death penalty news----TEXAS, NEV., OHIO, CALIF., N. MEX.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Sep 13 23:42:32 CDT 2005
Court to hear pivotal death penalty appeal----States' rights, power of
president, world law at issue in Mexican's case
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is expected to hear arguments
Wednesday that will place the court between the rock of a controversial
death penalty case and the hard place of international law.
And to increase the stakes, the space in between involves presidential
The case involves the 1994 conviction in Houston of Jose Ernesto Medellin
for his part in the rape and murder of two teen girls.
Although he has lived in the U.S. since he was a small child, Mr. Medellin
was born in Mexico. He is arguing that his conviction is tainted by the
state's failure to inform the Mexican consul of the charges against him,
as required by international treaty.
The state argues that Mr. Medellin never asserted the treaty obligation
until a jury had placed him on Texas' death row. It argues that Mr.
Medellin is asserting a constitutional right that is unavailable to U.S.
The case, which has been rejected once by the Texas court, has profound
importance in Mexico, where there is no civilian death penalty. Mexico has
long complained that its citizens should not be subjected to the death
penalty in the U.S.
But the case is also being followed closely by those in the U.S. concerned
by an unusual assertion of presidential power and by those who decry the
growing influence of international law on U.S. cases.
The Vienna Convention of Consular Relations, approved by the U.S. in 1969,
requires that governments inform the appropriate embassy when they have
arrested foreigners for serious crimes if the suspects request that they
do so. But many suspects are not told that they can ask for such a step.
Last year, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands,
ruled that the U.S. was obligated to review all 51 complaints by Mexican
citizens facing execution in Texas and several other states that the
Mexican government had not been informed of their arrest.
Armed with that ruling, Mr. Medellin appealed his death sentence to the
U.S. Supreme Court. But in February, shortly before the case was to be
heard, the Bush administration ordered the states to conduct the
case-by-case review requested by the International Court.
In June, the high court returned Mr. Medellin's case to the lower courts.
Now back before the state's highest criminal court, the issues in the
Medellin case have become more complicated.
In a "friend of the court" brief, the Bush administration asked the court
to consider the president's order as binding, reflecting his power to
administer the nation's treaty obligations.
But Alabama, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico - all of whom have Mexican
citizens facing execution - asked the Texas court to, in effect, reject
the presidential order without ignoring it. Viewing it as an affront to
the state court systems, they have asked the Texas judges to consider the
White House action only a "request."
The states said the White House document, referred to as a presidential
memorandum, is "clearly a request to the state courts rather than an order
of any kind."
"It is unlikely, to put it mildly, that President Bush intended his
two-sentence memorandum to invite a judicial inquiry into such basic
questions of constitutional structure," they wrote to the court.
Tom Goldstein, a Washington lawyer who practices frequently before the
U.S. Supreme Court, said that with so many interests at stake, the
justices will follow the case closely.
"The Supreme Court is very focused on it. The world is focused on it," he
said. "It's a major case that will determine whether the U.S. is going to
bend a little to world opinion or chart its own course."
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Gun at center of death row appeal----Woman's execution scheduled for
Wednesday in slaying of family
The gun inside 7-year-old Alton Newton's blue knapsack was the focus of
the last-ditch legal battle lawyers were fighting in hopes of keeping the
slain boy's mother out of the Texas death chamber Wednesday.
Frances Newton Frances Newton, 40, faced lethal injection for the fatal
shooting 18 years ago of her son, her 21-month-old daughter, Farrah, and
her husband, Adrian, 23, at their Houston apartment.
She would be the 13th prisoner executed this year in the nation's most
active capital punishment state but only the third woman in Texas - and
the 1st black woman - since the state resumed carrying out capital
punishment in 1982. Nationally, she'd be the 11th woman executed since the
U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 allowed the death penalty to resume after a
Ms. Newton, who denies involvement in the killings, spent Tuesday visiting
with relatives at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Mountain View
Unit outside Gatesville in Central Texas, where the state's 11 condemned
women are held. It's about 140 miles northwest of Huntsville, where she
would be taken for the lethal injection scheduled for after 6 p.m. today.
Her attorneys waited for word from the U.S. Supreme Court, where they
filed an appeal Monday after Texas courts, lower federal courts and the
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected their arguments that she was
Claims her attorneys have made are that evidence used at her trial was
improperly destroyed, that the gun linked to the slayings was not the only
weapon recovered by police and that she has not been a problem inmate.
Ms. Newton, accompanied by a cousin, found the bodies the evening of April
7, 1987. Her husband had been shot in the head, the 2 children in the
Ms. Newton acknowledges hiding a .25-caliber handgun in the bag at an
abandoned house where it was recovered by police. Ballistics tests showed
it was the gun used in the slayings, but her attorneys argued it wasn't
the weapon Ms. Newton left there, that police recovered a 2nd weapon and
the guns were switched.
