[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----COLO., CALIF., PENN., OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Sep 26 01:33:53 CDT 2005
Law of Bible Tangles With Law of Colo.
What was Moses doing in Colorado in 1995? Put another way, how did the
venerable gentleman get so deeply involved in a murder trial?
If the Supreme Court takes the pending case of People vs. Harlan, some
light may yet be cast upon a judicial realm of outer darkness.
The ugly case of Robert Eliot Harlan goes back to a night in February 1994
when Rhonda Maloney finished her shift at Harrah's Casino in Central City,
Colo., a few miles west of Denver. She picked up her car and headed north
on Interstate 25. She never made it home. Before the night ended, Maloney
would be abducted, briefly rescued by a passing motorist, Jacquie Creazzo,
and finally raped, assaulted and shot to death. Creazzo, in the ill-fated
role of the Good Samaritan, also was shot. She was left paralyzed for
In another biblical twist, Harlan's father found evidence that
incriminated his son in the murder. He summoned police. In June 1995, a
jury in Adams County found the defendant guilty of 1st-degree murder and
kidnapping. After a sentencing hearing, the court ordered Harlan put to
death. Colorado's Supreme Court at first affirmed.
The usual motions ensued. Among them was a motion to vacate the death
sentence because of a juror's use of the Bible during the penalty phase.
Eight years passed. Most of the defense motions died on the vine. Finally
the court ordered a hearing on this one.
Sure enough, it turned out that at least 1 juror had brought a Bible into
the jury room. Some of the sequestered jurors had consulted a Bible in
their hotel rooms the night before they voted.
They found guidance in Leviticus 24:16-21. There the Lord, speaking to
Moses, repeatedly sanctions the death penalty. "Breach for breach, eye for
eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be
done to him again. And he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death."
Several of the jurors went also to the New Testament, where they found
guidance in Romans 13. Here Paul expounds the civil law of the empire and
urges that it be obeyed. On the Saturday morning in Brighton, Colo., when
they agreed unanimously upon a death sentence, the jurors first read and
discussed the biblical passages.
That discussion in June 1995 was more than the trial court could tolerate
in May 2003. After an extended hearing, the trial judge ruled that use of
the biblical passages violated Harlan's right to have his sentence decided
solely on the evidence and the law. 6 months ago, the Supreme Court of
Colorado affirmed 3-2, with 2 justices abstaining. The effect was to
vacate the death sentence and to replace it with life imprisonment
Speaking for the majority, Justice Gregory Hobbs held that the jurors' use
of the biblical texts constituted reversible misconduct. Exposure of a
jury to influences "outside of the trial process itself" was improper. The
biblical materials "were neither admitted into evidence nor permitted by
Hobbs added: "The Bible and other religious documents are considered codes
of law by many in the contemporary communities from which Colorado jurors
are drawn. . . . The Leviticus text is written in the first-person voice
of God and commands death as the punishment for murder. The Romans text
instructs human beings to obey the civil government. . . . Drawn from an
array of typical jurors in Colorado, at least one juror in this case could
have been influenced by these authoritative passages to vote for the death
penalty when he or she may otherwise have voted for a life sentence."
Justice Hobbs emphasized that the court was not expelling God from the
jury room. Indeed, "We expect jurors to bring their backgrounds and
beliefs to bear on their deliberations, but to give ultimate consideration
only to the facts admitted and the law as instructed. . . . We hold only
that it was improper for a juror to bring the Bible into the jury room."
The questions raised in the Harlan case have divided lower appellate
courts. Virginia's Supreme Court (and the federal 4th Circuit) have found
no error in permitting jurors in capital punishment cases to consult the
The supreme courts of Oklahoma, Kentucky, Tennessee, and now Colorado have
indicated that a jury's use of a Bible may indeed be prejudicial.
I don't understand why it was reversible error for jurors to read
physically from a Bible, but would not have been error for a juror to
quote Moses from memory. Let us pray.
(source: The Ledger)
Jury asks execution for killer of girl, 9 ---- Ex-neighbor tripped up by
DNA after 14 years
A jury recommended yesterday that a former Chula Vista bus driver be
executed for the abduction and murder of 9-year-old Laura Arroyo 14 years
The decision brought the wrenching drama of the pony-tailed third-grader's
slaying a step nearer to closing. The jury's recommendation will be
weighed by San Diego Superior Court Judge John Thompson, who will formally
impose the sentence at a hearing Dec. 14.
While the judge can reject the recommendation and opt to sentence Manuel
Bracamontes to life in prison without parole, such a step is rarely taken
in death penalty cases.
As the verdict was read, the 42-year-old defendant did not react. But
several of his relatives seated in the second row of the courtroom began
Across a narrow aisle separating two sides of the spectator seats,
Arroyo's parents and about 10 other relatives looked on grimly. Outside of
court, Laura's father, Luis, said he was grateful.
"Justice has been made today," Arroyo said. "He has to pay for all the
damage he did to my little girl."
Jurors left the courthouse and declined to comment. The panel convicted
Bracamontes on Sept. 2 of kidnapping, molesting and murdering Laura with a
She was abducted from her San Ysidro home during evening bath time June
19, 1991. She was found the next morning on the sidewalk of a Chula Vista
business park by 2 women on their way to work.
An autopsy showed she was choked, stabbed 10 times in the chest and once
in the face and had a half-dozen chopping wounds about her face and one of
She had also been molested, the key to eventually breaking open the case
more than a decade later.
Bracamontes, a former neighbor of the Arroyos' who had once lived in the
same apartment complex, was linked to the slaying in October 2003. DNA
from semen that was captured on swabs taken from Laura's body was matched
to Bracamontes' DNA.
