[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----ALA., GA., OHIO, N.J.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Nov 3 15:57:31 CST 2005
Alabama forensic experts urge Shelby panel not to cut DNA funds
Alabama forensic experts, prosecutors and victim advocates Wednesday urged
a panel headed by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby not to cut federal funding for
DNA tests at state labs, even though the panel's plan would provide more
money for other forensic work.
"There is no other forensic discipline that has the impact to solve crime
than this DNA science," said Taylor Noggle, director of the Alabama
Department of Forensic Sciences.
A provision under the Justice for All Act of 2004 authorized $155 million
to be dispersed among states to specifically eliminate their backlog of
cases needing DNA analysis within 5 years. But a recent recommendation by
the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, chaired by
Shelby, R-Ala., would reduce the funding to $89.5 million - a 42 percent
cut - so more money can be devoted to other types of forensic science,
such as fingerprints, ballistics and drugs analysis.
"I have been and continue to be a strong supporter of DNA, and I recognize
its important role in criminal investigations. However, I also understand
that there are many other forensic sciences that play integral roles in
crime solving," Shelby said in a statement Wednesday.
Alabama would lose $1.8 million of the $3 million it receives annually in
federal DNA grants - a huge impact on the some $5 million it spends each
year on DNA analysis. Noggle said that if the funding was secured, Alabama
could eliminate its backlog of 1,500 cases by 2008.
Phyllis Rollan, a DNA examiner for central Alabama, said the federal
grants have helped reduce waiting time on the state's DNA cases by 100
days, bringing the average turnaround to just under a year.
President Bush, in his budget submitted in February, requested Congress to
fully fund the $155 million required by the DNA provision, which was named
after Debbie Smith, a rape victim from Williamsburg, Va., who is active in
fighting for victim's rights.
But Shelby's subcommittee called for the shift in funding. According to
the Minnesota-based Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations, less
than 5 percent of all crime lab work involves DNA. Shelby said that "to
fund only one method is shortsighted and does not meet the needs of many
forensic science labs and law enforcement agencies."
He pointed out that while Bush's budget proposes to increase funding for
DNA testing, it proposes to cut funding for other state and local law
enforcement assistance programs by over a billion dollars.
His subcommittee's measure, which is still being considered, would create
an independent panel to assess the current and future needs of forensic
But forensics experts, at a news conference Wednesday, said the time and
money spent on determining the problems within forensic departments masks
the obvious: DNA is expensive, but solves crimes.
Montgomery County District Attorney Ellen Brooks said DNA evidence is
invaluable to prosecuting a case "because the evident is so good, it's so
"Hope is being diminished because of the damage being done by politicians
who don't see the faces of these people (who have been victimized)," she
Alabama reduced a quarter of its backlog of some 2,000 DNA lab cases
primarily through the federal grants, said Angelo Della Manna, chief of
forensic biology and DNA for Alabama's forensic department.
For rape victims, including Debbie Smith, the proposed cut "feels like a
slap in the face."
Smith said it took more than 6 years for her case to come off the backlog
in Virginia and for her rapist to be identified. She said an arrest
probably would have been made sooner if adequate funding for DNA testing
was available at the time.
"Unfortunately, there is a good chance this vital evidence ... will sit on
a shelf," she told reporters Wednesday.
Smith said for 6 years she battled suicidal thoughts and felt confined to
her own home, and that DNA testing set her free.
"I want every victim of sexual assault to receive this gift of renewed
life," said Smith, who founded the nonprofit group Hope Exists After Rape
Trauma, or HEART, after her ordeal.
Diane Wheeler said DNA testing is her family's only hope that the man who
raped and strangled her mother 12 years ago will ever be captured.
"I was surprised and saddened to find our representatives so out of touch
with their home state," she said
DNA testing not only solves scores of cold cases, but prevents rapists and
killers from hurting more people.
"While clearing the backlog is our best hope of closure," Wheeler said,
"it is your best hope at not finding yourselves in our situation."
(source: Associated Press)
Closing statements heard in Harris death penalty case
3 blurry photographs of a toddler playing on a slide document the final
hours of 2-year-old Jordans Lands life.
Miraculously salvaged from the charred hulk of the 1999 Dodge Stratus -
the trunk of which became a tomb for Jordan and her mother, Whitney, - the
photos depict Jordan in her birthday dress on a sunny day at Panhandle
Park in Jonesboro. Hours later, Jordan would be shot once in the chest and
once in the face as she sat helpless in her car seat.
Her mother would be gunned down by 3 bullets. Then their bodies would be
stuffed into the trunk and their car set ablaze.
