death penalty news----TEXAS, USA, VA., ILL., OHIO, N.MEX.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Sep 14 18:05:44 CDT 2005
Female killer set for death penalty
Texas stands ready today to execute the 1st black woman, and only the 3rd
female, to be put to death since the state resumed capital punishment in
Frances Newton, 40, was convicted of murdering her husband and 2 children
in 1987. She always has maintained her innocence, though prosecutors
convinced a Harris County jury that she killed her family for $100,000 in
Only a last minute stay of execution by Gov. Rick Perry or intervention by
the Supreme Court can halt the execution. Newton's lawyers wrote a letter
to Mr. Perry Monday, asking for a 30-day stay in their efforts to show
that prosecutors erred in linking her to a presumed murder weapon.
Unlike the days preceding the executions of Karla Faye Tucker in 1998 and
Betty Lou Beets in 2002, Newton's plight has not elicited much interest
from outside the state, although the president of the American Bar
Association has asked the governor to intercede, citing "compelling new
evidence" that "has not been evaluated by Texas courts."
Michael S. Greco, the ABA president, said Newton was not properly
represented by her court-appointed lawyer, Ron Mock of Houston -- a lawyer
who often has been reprimanded by the state bar and is now prohibited from
representing clients in death penalty cases because of his inadequacy. Mr.
Mock told the judge the day her trial began that he had not interviewed a
single witness on behalf of Newton.
David Dow, a Houston lawyer who now represents Newton, wrote the governor
saying courts had been "influenced by a lie" in the state's assertion that
a gun placed in an abandoned house was the one used to kill her family.
"Newton," he wrote, "has always admitted she placed a gun in an abandoned
house. We know, however, that the State recovered at least two guns and
perhaps as many as three, and we have reason to believe that at least two
guns, and possibly all 3, were handguns manufactured by Raven Arms. What
that means is that we have absolutely no reason to believe the gun Newton
admits to having placed [made by a different manufacturer] was the murder
One assistant district attorney testified that only one gun was found. A
top police officer said he thought two had been recovered. Another
assistant district attorney told a Dutch television newsman there had been
2. Few believe Mr. Perry will intercede and halt the execution. Last
December he granted a 120-day stay.
In the past week, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted not to stop
the scheduled execution and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted
7-0 not to recommend that the governor commute the sentence to life in
prison. Mr. Dow has filed a final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Austin American Statesman editorialized strongly Monday that Newton
should not be executed. "Race, ethnicity, income and geography all are
factors in the imposition of death sentences. As long as Texas has a death
penalty, capital defendants should have access to competent legal counsel.
Newton didn't get that. For that reason she should be spared."
(source: Washington Times)
State will execute 1st black woman----Frances Newton set to receive lethal
The 1st black female to be executed in Texas will receive a lethal
injection at 6 p.m. today.
Frances Elaine Newton, 40, has spent the last 18 years on death row. She
was convicted of murdering her husband and two children in Houston in
April 1987. Prosecutors claimed she killed them to collect on a $50,000
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted Monday in a 7-0 decision
declining Newton's requests that the board recommend for Gov. Rick Perry
to commute her death sentence to life in prison. The vote came 2 days
before Newton's scheduled execution.
Rissie Owens, presiding officer of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles,
said in a statement that each board member gave full consideration to
Newton's clemency request. The board considered all the information
submitted from any interested parties including prosecutors, family
members and the public. He said Newton's claims of innocence were not
"I wish that the courts and the parole board would have been a little less
anxious to assume that everything that the state is saying is true," David
Dow, University of Houston law professor, said. "The state is saying
things that are not true."
Gov. Rick Perry granted Newton a 120-day reprieve on Dec. 1, 2004 on her
scheduled execution day to allow pardons and paroles officials further
investigation regarding the alleged murder weapon, a .25-caliber pistol.
Dow has represented Newton since the summer of 2004. He said he did not
believe Newton had access to the murder weapon, a fact he says the state
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People actively
protested Newton's case at the governor's office, said Nelson Linder, head
of the Austin chapter. He said he never once received any sort of response
from state officials. NAACP protested the case on legal and moral grounds.
