[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----MASS., OHIO, FLA., PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Nov 19 23:01:56 CST 2005
Legislature or Proving Ground?----Romney should stop using the state
legislature to advance his presidential aspirations
When it comes to crime and punishment, we forcefully believe that the
government has no right to put a convicts neck on the chopping block. And
most of Massachusetts agrees. So we are thankful that Gov. Mitt Romneys
proposal to reinstate capital punishment in the Commonwealth met sound
defeat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives on Tuesday. But
theres no doubt that Romneys primary motivation for introducing this
hopeless bill was not so much to debate the criminal code as it was to
appeal to the national conservative electorate that hell need to capture
the presidency in 2008. The bill only added to Romneys track record of
grandstanding to conservative voters nationwide, which he accomplishes by
promoting positions that stand in stark contrast to those of his true
constituents. Romney must remember that he is the governor of
Massachusetts and will remain so until 2006, and, as such, his primary
duties are to the people of the Commonwealth, not potential voters
elsewhere in the nation. To abuse both his constituents and the
legislature as springboards for ones own political agenda is both
irresponsible and inappropriate.
The Houses decision to kill Romneys death penalty bill was commendable but
far from unexpected. Public opinion among commonwealth residents has
turned increasingly against the death penalty in recent years, and nearly
2/3 of the representatives ended up voting against this callous practice.
2 separate bills to reinstate the death penalty had already been rejected
by the House in the past 8 years - 1st in 1997, and then again in 2001. In
short, the people's will on the matter was abundantly clear, and there was
no need for Romney to reintroduce a settled issue for a 3rd time in a
Indeed, the attempted reintroduction of capital punishment is only the
latest installment in Romneys courtship of the GOPs conservative wing.
Romney has already become something of a national symbol of the opposition
to same-sex unions. Despite strong support for gay marriages in his own
state, Romney has repeatedly tried to advance his own ideology in the
legislature, which, in turn, has repeatedly voiced its disapproval of
banning same-sex unions.
These legislative defeats, of course, mean little to a governor whos
almost certainly not going to run for reelection in 2006. Romney has been
building the foundations for a presidential campaign almost since he took
office years ago. He's campaigned for Republicans across the country, made
speeches at major conservative functions, and even visited the political
breeding ground of Iowa multiple times. Given the transparency of his
presidential ambitions, there is little doubt as to Romneys motivation for
promoting a strictly conservative social agenda in a state that clearly
doesnt want his policies.
We do not challenge Romney's legitimate right to launch a presidential
campaign while in office, because planning a Presidential campaign must,
out of necessity, start several years in advance. We do, however, object
to his abuse of the legislature and blatant defiance of the will of his
constituents. To use his personal time to prepare for his political future
is one thing, but to hijack his state's legislature and convert it into a
national showcase of his political agenda is quite another. The issues
that Romney continues to needlessly push - reinstating capital punishment
and, most prominently, banning same-sex marriage - have already been
sufficiently debated, and the electorates will has been made clear. To
reintroduce them for his own political gain cheapens the legislature and
insults the residents of the Commonwealth. Such tactics are unbecoming not
only of a governor, but also of a possible future presidential candidate.
(source: Opinion, The Harvard Crimson)
Prosecutor gets more money
Jefferson County commissioners Thursday approved transferring funds to
keep the prosecutor's office open through the end of the year.
Jefferson County Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph Bruzzese Jr. transferred
$19,000 from defense attorney fees to the county prosecutor's office. The
county auditor's office also transferred more than $15,000 from the fund
used to pay attorneys in death penalty cases and 2 insurance accounts.
County Prosecutor Thomas Straus told the commissioners the average budget
for the prosecutor's office in the previous four years was $875,000. The
commissioners only appropriated $716,000 to Straus when he took office in
January. Straus said he also has a smaller staff and less assistant
prosecutors than in previous years.
"With a smaller staff, my office made a significant impact on the
prosecution of crime in Jefferson County," Straus said.
Straus presented the commissioners with a list of all jury trials, plea
changes and probation revocations for the year.
The list included:
- 12 defendants went to trial on 44 criminal charges. Guilty verdicts were
returned against all 12 defendants covering 41 charges. One defendant had
a not guilty verdict on 3 charges but was found guilty of another.
