[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Mar 25 02:11:29 EST 2006
TEXAS----stay of execution
Execution stayed in Houston death row case
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals today put off the execution of Raymond
Martinez, who was scheduled to die Tuesday for the 1983 slaying of a
Houston bar owner.
The case will be reviewed by the court later and probably sent back to the
trial court level, said Roe Wilson, an assistant Harris County district
"We're pleased as hell," said Martinez' attorney, Michael Charlton. "I
haven't talked to Raymond yet or his family, but he probably has found out
The court's decision is based on jury instructions given during Martinez'
2nd trial in 1989.
After the Supreme Court's Penry decision in 1989, Texas law changed so
that jurors would be asked specifically whether mitigating evidence should
prevent them from voting in favor of a death sentence. Martinez'
conviction came after the high court's decision but before the state
changed jury instructions, Wilson said.
Some evidence introduced at trial indicated that Martinez suffered from
"We certainly are disappointed that the execution was not carried out
because he is very deserving of it based on the offense," Wilson said.
"This legal claim is a fairly new legal claim, and the courts are going to
have to resolve it."
Martinez, 59, was initially convicted and sentenced to death in 1984. The
conviction was reversed on appeal in 1988 on an issue related to jury
Evidence showed Martinez and two accomplices entered the Long Branch
Saloon in Houston in July 1983 to commit a robbery. Numerous shots were
fired, and bar owner Herman Chavis was killed. Chavis died of 1 gunshot
wound to the head and 1 to the back.
Martinez had been voluntarily committed 3 times to the State Hospital in
Wichita Falls and once involuntarily to the facility at Rusk, his attorney
said. Charlton said Martinez suffers from paranoia.
His lengthy criminal history includes another bar robbery that involved a
fatality and the shooting deaths of his sister and her boyfriend,
according to information from the Texas attorney general's office.
Convicted killer Johnny Paul Penry, whose case helped spark national
debate over whether mentally impaired inmates could be executed, had his
death sentence overturned for the third time in October.
Over more than a decade, Penry, convicted in the 1979 slaying of an East
Texas woman, has won two reversals from the U.S. Supreme Court that
changed the way judges instruct juries in capital murder cases.
Martinez was the 1st of 2 inmates set to be executed next week in the
country's most active death penalty state. Kevin Kincy, condemned for the
1993 murder of a Houston area man during a scheme to rob his home, is
scheduled to die Wednesday.
(source: Associated Press)
Execution date set for triple murderer
A state district judge in Waco set an execution date Thursday for triple
murderer Billie Wayne Coble, who has been on death row for 16 years.
Judge George Allen of 54th State District Court set Coble's execution for
Aug. 30, almost 17 years after Coble killed his estranged wife's parents,
Robert and Zelda Vicha, and her brother, Waco police Sgt. Bobby Vicha, on
Aug. 29, 1989.
The judge set the date after a 3-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals declined on Tuesday to reconsider their July 2005 rejection of
Coble's appeal of his April 1990 capital murder conviction.
After fatally shooting the Vichas at their Axtell homes, Coble kidnapped
his estranged 3rd wife, Karen Vicha, tied up her daughter and nephew and
told them they would not see her alive again.
Coble, now 57, was arrested after he and Karen Vicha were injured in a
traffic accident in Bosque County the night of the murders.
Trial testimony revealed that Coble, a Vietnam veteran, was despondent
about the impending breakup of his third marriage and because he faced
prison time on charges that he restrained Karen Vicha against her will on
a previous occasion.
"If you have an offense for which the law provides death as a penalty,
this fact situation certainly qualifies," said McLennan County District
Attorney John Segrest, who was not in office when Coble was tried. "Coble
didn't really have a long history of criminal offenses, but that single
afternoon of Aug. 29, 1989, was so horrendous that death is certainly an
Segrest said Coble's execution date was suggested by the Texas Attorney
General's Office, which represents the state in death row inmates' federal
appeals. A date five months away will give Coble's attorneys time to ask
the Supreme Court to consider Coble's appeal again.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court have
rejected Coble's state appeals.
