[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, WASH., TENN., USA, FLA., MASS.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Jun 13 18:15:32 UTC 2006
Sister speaks during trial
Like her older brother Davontae, Destiny Williams was disciplined in the
family's east Arlington apartment. If she did something wrong, she was
spanked with a belt, hanger and sometimes an extension cord.
But for "Tae Tae," as she called him, punishment was mean, the 8-year-old
testified Monday during the capital murder trial of Lisa Ann Coleman, who
is accused in the 2004 starving death of Davontae Williams, her lover's
If convicted, Coleman could face the death penalty. Davontae's mother,
Marcella Williams, faces her own capital murder trial later.
Today would have been Davontae's 11th birthday.
An articulate Destiny, who was 6 years old when Davontae died, told the
jury in state District Judge Everett Young's court Monday that Coleman,
whom she called "Pig," lived with the family and tied up Davontae.
"Was anybody mean to Tae Tae?" prosecutor Mitch Poe asked.
"Yes sir," she said.
"Who was mean to Tae Tae?"
After a long pause, she said, "Pig."
Are you scared right now? Poe asked.
Destiny nodded. She then began crying and rubbing her eyes.
Then Poe squatted next to the stand and asked, "How was she mean?"
After another long pause she responded, "She tied him up."
Poe finished his questioning by asking Destiny to point to the person she
"You don't have to look if you don't want to, but can you point at her?"
Destiny, with a frown, turned her head and pointed at Coleman. After she
stopped pointing, she continued to stare in Coleman's direction for
Destiny, along with her younger sister, who was 3 years old when Davontae
died, now live with adoptive parents.
Under cross examination, Coleman's defense attorney, Michael Heiskell,
asked Destiny whether she knew that her mother was in jail and if she
still cares for her.
In her soft-spoken voice, she said, "Yes, sir."
After questioning, Destiny walked toward her adoptive mother and reached
for her hand while looking back at Coleman.
Jurors also heard testimony Monday from Child Protective Services
caseworker Jennifer Deible. She said she interviewed Coleman shortly after
Davontae's death. In that interview, Coleman told Deible about the last
time she disciplined Davontae.
In February 2004, five months before his death, Coleman hit Davontae on
the buttocks with a belt. She said she may have gone too far because the
beating left some bruises.
Deible said Coleman then told her that she talked to her mother, Patricia
Coleman, about the incident.
"She said her mother told her to leave the disciplining up to Marcella and
not to put her hands on him again," Deible said.
Coleman went on to tell her that whenever someone asked where Davontae
was, the response was always that he was with his mother's relatives, "but
actually, he was in the apartment."
Deible also asked Coleman about specific injuries, and at one point
Coleman responded, "as God as my witness" she did not know how he got the
"I told her: 'No, God does know.'"
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
County accused of denying representation for poor defendants
A legal advocacy group has filed a class-action lawsuit accusing
Williamson County of regularly denying indigent defendants facing
misdemeanor charges their right to a court-appointed attorney.
The Texas Fair Defense Project filed the petition Monday on behalf of
people facing misdemeanor criminal charges in the county, naming three
The lawsuit comes after more than a year of courtroom observation by the
Austin-based group, which focuses on improving poor defendants' access to
legal counsel, and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a watchdog of the
state's criminal justice system.
The lawsuit accuses Williamson County, which is located in Central Texas
with a county seat in Georgetown, and several judges of not informing
defendants about their right to representation or of providing misleading
It also alleges that defendants were encouraged to give up their right to
legal counsel and to speak with prosecutors without an attorney.
According to the lawsuit, the courts discourage defendants who request
court-appointed attorneys and delay the appointment of an attorney.
Stephen Ackley, chief civil litigator for the county attorney's office,
said the office would investigate the allegations. He declined to comment
on the lawsuit.
Dominic Gonzales, of the coalition, said the groups observed prosecutors
speaking to defendants who did not have lawyers.
"We want the practices that this county employs to change dramatically so
that every single person that faces criminal charges has their opportunity
for their day in court," Gonzales said.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring the county to inform people
facing misdemeanor charges and possible imprisonment of their right to
court-appointed legal counsel and to provide attorneys for indigent
The plaintiffs are not seeking any monetary damages.
