[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----OHIO, OKLA., N.J., VA., ILL.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Sep 21 18:28:43 CDT 2005
A call to action in Spirko case
John Spirko was supposed to die Tuesday.
2 weeks ago, the governor delayed the execution so the Ohio Parole Board
could take another look at the case.
Kudos to Gov. Bob Taft for doing the right thing and to the parole board
for asking for another clemency hearing.
Also, many thanks to all of you who wrote letters to the governor and to
the parole board.
The new clemency hearing is on Oct. 12.
Since the last hearing, more concerns have surfaced about the credibility
of the man who helped put Spirko on death row.
Spirko was convicted of killing Betty Jane Mottinger, a postmaster in
rural Elgin, Ohio. She was stabbed to death in 1982.
Paul Hartman was the lead postal inspector investigating the murder.
Spirko was convicted based almost entirely on Hartman's word.
Hartman's credibility has already been questioned. Hartman never taped his
interviews with Spirko and never had Spirko sign any written statements.
He lured Spirko into implicating a friend, Delaney Gibson.
But before the trial, Hartman had photos, receipts and witnesses that
showed Gibson was out of state at the time. That evidence was filed away
and the State tried the case using the phony Gibson connection.
This year, Hartman told at least three people that he never believed
Gibson was involved and that he told prosecutors so before the trial. Now
Hartman says he said that to purposely mislead a reporter and Spirko's
attorneys. But Postal Inspector Gregory Duerr recently wrote the parole
board to say that Hartman was the subject of an investigation by the
Postal Service regarding complaints about his behavior.
Duerr wrote, "I witnessed unprofessional comments and, in some instances,
conduct bordering on criminal."
Duerr, who worked with Hartman in the Cleveland office, wrote, "most if
not all inspectors in Cleveland have concerns about what is transpiring."
Add this to the list of doubts about Spirko's guilt.
No physical evidence links Spirko to the crime.
8 years ago, John Willier, who was once a suspect in the murder, told
prosecutors in Wyandot County that Dale Dingus committed the crime.
(Dingus denies it.) Willier and Dingus painted houses in the area. The
body was wrapped in a cloth splattered with paint.
While Willier was in prison on a drug trafficking conviction, an inmate
said Willier admitted killing the postmaster over a botched shipment of
drugs. Steven Drizin, legal director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions
at Northwestern University School of Law, has called this "one of the
weakest death-penalty cases" he has ever seen.
In March, The Plain Dealer asked the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for
all documents about an inquiry into Hartman's investigative tactics from
the late 1990s. The agency wouldn't release them.
Spirko's lawyers have asked the state attorney general's office to demand
all documents pertaining to Duerr's complaint.
The office should comply. A man's life depends on it.
Every postal inspector with concerns about Hartman needs to come forward
and speak up.
They should contact Gary Croft, chairman of the Ohio Parole Board, at 1050
Freeway Drive North, Columbus, Ohio 43229. Or fax him at 614-752-0600.
As Duerr wrote: "It appears an individual who did not commit the crime is
going to be executed."
(source: Column, Regina Brett, Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Killer wants court to drop death penalty----'Horrifying' childhood claimed
In a case one justice said "touched a nerve," an attorney for convicted
murderer Troy Tenace urged the Ohio Supreme Court yesterday to set aside
his death sentence because of his "horrifying" background.
Tenace, 43, was twice convicted in the 1994 killing and robbery of
76-year-old Edward Kozlowski, of Toledo, for whom he'd done repair work in
his Wamba Avenue home. His first conviction was overturned.
Both juries returned death sentences, but the Supreme Court will reweigh
the factors arguing both for and against imposition of the death penalty.
While no justice could remember a case in which the court found a
convicted murderer's childhood alone warranted reversal of a death
sentence, several justices used words like "horrific" in describing
Chief Justice Thomas Moyer pointed to Tenace's home life in which he was
introduced to drugs and crime by his mother and abused by her boyfriend.
"This man started at ground zero when he became an adult," he said. "He
has no help from his parents. Why should we put him to death?"
