[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, NEV., IND., PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Jun 9 23:42:33 CDT 2005
Juries may get life behind bars option----Bills seeking death penalty
reform fail to survive term
Making changes to the state's death penalty doesn't come easy in Texas,
which has executed 344 people since 1982.
Just ask Sen. Eddie Lucio, the Brownsville Democrat who fought 6 years to
give juries the option of putting capital murderers behind bars for life.
But Lucio's persistence paid off. The Legislature this session agreed to
give juries 2 sentencing options - death or life in prison with no chance
State law currently allows for life in prison, but convicts are eligible
for parole after 40 years. Lucio's legislation, which does not include the
parole option, is awaiting Gov. Rick Perry's signature.
"Texas families of capital crime victims will now have certainty that
those persons who committed such heinous crimes - but because of
mitigating circumstances cannot be sentenced to death - will never be
eligible for parole," Lucio said.
Although Lucio was successful, other lawmakers and interest groups looking
for death penalty reform went home disappointed. Several bills calling for
a moratorium or at least a study of the death penalty died, including some
that never received a hearing. The 140-day session ended May 30.
One bill by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, would have created the Texas
Innocence Commission to examine wrongful convictions and seek ways to
prevent them from happening in the future.
Another bill by Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, called for a commission
to study the death penalty in Texas. The State Bar of Texas supported
Shapleigh's legislation, but neither bill was considered by the full
Some advocates say an executive order by Perry in March halted any
momentum of those measures passing.
Perry's order created a nine-member Criminal Justice Advisory Council. The
council will review the state's criminal justice system - from the initial
stage of investigation into a crime to appellate and post-conviction
"The Criminal Justice Advisory Council will allow Texas to continually
assess our system of justice and make improvements when needed," Perry
said when he created the council. "I have great confidence in our justice
system, but no system is perfect, and we must not be afraid of asking the
questions that will lead to creating a more perfect system of justice for
all the people of Texas."
The council is expected to draft recommendations for reform before the
2007 legislative session. Perry is "fairly close'' to appointing members
to the council, which will include at least one state lawmaker, said Kathy
Walt, a spokeswoman for the governor.
Criminal justice reform advocates have generally supported creating the
new council, which they hope will bring about change.
"There is a clear recognition on the part of many legislators that the
governor's council can address many of those systemic issues that the
(innocence) commission was drafted to do," said Steve Hall, project
director for StandDown Texas, which advocates criminal justice reforms.
Texas needs to implement a series of reforms, including uniform
investigation procedures and a statewide public defender's office,
according to a recent report by the Texas Defender Service. The TDS is a
private, nonprofit law firm that works to improve indigent defense for
Texans charged with a capital crime.
"There is both unnecessary risk and compelling evidence that innocence
cases in Texas are not being discovered and that innocent persons are
incarcerated even on death row," according to the report, "Minimizing
Risk: A Blueprint for Death Penalty Reform in Texas."
Ellis said 15 Texans have been exonerated as a result of DNA testing that
proved their innocence. After Perry created his council, Ellis substituted
his innocence commission proposal with a measure to give the governor's
council subpoena power.
The legislation passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee but was never
considered by the full Senate.
One bill that lawmakers passed addresses some of Ellis' concerns. The
legislation created a new state agency, the Texas Forensic Science
Commission, which will investigate complaints of wrongdoing at crime labs.
But problems have been uncovered at some labs, especially in the Houston
Police Department, suggesting that evidence was compromised.
Meanwhile, Perry has until June 19 to sign the life without parole bill,
veto it or let it become law without his signature. The governor's office
is currently analyzing it along with hundreds of other bills, Walt said.
"It's impossible to tell, at least initially," said Hall, who served as
chief of staff to the Texas Attorney General from 1983-91. "There is the
potential that it will reduce the number of death sentences."
