[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, MD., PENN., FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Mar 31 16:24:43 EST 2006
Mom who cut off baby's arms waives right to jury trial
A mother accused of cutting the arms of her 10-month-old daughter waived
her right to a jury trail Friday morning in a Collin County court. A judge
will decide her fate March 7.
In February, jurors could not agree on whether Dena Schlosser, 37, was
guilty of capital murder in the death of her daughter Margaret. The infant
was found dead in her Plano home just before Thanksgiving 2004.
Schlosser pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and prosecutors did
not seek the death penalty. The jury heard more than a week of testimony
and deliberated for three days before the judge declared a mistrial.
During Fridays hearing, Schlosser appeared in a blue prison jumpsuit with
her hands handcuffed and her feet shackled. She answered questions
directly from the judge, acknowledging that she understood that she had
waived her right to a jury trial.
At state District Judge Chris Oldners request, Schlossers attorney, David
Haynes, called Collin County jail psychiatrist Xiaoyan Wu to testify about
Schlossers competency to stand trail. Wu said since the mistrial she has
seen Schlosser 3 to 4 times a week and that Schlosser has remained stable
and had no psychotic episodes. Wu said she believes Schlosser is still
mentally ill, but her mood-stabilizing medication and anti-depressant have
kept her calm.
Since the mistrial, Schlosser has been evaluated by a neurologist who
reported that images from an MRI revealed a right middle brain lesion that
may be a tumor, Wu testified. The tumor may have caused hallucinations,
sleep disorders and problems with motor skills, Wu said.
The lesion was revealed during the February trial in testimony from
physician Joseph Black. But Wu and other doctors at the county jail only
become aware of the condition about three weeks ago, she said.
A counselor had requested records from the North Texas State Hospital in
Vernon, where Schlosser was treated after her arrest last year, Wu said.
The counselor "kept the records locked in her desk drawer until 3 weeks
ago," Wu told the judge.
Attorneys agreed not to submit further evidence in the case.
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Prosecutor Agrees to Recusal in Case Involving Former Client
Texarkana's 6th Court of Appeals dismissed a mandamus petition March 22,
after a prosecutor agreed to recuse himself from a death penalty case in
which the defendant was his former client. The case, In Re: Christopher
Lee Cobb, involved a defendant whose trial was put on hold after defense
attorneys sought the recusal of Lamar County Attorney Gary D. Young.
Young served as Cobb's divorce lawyer in 2002, before Young was elected to
the prosecutor's post. Cobb alleged in a mandamus petition that Young had
obtained information about Cobb's history of mental illness, violence and
drug use -- all aspects of Cobb's life that would be relevant during the
penalty phase of a death penalty trial.
Young agreed that Cobb was his former client but previously had refused to
remove himself from the case. A trial judge also refused to remove Young,
prompting Cobb's mandamus petition. [See "Prosecutor's Past Representation
of Defendant Queried," Texas Lawyer, Feb. 27, 2006, page 1.]
The 6th Court heard arguments March 1. Young argued before the appeals
court that he had obtained no confidential information about Cobb while
representing him and didn't need to disqualify himself from the case. But
Young says he had a change of heart after the argument and sent the court
a letter informing the justices that they did not need to issue a
decision, because he was recusing himself from the case.
"I did this so justice could be done in a timely and efficient matter,"
Young says. "Obviously, if we won at the court of appeals level, they were
going to appeal it. And it would get to writ status. For the victim's sake
and the family's, the case needs to be tried. This appears to be the only
error that they have, and it's gone."
Cobb is accused of killing his great-grandparents, Charlie and Ruth Smith.
Young says he has contacted the Texas Office of the Attorney General about
prosecuting the case.
Steven Miears, a partner in Bonham's Miears & Rule who represents Cobb,
says he's glad Young has stepped off the case but wished Young would have
made that call much earlier.
"I have a bad taste in my mouth right now. But I'm glad the right thing
has been done," Miears says. "Although I do believe that we would have
prevailed on the mandamus action."
(source: Texas Lawyer)
Chief medical examiner to retire----Roberto Bayardo calling it quits after
Dr. Roberto Bayardo, the high-profile head of the Travis County medical
examiner's office for 28 years, is retiring, probably within a matter of
In a phone interview Thursday night, Bayardo said he had been considering
retirement for several months. He said specific timelines will be clearer
on Tuesday, when he will meet with the Travis County Commissioners Court
in a closed session.
"I'm past retirement age now," said Bayardo, who was born in Mexico in
1934. "I'm just ready to retire and relax and travel."
