[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Mar 18 16:37:16 CST 2005
A wider death-penalty lawyer pool----Bill clears need for experience in
representing capital defendants
Former prosecutors with no experience as defense attorneys could qualify
for appointment to death penalty cases under a bill given preliminary
House approval Thursday.
House Bill 268 would create a larger pool of attorneys who could be
appointed to represent indigent defendants, said House
CriminalJurisprudence Committee Chairman Terry Keel, R-Austin, author of
The House voted unanimously in favor of the bill. A final vote is
Under current law, an attorney must have experience as lead defense
counsel in a significant number of felony cases, including homicide
trials, before being appointed to a death penalty case.
Keel's bill would require attorneys to "exhibit proficiency and commitment
to providing quality representation to defendants in death penalty cases"
and to receive training.
Supporters say former prosecutors have experience and skills that defense
attorneys lack, such as the ability to anticipate the prosecution's
strategy and cross-examination.
"This bill makes Texas standards the best in the nation in terms of
qualifications," Keel said.
Critics say the bill is a step backward in efforts to improve the quality
of lawyers who defend individuals on trial for their lives.
"The idea that you're going to improve the quality of lawyers by lowering
the standards and expanding the pool of lawyers who are able to get
appointed is exactly the opposite of what's needed to improve capital
defendant representation," said Bill Beardall, director of the Equal
Andrea Marsh, director of the Fair Defense Project of the ACLU of Texas,
said death penalty cases are the "wrong kind of case to have someone
learning as they go along."
Keel said his bill would for the 1st time require attorneys to have
experience selecting a jury in a death penalty case as part of a
prosecution or defense trial team. It also would prohibit the appointment
of anyone found to have rendered ineffective assistance during a trial or
appeal of a criminal case.
Beardall and Marsh are supporting the Fair Defense Improvement Act, Senate
Bill 1218, filed by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.
That bill would boost state funding for indigent defense to reduce the
financial burden on Texas counties, which pay for 90 % of the legal fees.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Atascosa is denied rehearing in ambush
Texas' highest criminal appeals court has denied Atascosa County's request
for a new hearing after the justices overturned the 2001 capital murder
conviction of Kenneth Vodochodsky last year.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reasserted in its decision Wednesday
that the evidence against Vodochodsky, 24, was circumstantial and "so weak
as to undermine confidence in the jury's determination."
The appeals court remanded the case back to the trial court.
District Attorney Ren Pea of the 81st Judicial District said he has 15
days to decide what action his office will take next.
"I need to assess the situation and assess the case," he said Thursday.
"As you know, it's something that happened when I wasn't here (as district
attorney). Obviously, if we need to retry the case, we will."
A Karnes County jury sentenced Vodochodsky to death in connection with the
Oct. 12, 1999, shooting death of Atascosa County Sheriff's Deputy Thomas
Monse was 1 of 3 officers ambushed and killed near Pleasanton. The other 2
officers killed were Deputy Mark Stephenson and Texas Department of Public
Safety Trooper Terry Miller.
Pea said he also is evaluating other indictments his office has pending
against Vodochodsky, including the attempted capital murder of former
Pleasanton Police Officer Louis Tudyk.
Vodochodsky was convicted for being an accessory in Monse's death.
Vodochodsky's friend and roommate, Jeremiah Engleton, killed the officers
as each drove to the suspects' mobile home outside of Pleasanton. Engleton
committed suicide later that night during a shootout with officers.
In a 6-2 ruling on April 21, the appellate court reversed Vodochodsky's
conviction and death sentence because the evidence was "factually
"None of (Vodochodsky's) statements directly refer to killing police
officers," the opinion said. "His statements are devoid of information on
the details of the alleged murder plot, and there is no other information
in the record suggesting that Vodochodsky was planning the event with
"Vodochodsky removed belongings from the house, but there is no proof that
he did so as part of a murderous plot."
In their motion for a rehearing, prosecutors allege the appeals court
erred "by failing to consider significant evidence that supports the
Specifically, prosecutors allege key pieces of evidence were omitted from
a report that the majority of the court's judges compiled about the facts
of the case.
Pea said whatever the outcome, "our main concern for people to understand
is that we have other indictments pending against Vodochodsky."
(source: San Antonio Express-News)
Andre Thomas transferred to death row
Andre Thomas left Grayson County Wednesday headed for Texas' death row.
The 21-year-old man, who was convicted last week of capital murder in the
death of Leyha Marie Hughes, left the county just 1 day before his 22nd
Grayson County Sheriff Keith Gary said his staff took Thomas to McKinney
and the state people picked him up there. He will be going to the Byrd
unit at Hunstville for classification. Gary said Thomas will then likely
be sent to the Polansky unit near Livingston in Polk County.
