[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----FLA., OHIO, CALIF., VA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Mar 30 18:40:09 CST 2005
New sentencing for only woman on Florida's death row
Citing a flawed defense, a judge has granted a new sentencing hearing for
the only woman on Florida's death row.
Virginia Larzelere, 52, of Edgewater was sentenced to die for scheming to
get at her husband's insurance by hiring her son to gun him down in his
dental office as a patient sat in the waiting room in 1991. A jury split
7-5 in favor of the death penalty.
Her son, Jason Larzelere, was acquitted of killing his adoptive father and
accepted a $75,000 insurance settlement in 1994. He was 18 at the time of
the slaying by a masked gunman.
Volusia Circuit Judge John Watson, who presided over the mother's 1992
trial, released an order Monday saying her lawyers did not present
important evidence during the original penalty phase. The Florida Supreme
Court unanimously affirmed her conviction in 1996.
Watson concluded her attorneys did not spend enough time preparing for the
penalty phase and noted her jury did not hear evidence about her mental
health and that she had been sexually abused as a child.
"I wish her the best," said attorney John R. Howes, one of Larzelere's
lawyers in the early 1990s. "Any time someone gets a death sentence
overturned, God bless them. I don't want her executed. God bless her."
Wrongly Convicted Could Seek $200,000 From State
Faced with the case of a man who spent 22 years in prison for a rape he
didn't commit, a House panel Wednesday approved a proposal that would let
innocent people who are wrongfully imprisoned seek either $200,000 or a
package of health and education benefits. The offer, though, falls far
short of what Wilton Dedge wants from the state, his lawyer told the House
"You don't have very much and what you've got is not very good," said
Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar
Association and Florida State University.
Seven months after being cleared by DNA results, Dedge is facing a hard
battle in his fight for restitution.
Dedge wants lawmakers to give him $5 million for the nearly 8,000 days he
spent in prison, for his lost wages, the money his family spent to defend
and visit him and the work done by the lawyers who fought for his
The House proposal would simply allow Dedge and others like him to ask the
Legislature for the $200,000 or benefits package. It would not prohibit
people from seeking a larger amount from the Legislature if they have won
Dedge hasn't filed a lawsuit.
D'Alemberte reminded the committee that the state had fully compensated
citrus growers whose trees were destroyed in the 1980s after the state
mistakenly believed they were contaminated by canker.
"If we care about the taking of property, there should be full
compensation for the taking of liberty," D'Alemberte said.
Rep. John Quinones, who chairs the committee, said the state can't "put a
price on liberty."
"There's no way we're going to be able to compensate someone wholly," said
D'Alemberte pointed to the cost of the work that Dedge had done in prison
- and the costs incurred by his parents, who spent their retirement
savings and mortgaged their house to defend him.
"Does the state have any sense of moral responsibility for returning the
value of labor?" he asked.
Quinones and D'Alemberte agreed that not many people would be eligible for
the proposed process, which wouldn't apply to people who pleaded guilty or
Jennifer Greenberg, director of the Florida Innocence Initiative, said the
idea was "woefully inadequate all the way around."
"The damage done to these folks by the state is all-encompassing, is
devastating," she said, adding it's not simply a matter of depriving
someone of a normal life.
"It is survival in the most brutal living conditions in our state," she
Paul Harvill, a former investigator for state lawyers representing death
row inmates, called the bill shameful.
"The bill is simply, in my opinion, inadequate justice and compensation,"
Harvill said people in state prison and county jail live in fear of being
raped or stabbed.
"Incarcerated, you feel like you're the walking dead," he said. "And you
may end up dead."
(source for both: Associated Press)
Death row appeal denied by supreme court
The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear an appeal from an Ohio
prisoner who is one of the longest-serving death row inmates in the state
for the 1982 killing of a postal worker.
John Spirko claimed the state's case against him was weakened when death
penalty charges against his co-defendant were dropped last year. Spirko,
who has maintained that he's innocent of the murder, also says prosecutors
withheld key evidence and presented a false case.
An important element of the Van Wert County prosecutor's case was a
witness who recognized co-defendant Delaney Gibson, a friend of Spirko,
near the Elgin post office on Aug. 9, 1982, the day that postmistress
Betty Jane Mottinger, 48, disappeared.
Mottinger's body was found a month later in a soybean field 50 miles from
the northwest Ohio town, wrapped in a paint- splattered curtain. She had
been stabbed about 15 times in the chest and stomach. Her purse and
approximately $750 in cash, postage stamps and money orders were missing
from the Elgin post office, police said.
