[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----TEXAS, FLA., PENN., VA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Jan 4 09:18:00 CST 2006
More problems found at troubled HPD crime lab
More problems in DNA evidence processed by the Houston Police -- including
evidence in 3 death penalty cases -- have been discovered by the special
investigator hired by the city to get to the bottom of the now 3-year-old
crime laboratory debacle.
In a report released today, independent investigator Michael Bromwich
announced that, following a review of more than 1,100 HPD DNA cases
originally analyzed between 1987 and 2002, his team of investigators found
that "severe and pervasive problems."
Additionally, the report said, "very disturbing problems" were also found
in the work performed in the late 1980s and early 1990s by the crime lab's
serology division. The report noted that the serology division -- which
analyzes evidence by blood typing -- was the precursor of the DNA
"Not suprisingly, almost all of (the) problems the independent
investigation found in the Lab's DNA cases -- including inadequate
training of analysts, lack of supervisory reviews, failure to report the
statistical significance of test results, and the failure to use necessary
controls -- had their origin in the Lab's serology work," stated the
In a article published last month, the Houston Chronicle found that work
performed by the serology division was done by many of the same analysts
who later went on to form the HPD DNA division. The review also found
several examples of sloppy work technique, including performing serology
tests in a courtroom rather than a laboratory.
Among the 27 DNA cases cited as problematic by the Bromwich team are the
cases of 3 death row inmates: Franklin Dewayne Alix, Juan Carlos Alvarez,
and Gilmar Alex Guerva. The report states that in 1 death penalty case,
the DNA lab "failed to report reliable and potentially exculpatory DNA
typing results" and instead reported results that suggested that the
suspect was guilty.
The DNA lab was shuttered in December 2002, prompting a joint review of
almost 400 criminal convictions by HPD and the Harris County District
Attorney's Office. After problems were discovered in other areas of the
lab, the city hired the Bromwich team to conduct an independent probe.
So far, 2 men have been released from prison after the discovery of flawed
crime lab work in their cases.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Hill, Rutherford ask courts to prevent their pending executions
Lawyers for 2 death row inmates convicted of committing unrelated murders
more than 20 years ago in the Florida Panhandle are trying to persuade
courts to block their executions scheduled for late January.
Papers were filed Tuesday with the Florida Supreme Court arguing in part
that it would be cruel and unusual punishment to execute Clarence Edward
Hill, 47, because he is brain damaged with "a mental and emotional age of
less than 18 years."
"His execution would therefore offend the evolving standards of decency of
a civilized society, would serve no legitimate penological goal, and would
violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments" to the U.S. Constitution,
wrote D. Todd Doss, Hill's attorney.
Hill is scheduled to die by lethal injection Jan. 24 for fatally shooting
Pensacola police Officer Stephen Taylor during a bank robbery in 1982.
Arthur D. Rutherford, 56, is set for execution Jan. 31 for killing Stella
Salamon in 1985 after a dispute over payment for sliding glass doors the
carpenter had installed in the victim's Santa Rosa County home. She died
of drowning or asphyxiation after being beaten. Her body was found
submerged in a bathtub.
Rutherford is awaiting a decision by Circuit Judge Paul Rasmussen in
Milton on motions to set aside his conviction and death sentence.
Among issues raised by his lawyer, Linda McDermott, is new evidence she
contends could have resulted in a different verdict or a life sentence if
it had been presented to his jury.
A key witness, Mary Heaton, told McDermott in a Dec. 22 interview that she
was present during the killing and then helped Rutherford dispose of the
victim's belongings in the woods, the lawyer wrote. At trial Heaton, who
was not charged, never mentioned helping Rutherford but testified that he
forced her to cash a check belonging to the victim although she thought it
was someone else's.
"Trial counsel could have used Heaton's admissions to argue reasonable
doubt as to the prosecution's case against Mr. Rutherford or to point the
finger at Heaton as either the more culpable or individual killer,"
She also contended that Heaton's deeper involvement could have swayed the
jury to recommend a life sentence. Jurors narrowly voted for death, 7-5.
Sentencing recommendations are not binding but judges must give them great
Lawyers for the state have replied that Rutherford has failed to show the
evidence would result in an acquittal if he is retried, citing other
evidence including fingerprints and statements he made to other witnesses.
