[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----MD., FLA., IND., VA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Jun 8 14:45:46 CDT 2005
Death-row inmate's lawyer makes case to appeals judges----UM study
reporting disparities in geography, race is cited in court
There may be no evidence of overt racism in the decision to seek death for
convicted killer Wesley Eugene Baker, but a University of Maryland study
that found racial and geographic disparities in the state's application of
the death penalty bolsters the argument that his death sentence should be
overturned, Baker's attorney argued before Maryland's highest court
"Despite a generation of progressiveness, we still have not gotten over
the pervasive influence of race," lawyer Gary W. Christopher told the
Court of Appeals.
But an attorney for the state said the January 2003 study by Professor
Raymond Paternoster shows nothing more than differences in the way top
prosecutors in Baltimore City and various counties choose to prosecute
cases -- decisions that she said are often influenced by economics and the
views of the electorate, not by race.
"Much of what the argument is by this capital defendant is more
anti-death-penalty rhetoric as opposed to law," said Assistant Attorney
General Annabelle L. Lisic.
The lawyers spent about an hour yesterday in a packed Court of Appeals
hearing room arguing the merits of the Paternoster study and whether its
findings are enough to render Baker's death sentence illegal -- or to at
least merit a lower court hearing on the matter.
It was the first time the court had heard arguments in an appeal based on
the statistical study, and it brought out a standing-room-only crowd.
Lawyers, death penalty opponents, at least one representative from the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the family
of a pair of murder victims filled the hearing room and offered divergent
views on the importance of it all.
For those seeking to abolish capital punishment in Maryland -- or at least
to save the life of a client on death row -- the study is the most solid
evidence to date of what they say is a biased system weighted against
defendants who kill white victims.
"Yes it is damn well a racial issue," said Bonnita Spikes, an organizer
for Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. "I lived in Southeast D.C.
and people are murdered every other day, yet when a white girl is missing
in Aruba, they call in the feds."
But for Phyllis Bricker, appeals based on the study are just another stall
tactic in the cycle of death penalty appeals. Bricker's elderly parents,
Rose and Irvin Bronstein, were stabbed to death in their Pimlico home 22
years ago. The man convicted of killing the couple, John Booth-El, is 1 of
8 defendants on Maryland's death row and 1 of 5 who has cited the
Paternoster study in an attempt to overturn his sentence.
"Because he's black and he killed a white couple, that's supposed to
excuse him from being executed," Bricker, 74, said, her voice shaking. "Do
you think it makes any difference to victims what color a person is who
kills someone they love?"
It was unclear yesterday when the court would issue a decision in Baker's
The 7 judges on the Court of Appeals reserved their sharpest questions
yesterday for Baker's lawyer, Christopher, asking him, for instance,
whether he could show actual evidence of bias in the case, and why it took
so long for Baker to file an appeal alleging racial discrimination.
Baker, 47, who is black, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in
1992 for the fatal shooting of 49-year-old Jane Tyson, who was white, on a
Westview Mall parking lot in southwestern Baltimore County.
Past studies of Maryland's death penalty system pointed to "some potential
problems," but none has been as comprehensive as Paternoster's,
Unlike 3 other death row inmates who have been granted Circuit Court
hearings on their Paternoster-based claims, Baker's request was denied by
a Circuit Court judge last year, Christopher said. It would be unjust if
Baker was executed and "his claims were vindicated" through a hearing
granted to another inmate, he said.
But Lisic said the lower court was correct in denying the hearing in a
case in which no overt racism has been shown.
Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney Stephen Bailey, who attended
yesterday's arguments, said Baker is raising race as one of his "last
"I don't think any rational, reasonable person could look at the facts of
Wesley Baker's case and conclude we sought the death penalty because his
skin was black and Jane Tyson's was white," he said.
(source: Baltimore Sun)
FDLE report: DNA match made
Material found under the nails of 48-year-old strangulation victim Susan
Tharp matches the DNA of accused killer Darrell Mitchell, according to a
report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
That physical evidence, along with a "variety of additional information,"
caused Assistant State Attorney Art Brown to upgrade the charges against
Mitchell from second- to first-degree murder and to seek the death
Mitchell, now 35, is accused of strangling Susan Tharp to death in July at
her Briarwood home in East Manatee. A friend found her body stuffed into a
compartment under her water bed after Tharp's family, co-workers and
friends became concerned about her whereabouts. A search of the house was
initiated with the help of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
Evidence left at the scene led authorities to Mitchell's residence in St.
Mitchell subsequently confessed to strangling Tharp to death but claimed
it was accidental and done during an act of consensual sex, according to a
report by sheriff's investigators.
The FDLE report found no evidence of semen on numerous samples taken from
Tharp and her property.
In an arrest report, Mitchell also claimed he had delivered cocaine to
Tharp. Toxicology results showed no drugs in Tharp's system, and in an
interview with The Herald, Mitchell later admitted that it was he who used
the drugs, not Tharp.
Mitchell has since been charged with robbery, a second-degree felony.
According to the indictment, Mitchell took Tharp's purse and may have
taken some jewelry.
