[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----NEV., MO., CALIF., FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Nov 2 17:10:44 CST 2005
Prosecutors again seek death penalty in Vegas steakhouse slayings
Prosecutors in Las Vegas are again seeking the death penalty for a man
whose sentence in a double slaying and robbery was overturned by the
Nevada Supreme Court.
32-year-old Marlo Thomas was moved off death row but is still in state
prison in the fatal stabbing of 2 employees during an April 1996 robbery
at a Lone Star Steakhouse in northwest Las Vegas.
Thomas was convicted in 1997 of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder and
sentenced to die in the stabbing deaths 21-year-old Matthew Gianakis and
23-year-old Carl Dixon.
The state high court ruled last year that Thomas was entitled to a new
sentencing hearing because his 1st defense attorney did not object to
faulty jury instructions.
Defense lawyer David Schieck told Clark County District Court jurors
yesterday (Tuesday) that he's not challenging Thomas' conviction.
But he says there's conflicting evidence about whether Thomas went to the
restaurant with his 15-year-old brother in law intending to commit a
robbery or kill anyone.
The teen pleaded guilty to robbery with a deadly weapon and was sentenced
to 12 years.
(source: KESQ News)
Bright to speak on death penalty at law school
Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in
Atlanta, will speak on the death penalty today in conjunction with a
meeting of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons, which
the University Law School began hosting yesterday. Bright will speak on
"Crime, Prison and the Death Penalty: The Influence of Race and Poverty."
"It is really important that people look at what kind of court system they
have and what kind of justice is being dispensed," said Bright. "Poor
people who are in prison who can't afford a lawyer-what can they do if
their rights are being violated, if they're being raped every day in their
cell? If you don't have a lawyer, there's nothing you can do."
Bright's speech tomorrow will cover a range of topics including public
health problems posed by America's jail system and political demagoguery
surrounding the issue of crime. Yesterday's meeting of the Commission,
which was open to the public, focused on the stress that corrections
officers are put under, how they cope with it and how the situation might
"My big pitch to law students is that it's more fulfilling to give up the
money that you get from working at the big law firms and do something
worthwhile like working for the public defender offices," said Bright. "I
would encourage people who're going into law to really pay attention to
this-and to those that aren't, I'd say that they have a civic
responsibility...to encourage their legislators to do something about
it...We incarcerate more of our population than any other country in the
Alex Busansky, the Commission's executive director, commented on the
difficulties facing prisoners once they leave the criminal justice system.
"97 % of all inmates are released eventually," said Busansky. "20 % of
them are mentally ill, and many prisoners are no longer given educational
programming or work opportunities...We accept the situation because no one
wants to talk about it."
The Commission began operating last March with the intent to increase
public knowledge about serious problems within America's prisons and to
search for solutions. Members include legal experts, psychiatrists, law
enforcement officials, civil rights advocates and state legislators.
Josh Glickman, a 2nd-year law student, worked with the Commission last
"I think it's a fantastic commission," said Glickman. "I think it's easy
for people to not know and not care about what happens in our nation's
prisons. People don't realize how the safety of our inmates affects the
Glickman added that he thought Washington University had been very
accommodating in hosting the Commission, which is not affiliated with the
University. The Commission will move to Los Angeles, California in
February 2006. Margo Schlanger is a professor at the Law School who serves
on the commission.
"Students don't often get a chance to participate in an event where public
policy can be affected," said Schlanger. "This isn't just an exercise held
for educational value...it's an opportunity for the benefit of the
Bright will give his Assembly Series address today at 4 p.m. in the Bryan
Moot Courtroom in Anheuser-Busch Hall.
(source: Student Life, Washington University (St. Louis) )
Jailer says hellish work is unappreciated
Lou West described his job as "customer service in hell."
The veteran St. Louis County corrections officer told a national
commission on Tuesday that the job has at times filled him with rage and
kept him awake nights. Even under the best circumstances, he said, it is
stressful and difficult. He loves it anyway.
West was among a host of jailers, corrections officials and former inmates
to testify before the 21-member commission on the 1st day of a 2-day
hearing at Washington University. St. Louis is the commission's 3rd of 4
stops across the country as it examines abuse, poor training and a lack of
standards in the nation's jails and prisons. The inquiry grew in part out
of concern about military prison abuses overseas.
