[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, MD., KY., ARIZ.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Aug 15 14:53:06 UTC 2006
Former death row inmate goes on trial for extortion
An 8-man, 4-woman U. S. District Court jury on Monday heard a
tension-packed recording in which a former Texas death row inmate
allegedly threatened to have an Odessa man killed unless he paid $300,000
to former business associates.
"I know who you are and you scare me," Terry Lee Jacobs was heard saying.
"Oh, you do," a man investigators have identified as Skelton answered in
the call from Knoxville, Ark. "Who am I?"
"John Skelton," said Jacobs.
"Yeah, that's right," the 77-year-old defendant said. "What do you mean
you don't have the money, boy?"
"I don't have that kind of money," Jacobs said. "I haven't stolen
Jacobs, a dark-haired 58-year-old man who bears a strong resemblance to
the late actor Robert Mitchum, said Skelton referred to a then-defunct oil
company that discontinued life insurance payments for Jacob's partner, Don
Towery, before Towery contracted cancer and died in February 1998.
Skelton, a branding iron company owner who has been free on a $250,000
bond, was sentenced to death after an Ector County trial in the April 1982
pickup bombing death of his Odessa cleaning business employee, Joe Lee
Skelton's attorney, David Botsford of Austin, obtained his 1990 release on
grounds of insufficient evidence.
In a strenuous cross examination, Botsford had Jacobs recount the series
of telephone calls he had said Skelton made to him beginning in February
Jacobs said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Klassen had not promised any
special considerations or to intercede with the Internal Revenue Service
if Jacobs' business accounts are audited.
Assisted by Houston attorney George "Mac" Secrest, Botsford elicited
Jacobs' statement that Skelton never had any connection to companies in
which the alleged victim has been involved.
Jacobs said he is now construction supervisor at the Big Dog Co., where he
constructs drilling locations. He said he received his first threatening
call while driving between Kermit and Andrews and let co-worker Victor
Lujan listen to part of the second as they stood outside an equipment
company in Odessa.
"The gentleman sounded very professional," Jacobs said. "He said he was
going to give me a heads up about something. He said, 'I want $300,000 and
if I don't get it, you're going to get killed.'"
Jacobs said Skelton threatened to arrange for criminal associates in the
Permian Basin "to take you out in the country and shoot you in the head."
He recounted taking the advice of a Big Dog executive to contact the FBI,
where Special Agent Dina Morales and Texas Ranger Jess Malone asked him to
buy a recording device and begin taping his conversations.
Jacobs said the investigators then determined the caller was Skelton,
whose criminal history caused him a great deal of alarm.
Judge Robert Junell set testimony to resume at 8:30 a.m. today. Skelton
could face up to 5 years in federal prison if convicted of using
interstate phone transmissions to make extortionate demands.
Hope on death row ---- Abolition movement grows in Texas
Texas death-penalty abolitionists are organizing whirlwinds of activity to
stop the use of this racist weapon of class terror. Information surfacing
about the many people on death row who were unjustly convicted is helping
build the movement to stop executions. Yet Texasthe state that leads all
others in the U.S. in executionsis continuing to execute prisoners, with
16 legal lynchings already this year and 12 more scheduled.
Abolitionists are organizing numerous activities in Texas for this fall,
including the 7th Annual March to Stop Executions to be held in Austin
during the last weekend of October.
There are also plans to protest horrific conditions of isolation on death
rowsboth at the Polunsky Unit and at the prison in downtown Livingston,
Texas Death Penalty Abolition Move ment leader Njeri Shakur says: "Every
major city in Texas has abolitionists who continue to organize, agitate
and educate about the racist and unfair nature of the death penalty.
Despite the assembly line of executions, we remain optimistic that even
Texas will be forced to stop state killings. We are seeing light at the
end of the tunnel. We just can't get to that end fast enough."
Shakur recently met in Austin with representatives of other Texas-based
anti-death-penalty organizations who are working together to garner funds
for a statewide speaking tour and efforts to bring about a moratorium on
executions within the next few years.
Three cases propel abolition demand
The death-penalty abolition movement has experienced momentum from
exposures over the last 20 months in major newspapers of evidence that
might have exonerated three prisoners already executed by the state.
"These three cases have shaken what was a once solid foundation of support
for the death penalty in Texas. Now, many people express doubt that Texas
has 'never executed an innocent person,' as the state claims, said
activist Joanne Gavin.
