[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----DEL., VER., PENN., ILL.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Jun 4 23:48:45 CDT 2005
Keyser gets life sentence; Judge goes against jury in Dover killing
Convicted murderer Michael E. Keyser was sentenced to life in prison
Friday for his role in the September 2003 suffocation of 16-year-old
Kimberly Holton, whose body was later dropped out of a plane over the
Keyser, 24, of Dover, showed little emotion after receiving his sentence
in Kent County Superior Court, a decree that went against a jury's 10-2
recommendation for death in November.
His attorneys, Joseph A. Gabay and Beth D. Savitz, hugged after Keyser
left the courtroom.
Keyser was convicted of 1st-degree murder Nov. 16. A week later the same
jury recommended he be put to death.
New Castle County Superior Court Judge William C. Carpenter Jr. called the
murder "a senseless killing," but noted that Keyser's "immaturity and
unquestionable loyalty to a friend (led) him to do an unthinkable act
inconsistent with and out of character of his previous conduct."
The immaturity, Judge Carpenter said, showed when Keyser rejected a plea
offer from the state to a reduced charge of 2nd-degree murder that would
have cut his jail time.
Keyser was dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and white shoes without
laces. He tried to hang himself with his shoelaces in his prison cell
shortly after his October 2003 arrest.
He asked Judge Carpenter to send him to the state hospital for treatment
as part of his sentence, but the judge said it was not the appropriate
time to make that request.
Prosecutors said Keyser and Jacob L. Jones, 20, lured the Holton teen, a
Dover High student, to a room in the Dover Budget Inn on U.S. 13 late in
the evening of Sept. 29, 2003.
In statements to state police, Keyser said both men had sex with the girl
before Mr. Jones strangled her while the defendant held her legs down.
Although he admitted assisting in the killing, Keyser told police he tried
to stop Mr. Jones and then helped because he was afraid Mr. Jones would
kill him or his girlfriend if he refused.
Police said Mr. Jones, an accomplished pilot, chartered a private plane at
Dover Air Force Base and dumped the Holton teen's chained and weighted
body into the ocean.
The teen's partially decomposed corpse was found Oct. 8, 2003, floating in
the water off the coast of Cape May, N.J.
Mr. Jones was not charged. He committed suicide with a 12-gauge shotgun
Oct. 23, 2003, after a police interview.
In his 33-page sentencing order, Judge Carpenter said Mr. Jones
"masterminded" the plot to kill the Holton teen "to solve a problem he
wanted to eliminate in the life of his girlfriend," with whom the Holton
"If he had not cowardly taken his own life and was standing now before the
court, I am confident the death penalty for him would be appropriate,"
Judge Carpenter said.
The judge said Mr. Jones used his friendship with Keyser to have Keyser
lure the Holton teen to the hotel room the night of her murder.
But because Mr. Jones killed himself, it left only Keyser to stand trial
for the teen's "senseless, brutal" death, which might have colored the
jury's view during the penalty phase, Judge Carpenter said.
By Delaware law, the judge must give the jury's recommendation "great
weight" in determining the sentence, which the judge said he did.
Deputy Attorney General Robert J. O'Neill said the state was pushing for a
death sentence, but understood the judge's decision.
"He had given it a lot of thought," Mr. O'Neill said. "The state certainly
understands his reasoning. In this case, his extensive experience as a
judge weighted in on this decision."
State Attorney General M. Jane Brady said the judge "took a broader view"
in examining the guilt of Keyser, noting that the disposal of the teen's
body - an act that Keyser did not participate in - could have colored the
"The court, in its comments, distinguished this case from any other case
where the jury came back 10-2 (for death)," Ms. Brady said.
"I only would become concerned and address it via legislation or with the
court if this became a regular practice of the court. We disagree with the
court on a fairly regular basis, but there is no reason to be critical in
Ms. Brady added that the state has no legal recourse to appeal the judge's
Defense attorney Mr. Gabay said the life sentence was the best option
remaining, adding that he planned to file an appeal to the state Supreme
"If it had been up to us, we would've liked to see Michael take their plea
offer and have an adult life outside an institution," Mr. Gabay said,
adding that the 2nd-degree murder plea carried a recommendation of 18
years in prison.
