[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----FLA., USA, PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Jan 22 23:39:01 CST 2006
Future executions rekindle death penalty debate----death penalty debate
Oct. 19, 1982: Clarence Hill and Cliff Jackson rob Freedom Savings & Loan
in downtown Pensacola. Hill shoots and kills Pensacola police officer
Stephen Taylor. Officer Larry Bailly is shot and wounded. Hill is shot 5
Nov. 2, 1982: An Escambia County grand jury indicts Hill on charges of
1st-degree murder, attempted 1st-degree murder, 3 counts of armed robbery
and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
April 29, 1983: An Escambia County jury finds Hill guilty on all counts.
May 27, 1983: Hill is sentenced to death on a 10-2 jury recommendation.
Oct. 10, 1985: The Florida Supreme Court orders a new sentencing.
April 2, 1986: A 2nd death sentence is handed down on an 11-1 jury
April 4, 1988: U.S. Supreme Court denies an appeal of Hill's death
Nov. 9, 1989: Gov. Bob Martinez signs a death warrant for Hill.
Jan. 28, 1990: U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida
grants a stay of execution.
Aug. 31, 1992: U.S. District Court grants a Florida Supreme Court
rehearing on Hill's death sentence.
March 2, 1995: Florida Supreme Court affirms Hill's death sentence.
May 26, 2004: Hill files an amended appeal.
June 21, 2004: U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denies Hill's hearing.
May 13, 2005: Florida Supreme Court denies further appeal.
Nov. 29, 2005: Gov. Jeb Bush signs Hill's death warrant.
Dec. 23, 2005: Escambia County judge rejects Hill's appeal.
Jan. 3: Hill's most recent appeals are sent to the Florida Supreme Court
for expedited hearing.
Jan. 10: Florida Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Hill's appeal. A
ruling is pending.
Tuesday: Hill's execution is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Released from death row
Since 1973, 122 prisoners have been released from death row with evidence
of their innocence, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
21 of them have been from Florida, the most of any state. The Florida
David Keaton, 1971: Sentenced to death for murdering an off-duty deputy
sheriff during a robbery. Charges dropped in 1973. He was released after
the actual killer was convicted.
Wilbert Lee and Freddie Pitts, 1963: Although no physical evidence linked
them to the deaths of 2 white men, Lee and Pitts' guilty pleas, the
testimony of an alleged eyewitness, and incompetent defense counsel led to
their convictions. After their convictions, another man confessed to the
crime, the eyewitness recanted her accusations and the state Attorney
General admitted that the state had unlawfully suppressed evidence.
Released in 1975.
Delbert Tibbs, 1974: Sentenced to death for the rape of a 16-year-old girl
and the murder of her companion. Florida Supreme Court overturned the
conviction in 1977.
Anibal Jarramillo, 1981: Released 1982, Jarramillo was sentenced to death
for 2 counts of first-degree murder. His conviction was reversed when the
Florida Supreme Court ruled the evidence used against him was not legally
Anthony Brown, 1983: Convicted of first-degree murder. The only evidence
was a co-defendant who was sentenced to life for his part. At retrial, the
co-defendant admitted that his testimony had been perjured. Acquitted in
1986. Anthony Ray Peek, 1978: His conviction was overturned in 1987 when
expert testimony concerning hair identification evidence was shown to be
Juan Ramos, 1983: Sentenced to death for rape and murder although no
physical evidence linked Ramos to the crime. He was acquitted in 1987.
Willie Brown and Larry Troy, 1983: Sentenced to death after being accused
of fatally stabbing a fellow prisoner. The charges were dropped when the
key witness admitted he perjured himself. Released in 1988.
Robert Cox, 1988: Sentenced to death despite evidence that Cox did not
know the victim and no one testified that they had been seen together. In
1989, Florida Supreme Court found the evidence was insufficient.
James Richardson, 1968: Convicted and sentenced to death for the poisoning
of one of his children. The prosecution argued that Richardson committed
the crime to collect insurance, even though no such policy existed.
Released in 1989.
William Jent and Earnest Miller, 1980: These half-brothers were convicted
and sentenced to death largely based on testimony of 3 alleged
eyewitnesses. A re-examination of the autopsy report demonstrated that the
crime never took place the way the eyewitnesses described it. Released in
Bradley P. Scott, 1988: Convicted of murder and sentenced to death. His
arrest came 10 years after the crime, when the evidence corroborating his
alibi had been lost. In 1991, he was released by the Florida Supreme
Court. Andrew Golden, 1991: Convicted of murdering his wife. The Florida
Supreme Court held that the state had failed to prove that the victim's
death was anything but an accident. Golden was released on Jan. 6, 1994.
