[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, CALIF., IND., OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Mar 1 23:12:24 CST 2006
Soffar's fate in jury's hands
Jurors began deliberating on the punishment for convicted capital murderer
Max Soffar this morning after hearing his attorneys describe him as
someone with severe mental problems, who was failed by his parents and the
state of Texas.
Prosecutors countered, however, that Soffar caused his own problems by
choosing to abuse drugs.
Soffar, 50, spent 23 years on death row after being convicted in the 1980
slayings of 3 young people at a northwest Houston bowling alley.
An appeals court overturned the conviction in 2004, ruling that Soffar had
ineffective legal representation in his trial.
He was again convicted of capital murder last week and jurors have heard
several days of testimony in the punishment phase of the trial.
They began deliberating at 11:15 a.m. and will be sequestered until they
decide whether Soffar should return to death row or receive a life prison
In closing arguments today, the defense characterized Soffar as having
suffered as a child from possible brain disorders, with his parents and
the state failing him.
His parents could not cope with his poor behavior and shunted him from one
institution to another, where he often was simply warehoused and received
shock therapy, defense attorneys said.
"Who fried this boy's brain? The state of Texas did," defense attorney
Kathryn Kase told the jury.
But prosecutors said that Soffar's problems were related to his decision
to sniff glue and gasoline and to take prescription medications from the
family medicine cabinet.
"He is a sociopath, a criminal," said prosecutor Denise Nassar. She said
Soffar's adoptive parents took him to psychiatrists and to hospitals,
where he was admitted and treated.
Ira Garner, father of Gregory Garner, who survived the 1980 attack despite
a severe head wound, has attended Soffar's retrial.
"I'm confident they're going to put him on death row," said Garner, whose
son testified in the trial. "That's what we're hoping."
Soffar was convicted of killing Arden Alane Felsher, 17, while robbing
Stephen Allen Sims, 25, an assistant manager at the bowling alley.
Also killed in the attack were Sims and Felsher's boyfriend, Tommy Lee
If jurors sentence Soffar to life in prison, he could become eligible for
parole immediately because he has served more than 20 years in prison,
which was all that was required at the time of his 1981 conviction.
However, prosecutors said parole is unlikely. They also suggested that
Soffar still could be tried for the other slayings if his release were to
become a possibility.
They've got the wrong guy'----Kinky Friedman testifies for man convicted
of 1980 killings, denounces the death penalty
Dressed in black but missing his signature cigar, gubernatorial candidate
Richard "Kinky" Friedman waved to jurors Tuesday as he walked to the
witness stand to testify on behalf of twice-convicted capital murderer Max
Friedman, who is running as an independent, testified for only a few
minutes as he told the jury that Soffar is "an innocent man."
Soffar was convicted last week in the 1980 slayings of 3 people at a
northwest Houston bowling alley. The jury is expected to hear final
arguments today and begin considering whether Soffar, who spent more than
2 decades on death row before his first conviction for the slayings was
overturned, deserves to return there or receive a life sentence.
'A really strange thing'
Friedman, a musician and author, testified that he has known Soffar since
visiting him in prison about 2 years ago while writing an article for
Texas Monthly magazine. Friedman said he also wrote him letters and spoke
with him by telephone.
"I didn't know what to expect, meeting someone in prison," he said. "What
I found was really a strange thing. I found an innocent man."
He said Soffar has a "high form" of innocence - "a kindness" similar to
what soldiers experience after combat.
On cross-examination by prosecutor Lyn McClellan, Friedman acknowledged he
and Soffar have met twice, in prison visiting rooms where they were
separated by a partition.
His testimony failed to impress family members of those who died in the
July 13, 1980, robbery.
Shot in the head and killed were Arden Alane Felsher, 17, Stephen Allen
Sims, 25, and Tommy Lee Temple, 17. A fourth victim, Gregory George
Garner, also was shot in the head and lost an eye but survived and
testified in this trial.
"It's impossible to develop a friendship behind Plexiglas while a man is
on death row," Felsher's sister, Jackie Bryant, said outside the
courtroom."I'm appalled by (Friedman's) actions."
Defense attorneys said they called Friedman to testify because of his
friendship with Soffar.
In numerous publications, Friedman has maintained that Soffar, 50, is
innocent. He mentions Soffar's case in his 2005 novel, Ten Little New
Jurors' views of Friedman's political aspirations could influence the
verdict, said jury consultant Nona Dodson. If they think he is a viable
candidate, they will take his testimony seriously, she said, but if they
don't think he is a serious contender, they'll discount what he says.
