[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----VA., IND., N.C.

Rick Halperin rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Jul 28 01:54:37 UTC 2006

July 27


Lenz Executed

A man who murdered a fellow inmate during a pagan religious ceremony was
executed tonight. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier today denied a stay
request for 42-year-old Michael Lenz. And Governor Tim Kaine has declined
to intervene.

42-year-old Michael Lenz received a lethal injection at the Greensville
Correctional Center and was pronounced dead at 9:07 p-m.

When asked if he had any final words, Lenz gave a slight shake of his
head, indicating no.

Lenz and another inmate, Jeffrey Remington, were sentenced to death in
2000 for stabbing Parker a combined 68 times with makeshift knives at the
Augusta Correctional Center.

The 3 inmates were followers of the Nordic pagan religion and belonged to
a group known as the Ironwood Kindred. The group was gathered for a
ceremony when Lenz and Remington attacked Parker.

Remington committed suicide on death row in 2004.

Lenz becomes the 3rd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
Virginia, and the 97th overall since the state resumed capital punishment
in 1982. Only Texas (371) has executed more inmates since the US Supreme
Court re-legalized the death penalty on July 2, 1976.

Lenz becomes the 32nd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the
USA and the 1036th overall since the nation resumed executions on January
17, 1977.

(sources: Associated Press & Rick Halperin)


Death Penalty Rejected----Judge imposes 2 life terms to capital murder

Life Spared

"His inhumanity to that baby elevates this murder far above most murders."
Robert F. Horan Jr., Commonwealths Attorney

"He doesnt belong with the worst of the worst of this nation."  Paul
Maslakowski, capital public defender

30 months after murdering the wife and 22-month-old baby of his former
employer, Dinh Pham addressed the husband and father of the victims, Hoang
Ton, without turning to face him.

"I dont know what words to choose and what words to use to express my
feelings to the victims family. Id like to apologize to the victims family
for my actions, for the wrong that I did," said Dinh Pham.

Pham apologized to his family as well.

"I would like to ask the court to judge my crime and give me the sentence
I deserve, a judgment equal to the action I have committed," he said.

Following more than two years of court proceedings in the capital murder
case, Judge Leslie M. Alden called Phams crime "simply unspeakable,"
"reprehensible," and "heinous."

"Nothing the court can do today can bring back the lives of those innocent
victims," she said. Alden sentenced Pham to two life terms in prison for
the capital murder of 22-month old, Ashley Ton, and first-degree murder of
Loan P. Nguyen. She also sentenced Pham to 40 years for grand larceny and
statutory burglary.

Alden granted Phams motion on Jan. 3, 2006 to prohibit the death penalty
because she ruled that his rights were violated under the Vienna
Convention. The Virginia Supreme Court overturned her ruling on Jan. 19,

Although the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Alden did not have the
authority to make sentence decisions when ruling on a pre-trial motion, it
stated that she would have the authority to decide whether to impose the
death penalty at sentencing.

When Hoang Ton took the witness stand Monday, he sat less than 10 feet
away from the man who murdered his wife and 22-month-old daughter on Jan.
7, 2004.

"I am alone in the world and my dreams are gone," Ton, 36, wrote in a
statement he submitted to the court.

"Its hard for me to stand before him, but Ill try," Ton told Judge Leslie
M. Alden, during the capital murder sentencing of Dinh Pham, 34, in
Fairfax County Circuit Court on Monday, July 24.

By 9 a.m. on Jan. 7, 2004, Ton knew something was wrong when he called his
wife at their home and on her cell phone and received no answer.

"I began to worry," he said.

Approximately an hour later, he called his wifes employer and found out
she hadnt reported to the beauty salon where she worked.

"I began to worry," he said again.

Around noon, he was concerned enough to leave work to drive home. Although
his wifes car wasnt in front of their Merrifield townhouse, the first
thing he noticed when he walked inside was his daughters jacket.

"I feel something wrong," he said.

Ton called his mother to see if she knew anything. He went to his
daughters baby-sitter to ask if she had seen his wife and daughter. He
drove to the emergency room of Inova Fairfax Hospital to see if they were

"I called my sister and she told me to wait until nighttime to report them
missing," he said.

Ton then cleaned up the house and sat on the staircase and waited.