Robert Hayes, 1991: Convicted of the rape and murder of a co-worker based
partly on faulty DNA evidence. The victim was found clutching hairs,
probably from her assailant. The hairs were from a white man; Hayes is
black. Released in 1997.
Joseph Nahume Green, 1993: Convicted on testimony of the state's only
eyewitness. In 1996, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction,
finding the testimony was inconsistent and contradictory.
Frank Lee Smith, 1985: Convicted of rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl,
died of cancer in January 2000 while still on death row. Cleared by DNA
testing after his death.
Joaquin Martinez, 1997: Conviction was overturned in 2001 by the Florida
Supreme Court because of improper statements by a police detective at
trial. At a second trial, key prosecution witnesses changed their stories
and recanted their testimony.
Juan Roberto Melendez, 1984: In December 2001, a judge overturned
Melendez's capital murder conviction after determining prosecutors
withheld critical evidence.
Death row facts
Florida administers execution by electric chair or lethal injection.
Lethal injection became an option for death row inmates in 2000.
John Spenkelink was the first inmate to be executed in Florida after
reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. He was executed on May 25,
1979. The 1st inmate to die by lethal injection was Terry Sims on Feb. 23,
Tuesday evening, officers at the Florida State Prison are scheduled to
strap Clarence Hill to a gurney, insert a needle and administer the series
of 8 syringes that will deliver deadly chemicals to knock him out,
paralyze him and ultimately stop his heart.
More than 20 years after shooting Pensacola Police Officer Stephen Taylor,
Hill is set to be executed for the crime.
A week later, A.D. Rutherford is scheduled to get the same treatment,
carrying out his death sentence for the beating and drowning death of
Stella Salamon in her Milton home.
Each inmate has last minute appeals before state and federal courts.
As the executions approach, they are stirring the debate over the death
penalty once again. Religious leaders, prosecutors, anti-death penalty
activists, friends, family and colleagues of the victims are lining up on
their respective sides.
On one side are those who say execution is justice, on the other, those
who contend the death penalty is racist, biased toward the poor and prone
"We lead the nation in exonerations from death row," said Kevin Aplin,
vice president of the Brevard chapter of the American Civil Liberties
60inmates have been executed since 1976 in Florida, while 21 death row
inmates have been exonerated.
"We do call for a moratorium on the death penalty in Florida," Aplin said.
Pensacola Police Chief John Mathis says whatever deterrent effect the
death penalty may serve is long since gone in Hill's case. But he says
that's not the point.
It's the right punishment for a man who ran from an attempted robbery of
the Freedom Savings & Loan in downtown Pensacola on the afternoon of Oct.
19, 1982, then circled back to the scene where he shot and killed Taylor
and wounded officer Larry Bailly, Mathis said.
Mathis was on the force then, in investigations.
"It's still been a lingering question all along, as to why? Only Mr. Hill
can answer," Mathis said, adding that Hill's execution makes sense. "In
very rare circumstances I think it is an appropriate penalty."
'Death penalty fails'
For others, Hill and Rutherford's cases represent the arguments for why
the death penalty is wrong.
"Our message is that, purely as a public policy, the death penalty fails,"
said Abe Bonowitz, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death
Penalty, based in Gainesville.
Bonowitz said the arbitrary application of the death penalty is the
strongest argument against it.
He points to Hill's accomplice, Cliff Jackson, as an example. Jackson was
sentenced to life in prison for first agreeing to help prosecutors in the
"I used to say, why don't we kill them all, I'll pull the switch myself.
In trying to figure out why we don't kill them all, I realized how unfair
it is," Bonowitz said.
Long judicial reviews required of death penalty cases also argue against
its use, Bonowitz said.
Beverly Elkins disagrees. More than 20 years ago she discovered her friend
and neighbor Salamon bludgeoned and drowned in the bathtub.
Now living in another state, Elkins said it's past time that Rutherford
died for his crime.
"It would help bring closure. He really needs to pay for that crime,"
Elkins said. "It was just a gruesome, premeditated murder that there was
no justification for it at all."