Since his July arrest, Mitchell has had four different public defenders.
His case was originally assigned to Steven Schaefer, then given to
Laurence Eger in late September. It was subsequently given to Jim Slater
when the case was upgraded to its capital status, and is now in Carolyn
DaSilva's hands. Slater died recently of cancer.
Last month, DaSilva asked for a continuance, saying the first-degree
murder and death penalty status of the case, and the fact that the case
was turned over to her fairly recently, warranted more time for an
Mitchell's trial date, originally set for November 2004, was moved to
March 14, then June 14, and is now set for Sept. 9.
Another reason given for postponing Mitchell's trial was to accommodate
the schedule of both DaSilva and Brown, who were supposed to begin another
murder trial in May.
But the trial of Gary Cloud, 48, a man accused of murdering former actress
Jean Laney, 67, has been pushed to September.
"Obviously, it (Mitchell's trial) is going to be pushed to later," DaSilva
Brown said Cloud's trial would probably be a priority, as the crime
occurred in 2002, but didn't discount the importance of Mitchell's trial.
"We'll try to get it to trial as soon as possible," Brown said.
Tharp is the 2nd woman Mitchell is accused of killing.
In the late '80s, Mitchell, then 16, was convicted of killing 34-year-old
Linda Jett in Kenton County, Ky.
He confessed to strangling her and stuffing her body through a basement
window where it laid, undiscovered, for 2 days. He also stole Jett's car.
Mitchell was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but served only 13,
including 4 years in a juvenile detention facility.
(source: Bradenton Herald)
Gosciminski gets death sentence----He was found guilty in April of killing
a Connecticut woman in 2002
Joan Loughman came to Fort Pierce from Connecticut hoping to find a rest
home for her ailing father.
Instead, she was bludgeoned, stabbed and cut to death by Andrew Michael
Gosciminski, who used his position at an assisted-living facility to gain
her trust, kill her and rob her of her jewelry at her father's Hutchinson
Calling this abuse of trust "appalling," Circuit Judge Burton Conner
sentenced Gosciminski, 52, to death Tuesday for the murder and gave him 2
consecutive life sentences for robbery and burglary. A jury found
Gosciminski guilty in April of 1st-degree murder, robbery and burglary in
the Sept. 24, 2002, killing of Loughman, 55, of Danbury, Conn.
"The murder of Joan Loughman falls within the category of the worst of
murders," Conner told Gosciminski. "You have forfeited your right to live
Loughman's family, all of whom live outside the area, suspended their
lives for 3 weeks while they sat through each day of jury selection and
testimony at the trial. None of them was able to return for Tuesday's
announcement so they instead sat anxiously near phones waiting for the
"I feel relieved that justice was served," said Nancy Hilliard, 1 of
Loughman's 2 daughters. "I can be rest assured that the person who
murdered my mother is never going to have freedom again."
The family felt a heavy burden had been lifted when Gosciminski was found
guilty, and Hilliard said she felt lucky that police were able to solve
the murder and bring the culprit to justice. Her father, who read a
statement during the penalty phase of the trial, was relieved at the
outcome, she said.
"For us, this is the end. It just cements what he did was as horrible as
it was," she said. "It's a heavy burden that's lifted."
During the hour-long hearing, Conner reviewed the facts of the crime and
went over how he reached his decision by weighing the aggravating
circumstances that supported death and the mitigating circumstances that
would have led to life in prison. The jury recommended 9 to 3 that
Gosciminski should be put to death.
Among the mitigating factors cited by the defense and considered by Conner
were Gosciminski's light criminal history, his positive behavior in jail
and his good job record. The three factors that made Conner lean toward
death were the calculated manner of the crime, the heinous method of
killing Loughman and the fact Gosciminski murdered her while burglarizing
her home and robbing her for financial gain, Conner said.
Gosciminski went into the hearing knowing he would face either life in
prison or death and was prepared when the sentence was delivered, his
attorneys said. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit with a freshly shaven head,
he showed no outward signs of emotion at the hearing.
The death sentence is automatically appealed to the Florida Supreme Court
and his attorneys said they would file an appeal.
"I think the judge did the right thing," said Assistant State Attorney
Lynn Park. "He came up with the right decision and he articulated that
Prosecutors built their case around statements from Gosciminski's former
girlfriend that he was washing blood off his body on the day of the murder
and later gave her a diamond ring matching the victim's. His co-workers
also said they saw the ring and police placed him around Hutchinson Island
at the time of the murder using cell phone data.
Gosciminski denied the killing and his attorneys argued someone else was
Gosciminski is the 2nd person from St. Lucie County to be sentenced to die
this year and will become the 5th inmate from the county on death row.
Eddie Bigham was sentenced to death in January for the 2003 murder of
Lourdes "Lu Lu" Cavazos-Blandin.
(source: Vero Beach Press-Journal)
Ex-fugitive headed for death row
1 of 2 men who escaped from a Kentucky jail and went on a deadly
multistate crime spree agreed to plead guilty in the death of a college
student, his attorney said Wednesday.