(source: Times Record News)
Keel's Firestorm----The mysterious death of HB 268 and SB 368
Neither the dust nor the fire has quite settled on criminal justice bills
in the 79th Legislature. Amidst a flurry of last-minute legislative
sparks, a bill that critics charged would have increased the pace of
Texas' already accelerated executions finally died. And House Bill 268
didn't go down alone - with it to the grave went long-awaited judicial pay
raises, legislative pensions, and millions in additional state funding for
In January, Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, filed legislation to revise the
qualifications for attorneys appointed to represent indigent defendants in
capital cases. While some advocates contested the provisions regarding
trial appointments, the main criticism was that Keel's proposal to extend
the mandatory qualifications to attorneys appointed to represent poor
defendants in their post-conviction writs would trigger a dormant
provision of federal death penalty law that would fast-track death cases,
speeding inmates on the death chamber assembly line - potentially without
their cases ever receiving meaningful federal court review. The so-called
"opt-in" provision of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of
1996 would shorten the time that a capital defendant has to appeal his
case to the federal courts, in essence offering deference to state court
opinions. Every state in the union has thus far avoided triggering the
At first, Keel accepted the criticism of that portion of his bill
deferentially, saying he would compromise with Senate sponsor Juan "Chuy"
Hinojosa, D-McAllen, to keep the trial appointment revisions intact but
remove the language that would trigger the federal opt-in provision. But
when the bill came out of the Senate committee there were additional
revisions to the trial appointment standards. The legislation went to
conference committee, where the bill's critics say Keel placed the opt-in
language back on the table. The conference committee version passed
through the full House with a unanimous vote, but the changes didn't go
over well in the Senate, where word quickly spread that Sen. Rodney Ellis,
D-Houston, would filibuster the measure - a promise that effectively kept
Hinojosa from calling the bill to the floor at all.
Not surprisingly, Keel did not take the news well, and on the day before
adjournment, during an extraordinary personal privilege speech on the
House floor, he announced his intention to retaliate by using a point of
order to kill SB 368, a bill that would've raised judicial salaries and,
with an Ellis-written amendment, also provide an additional $13 million in
state funding to help counties pay for indigent defense. In Keel's
recounting, Ellis' filibuster threat came up only after Keel expressed his
concern over several "questionable" amendments that the Senate reattached
to SB 368, after, he says, Ellis and SB 368's author, Sen. Robert Duncan,
R-Lubbock, had agreed to remove them. In short, Keel charged that the
senators "reneged" on the lawmakers' deal. In part, Keel said, the problem
was that the Ellis amendment providing the additional funding for indigent
defense was not germane to the body of the legislation and would certainly
die with a constitutional point of order. Despite last-minute efforts,
when the dust settled, both bills were dead.
In a June 1 press conference, Ellis told reporters that the judicial pay
raise bill had been "held hostage" by Keel as a means to force the Senate
to support HB 268. "[W]hen I refused to blink, they shot the hostage,"
Ellis said. Keel counters that he and Hinojosa bent over backwards trying
to find a way to appease Ellis' concerns about HB 268 - Keel says he even
proposed removing the habeas appeal portion of the bill. "We did
everything to try to allay those fears," about federal opt-in status, Keel
said. Hinojosa said he and Keel tried what they could but that, in the
end, the bill died because of philosophical, and not practical,
disagreements about the state's death penalty statute. "To Keel's credit,
he tried to reach an agreement" that would've passed HB 268, Hinojosa
said, "and he felt that Ellis broke a promise" by withdrawing support for
Nevertheless, Keel is taking heat across the state for axing SB 368. Texas
judges haven't had a pay raise in nearly a decade, and the state ranks
40th in the nation in judicial pay - facts that Texas Supreme Court Chief
Justice Wallace Jefferson says jeopardize the state's ability to attract
good judicial candidates and may drive seasoned jurists from the bench.
(Lawmakers passed a judicial pay raise in 2001, but Gov. Rick Perry axed
it with a line item veto during his infamous Father's Day Bill Massacre.)
In a final twist, Keel claims that Jefferson called him Sunday night on
the House floor threatening to find candidates to run against both Keel
Ellis denies that Jefferson ever threatened him, and Jefferson later said
that the whole thing was a misunderstanding - that he told Keel that it
would be hard to find judges to run for the bench without the promise of
higher compensation, but that Keel hung up on him before he could clarify.
"I don't understand the whole legislative process," Jefferson told me last
week. "But we need to do the best job that we can to retain [good]
(source: Austin Chronicle)
Testimony differs in murder trial----Witnesses conflicted on who asked for
Witnesses in the murder trial of Leonard Ray Haskins gave conflicting
testimony Wednesday about who asked for the knife believed to have led to
the 2004 death of a Dayton man.
Haskins is accused of killing James Timothy Haynes on March 20, 2004 after
a fight broke out in his apartment. His capital murder trial is in the
117th District Court.
Lynnette Sharee Maxwell testified Wednesday that she heard Maria Raquel
Rivas, Haskins' girlfriend, ask for the knife. Janice Ruiz, however, said
it was Haskins who asked for the knife.
Testimony indicated Haynes had been enticed to the apartment by Maxwell
and Rivas, who authorities describe as a prostitute.