He is doing so after a year of high-profile and often politically charged
County Judge Sam Biscoe said he thinks Bayardo will stay on long enough to
help the medical examiner's office through a modernizing process that
began in July, after an outside audit found the office needs to update its
"The office is changing fundamentally," Biscoe said, "and it won't
surprise anyone to see a different person at the top. We need to run the
office like a big medical examiner's office, which it's becoming."
Bayardo came to Texas after graduating in 1959 from the University of
Guadalajara with a medical degree and working for two years at Mexico's
Hospital Hermosillo, according to county records. When Travis County hired
him away from Houston to run its morgue in 1978, Austin was a small city
with about a third of its current population.
For years Bayardo was the entire medical examiner's office, handling
everything from morgue paperwork to budget requests to cutting open
While the city and the office grew, Bayardo kept his role as both doctor
and administrator. The office became known for its quick work, and Bayardo
for his frugality and work ethic.
Along the way criticisms arose, particularly of late. In 2004, Rev.
Sterling Lands, a leader in Austin's black community, questioned Bayardo
about what he considered a tendency of Bayardo's to favor police when
determining the cause of death for minorities killed by police officers.
Bayardo denied the charge. Biscoe said the county could find no evidence
to support Lands' assertion.
In June, the Austin Police Association criticized Bayardo after a standard
urine test had revealed no drugs in the system of Daniel Rocha after the
18-year-old was shot to death by an Austin police officer. A more detailed
blood test requested by police showed Rocha had used marijuana in the days
or hours before his death.
Bayardo also reversed earlier statements, including one that Rocha showed
no sign of struggle beyond a small scratch on his chest. In fact, Rocha
had several scrapes and a bruise, he said.
In August, Burnet County demanded and received a refund of the $1,800 it
spent for an autopsy by Dr. Vladimir Parungao, a deputy of Bayardo's who
has retired. The refund came after new evidence showed the Parungao had in
June 2004 misidentified the charred remains of an 81-year-old woman as
those of a 23-year-old Leander man who faked his own death.
And in September, a preliminary autopsy performed by Bayardo sent friends
of punk-rock performer Randy "Biscuit" Turner into a frenzy. Bayardo's
preliminary ruling: cirrhosis of the liver caused by alcohol abuse. A few
days later, after standard toxicology tests were finished, Bayardo issued
a final ruling that found hepatitis C probably caused the liver problems.
Bayardo said that to the naked eye the final stages of cirrhosis appears
the same whether caused by hepatitis or alcohol abuse.
The latest criticism came last week. Burnet County Justice of the Peace
Peggy Simon wrote on March 23 to Bayardo that "over and over your work has
been unacceptable," alluding to numerous concerns.
Bayardo responded March 29 in a letter in which he states that Simon's
criticisms are unfounded. Justices of the peace in other counties have
spoken well of Bayardo, saying they have no issues with his work.
Both Bayardo and Biscoe said retirement should not come too quickly. The
audit found that Travis County has been doing too many autopsies, which
critics say could affect the quality of the work. County commissioners
have since beefed up the operation.
But the office, already overworked by national standards, lost 1 of its
examiners in February. The 2 open spots could take as long 2 months to
fill, Biscoe said, and when Bayardo retires, a 3rd will come open.
THE STORY SO FAR
Recent criticisms of Bayardo
- Over the past 2 years, some high-profile critics, including Rev.
Sterling Lands and the Austin Police Association, have attacked the work
of the Travis County medical examiner's office.
- An outside audit, released in July, found the procedures of the office
out of date. The audit also found that Travis County's pathologists are
performing far more autopsies each year than industry experts recommend.
- County commissioners have acknowledged that the criticisms and outdated
procedures have shaken public confidence in the office. The commissioners
have ordered a slew of hirings and other changes, which they say should
result in national accreditation.
(source: Austin American-Statesman)
Sniper's attorneys quit murder trial----Fired by Muhammad, they refuse to
serve as standby counsel in Montgomery County
Convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad will not have public defenders
standing by to help him as he represents himself in his Montgomery County
The Office of the Public Defender in Montgomery County yesterday bowed out
of the case, a day after Muhammad was permitted to act as his own lawyer
in a trial in which he is accused of the random killings of 6 people in
"We will not be acting as standby counsel. It was a decision by our
administration," said Paul B. DeWolfe, the head public defender for
Unless Judge James L. Ryan prevails upon private lawyers, Muhammad, 45,
will have no attorneys to help him - beginning with a hearing today -
through a 3-week trial scheduled to begin May 1 in which he could be
sentenced to life without parole. Muhammad is on death row in Virginia for
one of the Washington-area sniper killings in 2002.
