[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Feb 28 17:07:31 CST 2006
Barbee receives death sentence----FW: Prosecutor saw 'no reason to spare'
man who killed ex-lover, boy
In Fort Worth, a jury sentenced Stephen Barbee to death Monday for
murdering his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Lisa Underwood, and her 7-year-old
son, Jayden, to cover up an affair.
The jury deliberated for 3 hours before deciding that Mr. Barbee deserved
execution instead of a life sentence for the February 2005 killings.
Sheila Underwood, mother and grandmother of the victims, looked at the
ceiling and then nodded her head when the verdict was read Monday
afternoon as the weeklong trial was ending.
A few minutes later, she demanded that Mr. Barbee look at her as she
"I'm 53 years old, and I don't have anything left ..." she said, raising
her voice in anger. "You put me in hell, but I'm not alone. You put your
parents in hell, too."
Assistant District Attorney Kevin Rousseau said Mr. Barbee's actions
obviously warranted the death penalty.
"I saw a lot of self-pity," he said. "I didn't see any remorse. There was
no reason to spare his life."
Mr. Rousseau, who prosecuted the case with Dixie Bersano, called Mr.
Barbee deceitful and violent.
Bill Ray, one of Mr. Barbee's attorneys, said little about the decision to
give his client the death penalty.
"This is a hard case," he said. "There was not much we could do."
The prosecution showed jurors a video recording of Mr. Barbee confessing
to his wife that he murdered Ms. Underwood several days earlier. The
couple didn't realize that their tearful conversation was being recorded
in an interview room at the Tyler police station.
Mr. Barbee told police the murders were planned and then later claimed
they were accidents.
Fort Worth homicide Detective Mike Carroll testified that Mr. Barbee
thought Ms. Underwood's unborn child was his and that his wife of two
months would find out he cheated on her while they were dating. Mr. Barbee
told police he smothered the Underwoods and then buried them in a shallow
grave in rural Denton County.
A DNA test performed after Ms. Underwood's death and made public for the
first time during the trial proved Mr. Barbee was not the father. Ms.
Underwood was 7 ? months pregnant when she was killed.
Shortly after the trial ended, Jackie Barbee sat in a courthouse hallway
waiting to see her son before he was transferred to Huntsville. "I am so
sorry," she said, when asked for a reaction.
She and her son did not show any emotion as the punishment was announced.
Mrs. Barbee chewed gum and glanced around the packed courtroom. It was
only when the judge continued addressing Mr. Barbee, telling him he was to
die by injection, that she reacted.
Mrs. Barbee then grabbed the hand of a man seated next to her and patted
it softly. Afterward, mother and son talked briefly and hugged. Mr.
Barbee's face was red from crying.
Mrs. Barbee blamed the media - among others - for her son's fate. "I think
you tried and convicted my son on the 1st day," she said, "but I forgive
Last week, Mr. Barbee's supporters also grumbled about the strategy of Mr.
Ray and fellow defense attorney Tim Moore. They were particularly angry
that the lawyers called only 2 witnesses - one of whom declined to testify
- before Mr. Barbee was found guilty of capital murder.
Mr. Ray said 2 appeals already have been filed.
At 4 p.m., Tarrant County sheriff's deputies began driving Mr. Barbee to
the Byrd Unit in Huntsville for processing by the Texas Department of
Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the state agency, said processing takes
several weeks for most inmates but lasts only a day for those destined for
Mr. Barbee will then be transferred to the Polunsky Unit near Livingston,
Texas, where he will await an execution day. There are 397 men and 9 women
on Texas death row.
Before deliberations began Monday, the jury was instructed to determine
whether there was a probability Mr. Barbee presented a future danger to
society and whether there were mitigating factors that would lessen his
responsibility for the crime.
Ms. Bersano said there was a simple solution to Mr. Barbee's problem. A
paternity test would have shown that Ms. Underwood's unborn daughter -
whom she planned to name Marleigh - was not his child.
"He couldn't have waited?" Ms. Bersano asked. "Violence is how this man
Ms. Bersano also cited previous testimony by 1st wife Theresa Barbee that
several arguments escalated into violence.
Mr. Moore said the only evidence of past violence came from Mr. Barbee's
"scorned" and "jilted" ex-wife. The attorney noted that his client had no
previous arrests or convictions.
"That's the best they can find?" he asked the jury.
A few hours later, the jury delivered its answer.
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Defendant pleads guilty to killing college student
In a surprise move Monday, a man on trial for strangling a St. Mary's
University senior last year pleaded guilty to capital murder, leaving a
jury to decide whether he is executed or serves life in prison.
Joe Michael Luna, 26, entered the plea before 379th District Judge Bert
Richardson moments after a jury was sworn in.
Luna is accused of breaking into the apartment of Michael Paul Andrade,
21, on the morning of Feb. 17, 2005.
In an opening statement, prosecutor Mary Green told jurors that Luna
surprised Andrade by entering his Potranco Road apartment from the attic.
A fight ensued in which Luna strangled Andrade and then set fire to the
Prosecutors never offered Luna a plea deal, but defense attorney Mario
Trevio said his client considered whether to take his chances with a trial
or enter a guilty plea in hopes of getting a jury to spare his life.
After the plea, Richardson instructed the jury of seven men and five women
to find the defendant guilty, then said the trial would proceed with
testimony to allow prosecutors and defense attorneys to make their cases
for whether Luna should be given the death penalty or life in prison.
"We want you to know, ladies and gentlemen, he did it out of greed, to get
stuff to sell for a little pocket change. You're going to hear the whole
history of Joe Michael Luna," Green said.
As testimony got under way, Luna listened intently at the defense table,
with his hand on his chin, scratching his clean-shaven upper lip, and his
other hand resting on his hip.