"Defense attorneys would not call Friedman if they did not trust the jury
to listen to him," Dodson said.
Outside the courtroom after he testified, Friedman, holding a cigar, said
he sympathizes with the victims and their families. He said he became
convinced of Soffar's innocence, however, after reviewing records about
his case for the magazine article.
"They've got the wrong guy," he said. "That's what I know. That's what I
Against the death penalty
Though he told an Internet interviewer last year that he did not oppose
the death penalty, Friedman said Tuesday that he has changed his position
and will campaign against capital punishment.
"The (criminal justice) system is not perfect," he said. "Until it's
perfect, let's do away with the death penalty."
Prosecutors called several victims' relatives to testify about how the
deaths still haunt them.
"It's hard, even 25 years later, because you never get over the pain,"
said Brenda Moebius, Stephen Sims' widow.
Bryant wept as she recalled the last time she saw her sister.
"It's unbelievable that somebody could look at her beautiful face and pull
the trigger," she said.
Bryant and other victims' relatives said after court adjourned that a
death sentence would be justice for Soffar.
"The closure won't come until he's executed," Moebius said.
(source for both: Houston Chronicle)
Wamsley coached her, says witness
Minutes before she shot Suzanna and Rick Wamsley, Susana Toledano said,
she had second thoughts about carrying out the killings.
But the Wamsleys' 21-year-old son, Andrew, pressured her into following
through with the act, she said.
Toledano and Andrew Wamsley were in his room -- an upstairs bedroom --
preparing for the shootings when he kept coaching her, she told a Tarrant
County jury Tuesday.
"He was telling me to take my time, not to rush and that the sooner we did
it, the sooner we can go home," Toledano said.
Suzanna Wamsley died instantly; Rick Wamsley died after a brief struggle,
according to court testimony.
Andrew Wamsley is accused of organizing a group of friends to carry out
the shooting and stabbing deaths of his parents in their Mansfield home.
His girlfriend, Chelsea Richardson, 21, was sentenced to death in May for
her role in the Dec. 11, 2003, killings. Richardson and Toledano were
Toledano is the prosecution's key witness in Wamsley's capital murder
trial. From the witness stand, she described in detail the plot to kill
the couple so their son could collect on their $1.65 million estate.
Andrew Wamsley's defense attorneys have said that the evidence points to
Toledano and that she is lying to lessen her sentence. Attorney Larry
Moore continued to read written confessions Toledano previously made to
police denying her, Andrew Wamsley's and Richardson's involvement.
Toledano said Tuesday that she expects to receive a 30-year prison
sentence in exchange for her testimony. But prosecutors said if she does
not cooperate, she also could face a death sentence.
Testimony will continue in state District Judge Everett Young's court
On Tuesday, Toledano testified that she failed in her first attempt to
kill Rick and Suzanna Wamsley as the couple drove along a Burleson
On Nov. 9, 2003, a month before the killings, Andrew Wamsley drove his
Ford Mustang close enough to his parents' car that Toledano successfully
fired the revolver from his back seat at the Jeep Cherokee's gas tank. The
plan was to hit the tank and cause it to explode, she testified. It didn't
"He said to shoot and we drove off," said Toledano, when asked by
prosecutor Mike Parrish about the attempt. Toledano said she didn't know
whether the bullet she fired struck the vehicle.
When asked about Andrew Wamsley's response to the Cherokee not exploding,
Toledano said, "He said nothing."
She said that after the failed attempt, Richardson and Wamsley stopped
talking to her.
"They just stopped talking to me," she said.
Over the next few weeks, Andrew Wamsley and Richardson urged her to
correct her mistake and follow through on the killings, Toledano
testified. They coached her how to do it, she said.
"They were telling me that I was the one who messed up and that I had to
make it right," Toledano said. "They were also saying that were are going
to have to do it real soon, and that we won't be able to do it after a
certain amount of period."
She said she received a cellphone text message from Richardson on Dec. 11
that said that was the night she was to carry out the job. That night,
Toledano testified, she ran into the living room after being pushed by
Richardson and shot Suzanna Wamsley in the head while she slept on a
couch. After that, she went to the master bedroom, where she fired shots
at Rick Wamsley, who was asleep in the bed. She said Rick Wamsley then
charged at her and wrestled her to the floor near the home's fireplace.