The local hearing is the only one to view the problem through the eyes of
correctional workers such as West, who said his work goes unseen and
unappreciated by most of the taxpayers he serves.
"I don't even think the public recognizes us as law enforcement," West,
49, said in an interview.
The privately organized Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's
Prisons hopes to recommend reforms next spring to local, state and federal
"What we're seeing is a vast but poorly understood work force that
shoulders tremendous responsibilities, many times without adequate
leadership, training or resources," said Nicholas Katzenbach, a commission
co-chairman and attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson.
West said his life improved 7 years ago when the jail switched from the
traditional bars-and-hallways design to one that put 64 inmates in cells
surrounding a central common space where one officer can monitor them.
While the system has reduced fights, it has put more pressure on jailers,
he said. "There's no getting away from the inmates," he said.
He takes offense to the term "jail guard" because it does not describe his
other roles: psychologist, counselor, teacher, father figure. He said he
relishes working with drug addicts in the jail's Choices program.
A former prison inmate told the commission that prisons were violent
places where guards dehumanized inmates. Eddie Ellis served 25 years in
New York state prisons for a crime he maintains he did not commit. While
in prison, he earned a bachelor's degree from Marist College and a
master's degree from New York Theological Seminary.
He mildly chastised the commission for not having more members in its
ranks who had served prison time. The panel includes a former death row
inmate who had been exonerated by DNA evidence.
Other members included criminologists, law professors, former law
enforcement officers, a former New Orleans mayor and the head of the
NAACP's Washington bureau. It was organized by the Vera Institute of
Justice, a New York-based nonprofit organization.
A former sheriff's deputy from Ohio's Mahoning County testified that he
ruined his life by obeying an order from a supervisor to beat an inmate
who had attacked a female deputy.
"If I didn't follow his direct order, I'd have been fired," said Ronald
Kaschak, 29, who is awaiting sentencing in the case.
A year later, taking a polygraph test while applying for a police job,
Kaschak came clean about the beating. His cooperation with federal
prosecutors led to criminal charges against several others involved in the
He said he accepted the invitation to testify so he could help others from
following his path. In doing so, he broke the so-called "code of silence"
among law enforcement officers that was cited in other testimony Tuesday
as a serious problem.
To officers who are ordered to mistreat inmates, he said it's better to
walk away. "You might lose your career, but that's all you'll lose," he
The commission is online at www.prisoncommission.org.
(source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Jury recommends death sentence for Abbott
In Rancho Cucamonga, jurors on Tuesday recommended a death sentence for a
man who murdered an armored car guard during the robbery of an Ontario
bank., The jury deliberated less than three hours before announcing the
decision. Their speed surprised even the prosecutors, who believed the
panel would need more time than that to decide the fate of 35-year-old Joe
Henry Abbott. "That's got to be one of the most difficult things a human
being can be asked to do," Deputy District Attorney Michael Dowd said.
"But they made the right decision."
Abbott is to be sentenced Jan. 13 in West Valley Superior Court.
Judge Craig Kamansky has the discretion to discard the jury's
recommendation and impose a sentence of life without parole, although it
is extremely rare for a judge to do so.
Abbott was convicted in September of murdering 25-year-old Samuel Saenz,
of Hesperia. Saenz was shot 3 times in the head as he wheeled bags of
money through the lobby of the Bank of America at 735 N. Euclid Ave.
Abbott, a black man, paid a Hollywood makeup artist to disguise him as an
old white man the day before the Oct. 30, 2000 killing.
He entered the bank in full costume and ambushed Saenz with the first two
shots to the head. Saenz collapsed.
Abbott began to flee with the money before he stopped, walked back, and
fired the third and fatal round into the guard's skull.
The same seven-man, five-woman jury that convicted Abbott recommended the
death sentence Tuesday after hearing several more weeks of testimony about
Abbott's character and the impact the crime had on the Saenz family.
Tuesday's decision was bittersweet for Saenz's relatives, who have
struggled to balance their desire for justice with their apprehension
about the death penalty.
