[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, IND., FLA., USA, CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Sep 29 10:15:36 CDT 2005
Analyst hopes to reopen HPD's troubled facility in a few months
A former DNA analyst for the state and Harris County has been chosen to
lead the Houston police crime lab's DNA division, which is working to
reopen after being shut down almost three years ago.
Vanessa Nelson, who most recently was a senior DNA analyst with the county
Medical Examiner's Office, assumed leadership of the DNA lab on Sept. 5,
police officials said Wednesday. She is expected to oversee the reopening
of the DNA division, the only section in the scandal-plagued crime lab
that has not been accredited, possibly by the end of the year, officials
Peers praised Nelson, but critics of the crime lab questioned why HPD
would move to reopen the division during the first full-scale, independent
examination of the crime lab's problems.
"Vanessa brings experience, professionalism, a work ethic and
communication skills that I believe are going to bring credibility and
trust back to one of the most important sections in our lab," said crime
lab Director Irma Rios, who headed the selection process.
But Wendell Odom, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers
Association, said HPD should have waited for the investigation team's
"The crime lab has to have credibility and, right now, it is a big
question mark," Odom said. "That won't be erased until the investigation
The DNA division was closed in December 2002 after an audit revealed
glaring problems including poorly trained staff members and contaminated
evidence. Its director, Jim Bolding, resigned and 2 people have been
released from prison after the discovery that their convictions were based
on mishandled evidence.
Nelson said she wants to hire and train a new staff of 15 DNA analysts and
get accreditation by December or early 2006. No one who worked in that
division when it was shut down will work there now, she added.
3 staff members, including one from the crime lab's toxicology division,
are in training, Nelson said.
"That's all in the past," she said of the lab's problems. "It's a totally
new staff up there."
Nelson said she has spent this month getting acquainted with the lab and
finding ways to ensure the quality of its work.
Nelson's most recent post was with the Medical Examiner's Office. She
worked as a DNA section supervisor in the Texas Department of Public
Safety crime lab in 2003 and 2004, and was a criminalist there the 3
previous years, officials said.
Nelson received her doctorate in medical sciences in 2000 from Texas A&M
University after receiving her bachelor of science degree in biomedical
sciences there in 1996, officials said.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Before his execution, killer meets his grandchildren
Alan Matheney apologized to his family and met his grandchildren for the
1st time before his execution early Wednesday for the beating death of his
Matheney was executed by chemical injection at the Indiana State Prison
and pronounced dead at 12:27 a.m.
His 22-year-old daughter brought her 7-month-old daughter and 2-year-old
son to the prison just hours before the execution.
"I love my family and my children. I'm sorry for the pain I caused them,"
Matheney said in his final statement, read by his attorney. "I'm sure my
grandchildren will grow up healthy and happy in the care of their
Matheney, 54, was convicted of killing Lisa Marie Bianco in 1989 outside
her Mishawaka home, just east of South Bend, while on a furlough from a
state prison near Pendleton, where he was serving an 8-year sentence for
beating Bianco and confining their 2 children.
Matheney was executed after Gov. Mitch Daniels denied his clemency request
without comment Tuesday. Matheney's attorneys had asked Daniels to
consider blocking the execution on the grounds that Matheney was mentally
His attorney, Steve Schutte, described him as "severely mentally ill" and
said his condition was especially bad on Tuesday.
(source: Indianapolis Star)
Man charged in girl's rape, murder could face trial in Collier
If a Sarasota court is unable to seat a jury next month in the trial of a
man charged with the rape and murder of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia, the
case will move and the attorneys will try again - using a Naples courtroom
and Collier County residents as the jury pool.
The girl's Feb. 1, 2004, disappearance in Sarasota attracted national
attention, which continued after the discovery of her body hidden in brush
near a church and the arrest of Joseph P. Smith, a convicted felon now
accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering her. He could face the death
penalty if convicted.
The case is set for jury selection beginning Oct. 24 in Sarasota Circuit
Court. If the court fails after 5 days to find enough jurors not tainted
by pretrial media publicity, the court will have to move the trial and try
again the next week.
"They asked if we'd be willing to be on standby just in case they can't
get a jury panel in Sarasota," Hugh Hayes, chief judge of the 5-county
judicial circuit that includes Collier, said Wednesday.
Hayes said the Collier Clerk of Courts is prepared to send out 200
additional jury duty summonses for the week of Oct. 31. The trial would
resume in Naples, with Judge Andrew Owens and attorneys for both sides
spending up to a week questioning would-be jurors about their ability to
sit in on a monthlong, emotionally charged murder trial.