Coble's son, Gordon, a 33-year-old auto mechanics student at Texas State
Technical College, said Thursday that he last visited his father on death
row in December. He said he will attend his execution in August if it is
"I am going to be by his side no matter what," Gordon Coble said. "He's my
daddy. I'll always love him. That has never changed. I have always loved
him with all my heart."
Gordon Coble, who has two sons, said he had not given the death penalty
much thought because he was so young when his father was convicted. Now,
he says he can see both sides of the issue.
"There are no winners in any of this. It is a lose-lose situation," he
Judge Ralph Strother, who prosecuted Coble with former District Attorney
Paul Gartner, said that Coble's execution is long overdue.
"It's high time," Strother said. "He confessed in the hospital to a number
of people what he had done. There wasn't any question of him doing it. It
was just a cold-blooded execution of three innocent people. They didn't
get their day in court and he had his."
Coble has alleged that he was not afforded effective legal representation
during his trial by court-appointed attorneys Hoagie Karels and the late
Ken Ables. He also alleges that the jury was not properly allowed to
consider mitigating evidence that might have led to a life sentence
instead of the death penalty.
(source: Waco Tribune-Herald)
2 women face capital murder charge in South Texas man's death
In Harlingen, 2 women face capital murder charges in the death of a man
found stabbed inside his mobile home this week.
The women, whose names and ages weren't immediately available, were
scheduled for arraignment Friday, said Cameron County Chief Deputy Gus
Both women confessed to stabbing Bart Ellis, 38, who lived near La Feria.
The women took his wallet and tried to steal his truck, Reyna said.
Deputies responding to a call found Ellis' truck abandoned 1 block from
his home Wednesday afternoon. They went to Ellis' home and saw a body on
the floor when they looked through a window, Reyna said.
Officers entered the home and discovered Ellis had multiple stab wounds
made with a kitchen knife that was recovered at the scene, authorities
(source: Associated Press)
Prosecution case against Swearingen doesn't add up, defense says
Defense attorneys for Darrell Lee Swearingen tore into the prosecution's
witnesses against him, including the mother of one of the victims in the
capital murder case, during closing arguments Thursday.
Swearingen is accused in the deaths of Isaac Eli Maldonado and his
girlfriend Jenna Kay Patek, who were shot Jan. 13, 2004, while sleeping in
Maldonado's mother's home.
A Nueces County jury deliberated about 3 hours Thursday in the capital
murder trial before being sent home. Jurors will resume deliberations
Just after 2 p.m. Thursday, the jury's foreman sent out a note requesting
photos of Maldonado's bedroom and photos of the couple on the bed where
they were shot.
Before the jury received the case, defense attorneys Grant Jones and Lisa
Harris told them in closing arguments that the state's case against their
client didn't add up.
Jones singled out Lilly Maldonado, Maldonado's mother, who he thinks has
doubts about one of her nephew's involvement in the deaths. The nephew,
Juan "Joey" Vela, the 1st to go on trial for the homicides, was found not
guilty of those charges in January 2005.
"In my heart I believe she wants to know who killed her son," said Jones,
a former district attorney. "She didn't tell the police that she went
upstairs she said she didn't tell anyone in hopes that if someone saw her
up there and would ask her why she didn't tell."
Harris questioned testimony given by witness Anthony Tedesco, who said he
was forced at gunpoint by Swearingen into the Maldonado home and ran from
Isaac Maldonado's room after seeing Swearingen amd Elijah Dupree Huff
approach the bed where the sleeping couple was.
Huff also has been charged with capital murder, but his case is on hold
pending the decision of a double jeopardy motion by his attorney. Huff's
trial has twice ended in mistrial because of juror misconduct.
Harris reminded the jury of testimony that Tedesco had been drinking
before the shootings and had been using illegal drugs.
But prosecutor James Sales said in his closing statement that Swearingen's
testimony during a bond hearing links him to Tedesco.
"His alibi was Elijah Dupree Huff and Anthony Tedesco," Sales said. "It
was a poor choice of alibis."
Swearingen could face the death penalty if found guilty.