Saenz's widow, Amelia, said the death verdict was a "sigh of relief," if
for no reason other than it ensured Abbott would never cause another
family as much pain as he caused hers.
She and Sammy had 3 children together.
"I don't think he's ever going to know what he's done to us," she said of
Abbott. "To my kids, especially."
In the hallway outside of the courtroom, tears welled in the eyes of
Saenz's mother, Carmel Ruelas, as she embraced family members and
reflected on the closing of a chapter of her life.
"Justice was done," she said.
Jurors left the courtroom through a back door without discussing their
decision with attorneys or spectators.
The decision brought to an end a trial that began in August and involved
nearly 130 witnesses.
During the penalty phase of the trial, Abbott's lawyers asked the jury to
recommend a sentence of life in prison without parole for the convicted
They argued he suffered from mental disorders, and they attempted to
convince the panel that, apart from the murder, Abbott was a decent guy.
"Everything aside from this crime paints a picture of someone who was not
a violent person," defense lawyer Thomas Kielty said.
Dowd, meanwhile, portrayed Abbott as a heartless killer with a long
Saenz likely would have survived if Abbott hadn't returned unnecessarily
and fired the last bullet into his head, the prosecutor argued.
"This crime was absolutely atrocious, even compared to most other
murders," Dowd said. "He shot him twice in the head, and then goes back
and fires a 3rd shot."
Abbott entered the courtroom Tuesday smiling and relaxed, a demeanor that
belied the cold news he would soon hear.
He joked with bailiffs and his attorneys and straightened his coat lapels
before the jury was led in to face him.
He showed little reaction as the judge read the death verdict.
Abbott is the final defendant to be convicted in the case. Getaway driver
Edward "Monster" White was sentenced to life in prison.
3 other accomplices, Lenard Wilkes, Frewoini Berhane and Brenda Maza,
pleaded guilty as part of plea bargains with prosecutors and are awaiting
(source: Daily Bulletin)
Ex-deliveryman accused of murdering 10 L.A. women
In Los Angeles, a former pizza deliveryman accused of being one of the
city's most prolific serial killers was ordered Tuesday to stand trial on
charges of murdering 10 women, 2 of whom were pregnant.
Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders ruled during a preliminary
hearing that there was sufficient cause to believe Chester D. Turner
committed the slayings that occurred from 1987 to 1998.
Turner, 38, is currently serving an 8-year prison sentence in an unrelated
rape case. Pounders set a Nov. 15 arraignment date.
Turner's DNA was matched to sperm cell evidence from the bodies of all the
victims, said Carl Matthies of the police department's scientific
investigations division. The likelihood of the genetic profile belonging
to someone other than Turner was 1 in one-quintillion, Matthies said.
Defense attorney John Tyre said outside court that DNA does not prove
murder. "If it is his DNA it indicates he had sex with these women some
time prior to them dying," Tyre said.
Deputy medical examiner Lisa Scheinin testified that all 10 women were
strangled, 9 had cocaine in their systems, 1 was 6 1/2 months pregnant and
1 was between 4 and 5 months pregnant.
Prosecutors have not said whether they would seek the death penalty if
Turner is convicted. In addition to 10 counts of murder, Turner is accused
of the special circumstances of multiple murder and murder committed
during a rape.
The slayings remained unsolved until a cold case homicide unit began
looking into them. In 2002, Turner agreed to submit a DNA sample as part
of a no-contest plea to the unrelated rape charge. A detective allegedly
found that it matched evidence found in 2 murders and began looking for
(source: Associated Press)
PROSECUTORS SEEK DEATH PENALTY IN SAN LEANDRO COP MURDER CASE
The Alameda County District Attorney's office filed court papers today
formally announcing that it will seek the death penalty against a Newark
man accused of shooting to death San Leandro police officer Nels "Dan"
Niemi at point-blank range on July 25.
The filing in Alameda County Superior Court wasn't a surprise because
prosecutors said last week that they'd decided to seek the death penalty
against 23-year-old Irving Ramirez, who's a native of El Salvador.
Ramirez was arraigned at a brief hearing today that was attended by
Niemi's parents and brother and four uniformed San Leandro police
officers. Ramirez is scheduled to return to court Nov. 17 to enter a plea.