According to autopsy reports, Rick Wamsley died of gunshot wounds to the
head and back and was stabbed 21 times. Suzanna Wamsley died of a gunshot
wound to the head and was stabbed 18 times after she died, according to
the medical examiners' report.
Tarrant jail inmate swallowed key, concealed knife
Special restraints have been purchased for a jail inmate accused of
killing 3 men after sheriff's deputies discovered he had swallowed a
handcuff key and was concealing a handmade knife in preparation for an
A search of Christopher Chubasco Wilkins' cell last week also uncovered a
one-page handwritten letter that included white supremacy phrases and
centered on Wilkins's belief that he would soon be out of jail, homicide
Sgt. J.D. Thornton said.
"It doesn't specify by what means, but once out, according to the letter,
he planned on killing more people," Thornton said. "The contents of the
letter confirmed our original thinking that he is a violent individual who
will kill at random and that race probably was a factor in the killings
for which he's in jail."
Wilkins has been in the Tarrant County Jail since November, awaiting trial
on murder and capital murder charges in the deaths of Gilbert Vallejo,
Mike Silva and Willie Freeman.
Vallejo was fatally shot Oct. 26 as he walked out of the Lady Luck Lounge
at 426 S. Jennings Ave. 2 days later, police found the bodies of Silva and
Freeman in a ditch near the 9500 block of Old Weatherford Road.
Vallejo and Silva were Hispanic. Freeman was black.
Assistant District Attorney Tiffany Burks said Tuesday that prosecutors
intend to seek the death penalty.
She said the office is still gathering information to determine whether
more charges will be sought.
Wilkins' attorney, Wes Ball, said he had heard of the latest accusation
against his client from a detective but had not read any reports on the
"I'm going to have to look at the official documentation of this to see
whether these claims have merit," Ball said.
Since his incarceration, Wilkins has told Fort Worth homicide
investigators that he committed about a dozen other slayings in at least 5
states, including Texas. So far, checks with those jurisdictions and a
2-day excavation last month of the back yard of a New Mexico home where
one of Wilkins' victims was supposedly buried have not resulted in
anything to corroborate his claims.
The knife and handcuff key were discovered by jailers Feb. 22, 1 day
before Wilkins had planned to meet with homicide Detective Cheryl Johnson.
"Because of his classification as assaultive and high-risk, he is
routinely searched and his property is routinely searched ... at different
times of the day and night," said Terry Grisham, spokesman with the
Tarrant County Sheriff's Department.
During the search, deputies saw Wilkins place something in his mouth,
which Wilkins said was a razor blade, Grisham said.
"We took him to medical and X-rayed him. It was very clearly a handcuff
key, which is a tremendous security risk," Grisham said.
Grisham said it is not known how Wilkins got the key, which was recovered
Grisham said that deputies also recovered some type of plastic material
that Wilkins appeared to have tried unsuccessfully to fashion into a key
Officials believe Wilkins was going to try to escape during his meeting
with Johnson. Johnson said that the letter recovered by deputies was
addressed to her and was intended to have been found after his escape.
Johnson said the letter and other items did not surprise her because
Wilkins' criminal history includes other escapes, including leaving a
halfway house in Houston.
"We expected that every time we took him out because he has such a history
of escape," she said.
(source for both: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Sentence of death is tossed----Ex-Shasta County man could get new penalty
A federal court has thrown out the death penalty sentence of a former
Shasta County man who has been on Californias death row for 24 years.
Although 56-year-old Richard Edward Grants murder conviction stands, the
U.S. District Court in Sacramento has overturned his death penalty
sentence, setting the stage for him to be returned to Shasta County from
San Quentin State Prison for possible retrial on the penalty phase of his
In its ruling, the federal court determined that Redding defense attorney
Frank OConnor "ineffectively" represented Grant during the trials penalty
phase, failing to present "mitigation evidence of Grants mental illness
and social history, including an abusive upbringing."
"Defense counsels handling of the penalty phase was off the charts," the
order reads, adding that he "called two witnesses in mitigation, each of
whom gave the briefest possible testimony which in toto was as harmful as
OConnor, who is in trial in Trinity County, could not be reached Tuesday
The ruling notes that OConnor said he did not offer evidence of Grants
childhood and upbringing because it might have permitted the prosecution
to offer evidence that Grant, as an 18- or 19-year-old, allegedly
sodomized his younger brothers.