"You don't ever want to see your client recommended for a death sentence.
It was a bad day in a lot of ways and a good day."
Keyser's mother, Linda Keyser, would not comment after the sentencing.
Attempts to reach the Holton teen's mother, Lee Ann Seeney, and her aunt,
Samantha Seeney, both of New Jersey, were unsuccessful Friday afternoon.
(source: Delaware State News)
VERMONT----federal death penalty trial
Lee family hopes death penalty trial provides answers
A family in northeast Pennsylvania is closely watching Vermont's 1st
death-penalty trial in nearly 50 years to find answers about their late
relative's role in the crime.
The late Robert Lee and Donald Fell were charged more than 4 years ago in
federal court in Vermont. They were accused of kidnapping Tressa King, 53,
of North Clarendon from the Rutland Shopping Plaza and beating her to
death in upstate New York on Nov. 27, 2000.
Fell and Lee, who were 20 and 21, respectively at the time, were allegedly
fleeing the killings of Rutland residents Charles Conway and Debra Fell,
Donald Fell's mother.
"Five people in the world know what happened and four of them are dead,"
Robert Lee Sr. said in a recent phone interview from his home in
Wilkes-Barre, Pa. "Donnie (Fell) is the only one still alive who knows
what happened. We may never know what happened."
Lee died in a prison cell in September 2001. Donald Fell stands trial in
federal court in Burlington later this month in King's death. If convicted
of the charges against him, he faces the possibility of execution.
Lee's family said recently they hope Fell's upcoming trial will provide
them with answers they have been seeking ever since Lee was arrested and
charged in connection with King's slaying.
Both Lee Sr. and June Kondraski, also of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. - described by
Lee Sr. as his late son's "adopted aunt" - said they plan to travel to
Vermont to see at least parts of Fell's trial, which is set to start June
Both said they live on "fixed incomes" and finding a place to stay in
Burlington for extended periods could prove difficult. The trial is
expected to last up to a week. Should Fell be convicted, the penalty phase
could last another 2 weeks.
The Lee family said the upcoming trial for Fell has not been easy on them,
bringing to light some answers about what happened in November 2000, but
also leading to more questions. They said their access to court records
has been limited and authorities haven't shared much with them about the
case over the past 4 years.
"There is only one person left on the planet who has the answers and
that's Donnie," Lee Sr. said. "I'm hoping to find some things out."
Both Lee Sr. and Kondraski take issue with the investigation into the
younger Lee's death behind bars.
Lee hanged himself with a sheet in his prison cell in 2001. Federal
officials later ruled the hanging was accidental, the result of
"autoerotic asphyxiation syndrome" as Lee tried to cut off his flow of
oxygen during a sexual act.
Kondraski said she is convinced the younger Lee committed suicide. She
said from reading his letters from prison that she feared he was
"It was just little subtle clues here and there," she said. "I just knew
this kid was never going to make it. You just can't cage a person like
She said she has tried to press her case, but can't find a lawyer to help
"Trying to find a lawyer to take on the prison system, that's the wall we
keep running into," Kondraski said. "Due to what Bobbie was charged with,
even though he was never convicted of anything, no lawyer wants to be
connected with anything like that."
'I'd push the button'
Barbara Tuttle, King's sister, has been strong advocate for capital
punishment for Fell and for Lee, if his case had ever gone to trial.
"I don't have any different feelings toward (Lee). If he were still alive
I would want the same thing for him," Tuttle said, referring to the death
penalty. "He's a coward."
She added that people who have not been following the case closely believe
that Lee committed suicide behind bars. That wasn't the case, she said.
"They look at it like he committed suicide so he must have been
remorseful," Tuttle said. "That's not what happened. There was no remorse
on his part."
Kondraski said that if Fell were found guilty in the case, she would
support the death penalty for him.
"I'd push the button," she said.
And, Kondraski added, if it is proven that Lee Jr. also beat King to
death, she would support the same punishment for him if he was alive.