When his mother and sister came over, his sister asked if Dinh Pham, a
former employee of Tons, might have done something to his wife and

"Sixth sense or something," next compelled Ton to walk to the laundry room
of his home and check the crawl space underneath the house, he said.

There, Ton discovered the bodies of his daughter, Ashley, and his wife,
Loan P. Nguyen. Both had been strangled to death.

When police arrived, they photographed Ton holding his daughters lifeless
body on his shoulder, evidence Commonwealths Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr.
presented to Alden.

"HIS INHUMANITY to that baby elevates this murder far above most murders,"
said Horan.

Horan sought the death penalty for Pham, who pleaded guilty to capital
murder and 1st-degree murder in May.

"He kills the baby of a friend, he kills the baby of a man who was kind to
him," Horan said. Pham, who had a gambling addiction, intended to steal
money from the home of his former boss, something he had done before.

But on Jan. 7, 2004, Tons wife discovered Pham hiding in the closet of her

Surprised at being caught, Pham strangled her to death with a belt, Horan
said. The tremendous amount of deep bruising on 2 places on her neck
revealed her struggle and fight to stay alive, he said.

Tons daughter walked in the room and started to scream and cry as Pham
murdered her mother. Pham later told police he was afraid neighbors would
hear and find out. So he took the belt and tightened it around the babys
neck until she no longer cried, said Horan.

"What could be more unprovoked than killing a 22-month old infant? A child
who didnt do anything but cry," Horan said.

He called the murders "torture."

After Pham hid the bodies, he took the victim's car and drove it to
Rosecroft Raceway to gamble just hours after the murders.

"That goes to depravity of mind," Horan said.

Pham was caught the next day at the race track in Fort Washington, Md.

"HE DOESNT BELONG with the worst of the worst of this nation," said
capital public defender Paul Maslakowski.

"[Horan] wants you to believekilling a child automatically warrants the
death penalty," he said. Maslakowski argued that Pham needed to be
sentenced by looking at the totality of his life, not just by his
"horrible" crime.

"There is nothing about his background except those 30 minutes on Jan. 7,
2004, to suggest hes violent or something other than a limited man who
acted reflexively and did a horrible thing," Maslakowski said.

"He is going to be punished. He will sit in that 7-by-10-foot cell for the
next 35, 45 years," and think about what he did, Maslakowski said.

Maslakowski argued that Phams early exposure to violence and hardship in
Vietnam were mitigating factors that should rule out the death penalty. He
also presented testimony that Pham has developmental disorders.

Pham didnt go the house to commit murder, he didnt go to the house with
"evil in his heart," Maslakowski said.

Approximately 2 months ago, Phams father and three siblings testified to
the impact the fall of Saigon had on Pham and his family.

But during a cross examination of one witness two months ago, Deputy
Commonwealths Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh said Tons father was also
imprisoned by the Communist Party after the fall of Saigon.

"Do you realize Tons father spent 11 years in prison? Many thousands of
families who fled had similar experiences," said Morrogh.

(source: The Connection)


Prosecutor no longer pursuing death penalty in sniper case

The Jackson County prosecutor says he's no longer considering pursuing the
death penalty for a teenager accused of two interstate sniper shootings. A
U.S. Supreme Court ruling forbids capital punishment committed by persons
under the age of 18. However, the prosecutor is still considering pursuing
life in prison without the possibility of parole for 17-year-old high
school student Zachariah Blanton.

On an I-65 overpass in Jackson County early Sunday morning, detectives say
Blanton fired his hunting rifle at 2 oncoming pick-up trucks. The trucks
were hit within sight of an interstate weigh station, where Jerry Ross's
relatives pulled over and called 911 as he lay dying in the cab.

Minutes later, more shots were fired into a second truck, injuring a

"I heard two bang-bangs," said Alicia Taulbee, who witnessed the attacks
from her home next to the overpass, "like firecrackers going off."

"Just as soon as we heart the shots, the car came by here, down the road
he went," Scotty Taulbee said.

Hours later, 100 miles away, two more shootings occurred on I-69 near

Travelers unnerved by the random interstate shootings are relieved. Tammy
Hammons left home the day of the shootings.

"I was constantly looking," she said. "Looking in the rear-view mirror. I
couldn't really enjoy my vacation."