In addition to Williamson County, the lawsuit names as defendants County
Judge John Doerfler, County Court-at-Law No. 1 Judge Suzanne Brooks,
County Court-at-Law No. 2 Judge Tim Wright, County Court-at-Law No. 3
Judge Don Higginbotham and Judge William Thomas Eastes, a magistrate in
Doerfler, Eastes and Wright said Monday they had not seen the lawsuit and
declined to comment. Brooks and Higginbotham did not return calls Monday
High court opens door on lethal injection challenges---Decision could
affect Texas appeals from condemned convicts.
In a case that promises to spark new legal assaults on Texas' method of
lethal injection, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ensured that condemned
convicts have a tool to challenge the three-drug cocktail as too painful -
and possibly have it outlawed.
In its unanimous decision in a Florida case, the high court permitted
last-minute challenges concerning that method of execution, though the
court stopped short of saying whether the method is so painful it
constitutes "cruel and unusual" punishment prohibited under the U.S.
As the first state to carry out a lethal injection in 1982, Texas
developed the 3-drug procedure that other states have since adopted.
Death penalty opponents cheered the decision. They saw it as a step toward
the 1st review by the high court of the legality of lethal injection as
it is practiced by Texas and 36 other states.
"It is significant in that it sends a message that the court is serious
about this issue, even if it's a procedural decision," said Deborah Denno,
a Fordham University law professor in New York who has extensively studied
the legalities of the current method of lethal injection. "I think it will
cause departments of corrections across the country to review their
procedure, to make sure it does not cause gratuitous or unnecessary
Texas officials reiterated earlier assurances that the state's method of
lethal injection is legal but said they would review the ruling. "We would
have to review the court's findings before determining whether or not our
process would warrant possible changes," said Michelle Lyons, chief
spokeswomen for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Victim advocacy groups branded the ruling as little more than a new hurdle
that may do little but delay some executions.
"It's a procedural decision, not a decision attacking the cocktail
itself," said William "Rusty" Hubbarth, an Austin attorney who is vice
president for legislative affairs for Justice for All, a Houston-based
national crime victims' advocacy group. "They're telling inmates: You've
got the right to appeal, dude, but you either use it or lose it. There's
no guarantee you'll win."
Texas' lethal injection procedure uses sodium thiopental as a sedative,
the muscle relaxant pancuronium bromide to collapse the diaphragm and
lungs and potassium chloride to stop the heart. In recent years, an
increasing number of condemned convicts have unsuccessfully challenged the
method as too painful.
Justices have never ruled on the legality of a specific type of execution,
and legal experts have predicted that a decision like Monday's could
presage a constitutional showdown over how lethal injection is carried
The ruling allows condemned inmates to make special federal court claims
that the chemicals used in executions are unconstitutionally painful. It
was a slap to the Bush administration and 25 states, which supported
Florida in arguing that allowing new appeals would jeopardize finality and
justice for victims' families.
More than 3,300 convicts nationally are facing a death sentence, including
400 in Texas - 391 men and nine women. Texas has executed 366 people since
it reopened its death chamber 24 years ago, more than any other state.
Monday's decision came in an appeal filed by Florida death row convict
Clarence Hill, a convicted cop killer whose execution was halted in
January by the Supreme Court after he had been strapped to the death
gurney and intravenous lines had been inserted into his veins.
With his regular appeals having run out, Hill asserted that he had the
right under a civil rights law to challenge the method of execution in a
The high court agreed. But Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in Monday's
court ruling that, though Hill and other convicts can file special
appeals, they may not be entitled to a delay in their execution. "Both the
state and the victims of crime have an important interest in the timely
enforcement of a sentence," he wrote.
Kennedy noted that Hill is not claiming he cannot be executed, only that a
less painful method should be used. Hill is challenging the three-drug
cocktail, which Florida officials said they adopted based on Texas'
In Monday's ruling, Kennedy wrote for the court, "Hill's challenge appears
to leave the state free to use an alternative lethal injection procedure."