"I'm not condoning anything that happened, because I don't know what
happened," Kondraski said. "If (Lee Jr.) had anything to do with beating
that poor woman to death, then he deserves to die too, as much as I love
him, because that woman did not deserve any of that."
Robert Lee Jr. was one of the four children, all boys. The senior Lee said
his son's mother "is out of the picture altogether."
Lee Sr., 48, and Kondraski, 41, said that they are concerned that at
Fell's trial the finger of blame for King's death will be placed on the
"That's what bothering me, that all the blame is going to be shifted on
Bobby," said Kondraski, who when speaking about Lee Jr. refers to him as a
son. "I don't know what part he played. I hope to God he was just there."
According to court records, the two suspects gave conflicting accounts to
FBI agents, each minimizing their own roles.
The two men allegedly killed Fell's mother, Debra Fell, and her friend,
Conway, early in the morning after a crack cocaine and alcohol binge in an
apartment on Robbins Street in Rutland. Police said they two men then
committed a carjacking, fleeing Vermont and later killing King, the car's
owner, in upstate New York.
The 2 men were arrested 3 days later in Arkansas.
Lee said he and Fell had been up smoking crack cocaine and drinking at
Debra Fell's apartment in Rutland when she became upset that the two young
men were playing their music too loud.
Lee said Fell had killed both Fell's mother and Conway, court records
stated. Lee also allegedly told the FBI agent that Fell solely kidnapped
and later murdered King.
Fell allegedly told investigators that he slit Conway's throat while Lee
stabbed Debra Fell in the back, and that Lee forced his way into King's
car and later delivered some of the fatal blows to her as she prayed for
Judge William Sessions recently ruled that the contents of Lee's statement
would not be admitted in Fell's upcoming trial. However, no ruling has yet
been made regarding the admissibility of the statement if the case reaches
a penalty phase.
Fell and Lee Jr. grew up boyhood friends together in the Miner's Mills
area of northern Wilkes-Barre.
"It was just impossible to keep these 2 kids apart," Kondraski recalled.
"If Donnie would get suspended, Bobby would have to try to get suspended."
She said that growing up the younger Lee had been diagnosed bi-polar and
that he took medications for Attention Deficit Disorder. She said when he
was on medications, he was fine, but getting to take them sometimes proved
Eventually both Lee Jr. and Fell dropped out of high school.
The 2 men would sometimes head off with the carnival, where Lee would work
Lee's family members said he did run into some trouble with the law
growing up, but nothing violent.
"I can't believe the kid stomped someone to death, I can't believe that,"
Lee Sr. said. "He was a follower, I wouldn't pass him to get in trouble,
but I've never known him to hurt anybody."
Lee Sr. said his son loved animals and animals loved him back.
"The kid was amazing. He had a way with animals," the father said. "I've
seen him walk in the woods and pick up wild animals. They wouldn't run
from him. Me, they would run away from."
Growing up, the younger Lee also enjoyed camping and playing baseball.
'He was shunned'
"To me, he was a talented kid," the father said. "It just seems to be a
waste no one else saw this in him. He was shunned. Nobody saw the good
side of him. There are always two sides to every story."
When his son was around Fell, Lee Sr. said, things changed.
"The thing that got me puzzled with Bobby is why he listened to Donnie so
much," the father said. "No matter how much we begged him to stay away
from that kid he always seemed to follow him."
That's what the father believes happened in the case - his son followed
Lee Sr. recalls visiting his son in prison in Vermont.
"He wouldn't tell me anything because of what the lawyers said," the
father said. "I feel bad because the kid couldn't even talk me about it,
he couldn't say anything to anyone."
Vermont does not have a death penalty. However, since King's death
involved crossing state lines, the federal government took jurisdiction
and the federal charges carry the death penalty.
State prosecutors have not filed charges against Fell in the deaths of
Conway and Debra Fell, pending the outcome of the federal case.
Kondraski and Lee Sr. said if they had a chance to speak to the King
family, they would tell them they are sorry for all that has happened.
"I say a prayer for her every night before I go to bed," Kondraski said of
(source: Rutland Herald)
Lawyer argues retarded client should not face death penalty
Accused murderer Bryan A. Luciano will still face 1st-degree murder
charges and risk the death penalty if convicted, a Lackawanna County judge
Mr. Luciano, 26, is accused of raping and murdering a Marywood University
graduate student in her Green Ridge apartment on Oct. 9, 2003.