(source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times)
Condemned killer's request denied ---- Federal court rules against new
hearing for man convicted in 1990 murder
A man sentenced to die for a 1990 murder shouldn't get a new sentencing
hearing because his constitutional rights weren't violated during the
punishment phase of his trial, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a March 1 opinion that
reversed U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson's ruling granting a writ of
habeas corpus for Brent Ray Brewer, 35, and denied Brewer's petition
Writs of habeas corpus are actions that require law enforcement to justify
a prisoner's detention and are usually based on alleged violations of
Brewer, 35, has been on Texas death row since 1991, when a Randall County
jury convicted him of the April 26, 1990, stabbing death of Robert Doyle
Brewer's attorneys claimed that the two questions jurors were instructed
to answer did not allow them to consider circumstances in Brewer's history
- including being hospitalized for depression 3 months before the murder -
when making their decision.
Citing previous cases, the appeals court ruled that the questions were
broad enough to allow jurors to explore those factors during their
The justices also held that during trial, Brewer "came nowhere near to
producing evidence" that his depression was a chronic illness, which could
validate his claim.
"There does not appear to be one iota of evidence suggesting either that
Brewer's condition is permanent or that he experienced cognitive
limitations of any sort as a result of it," their opinion states.
Rick Keffler, an Amarillo attorney representing Brewer, said Thursday that
he couldn't comment on pending cases.
According to court records:
Brewer and Kristie Lynn Nystrom, then 21, approached Laminack outside his
business on South Western Street and asked him for a ride to the local
While en route, Brewer stabbed Laminack to death as Nystrom held
Laminack's arms to keep him from fighting back.
The pair took $140 from Laminack's wallet. Laminack's body was found in
his pickup on West 49th Avenue.
Brewer and Nystrom fled town and were captured 12 days later near Dallas.
Nystrom, now 37, is serving a life sentence for the crime after pleading
guilty to capital murder.
(source: The Amarillo Globe-News)
Judge hears 'new' evidence in Reed case
It was standing room only in a Bastrop courtroom Thursday for a hearing in
the Rodney Reed case.
Friends and family of Rodney Reed waited to hear testimony in what could
be his last chance to get off Texas' death row.
"We've been praying for this day and we hope the judge allows this
evidence to prove my brother didn't do this," Reed's brother Rodrick Reed
Prosecutors at the time of his trial in 1998 withheld knowledge of a
witness whose testimony would have been crucial to his defense, Reed's
State District Judge Reva Towslee Corbett heard from that witness
Martha Barnett said she saw Stacy Stites the morning of her murder with
Stites' fiance, Jimmy Fennell. Her testimony contradicts some of the
information attorneys were working with when Reed was convicted in 1998.
Prosecutors argued Thursday that the Bastrop County District Attorney's
Office didn't know about what Barnett saw. They suggested she was not a
credible witness because she waited 2 years to come forward with her
Reed's supporters said Barnett has no vested interest in the case.
"We don't know her, never met her... Why would she come out of the blue
and say this? There's no logic in it other than just telling the truth,"
Rodrick Reed said.
The judge won't decide if Barnett is credible but instead whether
prosecutors failed to let the defense know about her.
"If you have the facts, you have the facts. And if you don't, you don't.
It doesn't make any sense to me to hide the ball and blow off exculpatory
information because you have some concerns about it as a prosecutor,"
Reed's attorney Morris Overstreet said.
Overstreet said whether Barnett was credible or not is beside the point.
"They're simply supposed to turn over the information and they failed to
do that," Overstreet said.
At the end of what is expected to be a two-day hearing, the judge will
send her recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
She could recommend the case be revisited or that Reed's conviction stands
and he remain on death row.
The hearing resumes Friday morning. The judge will hear from three other
witnesses who may have also had additional information that was not
disclosed to defense attorneys at the time of Reed's capital murder trial.
(source: News 8 Austin)
Man On Death Row May Get New Trial
A hearing continues Friday morning to determine if a Bastrop man who's
been on death row for eight years might get a new trial.
A judge is considering whether evidence warrants a new trial for Rodney
Reed. In 1996, he was convicted of killing 19-year-old Stacey Stites.
Investigators say that they found Reed's semen on her body. Rodney claimed
they were having an affair.
His attorneys say that the woman's fianc at the time, Jimmy Fennel, a
former Giddings police officer, is a prime suspect. They claim there were
four witnesses that would have pointed to that, but they were never heard
Rodney's father says that there are too many inconsistencies.