"Given the fact that the evidence was not clear, and she did not have an
effective council makes you question due process," Linder said. "Race
always plays a factor in any crime in America. It is very troubling."
Dow refused to comment on the issue of race in the sentencing.
Newton's mother, father and three siblings will be present at the
execution as well as her former husband's two cousins.
According to Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of
Criminal Justice, Newton did not request a last meal, but one will be
provided if she decides that afternoon to have one.
Dow said when he spoke to Newton Tuesday morning, she was hopeful. But her
lawyer said he knew time was running out. Since Texas reinstated the death
penalty in 1982, the state has executed 348 people. Newton will be the 3rd
female and first black female.
(source: The Daily Texan)
Set to kill Frances Newton----Horror of the Texas killing machine
FRANCES NEWTON has been sitting on Texas' death row for the past 17
years--for a crime that she very likely did not commit. But if Texas Gov.
Rick Perry gets his way, Frances will be put to death on September 14--the
1st African American woman to be executed by the state of Texas since the
Accused of shooting her husband Adrian and 2 children in 1987, Frances was
railroaded onto death row on the flimsiest of evidence--by a system that
couldnt be bothered to look for the truth.
As the Austin Chronicle recently put it, "There is no incontrovertible
evidence against Newton, and the paltry evidence that does exist has been
completely compromised. Moreover, her story is one more in a long line of
Texas death row cases in which the prosecutions were sloppy or dishonest,
the defenses incompetent or negligent, and the constitutional guarantee of
a fair trial was honored only in name."
Police and prosecutors--in addition to Frances' own incompetent trial
attorney--ignored her claim that her family was murdered by a drug dealer
that her husband owed money to. Despite the fact that an anonymous caller
the day after the shooting gave a description and license plate number of
a truck parked in the driveway of the Newton home on the night of the
shooting, police never followed up on the lead. Instead, they claim
Frances was after life insurance money--and made her their only suspect.
The physical evidence against Newton is full of holes. "[T]here wasn't any
physical evidence at all on Frances Newton," her new attorney David Dow
told Democracy Now! "There wasn't anything at all on her clothes. There
wasn't anything at all in her car. This is somebody who by the state's
theory would have had to have killed three people with perfect
marksmanship, and then completely clean the crime scene in such a way that
investigating authorities could find no physical evidence tying her to the
scene at all, in 20 minutes."
Because of the numerous inconsistencies in the case, last December,
Frances was granted a 120-day reprieve for the evidence to be re-examined.
But recent testing on her skirt, which prosecutors claim places her as the
shooter at the scene of the crime, couldnt be done--because original
forensic tests had not only destroyed the evidence, but Harris County
officials had improperly stored the skirt by sealing it inside a bag,
together with items of bloody clothing, making it worthless as evidence.
While police claim that ballistics tests confirm that a gun they say
Frances had in her possession was used as the murder weapon, Dow says that
police recovered at least 2 similar pistols during their investigation of
the murders--a fact that police and prosecutors never revealed to Newton's
During an interview earlier this year with a Dutch reporter, Assistant
District Attorney Roe Wilson confirmed that "police recovered a gun from
the apartment that belonged to the husband," but added that, "[It] had not
been fired, it had not been involved in the offense...It was simply a gun
[Adrian] had there; so there is no 2nd-gun theory."
Wilson later claimed to have "misspoken," saying that there was no second
gun recovered. But at least 2 separate affidavits from police
investigators allude to the recovery of a 2nd gun--though the Harris
County Sheriff's Department has refused to turn over additional reports to
What's more, in Harris County, where Frances Newton is from, the police
crime lab is notorious for botching evidence in death penalty cases. Last
year, Houston's chief of police was forced to call for the state to delay
all executions in cases where evidence was used that had been processed at
the Harris County crime lab--after hundreds of previously missing boxes of
evidence were found that pertained to more than 8,000 criminal cases. More
recently, according to Human Rights Watch, problems at the crime lab have
included missing evidence, defective DNA analysis and inaccurate ballistic
As Dow recently asked, "Is it plausible to think that the Houston Police
Department ballistics lab mixed up the weapons? In view of what we know
now--from faulty ballistics evidence in other cases, to dozens of mistakes
in DNA analysis, to scores of boxes of lost or missing evidence--I would
think that only the most stubborn, naive or disingenuous prosecutor would
say with any confidence that Newton is guilty."
