[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----ARIZ., N. DAK., ILL., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Aug 16 22:07:50 UTC 2006
Conviction overturned in 1998 murder case
A Pima County judge has overturned a murder conviction and life sentence
in a 1998 stabbing death because the prosecutor erred during closing
Superior Court Judge Jane L. Eikleberry last month overturned the murder
conviction of Ronnie Gene Sartin, 29, for the May 1998 death of Marc
Truesdale, 29, inside his apartment at 3700 N. Campbell Ave.
Original prosecutor David White told jurors that evidence was
"overwhelming" that Sartin killed Truesdale with premeditation and said
the state didn't have to prove premeditation.
At trial, defense attorneys claimed Sartin killed Truesdale in an
"impulsive murderous response" to an unwanted sexual overture, said
appellate attorney Stephanie B. Meade.
Prosecutors sought the death penalty for Sartin, but Judge Bernardo
Velasco instead sentenced Sartin to life without the possibility of
4 years after Sartin's conviction, the Arizona Supreme Court issued a
ruling in an unrelated case saying prosecutors had to prove premeditation
to convict someone of 1st-degree murder.
Eikleberry ruled that using the Supreme Court's interpretation of jury
instructions, White's statements in closing arguments influenced the
White resigned shortly before his death in January 2003. Senior prosecutor
Rick Unklesbay is handling the Sartin case and defense attorney Brick P.
Storts III has been appointed to defend Sartin.
Prosecutors have 60 days from Eikleberry's ruling to decide whether to
seek the death penalty again for Sartin.
If they seek the death penalty and Sartin is convicted of 1st-degree
murder, a jury will decide whether he should be executed.
(source: Tucson Citizen)
Cell phone security worker says she tried to trace Sjodin calls
A cell phone security worker told jurors how she tried to track calls from
Dru Sjodin's cell phone at the request of police on the night the
University of North Dakota disappeared.
Judy Evers, who works in Overland Park, Kan., for Sprint Nextel Corp. ,
said Wednesday she determined that two calls were placed from the phone on
the night of Nov. 22, 2003, when Sjodin disappeared from a Grand Forks
mall parking lot.
One was at 5 p.m., lasting about 4 minutes, placed near the Columbia Mall
tower, and the other was at 7:42 p.m., lasting about 55 seconds, Evers
said. Authorities determined the signal was bouncing off a tower near
Evers said she did not have the capability then to trace the precise
movements of the phone.
"You cannot tell exactly where the phone is or how close to the tower it
may be," Evers said. The records could not show whether the calls were
hand-dialed, speed-dialed or redialed, she said.
Evers testified Wednesday in the trial of Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., 53, a
convicted sex offender from Crookston, Minn., who is charged with
kidnapping resulting in the death of Sjodin, 22, of Pequot Lakes, Minn. He
has pleaded not guilty.
Sjodin's boyfriend, Chris Lang, testified Tuesday that he spoke to Sjodin
late on the afternoon she disappeared, as she was leaving the Columbia
Mall in Grand Forks. He estimated they chatted for about 4 minutes, and he
remembered she said something like "OK, OK," before her cell phone hung
up. Lang said he had tried calling Sjodin back immediately, and several
times over the next few hours. He got a call from her cell phone about
7:40 that night, but heard only static and a beeping noise.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson unsealed documents that detail
allegations that Sjodin was raped and stabbed and driven into the country
to her death.
Rodriguez abducted Sjodin at knifepoint, tied her hands behind her back,
put a plastic bag over her head and drove her into the night, then raped
and stabbed her, prosecutors allege in one document released Tuesday.
"She had no idea who her abductor was, she had no idea where he was taking
her, and she naturally would have been filled with terror, fearful of
sexual and other violent assault, including torture and murder," the
"The drive was long in distance and in time, all during which Ms. Sjodin
was suffering under the pain of her abduction and incapacitation," the
document says. It alleges she was attacked in Rodriguez's car and then
dumped in a ravine and covered with debris.
Defense attorneys say Sjodin may have died within minutes of being
accosted in the Grand Forks shopping mall parking lot in November 2003.
They say prosecutors have no proof she was alive before she was taken to
Minnesota, so the case belongs in state court and Rodriguez should not be
charged in federal court.
"She (Sjodin) was likely unconscious within minutes of her abduction and
probably never regained consciousness before her death," defense attorneys
said in court papers. Prosecutors have revealed "no evidence that could
properly convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had
specific intent to inflict pain on Ms. Sjodin for punishment sake or for
sadistic pleasure," the defense document said.
Rodriguez's attorneys said a wound to Sjodin's neck "would, in fact,
indicate that there was no intent to prolong Ms. Sjodin's pain or cause
her protracted suffering."
