[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, COLO., USA/MICH., VA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Aug 26 16:39:00 UTC 2006
Deal ends man's death row stay in Houston killing
Martin Allen Draughon beat the odds Friday when he walked out of jail
after nearly 20 years on Texas' death row.
"I beat the executioner," he said later by telephone from the home in
Livingston where he will live with his fiancee, Joy Weathers. "It's the
biggest miracle in my life."
Draughon - who will turn 43 on Thursday - was freed on mandatory
supervision because of a plea agreement he reached with prosecutors after
a federal judge overturned his 1987 capital murder conviction.
"Could you ask for a better birthday present?" said Weathers, who met
Draughon through her prison ministry about a year ago.
But while he is no longer behind bars, Draughon must live under tight
restrictions for the next 20 years and could go back to prison if he
He was convicted for the 1986 killing of Armando Guerrero after a botched
robbery at a Long John Silver's restaurant in Houston. He maintained that
he didn't mean to kill anyone, but had fired several shots to scare people
who were chasing him.
In overturning the conviction in September 2004, U.S. District Judge Lee
Rosenthal said a ballistics expert had presented evidence in a federal
appeals hearing, showing that Guerrero was killed by a bullet that had
Rosenthal said that Draughon's attorney had failed to hire a ballistics
expert who could have presented that evidence in his trial, noting that it
could have persuaded jurors to sentence Draughon to life in prison.
The judge also cited "serious questions" about the accuracy of analysis by
the Houston Police Department's crime lab, which is still the focus of an
independent investigation because of problems in several of its divisions.
The 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals upheld Rosenthal's order in September
Instead of retrying Draughon, Harris County District Attorney Chuck
Rosenthal said he opted for the plea agreement because ballistics evidence
indicated that the bullet was not fired at Guerrero.
"The bullet that did kill the complainant, turned out it was a ricochet,"
The agreement called for a 40-year sentence. Draughon already had served
enough time to be released under the law requiring mandatory supervision,
said Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal
"It's a blessing," said Weathers. "It's the best one I've ever had."
Draughon must wear a monitoring device that tracks his whereabouts with
the global positioning satellite system. He also must meet with a parole
officer 9 times each month.
He can become eligible for release from supervision in 2026, Lyons said,
but if he violates his conditions of release before then, he could be
returned to prison.
Draughon is 1 of 238 condemned inmates who have left death row by means
other than execution, while 372 have been put to death since capital
punishment resumed in 1982.
Of the 238, most got off death row but remained in prison after their
convictions or sentences were reduced. At least 14, however, had their
convictions overturned, as in Draughon's case.
Draughon said that, for a while, at least, he will have to get permission
a week in advance when he wants to leave his residence.
The rules are tough, he said, but easier than living on death row, where
he spent 19 years and 9 months.
He said he plans to encourage his former fellow inmates. Weathers said
Draughon will help on her radio program for inmates, which is broadcast by
KDOL in Livingston and sponsored by All Life Is Precious Ministries, a
nondenominational Christian broadcast.
"I'm going to prove to people that once you go to death row, you're not
irredeemable," Draughon said. "You're not a monster."
(source: Houston Chronicle)
JonBenet slaying suspect to appear in court on Monday
John Mark Karr waited in a private jail cell Friday for a court appearance
next week in the killing of JonBenet Ramsey, while his attorney sought to
protect any DNA samples taken from his client and a document with Karr's
A judge scheduled Karr's first appearance in Boulder County Court for
Monday afternoon, a proceeding expected to last just moments.
Deputy Public Defender Seth Temin filed a flurry of motions asking the
judge to prohibit prosecutors and police from conducting any DNA testing
without first notifying the court and the defense.
Karr, 41, was given a mouth-swab DNA test while he was in custody in
Thailand, a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity
because of the ongoing investigation has told The Associated Press. The
results of that test were not known.