"It's not really seeing him free, it's the justice. That's all we wanted
was justice, you know, and that hadn't been given at all. It didn't give
justice to the Reed family nor Stites family. They just convicted an
innocent man," Walter Reed, Rodney's father, said.
The hearing into a new trial for Rodney continues Friday.
(source: KXAN News)
Secret of Rodney Reed death row appeal revealed----Witness says victim's
fiance once explained how to strangle without leaving fingerprints.
A once-secret witness testified Thursday that an alternate suspect in the
1996 strangulation of Stacey Stites once said he would choke his
girlfriend to death if she cheated on him, leaving no fingerprints because
he would use a belt.
That other suspect was Jimmy Fennell Jr., who was a Giddings police
officer and Stites' fianc when she was killed. Investigators eventually
ruled him out. Instead, Rodney Reed is on death row for the crime.
Stites' body was left next to a dirt road north of Bastrop. The belt used
to strangle the 19-year-old, ripped from around her waist, was broken in 2
by the force of the act.
Reed, sentenced to death in 1998 for rape and murder, is seeking a new
trial. He's arguing that prosecutors did not reveal Fennell's
strangulation statement, and other helpful evidence, to defense attorneys
despite a court order to do so.
Assistant Texas Attorney General Lisa Tanner denied information was
withheld. "The state couldn't withhold it because the state didn't have
it," she said.
What's more, Tanner said in her opening statement, evidence will show that
any potentially mitigating information or witnesses were not credible or
not pertinent to Reed's guilt or innocence.
Reed was convicted based largely on DNA-linked semen found on Stites'
body. He later said he and Stites were having an affair.
The hearing will continue today in Bastrop County before state District
Judge Reva Towslee Corbett, who will recommend to the state Court of
Criminal Appeals whether Reed should receive a new trial.
Much of Thursday's testimony revolved around a previously released
affidavit by Martha Barnett, a Paige mother of 4 who said she saw Stites
and Fennell at a convenience store almost 2 hours after Reed was said to
have killed Stites.
But the most dramatic testimony came later when Mary Blackwell, now a
sergeant on the Dallas-area North Lake Community College police force,
took the stand and related a conversation she had with Fennell when both
attended a police training academy in 1995.
"Jimmy Fennell was talking to another cadet, and he said if he ever found
that his girlfriend was cheating on him that he'd strangle her," Blackwell
told the court.
Blackwell said she challenged Fennell, telling him he'd get caught because
he'd leave fingerprints on her neck. "He said, 'That's where you don't
know (expletive). . . . I'll strangle her with a belt.'"
That conversation came flooding back in 1998, when Blackwell said she
learned how Stites was murdered in a conversation with John Vasquez, a
private investigator working for Reed.
"Bells and whistles went off," she said.
Vasquez will testify today that he related Blackwell's information to
then-Bastrop County District Attorney Charles Penick, who did not disclose
it to defense attorneys, said Morris Overstreet, a Reed attorney and
former Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judge. Although the Vasquez-Penick
conversation occurred after Reed was sentenced, Overstreet said, it could
have been included in Reed's motion for a new trial.
Blackwell's statement had been kept under court seal; Thursday's hearing
included no discussion about why the information was kept secret.
Reed, wearing a long-sleeved white shirt and tie, sat at the defense table
with his hands folded in his lap, listening attentively. More than two
dozen of Reed's relatives also attended. It did not appear that any of
Stites' relatives attended.
On the day she was killed, April 23, 1996, Stites was scheduled to start
work at the Bastrop H-E-B grocery store at 3:30 a.m. The red pickup
prosecutors said she was driving was found at 5:23 a.m., empty, in a
Bastrop High School parking lot.
That discovery, chronicled by a Bastrop police officer, is important to
the timeline of Stites' death for both prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Police investigators ruled out Fennell as a suspect because, they said, he
did not have time to kill her, dump the body, leave the truck at Bastrop
High and get back to the Giddings apartment they shared - all without a
Barnett testified, however, that she saw Stites and Fennell at 4:45 a.m.
in Paige, about 15 miles northeast of Bastrop, on the morning Reed was
supposed to have killed her at 3 a.m.