Today's hearing before Ryan is expected to include such practicalities as
issuing defense subpoenas and dealing with more than 30,000 pages of
material that Montgomery County prosecutors turned over to his lawyers. De
Wolfe said Muhammad "has what we have," though on Wednesday Muhammad
griped about difficulties accessing the material, which is in DVD format.
Unlike in the hearing Wednesday in which Ryan found Muhammad was competent
and could represent himself, Muhammad will not be flanked by DeWolfe and
Deputy Public Defender Brian D. Shefferman, the lawyers who maintained
that he was mentally ill.
Ryan warned Muhammad that it was a "bad idea" for him to fire his lawyers,
and said he would like standby attorneys. Muhammad agreed but balked at
DeWolfe and Shefferman.
But the Office of the Public Defender, which represents poor people
charged with crimes, does not allow clients to choose from its attorneys
or fashion a hybrid of self-representation and public defenders. It cannot
be forced by a judge into a standby role.
Nancy S. Forster, Maryland's chief public defender, said the office's
policy is not to provide standby counsel for those who fire public
defenders for no valid reason or want to represent themselves.
"If there is no merit to them discharging us, then we are out," she said.
"You can't have us a little bit."
Acting on a standby basis, she said, is not consistent with Muhammad's
right to represent himself. Nevertheless, she said, it was "a shame" that
Muhammad decided to forego the attorneys.
Muhammad has been convicted of capital murder for a fatal shooting in
Virginia's Prince William County that prosecutors say was one of the
sniper shootings that terrorized the region in the fall of 2002 and left
10 people dead. Virginia lawyers asked the Supreme Court to hear an
"I feel strongly that Mr. Muhammad is not competent to stand trial, and I
feel strongly that he should have counsel," DeWolfe said yesterday.
In a letter to the judge last week, Muhammad wrote that he wanted to fire
his lawyers. On Monday, they had Muhammad examined by Yale University
psychiatrist Dr. Dorothy O. Lewis. She found him delusional, paranoid and
suffering from a form of schizophrenia.
On Wednesday, DeWolfe sought a full evidentiary hearing on Muhammad's
mental health, and he asked the court to consider ordering an evaluation.
But Assistant State's Attorney Vivek Chopra suggested that Ryan could
question Muhammad in court and decide, which Ryan did.
In his Virginia trial in 2003, Muhammad briefly fired his court-appointed
legal team, which was relegated to standby status. He reinstated the
lawyers after a toothache sidelined him, but not before he told jurors
that he was present at the fatal shooting and knew what happened, and
wept. Nevertheless, that gave him a window to show jurors the defendant as
a person, different from the meandering loser prosecutors were portraying.
"You can't let the guy go without standby counsel. It would be a ripe area
for appeal. You want to try this case twice?" Michael S. Arif, a
Springfield, Va., lawyer, said yesterday. He represented Lee Boyd Malvo,
21, the junior member of the sniper team, who is serving life in prison
for his role in the Virginia sniper shootings. He is scheduled for trial
in the Montgomery County cases in the fall.
Montgomery County prosecutors declined to comment.
Stand-by lawyers can help prepare the defense case for trial, issue
subpoenas, offer legal advice and the like. They cannot butt in while the
jury is watching.
"There probably would be nothing wrong with the judge appointing standby
counsel. The judge could inquire if someone wants to," said University of
Baltimore law professor Byron L. Warnken.
But there is a practical limit to asking a private attorney to drop his
practice for two months or more, probably without pay.
"Why would you or I want to give up a month or more for somebody who
doesn't want us there anyway?" Warnken said.
(source: The Baltimore Sun)
Psychologist says Haitian cop-killer was brain-damaged
A Haitian man on death row for killing a city police officer was
brain-damaged from his traumatic childhood on the poverty-stricken island
and didn't fully appreciate "the criminality or wrongfulness of his
conduct," a neuropsychologist testified Thursday.
But the brother of slain Officer Robert Hayes had a different view of
Thursday's appeal hearing for convicted cop-killer Borgela Philistin Jr.
"I should be watching an execution. I shouldn't be watching this," said
Richard Hayes, 50. "It's a waste of taxpayer money. This is a cold-blooded
killer. He ruined 2 families. (His execution) would be the happiest day in
Forensic neuropsychologist Jonathan Mack testified Thursday that he
examined Philistin on death row 2 years ago. Mack said Philistin suffered
from post-traumatic stress disorder due to his upbringing and was "to some
degree not in control of his actions" the night in June 1993 he shot Hayes
and Officer John Marynowitz.
Judge John J. Poserina Jr. must decide whether that's true, and, if so,
whether Philistin deserves a new trial or resentencing.