In April, when the high court took up Hill's case, justices appeared
concerned about the possibility of pain in Florida's method of lethal
injection. Justice John Paul Stevens told Florida's lawyer at the time
that the procedure would be banned from use to euthanize cats and dogs.
Since the Supreme Court took up Hill's case, executions have been stopped
in California, Missouri and Maryland amid questions about the lethal
The court's last death penalty decision came two years ago in an Alabama
In that case, the justices approved a last-minute appeal of a death row
inmate who argued that his execution by lethal injection would be
unconstitutionally cruel because his veins would be damaged. Kennedy wrote
in Monday's ruling that the high court was reaffirming the precedent set
in the Alabama case.
The Alabama convict has not been executed.
Denno said the civil rights law is more favorable to convicts who are
challenging the execution method. "Hill is 'every inmate' in many
respects," she said.
Amid the increasing legal challenges, Texas officials have steadfastly
defended the three-drug cocktail as a legal method of official death - if
not painless, than as painless as possible. Condemned inmates are usually
pronounced dead about 7 minutes after the injection begins.
11 convicts have been executed this year in Texas.
(source for both: Austin American Statesman)
7 men on state's death row can choose hanging or injection
In Washington state, the primary method of execution is lethal injection.
However, an inmate can choose - until 2 weeks before the scheduled
execution - to be hanged instead.
That has been the law since June 6, 1996. Before that, hanging was the
preferred method and lethal injection the alternative.
State lawmakers hurried to switch them after Mitchell Rupe - a bank robber
turned murderer - convinced a federal judge that hanging him would be
cruel and unusual punishment because at 409 pounds, he was likely to be
decapitated. (His death sentence was overturned for other reasons.)
7 men are on Washington's death row. 2 - Robert Lee Yates Jr., 54, and
Allen Eugene Gregory, 34, - are there for crimes committed in Pierce County.
Yates was sentenced to die for killing Melinda Mercer and Connie LaFontaine
Ellis in the late 1990s. Gregory was sentenced to die for killing Geneine
Harshfield in 1996.
For more information about Washington's death row, the people on it and the
history of capital punishment in the state, go to the state Department of
Corrections' Web site at www.doc.wa.gov/death penalty/deathpnlty.htm or
the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty's Web site at
(source: The News Tribune)
Ruling today on Reid's competency----Convicted killer on death row for
killing two Clarksville girls
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge John Gasaway will rule today whether
convicted killer Paul Dennis Reid will be granted a mental competency
If, after an evidentiary hearing, Reid is found to be incompetent, state
law requires a stay of his execution, said Kelly Gleason, a state
Assistant Post-Conviction Defender.
Reid is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection June 28 for the
murder of 2 Clarksville Baskin-Robbins employees in April 1997.
He is also facing five additional death penalties for the murder of five
fast-food employees in Nashville the same year.
Reid's sister, Linda Martiniano, is appealing for post-conviction relief
and a stay of execution for Reid as a "next friend" because he has ceased
pursuing appeals - the second time he has done so.
In the same ruling that denied Reid's appeal of his Clarksville convictions,
the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in May that a close relative or friend
could pursue appeals when the petitioner - in this case, Reid - is suspected
to be mentally incompetent.
Gleason submitted on Reid's behalf a petition calling for Gasaway to "find
that (Reid's) convictions for first-degree murder and sentences of death
are invalid, unconstitutional and void, and order a new trial and
On Monday, Gleason also submitted a request to put Reid's execution on hold
and to be formally appointed as Reid's attorney in Montgomery County.
Gleason is formally representing him in Davidson County, where she has
already filed for post-conviction relief.
For today's ruling, Gasaway will only consider written evidence filed by
Gleason. It includes affidavits by herself, Martiniano and George Woods, a
neuropsychiatrist who has twice examined Reid.
"Mr. Reid's delusions, that he has been under the control of a
government-directed surveillance and influence, impels, invades and guides
his daily activities as well as decision making processes," Woods wrote in
"Literally every aspect of his life is affected," Gleason told Gasaway
Gleason said Reid is convinced he is being manipulated by "scientific
technology" at every turn, even while using the shower.
