[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----ILL., CONN./VT., N.C., IND.

Rick Halperin rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed May 11 11:15:24 CDT 2005





May 11



ILLINOIS:

Murder victim's family tells death penalty jury of their pain


As a child, Joyce Brannon carried her younger sister across jagged stones
so they could reach a soft, green patch of grass and play.

Joyce was 20 months older and grew taller and stronger first, her sister
Janet Bunch tearfully testified Tuesday. Joyce defended Janet against boys
picking on her.

"I always looked up to her as my big sister," Bunch said as she and her
mother tried to bring Brannon to life in a federal courtroom.

Joyce Brannon, a disabled caretaker, was shot to death in 2002. The same
12-member jury that last week convicted Dr. Ronald Mikos of murdering
Brannon and bilking Medicare of $1.2 million is hearing evidence this week
on whether Mikos deserves the death penalty or life in prison. Testimony
continues today.

No remorse, says prosecutor

Prosecutors say Mikos, 56, shot Brannon at close range 6 times in her
garden apartment of a North Side church. She was set to testify against
Mikos before a federal grand jury.

Bunch said her sister told her Mikos had called to try to persuade her not
to testify. Bunch's eyes grew red and she broke down when she said Brannon
asked if she should call authorities and Bunch instead advised her to
write down everything Mikos said. When a Chicago Police detective later
told Bunch her sister was shot to death, she said she screamed.

"I told him Dr. Mikos had done it," Bunch said, crying.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Kocoras told jurors Mikos has shown no
remorse and said depression or alcohol abuse shouldn't excuse his
behavior.

"There are a lot of doctors out there who have dealt with a lot worse. But
they don't kill disabled women in the basement of churches," Kocoras said.

Also taking the stand was Brannon's mother, Selma Brannon, a fragile
91-year-old who wept when she talked about a photo book she made for her
daughter. "I decided to give it to her for her birthday and she never got
to see it," she said, crying.

Defense attorneys called witnesses to paint their client as a normal
person who roared with laughter with other classmates as a kid, helped
students when he worked as a school teacher, and was involved with at
least one of his 5 children.

Then his behavior grew bizarre, said one friend, Lawrence Gregory. He said
Mikos walked up to a priest during his father's funeral and disturbed his
eulogy. In recent years, Mikos descended into drugs, depression and
alcoholism, his attorneys said.

"He was a desperate man doing a desperate act, not a ruthless, calculating
killer," defense attorney John Beal said.

In a November 2001 letter found on his laptop, Mikos describes his
situation:

"I have lost my income, the Lincolnwood house, my dog. I've gotten fat, my
alcoholism and depression have reared their ugly heads," Mikos wrote. "I
am at the lowest and weakest point that I have ever been at in my life. .
. . I have become worthless to people in particular and society in
general."

(source: Chicago Sun-Times)

************************************

Illinois Supreme Court hears arguments from man seeking new sentence


The Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments today from attorneys requesting
a new sentence for a man sitting on death row for the 2001 murder of an
Eastern Illinois University student.

Twenty-nine-year-old Anthony Mertz was convicted in 2003 of murdering
21-year-old Shannon McNamara.

Mertz's attorney Steve Clark says he's arguing for a new sentence for his
client. Defense attorney have said evidence about Mertz's character was
improperly given to the jury.

But Coles County State's Attorney Steve Ferguson says he wouldn't have
entered evidence that would cause problems.

And McNamara's family said today only a death sentence will do.

Mertz was the 1st inmate to land on death row after former Governor George
Ryan commuted all death sentences to life in prison.

(source: Associated Press)

**************************************

Father of slain girl charged with double murder


A father recently released from prison was charged on Tuesday with murder
in the weekend stabbing deaths of his 8-year-old daughter and her friend
in a quiet town near Chicago, authorities said.

Eight-year-old Laura Hobbs and friend Krystal Tobias, 9, went missing on
Sunday during a bike ride in Beulah Park in Zion, Illinois, some 40 miles
north of Chicago.

Laura's father, Jerry Hobbs, 34, who was recently released from a Texas
prison after an assault conviction, located the girls' bodies on Monday
while ostensibly searching the park with his father in law.

