[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, COLO., NEV., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Jun 5 20:45:58 CDT 2005
Death for a Killer----A 21-year-old woman gets death sentence for couple's
murders "Please don't kill us, girl."
>From a distance, the letter looked like it could be a high school note, a
young woman's bubbly handwriting sprawled across the page. What appeared
to be a heart was drawn on the envelope. The contents, however, had a much
darker tone: 21-year-old Chelsea Richardson, charged with capital murder,
was begging her best friend to save her life. But when Susana Toledano
took the stand against Richardson in a Tarrant County courtroom last week,
she may effectively have ended it.
Last Wednesday, Richardson, of Fort Worth, became the first woman in
Tarrant County to be sentenced to death for her involvement in the murders
of a Mansfield couple in December 2003 (see "Family Plot," by Andrea
Grimes and Glenna Whitley, July 15, 2004). Her boyfriend's parents, Rick
and Suzanna Wamsley, were each shot or stabbed multiple times. Out of 443
inmates awaiting execution in the state of Texas, only 9 are women.
It was the "crucial" testimony of 20-year-old Toledano that prosecutor
Mike Parrish believes sealed the case. Toledano described how an Arlington
man helped Toledano, Richardson and her boyfriend Andrew Wamsley try to
murder Wamsley's parents twice before eventually succeeding in killing the
Mansfield couple. Andrew Wamsley, 20, believed he would inherit their
$1.65 million estate, prosecutors alleged.
"Did you kill those 2 people because Chelsea Richardson wanted them dead?"
Parrish asked the soft-spoken Toledano during the 1st day of testimony.
She simply replied, "Yes."
Toledano helped the prosecution portray Richardson as a calculating young
woman with her eyes on the Wamsleys' wealth. The letter Richardson sent to
Toledano last summer didn't help. In it, Richardson fabricated a pregnancy
and begged her friend to clear her name. But Toledano believed she was
Toledano pleaded guilty to the murder of Suzanna Wamsley in exchange for a
life sentence after DNA evidence linked her to the crime. After a failed
attempt at killing the Wamsleys by shooting at them in their vehicle in
early November 2003, she said that she, Andrew Wamsley and Richardson
later made another attempt at the Wamsleys' home a few weeks later but
that Toledano couldn't do it. Finally, she described her version of the
events of the early morning of December 11, 2003.
The trio entered the Wamsleys' home in the upper-class neighborhood of
Walnut Estates through the garage door. Toledano said Richardson "coached"
her while they hid in the formal dining room. Then, Toledano shot Suzanna
Wamsley where she lay on the living room couch. The gunshot awakened Rick
Wamsley, who wrestled Toledano to the ground.
Andrew Wamsley then fought with his father into the foyer. Toledano said
she witnessed Rick Wamsley look up at his son and ask him "Why?" while on
his knees, bleeding from a gunshot wound to his head.
Toledano testified that during the struggle, Richardson distributed knives
from the kitchen and helped kill Rick Wamsley while Toledano went into the
living room to stab Suzanna Wamsley to make sure she was dead.
Toledano said that after the murders, Richardson told her to act "as
normal as possible and to make it seem like nothing had happened."
Richardson's court-appointed attorneys frequently reminded the jury that
there was no physical evidence linking Richardson to the scene. They also
noted that Toledano changed her story several times while recalling the
murders on different occasions to a grand jury, Texas Rangers and private
"It's hard to memorize a lie," said Warren St. John, one of Richardson's
attorneys, in a phone interview. "It's real tough."
St. John and co-counsel Terry Barlow tried to shift the blame from
Richardson onto Wamsley, Toledano and Hilario Cardenas, the Arlington man
who provided the gun. They called to the stand a former friend of
Toledano's imprisoned on prostitution charges.
"Darissa Humphries actually knew Susana Toledano from the free world,"
said St. John. "She had seen Susana smoke crack and saw her at a crack
house and with Hilario Cardenas where she was practicing shooting a gun."
A key element in the defense was a letter received by Richardson's mother,
Celia Richardson, about a month after Toledano was arrested in April 2004.
In it, the defense said, Susana Toledano wrote of accompanying Cardenas to
the Wamsley home while they were "high" and killing the Wamsleys. They say
that Toledano expressly said in the letter that Chelsea Richardson was not
"She was writing to Chelsea's mom because she felt bad," St. John said.
"She's apologizing to her mom and saying that [Chelsea] will be free
A handwriting expert for the defense said that the letter was
"overwhelmingly" written by Susana Toledano, who later testified that she
never wrote the letter.