Reid also considers Gleason to be "the enemy" and part of a conspiracy
against him, Gleason said. After Monday's hearing, Gleason said Reid is
the most mentally ill convict she has represented.
June 28 is the 3rd execution date set for Reid.
A stay was issued on April 28, 2003, when Reid signed paperwork authorizing
an appeal on 2 of the Nashville murders. The stay came just 2 hours
before his execution, but after his intended last meal.
A subsequent execution date of Oct. 2006 - for the murders of Baskin-Robbins
employees Angela Holmes, 21, and Michelle Mace, 16 - was delayed while the
conviction was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
(source: The Leaf Chronicle)
Victims' relatives shouldn't shape public policy
Michael Berg, a Green Party candidate for Congress in Delaware, announced
on national television that he regretted the death of Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi. He didn't blame al-Zarqawi for beheading an American
contractor. The man responsible was President Bush - "the real terrorist."
Any other politician would have been vilified for saying that. But Berg, as
the father of the American who was beheaded, belongs to a new politically
invulnerable class. Arguing with someone in mourning just isn't done -
unless, of course, you are Ann Coulter and you have a new book to sell.
She managed to offend everyone from Hillary Clinton to Bill O'Reilly by
suggesting that some of the activist widows of the Sept. 11 victims were
enjoying their husbands' deaths. That's over the top even for Coulter. But
she has identified a real problem: How do you conduct a political argument
with grieving relatives?
Coulter faults liberals for exploiting victims and their relatives as human
shields for their arguments against the war and in favor of gun control. But
conservatives use these tactics, too. Bush had the parents of a slain Iraqi
soldier stand up during the State of the Union address as a tacit
endorsement of his policy. Republican widows of Sept. 11 victims have been
exploiting their status to oppose the Democratic widows.
America is supposed to be a government of laws, not men, but the surest way
to pass a law is to name it after someone, ideally a girl or woman. Dozens
of states have passed Megan's laws. There's another measure against sex
offenders in Ohio called Nicole's Law, not to be confused with the Nicole's
Law in Massachusetts, which requires carbon-monoxide detectors in homes.
There is a federal Katie's Law (giving money to rural police agencies), a
New Mexico Katie's Law (requiring DNA samples to be collected from
suspects), and a Minnesota Katie's Law (providing money to track sex
The ultimate in custom legislation was Terri's Law, designed solely to
prolong Terri Schiavo's life.
There's also Kristen's Act, Jennifer's Law, Aimee's Law, Brian's Bill, and
the Hillary J. Sarias and Samantha Reid Date-Rape Drug Prevention Act.
Some of these laws undoubtedly make sense, but the names appended to them
cut short the sort of debate required.
Grieving relatives certainly have a right to be heard, and their stories
need to be considered by legislators and judges. But having tragedy strike
your family does not make you an expert on public policy. Instead, it warps
You become the most narrow special-interest group, obsessed with redressing
a personal loss no matter what the cost to society.
When Michael Dukakis was asked during a presidential debate if he'd want to
execute a man who raped and murdered his wife, he blundered by calmly
explaining his opposition to capital punishment. The audience wanted to hear
an angry, vengeful husband, but Dukakis tried to be a dispassionate arbiter
of justice - a completely different role.
When those roles are conflated by victims-turned-activists, the result tends
to be good television and bad policy. The parents of abducted children
couldn't anticipate all the wasted police resources and harassment of
innocent adults that resulted from their laws.
Putting photogenic patients in front of congressional committees is not the
best way to divvy up budgets for medical research.
The widows and widowers of the victims of Sept. 11 are not urban planners
who should get veto power over the rebuilding at ground zero. The parents of
Americans killed in Iraq do not have special expertise in foreign policy.
Whether they support the war or not, they are expressing their personal
views, and not necessarily even their slain children's. Cindy Sheehan camped
outside President Bush's ranch in Texas to protest the war, but her son
voluntarily re-enlisted before his death.
