[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Dec 7 19:49:46 UTC 2006
Truck deaths lawyer falls ill----Treatment for pain delays punishment
phase of trial until Friday
The penalty phase of Tyrone Williams' immigrant-smuggling trial was halted
Wednesday after the judge learned lead defense attorney Craig Washington
sought medical care because of "excruciating pain."
His undisclosed illness will delay the trial until Friday.
U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal asked about Washington's whereabouts
Wednesday morning after he had been out of the courtroom for about 20
minutes. Defense attorney Jennifer Carpenter told her that Washington had
sought care from a nurse in the downtown federal courthouse.
The judge reconvened with lawyers on both sides 4 hours later and decided
to give the lead defense lawyer and jurors a day off.
"The good news is that it seems like Mr. Washington is on the mend," said
Rosenthal, adding that he will need today to recuperate.
Washington, 65, is a former congressman who represented the 18th
Congressional District. He also served in the state House and Senate.
Earlier Wednesday, the lead prosecutor asked the jury to sentence Williams
to death, saying he will prove that the truck driver intentionally caused
the deaths of 19 illegal immigrants during a failed smuggling attempt in
May 2003. Williams was convicted Monday on 58 smuggling counts.
"We are going to ask you to sentence the defendant, Tyrone Mapletoft
Williams, to death for each of the 19 individuals he killed," Assistant
U.S. Attorney Daniel Rodriguez said as he turned and pointed toward the
Washington had deferred his opening statements until later.
Rosenthal told jurors that a death-penalty verdict requires prosecutors to
prove that Williams intentionally caused the deaths, knew that his actions
created a "grave risk of bodily injury or death" and showed a reckless
disregard for human life.
Making their cases
The prosecution will try to show that there are "aggravating factors," or
evidence that shows Williams should be executed, and the defense will try
to prove "mitigating factors," or evidence showing he should not be put to
Prosecutors will try to convince jurors that Williams, 35, a legal
Jamaican immigrant from Schenectady, N.Y., ignored the plight of about 100
illegal immigrants suffering from heat and lack of air in his sealed
trailer. Rodriguez said he intends to begin his sentencing-phase evidence
with a video of the crime scene at the Victoria truck stop. Nineteen died
from hyperthermia, suffocation and dehydration in the smuggling attempt.
Rodriguez told the jury he will call the victims of 2 assaults from the
1990s by Williams to testify. He said one will explain how Williams
accused him of cutting in line for a fill-up, then sprayed him with 10
gallons of diesel fuel. The other will testify that Williams made advances
to his girlfriend, then chased him and stabbed him in the back, Rodriguez
Other prosecution witnesses will include relatives of each of the 19
riders who died in the smuggling attempt, Rodriguez said.
Spreading the blame
Rosenthal said the defense will contend that Williams played a small role
in the smuggling operation, cooperated with investigators, was remorseful,
and that his execution would adversely affect his wife and 3 small
She said the defense also will argue that Williams was singled out for the
Out of 13 others indicted in connection with the smuggling attempt, 11
were eligible for a death sentence if convicted.
Williams is the only person ever targeted for the death penalty under a
1994 immigration law that allows capital punishment even if there is no
intent to kill.
Rosenthal said the defense also will blame one of the prosecution's key
witnesses for the deaths.
Washington said during the trial that Abelardo Flores, who agreed to plead
guilty and testify against Williams to gain a lighter sentence, was the
only person who knew how many immigrants had been loaded into Williams'
Among the statutory aggravating factors Rodriguez said he will prove is
that 2 of the victims were "particularly vulnerable due to old age, youth,
or infirmity." One of the deceased was a 5-year-old boy.
Flores recruited Williams to load the illegal immigrants in Harlingen and
smuggle them past the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint at Sarita, then
deposit them at Robstown near Corpus Christi.
Cries for help
They were to be transported from Robstown to Houston in smaller vehicles,
but the drivers of those vehicles were detained at the Sarita checkpoint
and Williams was asked to continue to Houston, according to testimony
disputed by Washington.