The state also argued McDermott was tipped that Heaton had changed her
story by a convicted felon who waited 15 years to come forward with that
Rutherford and Hill also contend Florida's lethal injection method is
cruel and unusual. The state uses a sequence of three chemicals "which
creates a foreseeable risk of inflicting unnecessary and wanton infliction
of pain," Doss wrote.
(source: Associated Press)
Death penalty cases begin
Many of the prospective Montgomery County jurors reporting this week to
the county courthouse in Norristown will find themselves confronted with
an issue to which they likely have not given much thought - can they vote
to take the life of a convicted murderer?
Prosecutors in county district attorney's office and defense attorneys
this week will begin picking juries in two death penalty murder cases,
both of which are drug-related.
If the selected jurors convict any of the defendants of first-degree
murder in either of those cases, prosecutors already have gone on record
saying they will then ask that particular jury to come back with the death
sentence in the penalty phase of the trial.
The jurors only other option would be a sentence of life imprisonment.
One of the cases is a triple homicide involving the Jan. 31 shooting
deaths of Shawne Mims, 33, of Norristown, and Jennifer Pennington, 30, of
East Norriton, and the death of Pennington's 5- to 6-month-old female
fetus, which did not survive the slaying of the mother.
Charged with 1st- and 3rd-degree murder for the killings of the two adults
are: Maurice D. "Riz" Jones, 22, of the 600 block of West Lafayette St.,
Norristown; Ernest Reginald "Dinero" Morris, 25, of Philadelphia; and,
Harold "Mikey" "Sleepy" Murray IV, 27, of Philadelphia.
All 3 also are charged with the murder of an unborn child, the 1st time
Montgomery County has prosecuted the charge since it became law in the
The other trial, which will involve 2 defendants, stems from the Jan. 17
shooting death of Michael McCray, 34, of Norristown.
Jamar "J-Rock" Robinson, 19, of the 600 block of Stanbridge St.,
Norristown, and Rashuan "Shine" Black, 19, of the 500 block of West
Marshall St., Norristown, both are charged with 1st-, 2nd- and 3rd-degree
murder and related offenses in connection with McCray's killing.
2 other suspects - Rashaan Aaron "Heavy" Stevenson, 19, of the 2900 block
of First Ave., Eagleville, and Tezzie "Ice" Dunlap Jr., 19, of the 400
block of Forrest Ave., Norristown - 3rd-degree murder in the McCray case
and are awaiting sentence.
In the Mims-Pennington case, defense attorney Richard D. Winters argued
that 2 jury panels be put together for the case. One jury would determine
the guilt or innocence of the defendants and, if the suspects were found
guilty of 1st-degree murder, the 2nd panel would decide whether those
convicted should be sentenced to death or life imprisonment.
The reason, said Winters, is that death-penalty-qualified jurors tend to
be pro-prosecution and pro-conviction.
County Trials Chief Assistant District Attorney Kevin R. Steele responded
that the state Supreme Court already has ruled on that issue, stating that
there is no provision under the law for 2 juries in 1st-degree murder
In another jury-related argument, Winters asked county trial Judge Richard
J. Hodgson to advise prospective jurors, at the time when they are being
asked if they could hand down a death sentence, that a life sentence in
Pennsylvania means life without parole.
Too many people, who either watch television or are familiar with cases in
other states, believe that a defendant given a life sentence can get out
of prison in 20 or 30 years, said Winters. This could affect their
decision-making process when they are determining a person's guilt or
innocence, he said.
"When you are given a life sentence in Pennsylvania, you are carried out
of prison, you don't walk," said Winters.
Steele maintained that the proper time for the life-imprisonment
explanation is during the penalty phase and is usually only permitted if
the prosecution indicates a defendant will be a danger to society in the
Hodgson said he would take both matters under advisement and issue a
decision at a later date.
Pennington's lifeless body was discovered dumped in Fairmount Park in
Philadelphia on Jan. 31. She had been shot twice in the face and the fetus
did not survive the shooting death of the mother, according to the autopsy
Philadelphia police contacted police in Upper Merion after they discovered
a receipt in Pennington's pocket for a room at the Best Western Motel in
King of Prussia. Township police found Mims' body in the motel room.
Mims died from 2 bullet wounds to the chest, made by two separate guns
including an AK-47-style assault weapon, according to the autopsy.