Among other things, Green told jurors they would learn how Luna began his
life of crime by pointing a stolen semi-automatic pistol at his 7th-grade
principal and yelling, "Back off, (expletive)!"
He also served 5 years in prison for a carjacking, a burglary of a home
with young girls inside and an aggravated assault on a police officer, she
Testimony in Luna's trial resumes this morning.
Defense suggests teen witness was teacher's killer
A defense attorney Monday questioned the reliability of a 16-year-old girl
who says she helped her father rob and kill Alamo Heights teacher Diane
The teenager, Pearl Cruz, told jurors a detailed story last week about how
she and her father, Ronnie Joe Neal, ransacked Tilly's Northeast Bexar
County home in November 2004, then drove her to a remote field in Schertz.
That's where, Cruz said, Neal shot the teacher to death with her own gun.
Neal's attorney, Joel Perez, sought to pull apart Cruz's credibility and
suggested Monday that she was the one who shot Tilly.
He emphasized that in exchange for her testimony, Cruz faces a sentence of
no more than 30 years and could serve as little as 3 behind bars.
"You knew that if you said you were the shooter you wouldn't get your
sweet deal of maybe 3 years at the Texas Youth Commission, you knew that?"
"Yes," Cruz responded solemnly.
It was the 2nd time Cruz has testified against her father since the trial
began last week.
Perez waited to question Cruz until prosecutors presented the rest of
Perez also emphasized Cruz offered to kill Tilly because she said she
became "jealous and mad" when she discovered her father raping the
But the questions from Perez were just as notable for what he did not ask.
Like prosecutors, he skirted the more sordid side of the father-daughter
In July, Cruz gave birth to her father's baby, which she was carrying the
night Tilly was killed.
In the face of questioning that lasted about two and a half hours and
included heated exchanges between attorneys on both sides, Cruz held an
unflappable expression on her face and rarely gave more than 1-word
In one of the tensest moments of the trial so far, Perez handed Cruz the
.32-caliber gun she says she pointed at Tilly once the teacher let her in
the door Nov. 22, 2004.
At Perez's request, Cruz took the gun in her hand and pointed it the way
she pointed it at Tilly that night. Perez asked Cruz to act out the scene
when she used the gun to force Tilly to the floor. But Cruz remained
silent, frozen in her seat on the witness stand.
"There's 2 sides of you, isn't there?" Perez asked.
"There's the you that's here in the courtroom today, and then there's the
evil you, right?"
Cruz agreed with a subtle nod of her head.
"Yes," she said.
Domestic slayings: Too common, all the more tragic----Gloria Estela had
students, family and sons who loved her
Another one. Sometimes we sit and listen to the grisly details spilling
out of the cable-news anchor. We stare at the photo of a smiling woman,
now dead. We consider the case against the prime suspect or "person of
interest," often a husband, boyfriend or ex-lover.
Over time, the names become as familiar as our neighbors. Laci Peterson
and her unborn child, Conner, whose remains are found beside San Francisco
Bay. Rachel Entwistle and her 9-month-old daughter, Lillian, shot to death
in their Massachusetts home. A pregnant Lisa Underwood and her 7-year-old
son, Jayden, found slain in a shallow grave near Fort Worth.
Their stories crumble together into a single drone. It happens everywhere
and too often, one after the next.
On average, three women are killed by spouses or partners each day,
according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. But unless we know
someone trapped in an abusive relationship, the stories lose their
It's someone else's problem. We flip the channel.
We shouldn't. Here is a case you probably haven't heard, that of Gloria
Estela Cant Manzanares, 30. Just this week, a Cameron County jury found
her 31-year-old husband, Norberto Manzanares, guilty of strangling her
before driving her body across the Rio Grande to Matamoros.
"I used to watch these stories on the news, and not once did I think it
could happen to us," said Mario Cant, Gloria Estela's brother. "It
happened to other people. But not to good people like us, educated in
Catholic private schools and who never wished ill on others."
Sometimes we miss the obvious signs: shoving, slapping, shouting. But many
times, there aren't signs to miss.
I want you to know Gloria Estela's story because she shouldn't be
forgotten, her story reduced to a cautionary tale, a domestic violence
statistic. Her 70-year-old father pretends to be strong, but her death has
consumed him. She was his consentida, his favorite, always calling him
cario, my love.
Each day, Mario Cant Sr. would stop by his daughter's Brownsville home and
play with her 2 boys. Gloria Estela would tell her father about words her
sons had learned or something funny they'd said. Or she would talk about
her kindergarten students, like the boy who would take his medication only
if she gave him a kiss on the cheek.
Norberto, 4, and Alejandro, 2 - Gloria Estela's boys - now live with her
only sister, Rosa Elena. The oldest no longer cries at night or stays up
watching cartoons, waiting for his mother to come home.
Authorities say they probably will never know why Mr. Manzanares killed
his wife, but there is no doubt the couple had financial trouble. At the
time, no one else knew, not even Gloria Estela. They had been ordered to
move out of their home the day she died. She didn't know that her home had
been foreclosed or that it had been sold. Nothing had been packed, and the
refrigerator, still full, held an unopened gallon of milk and her sack
lunch for the day.
After killing his wife, testimony revealed, Mr. Manzanares fed the boys
breakfast, wrapped his wife's body in a blanket and loaded her into the
back seat of their 1998 Chevrolet Venture. The oldest boy, 3 at the time,
later told a psychologist that his mother "was sleeping."
Once in Matamoros, Mr. Manzanares ran into a Mexican clinic shouting for
help. He told doctors a fender-bender had turned deadly. One attacker, he
said, held him at knifepoint while the other suffocated his wife with a
black plastic bag.
He had begged for her life, he said through tears.