Like many other inmates on death row, Frances Newton's defense was not
just inadequate, but wholly incompetent. She was originally "defended" by
Ron Mock, a lawyer so outrageously inept that he was later barred from
taking capital cases in the state of Texas--and has since been suspended
from practicing law until the year 2007. "Death Row Mock," as he was
nicknamed--because he never won an acquittal in a capital case, and had at
least 16 clients sentenced to death--failed to call any witnesses or do
any investigation in Frances" case.
When Frances and her parents begged the trial judge to let her change
attorneys, the judge agreed--but refused to grant a continuance, leaving
he with no choice but to stick with Mock.
American Bar Association President Michael Greco has also written to Gov.
Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to request that
Frances execution be stayed, citing Mocks gross incompetence as just one
of the compelling reasons. But over the weekend, the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals rejected Frances latest motion, saying that the evidence
of a second gun was not "new." The court also has rejected claims that
Frances received inadequate representation in her first trial, and that
the prosecution had destroyed and contaminated crucial evidence
Speaking out for Frances as her execution date approached were Tom and
Virginia Louis, the parents of Frances murdered husband Adrian. "We do not
wish to suffer the loss of another family member," they wrote to the Texas
Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Frances' mother, Jewel Nelms, was recently admitted to the hospital when
the stress of her daughters approaching execution put her health in
jeopardy "I would ask the Governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles to
look at the facts in the case and make a true and fair judgment--like they
would want someone to do if it was their child," Jewel recently told
Campaign to End the Death Penalty activist Lily Hughes.
Despite her poor health, Jewel pledged to continue fighting for Frances as
the execution date loomed. "I'm hoping this is the evidence thats going to
get us back in the courts, since we have enough evidence now to know that
there are things that are hidden that should have been brought out in the
beginning," she said. "I know for a fact that if the jury had known about
a 2nd gun, the verdict wouldnt have come out like it did... "Everybody is
really disappointed in our system here in Houston, and knowing that
they've hidden things for all these years is really kind of scary. Because
I don't think they just singled out Frances. I would like very much to
ask: why did they feel the need to hide things? That says a lot about our
system...It makes me think maybe theyve been killing people that they
could have saved, because they were wrongfully convicted--and that is what
they are trying to do to my daughter."
Activists are planning a protest at the governors mansion on September 14
at 5:30 p.m., 11th and Lavaca Streets in Austin. Go to www.freefrances.org
and www.nodeathpenalty.org for more information.
(source: Socialist Worker)
Roberts Gives Hints on Race, Death Penalty
U.S. Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, treading a line between candor
and caution, gave a Senate panel hints about his views on government
seizure of private property, civil rights and the death penalty.
"The court was not saying you have to have this power, you have to
exercise this power," Roberts said. ``What the court was saying is, there
is this power and then it's up to the legislature to determine whether it
wants that to be available."
Roberts signaled he may support limits on death penalty challenges. Asked
by Leahy whether the Constitution allows executions of innocent people,
Roberts reframed the question, pointing to a 1993 Supreme Court decision.
"The question is never do you allow the execution of an innocent person,"
Roberts said. "The question is do you allow particular claimants to raise
different claims, 4th or 5th or 6th time, to say at the last minute that
somebody who just died was actually the person who committed the murder,
and let's have a new trial?"
Roberts said the most effective way to reduce the risk of executions of
innocent people was to have the "best counsel available at every stage."
He said if 4 justices voted for a stay of execution and a 5th vote were
necessary to keep the appeal alive temporarily, he would cast the 5th
vote. "I think that practice makes a lot of sense."
