[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Mar 19 21:20:16 CST 2006
Man executed for slayings outside theater
A former Marine was executed Wednesday night for the shooting deaths of 2
women during a robbery outside a Northwest Dallas theater in August 1997.
"I love my family," Tommie Hughes, 31, said in his final statement. "You
all stay strong. Watch over each other," he told his mother, grandmother
and some friends as they watched from a nearby window.
Hughes kept repeating "I love you. I love you" and looking at his family
until the drugs took effect.
He said nothing about his victims, but at one point turned his head and
stared at their relatives.
He was pronounced dead at 6:23 p.m., 8 minutes after the dose began.
Hughes was executed for the murder of Foluke Erinkitola. He robbed and
then shot in the head Erinkitola and her friend Roxanne Mendoza in their
car after the women had watched a movie. During the trial, a cousin
testified Hughes snickered when asked why he killed the women and said
they could have identified him.
Hughes denied he planned the robbery or killed the women.
"The picture that they painted of me as being the mastermind, it's just
totally off the rock," he said.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday rejected requests to
commute Hughes' sentence to life or to issue a 90-day reprieve.
A federal judge in Houston and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
denied appeals to stop the execution because the lethal drugs used in the
execution are unconstitutionally cruel. About an hour before the execution
on Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court also turned down an appeal in the
Erinkitola, 25, who was from the Chicago area and was a student at the
University of Illinois, had been in the Dallas-area on a summer internship
with GTE Corp. Mendoza, 29, originally from San Francisco, also worked for
"They were very bright girls with tremendous futures ahead of them," said
Toby Shook, who was lead prosecutor in the case for the Dallas County
District Attorney's Office.
Hughes said he was talking to the women when his girlfriend at the time,
Alina Henry, shot them in a jealous rage.
"There's no way I can understand the loss their families feel. But I'm not
the one who did it," Hughes said in a recent interview from death row
Shook said Hughes, whom he called "a pathological liar ... completely void
of remorse," planned the robbery and shot both women.
Hughes' cousin, Derric English, helped rob the women while Henry was the
getaway driver. Hughes was 22 at the time, while English and Henry were
All 3 were caught after a short chase by police officers who were in the
parking lot on a separate undercover operation.
Hughes was charged with both killings but only tried for Erinkitola's
death. His defense attorneys presented no witnesses at his trial.
At a separate trial, English was convicted of capital murder and sentenced
to 40 years in prison.
Henry pleaded to a lesser charge of aggravated robbery in exchange for her
testimony against both men. She was sentenced to 11 years.
Hughes, who grew up in Dallas, said he might have been able to stop the
"It's done. I can't bring them back," he said.
During his trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Hughes had robbed 3
other people at gunpoint at a restaurant parking lot near the theater 4
days before. He was also indicted for the January 1996 slaying of Jaffar
Ali, owner of a Dallas convenience store, during a robbery.
Hughes, who was in the U.S. Marine Corps for 4 years but got a bad conduct
discharge after a court-martial, was also accused by police of domestic
violence against his ex-wife.
"He's such a cold-blooded psychopath that he deserves the fate that awaits
him on Wednesday," Shook said.
Next on the execution schedule is Robert Salazar Jr., condemned for the
1997 beating death of his girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter in Lubbock. He
is set to be executed March 22.
Hughes becomes the 5th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
Texas and the 360th overall since the state resumed capital punishment on
December 7, 1982. Hughes becomes the 122nd condemned inmate to be put to
death in Texas since Rick Perry became governor in 2001. There are at
least 11 more executions set in texas before the end of May.
Hughes becomes the 9th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
the USA and the 1013th overall since the nation resumed executions on
January 17, 1977.
(sources: Associated Press & Rick Halperin)
Distrust mires execution probe
Nearly 4 months after Bexar County prosecutors promised to vigorously
reinvestigate the questionable execution of Ruben Cantu, they have yet to
obtain full statements from the 3 witnesses who claim he was innocent.
All 3 say they want to cooperate but claim prosecutors' tactics have
intimidated them. The Bexar County district attorney's office contends
that, while it has not yet contacted one witness, the other 2 have only
thrown up roadblocks.
While nothing new has been revealed about the 1985 conviction and 1993
execution of Cantu, it's apparent that mutual distrust has slowed if not
paralyzed the investigation.
"I think they're just trying to cover up for what happened 20 years ago,"
said David Garza, 1 of the 3 men who say Cantu was wrongly executed.
"They just don't want to admit that they messed up."