Barnett said she pulled into a store parking lot to purchase a vending
machine soda. Stites and a man were standing in front of a red pickup,
gesturing "like there was some kind of conflict between them," she said.
"There's no question in my mind," the couple was Stites and Fennell,
Barnett's affidavit, however, put the time of her parking lot encounter at
between 5 and 5:30 a.m., a discrepancy Tanner latched on to as a
convenient change. Under the original affidavit's time line, the red
pickup could not have been driven from Paige to Bastrop High by 5:23 a.m.
Tanner also expressed surprise that Barnett did not convey her information
to a police agency, despite headline-making pleas for help in newspapers
and a $50,000 reward for information in the case.
Tanner also attacked Barnett's contention that she recognized Fennell
based on a photograph that ran in the Giddings newspaper 2 weeks after the
killing. Shown copies of that paper and the Austin American-Statesman,
Barnett admitted that neither printed a picture of Fennell as part of
their coverage of the murder.
Tanner indicated that Barnett may have had motive to attack Fennell,
noting that Barnett was arrested by the officer on a Nov. 5, 1997,
"I imagine, Ms. Barnett, that you were none too happy about that?" Tanner
"Yeah, you can imagine that," Barnett replied.
Under questioning by Overstreet, Barnett denied her motive was retaliation
New testing to be ordered in '98 triple murder----Louis Perez is on death
row for Barton Hills slayings.
The family of death row inmate Louis Perez - convicted in 1999 of a triple
murder in Austin - got new hope Thursday when Travis County prosecutors
announced that they will order new DNA tests in the case.
Authorities will soon ship to the Texas Department of Public Safety crime
lab dozens of items gathered from the Barton Hills house where Michelle
Fulwiler, roommate Cinda Barz and Barz's 9-year-old daughter, Staci
Mitchell, were found dead in a grisly scene Sept. 9, 1998.
That evidence - including pantyhose and a cast-iron skillet that
prosecutors said Perez used to strangle and bludgeon his victims - will be
retested to see if improved technology yields DNA that hadn't previously
been detected. Those samples, along with DNA that was found in 1998 but
was never matched to a person, will be compared with state and national
databases of known offenders, said Assistant District Attorneys Buddy
Meyer and Claire Dawson-Brown, who tried the case.
Those databases include the DNA of serial killer Angel Maturino Resendiz,
who Perez's family say may have confessed to the murders from death row in
2002. The family told Dawson-Brown and Meyer about the alleged confession
last year and asked for new testing.
"It's the right thing to do," Meyer said. "We are confident in the
verdict, but this man faces the death penalty, and we want to make
Perez's father said the new testing, which was approved by Travis County
District Attorney Ronnie Earle, is "what we've been praying for."
"Knowing Louis isn't capable of doing something like this . . . we feel
that (the conviction) is a complete error," Ernest Perez Sr. said.
Dawson-Brown said the new testing has been endorsed by the victims'
Resendiz, 45, a Mexican drifter known as the "Railroad Killer" for a
string of brutal murders near railroad tracks in several states, is
scheduled for execution in May for killing a Houston-area doctor in her
Perez's sister, Delia Perez Meyer, no relation to Buddy Meyer, said
Resendiz told an investigator working for Perez's lawyer in 2002 that he
killed 2 women in Austin during his crime spree, but he was not more
specific. He has been charged or suspected in at least 14 killings, but
none in Austin. FBI timelines do not account for his whereabouts during
the Austin slayings.
Resendiz, known during a nationwide manhunt as Rafael Resendez-Ramirez,
was arrested shortly before Perez's 1999 trial. His DNA was not in law
enforcement databases when most of the testing in Perez's case was done.
During Perez's trial, the defense attorney alluded to Resendiz as the
possible killer, but couldn't compare his DNA to crime-scene evidence
because Resendiz hadn't been convicted.
Since his conviction, Resendiz has confessed to dozens of killings;
authorities have found other evidence to substantiate his claims in some
cases but not in others.
Alexander Calhoun, Perez's lawyer, said he is more focused on 2 black
hairs that were found on Staci's body that he thinks weren't tested for
DNA before the trial. If those hairs match another known offender and not
Perez, Calhoun said, Perez could have a "valid innocence claim."