Authorities have said that the motive for the slayings appears to be the
gunpoint robbery of cash and drugs from Morris and Murray at a residence
in West Norriton a day earlier by Mims.
McCray, whose street name was "Murder," was gunned down inside his
residence in the 400 block of East Moore Street at 1 p.m. on Jan. 17.
McCray died from 2 gunshot wounds - a shot to the head from a 9 mm handgun
and a shot in the back from a .45-caliber handgun.
The motive for the killing was robbery, according to county Assistant
District Attorney Thomas W. McGoldrick.
The 4 met in an alley near McCray's residence to map out the details of
the robbery, said McGoldrick.
Stevenson remained outside McCray's residence while the other 3, all who
were armed, went in under the guise of wanting to purchase marijuana.
Robinson and Black were the 2 who shot McCray, according to McGoldrick.
Judge William T. Nicholas is the presiding judge in that trial.
(source: The Times Herald)
Death Penalty Barred In Slaying----Fairfax Judge Rules Vietnamese Suspect
Was Denied Rights
A Vietnamese man accused of strangling a Fairfax County woman and her
22-month-old daughter will not face the death penalty, a Fairfax judge
ruled yesterday, because police violated the man's Vienna Convention
rights by not informing him that he could contact his embassy.
The ruling came 6 days before the scheduled capital murder trial of Dinh
Pham, 34, of Annandale, who was arrested Jan. 8, 2004. Pham was picked up
a day after Huy Huang Ton discovered the bodies of his wife, Loan P.
Nguyen, 30, and his daughter, Ashley N. Ton, in a crawl space beneath
their townhouse in the Merrifield area.
Dinh Pham is charged with killing Loan P. Nguyen, 30, and her toddler,
Ashley N. Ton, in a robbery.
The case is the second Fairfax killing to spark legal repercussions for
failure to notify a murder suspect of his Vienna Convention right to
consult with his local embassy or consular officials. In November, the
U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the case of Honduras native Mario A.
Bustillo, convicted of a fatal beating with a baseball bat in Springfield
in 1997, because he also was not told of his international treaty rights.
Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. (D) said that "the
Fairfax police department notifies people of their Vienna Convention
rights all the time" and that Fairfax police have a written policy
requiring such notification. In Pham's case, homicide detectives sent a
fax to the Vietnamese Embassy informing them of Pham's arrest but did not
tell Pham he had the right to consult with his country's officials.
Horan said he was researching whether prosecutors could appeal the ruling
by Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Leslie M. Alden. Typically, Virginia
prosecutors can appeal rulings only on constitutional issues or
suppression of defendants' statements. Paul A. Maslakowski, a capital
public defender representing Pham, said Horan probably could not appeal.
Pham is charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Nguyen and
capital murder in the premeditated killing of a child. In an interview
with Fairfax detectives, and with a Vietnamese interpreter, Pham said he
went to the family's home on Lester Lee Court to steal money, was
surprised by Nguyen, strangled her with a belt and then strangled the
crying child, according to a transcript of his statement. Pham had worked
for Ton, a construction contractor.
The Vienna Convention, signed by the United States in 1969, was created to
provide protections for people arrested in another country. Locally,
police departments have different practices on dealing with foreign
nationals: Some have detailed instruction cards for officers; some have no
When Mexico recently protested the failure by U.S. police to notify 51
Mexicans of their rights, the International Court of Justice sided with
Mexico. Before the U.S. Supreme Court could rule on the issue, President
Bush ordered the cases returned to state court for review.
Horan said the Vienna Convention does not confer rights on individuals,
only on countries. Alden disagreed, citing a nonbinding opinion by U.S.
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in the Mexican case that the
high court "commonly enforces treaty-based rights of individual
Alden wrote, "[T]he duty to give notice is absolute. . . . [T]he idea that
the state can completely ignore its treaty obligations without consequence
essentially obliterates the purposes for which the rights under the Vienna
Convention were intended."
Maslakowski said the United States signed the Vienna Convention
specifically to protect the rights of citizens overseas. He also noted
that Alden had rejected the more drastic option of throwing out Pham's
statement to police, and he still faces two murder charges and possible
life in prison.
Several months after Pham's arrest, Huy Ton sold the house where his
family was killed. He could not be located for comment yesterday.
(source: Washington Post)
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