-Roberts reiterated his opposition to the use of foreign law in rendering
U.S. court decisions, but he rejected the notion that judges who do so are
violating their oaths as some conservatives have argued.
(sources: Associated Press & Bloomberg)
Election Issues (Part 2): The Death Penalty
(Following is the 2nd in a 5-part series highlighting issues that will
impact the fall elections in Virginia.)
The Death Penalty
Because each person is created in Gods image and likeness, human dignity
belongs equally to each person, including someone convicted of a heinous
crime. While acknowledging the legitimate defense of individuals and
society, the Church teaches that the death penalty cannot be justified
when a government has other ways to adequately protect its people against
an unjust aggressor. The Church also observes that, today, "as a
consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively
preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable
of doing harm - without definitively taking away from him the possibility
of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is
an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically non-existent"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 2267).
Applying this teaching during his 1999 visit to the United States, the
late Pope John Paul II told those who attended a Mass in St. Louis: "The
new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally
pro-life who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of Life in
every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the
dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of
someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of
protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to
reform. I renew the appeal ... for a consensus to end the death penalty,
which is both cruel and unnecessary."
Like John Paul II, the U.S. bishops have called for an end to capital
punishment in our country. Earlier this year, they amplified their
long-held conviction that executions are unnecessary, and hence
inappropriate, in our time and place by launching the new "Catholic
Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty," designed to provide
parishes additional resources as they too strive to "proclaim, celebrate
and serve the Gospel of Life in every situation."
Virginias two Catholic bishops also addressed the death penalty issue
recently when they asked Gov. Mark Warner to commute the death sentence of
Robin Lovitt to life in prison. In their letter to the governor earlier
this year, Bishops Paul S. Loverde and Francis X. DiLorenzo called the
commonwealths life-without-parole alternative to executions "unique in its
ability to securely protect state residents and at the same time uphold
the dignity belonging to every person."
Virginias death penalty is, they wrote, "the extreme and unnecessary
measure of taking life to show that taking life is wrong." The two bishops
also pledged continued diocesan assistance to murder victims families who
endure "immense suffering" and expressed their hope for "healing that
cannot come from more loss of life."
Among the 36 states that permit capital punishment, Virginia is 2nd only
to Texas in the number of executions (94) performed since 1976. Despite
this alarming trend, lawmakers reactions are mixed. Some believe that
executions are no longer needed, others favor keeping the death penalty
but wish to reduce the possibility of errors in death penalty cases, while
still others even call for the further expansion of capital punishment.
Widely varying measures being considered by Virginia lawmakers and
- Legislation to abolish the death penalty.
- Legislation to impose a moratorium on executions while flaws in the
justice system are addressed.
- Legislation expanding application of the death penalty by eliminating
the requirement that only a crimes "triggerman" can receive a death
- An increase in state funding for legal services to indigent defendants,
who receive death sentences in a higher percentage of cases than
non-indigent defendants charged with the same crimes.
For more information go to www.vacatholic.org.
(source: Arlington Catholic Herald)
Attorney argues for 3rd trial for convicted child-killer
The attorney for convicted child-murderer Cecil Sutherland, seeking his
third trial in the 1987 sex-killing of a 10-year-old Southern Illinois
girl, told the state Supreme Court on Tuesday that his client was the
innocent victim of an illegal search and "bad science."
Afterward, the defense attorney, John Paul Carroll of Bloomington, Minn.,
dismissed reporters' questions about the almost $1 million he has
collected from Illinois taxpayers through a special program designed to
provide legal defense in death penalty cases - a fee so controversial that
it led to a change in the law governing that program earlier this year.
Sutherland was convicted of the rape and murder of Amy Schulz, 10, of
Kell, Ill., 75 miles east of St. Louis. Her naked body was found in a
nearby rural area north of Mount Vernon the morning after she had
disappeared while walking near her home. Her throat had been cut.
Sutherland, of Mount Vernon, was tried in Jefferson County and sentenced
to death in 1989. But the Illinois Supreme Court overturned that
conviction in 2000 on grounds of inadequate defense and ordered a new
trial. His 2nd trial - in 2004 in Belleville, because of publicity in the
Mount Vernon area - resulted in a 2nd conviction and death sentence.