Rivas is in custody at the Nueces County Jail on charges, including
capital murder, in connection with Haynes' death. Maxwell and Ruiz have
been indicted on a charge of tampering with evidence.
Testimony indicated that Maxwell was living at Haskins' apartment at the
time of the incident, and that Ruiz was a friend of Rivas. Co-defendant
Robert Clay, who has pleaded guilty, also was in the apartment, according
Rivas and Maxwell had convinced Haynes to come to the apartment, possibly
in exchange for sex, officials said.
Maxwell testified she was in the bathroom at the time a fight started
between Haynes, Haskins and Clay.
She said she had been out of the room for about five minutes when she
heard Rivas, ask for a knife. Maxwell testified that when she came back,
she saw Haskins stab Haynes "somewhere on his left side."
"As he was leaving he said, 'I think I'm dying,'" Maxwell testified.
Ruiz testified that she heard Haynes beg for his life and Haskins and Clay
argue about trying to get truck keys away from Haynes. Ruiz said she was
hiding in the kitchen pantry and that she heard Haskins ask for the knife.
"He (Haynes) said, 'You already got everything you wanted. Just let me
go,'" Ruiz testified.
She said Haynes made the statement during the struggle for the keys. She
said she didn't hear a physical scuffle during the argument for the keys.
Haynes crashed his pickup into a utility pole on the 2400 block of West
Broadway Street and was found slumped over the seat with a stab wound to
(source: Corpus Cristi Caller-Times)
Nevada inmate gets hug from mother, prepares for execution
A convicted murderer was taken to a cell next to the Nevada State Prison's
death chamber, where he was to be executed at 9 p.m. Thursday, after
getting a final hug from his mother and stepfather.
Robert Lee McConnell, 33, had said Wednesday he would file an available
petition to automatically stop his lethal injection unless he had the
face-to-face "contact" visit with his family.
Such visits hadn't been permitted in the days leading up to McConnell's
scheduled execution because of security concerns. In the meeting with his
family, he was shackled and couldn't hug his mother and stepfather but
"they embraced him," prison spokesman Fritz Schlottman said.
Schlottman also said McConnell asked for his final meal. A Roman Catholic,
he met with a priest on Wednesday and planned another visit prior to his
Prison officials had said McConnell's behavior indicated he'd decide to
stop his execution by appealing, and Schlottman said the condemned convict
was giving "all sorts of mixed signals" on Thursday.
McConnell, facing execution for killing his ex-girlfriend's fiance in
August 2002, told reporters Wednesday that he regrets killing Brian
Pierce, 25, instead of the woman - who he says ruined his life and
"deserved to die."
The former Reno car salesman said he was guilty of murder and didn't fear
dying - but also said he didn't deserve to die for shooting Pierce. He
called executions "state-sanctioned murder."
McConnell also was convicted of raping the woman at the Sun Valley home
she shared with Pierce. He then forced her to drive to San Mateo, Calif.,
near where McConnell was raised. She escaped when they stopped at a
service station, and he was captured later in San Francisco.
McConnell, raised in a broken home and in group homes, spent about three
years in the California Youth Authority before his release at age 21. He
said that background plus his bad temper and vindictiveness led to the
events that put him on death row.
He said he plotted for a year to carry out his crime after his former
girlfriend "done me wrong" by filing complaints against him and causing
him to lose his $10,000-a.m.onth car sales job. He added he planned to
kill the woman but instead shot Pierce, who didn't deserve to die but was
"caught in the middle."
McConnell pleaded guilty in Washoe County District Court to shooting
Pierce nine times. Prosecutors said the final shot, to the head, was fired
at such close range that it left burns on the victim.
After the shooting, prosecutors said McConnell dragged the body to a back
bedroom, tried to dig out some of the bullets that killed Pierce - and
then stabbed him with a steak knife and placed a tape of the movie "Fear"
next to the knife that was buried to the hilt in the victim's chest.
According to court and police records, McConnell, dressed in black, then
waited for the woman to return from work and attacked her.
In July 2003, a Washoe County jury sentenced McConnell to death for the
murder and to 2 life prison terms for the rape and kidnapping. He fired
his court-appointed lawyers and represented himself during the sentencing
proceedings - agreeing with a prosecutor who called him an evil man who
deserved no mercy. A mandatory, automatic appeal was later rejected by the
state Supreme Court.
McConnell would become the 12th person to die in Nevada following the U.S.
Supreme Court's ruling in the 1970s that cleared the way for capital
punishment to resume in this country. 10 of those who died in Nevada since
then were, like McConnell, volunteers who declined to file further appeals
that would have kept them alive.