- 108 defendants pleaded guilty and were sentenced.
- 27 defendants had their probation revoked and more than 20 were
sentenced to prison or jail.
Straus said he and his assistant prosecutors carefully analyze cases and
only present applicable charges to the grand jury, resulting in either
guilty verdicts or trials. He said the end result is quicker action on
cases resulting in less money being paid for appointed defense attorneys.
"The numbers (the county) is paying for defense fees has dropped
dramatically. It is part of the efficient manner in which we prosecute
these cases," Straus said.
The assistant prosecutors in his office are considered part time but spend
more than 50 hours a week on cases.
Straus said he needs two additional assistant prosecutors. One would
handle criminal trials and the other would assist in providing legal
opinions to various county departments and agencies.
In other matters, commissioners approved a request from county Engineer
James Branagan to borrow $500,000 to help with a cash-flow problem
associated with slip projects. Branagan's office has contracted repairs to
dozens of slips caused by flooding rains in 2004 and 2005.
The projects are being reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management
Agency and the Federal Highway Administration but Branagan said
reimbursement is coming in three to four months behind the completion of
the project. The county engineer still has to pay the contract and wait
for the reimbursement check, he said.
He said the county engineer wants to do slip repair projects on county
Roads 53, 74 and 7F but may not have the money.
The county engineer will borrow the $500,000 and pay off the note as fast
as possible, with the interest being absorbed into the engineer's budget,
Branagan added the only other option is to do one project at a time,
instead of several at a time.
"We don't want to do that. (The slips) are a hazard to the public and we
want to move to get them repaired," Branagan said.
- Received a letter from the Jefferson County Agricultural Society asking
to be included in any discussions on the transfer of the deed for
Friendship Park from the county commissioners to the Friendship Park
The park board received a $492,000 grant from the Clean Ohio Conservation
Fund for the land purchase. The commissioners will give the money from the
purchase to the Friendship Park Board.
The fair board wants to make sure considerations are given for the lease
for the fairgrounds and utilities.
Commissioner David Maple said it is an opportunity for everyone involved
with the park to have a fair chance to protect their interests.
Commissioner Adam Scurti said the fair board will be represented when
there are discussions on the property transfer.
- Approved an increase in a contract for W.M. Brode Co. of Newcomerstown
for slip repairs on county Roads 4, 26, 39, 40, 55 and 57. Jeffrey
Oinonen, bridge engineer at the county engineer's office, said additional
slip work was needed once the contractor began the jobs. The original
contract was for $142,127 but was increased to $214,936. The federal and
state emergency agencies will reimburse 87.5 % of the money.
(source: The Steubenville Herald-Star)
Killer, 25, gets wish -- death -- for stomping veteran, 91
Jurors voted to execute Gabby Tennis, a borderline retarded man convicted
in September of killing a disabled war veteran.
A 25-year-old murder convict who is borderline retarded smirked Wednesday
evening after jurors gave him what he'd asked them for: the death penalty.
The panel of seven men and five women decided, by a vote of 8-4, to
recommend execution for Gabby Tennis. Deliberations lasted about 55
In September, the group convicted the troubled roofer of 1st-degree murder
in the slaying of a 91-year-old disabled war veteran from Hollywood.
Tennis stomped Albert Vessella to death during a botched home invasion in
June 2003. Bloody sneaker prints that matched Tennis' shoe size were left
on his face and right thigh.
After the verdict, juror Kerry Jewell, 48, said the most damaging
testimony was from the defendant's father, fortune teller Leo Tennis, who
told them his son confessed to the crime.
It didn't help when Gabby Tennis, ignoring his lawyer Patrick Rastatter's
advice, took the stand and admitted to robbing Vessella.
"The facts were pretty much stated by the defendant himself," said Jewell,
who declined to say which way he voted.
He said the panel spent most of the 55 minutes discussing the idea of
mercy and any mitigating factors. Jewell said Tennis' own plea for death
was not part of the equation.
"Nobody thought he was sincere," he said.
Rastatter argued passionately for mercy during closing statements,
reminding jurors that his client had been formally diagnosed as borderline
retarded at the age of 8.