Jurors were shown the photographs for the 1st time during closing
arguments Wednesday by attorneys in the death penalty trial for Wesley
Harris. They were taken by Whitney Land on Nov. 8, 1999, shortly before
the pair were abducted from the park and driven to Gwinnett County. The
courtroom seemed unusually silent as each one was held up for their
Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter opted not to show jurors
graphic photographs depicting the charred remains of Whitney and Jordan
Land, although he did urge the panel to look at the pictures during
Whitney and Jordan Land were allegedly killed by Harris on Nov. 8, 1999.
Prosecutors believe Harris intended to rob the pair after he confronted
them at the park.
He allegedly shot them when the holdup went awry, disposing of the bodies
outside a water treatment plant in Duluth. The motive for the robbery was
fueled by Harris need for child support money, Porter said.
"The horror of it boggles the mind," Porter told the jury. "Either a
mother watched her daughter die, or a daughter watched her mother die."
Harris wore a light-colored button-down shirt and remained stoic during
the closing arguments.
Defense attacks states evidence
Defense attorney Johnny Moore urged jurors not to be swayed by emotions.
"Set aside the tragedy and the emotions and look at the facts in this
case," Moore said.
During the pretrial motions dating back to 2000 and even since testimony
in the trial began last week, the defense has remained relatively silent
about the facts of its case. Moore and his co-counsel have only insisted
that the states evidence will not prove Harris was guilty.
For the 1st time Wednesday, Moore in his closing argument began hammering
away at the prosecutions evidence.
Moore argued that Gwinnett was not the proper venue for the case, because
he said the slayings probably happened in Clayton County. Moore told
jurors Land and her daughter must have been killed at Panhandle Park. He
pointed to evidence that two shell casings from bullets were found near
the spot where Lands car had been.
Prosecutors believe the 2 bullets fired in Panhandle Park were probably
just warning shots.
Yet another point of contention exists between prosecutors and defense
attorneys concerning the evidence, which also concerns whether Whitney and
Jordan Land were shot in Gwinnett or Clayton County.
10 calls were placed to the Gwinnett 911 center from Lands cell phone.
They were traced to a cell phone tower in the area of Beaver Ruin Road,
but no one spoke on the other end of the line.
Porter said Whitney Land made the calls while being held captive in
Gwinnett, just before she died. The defense argued that Land was already
dead at that time. Moore said the calls were probably made because Harris
was pressing a "hot button" to 911 while fumbling with an unfamiliar cell
phone and attempting to call his friend.
Moore disparages witnesses
Moore cast suspicion onto Land's ex-husband, Eddie Land, who was seen at
the park earlier that day. An officer from Clayton County testified during
the trial that there had been an incident of domestic abuse involving
Eddie and Whitney Land.
"There has been no testimony about what (Eddie Land) was doing," Moore
said. Eddie Land was on the list of states witnesses, but he was never
called to testify.
Moore also tried to discredit the state's key witness, Demetrius Taylor,
who testified that Harris telephoned him for help the day of the slayings
and said "I shot somebody." Taylor testified he saw Harris toss a cell
phone belonging to Land and a handgun into the lake at an apartment
complex in Duluth. Taylor said he then helped Harris burn the car, unaware
that two bodies were in the trunk.
Moore characterized Taylor as "an uncharged, co-conspirator," who had
struck a deal with prosecutors to testify against Harris.
In his final plea to jurors, Porter insisted there was no deal with Taylor
and characterized the defense's arguments as "throwing sand into their
"Tearing down Eddie Land and Demetrius Taylor, and saying 'I might've done
it, but I didn't do it here,' thats what their defense consists of,"
The jury will begin deliberating today.
(source: Gwinnett Daily Post)
Spirko: troubled, but I am at peace' -- As death date nears, he clings to
John Spirko knows he may have only 12 more days of life, but he clings to
hope that someone will postpone the executioner's call.
The state of Ohio plans to execute Spirko at 10 a.m. Nov. 15 for the 1982
murder of rural postmaster Betty Jane Mottinger, a crime Spirko insists he
did not commit.
In a death row interview Wednesday, a determined and sometimes emotional
Spirko accused prosecutors and investigators of railroading him with lies
and withholding evidence that would have cleared him. He regrets
testifying at his 1984 trial and would welcome a conversation with
"This is a case of pure, raw 1920s frame-up, period. It stinks to high
heavens," said Spirko, 59, as he sat at a small conference-room table near
his cell at the Mansfield Correctional Institution, hands cuffed to a
chain-like belt. "I have a troubled mind, but I am at peace."
The state maintains he was justly convicted. Spirko argues that after 23
years, new information is still emerging.