Bonowitz agrees punishment is called for. He just favors life without
"We are better served by throwing away the key," Bonowitz said. "The
victims' families . . . probably have been told, 'Wait until we kill them
and then you'll feel better.' The experience we have is nothing's going to
make them feel better."
Others say it's morally wrong for the state to kill people.
Diocese of Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski earlier this year re-iterated the
Catholic Church's opposition to the executions of Hill and Rutherford.
Gov. Jeb Bush, a Catholic who appointed Wenski to the Governor's Task
Force on Haiti, has said he listens respectfully to the opposition to the
death penalty but maintains his belief that the death sentences are
"Willful murder is a heinous crime; it cries to God for justice," Wenski
wrote about the death penalty for Hill, Rutherford and others. Still,
"human dignity -- that of the convicted as well as our own -- is best
served by not resorting to this extreme and unnecessary punishment."
Even for those who favor the death penalty, seeing it applied is not
Though Mathis wants Hill executed for murdering his fellow officer, the
Pensacola police chief won't be in Raiford when the penalty is carried
"I have no intention of attending. I have no interest at all in seeing
(source: Florida Today)
Area death row inmates----For crimes in Escambia County
Clarence Hill, 48, for shooting to death Pensacola police officer Stephen
Taylor in 1982.
Ronald Williams, 42, leader of the "Miami Boys," a drug-trafficking ring
operated from Miami to Pensacola, for ordering the deaths of Derek Hill,
Morris Alfonso Douglas, Mildred Baker and Michael McCormick to recover
stolen drugs and money in 1988.
Timothy Robinson, 39, for stabbing and shooting to death Derek Hill,
Morris Alfonso Douglas, Mildred Baker and Michael McCormick in 1988.
Michael Coleman, 44, for stabbing and shooting to death Derek Hill, Morris
Alfonso Douglas, Mildred Baker and Michael McCormick in 1988.
Robin Archer, 41, for convincing his cousin to shoot and kill Billy Coker
at an auto parts store in 1991.
Antonio Melton, 33, for shooting to death George Carter while robbing his
pawnshop in 1991.
Jason Mahn, 32, for stabbing to death Debra Shanko and Anthony Shanko in
Eric Branch, 34, for sexually battering and beating to death Susan Morris
at the University of West Florida in 1993.
Johnny Kormondy, 33, for shooting to death banker Gary McAdams in his home
Michael Zack, 37, for stabbing to death Ravonne Smith in her Pensacola
home in 1996.
Leo Perry, 36, for shooting to death motel manager John Johnston in 1997.
Timothy Hurst, 27, for stabbing to death Cynthia Harrison in 1998.
Ryan Green, 22, for shooting to death retired Pensacola police Sgt. James
Hallman in 2003.
For crimes in Santa Rosa County
Arthur Rutherford, 56, for the beating and drowning death of Stella
Salamon in her Milton home in 1985.
Bruce Pace, 46, for shooting to death cab driver Floyd Covington in 1988.
Gary Lawrence, 48, for beating to death Michael Finken in 1991.
Jonathan Lawrence, 30, for shooting to death Jennifer Robinson, 18, in
Jeremiah Rodgers, 28, for shooting to death Jennifer Robinson, 18, in
Norman Grim, 45, for stabbing and beating to death Cynthia Campbell in
High, broke and nowhere to run
23 years ago, Clarence Hill and a buddy set out from Mobile on a
Their outing ended with a bank robbery, a shootout and a 26-year-old
Pensacola police officer lying on a blood-stained Palafox Street sidewalk
in downtown Pensacola.
Now, after more than 22 years on Florida's death row, Hill claims on a Web
site -- www.survivingthesystem.com -- that he "wants to give my life to
the world to help others to love all of mankind."
But, save a last-minute stay of execution, Hill won't have that chance --
or any other.
Hill, 48, who gunned down patrolman Stephen Taylor on Oct. 19, 1982, is
scheduled to die by lethal injection Tuesday evening at the Florida State
Prison in Starke.
He has converted to Islam, taken the name Razzaq Muhammad and claims to be
peaceful. He also has spent more than two decades fighting for his life,
including petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court 3 times and recently
unsuccessfully arguing to the Florida Supreme Court that lethal injection
is cruel and unusual punishment.
But those who knew and loved Taylor say Hill needs to finally pay for his
"I think it's time for the court's sentence to be imposed," said Pensacola
Police Chief John Mathis, who attended the police academy with Taylor and
responded to the scene of the shooting.