Cliff Herberg, first assistant district attorney for Bexar County,
characterized the witnesses as bold in the media but evasive when
investigators try to pin down their accounts.
"They do not want to commit to a sworn statement that can be tested under
scrutiny," he said. "They just want to throw a bomb and run away."
Robert Hoelscher, deputy director of the Texas Innocence Network, said
prosecutors have displayed an inappropriate bias since the investigation
began, both in private actions and public statements.
"The Ruben Cantu case is not about death penalty politics," Hoelscher
said. "It's about whether the state of Texas executed an innocent young
man. No other issue is relevant until you resolve that fundamental
Cantu was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Pedro Gomez
during a house robbery on Nov. 8, 1984. Cantu, 17 at the time of the
crime, and Garza, his 15-year-old co-defendant, were convicted after the
lone surviving eyewitness, Juan Moreno, identified them as his attackers.
Moreno, then an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, now says he was under
intense pressure from police officers to falsely identify Cantu.
Co-defendant Garza has provided a sworn statement that claims another
teen, not Cantu, was with him that night. The 3rd witness, Eloy Gonzales,
swears Cantu was with him in Waco - about 180 miles from the crime scene.
'Pretty serious stuff'
Prosecutors reopened the case and began re-examining old files in late
November after the Houston Chronicle published a story about claims that
Cantu, executed in 1993, was innocent.
As the investigation began, Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed
announced she would consider building a case of murder by perjury against
Moreno, the eyewitness. At the time, she told the Chronicle: "A man has
been executed because of that lie. That is pretty serious stuff."
Moreno, now a San Antonio contractor, was 19 at the time of the crime and
barely survived the shooting. His story provides the most compelling
evidence for the claim that Texas executed the wrong man.
But no one from the Bexar County prosecutors' office has heard it from
Cynthia Orr, a San Antonio lawyer who represents Moreno, has said that
Reed's statements make it difficult for her client to cooperate. She said
it looks like prosecutors would rather silence Moreno than hear him out.
Herberg, the first assistant district attorney, said his office has not
yet approached Moreno, but said he couldn't explain the delay without
revealing investigative strategy.
Prosecutors recently subpoenaed Gonzales, the potential alibi witness, to
force him to testify before a grand jury, though he said he has offered to
cooperate. Gonzales, who has a criminal record, claims Cantu was with him
in Waco stealing cars at the time of the murder. Gonzales' brother and
sister also told the Chronicle that Cantu was with them. Gonzales said he
thinks the subpoena was issued to shake him up.
"What (the district attorney) is trying to do is see if she can cover this
up," Gonzales said. "But this is a serious offense. This is not something
we'd forget about."
Herberg said Gonzales originally agreed to give a statement to an
investigator, but then insisted his attorney attend the interview. The
district attorney's office said that wasn't acceptable and instead sought
a subpoena as a last resort.
"We want the witness' version, not the lawyer's version," Herberg said,
adding, "There's no charges against him. What's he got to hide?"
An investigator and an attorney from the district attorney's office did
obtain in December a partial interview with Garza, who is in prison in
Beaumont for an unrelated burglary.
But in an interview with the Chronicle at the Stiles Unit, Garza said he
refused to cooperate after district attorney's officials refused to
identify themselves and immediately pressed him to take a lie detector
test. Garza also refused to give them a sworn statement he has provided to
the Chronicle about the crime, which names another person as the murderer.
Again, the district attorney's office offered a different version of
Herberg said the investigator recorded the first part of the interview
including the part where the investigators introduced themselves. But
Garza refused to speak with the recorder running and, after it was shut
off, was evasive.
Not only would he not turn over the sworn statement, he refused to take a
lie detector test, which prosecutors had arranged because they believed
Garza had told the Chronicle he was willing to submit to a polygraph,
"So David Garza is just a liar. It's just that simple. He's a criminal,"
Herberg said. "And that's the whole thing about this case, to believe
their story you have to believe a bunch of liars who are all of sudden
supposed to be telling the truth."
'Beyond the extra mile'
The Cantu case has gained national attention because the acknowledged
execution of an innocent man could cast serious doubt on the capital
punishment system itself.
With such high stakes, Hoelscher, of the Texas Innocent Network, said the
Bexar County officials should do everything they can to avoid the
impression they have made up their minds against Cantu - especially since
Reed had a small role in the case years ago.
As a judge, Reed rejected Cantu's state appeal and later set his execution
date, though she has said those actions don't affect her ability to serve
as an impartial fact-finder now.
