death penalty news----TEXAS, PENN., N.MEX., MO. TENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Sep 20 18:07:14 CDT 2005
New Details in Summer Baldwin Murder Case -- New Evidence Emerges In
Baldwin Murder Case
Lubbock police are waiting to hear back from DPS forensic crime lab to see
if blood found at a Lubbock hotel room was from Summer Baldwin.
The Holiday Inn on Avenue Q is the target for police. They have reason to
believe Baldwin was beaten to death inside one of the hotel rooms.
Investigators found blood inside a room and sent it off for DNA testing.
Those tests will prove if the blood found matches Baldwin.
Through a string of evidence, police arrested Rosendo Rodriguez for the
death of Baldwin. They were able to track Rodriguez's debit transactions
which led them to a Wal-mart on the South Loop. On surveillance video
police found Rodriguez purchasing a black suitcase identical to the one
found at the landfill with Baldwin's body inside of it. The cameras caught
Rodriguez walking out with that suitcase in hand.
Police were led to the possible crime scene through his debit card
records. The night before Rodriguez used his debit card to pull $22 at an
ATM inside the lobby area of the Holiday Inn.
Investigators say any day, they will receive those results from the DPS
crime lab. Meanwhile, the District Attorney's office awaits final autopsy
reports. They may consider Rodriguez eligible for the death penalty, since
Baldwin was five weeks pregnant at the time of her death.
(source: KCBD News)
Group suing for jail access----Advocacy Inc. wants to check reports of
poor mental health care for inmates
A watchdog agency asked a federal judge Monday to allow surprise
inspections of the crowded Harris County Jail because of concerns that
prisoners are not receiving adequate mental health care.
After being rebuffed by county officials, Advocacy Inc. filed a lawsuit
asking U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison to issue a preliminary injunction
giving unhindered access to the jail.
Advocacy Inc., authorized by Congress to enforce federal laws ensuring
proper care for the disabled in Texas, sought access to the jail in August
after receiving 32 complaints of improper mental health care for disabled
prisoners in nine months, according to the lawsuit.
The county and Sheriff Tommy Thomas are named as defendants.
Advocacy officials also are concerned about severe crowding in the jail,
said Beth Mitchell, the group's senior attorney.
"If there is overcrowding in the jail, the likelihood that staff can
provide adequate care diminishes," Mitchell said. "It does seem like
people are going without adequate mental health care and it seems like
that might be due to overcrowding."
The lawsuit cites three prisoners' complaints that they were denied their
In one case, jail staffers are accused of waiting six weeks to administer
medication, even after being ordered to do so by a state district judge.
"There probably are a lot more people in jail that can't contact us or
don't know how to contact us," Mitchell said.
The lawsuit alleges that jail officials denied an Advocacy request for
access on Aug. 16, telling the group it needed to have an "access
agreement" on file. Advocacy sometimes enters into such agreements because
they clarify its powers, Mitchell said, but they are not required.
Advocacy attorneys say they were referred to the county attorney's office,
which requested more information. They provided it and waited 3 weeks,
then sent an e-mail, but had not received a response as of Monday, the
Assistant County Attorney John Barnhill said Monday that his office had
not received notice of the lawsuit. Jim Faulkner, special assistant to the
sheriff, did not return calls seeking comment.
According to the lawsuit, Advocacy contacted the office of County Judge
Robert Eckels and was told Sept. 8 that medical staffers at the jail
believed Advocacy's concerns were valid, but that signed consent forms
were needed for Eckels' office to investigate the complaints.
"I wasn't going to wait around and allow inmates to be injured or deprived
of adequate medical care because we can't get in," Mitchell said.
"Hopefully, maybe by doing this, the Harris County sheriff and Harris
County (officials) will hear and see that it's clear and unambiguous that
we are entitled to the access," she said.
The lawsuit states that several federal laws protecting the disabled give
Advocacy authority for unhindered and unescorted access to jails and
Mitchell said the lawyers at the federally funded, nonprofit agency are
not government or contract employees, and thus are shielded from political
The Houston Chronicle reported in July that, for the second year in a row,
the Texas Commission on Jail Standards had decertified the Harris County
Jail - the largest by population in the state.
According to a June report by the commission, inmates were packed into
cramped quarters, risking disease and violence, with almost 1,300 of the
more than 9,000 inmates sleeping on mattresses on the floor while large
sections of the jail remained empty because of inadequate staffing.
The Houston Chronicle reported in June that county officials took little
or no action after being warned almost 2 years ago - in a report
commissioned by the county - of a looming explosion in the jail
2 veteran jailers, independently of each other, described the jail system
as ripe for violence.