In exchange for Chadrick Fulks plea to a charge of carjacking resulting in
death, federal prosecutors will seek a life sentence instead of the death
penalty in the disappearance of Samantha Burns three years ago, public
defender Lou Newberger said.
Fulks already has been sentenced to death in a similar case in South
Carolina and will be moved to death row at a federal prison in Terre
Haute, Ind., after he enters his plea in the West Virginia case on June
30, Newberger said.
Federal prosecutors say Fulks and Branden Basham escaped from a Kentucky
jail and eluded authorities during a multistate crime spree that also led
to the death of Alice Donovan, 44, of Galivants Ferry, S.C., who was
kidnapped in Conway, S.C., on Nov. 14, 2002. Fulks was captured in Goshen,
Ind., six days later.
Burns, 19, of West Hamlin has been missing since Nov. 11, 2002. The
Marshall University student's burned-out car was found on a rural road in
Wayne County about 6 hours after she called her mother for the last time.
Fulks is a native of West Hamlin.
Neither woman's body has been found, although both men have told police
the women are dead.
Both were convicted and sentenced to death last year in separate federal
trials in South Carolina in the death of Donovan.
No plea agreement has been reached with Basham, U.S. Attorney Kasey Warner
said Wednesday. He faces trial beginning Aug. 2. His attorney, Gary
Collias, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The men also were indicted in West Virginia on state charges of being a
felon in possession of firearms, possession of stolen firearms and
interstate transportation of a stolen motor vehicle. Those charges will be
dropped against Fulks as part of the plea agreement.
(source: Associated Press)
Bowler's mental status is questioned at hearing--Defense attorney says he
will ask for evaluation of competence to stand trial
The mental status of Daniel A. Bowler apparently will be the 1st battle in
the effort by prosecutors to execute him in the deaths of 3 men in South
Richmond last week. Bowler, 26, made his 1st appearance yesterday in
Richmond Circuit Court, where Judge Margaret P. Spencer read the 3
capital-murder indictments a grand jury returned against him Monday.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty on 3 different legal theories:
the murders of Derrick Conner, Abdulrahman Abdhabhani and Jong Doh within
a period of less than 3 years;
the murders of the 3 men as part of the same transaction;
the murder of Abdhabhani while robbing him.
After Spencer read the indictments, she asked Bowler if he could afford to
hire his own lawyer. When he did not re- spond, Deputy Capital Defender
Douglas A. Ramseur whispered to Bowler and told Spencer, "He's advised me
that he cannot afford to hire an attorney."
Spencer then appointed former Richmond prosecutors Claire G. Cardwell and
Vaughan C. Jones to represent Bowler, along with Ramseur, and set a
hearing for July 11.
After the 10-minute court appearance, Ramseur said he had met briefly with
Bowler on Friday and again before court yesterday. "It seemed clear in my
meetings with him that he had serious psychological problems," Ramseur
He said he expects to file papers this week asking for a psychological
evaluation of Bowler's competence to stand trial. To be competent, Bowler
must understand the nature of the charges against him and be able to
assist his attorneys in his defense.
That's a different issue from sanity at the time of the offenses. The test
for sanity under Virginia law is the ability to know right from wrong and
the ability to conform one's behavior to that knowledge.
In an unusual move, authorities shackled Bowler for his courtroom
Ramseur said he understood that the sheriff's department decided to
shackle Bowler as a precaution. "There have been no particular threats or
issues that I'm aware of," he said.
Sherone Whitaker, Bowler's aunt, attended the hearing and said afterward
that she had heard reports that Bowler is pretending to be insane. A
law-enforcement source said his initial interview with police was
"He's not playing crazy," Whitaker said. "When he walked in to the
courtroom, he didn't know who I was."
Whitaker said Bowler has had psychological issues since he was 4. She said
she believed that Bowler had been treated at Central State Hospital as
recently as February.
Police allege that Bowler shot and killed Conner, 29, in the Hillside
Court apartment complex just before 7 p.m. last Wednesday. Minutes later,
police say, Bowler drove to the small shopping center in the 1800 block of
Broad Rock Boulevard and robbed and shot the 43-year-old Abdhabhani, who
was working as a clerk at James Food Store.
Bowler then entered Poly Cleaners nearby and killed Doh, 39, police
Police recovered the .357-caliber semiautomatic they believe Bowler used
in the shootings when they arrested him at a motel in eastern Henrico
County near Richmond International Airport the next day.
The pistol found at the motel and shell casings recovered near Conner's
body are crucial evidence in that death, authorities say, because no one
saw the killing.
Police say they are uncertain of the motive for the killings, but they
have been told that Bowler had a dispute with the grocery clerk over money
and that Doh had testified against Bowler when Bowler was convicted in
1994, as a juvenile, of robbing Doh.
After that conviction, Bowler was committed to what is now the Department
of Juvenile Justice until his 21st birthday.
If prosecutors win a death-penalty conviction, it would be the 5th in
Richmond since 1989. Since then, city prosecutors have obtained
capital-murder convictions in several other cases in which the defendant
was sentenced to life without parole.
(source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
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