Dawson-Brown said those hairs would be among the things tested.
Perez, 44, has always insisted he is innocent. He was a carpenter and
admitted small-time drug dealer with no history of violence when he was
arrested for the killings.
Prosecutors said during the trial that after spending the night with
friend Fulwiler, he strangled and beat her. Then, prosecutors said, he
waited in the house on Rock Terrace Drive all day and strangled Staci with
a pair of pantyhose after she returned from fourth grade at Barton Hills
Elementary School. Later, he beat Barz to death with an iron tortilla
skillet after she returned from work, prosecutors said.
"It was a bloodbath," said Joe James Sawyer, who represented Perez at
trial, "a violent, horrible crime scene."
During the trial, prosecutors showed the jury evidence that Perez left his
shoes, socks and a bloody handprint at the scene and told them DNA
matching Perez's was found under the fingernails of Barz and her daughter.
It took a Travis County jury less than 5 hours to find him guilty.
Sawyer said he does not think Perez could have committed such a brutal
"I'll go to my grave believing that Lou didn't commit that crime," Sawyer
(source for both: Austin American-Statesman)
Did Texas execute an innocent man? DA is barrier to truth
We were willing to give Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed the
benefit of the doubt when we noted months ago that she had a conflict of
interest in her investigation of the Ruben Cantu case.
Cantu was executed in 1993 for robbing and killing a San Antonio
construction worker. Since then, information has been uncovered that
appears to exonerate Cantu. Reed's job is to find the truth, wherever the
Instead, her hard-nosed tactics have intimidated witnesses, causing them
to clam up, according to news reports. Unless she changes course, the
truth won't be revealed. When Reed was a judge, she handled one of Cantu's
appeals and set one of his execution dates. That's a huge burden for Reed
to bear if Cantu was innocent. This investigation deserves an independent
examiner, not one so deeply involved in the outcome.
There is nothing the state can do to bring Cantu back. But if, as the
information now suggest, Cantu was executed for a crime he did not commit,
the state has a duty to clear his name and charge the real killer. It's
important to examine the Cantu case as a lesson to help avoid other
potentially fatal errors. The stakes are high because Cantu's execution
would be the 1st case to prove a wrongful execution since Texas resumed
A Bexar County jury found Cantu guilty of robbing and killing Pedro Gomez
in 1984. The verdict was based on the testimony of a single eyewitness,
Juan Moreno, an illegal immigrant who was with Gomez and was seriously
wounded in the incident. No other witnesses and no physical evidence tied
Cantu to the crime.
The Bexar County prosecutor's version of the facts fell apart months ago,
when Moreno recanted his testimony. He apologized to Cantu's mother,
saying years of guilt had taken their toll. He told the Houston Chronicle
that Cantu was never at the scene of the crime, and that he felt pressured
by police to finger Cantu.
Cantu was no angel. He had a record and a history with police. Cantu's
convicted accomplice, David Garza, also recently named another man as the
killer. He, too, said Cantu wasn't there. If these witnesses are right,
Texas executed an innocent man.
Those witnesses are the key to learning the truth, but they aren't
Reed has said that if she determines that Moreno is telling the truth, he
committed a deadly kind of perjury that could be prosecuted as murder.
Perhaps her goal is to go after Moreno for lying in a situation that
ultimately led prosecutors to seek the death penalty. Reed has a
reputation for being tough, but she is smart enough to know that faced
with prosecution and possible imprisonment, many people would refuse to
cooperate. Other witnesses also distrust Reed's motives and see them as
efforts to deflect blame. So there has been little progress after 4 months
In December, we urged Gov. Rick Perry to direct his Criminal Justice
Advisory Committee to look into the case. We said then that it was
doubtful that Reed could mount a vigorous and unbiased investigation,
given her prior involvement in the case.
Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said this week that the governor's advisory
committee isn't set up for individual cases, but rather to "look at
broader issues in the criminal justice arena." This case does raise
broader issues, and we repeat our call to the governor.
Texas needs answers, and it doesn't look as if the Bexar prosecutor can
get them. In the name of justice, Reed should bow out and an independent
investigator should take over.
(source: Editorial, Austin American-Statesman)
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