"This review is being conducted by the office that prosecuted Ruben
Cantu," Hoelscher said. "It must go well beyond the extra mile to show the
public that it is conducting a fair, thorough and impartial assessment."
(source : San Antonio Express-News)
Facing Death, His I.Q. Low, Man Wins Rare About-Face
In an unusual about-face, a divided 3-judge federal appeals panel has
reversed its own unanimous decision in a capital case.
The original decision, issued in December, would have allowed a Texas
death row inmate who may be mentally retarded to be executed. A 2002
decision by the Supreme Court prohibits executing retarded people, but in
this case the defendant's lawyer had missed a filing deadline, and the
appeals judges said they were therefore powerless to consider the matter.
The execution was scheduled for April 26.
In the new decision, however, the two judges in the majority, W. Eugene
Davis and Jacques L. Wiener Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for
the Fifth Circuit, said Friday that they were "satisfied that these are
the sort of rare and extraordinary circumstances that justify" waiving a
filing deadline. They did not explain what had caused them to change their
minds, and the court's docket does not indicate what prompted the
The original decision had acknowledged that the inmate, Marvin Lee Wilson,
had made a preliminary showing that he was mentally retarded. But
deadlines are deadlines, the panel said in that unsigned opinion.
"However harsh the result may be," the original decision said, it was
required by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, a 1996
federal law that places strict limits on capital appeals.
That decision prompted condemnation in newspaper editorials in Texas and
elsewhere. "A convict with the mental capabilities of a first grader," The
Houston Chronicle wrote, "cannot be made to pay with his life for his
lawyer's failure to file a timely appeal."
Mr. Wilson, now 48, was convicted in 1998 of kidnapping and killing a
police informant, Jerry Williams, in 1992. Information from Mr. Williams
had led to Mr. Wilson's arrest on charges of cocaine possession.
At a hearing in state court in 2004, Mr. Wilson's lawyers presented
evidence that his I.Q. had most recently been measured at 61. A 1971 test
had measured it at 73. In 1987, it was 75.
With the new ruling, Mr. Wilson's lawyers will be able to present evidence
in federal court to try to show that he is retarded. Under Texas law, they
must prove three things: that his intelligence is "significantly
subaverage," using an I.Q. of "about 70 or below" as a benchmark; that he
lacks fundamental skills; and that both conditions existed before he
James W. Marcus, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, said in
an interview yesterday that Mr. Wilson had lacked basic skills as a child.
"He couldn't even play football," Mr. Marcus said, "because he couldn't
tell left from right."
Prosecutors have said the crime itself, which they have called an
"execution-style killing," proves that Mr. Wilson is not retarded.
Judge Emilio M. Garza dissented from Friday's decision, saying the
majority had disregarded the 1996 law. Judges Garza and Wiener were
appointed to the appeals court by the first President Bush. Judge Davis
was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.
(source: New York Times)
Man indicted on capital murder charges
An Ector County grand jury has indicted an Odessa man on capital murder
charges in the shooting deaths of his pregnant common-law wife and her
Leo Angel Luna, 21, was indicted Tuesday on 2 counts of capital murder and
1 count of aggravated assault in the December shootings, said acting
District Attorney Linda Deaderick.
Luna, who remains in the Ector County Detention Center on bonds totaling
$1.6 million, faces trial in the deaths of his estranged common-law wife,
Diana Ponce, 19, and her mother, Blanca, 49. He also is charged with
aggravated assault in the shooting of Diana Ponce's brother, William
Ponce, 21, is recovering at a family member's home and is expected to
undergo additional surgeries, said his uncle Socorro Pando.
On the day of the shootings, Diana's unborn child, Lydia, was pronounced
dead after being delivered through an emergency Caesarean section.
(source: Associated Press)
5 crime lab cases will get legal reviews -- Faulty evidence needs
scrutiny, Project Innocence co-founder says
National and state innocence projects have decided to examine 45 Houston
crime lab cases with questionable evidence, citing concerns that some
defendants have received no legal representation since the exposure of
problems in the lab work that helped convict them.
Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said Tuesday that he has
pledged to cooperate with lawyers who will study 18 cases involving
serology tests and 27 involving DNA, all of which an independent
investigator identified in January as having "major issues."
Barry Scheck, a founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, and his
counterparts in Texas contacted Rosenthal about their desire to review the
cases after the January release of the latest report from special
investigator Michael Bromwich.
