[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, USA, FLA., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Mar 16 09:50:12 CST 2005
2 men charged with killing Dobie student in murder-for-hire
It began with a fight over a girl a few months ago. It ended Tuesday with
4 people in custody in what police said was a murder-for-hire plot that
left a J. Frank Dobie High School senior dead.
Police said the slaying netted the accused killers - 2 former Dobie
students - $46, about 1/10 what they had been promised.
Steven Tridung Trinh, 18, and Michael The Tran, 20, were being held
without bail Tuesday at the Harris County Jail. They are charged with
capital murder in the fatal shooting of Luan Cong Pham, 18, at his
southeast Houston home last month.
Investigators said the pair were promised $450 to kill Pham, who was
scheduled to testify against 2 cousins who had beaten him up on campus
"They were promised $450 to kill (Pham) but they only received $46,"
Houston police homicide detective Steven Straughter said.
Another Dobie student and his cousin, who is attending the Pasadena
Independent School District's alternative education center, could face
charges of soliciting capital murder, police said. The cousins were being
questioned by detectives Tuesday night.
"This is certainly highly unusual and disturbing," Pasadena ISD spokesman
Kirk Lewis said. "It's baffling and certainly, to reasonable people, makes
absolutely no sense whatsoever."
Pham was discovered by his mother and stepfather after they returned to
their home in the 9500 block of Tree Bridge Feb. 23. His father, who came
home first, initially thought his son was asleep on the couch, face down
with a pillow over his head. It was not until his wife returned a couple
hours later that they discovered he had been killed.
He had been shot 5 or 6 times. Several bullet casings were found near the
body, police said.
>From the beginning, detectives began to focus on the problems Pham had
been having with another student at the school.
"One of the guys who did the hiring was dating the young lady. She is a
current student at Dobie High," Straughter said. "The victim started
liking the young lady, also."
Police said the 2 cousins accused of orchestrating the crime attacked Pham
on campus a couple of months prior to his death and were facing assault
charges. Their trial was scheduled to begin the week Pham was killed.
"The men who did the hiring did not want this victim to come to court,"
Police said the cousins offered Trinh and Tran $450 to split and gave them
a gun. The pair went to Pham's home together. Because there were no signs
of a break-in, investigators said an unsuspecting Pham may have let the
killers into his house.
After Pham fell asleep, Tran held a pillow over the young man's head and
Trinh began firing the gun, according to the criminal complaint filed in
Investigators said the 2 later returned the gun and demanded the $450, but
only received a token payment of $46.
Pham's family could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Neighbors said the
family was preparing to move because they could not bear to live in the
house where their son was killed.
The killing shocked students and staff at Dobie. A widely circulated rumor
that the campus was going to be the scene of further violence in
retaliation for the killing prompted some students to leave school early
March 6, the day before spring break began.
Lewis said school security has been increased, with about eight police
officers now patrolling the campus.
"We feel a little bit better with all of the parties that are allegedly
involved in custody," Lewis said. "We're going to continue additional
security until we get some more official word."
The district has made counselors available to students and staff since the
slaying, Lewis said.
"The teachers have done a magnificent job of talking with students and
allowing them to express their concerns and vent," he said. "The obvious
goal is to try to return to some sense of normalcy over the next few
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Panel OKs life terms without parole----Measure heads to full Senate; foes
say it'd weaken death penalty
Texas jurors would have the option of sentencing a killer to life in
prison without the possibility of parole under a measure that passed a
Senate committee Tuesday.
Sen. Eddie Lucio, the bill's author, says he's not trying to attack the
death penalty. Lawmakers voted, 4-2, to send the bill to the full Senate,
where a similar proposal died two years ago.
Supporters believe the measure stands a better chance this time because
recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings declared that states cannot execute
offenders who are mentally retarded or who committed their crimes at age
17. Current law provides only one other option: life in prison with the
possibility to petition for parole after 40 years of confinement.
Sen. Eddie Lucio, the bill's author, said his proposal would strip away
that possibility, giving peace of mind to victims' families who worry a
killer will one day leave prison.
"Life without parole is the only option in a capital case that provides
certainty for the victims," said Mr. Lucio, D-Brownsville.
But many Republicans, along with some prosecutors and victim advocates,
say the bill complicates the sentencing process and would make jurors less
willing to apply the death penalty.
Under Mr. Lucio's bill, jurors would have 3 options: life in prison with
the possibility of parole after 40 years, life in prison with no ability
to seek parole, or a death sentence.
"My problem is they might use it as a compromise instead of reaching a
true decision," said Roe Wilson, an assistant district attorney in Harris
County who testified against the bill.
Many urban-county prosecutors, including those from Dallas and Harris
counties, oppose the provision for life sentences without parole. Harris
County leads the state in the number of inmates sent to death row, and
Dallas is 2nd.