Justice Alice Robie Resnick, however, countered that Tenace's life of
crime could also work against him.
"I recognize that his childhood was certainly not desirable," she said.
"He did go through some terrible things, but there's a point in everyone's
life where you have to take some responsibility. We've seen people who
have come out of situations like this where they've accomplished great
Should the court overturn his sentence, Tenace would face life in prison
with the possibility of parole. However, his attorney, Jeffery Gamso, said
Tenace would be in his 80s before he would become eligible.
Although now on death row at the Mansfield Correctional Institution,
Tenace also faces a sentence of 25 years to life in New York for a similar
murder in which he slit a woman's throat during a robbery of her home.
Mr. Gamso conceded that Tenace, a drug addict, was responsible for Mr.
Kozlowski's death, although he argued his crime should have been
Tenace has maintained that his decision to leave Mr. Kozlowski gagged and
to pull the phone cord from the wall showed he intended to leave him alive
while he made his escape.
The elderly man suffered a broken nose, head injuries, 3 fractured ribs,
and severe bruising of his neck, suggesting strangulation.
Mr. Gamso argued not all aggravated circumstances favoring death are
created equal, and that "felony murder" provides a lower hurdle for Tenace
"In this family, with this background, you do resort to lawlessness...,"
he said. "There is no getting around it. Troy is damaged goods."
But Justice Maureen O'Connor told Mr. Gamso that Ohio law doesn't provide
a scoring system in which 1 aggravating circumstance weighs more than
Assistant Lucas County Prosecutor Craig Pearson reminded the court it has
never reversed a death sentence based solely on childhood background, even
in cases worse than this one.
"If you're going to do it, it has to be a worse scenario than presented to
the court in this case," he said.
Plea bargain spares killer from possible death penalty
In Wauseon, a 24-year-old Lucas County man who killed his disabled
father-in-law on Valentine's Day to get the man's pain medication pleaded
guilty yesterday to aggravated murder and aggravated robbery in an
agreement that eliminates the possibility of the death sentence, but might
keep him in prison for life.
Jonathan Ray Haas, who entered the plea in Fulton County Common Pleas
Court, faces a minimum of 23 years to life in prison and a maximum of 33
years to life in prison for killing and stealing from James Daniel
Briscoe, a retired Jeep worker and Vietnam veteran, in his eastern Fulton
Haas, of western Lucas County, is to be sentenced in the fall.
Aggravated murder is an automatic 20 years to life in prison, and Haas
pleaded guilty to a gun specification that adds three years to that
sentence. Aggravated robbery calls for a sentence of between three and 10
years that can be served at the same time as his other prison term, or it
can follow that sentence.
In the plea agreement, prosecutors and the Briscoe family agreed to drop
the other four charges against Haas: a 2nd count of aggravated murder,
aggravated burglary, burglary, and theft of drugs. He was accused of
taking the narcotic pain reliever OxyContin from his 56-year-old
father-in-law, who was hurt severely in a traffic crash in 2002.
The agreement also calls for prosecutors to refrain from recommending a
sentence for Haas. Judge James Barber ordered a presentence investigation
by a court probation officer with sentencing to follow. Such reports
typically are completed in 4 to 6 weeks.
Haas, who turns 25 on Saturday, pleaded guilty during a court appearance
that had been scheduled as a pretrial. He was to go on trial in January.
He was being held in the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio, Stryker,
Mr. Briscoe, who died of a gunshot wound to the head, was found at the
foot of a flight of stairs in his home at 3669 Fulton County Road S, south
of Metamora, by one of his daughters when she got home from school on Feb.
Mr. Briscoe's older daughter, Cheryl, who was married to Haas in June,
2003, had been separated from Haas for seven months when he killed her
father. She filed domestic violence complaints against Haas late last
year, including a statement that he threatened to kill her.
They have a daughter.
(source for both: Toledo Blade)
New trial ordered in slaying
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ordered a new trial Thursday for an
Oklahoma City man convicted of killing a 3-year-old girl in 2000.
The appellate court tossed out the 1st-degree murder conviction and death
sentence of James Lawrence Mitchell III, saying inadmissible evidence was
presented at his trial.