Prosecutors also brought forth 2 former cellmates of Richardson at the
Tarrant County jail who testified that she couldn't stop talking about the
Phanessa Hydrick and Kathryn Norton, both imprisoned on drug charges on
separate occasions with Richardson in April 2004, said that Richardson
first claimed innocence and then admitted to shooting Rick Wamsley.
Prosecutors also displayed more pleading letters written by Richardson to
Hydrick's and Norton's families, in which Richardson claimed lifelong
friendship with her former cellmates and asked for money.
Richardson's defense noted that both witnesses made deals to lessen their
own sentences in exchange for their testimony. "We put on 4 or 5 [former
cellmates] who said that Chelsea never talked about her case," St. John
St. John also said that Celia Richardson and Chelsea's brother James
testified that they didn't hear anyone enter or exit their home the night
the murders occurred.
"Her mom's a 19-year employee of the U.S. government. Her brother's a hard
worker," said St. John of the Richardson family. "They're not people that
get in trouble."
Prosecuting attorney Parrish said that because of her age and sex, the
Wamsley family did not expect the death penalty for Richardson but that
the nature of the crime pushed the jury toward the punishment.
"They try to kill them at least twice before, and the motive was strictly
greed and money," said Parrish in a phone interview. "Those 2 things are
what the jury indicated to us really pushed them that way."
Parrish said that the Wamsley family was relieved by the outcome of the
trial. Richardson and her family, however, are devastated, their lawyer
"She was beyond upset," said St. John of his client, who collapsed in her
seat and cried when Judge Everett Young read the sentence aloud. "She's 21
years old, and she's never been arrested in her life, and now she's
sentenced to death."
Andrew Wamsley is scheduled to go to trial for murder in late September.
Hilario Cardenas faces a charge of conspiracy to commit capital murder.
(source: Dallas Observer, June 2)
ONE LAWYER'S 'MONEY PITCH'
Small-town charm earns big-city victories ----Rusty Hardin makes the
transition from prosecutor to defense attorney look easy
As the cameras whirred and his newest clients groped for words to match
their emotions, Rusty Hardin stood a few steps to the side and tried,
almost successfully, not to appear the stage-managing lawyer.
With his arms crossed over an impeccable beige sport coat and striking
yellow tie, Hardin oversaw the session with the practiced air of someone
who has spent half his life in the public eye. He greeted reporters by
name and politely laid down the rules for questions.
"I've asked them not to discuss the criminal case," Hardin said. "We're
not here to talk about that."
The purpose of the brief news conference in March was to allow the parents
of Amanda Holland and Joanna Moore to thank all of Houston for the help
offered after the young British women were run over by a Mercedes driven
by an allegedly drunken cosmetic surgeon. Hardin confirmed that he had
been hired to represent the 2 in an anticipated lawsuit, but it was
premature to talk about that as well.
"We do not want to do anything to affect the criminal case," he said.
"What they want most right now is to see the offender punished."
What they will want later is another matter, which is why they ended up in
the offices of perhaps the best-known lawyer in town. For the record,
Hardin was happy to get the case. Leave it to Dick DeGuerin to represent
the doctor, Mark D. Gilliland, whose defense is compromised by an
established history of substance abuse. Hardin will get to do what he
likes best: avenge.
"This is like being a prosecutor again," said Hardin, whose clients were
guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. "Instead of
asking for penitentiary time, we'll be asking for fair compensation."
Hardin, who filed a lawsuit on the women's behalf in April, has become a
magnet for high-profile cases. There may be better lawyers in Houston - he
insists there are many but his track record has made believers of even
the skeptics who doubted he would amount to much when he left a comfy
perch in the district attorney's office more than a decade ago.
Even the one high-profile loss on his rsum, a guilty verdict in 2002
against the Arthur Andersen accounting firm in the wake of Enron's demise,
was wiped away last week when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously
overturned the verdict. As Hardin had predicted, the verdict was tossed
out because of jury instructions that the high court agreed were far too
"An incredible triumph for the judicial system," Hardin gushed from
Taipei, Taiwan, where he is involved in a civil case.
Not that it took the erasure of his big defeat to put him in a good mood.
Lunching over red snapper in his customary window seat at Ruggles before
leaving for Taiwan, Hardin was happy to acknowledge that, yes, these are
great days for a small-town boy from North Carolina.
"It's as good as it has ever been or ever could be," he said, alternating
between sips of cappuccino and straight black coffee.
But it's not as if he had ever, you know, struggled through a bad patch.
"Are these the best years in my life?" Hardin said. "The truth is I've
never had any bad years."
And from appearances, not too many bad days. At 63, Hardin remains as
upbeat as ever. It's a mood that comes easily when you're on a 30-year
winning streak. Despite small veins of volatility just below the surface
and a temper that occasionally gets the best of him he's been known to
bellow at a co-worker and even kick a door Hardin at heart is
incessantly, inescapably sunny. He wears it on his sleeve, just above the
jade cuff links.