Speaking to the newspaper on condition of anonymity, they charged that
Sheriff's Department officials sometimes hid inmates from state inspectors
in "a game of musical inmates."
Mitchell said Advocacy, Inc. inspections would be unannounced.
"They can't put on a dog and pony show forever," she said.
A local mental-health official attributes much of the crowding to a
failure to deal with mental-health issues in Texas.
"The (local) mental-health system is, de facto, the Harris County Jail,"
said Betsy Schwartz, executive director of the Mental Health Association
of Greater Houston. "And the Harris County Jail obviously doesn't have the
mental-health resources to be able to serve that high volume of people."
According to Schwartz, a May 2005 study revealed that 24 percent of the
county jail population had been treated for mental-health issues in 2004.
"And that doesn't begin to show people in the jail who were from other
parts of the state that may have been part of other mental-health
systems," she said. "It's very much an under-reported number."
The average figure for jail populations nationwide is 16 percent, Schwartz
(source : Houston Chronicle)
Play examines death penalty----What if you strongly believed in a cause;
would you still believe in it if it affected you negatively? Find out in
"Brutality begets brutality; God made us better than that. We were made in
HIS image. Let us strive to love one another, forgive one another, enjoy
the beauty around us and live by The Golden Rule."- Maida C. Odom
The Executioner, a play written by Maida C. Odom, a Temple faculty member,
is a courtroom drama about a drug-related shooting of a child and elderly
man in an inner city neighborhood that ends up in a courtroom. It played
on Thursday, Sept.15 and Friday, Sept.16 at the Black Box @ the New
Freedom Theatre on Broad and Master streets.
The plot centers on an all black cast of eight which included an
overzealous prosecutor seeking the death penalty and a defense lawyer set
on proving his client's innocence. The defense attorney wants to assure
his client's acquittal, while the prosecutor wants to fix what he believes
is wrong with the city by sending the accused to the electric chair.
The prosecutor, who is seeking the death penalty, commits the same act -
murdering a child - during a heated moment in the courtroom.
The 1-act play, though fiction, is loosely based on the playwright's
courtroom experiences while working at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"I saw a lot of bizarre things happen," Odom said. Odom said that her
writing the play also had to do with her "deep concerns with the death
The play confronts social issues such as black-on-black crime and class
struggles within the black community, but centers on the death penalty. It
was set in a small courtroom where the actors faced the audience
throughout the duration of the nearly 70-minute performance. That way, the
audience metaphorically served as the jury and was forced to take a moral
stance on the issues at hand. Before the play began, Marvin Gaye's "Inner
City Blues" appropriately played in the background to set the ambience of
The Executioner succeeded in its attempt to garner a discussion on an
issue as controversial as the death penalty. Though consisting of only 7
acts, the play was able to be thorough in its presentation. The actors
immersed themselves in their roles, making it hard to believe that they
did not possess some of the same qualities of those who they portrayed.
Odom said the actors really owned the stage.
"It's interesting seeing your work brought to life," Odom said.
Nakia Dillard, an actor for 15 years, played the accused drug dealer
Willie Sylvester. Dillard 1st played the role in 2003.
In this version of the play, Dillard's deliverance of the role of
Sylvester was very convincing.
"It gives me a chance to come out of myself. ... It kinda gives me a feel
of what another person might go through," Dillard said of performing in a
role so different from his actual character.
Odom, an award-winning journalist, currently serves as internship
coordinator for the Journalism department and a lecturer in the School of
Communications and Theater.
The play was directed by Mel Donaldson, an SCT alum, who also created
Black Box @ the New Freedom Theatre and is the curator and host.
The Executioner first premiered in 2001 at the Triangle Theater in
Northern Liberties. It was last performed in 2003.
(source: The Temple News)
Man charged in cop's death faces death
The prosecution won 3 critical decisions with one more dismissal attempt
to be decided next month from a 13th Judicial District Court judge last
week in a high-profile vehicle homicide case which began Aug. 1, 2001,
with a shoplifting in Grants and ended with the death of a popular police
Judge Luis P. McDonald did grant the defense motion in favor of Zacariah
Dewitt Craig, now 24, to change the location of the legal proceedings to
the Sandoval County seat from the Cibola County seat where state policeman
Lloyd Aragon had been a popular city police officer.
McDonald favored 13th Judicial District chief attorney Lemuel Martinez by
denying defense motions to toss out the death penalty based on freedom of
religion and mental illness claims, and to dismiss theft charges.