"But counsel never made a motion to exclude this evidence, and it appears
from the record that such a motion could well have succeeded," the courts
Shasta County Assistant District Attorney Dan Flynn said earlier this week
that the district attorneys office will review the case and decide whether
to retry Grant on the penalty phase to try to attain a death penalty
Or it could opt to have a Shasta County Superior Court judge sentence
Grant to life in prison without parole.
Grant is expected to be returned to Shasta County within a few weeks.
Shasta County District Attorney Jerry Benito, whose office obtained a copy
of the courts Jan. 10 ruling in February, said Tuesday that its clear to
him that Grant deserves the death penalty.
But it may be next to impossible to gather the necessary files and
24-year-old evidence, and to find witnesses who testified at the 1st
trial, he said.
Nevertheless, his office has been gathering old court documents, many of
which have faded over time, and speaking to those involved with the case,
"We will have an extremely difficult time to recreate this case," he said,
adding that defense attorneys will have similar difficulties.
Grant, who lived in the Ono area, was convicted of 1st-degree murder in
the death of Edward Lee Halbert, 41, of Centralia, Wash., and of voluntary
manslaughter in the death of Frank DeVar Forman, 40, of Ono.
The mens decomposed bodies were found in 1981 on Grants Trinity Alps
Preserve property between Ono and Platina. Both had been shot in the head.
Forman also was shot in the abdomen.
Grant told a friend that he was waiting for Foremans skull to deteriorate
to use as a candleholder, she testified.
According to news clippings of the murder and subsequent trial, Grant told
sheriffs officials that he killed Halbert because of Halberts "obsession
to kill cops and Jews" and that he killed Forman because the man had shot
into an occupied trailer house.
During the trial, Formans ex-wife testified that her former husband once
swung an ax at her and a neighbor. She said she had told authorities that
if Grant did kill Forman, it was probably in self-defense.
Grant also was convicted of first-degree murder in the October 1980
shooting of a San Bernardino County man, Bobby Floyd, 41, of Highland. He
was sentenced to 27 years-to-life in that case and then returned to Shasta
County for trial.
When Grant was arrested in Shasta County in 1981 he was wanted for the San
Bernardino murder and in Honolulu, where he was charged with rape, sodomy,
assault and kidnapping.
In addition, a federal warrant had been issued against him for unlawful
flight to avoid prosecution.
As an inmate at Shasta County jail, Grant was accused of stabbing or
slashing at least 4 inmates.
Grant originally was scheduled for execution in 1988.
(source: Record Searchlight)
Death is not pain free
Too bad for Stanley "Tookie" Williams that Kenneth Starr wasn't one of his
legal eagles. The Crips co-founder, who was executed at San Quentin State
Prison in December, might still be alive, churning out children's books.
Starr, the former Whitewater prosecutor who gained notoriety for
investigating Bill Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica
Lewinsky, pulled a rabbit out of a hat to win a temporary reprieve for his
death-row client, convicted murderer Michael Morales.
Morales was scheduled to die by lethal injection at San Quentin Feb. 21
for the rape and murder of Terri Winchell in 1981.
Morales has admitted raping the 17-year-old woman from Lodi, beating her
to death with a hammer, then leaving her half-naked in a vineyard to die.
His defense team argued that Morales should not be executed for this vile
act because the state's procedure for administering lethal injections
amounts to "cruel and unusual punishment."
They said the inmate might feel pain from one of the 3 drugs used. The
desperate stall tactic should have been laughed out of court. However,
U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel actually entertained the defense's absurd
In a puzzling ruling, the judge ordered that medical professionals be
present at all executions to make sure that inmates are properly
At the last minute, the two anesthesiologists whom prison officials signed
up, backed out, citing ethical concerns.
It's hard to imagine what was going through their heads in the first place
when they accepted the job. Doctors take the Hippocratic oath to preserve
life, not end it. The American Medical Association is right to oppose the
participation of doctors in state executions.
Fogel's ill-advised ruling has opened up a whole can of worms. Not only
has Morales' execution been indefinitely postponed, but there is
effectively a moratorium on all executions in California.
Rest assured that the lawyers for California's other 600-plus death row
inmates will be filing similar appeals -- not to mention prisoners in
other states that also use lethal injection.
Everything is on hiatus until Fogel holds hearings in May to determine
whether California's death penalty is cruel and unusual.