I can't imagine how I would feel if my child were killed. Nor could I
imagine how my family would feel if I met a violent death, but I'm pretty
sure I would rather not become a symbol for anyone else's cause. The world
doesn't need a John's law.
(source: Commentary, John Tierney, New York Times)
Life, Death Row Battle Hinges On State Money
Imagine you're on death row for a murder you didn't commit.
How much would you want the state to spend on your appeals?
The state caps legal fees for death row appeals at $84,000, but studies
show lawyers put in thousands of unpaid hours. Even billed at a
conservative rate of $200 or $300 an hour for a private-sector lawyer,
it's easy to see how costs could add up quickly.
Critics point at the cost disparity in saying the cap on legal fees
threatens the integrity of a justice system that promises to be fair to
On the other hand, lawyers' fees could spiral out of control without a
In Florida, lawmakers might resist selling taxpayers on spending millions
of dollars helping convicted murderers advance their claims, some not even
claims of innocence.
The issue appears headed to the Florida Supreme Court, the result of a
lawsuit filed in 2003 by Tallahassee lawyer Mark Olive. Both Olive and
attorneys for the state have asked the high court to take up the case.
Olive argues that the caps - 840 hours at $100 an hour - are too low to
ensure quality representation for convicts facing death.
Tampa lawyer Joe McDermott said he favors eliminating the caps, even
though he hasn't exceeded the limit in the death penalty appeals he has
"The caps haven't bothered me, but I think there are cases that would come
along that could really exceed it," he said. "They're pretty arbitrary."
Lawyers handling death penalty cases on appeal usually spend 2,700 to 3,300
hours on each case, according to a study conducted by a Massachusetts
research firm in 1998. The study, commissioned by Olive's attorneys,
examined 188 death penalty appeals.
Using the conservative end of that range, billed at $200 an hour, that
means appellate legal fees would cost the state more than $500,000 for
each of the 130 pending death cases being handled by private attorneys.
So it should come as no surprise that for the state, cost ranks as a big
concern when it comes to providing adequate representation for death row
"Nobody gets unlimited pay," said Michael Dodson, who is representing the
state in Olive's lawsuit. "The Legislature has determined that this is a
reasonable amount of money to be paid for those kinds of proceedings."
Under Florida law, every death sentence automatically is appealed to the
state Supreme Court. Beyond that, a death row inmate has numerous options
to challenge a sentence and conviction at the state and federal levels.
The process can take years or even decades before a person is executed or
Death row inmates are provided lawyers from the Capital Collateral
Regional Council or from a registry of private lawyers qualified to handle
death row appeals.
Roger Maas, the executive director of the Commission on Capital Cases and a
listed defendant in Olive's lawsuit, oversees the registry. His attorney,
Dodson, argued that the state fulfilled its duty by providing a sufficient
pool of lawyers to represent the inmates.
In March, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that an attorney may
be paid in excess of the cap if a judge allows it.
In April, Olive's attorney, Stephen Hanlon, and attorneys for the state
asked the Supreme Court to take up the case as a matter of statewide
Hanlon and Olive say registry attorneys aren't best-suited for the work,
which Hanlon called the "brain surgery of the legal profession."
"In the legal community, this is a matter of great concern," Hanlon said.
"The death penalty, unfortunately, in many instances appears to have been
reserved for those who have wound up with the worst lawyers."
(source: Tampa Tribune)
Swabbing for answers----Entrepreneur's company seeks DNA picture
Swampscott resident Richard Gabriel, who has blue eyes and a fair
complexion, recently learned that approximately 8 % of his ethnic
heritage is Sub-Saharan African.
"That was sort of a surprise to me," Gabriel said.
But Gabriel, president and chief executive of a Florida-based company
called DNAPrint Genomics, is in the business of selling such surprises.
For $219, his company will analyze a DNA sample and provide a genetics-
based sketch of a person's ancestry.
DNAPrint Genomics is one of a flood of new companies selling DNA analysis
to the general public. Mail-order DNA kits are now available for
everything from catching a cheating husband to confirming a cat's purebred
Yet the ancestry kits have stirred up a particularly intense controversy
among people who say it opens the door to racial profiling and
"We've been on the front page of the New York Times," Gabriel said. "We've
been called a sham, voodoo artists, even racists."