While Martinez asserted to The Independent that he will continue to seek
the death penalty, the judge also set Oct. 11 and 12 to hear arguments
about whether the circumstances of the case warrant seeking the death
penalty for Craig. This is known as an Ogden hearing.
Craig was identified as the 19-year-old driver of a 1995 Toyota truck when
the fatal incident occurred in the median of Interstate 40 near Mile Post
126. That is the junction with N.M. Route 6 (the Las Lunas cut-off), about
42 miles from the scene of the theft which began the fatal incident.
Aragon, a 1982 Grants High School graduate, and New Mexico State Police
Officer William Cunningham were headed to Albuquerque around 7 a.m. that
morning for a federal court drug case when they heard the all-point
bulletin that Grants Police Department Sgt. Mike Trujillo was chasing the
fleeing vehicle eastbound on I-40. The sergeant had pursued the vehicle
west along Grants' main street. Officers had stopped the white pickup and
had the older brother, Aron Craig, then 21, outside for questioning when
the younger brother jumped in and took off headed back towards the store.
Aragon, 37, and Cunningham, in plain clothes, decided to stop and lay down
a stop stick. A stop stick is about three feet long with sharp spikes
pointing up through a plastic sleeve and is attached to a cord for
officers to pull it into position. They were standing in the middle of the
untraveled portion of the divided highway when the truck veered into
Aragon, according to then Chief Fred Radosevich.
The chief claimed Craig could easily have steered around the stick and
didn't have to go into the median. Although the alleged theft occurred
around 7 a.m., the chase police reported speeds in excess of 100 mph in a
75 mph zone didn't reach its conclusion until about a half-hour later when
Craig crashed into a guardrail after hitting Aragon, who died instantly,
and then traveling across the westbound lanes. He still tried to run, but
2 state officers and Trujillo tackled him. State Police Major David Osuna
said Craig, who is about 5-ft., 7-in. tall, still tried to resist arrest.
The truck also had been stolen in Albuquerque, according to the city
dispatcher's computer check.
The 2 young men allegedly stole 40 boxes of Actafed, worth more than $600.
Ingredients in the over-the-counter drug often are used in the manufacture
of methamphetamine. An alert employee at a store at Exit 85 on I-40 wrote
down the truck's license plate and employees called the city dispatcher.
On Aug. 8, 2001, the judicial district's grand jury for Cibloa County
charged Craig, then 19, with 30 different crimes.
One charge alone, an open count of capital murder, could bring the death
penalty. And it was up to Martinez to decide if he would seek
life-in-prison (a 30-year term) or death. Other charges included 20 counts
of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, each a 4th-degree felony, and
3 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer,
each a 3rd-degree felony.
Adding the longest penalties allowed by state law, Craig faced up to 95
years behind bars if convicted on all counts and given the maximum
sentences. He also faced up to $150,000 in fines.
On Aug. 23, 2001, the Albuquerque brothers were arraigned in Grants, with
Judge McDonald taking over from Judge Camille Martinez-Olguin.
In November 2002, the defendant was found to be incompetent to stand
trial, so the judge sent him to Las Vegas for the rest of his life or
until doctors could bring him to the competent state. In May 2003,
McDonald ruled that while Craig was still incompetent, there was clear and
convincing evidence to convict him of 1st-degree murder.
Last June Craig was found to be competent after being treated for thyroid
problems as well as his mental state, which had been under treatment for
three years at the state mental hospital in Las Vegas.
Aragon had been a state officer for eight years and a city cop for seven
years. He left a widow, Monica, a son, Lloyd Jr., now 16, and a daughter
Adriana, now 9.
(source: The Gallup Independent)
Film Students Hope To Reopen Missouri Murder Case
Graduate school at the University of Missouri-Columbia was no idle
exercise in academic theory for John McHale. His documentary film on death
row inmate Joseph Amrine spurred public debate that culminated in Amrine's
release after 17 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.
Doctorate degree in hand, McHale moved on to Illinois State University in
Normal, where as an assistant professor of communications he now guides
students in their own efforts to dig up cases of the wrongfully accused.
Their current effort focuses on Missouri inmate Dale Helmig, convicted in
1996 and sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing his mother
3 years earlier in Osage County. Her body was found in the Osage River
tied to a concrete block.
"A Matter of Innocence: The Dale Helmig Story" debuted last week in
Columbia, and McHale plans to show the film on college campuses across the
state in an effort to ultimately win Helmig, 48, a new trial.