Back in 1982, as he smiled broadly for a Texas Monthly portrait, Hardin
cheerfully ruminated on doing "the Lord's work" for the Harris County
District Attorney's Office, where he was the best prosecutor on the staff
and an adored mentor to younger colleagues. He did not imagine doing
Today, a decade and a half after leaving the office, where, among other
things, he sent 15 people to death row, Hardin fully embraces the persona
of star criminal defense lawyer.
"What surprises me is how much I like both roles," Hardin said of his old
life and his current one. "I used to think nothing would match a victim
saying 'thank you.' I found with private practice that yes, it does."
Bountiful helpings of media praise no doubt help. Hardin clearly
appreciates being in the spotlight and getting credit for his work, a
trait hardly unfamiliar to big-time trial lawyers. These days he's likely
to be better known than his clients. If that bothers him, he does not show
Cynics more likely would point to his bank account as the real source of
belated satisfaction. Hardin laughs at that. If money had driven him, he
muses, then why did he spend 15 years on a prosecutor's salary?
Money had never been part of his life. When he left for college from his
tiny hometown of Monroe, N.C., where his father owned a cotton warehouse,
he was the first person in his family to venture past high school. If
money were a motivator, he might have added, why did he bother with a
hitch in the Army or spend several years teaching high school history?
Like the old days, when he relished the chance to use his sense of mission
to avenge some awful criminal act, he insists his practice is still about
getting clients he believes in. And for the record, that includes Calvin
In December, the case that many expected to be difficult one for Hardin
instead had just been added to an already gaudy record. Murphy, accused of
molesting 5 of his daughters, was now officially innocent, much to the
surprise of defense attorneys and courthouse observers who knew from
experience how difficult it is to beat that kind of rap when you have that
Murphy immediately gave credit to Hardin. So did most lawyers who followed
"He took a case that was virtually unwinnable and pulled a rabbit out of
the hat," said Brian Wice, a Houston criminal defense lawyer and legal
analyst for several TV networks.
A few days later, the Murphy verdict would take its place among the press
clippings that cover more than 10 feet of wall space in Hardin's nicely
appointed office - a wall of fame that would make any lawyer proud. The
big cases, the complicated civil matters that pay most of the freight at
his nine-lawyer firm, are relegated to the file room. The wall is the
domain of Steve Francis, Rudy Tomjanovich, Scottie Pippen, Warren Moon,
Wade Boggs and, perversely, Anna Nicole Smith, the voluptuous victim of
Hardin's courtroom prowess.
Connecting with the jury
Precisely how he has become so successful is a puzzle to some, especially
those who have not seen him repeatedly practice his craft. He makes a
point of not wanting to come off like a clever lawyer, out of the
courtroom and especially inside it.
Had Hardin been trying to nail Murphy, Wice said, he would not have opened
his case by comparing Murphy's life to the arc of a Quentin Tarantino
movie - a comment from the prosecutor lost on those jurors who had never
heard of the film director.
"He has an ability to connect with these people on their level," Wice
said. "Rusty Hardin would never, never attempt to show a jury how smart he
Or the news media either. Few lawyers seem to enjoy talking to the media
more than Hardin. But if there's one thing he steers wide of, it's
anything like a claim to intellectual prowess. He did not graduate within
sight of the top of his law school class at Southern Methodist University.
He likes to point out that he was lucky even to get into law school; 21
others turned him down. He often repeats the story about how he cheated on
an eye exam to get into the Army, just so he could have the pleasure of
leading a platoon in Vietnam.
How smart could such a person be?
"He's just an ordinary old country boy, very down to Earth, who doesn't
talk a lot of legal jargon and makes you feel comfortable," said Frank
Staley, a juror in the 2001 Anna Nicole Smith trial, which was part of a
yearslong probate battle for the estate of her billionaire husband, J.
Howard Marshall II.
When time came to cross-examine Smith, the former Playboy centerfold and
topless dancer who was married to Marshall for 14 months at the end of his
life, Hardin remained on form: voice steady, demeanor calm. Never pick on
witnesses, Hardin has often said, unless they have shown to a jury they
"It was almost like you were being questioned by kinfolk," Staley said.
"It's like, I'm gonna ask you these questions as a friend, sort of
buddy-buddy. And he was so jovial ... he always had this smile on his
In the end, he got what he needed. It wasn't as dramatic as the capital
murder trial years ago in which he persuaded the defendant to re-enact his
shooting of a bank teller in front of the jury, but Hardin's questioning
amply underscored Smith's image as spoiled and greedy. Smith may have been
the celebrity of the trial, Staley said, but Hardin was its star.