(source: Associated Press)
Nevada high court urged to overturn death sentence
The state Supreme Court was urged Tuesday to overturn the death sentence
ordered for Alfonso "Slinky" Blake, an aspiring R&B artist convicted of
killing 2 women and shooting a third in the southern Nevada desert.
Robert Miller, deputy Clark County public defender, told the high court
that the trial judge in Blake's case erred in letting jurors hear remarks
about prior bad acts that hurt his temporary insanity defense.
An expert witness for the defense testified that Blake suffered a brief
psychotic disorder and then the prosecutor sought to undermine the
testimony by bringing up several previous violent incidents in which Blake
had been involved years earlier, Miller said.
Chief Justice Nancy Becker questioned whether it would be wrong to allow
references to such incidents as long as there was a "reasonable basis" to
Miller said there's a requirement for what's known as a "Petrocelli
hearing" outside the presence of jurors, in which prosecutors must get a
go-ahead from a judge to present details about a defendant that they want
the jury to know about.
Deputy Clark County District Attorney Robert Daskas, the trial prosecutor,
countered that there was no need for such a hearing in Blake's case. He
added evidence of Blake's guilt was overwhelming.
Daskas said Blake wanted the three women to work as topless dancers and
give him part of their earnings, and when they refused he deliberately
marched them into the desert and shot each of them twice. Nothing in the
execution-style shootings suggested he was temporarily insane, the
Blake was sentenced to die after being convicted of two counts of
first-degree murder with the use of a deadly weapon and one count of
attempted murder for the March 5, 2003, shootings. The murder victims were
Sophear Choy, 19, and Priscilla Van Dine, 23. Choy's older sister, Kim,
also was shot but survived.
The high court will issue a ruling on Blake's appeal at a later date.
(source: Associated Press)
Spirko says he doesn't expect fair clemency hearing
Death row inmate John Spirko told the Dayton Daily News that he doesn't
expect to get a fair hearing on his request for clemency in the 1982
stabbing death of rural postmistress Betty Jane Mottinger.
Spirko, who claims innocence, said he's a threat to the justice system "as
long as I'm alive."
"I'm a danger to them because I'm innocent," he said. "I'm a danger to the
system because they don't want to admit that."
Spirko, 59, was to die by lethal injection next Tuesday, but Gov. Bob Taft
postponed the execution to Nov. 15 to give himself and the parole board
extra time to consider clemency.
Spirko called the board's unprecedented decision to have a complete
rehearing of his case just window dressing.
The new hearing, set for Oct. 12 in Columbus, is just designed "to dot the
i's and cross the t's," Spirko said.
(source: Dayton Daily News)
Man Testifies Against Men On Death Row In Murder Case---Charges Stem From
Four Hollywood Hills Murders
A man who pleaded guilty to murdering 4 people over a business dispute and
testified against 2 other men now on death row for the crimes was
sentenced Tuesday to 4 concurrent 15 years-to-life terms.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy-Powell imposed the
sentence on Carlos M. Amador, 29, of Los Angeles, who pleaded guilty on
Oct. 28, 2003, to 4 counts of 2nd-degree murder.
The charges stemmed from the May 4, 2002, strangulation-arson killings of
Gita Kumar, 42; her 18-year-old son, Paras; 16-year-old daughter, Tulsi;
and 63-year-old mother-in-law Sitaben Patel at the family's Hollywood
Amador testified against Victor Govin, 38, of Studio City, and Pravin
Govin, 36, of Cypress, who were convicted of 1st-degree murder and
sentenced to death.
Kennedy-Powell called the slayings "vicious and brutal" when she agreed
last Thursday with a jury's recommendation that Pravin Govin be executed
for the murders.
Victor Govin was sentenced to death last year.
Authorities said the killings stemmed from a business dispute over access
to an alley between a hotel the Govins owned and one of the victims'
family owned in the Universal City area.
(source: Modesto Bee)
Death penalty decision not yet made in Eastside Locos case
The Bernalillo County District Attorney says her office has not yet
decided whether to seek the death penalty against three men accused of a
string of murders.
Ben Gallegos, Frankie Gallegos and Juan Calles are suspected members of
the Eastside Locos, according to law enforcement officials. The 3 are
charged with kidnappings, racketeering and murders stretching from 2000 to
Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg says its unlikely a
decision will be made on whether to try the case as a capital murder
before it goes to a grand jury.
"It's extremely rare that an investigation is ever complete at the time
the case goes to the grand jury," she said. "It is continuing and once we
have everything we feel that we need we will sit down and discuss the
option of pursuing it as a death penalty case."
Law enforcement agencies say the Eastside Locos have dealt drugs in
Bernalillo and Valencia counties for a number of years.
Ben and Frankie Gallegos and Juan Calles are currently in federal custody
facing a variety of drug charges.
(source: KOB TV News)
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