"This is an opportunity for citizens to amplify their voices," McHale
said. "Sometimes it's easy to go along with what government officials say
without scrutiny. Questioning your government officials can make a
McHale and student filmmakers Kris Racine and Jeff Blackburn, who both
graduated from Illinois State in May, say Helmig's initial trial was
compromised by a shoddy defense, selective presentation of evidence and an
opportunistic special state prosecutor from Boone County, Kenny Hulshof,
who used Helmig as an example of his tough-on-crime credentials in the
midst of a campaign for Congress.
Hulshof, a Republican, won that 1996 election, defeating incumbent
Democratic Rep. Harold Volkmer in a reversal of the 1994 election for the
Hulshof, who remains a congressman for Missouri's 9th district, rejected
any link between his congressional campaign and the trial. He also denied
accusations of jury tampering raised by Helmig's defense attorney, Sean
"In my mind, there's no doubt" of Helmig's guilt, Hulshof said Monday. "Do
I agree it was a circumstantial case? Yes, I do."
Racine, the film's director, is less certain than Hulshof. With the help
of law students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and his own alma
mater's Innocence Project, he raised several questions about the Helmig
investigation and the subsequent trial, including a reliance on a disputed
$200 phone bill as the sole motivation for Helmig to kill his 55-year-old
"No person can be 100 % certain. That's between Dale and God," Racine said
Monday. "But there's a reasonable doubt."
Richard Helmig, Dale's younger brother, attended the film's premiere.
Speaking to the audience, he called the prosecution's chosen motive
Richard Helmig also asked why prosecutors were quick to dismiss his
father, Ted Helmig, as a suspect even though the elder Helmig had
previously assaulted his wife and was involved in a bitter divorce. Police
also never asked Richard Helmig to account for his own whereabouts, he
"I was never asked one question, nothing about what I was doing," he said.
"They picked up the suspect and then went around to find the evidence."
O'Brien, of the Public Interest Litigation Clinic in Kansas City, noted
that Helmig's former defense attorney, Chris Jordan, of Jefferson City,
simultaneously represented Ted Helmig in a probate matter, a conflict of
interest he called untenable.
"In order to effectively represent one client, he had to sell the other
one down the river," O'Brien said in the film.
The efforts by Racine and Blackburn are not without precedent -
particularly in Illinois. A series of investigations by Northwestern
University journalism students showed that several men were wrongly
sentenced to death in the state.
In 2002, Illinois Gov. George Ryan pardoned four men on death row,
commuted the sentences of 167 remaining death row inmates to life in
prison and declared a temporary moratorium on capital punishment in the
state. Ryan, who left office shortly thereafter, is now on trial on 22
unrelated charges of racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, lying to the FBI
and tax fraud.
"These types of cases are everywhere," said Racine, who lives in the
Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook. "They're all over America, especially in
small towns, where people just fall through the cracks."
(source: The Associated Press)
State requests execution date for Thompson
Tennessee's newest Supreme Court justice, sworn in Monday, will be among
those setting an execution date for a man who killed a Shelbyville woman.
That's because a federal court has cleared the path toward execution of
the man who murdered a former Shelbyville Times-Gazette reporter. At the
time of her death, she was the niece of the police chief here.
"I'm glad to hear it," reacted Barbara Brown, sister of slain reporter
Brenda Blanton Lane who was stabbed to death by Gregory Thompson in 1985.
"I hope [the ruling] puts us closer to the end of this."
Gov. Phil Bredesen yesterday announced former Williamson County Circuit
Court Judge Cornelia "Connie" Clark, who's been serving as the chief
administrative officer of the state courts, is succeeding Justice Frank
The State Supreme Court will meet in conference to discuss setting of an
execution date for Thompson, according to Sue Allison, spokeswoman for the
Supreme Court. No set schedule exist for such steps, she said.
"They generally act fairly quickly on these matters," Allison said.
Tennessee's justices must act now because the U.S. District Court for the
Eastern District in Chattanooga on Friday lifted an earlier order
preventing Thompson's execution. In response to the federal court decision
in Chattanoo ga, Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers on Monday asked
the state Supreme Court to set another execution date.
The federal court's ruling Friday was another in a long series of twists
in Thompson's case which was even the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court
decision in late June when it decided a federal judge was wrong to allow
the reopening of Thompson's case.
The execution was stopped because the judge found testimony of a witness
who said he believed Thompson was schizophrenic. That testimony had not
been included in the court record, an important issue to the dissenting
Supreme Court justices in Washington.
However, Tennessee expended considerable time and resources toward
execution in a 20-year-old case and Thompson had received justice, the
Others in Shelbyville who have been close to this case have expressed
feelings similar to Brown's; the system has worked and it's time for
closure in accordance with the trial court's decision.
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