Rodriguez argued that Williams ignored screaming and banging from inside
the trailer, but Washington said his client did not know how many
passengers he carried. The prosecutor said the pleas for help were in
Spanish, which Williams does not understand. Williams finally opened the
trailer doors after hearing a voice from inside plead for help in English.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Lawmakers looking for bigger prison reform----Proposals include new parole
agency, more treatment programs
In a surprise move, legislative leaders on Wednesday scuttled plans to
recommend one reform proposal for Texas' corrections programs and moved to
study an even more significant overhaul.
Among the changes being considered: the re-creation of a separate parole
agency, the expansion of drug treatment programs as envisioned a decade
ago but never adopted, and the addition of more alternatives for dealing
with thousands of low-risk convicts.
"The current system is not in sync, and the more statistics I see, the
more I understand this is an operations problem and not a capacity
problem," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire,
D-Houston, a member of the Sunset Advisory Commission that was to vote on
the recommendations Tuesday.
"There are going to be no untouchables," Whitmire said. "We may not just
be looking at a culture shift; it may be culture shock."
The overhaul proposals come as lawmakers in the upcoming legislative
session will have to decide whether to pay for new prisons for the 1st
time in more than 10 years.
An October staff report at the commission that periodically scrutinizes
state agencies recommended that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
significantly expand its rehabilitation and treatment programs. In
proposing specific choices, the report went beyond the usual review.
The agency has asked the Legislature to pay for some expansion of those
programs while building three new prisons. Projections show that 11,000
additional beds could be needed by 2010.
Whitmire and Sunset officials said those recommendations will not be
approved. Instead, a group of lawmakers, criminal justice officials,
prosecutors, judges and other parties involved in Texas' justice system
will begin reviewing broader changes for a final report in January,
Most agencies are reviewed every 12 years. The criminal justice agency was
to have been reviewed in 2011, until Whitmire and other legislative
leaders rescheduled it for this year.
Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, chairman of the Sunset panel, said he
planned to give Whitmire leeway to look at more sweeping changes, after
commission members expressed concern about the state's corrections system.
Whitmire said Wednesday that the decision to expand the review was
prompted by the disclosure this week that more than 5,600 of the state's
6,229 outside trusties the lowest-risk of all convicts, most all living
outside prisons were eligible for parole. The Austin American-Statesman
reported those statistics Tuesday.
Whitmire said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden,
R-Richardson, will be a part of the group.
"I think this is a great idea," Madden said. "I want to look at all the
programs and see the results of each program. We're at a crossroads with
criminal justice, and this is extremely good timing to do this."
Whitmire said the group will explore the possibility of making the Board
of Pardons and Paroles a separate parole agency. In 1989, in a merger of
several justice agencies, lawmakers transferred authority over parole
officers to the newly created Department of Criminal Justice. A separate
agency would provide additional checks and balances to the parole system,
where currently the same people who control the prisons also control the
parole staff, Whitmire said.
Under the proposed system, the parole board would control the parole
officers, where they could more directly manage parolees and conditions of
Whitmire and Madden the ranking legislative leaders on corrections policy
said they want to consider expanding drug- and alcohol-treatment programs
even more than earlier proposed perhaps even to the levels pushed more
than a decade ago by Gov. Ann Richards.
In the early 1990s, Richards persuaded the Legislature to build 12,000
special treatment beds. But money to operate them was never approved, and
fewer than 5,000 were put to use. As of Wednesday, after further budget
cuts two years ago, there were 3,250 used for patients on a therapy plan
that has been abbreviated from 9 to 6 months.
Echoing recommendations in the Sunset report, Whitmire and Madden said
they also want to look at improving educational programs, expanding
probation and parole for nonviolent offenders and putting more low-risk
felons on electronic monitoring.