Mitchell was convicted of the July 23, 2000, death of Charita Rashawn
Frerene and sentenced to die by lethal injection.
He also was convicted of child abuse and child sexual abuse.
The court also ordered a new trial for Mitchell on the child abuse
conviction and ordered the child sexual abuse charge be dismissed.
It said an error occurred in instruction to the jury on the child abuse
charge, and there was insufficient evidence to convict Mitchell on the
child sexual abuse charge.
The murder conviction was thrown out and a new trial ordered because
hearsay evidence was allowed to be introduced during the trial, the court
Detective Willie Edwards was permitted to testify that Kyree Rogers, half
brother of the slain girl, told him Mitchell picked up Charita by the
ankles and slammed her head into the ground numerous times, the opinion
During the trial, Kyree, who was 7, testified and denied he made that
statement to Edwards, the Court of Criminal Appeals said.
The trial court abused its discretion when it admitted Kyree's statement
to Edwards as substantive evidence when Kyree denied making it, the court
(source: The Oklahoman, Sept. 16)
Slain Randolph girl's mom pushes for death penalty----Grand jury to review
Laurie Parks has a talk with her teenage daughter every day. Not across
the kitchen table, but at the girl's gravesite at Millbrook Cemetery in
"I sit down and I talk to her about day-to-day things. How my day went. It
makes me feel like we're still close," the Randolph mother said Tuesday.
The 18-year-old man accused of stabbing and dismembering Parks'
16-year-old daughter, Jennifer, on July 30, was brought to state Superior
Court in Morristown Tuesday for a brief conference on his murder charge.
Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Ralph Amirata said the case will be
presented to a county grand jury, but gave no time frame for the
presentation. He said the state is still awaiting the results of
toxicology tests conducted on the slain girl, who would have been a
sophomore this fall at Randolph High School.
Prosecutor Michael M. Rubbinaccio said no decision has been made yet on
whether to ask the grand jury to authorize a death penalty prosecution for
accused killer Jonathan Zarate, a high school drop-out who lived next door
to the Parks family on Old Brookside Road.
Laurie Parks, in a telephone conversation after Zarate's court appearance,
said she hopes the state pursues the death penalty.
"I feel if you take a life, you give a life," she said. She said her grief
has been overwhelming some days, for herself and Jennifer's father, David,
and that she hopes to start counseling soon. She hasn't been ready so far
for therapy, she said.
"I'm not doing good right now. It's very hard," she said.
Family members held a memorial at a church in Danville, Pa., over the
weekend for Jennifer, mainly for relatives who were not able to attend her
funeral in August. She said she also has plans with Randolph High School
to start a scholarship in her daughter's name that would help a student
pursue college studies in editing or writing, Jennifer's passion.
The mother said she never knew her daughter was talking to Zarate.
Neighbors have said Zarate and his younger brother used to torment
Jennifer but she recently had become friendly with the 18-year-old. Police
said that around 2 a.m. on July 30, Zarate either called the girl next
door or communicated with her via their computers and invited her to walk
over and watch television. An argument broke out, and Zarate has allegedly
admitted he beat the girl with a metal pole, stabbed her, choked her and
then severed both her legs so he could fit her body into a steamer trunk.
Police said Zarate then enlisted the help of his now-15-year-old brother
and a 16-year-old acquaintance from Clifton to try to dispose of the trunk
by dumping it over a bridge in Rutherford into the Passaic River. The trio
was spotted around 3 a.m. on July 31 by passing police officers before
they could dump the trunk in the water.
Rubbinaccio said his office is also still considering whether either
juvenile should be tried as an adult. The office has until Sept. 30 to
make the decision. Both youths are being held in the county juvenile
detention center on charges of hindering apprehension and unlawful
disturbance of human remains.
Zarate's defense lawyer, Anthony Fusco, said he is in the process of
hiring mental health experts to evaluate Zarate and the state of mind he
was in when the alleged murder was committed.
(source: The Daily Record)
Officer's son wants ex-inmate examined----Suit: Investigators took
advantage of Earl Washington Jr.