"I would imagine that by the time he's finished picking a jury, he'd have
a substantial number of jurors on his side," said defense attorney David
Mitcham, who worked as a junior prosecutor when Hardin was in the DA's
office. "This gives him an opening. It's like a baseball pitcher with a
good curveball: That likability is his money pitch."
Even Hardin's one notable defeat, the Andersen verdict on
obstruction-of-justice charges, inspired embarrassingly gushy acclaim for
his performance in defusing the prosecution's case, this despite the quick
unraveling of the company after the verdict.
"Sometimes I had to remind people that we lost," he said.
Catapulted to the top
If the Andersen verdict left a bad taste in his mouth, the Murphy decision
washed it clean. The former Houston Rockets star may have a hard time
recovering his reputation, with lingering suspicions resting atop
unpleasant revelations about his personal life. But Hardin emerged from
the trial with a notch on his gun so big that he now has to be mentioned
as one of the top 2 or 3 defense attorneys in the area.
"He's evolving into an outstanding criminal defense lawyer," said veteran
defender Stanley Schneider. "This is the first time he tried a case where
there was so much on the line. Suddenly he had one of the most admired and
liked personalities in the city of Houston facing a life sentence. Life in
prison was not an option in those other (celebrity) cases. With so much at
stake, he did a fantastic job."
Hardin himself recognizes, with some apparent pleasure, that the Murphy
case just might change the way he's viewed by his peers.
"Before that," he said, "the defense bar probably perceived me - or a lot
did - as still a prosecutor at heart who didn't take the tough case that
brings social unacceptance."
Schneider said Hardin's brief direct examination of Murphy, in which he
simply asked him whether he had committed the acts he was accused of, was
a brilliant stroke. It caught prosecutors off guard and gave them little
material for cross-examination.
"That is so unconventional," Schneider said. "It goes against everything
you're taught in Defense Attorney 101. What were they going to ask him?
Weren't you an all-pro? Didn't you score 44 points against San Antonio?
Great attorneys step outside the box and do something different. They take
risks that are instinctive."
The same also could be said of Hardin's one enormous risk outside the
courtroom. In 1990, a year after he was named Prosecutor of the Year by
the State Bar of Texas, he stepped away from his presumed lifetime calling
and abruptly left Johnny Holmes' office. The scuttlebutt had him on the
losing side of a power play with Holmes' first assistant, Don Stricklin.
The truth, Hardin said, is that he had basic disagreements over management
philosophy, and with no likelihood of changing those policies or of
replacing the popular Holmes in the near future, he sensed it was time to
"There were no hard feelings," he said. "It wasn't that I didn't enjoy it
anymore. I loved that office. But it was either going to be my office, or
it was time to move on."
Hardin had no clients of note waiting for him. He did not even have a firm
grasp on the kind of work he wanted to do, other than not representing the
usual cast of murderers, rapists and drug dealers who fill the defense
lawyer's waiting room. That was too big a leap. It was hardly a shock that
he had no luck persuading bankers to loan him money to set up a practice.
What Hardin did have were the same trial skills that made him virtually
unbeatable as a prosecutor: a commanding courtroom presence, a flair for
the theatrical, a knack for examining witnesses and, best of all, that
almost supernatural rapport with jurors.
It wasn't long before his name was becoming known in a new context.
Beyond the celebrity defenses - several on DWI charges, Moon accused of
assault and battery, Boggs of sexual harassment - he won a $65 million
verdict for a nursing home resident who was raped, got set aside a huge
libel verdict against Dow Jones and fended off Smith's claim to part of
the $1.6 billion fortune left by her husband.
His practice became so successful that when Holmes announced in 2000 that
he would not seek re-election, Hardin had little trouble forgoing the
opportunity to run. The job he had been born for and coveted for years no
longer had the same luster.
Once again, the cynics whisper: He did not want the cut in pay.
The prosecutor who said in 1982 that he could not be paid enough to do
something else was getting serious recognition from a string of courtroom
successes and some good paydays.
Hardin doesn't complain about the money, of course. More income has made
it possible to move from a modest home in Meyerland to a pleasant
two-story Colonial in West University Place.
It translates into upscale offices with original oil paintings and stained
glass to match in a newish downtown tower, 5 Houston Center.
But when he insists his career has never been about building the biggest
bank account, it's not an implausible claim. The simple truth, Hardin
said, is that he was enjoying his new life.
"If Johnny had left three or four years after I had left, I would have
run," he said. "By the time it became open, my interest had passed. I was
having too much fun."