Mr. Luciano's case is going through its final pretrial phases.
Starting on Thursday, potential jurors were asked to fill out
questionnaires so lawyers in the case can judge their potential biases.
On Friday, Mr. Luciano's attorney, Samuel C. Stretton of suburban
Philadelphia, argued his client is mentally retarded and therefore should
not be subject to the death penalty.
Mr. Luciano has suffered extensive brain damage, Mr. Stretton wrote,
because of sniffing glue and other substances. He also argued the
1st-degree murder charge should be tossed because Mr. Luciano claims he
was high on LSD the night of the death, but that authorities did not keep
a blood sample taken from Mr. Luciano that night which could determine
Judge Trish Corbett ruled the trial will go forward on all charges, and
that the potential for the death penalty will remain. Individual
questioning of jurors is to start the week of June 13.
Mr. Luciano is accused of murdering Suzanne E. Clark, an Indiana, Pa.,
native who lived in the same apartment building as he at 830 Woodlawn St.
He has been in the Lackawanna County Prison since his arrest.
(source: Scranton Times Tribune)
Prosecutors say they'll seek death penalty in Elgin man's death
Kane County prosecutors say they plan to seek the death penalty for 1 of 2
men charged in the April murder of a 19-year-old Elgin man.
In a motion filed yesterday, prosecutors said if 23-year-old Robert Guyton
Junior is convicted, they'll ask for the death sentence.
Guyton and Armin Henderson are charged with murder, kidnapping, aggravated
vehicular hijacking and other crimes in the death of David Steeves.
Police have said the 2 suspects targeted Steeves for robbery as he was
leaving a friend's house on April Eighth following what they said was a
drug transaction. The teen was carrying 300 dollars in cash.
His body was found 6 days later in the trunk of his mother's car in
(source: Associated Press)
Murderer won't face death penalty
Kane County State's Attorney John Barsanti said Friday he will forgo
seeking the death penalty for convicted Aurora murderer Edward Tenney in
order to expedite a retrial for a 1993 murder.
"I'm seeking a trial date as soon as we can," Barsanti told Kane County
Judge Philip DiMarzio.
Edward Tenney, 45, sat on death row for the murder of 75-year-old Virginia
Johannessen but in 2002 won a retrial on appeal when the Illinois Supreme
Court ruled jurors should have heard that another man was tried for the
Recent and pending reforms to the states capital punishment system also
played a role in Barsanti's decision to no longer seek the death penalty
in this case.
The moratorium on executions and a proposal to create a stricter standard
for guilt in death penalty cases could make Tenneys conviction more
"I think it would impact this case greatly," Barsanti said of the reforms.
"Even if we went ahead and got the death penalty, the question remains of
whether the death penalty would be imposed."
Tenney's attorney, Herbert Hill, said Barsanti's decision bodes well for
"Needless to say - it's definitely a victory for us," Hill said.
Hill had argued that Tenney no longer qualifies for the death penalty
under recently enacted death penalty reform laws.
Instead of a lethal injection, Tenney now could face 20 to 60 years in
prison if convicted.
He already is serving a life sentence for the 1993 murder of dairy heiress
Mary Jill Oberweis and also faces another capital murder trial in DuPage
County in the 1992 murder of Gerald Weber of Aurora.
Barsanti and Hill are scheduled to appear in court Wednesday to set a
trial date on the 1st-degree murder charges in Johannessen's death.
Barsanti hopes to go to trial as early as September.
"This case has been around now for 10 years," he said. "I think we can get
tried in a couple of months, disposed of and closed, which is a better way
to approach this."
3 years before Tenney's trial, Kane County prosecutors convicted Lionel
Lane, of Bellwood, for Johannessens murder.
Lane was sentenced to 60 years in prison but was released shortly after
Tenney's cousin confessed that he and Tenney broke into Johannessens home
and told investigators that Tenney shot the 75-year-old widow.
(source: The Daily Herald)
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