Bromwich's team, tasked with reviewing the Houston Police Department crime
lab's tests in thousands of cases, found problems with analysts' work in
20 percent of the serology tests that were reviewed and 40 percent of the
"Without action such as this, innocent people fall through the cracks of
the system," Scheck said. "You can't excuse a failure to follow up and
examine whether someone is innocent or guilty when you know the science
that contributed to their conviction is faulty."
The lawyers' 1st priority will be finding evidence from the cases
involving serology - a process of typing body fluids that was a precursor
to DNA tests - and to have DNA tests, which are more precise, performed on
the evidence, Scheck said.
"These (serology cases) are matters where it is most likely (that) an
evidence search would reveal swabs, clothing and other biological
materials that, after DNA testing, could lead to the exoneration of
innocents and the apprehension of the real perpetrator," Scheck wrote to
Rosenthal on Monday.
Rosenthal said he will not oppose efforts by the Innocence Project to have
DNA testing conducted in questionable cases.
He added that he will give lawyers access to his files in the cases and
provide a representative from his office to help go through them.
"I told him we'd be glad to do that," Rosenthal said.
The cases that lawyers plan to review were first identified as part of an
independent investigation launched in 2005, 3 years after problems with
the HPD crime lab's work surfaced publicly.
Since unsound practices first were uncovered in the lab's DNA division in
2002, errors also have been found in the work of ballistics, toxicology
and drug analysis. 2 men have been released from prison after the
discovery of errors in the analysis of evidence.
Reviews may be expanded
The District Attorney's Office and Police Department initiated retests in
2003 in more than 400 cases that included DNA tests performed by HPD
analysts, and lawyers were appointed to defendants in those cases. Similar
steps were taken after HPD discovered problems in its toxicology division
in 2003, but no efforts have been made to retest evidence from cases that
included faulty serology evidence.
Although retests by private laboratories have found problems with at least
50 DNA cases originally analyzed by HPD, lawyers for the defendants have
taken little legal action. The Innocence Project lawyers also plan to
examine some of those cases. The number of cases that lawyers will study
may expand as Bromwich's team continues its probe.
One of the cases with serology evidence that prompted Scheck and his
colleagues to take action is that of Dwight Harold Riser. Bromwich's team
concluded that analysts withheld evidence that could have helped Riser,
who was convicted of aggravated sexual assault in 1995 and is serving a
75-year prison sentence.
According to the January report, former DNA lab chief James Bolding
"appears to have altered the results of blood-typing work on the basis of
a scientifically unjustifiable explanation." Bolding has not returned
numerous phone calls from the Houston Chronicle.
Riser was included in a group of possible semen donors constituting 2.5 %
of the male population, according to the report. In reality, however, all
men who produce semen were within the population of potential donors.
"We want to get the stories behind these errors and make a real careful
assessment of what legal options exist for these folks," said Jeff
Blackburn, director of the West Texas Innocence Project, who will lead the
team reviewing the cases. "These folks need good lawyers working for them
because nobody has paid enough attention since these errors were
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Appeals court turns down convicted murderer's plea
Condemned murderer Michael Dewayne Johnson's latest appeal was turned down
Tuesday by a federal appeals court.
Ruling that Johnson's second application for writ of habeas corpus did not
qualify procedurally to get his claims of prosecutorial misconduct back
before the court, a 3-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals
rejected Johnson's case.
The New Orleans-based court granted Johnson a stay of execution in
February 2003, a day before the 29-year-old Balch Springs man was
scheduled to be executed.
Johnson was sentenced to death after a 1996 trial in Waco in the September
1995 shooting death of Jeff Wetterman during a robbery at the Wetterman
family convenience store in Lorena.
McLennan County District Attorney John Segrest, who prosecuted the case
with assistants Crawford Long and Mike Freeman, said he anticipated the
He said attorneys for Johnson can now ask the 5th Circuit for a rehearing
and then can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider his appeal. If both of
those avenues are unsuccessful, Segrest then will ask 54th State District
Judge George Allen to set another execution date for Johnson, he said.
Waco attorney Greg White, who is representing Johnson on his federal
appeals, did not return phone calls Tuesday.
The 5th Circuit issued Johnson a "certificate of appealability" in
December 2004, saying it would consider Johnson's claims that prosecutors
withheld evidence that could have changed the outcome of the trial and
that they solicited perjured testimony from Johnson's 17-year-old
co-defendant, David Noel Vest.
White based Johnson's latest appeal on allegations that prosecutors
improperly failed to provide Johnson's trial attorneys with documents
filed when Vest pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery charges that
indicated that Vest, not Johnson, shot Wetterman.