The bulk of Rusty Hardin's practice is civil trial work, though many of
the cases for which he has received publicity involve the criminal defense
of celebrities. Notable cases:
- Obstruction of justice: Defended the accounting firm on
obstruction-of-justice charges stemming from the Enron scandal. A jury
found against Andersen in federal court, but the verdict was overturned by
a 9-0 vote in the U.S. Supreme Court last week. J. Howard Marshall II
- Estate: Represented the estate of the late Houston oilman in litigation
brought by one of Marshall's sons and Marshall's widow, former Playboy
pinup Anna Nicole Smith. A jury found for Hardin's clients on all claims.
- Sexual abuse: Defended the former Rockets star and broadcaster on
charges he sexually abused several of his children. After a five-week
trial, a jury acquitted him on all charges.
- DWI: Defended the former Rockets coach and former player Steve Francis
on unrelated charges of driving while intoxicated. Tomjanovich's case was
dropped before trial, and Francis was found not guilty.
- Domestic assault: Defended the former Oilers quarterback on charges of
assaulting his wife, Felicia. A jury returned a quick verdict in Moon's
- Sex assault: Sued a La Porte nursing home on behalf of a 98-year-old
woman who had been sexually assaulted by a resident. A jury awarded her
- Libel: Represented Dow Jones after it was hit with the largest libel
verdict in history. Hardin's post-trial efforts got the verdict thrown out
and a new trial ordered. Eventually the case was dismissed.
- Assault: Defended the Hall of Fame third baseman in a lawsuit alleging
assault brought by a flight attendant. A jury sided with Boggs after a
- Perjury: Defended the former Houston police chief on aggravated perjury
charges from statements during a civil service hearing. The case was
dismissed by the judge after the state finished presenting its evidence.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
>From death row to a life devoted to family, normalcy
Sylvester Lee Garrison had 14 dates with death and 3 "last meals" during
more than 11 years awaiting execution for a 1958 murder he insisted he
Fate gave him a 47-year reprieve.
Garrison died eight days ago, just shy of his 73rd birthday, of
complications from a recently diagnosed cancer and a brain tumor. Beyond
his death-row experience, he left a legacy as a longtime city maintenance
worker and beloved patriarch of an extended family that cherished the
years they had with a man who once believed he would die in the gas
"God had a purpose for him," says Veronica Thomp son, Garrison's
granddaughter. "And that was to be with his family as long as he was. He'd
tell us, 'Get to know your family, or you'll end up marrying them.'
"'Til the end, he had us laughing constantly."
Garrison related his harrowing death-row experience to many friends and
acquaintances - but only occasionally to his loved ones.
Authorities accused him in the pistol-whipping murder and robbery of
79-year-old Mort Freelander in his Capitol Hill apartment. A 2nd suspect
was never found.
But Garrison told a Denver Post reporter during his trial that, as a black
man, he had "16 strikes against me - 13 jurors, 2 prosecutors and the
All were white.
On death row, he shook hands with five men on their way to die, watched 2
shot to death trying to scale the walls. Court appeals spared him on
several occasions, but 3 times he dined on a last meal of fried chicken,
stewed onions and french fries before a last-minute stay stalled the
"How many times can you die?" Garrison asked in a 1989 interview. "Tell me
what that is, if not cruel and unusual."
He spoke of death row's bizarre psychology, how the condemned men said
"see ya" - never goodbye - to others making the walk to the gas chamber,
and how they imagined they were somewhere else.
"You could see all the weak parts of people, the child in them," he said.
"I seen some of them fantasize and never come back."
But Garrison came back.
When the Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972,
his sentence was reduced to life in prison and later commuted to 43 years
by Gov. Dick Lamm. After serving nearly 20 years of that sentence,
Garrison was paroled in April 1978 - just as Colorado reinstated capital
But controversy swirled around him just a few months later when Lt. Gov.
George Brown gave him a Thanksgiving Day pardon - essentially wiping his
record clean - while Lamm was vacationing out of state.
Lamm returned a few days later and revoked the pardon on technical grounds
as well as fairness issues. He said that applicants for pardon must show
considerable time without incident after their release.
Out of prison, Garrison lived a life remarkable only for its relative
normalcy. He worked for the city and county of Denver as a maintenance man
until the late 1990s, married and divorced, discharged his parole and
played checkers and dominoes with friends when he wasn't enjoying family
For many years, he lived with his mother in her northeast Denver house.
Known as "Uncle Brother," he became the pillar of his family, preaching
the value of thrift and education.
He counseled younger family members, kept them off the streets, chipped in
toward their college educations or the down payments on their first homes.
"He put family first," says Thomas Trotman, Garrison's 28- year-old
great-nephew. "He sacrificed so much for all of our family. If that
reprieve wouldn't have happened, I can't imagine where our family would
He enjoyed scouring the giant flea market near Commerce City and dining on
crab legs at Red Lobster. Garrison "mastered simplicity," Trotman says.
