[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----S.C., N.Y., USA, IND.

Rick Halperin rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Sep 26 01:32:56 CDT 2005

Sept. 24


Robertson appointed lawyer for civil suit

Convicted killer and death row inmate James Robertson apparently now is
willing to accept a court-appointed lawyer -- even though that could
potentially keep him from the electric chair.

Robertson, convicted of killing his parents in 1997, has said previously
he doesn't want a lawyer "who will save my life."

However, it's unclear if Robertson will use the new lawyer to help file a
civil lawsuit against his former trial lawyers and prosecutors that might
be his only chance to avoid execution. Robertson has about 2 months to
decide whether to file the suit, Judge John Few said Friday in a hearing
in Greenville.

Rock Hill's Robertson was convicted and sentenced to die 6 years ago for
the beating death of his parents, Earl and Terry Robertson. Prosecutors
claimed greed for Robertson's parents' $2 million-plus wealth was the
motive for the killings. Robertson dropped his appeal of the death
sentence, but on the cusp of an execution date earlier this year he told
the S.C. Supreme Court that he was going to file a lawsuit called a
post-conviction relief (PCR) application.

The high court canceled the looming execution and appointed Few to be the
judge for any lawsuit action Robertson brings. PCR lawsuits are often
filed but are rarely successful.

Friday's hearing was held because in the last court hearing Aug. 12,
Robertson told Few he might act as his own lawyer and may not even file
the lawsuit. Robertson did not commit to doing anything Friday other than
accepting Rock Hill's Michael Brown as his new court-appointed lawyer for
any potential lawsuit.

"That's fine, your honor," Robertson said of the Brown appointment.

Because Robertson is considered indigent, he will get another lawyer for
the potential lawsuit, too, Few told him.

Robertson fired his appeals lawyer before dropping the appeal of his
guilty verdict and death sentence, even though he was told in court by a
judge and a prosecutor that it might make his execution more likely.

(source: The Rock Hill Herald)


Local Capital Defender Office faces bittersweet closing - Capital defender
ends work, hopes it won't resume

When William T. Easton joined the state Capital Defender Office in 1995,
he hoped to work himself out of a job.

A staunch opponent of the death penalty, Easton believed the office could
bring about the end of New York's new capital punishment law by vigorously
representing capital murder defendants and exploiting weaknesses in the

He's won - sort of.

After the state Court of Appeals effectively ended capital prosecutions
last year by striking down key provisions of the law, Gov. George Pataki
decided to cut funding for the Capital Defender Office by 70 % if the
state Legislature didn't revise the law by June 30 to abide by the court's

The Legislature took no action. Now the cash-strapped agency is slashing
its staff statewide and closing its Rochester office, which Easton has
headed for 5 years.

It's a bittersweet victory for Easton. Although he worked for the day when
capital defenders wouldn't be needed, his feelings are tempered by the
possibility that the Legislature will pass new death penalty legislation
and the office will have to reopen.

"From my perspective, the shutting down of this office ought to be a
joyous occasion," Easton said as he took a break from cataloging case
files and preparing them for storage. "To some extent, it should be a
powerful message that the death penalty is gone.

"But it would be a staggering act of fiscal irresponsibility for the state
to close down an office, only to reinstitute it a year or 2 later."

Monroe County District Attorney Michael C. Green said it makes no sense
financially to maintain an office that costs nearly $13 million annually
with no reasonable expectation that it will be revived.

"It seems pretty clear that the courts and the state Assembly have made
the decision that we're not going to have the death penalty in New York in
the near future," he said. "Given that, I don't see the sense of spending
$13 million a year to defend people in capital cases when we're not going
to have any capital cases.

"On the other hand, if they decide at some point to fix the statute,
whether it's 10 years or 20 years in the future, one of the things they
need to do is to make provisions for competent and qualified defense

When New York restored the death penalty in 1995, the Legislature created
the Capital Defender Office to represent indigent capital defendants. It
had offices in New York City, Albany and Rochester, with the Rochester
office taking cases from 30 counties in western and central New York.