Mr. Lucio said he is gathering the 21 votes he needs to pass the bill in
the Senate. But opposition from some district attorneys remains stiff, he
Lawmakers who won't support the measure have cited prosecutors' opposition
as a main factor, Mr. Lucio said.
Justice for All, an influential victims' rights group from Houston,
accused Mr. Lucio of essentially attacking the death penalty. Mr. Lucio
describes himself as a death-penalty supporter.
"It will not make it past the House," said Rusty Hubbarth, vice president
of Justice for All. "If it does, it is my hope that it does not make it
past the governor."
Gov. Rick Perry has not announced his position on the provision for life
without parole. But Mr. Perry has encouraged the Legislature to debate the
measure's pros and cons and determine whether it should be added to the
penal code, said Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for the governor.
Some of the measure's opponents also contend that taking away the prospect
of parole would remove the most powerful incentive to behave in prison.
But the bill's supporters say research using Missouri inmates shows
"If anything, they [lifetime inmates] are less likely to be involved in
violence in prison," said Mark D. Cunningham, a forensic psychologist from
Lewisville who presented the findings.
(source: Associated Press)
When the Bush administration recently bowed to a world court ruling and
ordered states to hear claims that 51 Mexicans on U.S. death rows were
unfairly denied access to Mexican diplomatic aid, it raised hopes that the
government had decided to respect the treaties the United States has
approved. But days later, we hear the administration is back to its
separatist ways, declaring itself free of the very same agreement from now
While the administration is careful to say it will still follow the Vienna
Convention on Consular Relations, which requires governments to allow
detained foreigners to meet with representatives from their embassies, it
will not recognize the "optional protocol" - the world court's authority
to enforce the convention. That takes the teeth out of the convention,
making it merely sound advice, and leaves the door open for all the other
signatories who may not have offered a U.S. citizen consular access to
also consider the protocol optional.
Why renounce this commitment now, when the treaty has been in force for
more than three decades? Because the International Court of Justice in The
Hague (the world court) is telling the administration what to do: Follow
the international rules past administrations negotiated, pushed on other,
more-reluctant countries and committed ourselves to back in 1969 - rules
that the United States was the first to take advantage of, successfully
suing Iran after 52 Americans were held hostage in that country in 1979.
The world court is not a court of opinion; it is a court of legal means.
Walking away from a negotiated and signed agreement is a bad-faith breach
of contract. And a poor precedent: What if other nations decide tomorrow
to walk away from enforcing protections on, let's say, U.S. patents and
It is not clear that the United States can unilaterally withdraw: Such a
thing is usually done through negotiation. The timing isn't clear: Under
international law, a nation must give 12 months' notice of intent to
withdraw from such agreements. It isn't even merely the president's call:
The Senate approves and disapproves treaties.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is currently traveling the globe
seeking foreign cooperation. But she signed the letter to the United
Nations saying the United States won't cooperate.
That signature sends the louder message. And the wrong one.
(source: Opinion, Baltimore Sun)
School news: Sarasota public defender interested in death row inmate's
case----Lawyer offers to help Lely students, teacher in effort to free man
they believe is innocent
A Sarasota public defender has offered to help some Lely High School
students and their teacher in their quest to free a man from death row.
Elliott Metcalfe Jr., public defender for Florida's 12th Judicial Circuit
- whose jurisdiction covers Sarasota, DeSoto and Manatee counties - told
the Eagle on March 13 that he would see what he could do, although he
first needs to learn more about the case involving Gregory Capehart, who
was convicted of 1st-degree murder in 1989.
John Dwyer, an English teacher at Lely High, met Metcalfe during an
unrelated event in Sarasota last weekend. Dwyer told Metcalfe about the
case and Metcalfe immediately became interested, Dwyer said.
"This could be a breakthrough for us," Dwyer said March 13. "I met
(Metcalfe) in a serendipitous situation when I heard him give a lecture on
the death penalty."
Capehart was accused of the Feb. 4, 1988, smothering death of Marlene
Reaves, 62, in her Dade City apartment. He was convicted of the crime a
year later, but he has always maintained his innocence. In 1989, he
entered death row at Florida State Prison in Raiford.
At the time, DNA testing was not available. Dwyer and his students believe
that if Capehart - who is asking for the test himself - is given a DNA
test, it could prove his innocence.
But none of his defense attorneys - he's had 3 since his incarceration -
has requested the test, and a judge in Pasco County, where the crime was
committed, refuses to order it.
Judge Wayne Cobb said he remembered Capehart's case but didn't recall the
ruling. He wouldn't discuss it further with the Eagle.
Dwyer said he and his students will continue to send letters to Cobb
asking him to approve a DNA test for Capehart.