Mary Holeman, one of Garrison's 2 daughters, was born before her father's
conviction and recalls her 1st memory of him at age 5, when she visited
him in prison.
"I was wondering why he was behind this chicken cage, behind this screen
thing," Holeman says. "I had to stand away from him so he could see me. My
grandma stood me on a bench - that's when I could see how big he was. I'd
heard about him."
So had everyone else. Garrison's notoriety plagued his daughter among
unsparing classmates who delighted in tormenting her.
"Kids would tease me," Holeman says. "It was pretty nasty, people saying,
'He's gonna fry.' You know kids. The ones that knew about it would really
pound on me. I became a good fighter, to defend myself and my father's
Holeman says she returned to Denver after her father's release and began
to reconnect with him. But while she was curious about his death-row
experience, he always deflected the conversation when she brought it up.
"He told everybody else but figured since I was his daughter, I didn't
need to know," she says. "I wasn't going to pry. When I asked, it always
looked like it hurt him. So over a period of years, I stopped."
Garrison was diagnosed with lung cancer and a brain tumor about 6 weeks
before his death. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation, but his
condition deteriorated until he had to be admitted to St. Joseph Hospital,
where he died May 28.
Although his decline came suddenly, Garrison was prepared for the
questions that, considering his unique place in history, might resurface.
"He anticipated this day," Trotman says. "He told me that, 'When they come
asking, you tell them I didn't do it."'
Family members say Garrison never grew bitter over his experience,
although his story featured a final, ironic twist: Only months before his
death, he was called to jury duty.
His great-nephew drove him to the City and County Building and watched
Garrison relish the moment.
"He respected that courthouse; he respected that judge," Trotman recalls.
"But he told him he didn't think he'd be a good juror because of all that
he'd seen. Then he told his story. That was his opportunity to speak.
Things came totally full circle."
The judge excused him, with apologies.
(source: Denver Post)
Nevada death row inmate regrets he didn't kill ex-girlfriend
As he awaits his scheduled execution Thursday, Robert Lee McConnell says
his only regret is that he killed his ex-girlfriend's fiance instead of
"I wouldn't play around and have feelings like I did the last time," the
33-year-old death row inmate told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "I wouldn't
let her get away. She would be tortured and killed."
The former Reno car salesman has said he won't file any appeals or
petitions that would automatically stop his execution by injection at the
Nevada State Prison in Carson City.
McConnell pleaded guilty in Washoe County District Court to shooting Brian
Pierce, 25, 9 times with a handgun in August 2002 at the Sun Valley home
that Pierce shared with the woman McConnell used to date.
McConnell then waited for the woman to return from work, cut off her
clothes with a knife, raped her and forced her to drive to San Mateo,
Calif. She escaped when they stopped at a service station, and he was
captured later in San Francisco.
In a prison interview with the Gazette-Journal, McConnell says he plotted
to kill Pierce and the woman after his 2001 arrest on suspicion of
violating a temporary protective order the woman had sought. He was fired
later from his $10,000-a.m.onth sales job.
"They ruined my livelihood," McConnell says. "So, you're going to pay. I
told them, 'It may not be today, but when you least expect it.'"
But McConnell says he had second thoughts about killing the woman after
she returned home that day.
"I allowed my personal feelings from the past to come into play," he told
the Gazette-Journal. "With Brian, it was business ... It was brutal. It
"With her it was like, 'I hate this person. I hate this person,' but 30
minutes into it, it's weird. I was like, 'I don't know if I'm going to be
able to do this.'"
McConnell claims it was the woman's fault that Pierce was killed.
"She played both sides against the middle," he says. "The truth is, this
guy got taken by her, too.
"He was a cool guy. I will always maintain the apology I gave to (Pierce's
mother). I'm sorry I took your son. I don't think he deserved that.
"The honest truth is, if I could take it back I would kill (her). Yes, I
should have killed her and left him alone," he adds.
In July 2003, a Washoe County jury sentenced McConnell to death for the
murder and to two life prison terms for the rape and kidnapping.
During the trial, McConnell said he believed in the death penalty. Now, he
says he opposes capital punishment as state-sanctioned murder.
But he gave his word to go ahead with the execution, he says, and plans to
"No matter what I do I'm going to upset people on either side," McConnell
says. "If I don't go through with it I upset (Pierce's) family. If I do,
my mother ... loses a son."
(source: Reno Gazette-Journal)
End the Death Penalty and Reform Prisons March on Washington August 13th
Please help spread the word about a March on Washington for Prison Reform
and an end to the death penalty Aug 13, 2005.
