was led away.
"God bless you, too," Rivers told the judge.
Assistant Defender Victor Abreau, of the Federal Defender Association,
said in an interview that his client "is a different person than she was
18 or 19 years ago. She's clean. She's involved in church. I think this is
the best thing for all parties."
In her appeal to U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin, Rivers argued
that her trial lawyer failed to present mitigating evidence to jurors
before they imposed the death penalty. McLaughlin ordered a new penalty
Tom Dolgenos, chief of the District Attorney's Federal Litigation Unit,
said that while prosecutors disagreed that Rivers' lawyer did not do
enough to convince jurors to spare her life, they did not want to conduct
a new penalty phase with another jury.
"The more years that go by, the riskier it gets to do anything over again.
We thought it was really important to get finality in this case," Dolgenos
said. "We decided it was in the best interest of justice."
4 women remain on Pennsylvania's death row.
(source: Philadelphia Inquirer)
Death-Row Inmate Resentenced
The state's 1st female death-row inmate since capital punishment was
reinstated in Pennsylvania in 1978 has been re-sentenced to life in
51-year-old Delores Rivers was convicted and sentenced to death for the
murder of 77-year-old Violet Burt on January 30th, 1988, in Burt's home in
Philadelphia's Frankford section.
Rivers had provided home health care for Burt. Investigators say Rivers
robbed, beat and fatally stabbed the woman to get money to buy drugs.
Rivers successfully appealed her death sentence and a federal judge
ordered a new penalty phase.
(source: Associated Press)
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