Back in Texas, local television stations ran with the story. It was
compelling - "Texas teacher murdered in Mexico." The region was already in
the media spotlight, after drug turf wars in Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros
prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a borderwide travel alert.
Mr. Manzanares' story, of course, never added up. First there were four
carjackers, then 2, later 3. Doctors at Clinca San Francisco said Gloria
Estela's body was already stiff and showing signs of rigor mortis, so it
wasn't possible for her to have been dead for 10 minutes, as her husband
claimed. Vendors in the area recalled no fight, and the minivan showed no
signs of an accident.
Mr. Manzanares will be sentenced in April on the murder conviction. Our
attention, what little we have left, will turn to another victim.
There's always another one.
(source: Dallas Morning News - Macarena Hernndez is a Dallas Morning News
Mom may not get sympathy, but she should get justice
If anyone acquainted with the facts seriously believes that Dena Schlosser
was not insane the day she butchered her baby, then there's no point in
having an insanity defense at all. We might as well agree that she
committed an unfathomably barbaric act and throw the book at her.
But the state recognizes the reality that, among all the liars and con
artists out there, there really are a tortured few who are too crazy to be
held responsible for their behavior. Mrs. Schlosser ought to be in a
mental hospital right now.
>From a purely mechanical standpoint, it's a shame that this sad case ended
First, because Collin County may have to go to the considerable time and
expense of repeating the entire exercise, and 2nd, because this was an
exceptionally well-conducted trial.
The judge was strict but fair; lawyers for both sides presented serious
cases without gratuitous showboating; the jurors paid careful attention.
How it evolved that two of them did not see the case in the same light as
the other 10 is beyond me.
It's also a shame that some folks out there will inevitably apply their
own political generalizations to this case:
There are those who say this is more evidence of a bloodthirsty Texas
court system that values retribution over justice.
And there will be angry observers on the other side who think any woman
who kills her child does so for evil but comprehensible reasons: to "get
even" with a cheating husband, to escape the workaday drudgery of child
care, to start single life over without the encumbrance of kids.
Dena Schlosser was none of these things. She was psychotic. She had a head
full of tortured gobbledygook about God and Jesus and blood sacrifice,
about "good Bibles" and "bad Bibles," about messages being sent to her
through newspaper articles and TV shows. She was nuts.
The case for Mrs. Schlosser's insanity was so overwhelming, in fact, that
there was an unusual reversal of the normal trial roles. In this instance,
the defense methodically constructed a compelling case. They presented
doctors, police officers, acquaintances, and witnesses, all of whom
painted a portrait of a woman who was rapidly plummeting into complete
Prosecutors did their workmanlike best to poke holes in the case during
cross-examination and by offering jurors a slim rationale by which they
might reach a guilty verdict.
They suggested that, while Mrs. Schlosser was mentally ill, she was not
technically insane. And they theorized that even the expert witnesses may
have simply been so overwhelmed by the raw gore of little Maggie
Schlosser's killing that they assumed that the perpetrator had to be
Both sides conducted the kind of thorough, careful job that, in a perfect
world, you would see in every courtroom trial. But the facts here were
simply on the side of the defense.
During closing arguments, defense attorney David Haynes described Mrs.
Schlosser's worsening psychosis in the weeks prior to Maggie's death as
"the descent into the darkest night of her soul."
By those last few days of her baby's life, he said, "her mind is
collapsing, but there's no one there to help her."
Read by themselves, these statements seem overheated and dramatic. But
alongside all the evidence in this case, they are chillingly factual.
It's hard to feel sympathy for Dena Schlosser, hard to look at her without
experiencing revulsion at what she did. Those 12 jurors will remember
Maggie Schlosser's shocking, gruesome autopsy photos until the end of
But they were, as the law dryly states, judges of the facts. And the sad
fact is that a combination of biology and circumstance dealt Dena
Schlosser the cruelest poker hand a human being can receive, more cruel
than terminal sickness or debilitating deformity.
Mrs. Schlosser could not reasonably expect most people to look at her with
compassion or sympathy or understanding. What she did just puts her too
far outside the boundaries of ordinary society.
Like all of us, though, she's entitled to justice.
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Who deserves justice?
I am tired of all of this hand-wringing over justice for Dena Schlosser.
What about justice for the innocent, 10-month-old baby, who will never
have a birthday party, never celebrate Christmas or Easter, never go to
college, marry or have her own children?
Why so much concern about a mother who committed the most vile act
imaginable? Are we to excuse such horrific behavior? What do you think was
going through this baby's mind as this person she trusted implicitly and
depended on was cutting off her arms?
What lesson do we give society if we merely put Dena Schlosser in a mental
institution? Is that truly punishment enough for killing this helpless
infant? No, it is not.
It is unfortunate and difficult, but Dena Schlosser deserves the death
penalty for her actions. If we don't defend this child, no one will.
Richard McRae, Dallas
(source: Letter to the Editor, Dallas Morning News)
Kinky Friedman testifies in capital murder trial
Independent Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman visited a Houston
courtroom Tuesday to testify on behalf of convicted killer Max Soffar.
Soffar was convicted last week of killing three people at a Houston
bowling alley in 1980. His 1st conviction and death sentence were
overturned on appeal.
Friedman testified he doesn't believe Soffar should be executed because he
believes he is innocent.
The candidate said he met Soffar while writing a column for Texas Monthly
in January 2004. He interviewed Soffar and exchanged letters with him
during his years on Texas' death row.
Friedman was only on the stand for a few minutes.
"I've seen the problems with the lawyers ... everybody's dead, all the
witnesses are dead, there's no evidence against him," Friedman said. "And
I can't even believe he was brought to trial in the 1st place."