Niemi, 42, who is survived by his wife and two children, was shot to death
after he responded to a report of a disturbance at 14659 Doolittle Drive
in San Leandro about 11 p.m. July 25.
According to a police report, Ramirez, a native of El Salvador, apparently
opened fire on the officer because he feared being arrested on illegal gun
and drug charges.
The report says that Ramirez shot Niemi once with a 10 mm semi-automatic
handgun, knocking the officer to the ground, then shot the officer 6 more
times while he was on the ground.
At the end of a preliminary examination 2 weeks ago, Alameda County
Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner ruled that there's enough evidence to
bound Ramirez over to stand trial on the charges against him.
Ramirez is charged with murder as well as three special circumstances
clauses: murdering a police officer during the performance of his duties,
lying in wait and committing murder to avoid arrest.
Although when the special circumstances were filed in July they made
Ramirez eligible for the death penalty, the district attorney's office had
the option of seeking life in prison without parole instead of the death
Senior Deputy District Attorney Angela Backers, who coordinates her
office's capital litigation team, said its death penalty committee decided
execution would be appropriate for Ramirez because it believes all the
factors it looks at in potential capital cases apply to his case.
Those factors are the brutality of the murder, the quantity and quality of
the evidence, the defendant's history of violence and the likelihood that
12 jurors will vote for a death verdict, Backers said.
Ramirez's lawyer, Deborah Levy, wasn't immediately available for comment
today because she's busy with jury selection for another client who's
involved in a death penalty case.
Last week, Levy said she wasn't surprised by prosecutors' decision to seek
the death penalty because of the nature of the crime and the fact that
Niemi was a police officer.
However, Levy said she doesn't think the death penalty is appropriate for
Ramirez or anyone else because she's been opposed to the death penalty her
At today's hearing, Levy asked that veteran Oakland defense attorney
Michael Berger be appointed, at the public's expense, to assist her in
representing Ramirez. Levy also is court-appointed.
Judge Thomas Reardon will decide at the Nov. 17 hearing whether Berger
should be appointed.
It normally takes at least several years for death penalty cases to come
to trial, but Backers said she hopes that Ramirez's case will go to trial
next summer, after Levy completes the death penalty case she currently is
"I'm trying to change the system so death penalty cases go to trial
sooner," Backers said.
Getting such cases to trial quicker "is better for evidence, for
witnesses' memory and for the community," Backers said.
She said, "It serves justice much better."
Although Backers appeared at today's hearing, District Attorney Tom Orloff
will prosecute Ramirez when his case goes to trial.
(source: Bay City News)
State high court hears killer's case----Mental health discounted in
A lawyer for Florida's youngest death row inmate told the state's high
court Tuesday the Titusville man should not be executed because of mental
defects that caused him to obsess over Satanism and sex.
Randy Schoenwetter, 24, was sentenced to die in 2003 for fatally stabbing
a Titusville man and his 10-year-old daughter during a break-in at their
home. In police interviews and a letter to the trial judge, Schoenwetter
confessed to the Aug. 12, 2000, deaths of Ronald and Virginia Friskey, as
well as to stabbing Friskey's wife, Haesun, after the family caught him in
Schoenwetter pleaded guilty to the crimes, committed when he was 18. The
Florida public defender's office is appealing sentences.
Public defender Christopher Quarles told the Florida Supreme Court the
trial judge didn't give enough credence to Schoenwetter's diagnosis of
Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism that can cause compulsive behavior,
a lack of empathy and poor impulse control.
Child psychiatrists Fred Volkmar of Yale University and Anthony Bailey of
Oxford University, both experts on the disorder, have said Schoenwetter's
fixation on finding a girl to have sex with, breaking into the home of his
best friend and his "violent, panicked reaction" when caught were related
to his condition.
The trial court accepted the condition as a mitigating circumstance. But
Quarles told the court the trial judge acknowledged Schoenwetter's
condition "then he completely ignored it" in sentencing him to death.
Quarles argued that Schoenwetter's confessions, offered against his
attorney's advice, were prompted by coercive police interrogation tactics
and his brain damage, which experts have said left him with the maturity
of a 12-year-old.