"Of course Mr. Vessella is a million times the man Gabby Tennis is,"
Rastatter said. Tennis "was raised to be dishonest and deceptive."
Rastatter recalled a horrendous childhood in which Leo Tennis banished
Gabby's mother from his life when he was just 2. He said his client was
rarely allowed to attend school. Broward Prosecutor Howard Scheinberg said
he didn't buy the defense's low-IQ argument. He reminded jurors that
Tennis disabled Vessella's phone, changed escape vehicles and license
plates, altered his appearance and managed to hide the bloody Tommy
"He brutally murdered this gentle man," he said. "Gabby wanted money. He
wanted to buy a girl."
Tennis said he needed money for a dowry with which to ''purchase'' his
girlfriend, Sophia Adams, who was then 16. Adams' mother, Liza Boltos,
used to clean Vessella's Hollywood home. Tennis claims Boltos orchestrated
She has not been charged.
Before closing arguments Wednesday, a choked-up Tennis pleaded with jurors
to recommend the death penalty so that he would not rot in prison. "I
forgive you all for taking my life," Tennis said, choking up. "I don't
(source: Miami Herald)
Chavez will get new court-appointed attorney
The death row inmate convicted of murdering 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce will get
a new court-appointed attorney in his attempt to win a 2nd trial.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marc Schumacher allowed attorney Lee Weissenborn
to withdraw Thursday during a hearing to discuss preparations for a Dec. 5
evidentiary hearing ordered by the Florida Supreme Court. That hearing,
meant to determine if there were errors made during his trial, was
indefinitely postponed until Chavez is appointed a new lawyer by the
courts,Juan Carlos Chavez has claimed ineffective counsel and errors
hindered his first trial.
Weissenborn told Schumacher that he could not continue representing Chavez
because of the "attacks and slander of me by the key defense witness,"
former Assistant Public Defender Edward Koch.
Koch, who had been one of the public defenders representing Chavez at
trial, has alleged that Public Defender Bennett Brummer instructed the
defense "to pull their punches" in the trial because it could have hurt
Brummer's chances for re-election.
Schumacher, who presided at Chavez's 1st trial, will appoint his new
Chavez confessed to killing Jimmy, who was kidnapped at gunpoint and raped
after getting off his school bus near his family's home in a rural area of
Miami in September 1995. That prompted a state law bearing Jimmy's name
that keeps sexual predators in custody even after they have finished their
prison sentences if they are still considered a danger.
___ On the Net: The Jimmy Ryce Center for Victims of Predatory Abduction:
(source: Associated Press)
The Secret City
It's a small, country town where people know people and look out for one
another. "I love the people. I really like the town," says one person who
5600 people call Starke home. It's a place so quiet, there hasn't been a
murder in 3 years, but ask anyone here and they will tell you murder is
their big business.
"The prisons. That's where everybody works when you talk to them," says
Iris Johnson, who lives in Starke.
In the western shadows of Starke, down State Road 16, are some of
Florida's most violent criminals. Here, the state runs half a dozen prison
In all, more than 5,100 inmates a population about as big as Starke.
Just outside of the razor sharp wires is a community within a community.
When First Coast News tried to get pictures of this place from the sky,
the prisons went on lockdown and our crews were ordered to the ground,
even though we were not breaking any laws.
Down on the ground is what you own. Homes with white picket fences,
satellite dishes and swimming pools.
It looks like your normal neighborhood, but you won't find this place on
any map. The county property appraiser doesn't even have a record of it.
In this secret community, some streets have names, others do not. When we
plugged in one street name, mapquest said it doesn't exist.
The Department of Corrections says this community is staff housing for the
prisons. There are 134 homes, 87 mobile homes and 52 apartments.
The rent starts at $50 a month. The lawns are personally cut by the
prisoners. First Coast News cameras found prisoners cutting grass right up
to the front door of these homes.
In some cases, taxpayers pay for the water and electricity.
Anyone has access to this place, our cameras caught a school bus dropping
off kids. There is no sign saying keep out. So, First Coast News went in
and when we did, we were immediately stopped. "This is state
property...this is all state property, you have to have permission from
one of the wardens to take pictures," says one correctional officer. We
told the officer First Coast News attorney's advised us we were allowed to
be on the public road and as long as we stayed on the road, we were
allowed to be in the area. The officer replied, "This is state
property....this is state property, this is all state property."