North Dakota and Minnesota do not have the death penalty, but it is
allowed in federal cases.
The federal kidnapping law says the crime spreads across a state boundary
"if the person was alive when the transportation began."
Prosecutors and the judge have been caught off guard with the swift pace
of testimony in the trial so far.
"I've never seen 16 witnesses on and off the stand that quickly before,"
Erickson said at the close of testimony Tuesday.
16 people testified in the 1st 2 days, both of which ended early because
no other witnesses were scheduled to appear. Defense attorney Robert Hoy
has asked few questions of government witnesses.
Erickson said he was worried jurors may lose interest with so much down
time and warned prosecutors to fix their scheduling problems. But the
judge said he would "cut the United States some slack" because he also was
surprised by the pace.
(source: Associated Press)
Prosecutors seeking death penalty in Hallsville slayings
Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against a man accused in
the July stabbing and slashing deaths of a pregnant Hallsville woman and
her 8-year-old son.
Arthur Thomas Massey, 37, of rural Clinton is charged with 6 counts of
1st-degree murder and intentional homicide of an unborn child in the
deaths of Katie Griffieth, 28, and her son, Kendall. Prosecutors say both
victims were stabbed and their throats cut.
DeWitt County State's Attorney Jerry Johnson cited the number of victims,
the fact that one was a child and the brutal nature of the deaths in a
motion announcing that he will seek the death penalty.
"The deaths resulted from exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior
indicative of wanton cruelty," according to the motion, filed Friday in
DeWitt County court.
Authorities have declined to discuss a possible motive.
Springfield attorney James Elmore was appointed Monday to assist DeWitt
County Public Defender Richard Goff with Massey's defense. Massey is
entitled to 2 attorneys who are certified to handle capital murder cases
because death is a sentencing option.
Goff declined comment Wednesday and referred questions to Elmore, who was
out of the office and unavailable for comment, his secretary said.
Results of a psychiatric examination sought by the defense to determine
whether Massey is fit to stand trial are pending.
The victims' bodies were found July 11 in Griffieth's house in tiny
Hallsville, about seven miles west of Clinton, after 2 of Griffieth's
other children - both toddlers - were discovered unharmed in bloodstained
In addition to the murder counts, Massey also faces a charge of possession
of a weapon by a felon. He was arrested on the weapons charge the day
after the Hallsville stabbings and was free on $2,500 cash bond when he
was arrested July 20.
Massey is being held in the DeWitt County jail on $5 million bond.
Phoning Home: Good for E.T., Not for Criminal Defendants
Clifton Terrell Jr.'s story may serve as a lesson to murder suspects
everywhere: Resist the urge to call your momma.
When he was tried in San Francisco Superior Court for murdering the son of
a state senator, the trial court excluded Terrell's confession to police.
But the court allowed the prosecution to use a secretly recorded phone
call Terrell made to his mother and three other relatives right after his
interrogators left the room.
"He tried to grab the gun, and I pulled away and it went off," he told his
The trial judge allowed a videotape and transcript of the call to be used
at trial, and last week, the 1st District Court of Appeal backed him up in
a published opinion. So, for now, Terrell's sentence to life without the
possibility of parole stands firm.
Terrell's appellate attorney, San Francisco solo Victor Morse, said the
defense plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. "As my client testified at
trial, he had no independent memory of committing this crime."
At last year's trial, Terrell testified he spent the night of the crime
taking Ecstasy, drinking Hennessey, smoking dope and driving around the
city with three other men. He said he passed out in the car, that when he
came to only Dwayne Reed was still with him, and that before ordering him
out of the car Reed said Terrell had shot a "dude." Terrell said he didn't
know what Reed was talking about, and it was only later, when he saw a
story about the shooting on the news, that he grew scared he might have
killed Hunter McPherson.
Reed testified that the two of them had robbed 2 other couples that
evening, but that he stayed in the car when Terrell got out to rob
McPherson and his companion.
Morse, Terrell's appellate attorney, said last week that his client just
regurgitated what Reed had told him after police exploited his fear of the
death penalty. "Only much later did he start to question that."
The 1st District concluded the prosecution overcame any obstacles it might
have faced because it was Terrell's idea to call his mother.
"He was not motivated by any desire for help or leniency from the police,
but solely to obtain emotional support and comfort from his family,"
Justice Sandra Margulies wrote. "Defendant's telephonic confession was not
tainted because the police did not obtain it by any deliberate
exploitation of his first confession."
Justices William Stein and Douglas Swager concurred in the published
ruling, People v. Terrell, 06 C.D.O.S. 7241.
(source : The Recorder)
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