Temin said if a DNA sample has been obtained from Karr "it was not
obtained pursuant to applicable law, the constitutions or by valid
consent." He suggested Karr would not provide any further samples without
a court order.
After meeting with Karr on Friday, Temin said he did not know whether
authorities had obtained any DNA samples. District attorney's spokeswoman
Carolyn French said she could not comment.
French said prosecutors would respond to Temin's court motions after
DNA is believed to be a key in solving the 10-year-old slaying of
JonBenet, a photogenic contestant in child beauty pageants. Police
collected DNA from blood spots in her underwear and from under her
Investigators have said some of the DNA was too degraded to use as
evidence, but some was of sufficient quality to submit to the FBI in 2003.
It did not match any of the 1.5 million samples in the agency's database
at the time, according to the Ramsey family attorney.
Temin did not detail why he took the unusual step of asking the court to
seal Karr's handwritten request to be represented by a publicly funded
Some commentators have suggested that Karr's handwriting in a high school
yearbook resembles the writing on a ransom note found in the Ramsey home a
few hours before JonBenet was found strangled with a skull fracture in her
family's mansion on Dec. 26, 1996.
Without referring specifically to the speculation, Temin told the court in
a filing Friday that he "is without sufficient knowledge about all the
facts of the case to be able to evaluate the prejudice that may be
associated with the release of any of the defendant's handwriting."
Karr was being held in an 8-by-10-foot cell, though he could have contact
with one other inmate by way of a "sub-dayroom" adjoining his cell,
sheriff's Cmdr. Bruce Haas said.
"His demeanor is calm. He's been resting," Haas said. "He's sleeping and
hanging out - pretty uneventful."
Authorities once said parents John and Patsy Ramsey were under "an
umbrella of suspicion," but prosecutors in this affluent college town at
the foot of the Rocky Mountains have never charged anyone in the case that
fascinated the nation.
Formal charges are still pending against Karr.
Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy has refused to say what led to Karr's
arrest, and persuaded a judge to seal the reasons she had Karr detained
last week on charges of 1st-degree murder after deliberation, felony
murder, 1st-degree kidnapping, 2nd-degree kidnapping and sexual assault on
"Despite what may have been disclosed to the public over the many years
since the crime, most of the evidence in the affidavit has not been
disclosed, nor has the media developed it independently," Assistant
District Attorney William Nagel wrote in a court filing this week.
Karr's arrest in a low-rent tourist neighborhood of Bangkok followed 4
years of e-mail exchanges with a college professor who has made
documentaries on the case, though Boulder authorities said in a legal
filing that they learned his name only five days before the arrest.
Karr told authorities and reporters in Thailand he was present when
JonBenet died, but no one has publicly placed him in Colorado at the time
of the crime.
A brother, Nate Karr, on Friday issued the strongest alibi statement to
date, saying he was certain the suspect spent Christmas 1996 with his
family. The brother said he was uncertain where the family spent the
holiday that year.
"To the best of our recollection, he was either with us in Atlanta or with
(his ex-wife) Lara," Nate Karr said. "It's not as easy as you might think
to remember 10 years ago."
Nate Karr told The Associated Press he was arranging to travel to Colorado
to visit his brother in jail.
(source: Associated Press)
USA/MICHIGAN----federal death sentence
Convicted murderer stays on death row
The federal government's 1939 purchase of the southern portion of Oxford
Lake in Newaygo County will let Marvin Gabrion's death sentence stick, a
U.S. District Court judge ruled Friday.
Judge Robert Holmes Bell rejected arguments from Gabrion's attorneys, who
claimed criminal jurisdiction was never accepted by federal authorities,
nor did Michigan cede control of the property.
Attorneys Kevin McNally and Margaret O'Donnell contended in a July hearing
that the government only sought a limited interest in the land that is now
part of the Manistee National Forest.