Defending his dead father's name, the son of a state police officer wants
his own expert to determine if former death-row inmate Earl Washington Jr.
is mentally retarded.
A lawsuit still pending against the late investigator, Curtis Reese
Wilmore, claims that Wilmore and another investigator took advantage of a
retarded Washington and fed him details of a crime to which Washington
Washington, 45, was nearly executed for that crime, the 1982 capital
murder of Rebecca Lynn Williams of Culpeper. DNA testing in 1993 and in
2000 led to Washington's pardon and release from prison.
Washington, who went on to file a suit to prove his innocence, claims he
was particularly susceptible to Wilmore's interrogation tactics, which
allegedly included feeding him enough details about the crime until he
"got it right."
The trooper's son, Curtis Todd Wilmore, and a representative of his
estate, is asking U.S. District Court Judge Norman K. Moon to approve a
two-day examination of Washington by a Richmond-area psychologist, Edward
A. Peck III.
Psychiatrists who have examined Washington say he is mildly retarded,
eager to please authorities and could easily be led into a false
confession by interrogators.
Wilmore's motion questions that widely held view of how Washington
confessed to a murder that DNA testing has all but proved he did not
The request notes that Washington's claim that his confession was
fabricated "relies heavily upon the assertion that [he] is mentally
"In this case, a professional examination is critical to [Wilmore's]
ability to evaluate Washington's mental condition and properly assess how
that mental condition impacted events at the time of Washington's
interrogation," the request argues.
Victor M. Glasberg of Alexandria, one of Washington's lawyers, said it is
unlikely they will oppose the request. Yesterday, a hearing on the request
was set for Oct. 5.
Since his release in 2001, Washington has married and has been living
quietly with the assistance of a program for the developmentally
handicapped in Virginia Beach.
No state official has apologized to Washington, and some maintained he was
still a suspect.
The suit, filed in 2002, is set for trial next April in Charlottesville.
Other defendants have been dismissed from the suit and Wilmore's estate is
the sole remaining defendant.
10 years after the confession was obtained and about a year before he
died, Wilmore expressed doubts about Washington's guilt.
Those doubts and concerns, recorded in 1993 in his own notes and in a memo
written by an assistant Virginia attorney general, now focus the case
squarely on Wilmore.
Wilmore worried that he may have planted crime-scene information in
Washington's mind that the killer left a shirt at the scene -- and the
gullible suspect had been taken in.
But Wilmore "didn't express any doubts about Earl's guilt when it
mattered," said Peter Neufeld, one of Washington's lawyers.
Neufeld said Wilmore lied when testifying in Washington's trial and only
expressed doubts when Washington's execution loomed and DNA tests were
Wilmore's testimony at Washington's trial brought out the inconsistencies
in statements Washington made to police. Among other things, Wilmore
testified that Washington initially said the victim was black. Williams
William G. Broaddus, a Richmond lawyer representing Wilmore's estate, said
that, "if he hadn't talked about those inconsistencies on the stand, Earl
Washington might well be dead right now."
Wilmore was with the state police for 34 years until his retirement in
1993. He died 18 months later, in 1994, at the age of 62.
Wilmore's son, Curtis Todd Wilmore, said this month, before the request
was filed, that he does not want his father's name tarnished. Wilmore, 43,
of Staunton said he believes DNA has proved Washington innocent.
But, he said, "somebody's trying to put a spin on this thing for some
reason -- trying to make [his father] look like a bad guy and that's as
crazy a thing as I've ever heard."
"There's no way in the world that he would try and pin something on
(source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Ryan up for Nobel prize
As George Ryan waits for a jury to be selected in his federal corruption
trial, another type of panel is mulling over his past deeds.
For the third time, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is reviewing Ryan's
efforts to abolish the death penalty in order to decide whether he should
win the group's prestigious international peace prize.
The winner of the Nobel, who receives worldwide notoriety and a check for
$1.3 million, will be named Oct. 7.