Easton, 48, joined the Rochester office at its inception and became its
director in April 1999. As first deputy capital defender, he has not only
led the efforts of 14 employees, but also represented defendants in court
- most notably Angel Luis Mateo, who landed on death row in 1998 after
Monroe County's 1st death-penalty trial in 46 years.

Mateo, however, was spared when the Court of Appeals set aside his death
sentence in 2004. Although the court found that Mateo received a fair
trial, it ruled that the plea-bargaining provision of the death-penalty
law coerced defendants into pleading guilty to avoid the possibility of
being executed.

Although Mateo's trial and appeal was a benchmark for the Capital Defender
Office, Easton wouldn't characterize that case - or any of the 50 cases of
1st-degree murder the Rochester office handled - as the most difficult for
him. "Each case was different," he said. "Each case presented challenges."

The Rochester office will close by the end of October, and the Albany
office will be staffed by one lawyer who is handling the appeal of an
inmate on death row. The New York City office will remain open with a
skeleton staff to work on appeals and maintain records. Statewide, 11
employees will remain of the 69 from a year ago.

Easton is uncertain about his future, although he's certain he'll continue
to represent criminal defendants.

Capital Defender Kevin Doyle, who heads the state office, praised Easton's
performance. "His integrity, diligence and courage just can't be matched,"
Doyle said.

Doyle prefers to be optimistic about his office's fate.

"So long as New York is definitely through with the death penalty, the
closing of our office is a great thing," he said. "From a personal
standpoint, I think it will be a great day if the people of New York
decide they don't want capital punishment and there's no need for this

(source: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)


Bill calls for collecting DNA of suspects held by feds

Suspects arrested or detained by federal authorities could be forced to
provide samples of their DNA that would be recorded in a central database
under a provision of a Senate bill to expand government collection of
personal data.

The controversial measure was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee
last week and is supported by the White House, but has not gone to the
floor for a vote. It goes beyond current law, which allows federal
authorities to collect and record samples of DNA only from those convicted
of crimes.

The data are stored in an FBI-maintained national registry that law
enforcement officials use to aid investigations.

Sponsors insist that adding DNA from people arrested or detained would
lead to prevention of some crimes, and help solve others more quickly.

But privacy advocates across the political spectrum say the proposal is
another step in expanding government intrusion.

"DNA is not like fingerprinting," said Jesselyn McCurdy, a legislative
counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "It contains genetic
information and information about diseases." She added that the ACLU
questions whether it is constitutional to put data from those who have not
been convicted into a database of convicted criminals.

The measure is co-sponsored by Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and John Cornyn,

(source: Washington Post)


Court denies appeal by Death Row inmate----Clemency request is in
governor's hands; killer's execution is set for Wednesday.

The Indiana Supreme Court on Friday rejected Alan Matheney's request for a
new trial, setting the stage for his execution early Wednesday.

The high court ruled 5-0 that Matheney, who filed his request with the
court without assistance from his lawyers, has exhausted all of his state
appeals. It rejected his claims of ineffective assistance from his trial
attorneys and misconduct by prosecutors. It also did not approve his
request for DNA testing.

Gov. Mitch Daniels reiterated Friday he is reviewing Matheney's clemency
request, even though the Indiana Parole Board called off its clemency
proceedings Monday after the death row inmate refused to be interviewed by
the panel.

"I've read the file," Daniels said, adding he would read it again this
weekend to make sure he has a firm grasp of the details before deciding
whether to commute Matheney's sentence to life in prison without
possibility of parole.

Matheney, 54, was found guilty in 1990 of killing his ex-wife, Lisa Marie
Bianco, Mishawaka, while on an eight-hour furlough from the Correctional
Industrial Facility near Pendleton.

There, he was serving a 7-year sentence for beating her and trying to
abduct their 2 daughters.

Bianco, 29, had been program director for the Elkhart Women's Shelter.
Matheney wasn't supposed to leave the Indianapolis area during the 1989
furlough, but he headed north to Bianco's home in Mishawaka. He burst into
the home, caught Bianco as she tried to run away and struck her in the
head with a shotgun so hard that the weapon broke.

A Lake County jury convicted him and sentenced him to death. Matheney's
attorneys say he is seriously mentally ill and psychotic, still harboring
the delusion that drove him to kill Bianco.

(source: Indianapolis Star)

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