Beginning in Mobile
For the 24-year-old Hill, the day he would commit murder began on Luckie
Street in Mobile.
One of eight siblings, he lived with his parents. He was free on bond,
awaiting trial after being charged with 2 armed holdups, one in Pritchard
and another in Mobile.
His buddy, Cliff Jackson, then 18, lived down the street and spent the day
On the Web site, Hill gave his version of what happened:
"We started our morning by getting high on ... marijuana, cocaine and
beer," he wrote. "Then we walked ourselves around town out of our minds
until our feet got tired."
Around noon, Hill and Jackson stole a car.
"We just wanted to ride around -- joyriding they call it, you have heard
it before," Hill wrote.
Janet Rodgers, formerly Janet Pearce, remembers the violent beginning of
the joy ride quite clearly.
Rodgers, then a 35-year-old nurse, had just gotten into her 1978 Buick
Regal in a downtown Mobile lot when a man "reached in, picked me up by my
arm and just tossed me aside," she recalled recently.
She later identified Hill as her assailant by a scar on his face.
"Clarence Hill is huge," she said. "I remember him being a big man, and I
was just dangling."
Jackson, she said, "never said one word."
Rodgers, now 58 and a nursing instructor, said she felt something in her
back. It turned out to be a gun.
She yelled to passers-by for help.
"I consider myself lucky to get out like I did," she said.
Rodgers remembers watching helplessly as her car headed east into the
Interstate 10 tunnel beneath the Mobile River. That night, she saw on the
local news that a car, tied to a bank robbery, had been found in Pensacola
on Chase Street, just west of Palafox Street.
"I saw the Mobile Infirmary sticker on it, and I said, 'That's my car,'"
No way to get home
Hill and Jackson arrived in Pensacola "with no money and no way of getting
back home," the Web site says.
"The stupid idea to rob a bank came to mind just like in the American
movies," Hill wrote.
Shortly after 2 p.m., the pair, wearing caps and sunglasses, entered
Freedom Savings & Loan -- now First Gulf Bank -- at Palafox and Gregory
Hill flashed a snub-nosed black revolver. He and his accomplice directed
customers and tellers to the floor, held them at gunpoint and took money
from the tellers' drawers and a safe.
A bank employee set off a silent alarm.
As Taylor and his partner, Officer Larry Bailly, then 43, raced to the
front of the bank, Jackson walked out the front door. Confronted by the
two officers, Jackson got down to the ground as ordered.
Hill already had made his escape. But, just as the officers prepared to
handcuff Jackson, Hill reappeared from the rear of the bank.
"Hill came up behind Taylor and stuck his gun up under his vest," Mathis
Taylor was shot twice, with one of the bullets piercing both his lungs and
his aorta. Bailly was shot in the neck, but his wound was not
Bailly fired at Hill, emptying his service revolver and hitting him at
least 4 times -- twice in the abdomen and in both arms.
After wrestling with Bailly, Jackson escaped. As he fled, police officer
Timothy C. Miller shot him twice.
Jackson collapsed and was arrested as he tried to get into a van at the
Big Ten Tire Store -- now Tire Trust --at Gregory and Baylen streets.
Hill had run toward the Dainty Del Restaurant -- now a restaurant called
eat! -- at Wright and Palafox streets. Across the street, 230 children
were attending class at Episcopal Day School.
"I remember hearing a loud noise," teacher Diane Giggey, who was outside
at the time, recalled recently. "But we did what we needed to do, and we
got the kids into safety. It was a terrible thing."
Hill rounded the corner of Wright Street before he collapsed bleeding next
to a Dumpster behind the restaurant.
Bailly retired from the police force in 2001 and still lives in Pensacola.
Through a spokesman, he declined to comment.
Facing the jury
Jackson pleaded guilty to 1st-degree murder, attempted 1st-degree murder
and 3 counts of armed robbery in March 1983.
By entering a plea, he avoided going to trial and facing the possibility
of a death sentence. Now 41, he's incarcerated at the Dade Correctional
Institution in Florida City.
"The likelihood of conviction was approaching 100 percent," Jackson's
attorney, Michael Patterson, said at the time, noting that the
prosecution's case included some 50 eyewitnesses and numerous photographs
of the robbery.
But Hill decided to take his chances with a jury in April 1983.