Blanton is jailed without bond, awaiting a murder trial scheduled for
December. If Jackson County prosecutor Stephen Pierson seeks life without
parole, he expects to notify the court by mid-September.

(source: WTHR News)


N.C. innocence panel awaits Easley's blessing

Gov. Mike Easley's signature is the last hurdle before North Carolina
creates a one-of-a-kind legal path to exonerate the wrongfully convicted.

The state Senate voted 47-1 Wednesday to send the legislation to Easley's
desk. An Easley spokeswoman said Wednesday evening that the governor will
review the bill once he receives it.

"This is an unique effort in America," said Stephen Saloom, policy
director with The Innocence Project, a New York-based nonprofit legal

Former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr., who led the
effort to create the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission, said, "I think it
offers anybody who is innocent in prison a great deal of hope that wasn't
there before."

The commission would be focused on examining questions of innocence, while
the current criminal appeals process is geared toward ensuring fair

One man who understands the scant hope that the appeals system can offer
is Darryl Hunt, 41, of Winston-Salem, who filed 11 appeals and spent 18
years in prison before being exonerated in 2004 of murder.

"I really think it's going to go a long way in freeing innocent people in
prison," Hunt said. "I'm hopeful this commission will be able to right a
lot of the wrongs."

Others were not convinced. N.C. Court of Appeals Judge James A. Wynn Jr.
said the current system offers protections for the falsely accused: a jury
trial, the requirement that prosecutors share their evidence with the
defense and the appeals system. If the system is convicting the innocent,
Wynn said, the system should be improved.

"I think it abrogates the responsibility of the judiciary," Wynn said. He
later added: "It has to lessen public confidence if the judiciary has to
concede that they cannot fix the problem."

Regardless of any controversy, those outside North Carolina will be

"It's a nationally recognized problem. North Carolina is taking the lead.
... What we're doing is being looked at across the country," said Rich
Rosen, a UNC law professor.

Lake convened the group that proposed the commission 4 years ago after a
series of wrongful convictions came to light in North Carolina.

In 1991, Lesly Jean, a former Marine, spent 9 years in prison for a rape
he didn't commit. In 1995, Ronald Cotton was released after more than 10
years in prison after DNA evidence exonerated him in a rape case. In 1999,
death row inmate Charles Munsey was granted a new trial after another man
confessed to the murder for which he was convicted. And in 2002, Terence
Garner was released from prison after a judge set aside his convictions of
armed robbery and attempted murder.

The commission would be made up of eight members, including a judge,
prosecutor, victims' advocate, defense lawyer and a sheriff, and the
commission would employ a director to coordinate investigations. After a
formal inquiry, five of the eight commission members would have to find
"sufficient evidence" of innocence to forward the claim to a 3-judge

The judges would hold a hearing, consider evidence from both the
prosecutor and the defendant. All 3 judges would have to find "clear and
convincing evidence" to free a person.

As part of a compromise devised by lawmakers, the commission during its
first 2 years could not investigate claims from those who pleaded guilty.
After those 2 years, the commission could send such a claim to the 3-judge
panel only if all 8 members agreed.

Prosecutors had fought hard to exclude those who pleaded guilty from the
system. The state's district attorneys agreed they could not support the
proposal if those who declared their guilt would now be able to swear
their innocence, said Garry Frank, president of the N.C. Conference of
District Attorneys, and the prosecutor in Alexander, Davidson, Davie and
Iredell counties.

4 % of the 183 people exonerated by DNA evidence since 1989 had pleaded
guilty, according to The Innocence Project.

Prosecutors were not the only ones dissatisfied; the bill says victims can
be excluded from commission proceedings if their presence would interfere
with the investigation.

"We feel they have a right to be at every stage of the process," said Mel
Chilton, executive director of the N.C. Victim Assistance Network, a
nonprofit group.

(source: News & Observer)


Innocent even after proven guilty? Panel may decide----Gillespie believes
it's an attempt to halt the death penalty in N.C.

North Carolina is on the verge of creating the first judicial panel in the
United States dedicated solely to freeing innocent people from prison.

The eight-member panel could hear from perhaps thousands of incarcerated
people, sorting through their cases to find any who might have legitimate
claims to being innocent. It could then forward cases to a 3-judge
tribunal, which would have the power to release inmates.