The jury also heard from one of the victim's sisters, Jackie Bryant, who
wants Soffar to get the death penalty again.
"It's very hard to believe that it's been 25 years because, you know, the
pain is still there," Bryant said. "It's very fresh, it's very raw, and he
has had a chance to live for 25 years and get married and experience
things in life that my sister never had a chance to do."
Testimony in the punishment phase ended shortly after Friedman's testimony
and the trial wrapped up for the day.
Jurors will return for closing arguments Wednesday before deciding whether
to sentence Soffar to life or death.
(source: KHOU News)
Murder trial stalls today after witness doesn't show up
The trial of a man accused of killing Alamo Heights teacher Diane Tilly
stalled Tuesday morning as defense attorneys hunted for a witness who
didnt show up in court.
The witness, a retired records keeper at the Bexar County magistrates
office, is expected to testify about a possible videotape of the
defendant, Ronnie Joe Neal, on the night he allegedly confessed to a
Neals attorney, Joel Perez, said outside the courtroom that the video has
since turned up missing.
Neal is charged with abducting and killing Tilly, who was the lead teacher
at Robbins Academy when she was found shot to death in November 2004. He
faces the death penalty if found guilty.
District Judge Sid Harle gave jurors an early lunch break to allow
attorneys time to find the witness.
The records keeper was scheduled to be the 2nd of 4 witnesses called by
defense attorneys after prosecutors rested their case this morning.
The 1st witness, Bexar County sheriffs deputy Bill Day, said that on the
morning Neal was arrested in November 2004, he and other officers had been
told to look for a black man, about 5 11" tall with a medium build.
Perez emphasized in questioning that the description was vague.
Day also said that when he pulled into the motel parking lot, he saw Neals
white F150 truck illegally parked in the lot with the door open, the
engine running and keys still in the ignition.
Day said he turned off the truck, but couldnt remember whether he left the
keys in the ignition or put them on the seat, a point that Perez also
Perez said the remaining 3 witnesses will face questions about what
happened to the alleged video. He said it was not clear whether the
missing tape also included an audio recording of the conversation Neal had
with a cellmate who accused him of bragging about the killing.
The case will likely be handed to jurors on Wednesday after closing
(source: San Antonio Express-News)
Shooting puts cops' training at issue
The shooting death of 30-year-old Michael Pais by a San Antonio police
officer is raising questions among some in the mental health community
over officer training for handling mentally ill people in crisis.
Lupe Morin, past president of the local chapter of the National Alliance
on Mental Illness, said many officers need more intensive training to be
able to recognize those with mental illness and diffuse volatile
situations without violence. Currently, about 7 percent of the police
force has received advanced training, which is voluntary.
The Pais shooting at a Valero convenience store on Saturday has
"devastated" the officer involved, Pais' family and the entire local
mental health community, she said.
"Why do police officers have to shoot to kill?" she asked. "In crisis, you
can try and talk to them first if there is time. Maybe shooting him in the
leg or arm would have been just enough to get him down."
But with a knife only inches away from his neck, Officer Juan Herrera had
no choice but to fire on Pais to save his own life and protect others, a
police spokesman said Monday.
"He (Pais) had a knife and he was trying to stab a policeman," said San
Antonio Police Department Sgt. Gabe Trevino.
Police said store video surveillance - which officials reviewed again
Monday but can't release publicly until the outcome of an investigation -
depicts the following chain of events: Pais' father asking Herrera for
help with his son; Pais' erratic behavior; the officer's commands for Pais
to drop the weapon; Pais lunging at Herrera with a locked-blade knife; and
the swipe of the blade as it crossed paths with the officer's gun, Trevino
Herrera backed away, but Pais continued to reach toward the officer with
the knife, Trevino said. Herrera then opened fire on Pais 3 times. Herrera
had no time to radio for backup, Trevino said.
"At this point, we don't believe there are any policy violations," Trevino
Morin said the weekend shooting incident was evidence police should make a
specialized, 40-hour course on crisis intervention training mandatory.
The training is now voluntary and about 140 San Antonio officers out of
2,000 have completed it, said Gilbert Gonzales, the county's director of
jail diversion and crisis services. SAPD's general manual also includes a
specific policy to deal with mentally disturbed people.
Trevino was unsure if Herrera had been through crisis intervention
training or another 16-hour, in-service training on how to deal with the
mentally ill. All police cadets are required to undergo separate, basic
training at the police academy in dealing with the mentally ill.
During the more intensive course, officers hear from those with mental
illness and their families, psychiatrists and other mental health
providers. They also role-play different crisis scenarios, including one
with a psychotic person wielding a knife, Gonzales said. Safety of the
officer and individuals involved is always paramount, Gonzales said.
The police chief and the sheriff are committed to getting more officers
crisis intervention training, but that takes time, said Leon Evans,
director of the Center for Health Care Services.
The Pais incident was the first of three incidents in a 32-hour span when
SAPD officers found themselves in volatile situations with unstable
Around 4:30 a.m. Sunday, officers fired on a murder suspect hours after he
fatally shot his estranged wife's boyfriend and then took her hostage,
police said. The man held a gun to her head as they emerged handcuffed
together, then made a movement toward the woman, according to police.
Officers fatally shot him.
Police faced another knife-wielding suspect around 2 a.m. Monday in the
7200 block of Pine Ridge. The man fled and then produced the weapon,
yelling at police to kill him before fleeing, a report said.
He later barricaded himself in a garage, where backup officers shot him
with a beanbag shotgun, a non-lethal weapon. He remained inside, where he
cut at his own neck superficially before officers used a police dog to
Every situation is different, Trevino said. At Pine Ridge, there was time
to deploy the beanbag shotgun; Herrera had to take immediate action based
on the circumstances, he said.