He never denied that he robbed the bank and carried a gun. He said he was
only trying to free a trapped Jackson when the gun battle erupted.
"I didn't know anyone was killed till I woke up in the hospital," Hill
testified during his trial.
Witnesses at the trial described how Hill roughed up the bank maintenance
man during the robbery, brandished his gun and threatened bank employees
that he was going to "blow their heads off" and "blow their brains out" if
they didn't open the vault.
Other witnesses described Hill "sneaking like a cat" around the bank's
southeast corner, walking up behind Taylor and firing without warning at
Hill was found guilty of the same crimes to which Jackson pleaded guilty.
Then-Circuit Judge Edward T. Barfield sentenced him to death on the murder
conviction and life in prison on each of the other four convictions.
In October 1985, the Florida Supreme Court upheld Hill's convictions but
overturned his death sentence and ordered a new penalty hearing. The court
ruled that one of the jurors should not have been allowed on the case
because he told attorneys he already had formed an opinion about the case
and he favored the death penalty.
During that proceeding, Hill took the witness stand, blaming the robbery
and shootings on cocaine.
"It made you feel like you could just about do anything," he said. "I
didn't decide myself to rob the bank. It's like the drugs must have
decided for me."
Hill's public defender, Terry Terrell, now a circuit judge, argued the
murder was the unplanned outcome of a misguided robbery. He blamed Hill's
low intelligence and the effects of drugs.
But prosecutor Jerry Allred, now a defense attorney, presented a different
"I likened it to the Wild West," Allred said recently, reminiscing about
his closing argument. "Back then, if someone stole a horse, rode to the
next town, robbed that town's bank and shot the marshal, he would have
been hanging from a tree the next day."
Allred told jurors: "Times have changed, and there's more due process now,
but he still should get death for what he did.'"
The jury recommended 11-1 that Hill be put to death.
In April 1986, Circuit Judge William Rowley, who died in 2003, imposed the
death penalty despite emotional pleas for mercy from the killer's parents,
Edna and Octavia Hill.
On the Web site, Hill said his mother died in 2002 at the age of 72.
Attempts to reach his father or his siblings were unsuccessful.
In 2002, Hill pleaded for mercy and an end to the death penalty on the Web
"Well, what about me, America?" he asked. "Am I not worth a 2nd chance,
He wrote that he was "very sorry" one police officer died and another was
"I know I did a lot of things wrong that day which I am not proud of, and
I wish I could begin October 19th, 1982 all over again," he wrote. "I
would spend it with Allah with the love and knowledge I have today."
(source for both: Pensacola News Journal)
The killer question
Sister Helen Prejean puts the compassion and fire of her public speaking
into her compelling examination of the death penalty, The Death of
Innocents, says David Rose
The Death of Innocents - by Sister Helen Prejean Canterbury Press 12.99,
One of the stranger coincidences of American life is that Louis Prejean,
the brother of the ardent death-penalty abolitionist and nun Helen
Prejean, is a close friend and shooting buddy of the conservative Supreme
Court Justice Antonin Scalia. As this vivid, passionate and deeply
researched book makes clear, no other judge has done more to make the
execution of an innocent prisoner likely, by erecting dense thickets of
procedural barriers to the introduction of fresh evidence in
While professing that the killing of an innocent would constitute a
'tragedy', Scalia has issued the lead opinion in a long list of cases that
most British lawyers find mind-boggling. In his and the court's majority
view, it is now permissible in the United States to execute someone whose
trial lawyer was drunk or asleep, for example, or whose lawyer once missed
a filing deadline, so preventing compelling new testimony from ever being
heard. It was after one of Scalia's hunting trips that Prejean chanced to
meet him in the departure lounge at New Orleans airport, and their ensuing
confrontation is one of the book's highlights.
Although the judge's nine children attest to his devout Catholic faith, he
seems not to care that Pope John Paul II made the church's pro-life
position consistent for the first time - opposing not only abortion, but
also capital punishment - in part as a consequence of a theological
correspondence with Sr Helen. Scalia, she reports, deals with this problem
by stating that John Paul's rulings on the matter were not issued 'ex
cathedra' - in common with almost all the church's teachings, including
its ban on contraception.