Sutherland's defense has been paid for through the state's Capital
Litigation Trust Fund, which was set up in 2000 as part of Illinois'
sweeping death penalty reforms. The fund allows qualified attorneys who
take on death penalty defense clients to bill the state for their
Last year, it was disclosed that Carroll had billed the fund more than
$900,000 for himself for his work on the Sutherland case, as well as more
than $600,000 for his investigator on the case. At the time, Carroll was
quoted as saying that an aggressive prosecution forced him to look into
the stories of about 400 potential prosecution witnesses, which ran up
With other fees for other attorneys, expert witnesses and clerical costs,
the defense of the Sutherland case has cost the state more than $2 million
in the past five years. That's by far the biggest chunk of the almost $14
million total the fund has spent on defense in some 80 cases since 2000.
The revelation spawned this year's new law requiring attorneys to submit
detailed budgets to the judge before a case. That provision wasn't in
place when Carroll was collecting from the fund, so the state has had no
choice but to pay his bills.
Carroll said Tuesday that he is representing Sutherland in his latest
appeal for free. He sniped at reporters who asked whether that meant he
wouldn't be seeking any more reimbursement for expenses.
"How you do feel about Cecil Sutherland?" he asked several reporters
outside the courthouse. "You're asking about money. . . . How do you feel
about an innocent man . . . in prison? No comment?"
Earlier, in sometimes heated oral arguments in court, Carroll told the
justices that police from Illinois didn't have the right to search
Sutherland's car in Montana, where they found him after the murder,
because the search warrant was issued by an Illinois court.
"You can't take a search warrant from this state to another state,"
Carroll argued. "If that was (allowed) . . . some judge from Mississippi
could issue a search warrant for this courtroom."
Illinois Assistant Attorney General Ira Kohlman countered to the court
that the validity of the search warrant was irrelevant because Sutherland
had abandoned the car in Montana, meaning it could be searched without a
The high court will hand down its ruling later. It could confirm the
latest conviction and death sentence, overturn them or send the case back
to the circuit court for retrial.
Carroll also argued that a new form of DNA testing, used in Illinois for
the first time in the Sutherland case, left jurors with the false
impression that he was the only one who could have committed the murder.
Sutherland, 50, remains imprisoned at the Pontiac Correctional Center.
(source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
ACLU lawsuit is off the mark
No matter how scummy, death row inmates are still human beings. So no
matter how unruly, their treatment in prison should be humane.
But the lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union filed to prevent
the state from moving death row inmates from the Mansfield Correctional
Institution to the supermaximum security Ohio State Penitentiary in
Youngstown is going too far.
The ACLU says the inmates would be housed in smaller cells, 67 square feet
of unencumbered living space compared with 89 square feet of unencumbered
space in Mansfield. Its attorney, Staughton Lynd of Niles, said the
inmates would have about 1,050 square feet of recreation areas in
Youngstown as opposed to 21,000 square feet in Mansfield. And inmates who
have earned special privileges for good behavior might lose some after the
None of these sacrifices can be considered inhumane. And we are, don't
forget, talking about death row inmates.
It's troubling an Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction
representative had to testify in court about the amenities given to the
society's criminals. He pointed out that because the supermax has more
security, the condemned inmates would be given improved privileges there,
such as eating meals together, which they can't do in Mansfield. "More
inmates would receive more privileges than what currently exists for them
at Mansfield," rehabilitation department representative Mark Landes said.
The concern should not be how nice inmates have it. The concern should
simply be security and that they are not treated less than human. At the
supermax, they will not be subject to the same conditions as the
supermax's other inmates, who are in solitary confinement 23 hours per
Landes said moving the approximately 200 death row inmates and eliminating
91 jobs in Mansfield will save the state $5 million to $6 million. U.S.
District Judge James Gwin will rule later this month. He should allow the
(source: Editorial, The Tribune Chronicle)
Death penalty an option
Zacharia Craig offered no reaction to a judge's refusal to remove the
death penalty from consideration if a jury finds him guilty of killing a
State Police officer 4 years ago.