In December 2004, the Chicago Tri bune published the results of its
investigation of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed on Feb. 17 of that
year. The article showed that Willingham had been sent to death row based
primarily on arson theories later repudiated by improved scientific
8 months after Willingham was executed, the same scientific information
helped exonerate another man, Ernest Willis, who had also been convicted
of capital murder by arson. Willis became the 8th person exonerated while
on Texas death row. He had spent 17 years awaiting execution.
In November 2005, a two-part investigative series in the Houston Chronicle
cast serious doubt on the evidence used to convict Rubn Cant, who was
executed in 1993. Cant, only 17 when he was charged with capital murder,
had persistently proclaimed his innocence. A key eyewitness in the states
case and a co-defendant both came forward to say that Rubn Cant was
In June , the Chicago Tribune published an in-depth, three-part series on
the 1989 execution of Carlos de Luna, who had given the police the name of
the person he said he himself saw carry out the robbery and murder for
which he was convicted. As de Luna was being executed, he sent a message:
"Tell everyone on death row to keep the faith and don't give up."
Support gears up for death-row prisoners
On July 26, Howard Guidry won a new trial date, set for Jan. 29, 2007. A
federal judge had ruled that the prisoner had to be either released from
death row or retried by the state. Guidry, who has always proclaimed his
innocence, is gaining wide support among the progressive community in
Houston. Members of the Blackout Artists Collective are performing his
poetrypoems written during his decade on death row that are
heart-wrenching and acutely
A federal judge has also thrown out the case against death-row prisoner
Martin Draughon1 of 3 men sent to death row because of the Houston Crime
Labs inaccurate ballistics testimony. On July 28, Draughon was in a
Houston court to accept a deal that could see him leaving death row as
early as November. After the papers were signed, Draughon had a wide smile
on his face as he turned to all his supporters in the courtroom to thank
everyone for being there.
The family of Rodney Reed and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty held a
spirited rally at the State Capitol on July 30, calling for a new trial
for Reeda Black man sent to death row for the death of a white woman with
whom he had been having a secret affair. Her fianc Jimmy Fennell, a white
cop, was not charged with the murder despite his obvious motive. "Jimmy
Fennell twice failed lie-detector tests while being questioned about the
crime. That is, on each of those polygraph tests, Fennell had showed
deception when asked whether or not he had strangled Stacey Stites," wrote
the Austin Chronicle on May 4, 2002, in an article questioning the
According to rally participant Barbara Timko, "You could feel the energy
and enthusiasm of the rally. It is obvious that Rodneys supporters will
not stop until he receives true justice." A new film about the case"The
State vs. Reed"won the Lone Star State's audience award this year at the
20th annual "South by Southwest" film festival in Austin.
Thomas Miller-Els retrial will begin on Sept. 5. The U.S. Supreme Court
ruled on June 13, 2005, that Miller-El, who is Black, was entitled to a
new trial due to evidence of racial bias during jury selection at his
original trial. By phone, Miller-El asked Workers World to send greetings
to all his supporters and also to his friends on death row. He said he is
concerned that he has only seen his court-appointed attorneys 3 times
since he got back to the Dallas County jail last summer.
Miller-El explained: "Within this system there's no such thing as justice.
What happened to being innocent until proven guilty? The district attorney
has gone on television and been quoted in the paper many times saying I am
guilty, and I havent even been retried yet. They use the media to demonize
me and prejudice potential jurors. They wanted me to accept a plea
bargain, but I refused."
He can receive letters at: Thomas Miller-El #05069575, 500 Commerce St.,
North Tower 5-P-12, Dallas, TX 75202.
Njeri Shakur alerted everyone to the Aug. 31 scheduled execution of Hasan
Shakur. She quoted death-row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, who said
of Shakur, "Prisonand worse, death rowwas the place, not just of his
nightmarish repression and possible death, but of his rebirth, his
becoming a revolutionary, who looks at the collective interests of his
people, and all oppressed peoples of the Earth."
Shakur has joined the New African Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter and
was named its Minister of Human Rights. In a recent publication, he
concluded: "My legal appeals have taken turns for the worse, and yet, the
path of liberation continues to be my vocation, carving out a path for
future revolutionaries to follow and carry the torch. I despise the class
oppression that is the basis of the capitalist system and the racist
national oppression that goes with it."