Schoenwetter initially confessed to police before being read his Miranda
rights. Quarles argued Schoenwetter's mental state made it impossible for
him to offer a voluntary confession.
"So we can't take anything he said at face value . . . even though he
admitted he did this voluntarily," a skeptical Justice Raoul Cantero III
During Tuesday's hour-long arguments, the seven justices struggled to
understand how Schoenwetter's mental condition manifested itself in the
murders. Throughout his trial and in Tuesday's hearing, he was portrayed
as both an intelligent child who loved his sister and someone who was
calling phone-sex lines at the age of 10.
He could hold down a job, possessed an IQ of 130 but was so socially inept
he couldn't laugh at jokes or recognize rejection from a girl.
"Either this is a defendant that has some serious emotional issues, or
this is basically a good kid up until the time this happened," Chief
Justice Barbara Pariente said.
Barbara Davis, an assistant attorney general from Daytona Beach, said the
Supreme Court has historically avoided second-guessing trial courts on how
much weight to lend such mitigating circumstances.
Davis described Schoenwetter as an intelligent but troubled social misfit
who dabbled in the occult, gothic dress and pornography but made a
conscious choice to enter the Friskey home, take a knife from their
kitchen and murder to keep from being caught.
Schoenwetter's fixation on sexuality didn't correlate to his crimes, she
said. Moreover, he has repeatedly expressed a desire to take
responsibility for his actions.
"Some of the things that teenage boys are going to be doing is what he was
doing," Davis told the court. "You can't attribute it to Asperger's
The Supreme Court will rule later on the appeal.
(source: Florida Today)
3 defendants in Deltona slayings will stand trial together
In Daytona Beach, 3 men charged in the 2004 beating deaths of 6 people
will stand trial together.
Circuit Judge William A. Parsons denied a motion Tuesday to sever the
trials of Troy Victorino, 28, Michael Salas and Jerone Hunter, both 19.
Parsons also said he would postpone the trial's start date, originally
scheduled for Jan. 3.
The men are charged with 6 counts of murder and 8 other felonies for the
Aug. 6, 2004, baseball bat beating deaths of 6 friends, ages 17 to 34, in
a Deltona home.
Investigators say Victorino organized the attack to retrieve an Xbox video
game system he lost when he was kicked out of a different house.
A 4th defendant, Robert Anthony Cannon, 19, pleaded guilty to all 14
felony charges and faces life in prison without the possibility of parole
after he testifies against the other 3.
Prosecutors argued that their defenses contradicted each other and that
the procedure would be complicated for a jury because there are so many
attorneys, defendants and charges.
Parsons said that attempts by 1 defendant to blame another was not enough
reason to sever the trials.
"We're very pleased. I think our greatest concern was for the rights and
feelings of the victims' family members," State Attorney John Tanner said.
Parsons also ruled that should the jury find more than one man guilty,
they will have one hearing during the penalty phase to determine whether
they are sentenced to the death penalty.
"We've argued the motion. The judge has ruled. We'll abide by the order,"
said J. Edwin Mills, who represents Hunter.
(source: Orlando Sentinel)
Death penalty posed in kidnap case----Attorneys involved in the case of
Joseph P. Smith, accused of kidnapping and killing 11-year-old Carlie
Brucia last year, questioned potential jurors about their feelings on the
The death penalty took center stage in a Sarasota courtroom Tuesday as
attorneys worked for a second week to pick a jury in the trial of the man
accused of kidnapping, raping and killing 11-year-old Carlie Brucia last
Most potential jurors questioned Tuesday morning said they could fairly
and impartially judge Joseph P. Smith -- and could recommend that he be
sentenced to death if found guilty.
The questioning will continue the rest of the week, but the responses from
the initial groups seemed to indicate that attorneys will be able to seat
a jury in Sarasota County, which was rocked by Carlie's abduction --
captured by a car wash surveillance camera and aired around the world --
on Feb. 1, 2004. Her body was found outside a nearby church 4 nights
Prospective jurors were brought into the courtroom and questioned five at
a time after surviving an initial reduction of the pool last week. The 151
that remained after the first cut said they could sit as fair jurors
despite being familiar with the case. They are being questioned this week
about their feelings on the death penalty, which prosecutors will seek for
Smith if he is found guilty of Carlie's slaying.