Hayes said the standard for choosing such jurors isn't whether they have
ever heard of the Brucia case. Instead, the question will be whether each
can put aside any information or preconceived beliefs they have about the
case and Smith's guilt or innocence.
A juror must be able to listen to testimony, view evidence and reach a
verdict based only on whether the prosecution proves its case, Hayes said.
Walt Smith, court administrator for the 12th Judicial Circuit, which
includes Sarasota, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
He contacted court officials in Naples after Joseph Smith's attorney,
Assistant Public Defender Adam Tebrugge, filed a motion asking for a
change of venue. Tebrugge argued the sensational nature of the case will
prevent the court from seating an impartial jury.
Walt Smith asked if the Collier County Courthouse could accommodate the
trial if it must move. Hayes said it could, and officials in Naples were
happy to help officials from a county that had helped them. Sarasota
officials housed adult and juvenile jail inmates who needed to be moved
from Naples when Hurricane Charley approached in August 2004.
Chief Deputy Court Administrator Mark Middlebrook said the trial is
expected to last a week for jury selection, two weeks for the guilt phase
and a week for the penalty phase, if Joseph Smith is convicted.
"We've already made our preparations. We have a plan for which courtroom
to use, and we've rearranged the schedules of those judges who use that
courtroom," Middlebrook said.
Any costs incurred by the trial would be paid by the Florida Supreme
Court, which must issue an order allowing Owens to preside outside
The trial would require additional staff, including additional Collier
County sheriff's deputies. Not only does the court require several
bailiffs, high-profile cases require extra deputies to handle security
outside the courtroom and to sit in the courtroom in plain clothes to
monitor the defendant and spectators as the trial is in progress.
Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Kristin Adams said the Bailiffs Bureau didn't
want to divulge what type of extra security the case would involve. But
with parking shortages at the Collier County Government Complex and the
influx of dozens of witnesses over the course of the trial, extra deputies
would be assigned to patrol inside and outside the courthouse.
"They staff the courtroom as necessary to be safe and work with court
administration and the judge to make sure we have adequate staffing,"
Hayes said jurors from Collier would be expected to be available
throughout November, with the trial resuming after Thanksgiving for a
penalty phase if Smith is convicted.
Surveillance video cameras had captured the abduction of Carlie, a
sixth-grader who had taken a shortcut behind a closed car wash on her way
home. A tape showed a man approach, talk to her, then grab her arm and
pull her away.
The man appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s and wore a mechanic's
shirt with a name patch on the chest. Investigators said he also had
tattoos on both forearms. Neither Carlie nor her parents appear to have
recognized her abductor.
People who knew Smith contacted the authorities and told them Smith looked
like the man on the tape, according to the Associated Press.
Court records also show Smith told his brother by telephone from jail
where authorities could find Carlie's body after FBI agents persuaded the
brother to ask about her, according to the Associated Press. Smith's
attorney has argued that was an illegal interrogation, and jurors
shouldn't hear about it in the trial.
Tebrugge also has asked the judge to void a state law barring him from
arguing Smith was so intoxicated he cannot be held responsible for his
Smith had been arrested at least 13 times in Florida since 1993, according
to state records. He was arrested in 1997 in Manatee County on false
imprisonment charges but was acquitted a year later.
He served 17 months in state prison in 2001 and 2002 for heroin possession
and prescription drug fraud. He also has convictions on cocaine
possession, aggravated battery and heroin possession charges.
State Supreme Court to consider appeal in Golden Gate murder case
The Florida Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in the appeal of
a Golden Gate man sentenced to death for the 1999 robbery and slaying of 2
neighbors in what investigators believed were drug-related crimes.
John Ballard, 37, is on death row at Union Correctional Institution
awaiting execution for beating Jennifer Jones, 17, and Willie Ray "Bubba"
Patin, 22, to death inside their 55th Terrace Southwest home. He was
convicted in Collier County Circuit Court in April 2003.
Attorneys for Ballard will present to the Supreme Court their appeal
arguments and ask that Ballard's conviction of 2 counts of 1st-degree
murder and robbery with a deadly weapon be overturned.
"John Ballard is innocent of the murders and robbery of Jennifer Jones and
Willie Patin," according to the legal brief filed by Assistant Public
Defender Paul C. Helm, based in Bartow. "The state's only evidence of
Ballard's guilt was circumstantial."