Newsflash. There never has been, nor will there ever be, such a thing as
killing a physically healthy human being humanely. Death and pain are
The best that society can do, so long as the death penalty is legal, is to
mete out the sentence as painlessly as possible.
In California, we've evolved from the hangman's rope to the gas chamber to
the lethal injection.
Lethal injection is similar to what vets use when they put down our
beloved pets. It may not be pain free, but what unnatural death ever is?
The real issue here is not the method of execution but the morality of
executing people in the first place.
Polls show that a majority of Californians support the death penalty as a
deterrent to crime and for punishing violent offenders.
If the death penalty is to remain legal, people need to accept the reality
that there is never going to be an absolutely pain-free way of
(source: Editorial, Contra Costa Times)
Death penalty is too much trouble
California's inability to execute a prisoner legally might be an
indication that the state is on the wrong track with the death penalty.
It should be apparent at the very least that the state's practice of
capital punishment has some flaws that ought to be corrected.
The latest death penalty fiasco occurred last week as state officials
tried to figure out how to kill convicted murder Michael Morales in a way
that would satisfy the courts. The Morales case ought to provoke the kind
of examination of the death penalty and everything connected with it that
should produce some changes.
A bill working its way through the Assembly would suspend executions in
California until the Legislature can enact reform. Considering the
evidence over the past several days and weeks, we have to agree with that
Until very recently California's attention to executions was downright
glacial. Since the death penalty was reauthorized in California in 1978,
717 people have been sentenced to death. Of these, 63 have had their
sentence reduced or their conviction overturned. 2 have been sent to
another state. 48 inmates under sentence of death have died - 22
naturally, 13 by suicide, and 13 by execution.
More than 60 inmates on death row have been awaiting execution for more
than 20 years.
The Morales case has exposed another problem with the system other than
its torturous slowness. California has changed its method of execution
from electrocution to lethal injection. It needs medical personnel to
assess the condemned man's viability once the drugs have been administered
to ensure the man will be killed.
Doctors refuse to participate in executions on ethical grounds. 2
anesthesiologists the state had found last week also refused to attend at
Morales' execution. The state was forced to postpone his execution
There are probably attorneys in California who could make a compelling
case that the way Morales is being treated constitutes cruel and unusual
California has an opportunity here: It can suspend executions until it
fixes the flaws in the system. It can install some procedures that would
expedite the legal process.
Of course, it will have to spend some money to do that. That should not be
a problem. The state is already spending $117 million per year on death
row inmates in addition to the cost of incarcerating them. All together,
this is a system that does not work.
If the state insists on inflicting capital punishment - and its citizens
overwhelming support capital punishment, as they do - it ought to find a
way to accomplish that objective without creating so many other problems.
And if it can't, then perhaps there is a problem with the death penalty
itself, and California ought to consider whether it can afford to reserve
to itself the right to take a life.
(source: Editorial, Visalia Times Delta)
House passes bill to add execution witnesses
The Indiana House approved a bill 82-12 Wednesday that would let the
families of murder victims witness the executions of the killers.
Under Indiana law, only the condemned person gets to pick the witnesses.
But Senate Bill 160 would reduce to 5 the number of witnesses the
condemned prisoner can choose; it's 10 under current law.
The bill permits up to 8 adult members of the victim's immediate family to
attend. Immediate family includes spouses, children, parents, grandparents
"This is about closure for the victim's family," said Rep. Woody Burton,
The bill also gives the Department of Correction some flexibility to make
other arrangements if there are more than 8 members of the immediate
family, or if there are multiple victims.
It also requires the department to establish a support room for relatives,
including those who will not be present at the execution.
The bill has passed the Senate once, but the House made minor changes that
will now require a second look by senators.
Man Found Guilty in Officer Death, Could Face Death Sentence
Life or death? That's the decision a jury could make Wednesday after
finding Daryl Lawrence guilty of killing Columbus Police Officer Bryan
It took the jury only 4 hours to reach a guilty verdict on Tuesday.
Lawrence shot and killed Hurst during a botched bank robbery in Columbus
in January 2005.
"The family is very happy with the jury coming back with a verdict of all
8 counts of guilty," said Hurst family friend, James Gilbert.
If a jury decides that Lawrence should die for his crimes, he will be the
2nd person in the city's history to face a federal death sentence.
(source: Ohio News Network)
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