(source for all: San Antonio Express-News)
Yates offered plea deal
A Texas woman who drowned her 5 children in 2001 has been offered a plea
agreement under which she could be eligible for parole in 12 1/2 years,
prosecutors said on Monday, but her lawyer rejected the deal.
Andrea Yates, 41, has until March 10 to accept the deal to avoid a March
20 retrial on capital murder charges for the drownings, prosecutors said.
As part of the agreement, Yates would have to accept a 35-year sentence,
but would be eligible for parole after spending 17 1/2 years in custody,
which would include the 5 years she's been behind bars since the killings.
Yates contends she is not guilty by reason of insanity. She has been
committed to the state mental hospital in Rusk, north of Houston, since
she was released on a $200,000 bond on February 2 while awaiting retrial.
Experts testified at her 1st trial in 2002 that she was suffering from
postpartum psychosis when she drowned her children in the bathtub of her
Houston home. They said she believed that by killing the children she was
saving them from the devil.
Yates' attorney George Parnham said he rejected the offer because
prosecutors could not assure Yates would receive proper treatment for her
mental illness and would be safe from attacks by prisoners seeking to
capitalize on her notoriety.
"I have grave, grave concerns about Andrea's safety" in prison, Parnham
told reporters on Monday.
Prosecutors said state law assigns authority over state prisons solely to
the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
"We have no control, the court would have no control, once she goes to
TDCJ," said Assistant District Attorney Kaylynn Williford.
Yates was found guilty of capital murder in 2002, but a jury recommended
she receive a life sentence instead of the death penalty.
Her conviction was thrown out by a Texas appeals court last year because
of false testimony by key prosecution witness, Park Dietz, a psychiatrist,
who said her crime and insanity defense matched an episode on the
television crime drama "Law & Order," which prosecutors told the jury she
watched regularly. It was later discovered that no such episode had been
Prosecutors said they will not seek the death penalty if she is retried in
March on capital murder charges.
Questions arise over 36th race flier
The race for the 366th District Court bench has become a battle between
McKinney attorney Michael Puhl and County Court At-law #5 Judge Greg
Brewer, with one candidate vowing to take complaints to the Texas Ethics
Both candidates are vying for the position that will be vacated by judge
Nathan White. The campaign has become increasingly heated. Both men are
seasoned McKinney attorneys with records of public service, and
endorsements from some high-profile county figures.
While Brewer is seeking a higher position in the county courts, Puhl is
looking to break into the judicial field. He has served in other civic
capacities as a trustee in the McKinney Independent School Board and as a
member of the city's Economic Development Corporation.
Now, Puhl is claiming that Brewer orchestrated an attack to coincide with
early voting and destroy his election chances.
Brewer falsely claimed in a campaign mailer that Puhl has no criminal law
experience, he said.
"Mr. Brewer has either knowingly or simply recklessly misrepresented my
qualifications to the voters of Collin County. The truth is that I have
handled hundreds of criminal cases during my career as an attorney," Puhl
said. "I dare say that during my nearly 25-year career I have likely
handled, with great competence, many more criminal cases than my
The flier shows a pair of hands draped over prison bars and the words "Do
you want a Judge with no criminal law experience ruling on a death penalty
Puhl responded by sending e-mails to supporters and media outlets
expressing "outrage," and claiming that Brewer knows that his implication
that Puhl has no criminal law experience is false.
"The laws governing judges and judicial campaigns require the utmost
degree of professionalism and honesty. Collin County should expect more
from a judge," Puhl said. "A judge should seek the truth, not disregard
According to the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, judicial candidates are
not allowed to "knowingly or recklessly misinterpret the identity,
qualifications, present position or other fact concerning the candidate or
Puhl said that he has ignored other campaign code violations by Brewer but
that he "cannot quietly sit on the sidelines and allow Mr. Brewer to lie
to the voters."
Brewer, he said, timed the flier mailing to coincide with the start of
early voting, Feb. 23.
"Mr. Brewer has clearly calculated the timing of the dissemination of his
campaign literature to deprive me of the opportunity to make a measured
and meaningful response to the voters," Puhl said.
But Brewer stands by his claim that Puhl has no criminal law background.
"There's no evidence he has criminal law experience," Brewer said. "We've
researched the issue and we just can't find it."
On Puhl's campaign Web site, he lists having worked for as assistant
public defender in the juvenile and CPS division in Wills County,
Illinois. Also, Puhl lists under practice areas, Civil Litigation,
Criminal Law, Family Law and Securities.
Brewer said, however, that in Texas, juvenile and Child Protective
Services issues are considered civil matters, and that his researchers
cannot find evidence that Puhl has "even handled a traffic ticket."
Brewer added that, despite Puhl's claims, he has run a "positive
"The only thing we've run on is our difference in experience, and that's
important because everybody knows the district courts handle the worst of
the worst of criminal cases," Brewer said. "It's not a new issue in our
campaign. I've said it all along. It's just never been rebutted until
For more information on Greg Brewer's campaign for the 366th Bench, visit
For more information in Michael Puhl's campaign, visit
(source: McKinney Courier-Gazette)
Penalty-phase presentation played important role in Houston case
The importance of an effective penalty-phase presentation was illustrated
by law professor Gary Goodpaster as he wrote about a 1970s death penalty
case from Houston:
"Bernardino Sierra was mean, big and ugly, and he had done evil and
inhuman things. In 8 hours, he committed twelve robberies, 2 maimings, and
3 killings. He had terrorized and tortured people. While one of his
victims was lying on the ground with his face in a pile of broken glass,
Sierra kicked him in the back of the head to drive glass into his eyes.