Once Thomas arrives there, he will likely be placed in a single inmate
cell that measures 60 square feet and has a window. He will be allowed out
to exercise, but he will not be allowed to mix with other inmates on death
row. The Texas Department of Corrections press information on death row
says that inmates there are allowed writing, reading and legal research
material. Some inmates are also allowed to have a radio "This is a great
relief for us. He has been on suicide watch ever since he has been in our
jail," Gary said. That, Gary said, meant a round the clock watch on
For instance, employees had to make sure that Thomas left his hand
restraints, called mittens, on all of the time.
"The only time he has been out of his mittens is when he is eating or
going to the restroom," Gary said. He said the mittens were introduced to
the situation after Thomas removed his own eye.
"It was for his safety so he didn't injure himself further."
Gary said transferring Thomas out of the Grayson County Jail frees up one
of the 3 holding cells.
"Now, maybe we can go back to using it for the purpose it was designed
for," Gary said.
He said having Thomas out of the jail also drops the stress level in the
jail. After guards rushed to Thomas' aid when he removed his own eye, they
never really knew what he might try to do. Gary was quick to say that
after Thomas returned from a state mental hospital, he did not pose any
further discipline problems to the jail staff.
"He was very quiet and rarely said anything to anyone unless asked a
question," Gary said in describing the man who admitted to police that he
kicked in Laura Thomas' door and stabbed her, their son, Andre Boren and
her daughter Leyha.
Gary said he asked his staff if Thomas acted any differently after he was
returned to the Grayson County jail following the death sentence, and was
told Thomas showed no reaction at all to the sentence.
Gary said he will be in the Grayson County Commissioner's Court Monday
with a report about the amount of money the trial security will cost the
county. He said he had to have five security personnel working the trial
each day and that meant someone had to fill in for those people at the
jail. That required some workers to accrue over time.
"It will be less than the $38,000 that we had originally estimated," Gary
said. He added that the security will probably come in under $30,000.
(source: Herald Deomcrat)
All 58 counts to remain in smuggling trial
A federal judge decided Friday to keep all 58 counts in place against a
truck driver being tried for his role in the deaths of 19 illegal
immigrants in the nation's deadliest smuggling attempt.
U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore told prosecutors Thursday that they
had failed to prove that Tyrone Williams was guilty of harboring illegal
immigrants by transporting them in a tractor-trailer in May 2003. She
asked both sides to submit arguments on the issue.
Friday, Gilmore said evidence supported the charges of harboring.
She said she raised the issue because "it appears that defendant is being
twice charged for the same conduct. But I think that that ultimately is a
The issue of whether the 19 counts of harboring should be dropped came as
the prosecution ended its case. Defense lawyer Craig Washington was to
open his defense Friday with what he said would be his single witness -- a
meteorologist. He did not explain why he was calling a weather expert to
Williams is charged with 58 counts of harboring and transporting more than
70 illegal immigrants from South Texas in his sweltering tractor-trailer.
Prosecutors say Williams abandoned his trailer at a truck stop near
Victoria, about 100 miles southwest of Houston.
Nineteen of the counts Williams faces relate to harboring. He also faces
one count of conspiracy, 19 counts of transporting immigrants in a manner
that resulted in their deaths and another 19 counts of transporting
immigrants in a manner that resulted in serious injury.
"I'm trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," Gilmore said of
prosecutors' efforts to show her that Williams is guilty of harboring.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Rodriguez argued prosecutors proved
Williams concealed the immigrants, which is what they needed to show under
the harboring statute.
Earlier Thursday, Fatima Holloway, one of the prosecution's key witnesses,
concluded her testimony.
Holloway said an ex-boyfriend paid her to accompany Williams from
Cleveland, Ohio, to a drug deal in Houston but she was unwittingly caught
up in the smuggling attempt when the drug deal was delayed.
She told jurors the immigrants inside Williams' tractor-trailer constantly
banged against its walls during the smuggling attempt, deflating Williams'
key defense that he was unaware the immigrants were suffering, let alone
dying, in the back of the truck.
"You didn't know what they were banging about." said defense lawyer Craig
Holloway, 30, responded she did know: "They wanted to get out."
Prosecutors contend Williams ignored the immigrants' screaming and banging
Holloway has pleaded guilty in the case and is out on bond. She is set to
be sentenced June 20.
Federal law allows for the death penalty in smuggling cases. Williams is
the only 1 of 14 defendants who could be executed.
(source: Associated Press)
Catholics say priest killer's commutation is appropriate
Southeast Texas Catholic leaders said Thursday they agreed with a Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals decision earlier this week to take a mentally
retarded man who killed a priest off death row.
The man, David DeBlanc, now 49, was convicted of capital murder in the
1983 killing of the Rev. Henry Bouchie, 68, of Our Mother of Mercy
Catholic Church in Ames, a tiny community on U.S. 90 just east of Liberty.
Bouchie was killed in the church rectory.
Members of the Southeast Texas Catholic community said executing DeBlanc,
whose sentence was ordered commuted Wednesday, would be hateful.
"We must keep in mind the protection and security of the public," said Al
O'Brien, director of the Criminal Justice Ministry of the Diocese of
Beaumont. "Keeping (DeBlanc) on death row would only compound the
situation of violence. He won't be let out of prison, and that's the
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court banned execution of the mentally retarded.