"I'm confident he's going to win this time," said University of Illinois
law professor Francis Boyle, a death penalty opponent who first nominated
Ryan to the Nobel committee in 2003 after the governor imposed a
moratorium on the death penalty because a number of convictions of death
row inmates had been overturned.
Soon after being nominated, Ryan cleared out Illinois' death row of 167
convicted murderers and rapists, winning accolades from death penalty
opponents throughout the world.
At the same time, however, his lengthy tenure in office was being
investigated by federal prosecutors, who accuse him of racketeering,
conspiracy, mail fraud, lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and
Boyle said Ryan's legal troubles shouldn't diminish his role in leading
the movement to abolish capital punishment.
"It's a totally separate thing in my mind," said Boyle.
If Ryan doesn't win, Boyle said he would likely renominate the 71-year-old
former chief executive from Kankakee.
"I see no grounds to change course," said Boyle. "Indeed, Gov. Ryan has
really reopened the debate on the death penalty here in America."
The 2004 Nobel Peace Prize went to Kenyan environmentalist Wangari
(source: Pantagraph Publishing Co.)
Jurors probed on Death Row views
Former Gov. George Ryan's public corruption trial isn't about his historic
decision to clear death row, but the defense seemed to hone in on that
issue Tuesday, the second day of jury selection.
Prosecutors even complained that Ryan's attorney, Dan Webb, took "two
bites at the apple," at one point saying Webb twice provided a potential
juror with details about Ryan's 2003 decision even as she said she knew
little about it.
Webb later told another juror about Ryan's decision to place a moratorium
on executions, when the potential juror said he didn't know about Ryan's
policy decisions while governor.
RYAN TRIAL HIGHLIGHTS
U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer is to place 10-minute limits on
juror questioning today.
17 potential jurors set aside -- 9 of them on Tuesday -- plus 1 juror
Pallmeyer must still rule on.
About a dozen potential jurors tossed Tuesday.
Prosecution: Gets defense to stop asking jurors about vanity license
plates, saying it misstates the case. Turns the tables on tactics by
defense by asking their own "conditioning" questions, including whether
jurors are prepared to come back with a guilty verdict if they find
Defense: Continues to probe jurors on Ryan's death penalty stance even as
prosecutors accuse defense of "taking 2 bites of the apple" at one point
by bringing in specifics about Ryan's decision to clear death row.
Quote of the Day:
"I think I've seen you on television one time. You look familiar," one
potential juror says to defense attorney Dan Webb as he questions her.
The woman later says she could vote not guilty if the prosecution didn't
prove its case, then looking at the government lawyers' comments: "But ...
they all look so nice."
U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer told Webb to limit the details he
gives jurors while questioning them.
Last week, she instructed the pool of 300 jurors not to listen to media
reports or do any independent research on the Ryan case, with the thinking
that jurors should only consider evidence allowed at trial.
Judge to add time limits
Pallmeyer previously ruled that jurors shouldn't hear about Ryan's policy
decisions while in office, including those concerning Death Row. Ryan was
nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for that decision -- a legacy at odds
with the criminal charges he now faces.
Webb said the Death Row decision draws such an emotional response in
people, he needs to probe and sometimes lead to make sure that those
judging Ryan won't have issues with it.
Ryan, 71, is on trial with lobbyist Lawrence Warner on charges he steered
state contracts and leases to friends like Warner and took gifts,
vacations and cash for himself and family. He's also charged with lying to
the feds. Warner is accused of shaking down state vendors for lobbying
business while giving Ryan and his family cash and loans.
The jury questioning, in its second day, aims to pluck out those who say
they cannot be fair and unbiased. In an attempt to empanel 18 jurors,
lawyers are trying to set aside at least 46 -- and possibly up to 60. Then
each side can strike a total of 28.
But selection is moving slowly. After a 2nd full day, just 9 jurors were
set aside, bringing a total of 17 in 2 days, plus 1 juror Pallmeyer must
still rule on.
Pallmeyer, who originally wanted opening statements to begin today, on
Tuesday said she would put 10-minute time limits on lawyers questioning.
(source: Chicago Sun-Times)
More information about the DeathPenalty