Stephen O'Brien, chief of the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity at the
National Cancer Institute, is among those who thinks the ancestry tests
are not very accurate.
The tests look at single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, which are spots
on a person's DNA that may have a different letter of code than the person
next to them. It could be a letter that gives them brown eyes or high
cheekbones or a higher risk of breast cancer. These differences are what
make each person unique.
There are more than 10 million of these SNPs where each person has a
slightly different code, and only about 10 percent of these can tell you
something about which continent a person's ancestors came from, O'Brien
DNAPrint Genomics has selected a certain few of these that they believe
tell the most about a person's geographic history.
That might work well for a person whose ancestors are all from the same
place, O'Brien said, but most Americans are a mixture of Asian, European,
Native American or African heritage. Determining that mix is difficult
To get a truly accurate breakdown of that mix, you would have to analyze
many SNPs, more than a $219 test is likely to pay for, he said. Otherwise,
you're making a pretty rough guess, probably no more accurate than
guessing a person's ancestry by looking at a photograph.
"If you're doing it for curiosity's sake then go ahead and do it," O'Brien
said, "but accuracy is going to be kind of like taking a picture of
somebody and saying, 'You know he looks kind of like Ann Curry on the
"Today" show or Tiger Woods.'"
Gabriel has a lot more faith in his company than that.
Given the chance, he said, DNAPrint Genomics could help identify the
remains of Sept. 11 victims, screen DNA evidence to figure out which
death-row inmates are most likely to be exonerated and tackle the
government's backlog of unprocessed forensic samples in rape cases.
In addition to mail-order ancestry kits, the company uses DNA to profile
criminals and to find medicines that work for specific genetic ancestry
The company is only about 6 years old and has 26 to 28 employees, Gabriel
said. It is publicly traded and is expected to receive $1.5 million to $2
million in revenue this year.
Gabriel, 57, owns a house in Sarasota near the company headquarters, but
still spends about half his time living in Swampscott. He grew up in the
Midwest and got a degree in chemistry, then moved to the North Shore in
the early 1980s for a job in Beverly. He worked for the company that
eventually became Morton-Thiokol in Danvers, specializing in the market
development of a chemical used in the pharmaceutical and paper
Gabriel got his master's in business administration and started his own
company around 1984. Since then he has been consulting and running
corporations. He joined the board of DNAPrint Genomics in 2001 and soon
after, was asked to be chief executive, even though he had little
experience with DNA.
As he learned about the business, he said, he grew passionate about it.
Gabriel has become a nationally recognized proponent of DNA ancestry tests,
often pitted against ethicists and skeptics in the national media.
"(DNA testing) is very personal, so it kind of riles me when people say
this should be some sort of national debate," Gabriel said. "No, it's an
individual right. You as an individual have a right to know what's in your
Sure, some people have used mail-order DNA ancestry tests unscrupulously
to claim minority status on college financial aid forms or to claim a
share of a American Indian casino profits. But the tests are also allowing
American Indian tribes to identify people with legitimate tribal claims
and giving adopted people at least a rough sketch of their family history,
He, personally, would never make the claim that the 8 percent Sub-Saharan
African heritage in his DNA analysis makes him African-American, Gabriel
The finding actually connects him to a much older history, he said. He is
the only blond in a family of brunette, brown-eyed Italian-Americans, he
said, and his family came from a part of Europe that had been invaded over
the years, so there was a mixing of cultures and genetics. It's possible
that somewhere in the ancestry of one of his relatives who ended up in
Italy had a branch of his or her family tree that extended to Africa.
It's also possible that the finding is a quirk of statistics, at only 8 %,
and that Gabriel has no African heritage at all. Still, he enjoyed seeing
"I think for the individual it is sort of a fulfilling process," he said.
"It's sort of one of these intangible things. You get to know a thing about
yourself and your ancestors that no one else has been able to see."
(source : The Norman Transcript - Julie Kirkwood writes for The
Eagle-Tribune in North Andover, Mass.)
More information about the DeathPenalty