Unlike its bestselling predecessor, Dead Man Walking, this book was
written without the help of a ghost, and is all the better for it. Prejean
manages to transmit all the compassion, fire and inspiration she conveys
as a public speaker to the printed page. At its heart are accounts of the
executions of two men spiritually counselled by Prejean, Dobie Williams
and Joseph O'Dell, both of whom, she argues persuasively, were indeed
wrongfully killed. It is impossible to read them without a sense of
outrage. Their treatment, she writes, amounted to state-sponsored torture,
spread over years.
(source: The Observer (UK)
Defenders do more with less
A realigned Lackawanna County public defenders staff faces a test of
whether it can do more with less.
An overhaul of the office, which started with the administration of
Commissioners Robert Cordaro and A.J. Munchak in 2004, has eliminated 12
part-time lawyers, including 4 who left in 2005. The staff, which had 2
full-time lawyers 2 years ago, now has six, along with Chief Public
Defender John Cerra.
It also has 3 part-time lawyers, one for serious felony and capital murder
cases and another who handles only dependency cases in family court.
Public defenders represent criminal suspects who cannot afford a private
Mr. Cerra and Mr. Cordaro insist the new format will succeed. But 2 judges
have reservations about the reduced staff, its lack of experience,
defendants rights and potential county liability for botched cases.
Another concern is the staffs office, located for more than 20 years in a
cramped, 6-room suite in the courthouse annex.
The overhaul came about, Mr. Cordaro said, to professionalize the office
"and bring it into compliance with our duties."
"This is a multiyear process," he said.
"We are making the investments within reason both financially and from a
standpoint of practicality."
The new alignment, including two entry-level attorneys hired at $25,000
salaries this year to handle Central Court backup duties and miscellane.
neous criminal work, will enable the 4 other full-timers to tackle the
bulk of the offices case load, Mr. Cerra said.
"I honestly think its going to work," Mr. Cerra said. "I think we
addressed it the best way we could for the time being."
But the office handles 2,400 to 3,000 criminal cases annually, creating
questions about how it can accommodate the volume. The staff's senior
full-time attorney, Joseph Kalinowski, has been there almost 6 years.
Among the staff's part-time lawyers who left in 2005, David Cherundolo had
been there since 1983 and John Petorak had been there since 1986.
"When you have experienced guys like we've lost, you lose the value of
that experience for cases coming in the door," said Judge Vito Geroulo,
who handles the majority of criminal cases with Judge Michael Barrasse.
"The experience and the numbers are 2 things that are just overwhelming,"
Judge Barrasse said. "There is concern that it will interfere with the
administration of justice in court proceedings."
Mr. Cerra admitted experience is an problem.
"The only downfall right now is, there is a question of how experienced is
the staff in terms of trials," he said.
None of the current full-time defenders is certified to try a capital
murder case, which includes a potential death penalty. State regulations
require lawyers to have tried eight significant felony cases before a jury
and to obtain 18 continuing education credits to receive certification.
"Just think if we had a run on murder cases," District Attorney Andy
Jarbola said. "It takes a lot of time to handle a capital murder case."
Although Mr. Cordaro, an attorney, said the county would contract with
other defense lawyers if necessary for a capital case, Mr. Cerra said,
"The big problem now is a real serious case that's going to require a
manpower drain for two to three months and that is going to happen."
Other potential issues concern suspects rights and the potential for
violations of the speedy trial rule and county liability for legal
Judge Geroulo said he had "concerns about the protection of defendants'
constitutional rights" and the associated legal implications.
"Myself and Judge Geroulo have gone through this quite a bit," Judge
Barrasse added. "Obviously, if they cant keep up with the flow we could be
infringing on defendants' rights if (cases) arent being moved."
He said the judges will track delays and added, "Obviously, if it starts
to mount and we don't address it then we have a problem."
Staffing remains the prime concern, though.
Judge Barrasse said he recently had interruptions in guilty pleas and
sentencings because public defenders were tied up on matters in other
"It doesnt bode well for the system," he said. The "sheer numbers" of
court proceedings requiring the presence of public defenders, from bail
reduction and probation violation hearings to pretrial conferences require
"an awful lot of man hours," Judge Geroulo said.
"Body-wise, it's going to be very difficult for them to man the
courtrooms," he said.
Judges arent the only ones concerned about public defender staffing.
"80 % of our cases are with the public defenders office," Mr. Jarbola
said. ""6 full-time people with 2 part-timers, I don't think thats enough
to handle the case load they have."
But Mr. Cordaro said experienced defense trial lawyers won't take the
full-time posts and adding, "There's no reason to add inexperienced
The disparities in staffing and budgets between the offices are dramatic.