Whitmire said that if the state could more effectively treat convicted
drunken drivers while they are incarcerated, rather than just warehousing
them, recidivism might drop and public safety would win. Felons convicted
of driving while intoxicated are among the thousands of people who have
been paroled but remain in prison because mandatory treatment programs are
not available, he said.
"We're fixing to do what the (criminal justice) agency should have done
already: look at how to use its existing capacity more wisely, rather than
just saying we have to build new prisons," Whitmire said. "That's what
they always say."
(source: Austin American-Statesman)
AG's jihad on sex offenders won't solve the problem
Like Sen. Joseph McCarthy 60 years ago, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott
knows a good holy war when he sees one. If anyone comes off as an American
Taliban crusader, it's the attorney general.
4 years ago, Abbott initiated his "Cyber Crimes Unit," followed soon
thereafter by his "Fugitive Unit" and "Operation Missing Predator"
campaigns. In his recent bid for re-election, Abbott touted and magnified
his self-righteous efforts that led to the arrest of the 500th sex
Never mentioning or giving a single acknowledgement to the fact that not
all sex offenders are of the murderous, maniacal variety, and certainly
never giving an ounce of credit and recognition to the many committed
soldiers who have strived to rehabilitate offenders here in Texas, Abbott
has hammered away at the cryptic arrest and incarceration efforts that
some Texans seem to fondly embrace.
The attorney general mentions that there are more than 40,000 offenders
listed on the registration rolls, and praises himself as if he'd run for
the office of grand ayatollah for capturing what amounted to fewer than
2/10 of 1 % of the overall offenders listed in Texas. In truth, 95 % of
offenders are nowhere close to being murderous predators but instead are
low-profile, family incest violators.
Incest has been around for more than 160,000 years; only now have the
sanctimonious elements of society become enraged enough to tackle the
In an Oct. 7, 2004 interview, Abbott appeared overjoyed that his holy
inquisitors had captured three Internet predators - 2 in Irving and one in
Corsicana. On June 1, 2005, Abbott lauded the "sophisticated citizenry" of
Texas for supporting his "units" in the capture of four predators who had
previously failed to register. On Aug. 9, 2005, he again referred to the
fact that he'd arrested 12 predators and 26 fail-to-register violators.
Abbott called that a "national nightmare" of the times that were upon us.
When the "units" arrested a 27-year-old substitute teacher from
Pflugerville, Abbott reported the spectacular event on Dec. 21, 2005. In
March and May 2006, Abbott symbolically held up the severed heads of 5
pedophiles during televised interviews, and on May 22, 2006, he swelled
with pride over the arrest of a man who had been arrested once before on
the same charge.
5 more predators from Waco bit the dust on Sept. 13, 2006.
During the 4 years of interviews he gave, and throughout the 500 offender
arrests, Abbott never once offered any suggestions about or answers to the
offender issues in Texas beyond catering to his heartily enraged,
religious-right constitutents and shouting with clenched fists to "throw
them all in prison!"
The truth is, there are tens of thousands of offenders in Texas who are no
more a danger to their communities than anyone else in Texas. The sex
offender program is at a loss for not including the voices of the
offenders themselves. One of the greatest successes in drug and alcohol
abuse programs has been the many opportunities the public has had to hear
from addicts on the scourge of substance abuse, and those same successes
well could happen if sex offenders were given the same opportunity to
address the public.
For every "funny uncle" who has been caught groping his 12-year-old niece,
an uncle who has suffered the consequences of conviction and registration,
there are 150 "uncles" doing the same thing who haven't been caught, and
another 350 just now developing the urge to offend.
Imagine if the offending uncle could get his message across to those
waiting in the wings out there to be caught. No program should be without
such opportunities if society sincerely wants to reduce offenses. The
words need to be gotten out, spoken by those who have been through the
mill, by those who are contemplating an offense, and definitely by those
just beginning to feel the urges.
Sex offense therapy classes teach those very messages, and those messages
need to be given the chance to reach further outward into the community.
An already convicted offender could be just the voice needed to stop a
potential assault upon an unwitting victim.