At the time of the killing, police said there was no evidence she had been
molested. But more sophisticated DNA technology allowed a San Diego Police
Department criminalist to find the genetic material when he re-examined
the evidence in 2003, prosecutors said.
Defense attorneys at the trial tried to discredit that evidence,
suggesting it could have been planted or tampered with. They asked that
Bracamontes's life be spared for the sake of his family and put on
witnesses who testified he was a hard-working and gentle person incapable
of such a vicious crime.
Police had suspected Bracamontes when investigating the slaying and had
plucked hair samples from him as part of the investigation. Witnesses
placed him in the complex around the time Laura disappeared.
After coming inside from playing with friends, Laura heard the doorbell
ring. She ran to answer it, chirping, "Who is it? Who is it?" About 10
minutes later her parents realized she was gone.
The front door was open. Her shoes were still neatly placed inside the
At the time, seasoned detectives were stunned at the brutality of the
crime. Laura, a 3rd-grade student at Nicoloff Elementary School, was
stabbed with such force that the sidewalk beneath her body was chipped.
As weeks went by without an arrest, a curious phenomena took shape at a
blank billboard on Broadway in Chula Vista. For several weeks that summer,
at night, passers-by said that they could discern Laura's image across the
white expanse of the billboard.
Some said it was no more than the play of light and shadow. Others -
eventually numbering in the thousands who crowded the street in what
became a nationally known event - believed it was the spirit of the girl,
a spectral plea in the night sky to find her killer.
Yesterday, Luis Arroyo thanked police and prosecutors who worked the case.
He said it was still hard to wake up each day without his daughter, but he
felt a small measure of relief now.
"I knew sooner or later," he said, "that he would have to pay."
(source: San Diego Union-Tribune)
Judge setsOct. 3 date for Banks hearing
10 months after the state Supreme Court ordered a competency hearing held
"expeditiously" for mass murderer George Banks, a date has finally been
Luzerne County President Judge Michael Conahan scheduled the hearing for
Oct. 3 inside the Bernard C. Brominski Courthouse building in
Banks lawyer, Albert J. Flora Jr., had requested to move the competency
hearing to the more secure federal courthouse in Scranton due to several
death threats he received after the appellate court issued Banks, 63, a
temporary stay of execution on Dec. 2.
Judge Conahan and Mr. Flora could not be reached for comment Friday
Mr. Flora said previously that Banks would have to attend the competency
hearing in person.
However, Judge Conahans order does not say whether the hearing will be
held via videoconference or with all parties together in one courtroom.
As of late Friday afternoon, there was no hearing scheduled by
videoconferencing for Oct. 3 and the Luzerne County Sheriffs Department
had not received a court order to transport Banks from the State
Correctional Institution at Graterford, Bucks County.
If Banks does attend in person, Sheriff Barry Stankus said security will
likely be elevated.
"We're going to have to address the security issue on Monday or Tuesday of
next week to find out where Banks is going to be," Mr. Stankus said.
"We're going to have to find out where he is going to be housed, either at
the county (correctional facility) or at the state prison in Dallas."
Banks was granted a stay of execution less than 29 hours before he was
scheduled to die by lethal injection for killing 13 people, including five
of his children, during a Sept. 25, 1982, shooting rampage in Wilkes-Barre
and Jenkins Township.
The appellate court sent the case back to Luzerne County for the
competency hearing to determine if Banks is sane to be put to death and to
determine if he is mentally stable to initiate clemency proceedings with
the state Board of Pardons.
In its order that stayed Banks execution, the Supreme Court ordered the
competency hearing to be held expeditiously.
Mr. Flora claimed Banks suffers from severe mental illnesses and is unable
to make rationale decisions about his case.
(source: The Times-Tribune)
Spirko lawyers seek probe of ex-inspector
Lawyers for convicted murderer John Spirko are asking a judge to let them
investigate the credibility of a man who helped put their client on death
Spirko's lawyers filed a motion with U.S. District Judge James Carr on
Friday asking for a chance to respond to questions raised about former
Postal Inspector Paul Hartman.
Hartman's testimony was key to winning Spirko's 1984 murder conviction for
the death of a rural Ohio postmaster.
That conviction was based largely on a series of jailhouse interviews by
Hartman, during which Spirko reportedly revealed details of the crime.
The motion Friday stems from a letter that one of Hartman's former
co-workers wrote to a supervisor criticizing Hartman's conduct and
expressing concern Spirko will be executed for a crime he didn't commit.
Postal Inspector Gregory Duerr, who worked with Hartman in Cleveland
during the 1990s, wrote that about 15 postal inspectors filed complaints
in 1998 against Hartman for actions that sometimes were "bordering on
Duerr also wrote that press reports and conversations with other postal
inspectors have led many in his office to believe the wrong person was
convicted of murdering Betty Jane Mottinger.
Alvin Dunn, one of Spirko's lawyers, said the letter raises serious
questions about Hartman. "We need to learn what's at the bottom of all
this before an innocent man is put to death," Dunn said. Spirko is
scheduled to be executed Nov. 15.
No one in Attorney General Jim Petro's office was available for comment
Hartman testified in June that he didn't know of any complaints against
him when he worked as a postal inspector.
Dunn said that if Hartman had been truthful, Spirko's lawyers would have
investigated the complaints months ago.
"We're not asking for them to delay the execution," Dunn said. "We're just
asking for the opportunity to gather more information." Dunn was not sure
when Carr would decide on the motion, but he said he hoped for a quick
(source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
More information about the DeathPenalty