Another victim also lay face down. Sierra raked his shotgun up the spine
of this one, then fired into the wooden floor beside his head, exploding
wood fragments into his head and neck. The experts said it was the most
likely case for capital punishment perhaps in the history of Harris
"The jury heard the state's case and found Sierra guilty of capital
murder. Now the jury was hearing further evidence to decide whether to
sentence him to death.
"When he was a little boy, his stepfather would come home drunk at night
and beat him with a wire whip, catching him while he was asleep. His
stepfather would lock him out of the house at night sometimes, and he
would crawl under it to make his miserable bed and try to sleep. Often he
was hungry and had no food. He ate out of garbage cans. He brought the
best food he found there home for his mother and little sister.
"His mother told this to the jury. Then his son, a beautiful little boy,
got on the stand and told the jury, 'That's my father.' and the lawyer
asked him, 'What's the jury going to decide?' 'Whether he lives or whether
he dies,' said the little boy.
"The jury spared Sierra's life."
[Source: New York University Law Review, May 1983] (source: Worldlink.com)
Absent jurors hinder system----35% of those summoned, or about 3,000 per
month, fail to show up for duty
On most Mondays - the day jury selections typically begin - cars snake
around the Nueces County Courthouse parking lots in search of a spot and
courthouse hallways are packed with people. Even with the crowd, there
still is something missing - on jury summons day, 35 % of people called
"We're having a real problem with people not showing up," said District
Judge Nelva Gonzales-Ramos. "Without people showing up, we can't do our
Anne Lorentzen, court administrator, said that while the number of summons
depends on the needs of each court, she mails out an average of 8,500
summons per month, or about 2,100 each week. The courts depend on people
to adhere to the summons and show up.
"Our society is based on citizen participation in government and jury duty
is part of that," District Judge J. Manuel Banales said.
The no-shows cause court officials to run through the list of potential
jurors quicker. And once the number of those who are excused from jury
duty for valid reasons - about 20 percent to 25 % of those called - is
factored in, the jury pool shrinks to about 40 % of those summoned,
Jury duty by the numbers
35% of people summoned for jury duty do not show up
20-25% of people are excused for valid reasons
8,500 is the average number of summons mailed each month
650-750 jurors are summoned for a capital murder trial
150-200 people are left in a capital murder trial jury pool after no-shows
and excuses are counted
80-100 jurors are called for cases involving sex crimes
60 jurors are required for most district court criminal trials
20 jurors are called for most criminal and civil cases in county courts
15 jurors are called for most Justice of the Peace cases
(Source: Nueces County Court Administrators Office)
The list of potential jurors, called the record of name but commonly
referred to as the "jury wheel," is compiled by the Texas Secretary of
State's office every September. The state office uses voter registration,
valid driver's licenses and state identification cards to compile lists
for each county at no cost. Nueces County's list averages 200,000 to
"We used to get it once every two years but we are back to doing it once a
year," Lorentzen said.
She said several years ago officials tried getting the list in a 3-year
cycle, but there were problems.
"We couldn't get enough people," she said. "We barely got to the end of
the second year."
District Judge Sandra Watts said the no-shows set a bad example and hurt
those who take their civic duty seriously.
"We are utilizing the available jurors in the jury wheel faster," Watts
said. "That causes people to be summoned closer in time than it should be
to account for those that don't show up. But for as long as I've been a
judge we have never had a situation where we could not meet the demand."
District Judge Jose Longoria said he has seen the problem in his
courtroom. At the end of a recent trial, one of his jurors told him she
just had received another summons.
Although the percentage of people not showing up for jury summons has
decreased from 40 percent to 35 % during the past 3 years, Lorentzen said,
the issue is important enough that judges have been watching the numbers.
Banales said the new jury pay that went into effect Jan. 1 could help.
"The failure rate has gone up a little bit but since the increase in jury
pay there was a measurable increase," he said.
In Nueces County people who show up for the 1st day of jury duty are paid
$10. People who are seated on a jury then receive $40 per day until the
He also said the judge's committee is working on some ideas to help
decrease the number of no-shows, but he said it was too soon to talk about
Part of the problem behind people not showing up is the summons are sent
to bad addresses, Lorentzen said, because people don't inform the Texas
Department of Public Safety or Voter's Registration office that they are
leaving the county. The other issue, judges said, is apathy.
Judges can order people to show up and send deputies to get potential
jurors, but having the staff to round up no-shows is an issue,
"I know one of the problems has been that the sheriff doesn't have the
manpower to go after these people. There are that many," she said.
Potential jurors who don't show up at the courtroom also can face jail
time and a fine of as much as $500, Longoria said.
But the threat of officers showing up at the door is enough to ensure
Southside resident Neal Price shows up when called.
"I always show up," he said. "I don't like it but what choice do you have?
I don't want them to come for me."
(source : Corpus Christi Caller-Times)
No-show jurors a threat to our system of justice
That's certainly the case here: 35 percent of those called routinely
ignore summons. Judges need to crack down on scofflaws.
The jury system is a key pillar of the our justice system. It's starkly
simple: no juries, no justice.
Still, many if not most Americans regard jury duty as irksome at best,
and, at worst, as an ordeal to be eluded at virtually all costs.
This, obviously, poses a problem not just for the individuals who respond
to jury calls, but for the justice system itself.
Skeptical? You need but cast your eye on the spectacle that unfolds every
Monday at the Nueces County Courthouse. Except for holidays, it is on
Monday that county residents trek to the courthouse in response to the
mailed notices informing them their presence as potential jurors is
More than a few participants and observers refer to it as a "cattle call,"
with long-suffering residents - many of whom would rather be just about
anywhere else - waiting out the ordeal. In due course, jury pools are
formed, and prospective jurors are assigned to venues, from justice of the
peace courts to district courts, where they will either be pressed into
service or dismissed.