That flat effect is a symptom of the mental illness a psychologist says
Craig, 23, is afflicted with and likely suffered to an even greater degree
Aug. 1, 2001, when authorities say he mowed down State Police Officer
Craig's attorney, Jeff Buckels, had argued that his client's illness
should preclude him from facing the death penalty, because it should be
treated no differently than mental retardation.
State District Judge Louis P. McDonald denied the motion.
Federal and state constitutional amendments prohibit the execution of the
mentally retarded, but the rules do not apply to the mentally ill.
After the judge's ruling, Buckels told the court he planned to file a
motion asking the courts to find that Craig is mentally retarded as
That appears to be in opposition to Buckels' own expert witness, Dr. Eric
Westfried, who Monday testified that while Craig might be in no better
shape than a mildly mentally retarded person, he was not mentally retarded
in the classical sense, because he scored well in other cognitive areas.
Craig is expected to be tried Jan. 23 on a 1st-degree murder charge at the
Sandoval County Judicial Complex in Bernalillo.
His case has languished for 4 years because 3 times a judge has ruled that
he is incompetent to stand trial.
In June 2004, McDonald ruled Craig had been treated to competency, and
District Attorney Lemuel Martinez renewed his vow to seek the death
penalty in the case.
Craig has remained hospitalized at the New Mexico Behavioral Health
Institute, the state psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas, N.M., since he was
first ruled incompetent in May 2002.
Psychologists have testified that Craig suffered from severe Grave's
disease, a thyroid condition with symptoms that include psychosis, poor
judgment, agitation and distractibility. The disease has since been
treated with medication.
On Monday, Westfried, a psychologist, told the court that Craig also has a
moderate to severe disorder of the brain's right hemisphere. Symptoms
include a problem with visual and spacing functions, an almost autistic
inability to recognize negative emotions in others or appreciate
consequences, poor social skills and inability to form intimate relations.
Craig, he said, also has an IQ of 72, considered borderline to mild mental
Craig was 19 when authorities say he shoplifted cold medication from a
Grants Wal-Mart and led officers on a wild, 45-mile chase east on I-40 in
a stolen pickup.
Officers at the scene have testified that Craig aimed the truck straight
for Aragon, 37, who was standing in the median after placing stop sticks
across the road.
Aragon, of Grants, died instantly.
Mental illness vs. mental retardation is an especially timely issue in
light of last month's shooting deaths of 5 people, including 2 Albuquerque
police officers, all on Aug. 18. Attorneys for the accused, John Hyde, say
he has a long history of schizophrenia and is not competent to stand
Hyde, 48, is undergoing a 90-day competency evaluation at the Las Vegas
(source: Albuquerque Tribune)
Accused cop killer may face death penalty
A Sandoval County judge has ruled that a 22-year-old man accused of
running over and killing a state police officer in 2001 can face the death
State District Judge Louis McDonald has ruled that Zacharia Craigs thyroid
disease and brain disorder do not preclude him from standing trial in a
death penalty case.
Craigs attorney, Jeff Buckels, had argued that the combined results of the
medical and psychological problems essentially make Craig, for the purpose
of applying the death penalty, mentally retarded. The US Supreme Court has
barred the execution of the mentally retarded.
Craig is charged in the August of 2001 death of State Police Officer Lloyd
Aragon, who was killed in the median of Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque
following a police chase. Witnesses contend Craig intentionally drove into
Aragon, who had just put a spike belt on the freeway to stop Craigs
vehicle. Craig was allegedly fleeing from a shoplifting incident.
In May of 2003, Judge McDonald found Craig to be both incompetent to stand
trail and dangerous and ordered him to be committed to the New Mexico
State Hospital at Las Vegas psychiatric unit unless or until his mental
In June of 2004, after Craig had undergone a year of treatment in Las
Vegas, McDonald ruled that Craig had become competent to stand trial for
the murder of Aragon.
(source: KOB TV News)
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