The center of the defense's argument is prosecutor Mike Provost didn't
present enough evidence to merit the jury's convicting Ballard.
Circumstantial evidence is that which a jury can use to infer a
defendant's guilt, although it generally lacks any eyewitnesses or a
confession to the crime.
The Attorney General's Office, which will argue against the appeal,
pointed in its legal brief to strong circumstantial evidence that shows
Ballard killed Jones and Patin and stole more than $1,000, some of which
may have been earned from drugs Jones sold inside her home.
The medical examiner conducting the autopsy on Jones found one of
Ballard's hairs in her hand. Trial testimony on behalf of the prosecution
argued that showed Jones may have fought Ballard before he crushed her
skull with an undetermined blunt object inside her bedroom.
"In addition, his fingerprint was found on the waterbed frame just a
couple of feet from the victim's body in a location where the victim was
known to keep drugs and/or money," according to the brief filed by
Assistant Attorney General Scott A. Browne.
Ballard lived across the street and was "a friend and casual visitor in
the victims' residence," according to the brief. But there was no
explanation for how his fingerprint and hair follicle could have been at
the crime scene, Browne argued.
2 days after the March 7, 1999, slayings, Jones' car was found in a vacant
lot next to a home where Ballard had lived several years before, within
walking distance from his present home and that of the victims, Browne
"This combination of circumstances, in addition to other fair inferences
from the evidence presented at trial, provide competent, substantial
evidence of (Ballard's) guilt," according to the state's brief.
Ballard's attorney also argues the death sentence violated the
constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment. The jury heard
evidence Ballard had suffered brain damage and had learning and hearing
disabilities, all of which "substantially impaired "(Ballard's) ability to
conform his conduct to the requirements of the law."
The oral arguments before the Supreme Court are scheduled to last only
about 15 minutes. Each side will present its case, frequently stopping to
answer questions from any of the nine justices.
After several weeks or even months, the court will issue a ruling
affirming or denying the appeal.
Circuit Judge Lauren Brodie, who presided over the trial, found the deaths
"heinous, atrocious and cruel" and sentenced Ballard to die following the
jury's 9-3 vote recommending execution. Ballard hit each victim 4 times in
the head, causing multiple brain fractures. Neither died instantly.
Ballard didn't testify in the trial but did so in a later hearing,
proclaiming his innocence. He called Jones and Patin his friends.
Collier County Sheriff's Office investigators have said they suspect
Ballard in at least 2 other slayings and hoped his conviction would lead
witnesses to come forward with information. But Ballard has yet to be
charged with any murders other than those of Jones and Patin.
(source for both: Naples Daily News)
Senate bill would limit death row appeals----Attorney and judicial groups
urge its defeat
As death row and DNA exonerations mount, a bill that critics say would
severely curtail the ability of prison inmates to appeal in federal court
faces a crucial Senate committee vote Thursday.
The Streamlined Procedures Act is aimed at limiting what the original
sponsors of the bill, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz) and Rep. Dan Lungren
(R-Calif.), have described as "endless delays" in carrying out death
But more and more legal groups, including the American Bar Association and
the Judicial Conference of the United States, an organization of federal
judges, have announced their opposition to the bill.
A number of prosecutors have come out against it as well.
The ABA said in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee this week that
the bill "inadequately protects the innocent" by erecting new barriers to
federal court that for most prisoners will be nearly impossible to
The Judicial Conference, also in a letter this week, said it found no
basis for rewriting existing law. The pending bill, the group said, "would
undermine" federal judges' traditional role in the appeals process.
In the Senate, an amended version from Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen
Specter (R-Pa.) has been accepted and is the version being considered.
A House committee still is considering the Lungren version of the bill,
and committee hearings on it could be held as early as next month.
Since the mid-1970s, more than 100 prisoners have been released from the
nation's death rows with innocence claims, according to the Death Penalty
Information Center, a non-profit group that opposes capital punishment.
The Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic at New York's Benjamin N.
Cardozo School of Law that investigates wrongful convictions, counts more
than 160 DNA exonerations, including some death row cases.
Many of these approximately 250 inmates proved their innocence and won
their freedom in federal courts, which deal with constitutional issues.
Critics say the legislation would close the avenues that allowed prisoners
to make their cases and could lead to the execution of innocent people.
"This bill is going to keep innocent people out of federal court and send
them to their executions or to stay in prison," said Bernard Harcourt, a
law professor at the University of Chicago who has testified against the
Harcourt said one problem with the bill is that it defines innocence
narrowly and raises obstacles to inmates who contend they were wrongly
convicted--taking rules meant to eliminate prisoners' frivolous claims and
making the rules "brick walls."