Segrest has said that the documents filed in Vest's case are routine
pleadings filed in every capital murder case in which there is a
co-defendant. Vest, also of Balch Springs, was charged under a doctrine
known as the "law of parties," Segrest said, adding that the practice has
long been upheld by appellate courts.
There is no question that Johnson shot Wetterman to keep from having to
pay for the gasoline he and Vest pumped into the stolen Cadillac they were
driving, Segrest has said.
Vest was sentenced to 8 years in prison in exchange for his testimony
against Johnson and was released in September 2003.
Trish Wetterman McLean, who had been married to the 27-year-old Wetterman
for 3 weeks when he was killed, said she is pleased with the decision.
"Finally," she said. "It has been 3 years since his last death date, so
hopefully, we may get another date soon. It's a lot of hurry up and wait,
it seems, but I am so glad that they finally made a decision."
(source: Waco Tribune-Herald)
GUARANTEEING JUSTICE----Review all convictions based on tainted Houston
crime lab evidence
The long-delayed review of thousands of cases continues to turn up errors
the Houston Police Department crime lab made in processing evidence used
to convict defendants. In an effort to make sure every questionable case
gets a thorough legal review, nationally known attorney Barry Scheck, a
founder of the Innocence Project, says lawyers in Texas and New York will
examine 45 cases red-flagged by crime lab special investigator Michael
Pinpointing flaws in crime lab processing of evidence will mean little if
each case is not re-examined to determine whether individuals were
unjustly convicted. As Scheck told the Chronicle's Roma Khanna and Steve
McVicker, "without action such as this, innocent people fall through the
cracks of the system." Such reviews have resulted in the exoneration of
two prison inmates from Harris County.
State District Judge Debbie Stricklin deserves credit for leading efforts
to have problem cases legally reviewed. Harris County District Attorney
Chuck Rosenthal is equally forthright in welcoming Scheck's offer and
pledging complete cooperation.
18 of the cases involve convictions gained with serology tests on blood
and bodily fluids, a primary source of physical evidence before DNA
testing was available. Using new technology, lawyers will be able to run
DNA tests on the preserved evidence. According to Scheck, the new
procedures "could lead to the exoneration of innocents and the
apprehension of the real perpetrator."
Since the problems with DNA testing were uncovered in 2002, questionable
results also turned up in the lab's ballistics, toxicology and drug
analysis sections. Investigators have also raised the possibility of
collusion between lab employees and law enforcement personnel in fixing
Every convict whose case involves questionable crime lab testing should be
notified and have a competent attorney review the case. The commitment of
the Innocence Network lawyers will go a long way toward restoring the
credibility of Texas justice and ensure that innocent people do not remain
(source: Editorial, Houston Chronicle)
Execution date set for man who had his kin killed
In Abilene, ajudge set an Oct. 25 execution date Wednesday for a man
convicted of hiring a hitman to kill his adopted family in 1990 so he
could collect $24,000 in life insurance.
Gregory Lynn Summers, 48, was convicted of capital murder in 1991, a year
after his mother, Helen Summers; his father, Mandel Eugene Summers; and
his mentally retarded uncle, Billy Mack Summers, were stabbed to death and
their home set ablaze.
Gregory Summers had been adopted by the family when he was 3 days old.
"I just think it has gone on too long," Sandra Mitchell, a relative, said
in Thursday's editions of the Abilene Reporter-News.
His execution "should have happened 10 years ago."
Prosecutors argued that Gregory Summers hired Abilenian Andrew Cantu for
$10,000 to kill his family so he could get $24,000 in life insurance.
Cantu was convicted of capital murder and executed in 1999.
Summers' attorney Danalynn Recer argued during Wednesday's hearing that
setting a date was premature, because pending U.S. Supreme Court cases
could affect Summers' execution.
(source: Associated Press)
Students work against death penalty
Some students at The University of Texas aren't spending their Spring
Break having fun or catching up on homework.<>P> Some students boarded
this bus to Huntsville Wednesday morning are members of Texas Students
Against the Death Penalty.
They're going to protest capital punishment at a scheduled execution. But
this is more than just a protest, the trip is part of a program designed
to teach the students.
"Some of the workshops we're attending teach us about the problems in the
process of capital punishment. And it's good to bring back that knowledge
so we can really understand what we're working against," student protestor
Jackson Smith said.
Smith is a student from Boisie State University. He joined the UT students
on the ride.
(source: News 8 Austin)
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