The defenders staff, which handles about 85 % of the county's criminal
cases, has 12 full-time people, including 4 secretaries and an
investigator. It's budget this year is $486,500, down 13 % from 2003.
The DAs staff, which handles virtually all county criminal prosecutions,
has 68 people, 20 assistant district attorneys, including 6 part-timers,
and 10 detectives. Its budget this year is $4.12 million, up 12 % from
2003. About 46 % of the DA's office budget this year came from grants,
county figures show.
"If one of the legs of the table is shorter than the other legs, then it
is not a level playing field," said Judge Geroulo, a former chief public
"The truth is, the system doesn't work unless there is a good PD's office
as well as a good DAs office," said Judge Barrasse, a former district
attorney. "Either one of them can clog up the wheels."
The disparity between the office may be most evident in office space.
The issue has plagued the defender staff for years and its offices are
inadequate to handle the clients and employees that work there. Staff
lawyers share one office in the suite and they work out of 2 small
conference rooms that are also used occasionally by private attorneys and
"It's just a horrible place to try to work. You cant get anything done,"
Mr. Cerra said.
"The space they currently have is tight quarters," Mr. Jarbola said.
"Space is just a valuable commodity for everybody."
The office occupies 756 square feet in the courthouse annex. The DA's
office takes up 9,052 square feet in the same structure and the county
detectives office has 2,120 square feet, county records indicate.
"It's a real concern . . . when you look at the imbalance of resources
between the prosecution and the defense," Judge Geroulo said.
Plans for the courthouse renovation call for the defender office to move
to the ground level of the structure in a 971-square-foot space.
But Mr. Cerra said no timetable is in place for the move.
"As far as I know, it's all up in the air," he said. "No one has contacted
me about a new design or anything."
Over the short term, problems are anticipated from the new alignment.
"There will be issues," Mr. Cerra said. "It's not going to be a perfect
system. But you're stuck with a budget."
Judge Barrasse voiced hope the process would improve quickly, adding, "In
any new system, youre going to have a couple of snags."
Mr. Cordado, though, admitted the conversion will take time.
"The transition is going to take a couple of years, but we're moving in
the direction we want to move," he said.
Alleged killers will face death penalty
In Doylestown, 2 people who allegedly tortured and beat a Bensalem man
lifeless for his money will face the death penalty, court officials said
Heather Lavelle, 35, no known address, and James Raymond Savage, 38, of
the 2000 block of Dixon Avenue, Bristol, were being arraigned in Bucks
County Court of Common Pleas when they officially learned the news, said
First Deputy District Attorney David Zellis.
The 2 are accused of the Aug. 25 agonizing beating death of Christian
Rojas, 28, of the Longmeadow Apartments on Bristol Road.
The murder was discovered when a friend who had become concerned entered
the apartment through a sliding glass door and found Rojas in the
water-filled bathtub with a sopping wet pillow on his face at 2 a.m. of
Aug. 26, police said during earlier court hearings.
Investigators allege Lavelle and Savage went to Rojas apartment to rob him
of money they thought he was keeping in his apartment for a return trip to
his native Costa Rica.
Lavelle is a college graduate who was once a vice-president of the Ace
Casualty and Risk Insurance Company who became addicted to drugs.
Lavelle was staying with Rojas, a former boyfriend, because she was
homeless and unemployed.
Rojas, a computer programmer with JDL Services in Langhorne, Pa. broke off
the relationship when he learned of the addiction.
The pair allegedly tied Rojas hands and feet with computer cords and
placed him in the bathtub.
They then allegedly beat him with brass knuckles and tortured him to force
him to reveal where the money was, even though Rojas repeatedly told them
there was none, said District Attorney Diane Gibbons.
Both have been charged with first degree murder, conspiracy, second degree
murder, four counts of robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, burglary,
conspiracy to commit burglary, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen
property, tampering with evidence and possession of an instrument of
The 2 aggravating circumstances that permit prosecutors to seek the death
penalty are the allegations that the defendants committed murder while
perpetrating a felony and offenses were committed by means of torture,
Judge Rea Boylan told the 2 that they face the death penalty and informed
them of their rights, Zellis said.
They are being held in the Bucks County Jail pending a June 19 trial. Bail
is not offered in murder cases, Zellis said.
(source: The Trentonian)
More information about the DeathPenalty