Barry Scheck, co-founder of The Innocence Project, said in July testimony
before the Senate committee that "the radical changes ... will
dramatically increase the risk that innocent people will be executed or
imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, and that the true perpetrators
of those crimes will never be brought to justice."
Kent Scheidegger, the legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal
Foundation, said that while criticism that the original bill "almost
abolished" federal review was fair, the measure was rewritten by Specter's
office and is much improved. "The legitimate criticisms have been
addressed," he added.
The bill, said Scheidegger, would cut the time spent reviewing inmate
claims that he contends are unrelated to innocence--such as claims that
defense lawyers were incompetent during the penalty phase of death cases.
"I think that in most cases a single review of that claim in state court
is sufficient," he said, "and that we don't need to 2nd-guess, 3rd-guess
and 4th-guess that issue [in federal court]."
Many death row prisoners have won new trials or sentencing hearings after
federal courts ruled that their lawyers had been incompetent.
Many opponents of the bill have noted that it follows closely on the heels
of last year's Innocence Protection Act, which Congress passed in response
to an increase in wrongful convictions and as part of an effort to prevent
(source: The Chicago Tribune)
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee takes up the so-called Streamlined
Procedures Act, a bill that radically scales back federal review of state
convictions and death sentences. Calling what this bill does
"streamlining" is a little like calling a scalping a haircut. A better
name would have been the Eliminating Essential Legal Protections Act. What
it does, in effect, is curtail the federal role in policing constitutional
violations in state criminal justice systems using the venerable mechanism
of habeas corpus. Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has
moderated some of the worst provisions, but this bill is beyond
rehabilitation. If it passes, the chances that innocent people will be
executed will go way up.
Even after Mr. Specter's efforts, the bill creates onerous procedural
hurdles for convicts. It tries to speed up habeas corpus proceedings by
making it easier for convicts to lose their right to appeal to federal
courts. For example, if a convict fails to raise an argument in state
court, federal courts will have no jurisdiction over the claim even if
there was a good reason for the failure. If he filed a claim in federal
court before going to state court, that claim would be thrown out and lost
forever. Supposed exceptions for cases of actual innocence are so narrow
as to be useless. And the bill would allow states to race petitions
through the courts if they can convince the attorney general that they
have an adequate system for providing lawyers in post-conviction
Why the radical change? We see no reason. Nor does the Judicial
Conference, the administrative arm of the federal judiciary. Like a
national organization of state-court chief justices, which came out
against the bill this summer, the Judicial Conference made clear that it
"does not believe" in "the need for a comprehensive overhaul of federal
habeas jurisprudence." Indeed, if anything, federal rules are too strict.
Around the country, concerns about potentially irreversible miscarriages
of justice have led state legislatures to take a hard look at their death
penalty systems. Congress itself passed important legislation not too long
ago to encourage states to improve the quality of lawyers they provide
capital defendants. This bill would more than undo that progress.
(source: Editorial, Washington Post)
Unabomber's brother opposes death penalty
The brother of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski says mentally ill people convicted
of death penalty-eligible crimes should be spared from execution.
David Kaczynski, who in 1996 turned his older brother in, spoke about his
personal journey during a Fort Wayne, Ind., meeting of the National
Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
You think you're over something, but it's never gone, the younger
Kaczynski said. I have lots of fond memories of Ted. He was always very
kind to me. I adored him, the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette reported.
Kaczynski had no regrets about leading authorities to the Montana cabin to
end his brother's 17-year string of mail-bombings that killed 3 people and
injured 23 others.
You just couldn't sit by and watch even someone you love hurt innocent
people, Kaczynski said.
Kaczynski, now director of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, said
society should be protected from people who are mentally ill, but they
should not be subject to the ultimate sanction. Someone like my brother
clearly needs to be locked up.
Ted Kaczynski, a paranoid schizophrenic, was sentenced to life in prison.
(source: United Press International)
State to Repay Some Peterson Case Costs
The state will reimburse only a fraction of the more than $3 million that
Modesto police and Stanislaus County spent investigating and prosecuting
Scott Peterson in the murder of his pregnant wife, officials said.
The county got $764,059 from the state Monday - $1 million less than
State auditors have determined that only $95,513 of police costs will be
paid back, said city lobbyist Terry McHale.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
More information about the DeathPenalty