The march is being organized by Roberta Franklin who says this about the
"This march in August is to send a message to our leaders, and an
opportunity for the world to support our demands. We must stop relying on
incarceration, and give people an education and rehabilitation." - Roberta
Franklin, Director of Family and Friends of Incarcerated People
Please link this to your website and distribute the information any way
For more information see the website at: www.journeyforjustice.org
Thank you for your consideration. If you need more information, please
Peace and All Good,
Tom Hereford (305) 431-6533
THE CSI EFFECT----Fact or fiction? The jury is still out on the CSI
effect; A TV-inspired interest in forensics has left the courtroom
vulnerable to junk science
The runaway popularity of TV shows that make heroes out of forensic
scientists has produced a spinoff of its own. Authorities have dubbed it
the "CSI effect."
The script for this phenomenon, written by prosecutors across the country
and dutifully repeated by newspapers in recent months, is simple and
Having watched hour after hour of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and
other legal dramas, jurors nationwide are demanding forensic evidence and
acquitting defendants en masse when prosecutors don't deliver.
The truth, it turns out, is more complicated than this TV-inspired
While CSI and its brethren may well be stoking jurors' interest in
forensic evidence, the shows also have left some of them more gullible and
inclined to accept dubious forensic testimony as the real thing.
A few anecdotes and the complaints of prosecutors aside, there is no
definitive evidence to prove that jurors' TV-watching habits are uniformly
hurting the prosecution rather than the defense.
The raft of crime-lab scandals across the country--revealing the shoddy
and sometimes fraudulent work of forensic analysts--suggests broader
problems in American courts: how easily some prosecutors have brought
unproven forensic theories or unchallenged forensic experts into the
courtroom and how some jurors are willing to believe them.
Judges note the keen interest jurors have in forensic evidence, but some
reject the notion that jurors punish prosecutors whose cases aren't ready
for prime time.
"These are myths," said James Lombardi, a judge in Prince George's County,
Md. "I don't think the juries react to it as much as the prosecutors. What
wins these cases is good police investigative work."
There seems little doubt that many of today's jurors enter the courtroom
with a familiarity about forensics gleaned while sitting on their sofa. (2
shows in the "CSI" franchise consistently rank in television's Top 10.)
Attorneys are asking potential jurors what TV programs they watch. And
some jurors may indeed take the memory of those shows into their
But concluding from these facts that Hollywood's influence is contributing
to the guilty walking free makes TV a convenient scapegoat for a criminal
justice system that too often imprisons the innocent.
Given the crime-lab scandals and the exoneration of scores of wrongly
convicted inmates in recent years, perhaps these jurors simply are
bringing healthy skepticism to cases that don't meet the burden of proof.
Prosecutors are complaining that jurors are insisting on forensic
evidence. But isn't the justice system all about providing proof? The same
prosecutors almost always demand DNA before releasing a wrongly convicted
inmate, even when the rest of their case has fallen apart.
What's more, the "CSI effect" argument assumes that most jurors can't
distinguish fantasy from reality. By the same logic, jurors who have
watched reruns of "Perry Mason" would be ready to acquit anytime the
defendant doesn't break down and confess under the withering
cross-examination of the prosecutor.
Bernie Murray, chief of the criminal prosecutions bureau at the Cook
County state's attorney's office, agreed that prosecutors and defense
attorneys have been dealing with the intrusion of pop culture for decades.
Think "Law & Order" or "L.A. Law," "where cross-examinations are 3
questions and hearsay rules are violated," Murray said.
But he argues that the current forensic hits are another matter.
"What's different is that this is science," he said. "The stock-in-trade
of the show is to say, `We're catching bad guys through science.' And
though much of the science may exist, they distort the manner in which it
is handled," promising DNA tests that come back after the commercial
He's right that scientific evidence is different. That's a big part of the
problem in real courtrooms. Experts cloaked in the white lab coat of
science have extraordinary sway with jurors. It is this special influence
that makes the misuse of forensic testimony and evidence particularly
A Kane County jury convicted a man in 1997 largely based on a lip print
taken from a piece of duct tape found at the murder scene. Though the
theory that lip prints can uniquely identify individuals is unproved,
jurors cited it in convicting Lavelle Davis.
"I keep thinking about it when I see [crime shows] on TV--especially about
the duct tape and lip prints," said juror Jodie Hurckes.
Michael Toomin, a longtime Cook County Criminal Court judge, faces equally
inquisitive jurors in his courtroom, although their curiosity turns to the
less exotic forensic disciplines.
"In most of the instances, they're asking where's the DNA, where's the
fingerprints?" Toomin said. "The TV dramatizations have had an eye-opening
effect. Some [jurors] have come to anticipate and expect that kind of
The "CSI effect," he said, is "definitely out there."