(source: GLoria Rubac, Workers World)
Prosecutor: Death penalty argument is 'premature'
Brandon Morris' defense attorneys' contention that the Maryland death
penalty method by lethal injection is "cruel and unusual punishment" is a
"premature" argument, Washington County State's Attorney Charles P. Strong
said in a response to one of about 50 motions defense attorneys filed in
Prosecutors on Friday filed responses to the motions filed July 28 by
defense attorneys for Brandon Morris, 20, an inmate who faces the death
penalty if convicted of first-degree murder in the Jan. 26 shooting of
Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery Alan Wroten.
Death penalty-related motions are set to be heard Sept. 20 in Washington
County Circuit Court. Morris' trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 23.
Strong has issued a notice of the state's intention to seek the death
penalty if Morris is convicted on any of 3 death penalty-eligible,
first-degree murder counts.
"Our position on the death penalty has not been altered," Strong said
It takes an average of 18 years for a person sentenced to death in
Maryland to actually be executed, he said.
"This is why you have to sit down with the survivors and have that long
discussion," he said. "It's only fair to discuss with them the reality of
the consequences of filing the death notice."
He said he would only go forward with the death penalty "with the
concurrence of the survivors," who, in this case, support seeking it.
In the response to the defense's motion to declare lethal injection cruel
and unusual punishment, Strong said the Court of Appeals has "directly
addressed and rejected" the unconstitutionality of the state's death
sentence. Strong also said the issue raised by Morris' attorneys, District
Public Defender Michael Morrissette and Assistant Public Defender Eric
Reed, about the method of execution "is premature prior to the actual
imposition of the death sentence."
Attorneys for Morris supplemented their motions with a study of the
state's death penalty, which states race and geography are the "two most
important factors influencing the implementation" of the death penalty in
Maryland. Strong, in his response, said Morris, through his attorneys,
"never asserts that the geographic location of the alleged crime was a
factor in the state's decision to seek the death penalty."
Wroten, 44, died Jan. 27, a day after he was shot in the face with his
Division of Correction-issued .38-caliber revolver in a Washington County
Hospital room while guarding Morris, a Roxbury inmate who was hospitalized
there to have an object - a sewing needle - removed from his liver.
Police allege Morris overpowered Wroten at about 5 a.m. Jan. 26, shot him
and briefly took a hospital visitor hostage before hijacking a taxi
waiting for another fare outside the hospital. Morris, wearing only boxer
shorts, was apprehended about an hour later on FedEx property north of
Hagerstown after the taxi crashed near the Pennsylvania state line.
Morris is being held at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center,
commonly called Supermax, in Baltimore. He was serving an 8-year sentence
for 2003 convictions on 1st-degree assault, robbery with a deadly weapon
and handgun violations at Roxbury when he was hospitalized.
Know more in 30 seconds
The issue: Inmate Brandon Morris was indicted in the Jan. 26 shooting of
Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery Alan Wroten. Wroten died
Jan. 27, a day after he was shot in the face in a Washington County
Hospital room where he was guarding Morris. Prosecutors intend to seek the
death penalty if Morris is convicted of any of 3 1st-degree murder counts
against him. Morris has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
What's new: Washington County State's Attorney Charles P. Strong on Friday
filed responses to about 50 motions filed in late July by Morris'
attorneys, District Public Defender Michael Morrissette and Assistant
Public Defender Eric Reed, who called for the removal of the death penalty
as a sentencing option for Morris.
What's next: Attorneys will argue death penalty-related motions Sept. 20.
Morris' trial is set to begin Oct. 23 in Washington County.
(source: The Herald-Mail)
Death penalty case back in court
Pike County Circuit Court Judge Eddy Coleman is presiding as special judge
in a famous Letcher County murder case in which two men were sentenced to
death 2 decades ago.
During a hearing last week, Coleman scheduled evidentiary hearings for
convicted murderers Roger Dale Epperson and Benny Lee Hodge.
Epperson, 56, and Hodge, 55, were convicted of murdering Letcher County
resident 1985 death Tammy Acker. According to reports, the men, aided by
Donald Bartley, entered a physician's home posing as F.B.I agents,
stabbed, Acker, his daughter, and took $1.9 million, handguns and jewelry.
Hodge reportedly stabbed Acker 12 times in the back with a large kitchen
knife while Epperson and Bartley choked her father, Dr. Roscoe Acker, with
an electrical cord. The man, unconscious, was left to die, but survived.
Bartley later testified against Epperson and Hodge.
The men received second death sentences for the murders of Bessie and
Edwin Morris in their Jackson County home a month prior to this incident.
Edwin Morris' body was found lying on the kitchen floor, gagged, with his
hands tied behind his back and a pillow near his head. He had been shot
twice. Bessie Morris' body was found on a bed with her hands tied behind
her back and her feet tied together. She was shot twice in the back.