They asserted that should be enough to overturn Gabrion's 2002 conviction
for the 1997 murder of Rachel Timmerman. Gabrion killed Timmerman, and
presumably her 1-year-old daughter, after the 19-year-old girl accused him
of rape, police said.
Gabrion sank Timmerman in Oxford Lake, allowing federal prosecutors to
enact the death penalty -- the 1st in Michigan since 1937. The state does
not allow capital punishment.
Bell not swayed
"The court is not persuaded by defendant's narrow reading of the statute,"
Bell wrote in a 19-page ruling. "Nothing in the language suggests that the
state intended to reserve for itself the authority to 2nd guess the United
States as to what prosecutions it might consider necessary.
"The court is also satisfied that the cession of concurrent jurisdiction
is sufficiently broad to include the authority to prosecute murders
committed on such lands."
Kim VerHage, the paternal grandmother of Timmerman's child, Shannon
VerHage, expected the ruling to keep Gabrion on death row in Terre Haute,
Case concerns continue
But she knows better than to think this is the end of a case that has
consumed her family for the better part of a decade.
"This will not be the final chapter," VerHage said. "The only way it will
ever be done for us is to know where Shannon is. That's our only goal.
That's what we need."
A $5,000 reward offered after Shannon went missing remains available,
Most of the national forest was purchased after 1940 when laws on gaining
legal authority over land had changed.
At the July hearing, prosecutors showed a map of brightly colored squares
showing where the country had control and where it didn't.
Gabrion, 52, picked the wrong place, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joan Meyer
Attorneys acknowledged after the hearing that the case likely will return
to the U.S. Court of Appeals and could reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
Neither Meyer, McNally nor O'Donnell could be reached Friday for comment.
If Bell had ruled for Gabrion, the death sentence would have been vacated
and he would have been retried in Newaygo County.
(source: The Grand Rapids Press)
A Prosecution in Virginia----After 2 decades and 1 giant miscarriage of
justice, Virginia prosecutors start over.
VIRGINIA prosecutors this week brought belated charges against a man named
Kenneth Maurice Tinsley in the 1982 rape and murder of a Culpeper woman
named Rebecca Williams. Mr. Tinsley, a serial rapist already serving life
in prison, was connected to the Williams killing by DNA testing. And his
prosecution would be simply a happy resolution of a long-cold case, except
for one thing: A man named Earl Washington Jr. served more than 17 years
in prison and came within 9 days of being executed for this crime.
Mr. Washington's case is a tragedy in a criminal justice system that at
every stage refused to admit the magnitude of its error. Mildly retarded,
Mr. Washington was convicted almost entirely on the basis of a
disturbingly weak confession -- one that a civil jury later found had been
fed to him by investigators. He sat on death row until DNA tests in 1993
cast serious doubt on his conviction by showing that someone other than he
or the victim's husband had had intercourse with Williams before she was
killed. Then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder responded by commuting his sentence to
life in prison, but did not pardon him, arguing that the evidence of his
innocence remained inconclusive. Only in 2000, after a second round of DNA
testing, did then-Gov. James S. Gilmore III finally pardon him. Yet even
then, he acknowledged merely that a jury would have acted differently had
it seen these test results, not that Mr. Washington was innocent.
What's more, while some of the state crime lab's tests that year
identified DNA from Mr. Tinsley on the victim's blanket, the lab
erroneously excluded him as a DNA contributor in the samples taken from
her body. Not until still another round of testing, this one in connection
with Mr. Washington's civil lawsuit, was Mr. Tinsley's DNA found in
samples taken from the victim's body.
The lessons of the Washington case will be familiar to anyone who has
watched the flood of wrongful convictions come to light in recent years.
Not all confessions are real; DNA testing should be liberally and swiftly
available whenever doubts arise. Most important, there is no place for
arrogance in a state's criminal justice system. In any number of cases
pending now, including some that seem all too weak, Virginia authorities
are certain they have the right man locked up. They were once that certain
about Earl Washington, too.
(source: Editorial, Washington Post)
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