Spurred on by a string of reversed criminal convictions in recent years -
including the murder conviction of Darryl Hunt of Winston-Salem, who
served about 18 years in prison until he was cleared by DNA evidence - the
proposed system would be modeled on one in the United Kingdom.

Members of the N.C. House voted 86-28 for a final, compromise version
Tuesday. Gov. Mike Easley, a Democrat, is expected to sign the bill.

Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell, voted against the creation of the
innocence panel because he feels it is another attempt to end the death
penalty in North Carolina.

"I voted against it last year and I voted against it this year," he said.
"Right now, North Carolina will be the first state in the nation to do
something like this. This is just another attempt to stop the death
penalty in North Carolina. There's nothing wrong with our current system.
If we have a problem, we need to fix it instead of starting a complete new

If a doubt exists about a prisoner's guilt, the governor can step in and
force a review of the case. The governor also has the power to stop an

"Even if you pleaded guilty, any advocacy group can bring forth a claim of
innocence," said Gillespie. "This panel can overturn the complete judicial
system. All we heard on the floor was about the victims in jail."

He added that an eight-member appointed panel could override the findings
of 12 jurors.

"Our system is not broken," said Gillespie. "This is just another way that
the liberals are trying to end the death penalty in North Carolina."

In addition, the statewide association for district attorneys is opposed
to the idea.

Last year, Gillespie went to Central Prison in Raleigh, visited prisoners
who are sitting on Death Row and looked at their cases. He walked into the
execution chamber where the condemned are strapped to a gurney.

"I felt stronger in support of the death penalty than when I entered," he

The N.C. Senate was expected to vote on the bill Wednesday. Sen. Keith
Presnell, R-Yancey, could not be reached for comment.

State legislators have considered creating an innocence panel since early
2005, when a group led by then-Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr., a
Republican, recommended the idea. The House endorsed it later that year,
but the idea stalled until a Senate committee revived it this month.
Supporters praised Tuesday's vote as historic and as reflective of a
judicial system that sometimes needs improvement.

"We recognize that, on a rare occasion, our system makes a mistake, and
we've actually incarcerated the wrong person for a crime. The guilty
person, the guilty murderer, the guilty rapist remains on the street,"
said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, the sponsor of the legislation.

"North Carolina's been a leader in a lot of ways," said Tom Ross, a
retired Superior Court judge and court administrator who is now the
executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. "You can't worry
about whether you're first or last or in between," Ross said. "What you
have to worry about is: What's the right policy?"

The panel would be known as the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission and
would be made up of a judge, a prosecutor, a victims' advocate, a sheriff,
a defense lawyer and three others. They would be appointed by the chief
judge on the N.C. Court of Appeals.

With the support of 5 members of the panel, a case would go to a 3-judge
tribunal. The tribunal, which would be made up of 3 Superior Court judges
who are appointed by the Chief Justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, would
then hold a hearing, and the judges would have to decide unanimously to
set a defendant free.

Legislators have already agreed on a $210,713 budget for the panel's 1st
year. It would start with three staff members who would do most of the
screening of cases.

A broad consensus has formed in support of the panel, including sheriffs,
prosecutors and trial lawyers.

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, a frequent advocate for conservative legal
positions, was among the final negotiators on the legislation. He praised
the proposal for the many barriers that a defendant would have to get over
before being set free. For example, a defendant could not invoke
attorney-client privilege to avoid testimony.

"The one thing you won't get out of this commission is a lot of guilty
people being set free. It's just too hard," Stam said.

The commission has drawn criticism from some people in law enforcement and
from some victims.

Ramona Stafford of Lewisville, whose husband Stephen was killed in 1993,
criticized the proposal because many meetings of the panel could be closed
to the public and to the victims. She also said that the 3-judge tribunal
has too much power.

"They're just selecting themselves as judge and jury," Stafford said.

About 160 people convicted in Forsyth County courtrooms would be eligible
to apply to the innocence panel, said District Attorney Tom Keith, who
said he could "live with" the legislation.

The number of applicants could drastically increase in two years when a
provision would take effect making eligible defendants who had pleaded
guilty. Keith said that he's concerned about the extra workload for
prosecutors who would have to rebut innocence claims.

"It's resources taken away from my office. If you want to do this, give us
more people," he said.

(source: McDowell News)

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