Questions have arisen recently about the credibility of Paul Hartman, the
primary postal inspector in the case. And last week, a former painter who
years ago implicated his boss in Mottinger's murder passed a polygraph
Former painter John Willier has said he recognized the shroud that
Mottinger's body was wrapped in as a drop cloth he and his boss used on a
house-painting job the summer Mottinger was kidnapped.
Spirko's lawyers sued in U.S. District Court in Toledo Wednesday seeking
to force DNA testing of evidence, including the shroud. The Ohio attorney
general's office has said it would agree to testing if evidence is
Mottinger was kidnapped from her tiny Elgin, Ohio, post office on Aug. 9,
1982. Her body - stabbed more than a dozen times and wrapped in a
paint-splattered shroud - was found six weeks later in a soybean field 50
Spirko said that even should he be executed, the case will not end.
"This case hasn't even begun," he said. "A lot of people will not let this
go. It will come and haunt these people for a long time."
Spirko harshly criticized Hartman, who could not be reached.
Gov. Bob Taft can allow Spirko to be executed, commute the sentence or
Spirko believes it will be a difficult decision for the governor.
"You know that the political atmosphere is one that your chances are
small, even though you are innocent," Spirko said. "I hope he would err on
the side of caution."
Though the end may be near, it's a slippery concept to grasp, Spirko said.
"For some reason, I just can't get my mind around it. I keep thinking that
something good is going to happen," he said.
Spirko expressed a desire to meet with Mottinger's family.
"Right now, they are just going from their pain and hatred and anger and
misery and they want me dead. I understand that," Spirko said. "If they
could just put their anger and hate aside. There are so many things they
believe that are just outright lies."
Struggling for emotional control, Spirko said that saying goodbye to his
own family will be the toughest challenge.
No physical evidence connected Spirko to the crime. Investigators had
never heard of the career criminal until he contacted them, saying he
wanted to trade information about the Mottinger case for lenient treatment
for himself and his girlfriend in another, unrelated case.
In more than a dozen interviews with postal inspectors - none of them
tape-recorded - Spirko spun an ever-changing series of gruesome stories
about what might have happened to Mottinger.
Although they disproved much of what Spirko said, investigators asserted
that, sprinkled among his lies, were details that only the killer could
Spirko and his lawyers have argued that Spirko got some details from media
reports while others may have been supplied - deliberately or
inadvertently - by investigators.
Spirko's execution should not go forward before DNA testing is done, said
Steven Drizin, legal director for the Center on Wrongful Convictions at
Northwestern University's School of Law. Drizin has argued that Ohio could
be poised to execute an innocent man.
He repeated that argument Wednesday at a forum on Spirko's case at Ohio
State University's Moritz College of Law.
(source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Spirko sees no way out of death----Asserts innocence just days before
In an interview Wednesday from Death Row, John Spirko said his faith in
God comforts him as he awaits a Nov. 15 date with the executioner for a
murder he said he didn't commit.
"Lots of times I read the Bible and think of Jesus in the garden before he
was arrested," Spirko told a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter who shared
the transcript with other Ohio newspapers. "He knew what he had to go
through. That's comforting, because I know what I have to go through.
Jesus was falsely accused. Jesus was on death row. If they can do that to
Jesus, what chance do I have?"
Spirko's attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking access to the
tarp used to wrap the murder victim's body in order to test for DNA
evidence that might point to another suspect. Kim Norris, spokeswoman for
Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, said Petro's office is still considering
a defense request that the state test the tarp.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Parole Board has rejected a defense request that it
reconsider its 6-3 recommendation to Gov. Bob Taft against clemency,
despite Monday's news that a witness who implicated another suspect in the
killing passed a lie detector test.
In the interview, Spirko, 59, reiterated his claims of innocence in the
1982 abduction and stabbing death of rural Van Wert County postmaster
Betty Jane Mottinger, saying he lied about having information about the
murder simply to win probation for his girlfriend on an unrelated charge.
He also said he was railroaded by then-U.S. Postal Inspector Paul Hartman,
who testified that Spirko divulged facts that only the killer would know
during a series of jailhouse interviews in the months after the crime.