According to the Department of Corrections' website, staff housing is to
enhance security and the response in emergencies by having key employees
around during their off hours. The Department's website says the staff
housing is, "based upon the best interests of the institution."
According to the website, only certain people can live in the housing. The
priority line goes like this-- 1. the Superintendent, 2. the Assistant
Superintendent, 3.Chief Correctional Officer, 4. Institution Investigator,
5. Medical Representative, 6. Maintenance, 7. Correctional Officers.
The First Coast News I-team found someone who was not on that list. Her
name is Sherri Starling. She told us she was an employee at the prison.
When asked in what capacity, she said, "I'm a secretary."
First Coast News has confirmed her position with the personnel office.
We've also confirmed, with personnel, Starling's current husband is not an
employee of the prisons.
According to a background check, Starling's ex-husband, William Hinson,
once lived at the home. He is a correctional officer. The 2 divorced in
When we asked Starling how long she had lived in the mobile home she
declined to answer. When asked why she wouldn't answer she said, "I'd
rather not because I don't want to lose my house." When asked why she
would lose her house, she said, "For doing something against the rules."
We asked if she was doing something against the rules and she said, "By
talking to you."
There's no way to know exactly who lives in each house or how long they
have lived there. Again--there is no paper trail because these homes don't
exist in public records.
Many of those who live out in this secret community list P.O. Boxes as
We tried to find out how many homes taxpayers were paying utilities for,
the Department of Corrections couldn't tell us and referred us to the
Department of Management Services.
DMS' spokesperson told us it doesn't manage the numbers, but that the
Department of Corrections does and to call Corrections back. We did and we
are still waiting for our answer.
According to the Corrections' website, only the Secretary of Corrections
can change rules and can alter who can live in this community and if
vacant spaces are left over after priority personnel are taken care of,
non-priority employees can be considered.
The website goes on to say housing agreements will end automatically if
housing is needed for an employee on the priority list.
(source: First Coast News)
Corrections Department tightens arrest rules
Beleaguered by months of publicity on the behavior of Department of
Corrections employees, DOC Secretary James Crosby announced on Thursday
the first in what's expected to be a series of changes to the department's
rules of conduct.
Crosby spoke with the department's four regional directors Thursday
morning to implement a new policy that will automatically place an
employee arrested for an "act of aggression" on leave until the department
investigates the arrest.
Previously, an off-duty arrest carried no mandatory action from the
Crosby said an "incident review team" formed last month will likely
suggest other revisions in areas such as drug and alcohol abuse,
promotions and personnel matters, and other staff misconduct.
He expects their report by the end of the year.
"Our tolerance level may have been way too low over the years," Crosby
said in a conference call with newspaper reporters Thursday. "Being
continuously on the front page like this makes you reevaluate."
In recent months, department employees have been arrested for fights at a
popular Starke bar, another employee apparently killed himself at Union
Correctional Institution after being publicly named in connection with a
sexual assault investigation, and three current and former officers were
arrested last week by Tallahassee police on battery charges related to an
April Fool's Day fight at a softball banquet.
Among the three men arrested was Allen Clark, a close friend of Crosby's
who, with no explanation, resigned his $94,000 position as Region I
director in late August.
Clark is at the center of a sprawling state and federal investigation into
The other 2 men, Richard Frye and James Bowen, were originally placed on
paid leave during a DOC investigation.
But this week, that changed to unpaid leave and they lost their
state-provided housing at the Apalachee Correctional Institution in
Crosby said he asked the regional directors to stress "the importance of
our officers taking pride in their jobs."
"By and large, I think we have a great agency and if you look at most of
the 26,000 employees you'll find them to be hard-working and dedicated,"
"There's always room for improvement."
Crosby said the decision to tighten the rules for misconduct was his own
and he was not asked to do so by the governor's office.
Crosby said the department has already changed policies to allow for
random drug testing with or without cause.
Federal agents arrested 5 men involved in a steroids ring earlier this
year involving current and former DOC employees.
"Random drug testing is not the norm in law enforcement, but we felt it's
necessary for us to take this action because of the environment we live
in," Crosby said.