The last execution in Nevada was that of Terry Jess Dennis, who died in
August 2004 for strangling a woman in a Reno motel in 1999. Also in 2004,
Lawrence Colwell Jr. was executed for strangling of an elderly tourist in
(source: Associated Press)
INDIANA----new death sentence
Baer gets death penalty for murders
Fredrick Michael Baer was sentenced to death today for murdering Cory
Clark, 26, and her 4-year-old daughter, Jenna.
Madison County Circuit Court Judge Fredrick Spencer followed the
recommendation of the jury, issued on May 20.
Baer was convicted earlier of two counts of murder for slashing Cory
Clark's throat, then killing the only witness -- her daughter -- at the
family's rural home near Lapel on Feb. 25, 2004.
During the sentencing hearing, Clark's mother, Christina Fleming, looked
at Baer as she read a statement.
"Your vicious, random acts, your total disregard for human life, changed
our family forever. 2 precious human beings, two of God's children, can
never be replaced," she said.
Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said he was satisfied with Baer's death
"If you don't have the death penalty in this case, what case would the
death penalty ever be appropriate for?" he said.
Defense attorney, Jeff Lockwood, said Baer, who apologized for the
killings during the hearing, is genuinely remorseful.
The defense argued unsuccessfully at trial that Baer was guilty but
Baer's lawyers argued during the sentencing phase that he had experienced
a tough childhood and adolescence, which included family strife and drug
(source: Indianapolis Star)
PENNSYLVANIA----stay of execution
Judge stays execution of 4-year-old's killer
A judge stayed the August execution of a man convicted of sexually
assaulting and killing a 4-year-old girl in Philadelphia in 1988.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge David Savitt on Wednesday gave Walter J.
Ogrod more time to pursue post-conviction appeals.
Ogrod, 40, was convicted in 1996 of killing Barbara Jean Horn of Northeast
Philadelphia. Police said he crushed her head with a metal bar and then
left her body in a cardboard box for garbage collection.
(source: Associated Press)
Death-row visit----A memorable day with Mumia Abu-Jamal; BSCI-Greene
Prison in Waynesburg, Pa.
Visiting someone in prison can be one of lifes most heartbreaking
As you approach the prison, you cant help but be affected by the
impenetrable thick brick walls topped with coils of barbed wire - or by
the steady stream of women and children, disproportionately people of
color, who have traveled from far distances to visit their loved ones, who
are spending years locked up in steel cages, sometimes for 23-and-a-half
This is the situation that death-row political prisoner and revolutionary
journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal has faced for almost 23 years now.
Larry Holmes and I took a seven-hour car trip to visit with Mumia on June
5 at the remote SCI-Greene prison unit near the West Virginia border.
After going through the standard security checkpoints to get to the
visiting area, we came face to face with a handcuffed, smiling Mumia.
Separated by a plexiglass barrier, Larry and I instinctively press our
hands up against the glass to meet Mumias hands, even with the knowledge
that human contact is almost forbidden under these unimaginable
Yet somehow the omnipresent physical barriers take a back seat during a
face-to-face meeting with Mumia. Since he is allowed only one visit per
week, excluding his lawyers, we decided to make every minute count. As it
turned out, the six hours that we spent with him went by so quickly.
He said that he is in relatively good health and that the swelling in his
feet had gone down. This has been an ongoing problem due to prison
When we asked him about the May 27 Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas
dismissal of his request for a new Post Conviction Relief Act hearing,
Mumia stated that this came to no surprise given the biased nature of the
Mumia can no longer receive important news sources like C-Span because of
The bulk of our political discussion focused on the problems and prospects
facing the anti-war movement in light of the deepening Iraqi resistance
and the outcome of the 2004 U.S. presidential elections, the development
of the Black-led Million Workers March Movement, the upcoming Millions
More March this October, and the growing impact of immigrant workers
rights on the overall labor movement.
We also discussed the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Montgomery bus
boycott, which helped launch the modern civil rights struggle, and how to
best impart the important lessons this event can have on todays struggle
against war, racism and cutbacks. Mumia shared with us his fond memories
of his last visit with the actor Ossie Davis, who remained a committed
activist until his recent death.
When we were forced to say good-bye and leave him behind, Mumia flashed
his stunning smile and with his cuffed hands in fists, told us to tell
everyone to keep up the good fight. Larry and I left the prison sad but
also so grateful for time that we spent with this remarkable revolutionary
leader and comrade in the struggle.
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners!
(source: Workers World -- Monica Moorehead and Larry Holmes are members of
Workers World Partys secretariat, an elected body of WWPs national
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