"This horrific crime has terrorized and traumatized the Zion community
and, it's safe to say, people of goodwill everywhere," said Michael
Waller, the Lake County, Illinois, prosecutor.

Waller said there was no "rational or reasonable" motive for the murders
but said Hobbs went looking for the girls and encountered them in the park
where he beat and stabbed them.

The coroner said the girls' bruised and bloodied bodies were found fully
clothed, dead from multiple stab wounds. No weapon was found and the girls
had not been sexually assaulted. The bicycle they were sharing was found
nearby.

The crime sent shudders through the community of 23,000, and many parents
either kept their children at home or escorted them to heavily guarded
Beulah Park Elementary school where Laura and Krystal were second-grade
classmates.

Hobbs' criminal record included an aggravated assault conviction in which
he chased neighbors with a chain saw.

The suspect could face the death penalty, Waller said. He was being held
and a bond hearing would be held on Wednesday.

Zion, which lies about halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee, Wisconsin,
was founded in 1901 as an Utopian community by an evangelist, according to
the town's Web site. Residents pledged to "commit to living clean lives,
have healthy habits and work together for the honor and glory of God."

(source: Reuters)






CONNECTICUT/VERMONT:

Death penalty opponents protest in Vt., Conn.


On May 8, about two dozen death penalty opponents began a 5-day walk to
protest the Connecticuts plans to execute a serial killer who admitted
murdering and raping 8 women in Connecticut and New York in the early
1980s.

Protesters plan to walk for periods each day through May 12, stopping at
the state Capitol, churches and for vigils along the way.

The 30-mile journey will eventually lead to the prison where Michael Ross
is scheduled for lethal injection Friday in what would be the 1st
execution in New England in 45 years.

So many people have asked me, 'Why are you doing this for Michael Ross?'"
said Robert Nave, executive director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish
the Death Penalty. "We're not doing this for Michael Ross. We're doing
this because it is state-sponsored homicide."

Though protesters acknowledged there was little hope it would be halted,
they hoped to send a message about capital punishment.

Walter Everett, whose 24-year-old son Scott was killed in Bridgeport in
1987, said he never wanted his son's killer to die, just to serve a long
prison sentence.

Everett, a Methodist pastor in Hartford, once testified before a parole
board for the man to have an early release after serving time with good
behavior. "I'm convinced the death penalty is society's way of admitting
defeat," he said.

In Vermont, activists are planning to hold a vigil in Burlington on May 18
to protest the death penalty trial of Donald Fell, which is getting under
way there.

The noontime vigil will be the first of the actions the groups will
undertake to voice their opposition to the death penalty, said Josh
Rubenstein, the Northeast Regional director of Amnesty International USA.

Rubenstein met on Monday in Montpelier and Burlington with representatives
of other organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the
American Friends Service Committee, the Peace and Justice Center and Pax
Christi to outline their strategy for opposing the death penalty component
of the Fell trial, which is now in jury selection.

"The central message is we think the death penalty is barbaric and
inappropriate," said Allen Gilbert, the executive director of the Vermont
Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "We think Vermont has been
targeted by the federal Department of Justice because we are an
abolitionist state and we don't have the death penalty."

Fell is facing the federal death penalty if convicted on charges that he
kidnapped 53-year-old Teresca King from the parking lot of a central
Vermont supermarket in November 2000 and killed her in New York state. It
is the 1st death penalty trial in Vermont in almost half a century.

For practical purposes the state eliminated the death penalty in 1965,
although it technically remained on the books until 1987.

Gilbert said some activists were considering forming a group to oppose the
death penalty, an organization that hadn't been needed before now.
Rubenstein has protested against death penalty cases in other states. He
said the Vermont effort was just getting organized.

"We'll be approaching members of the Legislature. We will talk to leading
religious figures and just be in the public square making clear we are
opposed to the death penalty in this case and in every case," Rubenstein
said.

(source: People's Weekly World)

**********************

Activists focus on death penalty trial


Social activists are planning to hold a vigil next week in front of the
federal courthouse in Burlington to protest the death penalty trial of
Donald Fell, which is getting under way there.

The noontime vigil on May 18 will be the 1st of the actions the groups
will undertake to voice their opposition to the death penalty, said Josh
Rubenstein, the Northeast Regional director of Amnesty International USA.