Crosby said steroids weren't prevalent when he came up through the ranks,
and he said misbehavior by DOC employees may not be any greater than
"I don't know that the numbers are any higher," he said. "I think
attention is greater now. It makes one think."
He also said that the department is not culpable for the actions of its
employees outside of work.
(source: Herald Tribune)
Guilty on all 3 counts in child's murder----Former mechanic convicted of
murder, kidnapping, sexual battery
It took 5 hours of deliberation Thursday for a jury to return guilty
verdicts on murder, kidnapping and sexual battery charges for Joseph Smith
in the February 2004 abduction and slaying of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia.
Smith, his hair slicked back and wearing a gray suit, pursed his lips and
nodded as the jury foreman read the verdicts. Now, Smith's attorney, who
said he made a last-minute tactical decision to waive his right to a
closing statement, must focus on saving his client from lethal injection.
Sentencing is scheduled for November 28.
Smith, a 39-year-old father of three daughters, was out of jail on
probation when he was seen February 1, 2004, leading Carlie by the arm
away from a car wash parking lot.
Carlie's mother, Susan Schorpen, had strong words for the justice system
that allowed the former auto mechanic to walk the streets in the first
"He should've never been out of jail. The law has to change," she said in
tears during a news conference after the verdict was announced. "I lost
one of the most precious things to me in my life because of an animal, a
disgusting, perverted animal."
Smith had a history of run-ins with the law. In 1993 he pleaded no contest
to an aggravated battery charge, and in 1997 he was arrested on a
kidnapping charge in Manatee County, Florida.
He was acquitted on the kidnapping charge. The alleged victim told police
he grabbed her as she was walking down the street and threatened to "cut
her if she failed to remain quiet." A passing vehicle stopped and
intervened, enabling her to flee, she told police.
Smith was convicted in 1997 of carrying a concealed weapon and again in
2001 for heroin possession and attempting to obtain controlled substances
by fraudulent means, according to his arrest record from the Florida
Department of Law Enforcement.
Like Schorpen, Carlie's father raised questions after his daughter's
murder as to why Smith was a free man despite his criminal record. He
asked Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in February to look into the matter.
When Smith was charged with Brucia's murder, he already was in a Sarasota
jail on unrelated drug possession and probation violation charges.
Asked Thursday what she would say in her victim's impact statement,
designed to sway the jury's sentencing decision, Schorpen replied, "You'll
have to wait and see." She bitterly added that Smith is "going to get more
years on appeal than my daughter had in life."
Schorpen thanked the jury for its decision and told reporters she was
going to visit her father, who had been watching the proceedings on
Smith was found guilty of 1st-degree murder, kidnapping and capital sexual
battery on the 8th day of his trial. Thursday's conviction carries a
potential death penalty.
Carlie's abduction captured national attention when police disseminated a
videotape from a security camera outside a car wash. The video showed the
blonde, blue-eyed girl being led away, with little struggle, by a tattooed
man in a blue mechanic's jumpsuit. She was walking from a friend's house
and was a half mile from home.
Police recovered her half-naked body 4 days later a few miles from the car
wash on property owned by a church.
Smith pleaded not guilty, but the prosecution presented DNA and fiber
samples suggesting otherwise. Particularly damning was the testimony of
Smith's brother, John, who told jurors that Joseph confessed during a
jailhouse conversation, then later on the phone.
Of the video, John Smith said tearfully, "When I see him reach for the
girl, I knew it was him."
Carlie Bruscia's mother wants Smith executed
The mother of 11-year-old murder victim Carlie Brucia broke her silence
Thursday, telling reporters waiting for a verdict that she hopes Joseph
Smith gets the death penalty.
Susan Schorpen, who did not testify during Smith's trial, spoke with
reporters briefly outside the courthouse, where jurors are deliberating
the 39-year-old auto mechanic's fate.
Asked if the trial will finally bring the family closure, Schorpen said
that will not come until Smith is finally punished.
"My daughter's gone. I'll never hold her again. I'll never hear her laugh
again," said Schorpen, who is divorced from Carlie's biological father.
"Until [Smith] meets his maker, and I'm not going to be there to see what
he gets, that's the only thing that's going to give me any kind of
satisfaction. There's nobody on this earth that can do anything to him."