There is no physical evidence tying Spirko to the murder. He was not a
suspect until he volunteered information in exchange for leniency for his
(source: Dayton Daily News)
November 1, 2005
Governor Bob Taft
30 th. Floor
77 South High Street
Re: Intervene Execution
Dear Governor Taft,
I am writing you this letter in a plea to intervene with the execution of
John G. Spirko Jr.
only until the DNA testing is complete and a full investigation can be
done to bring all that were involved in this murder to Justice. In doing
this perhaps the DNA will prove who the real people are that killed Betty
Jane Mottinger. It might even prove that Mr. Spirko did do it with the
others or perhaps that he did not. At least all of our conscious can be
free of knowing the truth and not wondering if Justice has or has not been
done to the fullest in this case. Please let all that can be done - be
done, so all the hard work my husband did to find all the murderers who
murdered his wife, Betty Jane Mottinger, will be brought to Justice.
Governor Taft, I pray that this would not ever happen, but what if the
following would happen. What if all that were involved in this murder were
not punished or even looked into. They would know that they got away with
murder. What would stop them from murdering again. No one cared enough to
even try to catch them the time they were involved with the murder of
Betty Jane Mottinger. What if they murdered again and maybe this time it
was someone that you treasure and love with all your heart. Later you
found out it was one of these men that killed Betty Jane and no one tried
to bring to justice when they had the chance and they killed your loved
one. Then how would you feel and how could you live with that for the rest
of your life? By not giving the time to have the DNA and a full
investigation happen in Betty Jane's Mottinger's Murder Case, that is what
you are asking us to do. You are asking us to just turn our heads and let
them go to murder again and again with no Justice being brought to them.
Please think about what you are asking us to do. Please give us faith in
the Justice System.
Connie Mottinger letter to FBI seeks DNA testing on Spirko case November
Special Agent In Charge
Chief Division Counsel
1502 Lakeside Avenue
Cleveland, OH. 44114
Re: Betty Jane Mottinger's Murder Case
Dear Mr. Wasky and Keppler,
I am the second wife of Clarence Mottinger. His first wife was Betty Jane
Mottinger, the Postmaster of Elgin, Ohio, who was murdered in 1982. I am
writing you with great concerns that need to be addressed.
I know that you have been asked to step back into this case. You have been
asked to do DNA and a full investigation. Information has been brought to
your attention that now a number one suspect in this case is Mr. Dale
You have declined to help for reasons that you feel it is up to the Postal
Inspection Service to continue with this investigation since it was their
case in the beginning and they are still involved. To me personally, it
sounds like you are "passing the buck". To me I can not understand why you
can not work together on this and still not step on each others "toes" in
your Departments. Especially since there is question on how this case has
been handled from the beginning and through the years after. I always was
under the understanding that the FBI was for the public to give us
protection, to make the Justice System work for the public. Your Service
says that you investigate kidnaping and violent crimes. This case has both
of these criteria. Betty Jane Mottinger was kidnaped from her working
place - a US Postal Office, she wasn't found until weeks later, thrown
next to the road in a bean field like a piece of trash, she was tortured,
and was stabbed fifteen times to her death. How much more heinous does a
crime have to be to get your attention?
I know that you have a lot of crimes that have to be investigated and in
the world today a lot to do to keep us safe, and I respect this and give
you a lot of credit for the job you do. But to us who knew and loved Betty
Jane deeply, her case is just as important as all the other crimes are.
All that are involved in this crime need to be punished. Just because this
case is considered to have too many years behind it, it does not seem old
to us. It stays with us as if it just happened yesterday. The truth and
Justice can be served in this case, if you would just step up and help the
Postal Inspection Service. Please work together on this, the Postal
Inspectors have not been able to do this case any justice by themselves.
An other reason for your decline was - the DNA would not prove Dale Dingus
was involved or did the murder if his DNA was found on the tarp that Betty
Jane's body was wrapped in if it was his tarp. His DNA and his crews DNA
would be expected to be there. I understand this, but this kind of thought
also raises an other question. If the DNA is done on this tarp and only
DNA from Mr. Dingus and his paint crew are found and no other DNA,
wouldn't that also say they had to be involved? Betty Jane's body was
found only a few yards down the road from Mr. Dingus's mother's barn and
property. What a better place to put a body. That way Mr. Dingus could
guard who was on the property and keep everyone away. He was close enough
to make sure the body would be destroyed in time by the heat of the summer
and insects who would feed on a corpse would take over. The body was ready
and weighted to be thrown in the Blanchard River which was only a few feet
away if things were not going right for him with her body being destroyed
in the field. At that time the weather enabled for the Blanchard River to
be high enough to hid the body.
I personally find all of the above reasons for your decline to help with
this Murder Case of our beloved Betty Jane Mottinger to be totally without
The public trust you, count on you, hold you with the greatest of respect,
and I would like to think we could continue to do this with the concerns
of this murder case.
Thank- you for taking the time to read my letter. Please take my plea to
you to heart.