Spirko contacted police in October 1982 and offered to trade information
about her death in exchange for help on unrelated assault charges. Police
said Spirko told them details of the killing that the public could not
have known, but Spirko's lawyers said that information could have come
from secondhand repetition rather than by participation.
No physical evidence tied Spirko to the murder. He was convicted of the
killing based largely on his statements to police and the testimony of the
eyewitness who had seen Gibson near the post office. Prosecutors had
alleged that Spirko participated in the kidnapping and killing of
Mottinger along with Gibson.
In an appeal, Spirko's lawyers argued that Gibson could not have kidnapped
Mottinger because he was eight hours away in Asheville, N.C., the night
before the woman disappeared.
Gibson was charged in the Mottinger killing, but was convicted in an
unrelated murder and served time in a prison in Kentucky from 1983 to
2001. Van Wert County Prosecutor Charles Kennedy said charges against
Gibson were dropped because by the time he was released, the case against
him was too old to try.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld Spirko's conviction and
Spirko, who remains at the Mansfield Correctional Institution, was
sentenced to die in 1984. About 5 Ohio inmates sentenced to death in 1983
also remain on death row, prison system spokeswoman Andrea Dean said.
"Pending any other further appeals, we will move forward and ask the Ohio
Supreme Court to set an execution date," said Kim Norris, a spokeswoman
for Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro.
Messages seeking comment were left Monday for Spirko's attorney, Thomas C.
The case is Spirko v. Bradshaw, 04-972.
(source: Associated Press)
A $5 million wrongful death lawsuit filed in 2003 against convicted killer
Scott Peterson has been amended to seek $25 million.
The move came Monday as the father of slain schoolteacher Laci Peterson
joined the lawsuit filed previously by her mother, Sharon Rocha.
A jury found Peterson guilty last year on 2 counts of murder in the deaths
of his pregnant wife and the fetus she carried. He is now in San Quentin
During the sentencing hearing March 16, Laci's father, Dennis Rocha, told
Scott Peterson that he didn't like him from the start of the relationship
"because you were always so arrogant, thought you were better than
everybody else - a rich boy from San Diego and we're just farm people.
Laci loved you, and I respected her feelings. You're in love with yourself
is your problem."
Dennis Rocha's attorney, Gary S. Davis, acknowledged it will be difficult
to collect money from Peterson in prison but said the lawsuit intends to
keep the 32-year-old former fertilizer salesman from profiting from the
"If he ever thinks of doing anything to line his own pockets, we'll be all
over it," Davis said.
Sharon Rocha's attorney, Adam Stewart, said he is still researching Scott
Peterson's assets, including the now vacant home the couple shared and a
$250,000 life insurance policy.
Successfully suing Peterson "may be a symbolic victory, but one that gives
some peace of mind to Sharon," Stewart said.
A hearing on the matter is set for April 22.
(source: Associated Press)
Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner signed a highly technical yet deeply
important reform to the commonwealth's criminal justice system last week.
The bill, proposed by the state's new Indigent Defense Commission,
responds to the appalling number of criminal appeals dismissed by state
courts not because they lack merit but because of missed filing deadlines
In a statement, Mr. Warner rightly noted that Virginia was "one of the
strictest states in the nation with respect to procedural defaults of this
kind" and described the bill as "a responsible and needed reform."
The bill, pushed by Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), does not entirely cure
the problem, which we described in a series of editorials last year. Until
the courts change their own Byzantine rules -- which require the dismissal
of appeals when key documents are filed even a single day late --
incompetent or simply overburdened lawyers will continue to blow cases.
Yet the new law does create a far simpler and more reasonable process for
reinstating blown appeals that will not jeopardize a convict's future
ability to challenge his conviction as the price of restoring the lost
appeal For those inmates now being irrationally denied appellate review of
their trials or sentences -- some of whom may be innocent of the crimes
for which they are serving time -- this will make a critical difference.
That this bill was controversial shows how far Virginia has to go in
forging a justice system of which the state can be proud. Its passage was
by no means a foregone conclusion:
The state attorney general's office opposed it as "unnecessary," and the
state Supreme Court raised concerns as well. While it ultimately passed
both houses of the General Assembly overwhelmingly, it survived key
committee votes by only narrow margins.
Moreover, the defaults bill was the only significant step the General
Assembly took this year to improve the state's woeful indigent defense
system. The legislature once again balked at lifting the obscenely low
statutory caps on fees for court-appointed lawyers, mustering only a small
amount of new money that will still fail to fully fund even the existing
caps. Missing filing deadlines is only one way for an inadequate lawyer to
fail a client with tragic results. Until legislators create and fund a
system for providing reasonable counsel to poor people accused of crimes,
gross injustices will surely continue.
(source: Editorial, Washington Post)
More information about the DeathPenalty