It is also a deeply flawed process, at least here in Nueces County: On the
average, as reporter Sara Fernandez reported in Monday's Caller-Times, 35
percent of the approximately 2,100 persons called for jury duty each week
do not bother to show up. Obviously, that reduces the pool of prospective
jurors dramatically. And when you crank in the fact that 20 to 25 % of
those who do turn up are excused for any one of a number of reasons -
health, age, even criminal records that disqualify them for service - only
40 % of the original pool is available for service.
This is not just irksome for judges, attorneys and other functionaries of
the justice system; it is deeply unfair to those who do their duty. They
may find themselves being called two or three times within the space of a
year to take up the slack created by the no-shows.
In this issue, there are no gray areas. This is wrong. Not only does it
impose on good citizens who do their duty; it also does a disservice to
the justice system, which in order to function well relies on a plentiful
supply of well-qualified individuals capable of making responsible
decisions in court cases, some of which literally deal with isues of life
Obviously, appeals to civic spirit haven't done the job. However relucant
they may be to do so, Nueces County's judges need to address this steadily
building crisis. And if that means subjecting no-shows to legal
punishment, so be it. A jury summons is a court order. It can and should
(source: Editorial, Corpus Christi Caller-Times)
Convict argues supervision of him is extreme---Lawsuit alleges parole
board overstepped authority.
He 1st made headlines as the cross-dressing Galveston millionaire who shot
a neighbor and dismembered the body almost 5 years ago. He made news again
in December when the state judge who presided at his murder trial spotted
him at the Houston Galleria mall, where he wasn't supposed to be.
Robert Durst could soon gain new fame for a lawsuit filed on his behalf in
federal court in Austin that could change the way the state parole board
uses intensive supervision to keep close track of selected convicts.
Under the Super Intensive Supervision Program, parolees are required to
get advance approval for their minute-by-minute daily schedules, their
travels are restricted and their movements are monitored continuously by
global positioning satellite bracelets. It is the state's most restrictive
form of parole supervision.
According to parole board rules, the only inmates eligible for the program
are those who have "committed an act which resulted in a victim . . . an
act which caused bodily injury or serious bodily injury or placed an
individual in danger of bodily injury or serious bodily injury," those who
have had disciplinary problems while in prison and those who are members
of a prison gang.
In his lawsuit, filed Friday, Durst argues that he fits none of those
conditions and that the parole board put him in the program because it was
unhappy that he beat a murder rap.
Durst's lawsuit" could change how the parole board operates," William
Habern, a Huntsville attorney who represents Durst, said Monday. "Either
they will have to change their rule on super intensive supervision or how
they administer it."
Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal
Justice, declined to comment on the lawsuit, filed against the 6-member
parole board, 3 parole commissioners and state Parole Division Director
Durst was acquitted of murder, and his victim could not have suffered
bodily injury because he was already dead when Durst dismembered him,
court filings argue. Under state law, such injury must cause physical pain
or illness for a "human being who is alive."
The parole board members "are dissatisfied with the Galveston County
jury's acquittal of (Durst) and are attempting to act as a 'second jury'
to effectively override (Durst's) absolution," the lawsuit states.
Durst, 62, was indicted in October 2001 for shooting a neighbor, Morris
Black, cutting up the body and tossing parts into Galveston Bay. Police
said Durst, the scion of a wealthy real estate family in New York, had
rented an apartment across the hall from Black's while posing as a mute
woman named Dorothy Criner.
In November 2003, a jury believed Durst's story that he shot Black in
self-defense and acquitted him of murder.
He then pleaded guilty to charges of bail jumping and tampering with
evidence and was sentenced to five years in prison. Thanks to time credits
from his stay in jail, he was out within days of his plea and en route to
Pennsylvania to face federal firearm charges. He served nine months and
was released back to Texas almost 2 years ago, where parole officials
imposed the stringent supervision.
In December, the lawsuit acknowledges, Durst violated his restrictions by
going to the Galleria - where he ran into a surprised state District Judge
Susan Criss - and by driving to Galveston. Criss reported her encounter,
and Durst was quickly back behind bars.
The parole board on Jan. 20 ordered him to serve 60 days in a special
lockup in Houston for violating the conditions of his parole.
A hearing on Durst's lawsuit is scheduled for May 8 before U.S. District
Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin.
(source: Austin American-Statesman)
Witness says Soffar humiliated as a child
A former child-care worker at a state mental facility testified Monday
that as a child, convicted capital murderer Max Alexander Soffar was
locked in a small room naked for several days while he was being treated
for behavioral problems there.
Soffar, 50, faces possible execution for the July 13, 1980, shooting
deaths of Arden Alane Felsher, 17, Stephen Allen Sims, 25, and Tommy Lee
Temple, 17, at a northwest Houston bowling alley.
Testimony in the trial's punishment phase continues today.
It is Soffar's 2nd trial in connection with the slayings. His 1st
conviction was overturned on appeal.
Defense attorneys say he does not deserve the death penalty. He has been a
well-behaved inmate and has a history of mental health problems from
childhood. They said his adoptive parents couldn't cope with his problems.
Prosecutors argued that Soffar has a history of violating prison policies
and could endanger other inmates or staff.
He tried to escape prison at least once, threw urine on a guard and had a
weapon in prison, prosecutors said. They said his childhood problems
appear related to drug use. Also, prosecutors said, his parents sought
psychiatric care for him.
Monday, Houston attorney Richard Laminack testified he worked at Austin
State Hospital, where Soffar, then about 13, was a patient for about two
years. More than half a dozen times, other workers put Soffar in the
"quiet room," a bare room where rowdy children were placed naked and alone
for punishment, Laminack said.