Judge rules transsexual can represent herself in death-penalty trial
In Camden, convicted killer and transsexual Leslie Nelson will be able to
represent herself in her pending death-penalty trial, a judge ruled today.
It will be Nelson's third trial to determine penalty for the murder of
Haddon Heights police officer John Norcross.
Jury selection is set for April 17 before Superior Court Judge Samuel D.
Natal. Juries have previously returned 2 death sentences but both were
overturned by the state Supreme Court.
Nelson used an AK-47 assault rifle and a 9 mm handgun to shoot down
Norcross and Camden County Prosecutor's Office investigator John
McLaughlin on April 20, 1995. The officers had gone to Nelson's home to
search for illegal weapons.
(source: Courier Post)
3d Circuit throws out '86 death sentence----Faulting Robert O. Marshall's
lawyer, judges ordered a new penalty trial.
Nearly 20 years after he was sentenced to death for arranging his wife's
murder, a once-prominent New Jersey insurance broker won a new hearing
yesterday on whether he should be resentenced to death or given a life
term in prison.
A 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in
Philadelphia ruled that Robert O. Marshall, formerly of Toms River, must
receive a new penalty trial within 120 days or be sentenced to life.
The New Jersey Attorney General's Office had no immediate response.
Neither Robert Bonpietro, a deputy state attorney general who handled the
appeal, nor John R. Hagerty, spokesman for the Division of Criminal
Justice, could be reached for comment.
Marshall, 65, was sentenced to death in March 1986 for arranging the 1984
contract killing of his wife, Maria. She was shot in a remote area off the
Garden State Parkway in Ocean County as the Marshalls returned home from
The case became the focus of a best-seller, a TV miniseries, and a student
documentary. Marshall also wrote a book from death row, Tunnel Vision.
The federal appeal concerned whether trial lawyer Glenn Zeitz of
Haddonfield should have done more to persuade the jury to spare Marshall's
"We are confident that Zeitz's numerous failures in investigating and
preparing for the penalty phase of the case, and in putting on and arguing
a case for life, prejudiced Marshall," wrote Judge Marjorie O. Rendell,
who heard the appeal with Judges Jane R. Roth and Edward R. Becker.
Rendell wrote that the "lack of preparation is striking and inexplicable,"
and that "it clearly doomed Marshall," who was sentenced to death after
just a two-hour proceeding.
Zeitz said yesterday that Marshall was his only client ever to receive a
death sentence, and he brushed off the Third Circuit's criticism.
He said that the law governing how defense lawyers must proceed in capital
cases had changed dramatically over the years - and that Marshall, like a
number of death-row inmates across the nation, had benefited as the U.S.
Supreme Court refined what constitutes ineffective assistance of counsel.
"The law has changed in a more favorable way for criminal defendants who
want to get new sentencing hearings," Zeitz said.
The New Jersey Supreme Court rejected allegations that Zeitz had been
constitutionally deficient. In 2002, the Third Circuit ordered hearings on
the issue, and U.S. District Judge Joseph E. Irenas concluded last year
that Marshall should receive a new penalty hearing. The Third Circuit
affirmed Irenas' decision.
Marshall, whose conviction remains intact, is not on death row but is in
state prison. There are 10 death-row prisoners in New Jersey, which has
not had an execution since 1963.
(source: Philadelphia Inquirer)
Appeals Court Tosses N.J. Death Sentence
In Trenton, a federal appeals court Wednesday threw out a former insurance
salesman's death sentence for arranging his wife's murder 22 years ago in
a case that was the subject of a true-crime book and a TV miniseries.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia found that Robert O.
Marshall's lawyer did not adequately represent him during the death
penalty phase that followed his 1986 conviction. The court ordered that he
receive a new death penalty hearing or a life sentence.
Robert Bonapietro, a deputy attorney general for New Jersey, said an
appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was under consideration.
Marshall was convicted of hiring a hit man to kill his wife at a dark
Garden State Parkway rest stop so he could continue an affair with another
woman. His tale became the subject of a best-selling book by Joe McGinnis,
"Blind Faith," and a miniseries of the same name.
Of the 11 men on death row in New Jersey, Marshall had been one of the
closest to being executed.
New Jersey has not put anyone to death since 1963. Most of the death
sentences handed down since the death penalty was reinstated in 1982 have
The 3-judge appeals panel affirmed a 2004 federal court decision that
found Marshall's lawyer, Glenn A. Zeitz, failed to prepare for Marshall's
death penalty phase.
Zeitz, who has appeared as a legal commentator on Court TV, did not
present any witnesses during the penalty phase. He said at a 2003 hearing
that he made a strategic decision not to.
(source: Associated Press)
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