Stop dancing on the graves of offenders. Allow the registered uncles a
chance at regaining some respectability, dignity and a sense of honor and
Tossing all sex offenders into a single heap in the corner is an idea that
needs to be rethought.
(source: Opinion, Al Jessup; Amarillo Globe-News)
Yates' attorneys respond
He must not 'get' it
REGARDING the Dec. 3 Outlook article "A tragedy of secrets / What the
Yates jury never knew / Panel never allowed to see important pieces of
expert's research," by Dr. Michael Welner: It is understandable that
Welner would be upset at Andrea Yates' jury, the judge, the district
attorneys, other experts and the defense counsel as a result of the
verdict in the case.
The verdict came because the jury understood the reality of mental
illness, postpartum psychosis and the effectuation of its harsh and
horrific results on the lives of the Yates children Noah, John, Paul,
Luke and Mary as well as their mother, Andrea Yates.
By its verdict, the jury rejected both Welner's and Dr. Park Dietz's
opinions. The jury "got it" but, obviously, Welner does not.
Nowhere in his article did Welner a psychiatrist address the severe
mental illness of Andrea Yates.
Surely there exists within Welner's Forensic Panel an expert who can
evaluate the mindset and thought processes of a person who suffered an
undeniable psychotic illness that caused her to drown her children. Welner
cited numerous reasons why Yates "knew" what she did was "wrong."
But, he ignored the most basic of psychiatric truisms when he failed to
acknowledge that in the unreal world of the psychotic mind, the capacity
"to know" does not coincide with the definition of "to know."
Yates surely believed she was an unfit mother, that she caused her
children to "stumble," and she believed that their souls would be saved if
she took their lives while they were still innocent and not yet
irreparably tainted by Satan's influence. She surely "knew" that the
criminal justice system would be involved: She called 911 and confessed.
She was aware that she would be executed for what she did. But in her
psychotic world, she did what in her mind was best for her children.
No expert witness disagreed with these statements, and Welner never
addressed them, thus doing a tremendous disservice to mental health issues
and to the profession of which he is a part that daily deals with the
issues of mental illness.
His pontification of his perception of a judicial affront to his
"professional" evaluation ignored the overwhelming evidence that disagrees
with his position.
GEORGE J. PARNHAM attorney for Andrea Yates, Houston
AFTER reading Michael Welner's Dec. 3 Outlook article "What the Yates jury
never knew," I feel the need to set the record straight.
Although Welner chastised the judge and the attorneys for a "runaway
acquittal" and hiding the truth, what he appears to be doing is continuing
a campaign to justify his much-maligned methods, opinions and testimony in
the Yates case. During his two days of testimony Dr. Welner did not fare
His motives and opinions were subject to scrutiny like every other expert
witness that takes the stand.
It did not help his credibility that there appeared to be hidden fees in
his $250,000-plus bill to the county or that he was most anxious to
testify for the defense in the 1st trial and testified for the state in
the second. Because this was a high-profile case, it is likely that his
performance is being reviewed in both legal and academic arenas and
perhaps he feels the need to defend his professional reputation.
Both the state and the defense had massive amounts of information and
access to all the reports and information prepared by all the experts,
including the information Welner complained was hidden from the jury. He
was correct to say that the jury did not hear all 14 hours of his taped
interviews, read his voluminous report, did not see 34 of 90 slides he
prepared and his testimony was required to comply with the rules of
evidence. All the other experts who testified in the trial had the same
At the end of the day, all the facts were presented in one form or another
to the jury. Because the jury rejected his opinions and agreed with a
number of highly qualified and respected defense experts does not mean
there was a "runaway acquittal."
To come to the conclusion that the Yates trial and the jury's verdict was
a travesty of justice simply because the jury didn't hear everything
Welner wanted them to hear is both self-serving and disingenuous.
WENDELL A. ODOM JR. attorney for Andrea Yates, Houston
(source: Letters to the Editor, Houston Chronicle)
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