Opening statements are scheduled for Monday.
Several potential panelists said they couldn't vote for a death sentence
under any circumstances. They were dismissed by the judge.
"My belief system is that the death penalty is not an option," one woman
"I just don't want that on my conscience," a man said.
Another man was dismissed after saying that anyone convicted of
first-degree murder should get the death penalty.
Most others seemed to fall in the middle, saying they thought the death
penalty was appropriate in some cases.
Smith, 39, is charged with 1st-degree murder, kidnapping and capital
The car wash security camera captured images of Carlie being grabbed by
the arm and led away by a man in dark mechanic's uniform.
The video led to the arrest of Smith, an auto mechanic with a drug problem
and a long rap sheet.
A number of people called authorities to say they recognized Smith as the
man on the video. Arrested on unrelated drug charges two days after Carlie
disappeared, Smith confessed the slaying to his mother and brother during
a jailhouse visit and then helped them lead authorities to Carlie's body,
according to testimony in pretrial hearings.
If Smith is convicted of 1st-degree murder, the trial will move into a
penalty phase during which prosecutors will argue that he deserves to be
executed. The jury would recommend the death penalty or life in prison,
but the ultimate decision would lie with Judge Andrew Owens, a circuit
judge since 1983.
Smith's attorney, Adam Tebrugge, asked potential jurors if, in a penalty
phase, they could consider drug addiction and a troubled past as
mitigating factors. Most said they would have to hear the details before
(source: Associated Press)
Crist: Hands off death penalty law
Attorney General Charlie Crist disagreed with the Florida Supreme Court's
call to revamp the state's death penalty law or risk losing it.
Florida should stick to allowing juries to recommend executions by a
simple majority, not a unanimous vote, Attorney General Charlie Crist said
Tuesday, urging legislators to reject the Florida Supreme Court's call to
tweak the state's capital punishment laws in favor of unanimous juries.
The stance puts the state's chief legal officer at odds with the state's
highest court and in particular with Justice Raoul Cantero, who urged
lawmakers 3 weeks ago to change to a unanimous jury or risk seeing the
state's death penalty law declared unconstitutional because it differs
from laws in other states.
But Crist, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor and as a
state senator was dubbed "Chain Gang" Charlie for courting a
tough-on-crime image, said such a fix would mean serial killers like Ted
Bundy -- executed in 1989 -- and Aileen Wuornos -- executed in 2002 --
would now be sitting in prison.
The juries for both repeat killers recommended death by 10-2 votes.
"For my part, I believe the current system is not only constitutional but
appropriate to punish those who murder as well as deter potential future
murderers," Crist said in a letter to the Legislature's presiding
officers, House Speaker Allan Bense and Senate President Tom Lee.
Crist's office handles death penalty appeals at the Supreme Court and he
suggested in the letter that requiring a unanimous vote would weaken the
state's death penalty. Under Florida law, juries have to be unanimous for
conviction of any crime. But in capital cases jurors recommend either a
life sentence or the death penalty on a majority vote.
Miami Republican Sen. Alex Villalobos, a death penalty supporter who
already has instructed staff to draft a proposed change in the law, said
Tuesday that Crist's input doesn't change his mind.
"What [a unanimous vote] ensures is more certainty than we have now," said
Villalobos, who is supporting Crist's candidacy for governor.
In an opinion on a death case, Cantero noted that Florida's sentencing
laws are unique when compared to the 38 other death-penalty states,
suggesting lawmakers should line up with their peers or risk having a
court strike it down.
"The bottom line is that Florida is now the only state in the country that
allows the death penalty to be imposed" by simple majority vote, Cantero
wrote. "Assuming that our system continues to withstand constitutional
scrutiny, we ask the Legislature to revisit it to decide whether it wants
Florida to remain the outlier state."
But Crist noted that juries in Florida only recommend the penalty --
judges do the actual sentencing.
"Unlike Florida, many states and federal courts empower juries to
determine life or death," Crist said.
(source: Miami Herald)
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