Rubenstein met Monday in Montpelier and Burlington with representatives of
other organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the
American Friends Service Committee, the Peace and Justice Center and Pax
Christi to outline their strategy for opposing the death penalty component
of the Fell trial, which is now in jury selection.

"The central message is, we think the death penalty is barbaric and
inappropriate," said Allen Gilbert, the executive director of the Vermont
Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "We think Vermont has been
targeted by the federal Department of Justice because we are an
abolitionist state and we don't have the death penalty."

Fell is facing the federal death penalty if convicted on charges that he
kidnapped 53-year-old Teresca King from the parking lot of a Rutland
supermarket in November 2000 and killed her in New York state.

It is the 1st death penalty trial in Vermont in almost half a century. For
practical purposes, the state eliminated the death penalty in 1965,
although it technically remained on the books until 1987.

The trial will begin after the jury is chosen.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys are now trying to qualify about 70
people, from whom the jury of 12 and a number of alternates will be
chosen. After 3 days of jury selection last week, 18 potential jurors were
qualified.

Gilbert said some activists were considering forming a group to oppose the
death penalty, an organization that hadn't been needed before now.

Rubenstein has protested against death penalty cases in other states. He
said the Vermont effort was just getting organized.

"We'll be approaching members of the Legislature. We will talk to leading
religious figures and just be in the public square making clear we are
opposed to the death penalty in this case and in every case," Rubenstein
said.

"Something terrible happened that night and Mr. Fell is on trial. We are
opposed to the death penalty," Rubenstein said.

(source: Associated Press)






NORTH CAROLINA:

DA Will Seek Death Penalty in Mayer Murder


A Johnston County man appeared in a Smithfield courtroom Tuesday, facing
charges that he beat and strangled his stepdaughter to death.

Ashley Reagan Jr. is charged with murdering Melissa Mayer on March 25.
Investigators say the Garner Senior High student was killed inside a
mobile home south of Clayton, where Reagan lived with Mayer's mother and 2
half-brothers. Investigators say Reagan confessed to the murder.

Johnston County District Attorney Tom Lock says he intends to seek the
death penalty.

"One of the things we considered in making the decision to pursue the
death penalty in this case was the manner or means by which Melissa was
murdered," Lock said, calling the murder a "cold, heinous crime."

None of the family members went to court Tuesday. Bob Denning is Reagan's
attorney. He chose not to speak on their behalf and would not go on
camera, but Denning told Eyewitness News that he's surprised this will be
a capital case. The attorney says Reagan is remorseful about what
happened.

He will appear in court again June 13.

(source: ABC News)






INDIANA:

Court tosses conviction of man on Death Row----Federal panel's ruling in
'82 case from Madison County based on polygraph issue.


A man who has spent more than 20 years on Indiana's death row could be
freed because of a polygraph test whose results were never admitted in
court.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on Tuesday overturned
Mark Allen Wisehart's 1983 murder conviction, ruling that a trial judge
should have tried to determine whether one juror's knowledge of the
polygraph test had tainted the verdict.

Wisehart, 42, was sentenced to death in Madison Superior Court in the
slaying of Marjorie R. Johnson, 65, in an October 1982 robbery. She was
stabbed 26 times.

In an affidavit presented at a 1994 appeal hearing, a juror said she
reported for jury duty and was told court would not be held that day
because Wisehart was scheduled for a polygraph test.

The juror said she never learned the test's results. Polygraph results are
not admissible as evidence in Indiana courts.

The Indiana Supreme Court denied Wisehart's appeal, citing a lack of
evidence that one juror's knowledge of the polygraph had swayed the entire
jury.

The federal court said Tuesday the trial judge should have questioned the
juror to find out whether she or any other jurors had been influenced.

"From the fact that the trial resumed after the test, had she assumed that
Wisehart had flunked it?" the 3-judge panel wrote.

The appeals court vacated Wisehart's conviction and directed the state to
release him, retry him or conduct a hearing to address the issue of jury
bias.

The Indiana attorney general's office, which handled the appeal, plans to
seek a rehearing in the 7th Circuit or appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme
Court, a spokeswoman said.

(source: Associated Press)







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