Lionel Decius, 18, a Lely High senior, organized a student rally earlier
this month at the Collier County Courthouse in Naples to gather signatures
on a petition and round up more support for Capehart's cause.
"We're not giving up on this," Dwyer said. "There's too much pointing to
Gregory's innocence. I believe he is innocent. I'm sure we're at least
causing a disturbance. I hope we're causing some concern."
(source: Naples Daily News)
THE PETERSON CASE -- Motion for new trial and rebuttal released; Judge's
ruling, sentencing both set for Wednesday
Scott Peterson's double-murder conviction should be thrown out and his
case retried, defense attorney Mark Geragos argues in a legal motion made
public Monday that cites 13 reasons for a new trial, including jury
misconduct and the discovery of new evidence.
However, prosecutors who convicted Peterson in the slayings of his wife,
Laci, and unborn son, Conner, say in a rebuttal -- also made public Monday
- - that Geragos is rehashing many legal issues already ruled on during
last year's trial. They criticize Geragos, likening him to the "boy who
Judge Alfred Delucchi is expected to hear oral arguments and rule on
whether to grant a new trial on Wednesday, the day Peterson is scheduled
to be formally sentenced in a Redwood City courtroom.
The San Mateo County jury that found Peterson guilty of the double murder
recommended that the 32-year-old former fertilizer salesman be sentenced
In his 135-page motion for a new trial, Geragos accuses prosecutors of
withholding evidence during the trial that could have exonerated Peterson.
According to the filing, prosecutors failed to turn over information
relating to a taped phone conversation between a state prison inmate and
his brother that occurred just four weeks after Laci Peterson disappeared.
In the conversation, the inmate says Laci Peterson confronted his friend
as he was robbing her neighbor's house on Dec. 24, 2002. If true, Laci
Peterson would have been alive after her husband left on his now-infamous
fishing trip to the Berkeley Marina, and Geragos maintains that the tip
provides a "powerful alternative theory as to what happened to Laci."
But in the rebuttal, prosecutor David Harris writes that the "new
evidence" was not new at all and had been turned over to the defense team
in May 2003, more than a year before Peterson's trial began in Redwood
City in June.
"The defense cannot escape the fact that they had the tip sheet," Harris
The new motions reveal details about the behind-the-scenes upheaval that
led to the removal of 2 jurors. In his motion, Geragos maintains that
Delucchi erred when he excused 2 of the jurors.
Just 3 weeks into the trial, Delucchi excused a juror named Justin
Falconer. At the time, it was widely reported that Delucchi removed
Falconer after he was caught on tape greeting Laci Peterson's brother as
they entered the courthouse. But according to the 2 motions, Delucchi
removed Falconer days later, after another juror complained that he'd been
talking about the case outside of court, which is prohibited by law.
Delucchi told lawyers for the two sides that he nixed Falconer from the
panel because he believed he was "a cancer" in the jury room, who would
never follow his admonitions to not speak about the case.
Geragos also said the judge offered "no good cause" when he removed
another juror in the middle of deliberations. That juror, Burlingame
resident Greg Jackson, who was known as a doctor-lawyer and briefly served
as the panel's foreman, was removed after he told Delucchi he felt
threatened by other jurors and thought he could no longer weigh the
evidence fairly because he felt pressure from the community to bring back
"the popular verdict." Jackson also told the judge that he had discussed
the case with another juror outside the jury deliberation room, which is
forbidden by law.
Geragos also cites the following reasons for a new trial:
-- An experiment conducted by jurors on Peterson's boat. During
deliberations, 2 jurors got into the boat and rocked it back and forth.
One of the jurors tried to simulate throwing a body overboard. Prosecutors
believe that Peterson transported his wife's body to the bay in the back
of his boat and then dumped it overboard. Geragos said the jurors' test on
the boat is forbidden by the law.
-- Delucchi's refusal to allow jurors to see a defense video demonstration
of someone trying to throw a body from an identical boat. According to the
motion, the demonstration was conducted on the bay near the spot where
Peterson was fishing on the day his wife disappeared and close to the
location where Laci Peterson's body and that of the baby were later found.
Geragos said the video showed that his client could not have dumped a body
the way prosecutors said he had because the boat flipped over during the
-- The admission of recordings of Peterson's phone conversations with his
girlfriend Amber Frey and with family members. In several conversations,
Peterson is caught wooing Frey and lying to her, his mother and other
family members. Geragos maintains that it had nothing to do with his
wife's disappearance and that its only value was to prejudice the jury
against his client.
-- The judge's refusal to grant a 2nd change-of-venue motion. Geragos
argued that the pretrial publicity in the Bay Area poisoned the jury pool,
making it impossible for his client to get a fair trial.
(source: San Francisco Chronicle)
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