Schorpen said her family has been on a "roller coaster" since Carlie was
killed and has experienced misfortune. She did not elaborate.
If Smith is convicted of first-degree murder, Schorpen is expected to
testify and ask jurors to recommend a death sentence to Judge Andrew Owens
Jr. Schorpen expressed frustration that there could be as many as 12 years
of appeals if Smith is sentenced to death.
"We don't have an express lane like they have in Texas," Schorpen said.
Schorpen said that if she had a chance to speak to Smith, she would have
questions for him.
"If I could speak to him, I'd like to know why he chose my daughter and
why he had to kill her," Schorpen said.
(source: Court TV)
Death penalty appeal would be automatic----If Smith is sentenced to die,
next step is likely to center on DNA
Thursday's convictions of Joseph P. Smith will automatically be appealed
if he receives the death penalty for killing Carlie Brucia, attorneys
The most obvious issue on appeal is the testimony about DNA lab results
connecting Smith to a semen stain found on the 11-year-old's red shirt,
Sarasota defense attorney Derek Byrd said.
Defense attorney Adam Tebrugge saved his most vigorous attacks for that
testimony, arguing before the FBI agent took the stand that she shouldn't
even be allowed to testify because she didn't personally test the
He then objected 7 times and called four bench conferences during her
testimony because she didn't test the shirt at the FBI lab, only reviewed
But Circuit Judge Andrew Owens allowed the testimony. It could be
construed as hearsay evidence, which is not allowed, and prosecutors
should have called the biologists who did the tests, Byrd said.
"Why take that chance?" he said. "There's no need to take shortcuts."
During the trial, prosecutors said DNA evidence from the FBI lab has been
introduced in the same manner in numerous other cases. They likened it to
a doctor reading lab reports and blood samples taken by medical
In general, anything that was contested by the defense during the trial is
going to be the basis for an appeal, said Robert Batey, a professor of
criminal law at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport.
Even before the trial, Tebrugge attacked all the major evidence: the DNA,
a surveillance video of the abduction and recorded jailhouse admissions by
Tebrugge also requested the trial be moved to another county because of
extensive pretrial publicity, and objected to the jury selection process.
Almost all the prospective jurors had seen a video of the abduction
replayed numerous times on television news programs.
"I'm sure this attorney preserved every arguable error the judge might
have made for appeal," Batey said. "When the evidence of guilt is so
strong, you look for any possible basis to appeal and get a retrial."
It's very rare for a defendant to give up after being sentenced to death
and not appeal, Batey said. Even if the defendant decides not to appeal,
there is an automatic appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
(source: Herald Tribune)
Man could get death penalty in Bethlehem grocer's murder
An East Allen Township man charged with the slaying of a Bethlehem grocer
could face the death penalty if a jury convicts him of 1st-degree murder.
Matthew G. Jenkins, 20, received notice of his aggravating circumstances
at his arraignment Thursday in Northampton County Court. District Attorney
John Morganelli also filed paperwork informing Jenkins he will be tried
along with co-defendant, Omar Chaparro.
Morganelli had already given Chaparro, 19, his notice of aggravating
circumstances at his Nov. 3 arraignment.
Giving defendants their notice of aggravating factors enables prosecutors
to seek the death penalty.
Jenkins and Chaparro can only be sentenced to death if a jury returns a
conviction of 1st-degree murder. After the jury returns a verdict, the
trial goes into a death-penalty phase. If at least one aggravating
circumstance is found, and if that circumstance is not outweighed by a
mitigating circumstance, the death penalty may be imposed.
Morganelli has said he has taken preliminary steps to seek the death
penalty against Chaparro and Jenkins because the victim in the case,
50-year-old Concepcion Martinez, was killed during the commission of
another felony, robbery.
Police said Jenkins and Chaparro went to Martinez Grocery and Deli in the
500 block of Broadway in Bethlehem on Aug. 28 and planned to rob the store
of cash and cigarettes. Jenkins shot and killed Martinez with a
.22-caliber handgun when Martinez charged at him after seeing the gun,
Jenkins and Chaparro have admitted their roles in the killing to police.
(source: The Express-Times)
More information about the DeathPenalty