"The quiet room was the most ugly, dehumanizing thing you could do to a
kid," Laminack testified.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Kinky Friedman testifies in murder case----Candidate for governor takes
Independent candidate for Texas governor Kinky Friedman took the stand in
the punishment phase of a capital murder case. He says Max Soffar,
convicted of triple murder, is innocent and deserves to be spared the
Soffar, 50, is on trial for his life. He's already been convicted of
killing 3 people in a north Houston bowling alley in July 1980.
On Tuesday, as the punishment phase continued, the quirky candidate for
Texas governor took the witness stand and spoke on Soffar's behalf.
Friedman told jurors that Soffar should not be executed because of suspect
and overlooked evidence.
Friedman says he first met Soffar while writing an article for Texas
Monthly. How and why Friedman was subpoenaed isn't quite clear, but he was
pen pals with Soffar for some time.
Friedman says although he used to be a proponent of the death penalty,
he's now very clear about his stance against it. He says Texas might put
an innocent man to death in this case and it's not the first time
something like that has happened.
"He's the savior of the world," Friedman explained. "I think we should all
maybe go around with little gold studded electric chairs around our necks,
you know, instead of crosses if that's the way we're going to do it."
Friedman denies that his court appearance has anything to do with his run
for governor. In fact, he says he would have been in that courtroom
regardless of whether or not he's running for office.
A sister of one of the victims, though, disagrees, telling Eyewitness News
she thought Friedman was grandstanding in the witness chair. She says he
was commenting on evidence he knew nothing about.
In other testimony on Tuesday, it was revealed that as a child, Soffar was
locked naked in a small room in a state mental health facility. It was
argued that may have attributed to his outcome as an adult.
The punishment phase of the trial continues.
(source: KTRK News)
Justice Is Too Blind: Jury should know consequences of verdict
Trying Dena Schlosser once for killing her baby was the right thing to do,
even though most people who followed the story probably would have agreed
from the start that she was insane when she did it. A jury trial is the
proper venue for achieving justice in such ghastly cases.
But trying her a second time would be useless and cruel. Although the 1st
jury could not reach a unanimous verdict, only 1 of the 12 rejected Ms.
Schlosser's plea that she was not guilty by reason of insanity.
The lopsidedness of the tally should tell prosecutors that the best they
can hope for is another hung jury - and what is the point of that?
Face it, if prosecutors believed fervently that she deserves to be found
guilty and punished accordingly, they would have brought in a psychiatrist
to testify that she was legally sane. They did not.
Better at this sad juncture for the prosecution to accept Ms. Schlosser's
plea. That would not, as in most criminal cases, mean that she simply
walked free. A defendant who is found not guilty by reason of insanity
remains under the jurisdiction of the court.
There would be a hearing to determine whether she is a danger to herself
or others; if she is, she would be committed to a state mental facility
and would be subject to periodic psychiatric reviews. She would not be
released until a court found that she no longer posed a threat.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of this and similar cases is that the
jurors did not know that. They knew that if they found her guilty, she
would be imprisoned. But, by law, they were given no information about
what would happen if they found her not guilty by reason of insanity.
Yes, justice is supposed to be blind. But keeping jurors in the dark about
the consequences of finding a defendant insane is likely to skew their
verdicts. After all, "not guilty" generally translates to "there's the
door; have a nice life."
In the name of justice, the Legislature should rewrite the law.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
The court, the attorney for the state or the attorney for the defendant
may not inform a juror or a prospective juror of the consequences to the
defendant if a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity is returned.
(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)
Radio station connects death row inmates with family, friends
They are the most dangerous criminals in Texas the men who sit on death
Families can rarely visit or even talk to them but inmates and their loved
ones have found a way around the system.
Texas death row, here 400 condemned men wait to meet the executioner
Locked in a 6 by 10 foot cell surrounded by electric fencing and razor
wire under the constant watch of armed guards, no one has ever been able
to break out of here.
But, something is getting in.
Just a few miles down the road from the prison in Livingston, a tiny radio
station is connecting death row inmates with family and friends
It's called the Shout Out show, where families call in, and inmates send
letters to be read over the air.
Every Friday night and Sunday afternoon KDOL 96.1 dedicates its
programming to death row prisoners and their families, giving them the
opportunity to send messages and request songs.
There is nothing high-tech about this radio station except that it's
broadcast over the Internet and can be heard around the world. The
equipment is old and it operates out of a home surviving on donations.
Everyone who works here is a volunteer reaching out to the worst criminals
in the state that most people wouldn't lift a finger to help, for them
it's a ministry.
"That God loves them and they can be forgiven for the terrible things they
did wrong," ministry volunteer Sylvia Alexander said.
This is where the shout outs are going and coming from the Polunsky unit.
This is death row, and right now, any inmate with a radio is listening to
The radio station knows they're listening because they get letters like
this from inmates.
Noah Espada's family called in while we were there, the 22-year-old San
Antonio man was sentenced to death last year for murdering two people at a
Northeast Side apartment building.
However, most people have little sympathy for these inmates
These men are killers, how do you feel affection for them?
"If we don't forgive then we can't be forgiven," KDOL radio manager Joy
On the eve of an execution, there are special broadcasts, family, and
friends are invited to call on one final time.
"A lot of families can't make it for some reason. Maybe financially and
this show connects them because they can call into the radio station and
they're able to talk to their loved one in the prison and he'll be able to
hear them," Alexander said.
"They'll be able to dedicate songs to their loved ones also the inmate is
able to request songs and we're able to play those," she said.
Condemned men spend 23 hours a day in isolation, phone calls and visits
are rare. There is no television, but hey can earn the privilege of having
a radio. For some, it's their only connection to anyone, a lifeline for
those waiting to die in Livingston.
(source: KENS 5 Eyewitness News)
More information about the DeathPenalty