And locally, at least 2 other death row inmates have had hearings to
determine possible mental retardation in the last three years.
Last year, Port Arthur resident Walter Bell, who had been on death row
since 1975, was sentenced to life in prison after a determination he was
In the other death row inmate case, Port Arthur resident Elroy Chester,
who pleaded guilty to murdering Port Arthur firefighter Willie Ryman III,
did not successfully prove mental retardation.
"More and more, the inmate's mental state has been critical to cases and
we've seen it several times in this region," said Liberty County District
Attorney Michael Little.
"There are many people with low IQs that function fine in society and
don't kill people. It's disappointing to make assumptions of low scores,
but now legally they are mentally retarded," Little said.
O'Brien said after Bouchie's horrific death, the faithful had to turn
closer to "applying the gospel in our lives."
O'Brien said this court order has challenged him to look at ways to reduce
crime and spread kindness by concentrating on improving family life first.
Michael Jamail, diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Beaumont, said
"The decision to remove DeBlanc from death row fits into the Catholic
teaching to use this option sparingly, if at all."
Jamail added that Bouchie was devoted to the people of Ames and served
After a murder occurs, it is easy to be consumed by hate for the killer,
"But it is in times like these when we must put those feelings aside and
learn to forgive in order to find peace," he said.
(source: The Beaumont Enterprise )
Innocence Issues: How Safe is the Death Penalty? Very.
To: All Texas State Legislators and Texas Governor Rick Perry
cc: Texas District Attorneys
Innocence Issues: How Safe is the Death Penalty? Very.
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below
The innocents deception of death penalty opponents has been getting
exposure for many years. Recently though, even the behemoth of anti death
penalty newspapers -- The New York Times -- has recognized that deception.
"To be sure, 30 or 40 categorically innocent people have been released
from death row . . . ". ' (1)
This when death penalty opponents are claiming the release of 118
"innocents" from death row. The deceptions of those opponents were not
broadly exposed, earlier, because most in the media had forgotten to fact
check . Death penalty opponents never required actual innocence in order
for cases to be added to their "exonerated" or "innocents" list.
A few of us have been publicly and actively exposing these deceptions, at
least since 1998. The acknowledgment of this problem is just now being
readily accepted -- "To be sure".
I believe that one would have a hard time finding 20-25 "categorically
innocent" people released from death row, who were prosecuted during the
modern US death penalty, after 1972, post Furman v Georgia.
During that same, post Furman period, about 7500 have been sentenced to
death. We now know of a 0.3% error rate (0.4%, using Liptak's lower
number) for sentencing actually innocent people to death.
None were executed -- meaning both trial and appeals have seen a 100%
record in executing the guilty and sparing the innocent.
Appeals are an inescapable part of the death penalty system. Appeals
review claims of both legal and actual innocence errors.
We all know and, reluctantly, accept that a certain percentage of actual
innocents will be convicted. Locating actual innocents is the original
foundation for appeals.
Obviously, the pre trial and trial portion of the system did not work
properly in those 0.3-0.4% of cases.
However, could anyone have predicted a system that was 99.6-99.7% accurate
in finding actual guilt and raising that number to 100%, on appeal, by
sparing actual innocents the carrying out of that sentence?
12-13 of the released cases are DNA exonerations, although I think one of
those had multiple offenders and is, therefore, not conclusive.
If we accept that the best predictor of future performance is past
performance, we can reasonable conclude that the DNA cases will be
excluded prior to trial, and that for the next 7500 death sentences, that
we will experience a 99.8-99.9% accuracy rate in actual guilt convictions.
This accuracy rate does not include the many additional safeguards that
have been added to the system.
Have there been some horrible, inexcusable cases? Yes. Tragically all
professions have that.
Does the death penalty system try to find and remedy those cases? Yes.
Based upon the accuracy of the actually guilty convicted and the appellate
record of identifying actual innocents, is there a more accurate criminal
justice practice in the world? Maybe not.
Why would any prosecutor say that this is proof that the system work.
We have our answer.
Furthermore, without the death penalty, the evidence is clear that many
more innocents are at risk.
There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.
Is execution an enhanced incapacitator?
Living murderers are infinitely more likely to harm and murder,again, than
are executed murderers. Who would have known?
Is the death penalty a deterrent?
7 recent studies, as well as the anecdotal evidence, say yes. Is there any
negative consequence that doesn't deter some folks. Of course not.
Spare murderers lives and sacrifice more innocents. Execute murderers and
spare more innocents.
Full report - All Innocence Issues: The Death Penalty, upon request.
(1) "The Death of Innocents': A Reasonable Doubt", New York Times, Adam
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters----e-mail sharpjfa at aol.com, 713-622-5491,
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS, BBC and many
other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour
with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers
throughout the world and is a published author.
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted
interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death
penalty, extensively and internationally.
(source: D. Sharp)
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