Toomin recalled a recent drug case in which police seized a bag of cocaine
under a brick in a gangway. The defendant, who Toomin said had previous
drug convictions, denied the drugs were his and said he had been down the
street loading furniture into a van.
Jurors acquitted the man and, in later conversations with Toomin, wanted
to know: "Why didn't the police go in and get a fingerprint guy and take
fingerprints off the brick?"
A year ago, the judge said, "we would not have expected that type of
To counter such arguments, prosecutors in Cook County and elsewhere are
calling experts to explain why the state didn't perform certain tests and
how rare evidence such as DNA really is.
But Ron Smith, who heads a Mississippi forensic consulting company, said
prosecutors should worry less about television poisoning the minds of
jurors and more about seizing the opportunity to educate them.
"We can't change what L.A. or Hollywood is doing with the shows, but we
can stop trying to look at it as a negative," he said. "You're lucky you
have a jury that wants to listen."
Prosecutors also can take heart in the story lines of these crime dramas:
The forensic scientists, detectives and prosecutors are often good-looking
and invariably heroic. Rarely do they convict the wrong person.
It could be worse.
When television offered up a drama centered on a crusading journalist who
tried to free innocent prisoners--Oliver Platt in "Deadline"--the show
(source: Chicago Tribune)
Justice can't be dishonest
In 1981, rising young reporter Janet Cooke of the Washington Post made up
an 8-year-old heroin addict named Jimmy and won a Pulitzer.
When her falsification was discovered, she went into exile for more than a
decade, but her journalism career remained dead.
- More recently, USA Today star reporter Jack Kelley was forced to resign
after editors learned he had fabricated multiple stories. The newspaper's
top editor also resigned.
- New York Times reporter Jayson Blair resigned when it was discovered
that he had been making up parts of stories, including one about the Rio
Grande Valley family of an early casualty of the Iraq war. The Times' two
top editors also resigned.
- Stephen Glass was fired from the New Republic when editors found he had
made up all or part of 27 of the 41 articles he wrote for the magazine.
Even worse, he suffered the ignominy of being portrayed in a movie,
Shattered Glass, by Hayden Christensen.
Fictional science in lab
In all four cases, when editors learned of one fabrication they conducted
thorough investigations and discovered others by the reporters.
By contrast, consider what happened to Houston crime-lab analyst Vipul
Patel when it was discovered he made up results for tests of drugs based
on what the arresting officers told him, without bothering to do the
actual work of testing those drugs.
He got a three-day suspension. He's still working at the lab.
And you know the investigation those editors did after they found the
reporters had engaged in a single fabrication?
Houston police officials never did such an investigation of Patel's other
work. My colleague Steve McVicker reported Thursday that officials
couldn't say why.
To their credit, Patel's supervisors caught his dishonesty before
submitting his report to prosecutors for use against the suspects.
And to their credit, some of his supervisors thought he should be fired
Fictional victims don't sue
We don't know the arguments for not firing Patel for the simple reason
that the people who made the decision have not spoken. But the argument
for firing him or anyone else in law enforcement who lies is this: It's at
least as important that law enforcement officials be truthful as that
journalists be truthful.
When reporters make up stories, they are almost always feel-good stories.
In the cases where reporters make up bad things about an individual, you
can bet that the individual is fictional.
That's not because the lying reporters are nice men and women. It's
because one way to make sure you get caught is to invent stories that
defame someone who may sue for libel.
Fictional victims of libel don't sue.
So when reporters make up stories, it is rare that individuals get hurt.
The ones who get hurt are every other reporter and every newspaper whose
credibility is taken down a notch.
That's why infractions are treated so harshly. That's why not only Blair
had to leave the Times but the top bosses as well.
When a police officer, a lab technician or a prosecutor makes up a story,
chances are there's an accused person who is the intended target of the
lie. The false story is designed to send that person to prison.
Yet consequences for lying by justice personnel are rare while proven
incidents of dishonesty - such as brutality cases in which accounts given
by officers are clearly contradicted by videotapes - often go unpunished.
Given the clear and personal harm to the accused, why are authorities so
often lax about lying?
I think one strong reason is that criminal justice personnel come to
believe the guy is obviously guilty anyway.
So by going the imaginary mile to make sure he's taken off the street, the
liars are actually doing a service to society.
Most of the time they're probably right. The guy is guilty. But the lie is
costly nonetheless, and not just because sometimes the accused is
It's for the same reason that newspaper executives react so harshly. It's
costly because it shakes the faith of at least some members of the public.
Perhaps more importantly, when those in authority tolerate lying in the
ranks, they encourage corruption. Breaking the code of honesty cannot be
done with surgical precision. It can spread like an infection.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
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