After their appeals - collectively presenting 71 issues - were denied,
both defendants filed motions to vacate the judgment in their case, and
they both requested an evidentiary hearing on allegations they raised
regarding jury tampering and ineffective assistant of counsel during their
trial. In March 2002, the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed previous
decisions about these allegations, ruling that an evidentiary hearing was
The ruling remanded the case back to the state court, where Coleman and
Commonwealth's Attorney Rick Bartley were appointed to sit in as special
judge and prosecutor. The ruling directed the court to conduct an
evidentiary hearing to divulge factual allegations presented by Hodge and
Epperson about jury tampering and ineffective assistance of counsel during
The Supreme Court ruling concluded that allegations of jury tampering in
the case were pled by Epperson and Hodge with sufficient specificity. The
Supreme Court pointed out that jurors were given newspapers, access to
television, visits, and alcohol during their sequestered period. The
convicted murderers also argued that Letcher County Commonwealth Attorney
had at least daily ex parte contact with jury members, and that the jury
had chosen a forman, deliberated, determined guilt and decided on the
death penalty before all of the evidence was presented in the case.
On the issue of the allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel, the
Supreme Court ruling determined that the trial court didn't determine
whether either defense counsel conducted investigations for mitigating
evidence, which might have alleviated guilt of both defendants.
The evidentiary hearing must be held to determine if failure to introduce
this evidence was a trial strategy or an abdication of advocacy,' the
Supreme Court ruled.
The defendants claimed, among other things, that the Letcher County
Commonwealth Attorney James Wiley Craft, had ex parte communications with
the jury forman, Eugene Banks, a deceased man who was alleged to be the
step-father of Craft's girlfriend at that time, Bridgette Combs. The
defendants also claims that Craft's son worked as a law clerk for
presiding Judge Samuel T. Wright when motions to vacate the judgment were
pending. Wright refused to recuse himself and the Supreme Court upheld
that ruling, saying that Wright should recuse himself if Combs is ever
called to testify at an evidentiary hearing about the jury tampering
allegations in order to prevent the "appearance of impropriety."
Coleman scheduled a hearing regarding allegations of jury tampering for
Nov. 13. The hearing is expected to last four days. Hearings will also be
held on Jan. 16 for Hodge and Jan. 22 for Epperson to present evidence
regarding accusations of ineffective assistance of counsel, Coleman
The case was profiled in Darcy O'Brien's book, "A Dark and Bloody Ground."
The men are now in Eddyville on death row.
(source: Appalachian News-Express)
Arizona court overturns death penalty in 9/11 crime
The Arizona Supreme Court on Monday overturned a death sentence imposed on
a suburban Phoenix man for gunning down an Indian immigrant just 4 days
after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. In a unanimous decision, the
court ruled that Frank Roque should instead spend the rest of his life in
prison without the possibility of parole for the high-profile killing of
Balbir Singh Sodhi.
Roque apparently mistook Sodhi, a Sikh who wore a turban and beard, for an
< The court ruled that death by lethal injection would be inappropriate
because of "mitigating evidence" on Roque's mental condition and low
"Because of the serious nature of Roque's crimes, however, we conclude
that he should be imprisoned for the rest of his natural life and never be
released," wrote Rebecca White Berch, the court's vice chief justice.
Roque attracted worldwide attention for a shooting spree that killed Sodhi
outside his gas station in Mesa, Arizona. He also opened fire on a
Lebanese-American clerk at another gas station and at the home of an
Afghan family, but there were no injuries.
"I'm a damn American all the way," Roque was quoted as saying as he was
arrested by Mesa police officers. "I'm an American. Arrest me and let
those terrorists run wild."
During the trial, prosecutors argued the rampage was fueled by racism and
hate and carried out by a man with a long-time drinking problem. Defense
attorneys claimed Roque was mentally ill and pushed over the edge by the
Sept. 11 attacks.
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office said in a statement prosecutors
disagreed with the court's decision, saying the question of life or death
should have been left to the jury.
"In this case the jury did in fact decide the death penalty was the
appropriate sentence," prosecutors said, adding: "We believe the jury's
verdict was correct and that this crime deserved the imposition of the
Sodhi was one of several Sikhs attacked in the United States after
apparently being mistaken for possible supporters of Saudi-born militant
Osama bin Laden.
His death prompted India to call on the U.S. government to take steps to
prevent assaults on Sikhs living in America.
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