Philistin, 32, was convicted in 1995 of 1st-degree murder in Hayes' death
and aggravated assault for shooting Marynowitz, who remains partially
paralyzed in a wheelchair and carries large scars on his head from his
Prosecutors say Philistin was carrying about 1.5 ounces of cocaine when
police pulled over an unlicensed taxi because its turn signal was flashing
but the car didn't turn.
Philistin, who was riding in the taxi, doesn't deny grabbing Marynowitz's
weapon and shooting both officers. He has maintained he didn't purposely
aim at them, didn't mean to kill anyone and that he panicked because he
thought police would shoot him.
A jury took just 2 hours to return with the death penalty, but that wasn't
formally imposed until 1998 because the trial judge died before formally
signing off on that sentence.
Gov. Ed Rendell signed a death warrant in 2002 after the U.S. Supreme
Court refused to hear Philistin's appeal that the jury that sentenced him
was prejudiced by loud cheers from police officers who filled the
courtroom when he was convicted. Philistin was granted a stay of execution
later that year when new attorneys filed the habeas corpus petition now
being heard in Common Pleas Court.
Philistin's attorneys contend he didn't get a fair trial because his
former attorney didn't present evidence of diminished mental capacity that
could have spared him the 1st-degree murder conviction and the death
They said the trial attorney should have presented evidence about
Philistin's troubled upbringing in Haiti, where he supposedly witnessed
brutality by law enforcement, lived in poverty and was physically abused
by his mother.
Philistin's attorneys, Nick Gimbel and Gita Rothschild, declined to
comment about the case outside the courtroom.
Marynowitz and his wife attended the hearing but also declined comment, as
did Hayes' widow.
Assistant District Attorney Tracey Kavanagh said prosecutors will present
their own psychological expert, likely on Friday or Monday. Other
witnesses will testify to other issues when the hearing resumes later next
Shawn Hayes, 22, was just 9 when his father, a twice-wounded Vietnam
veteran, was killed. Hayes was in high school when Rendell signed
Philistin's death warrant.
"We're just waiting for justice to be served," Hayes said.
(source: Associated Press)
Mumias lawyer gives update on case
Robert R. Bryan, a San Francisco-based lawyer and lead counsel for death
row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, spoke before a packed auditorium
at Ford ham University on March 21. Bryan presented a legal update on
Abu-Jamal's current appeals, which are before the U.S. Court of Appeals
Third Circuit based in Phila delphia. (Go to www.millions4mumia.org to
read a Jan. 24, 2006, summary.)
This appeals petition raises specific issues that are critical to Mumias
struggle to ultimately gain his freedom, including the systematic, racist
exclusion of Black jurors by the Philadelphia prosecution and racist
comments made by the late Judge Albert Sabo against Abu-Jamal during the
original trial in 1982. Sabo sat on the bench during the 1982 trial and
the 1995-96 post-conviction relief hearing for Abu-Jamal.
A former Black Panther and award-winning journalist, Abu-Jamal was shot by
police and then arrested on Dec. 9, 1981, for allegedly killing a white
policeman in Philadelphia. A sham of a trial resulted in a 1st-degree
murder conviction for Abu-Jamal on July 3, 1982. He has faced 2 death
warrants, which were revoked due to mass pressure here and worldwide.
Bryan - along with Robert Meeropol, son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg,
communists who were executed by the U.S. government back in 1953 - urged
activists from diverse political persuasions to unite to strengthen the
support movement to fight for Abu-Jamalfreedom.
Author and attorney Brian Glick gave a brief history of Abu-Jamals
long-time revolutionary activism to illustrate that he is on death row for
his political beliefs and not for the shooting. Mumia sent an audio-taped
greeting to the meeting.
Deborah Small, a founder of Break the Chains: Communities of Color and
also the War on Drugs organization, spoke on the relationship between the
prison-industrial complex and U.S. drug laws that criminalize people of
color and the poor.
The meeting was organized by the National Lawyers Guilds Fordham Uni ver
sity Law School chapter and its national chapters. An interview with Bryan
by WBAIs Ken Nash and Mimi Rosenberg can be heard at www. radio4all.net/
(source: Workers World)
FLORIDA----new death sentence
Inmate gets death penalty in Charlotte killlings
Inmate Dwight T. Eaglin was sentenced to death today for the murders of a
corrections officer and a fellow prisoner.
Eaglin had been found guilty of killing Darla Lathrem and inmate Charles
Fuston with a sledge hammer as part of a failed escape from the Charlotte
Correctional Institution in 2003.
Lathrem, 38, lived in Fort Myers Shores in Lee County.
Circuit Judge William Blackwell sentenced Eaglin this morning at the
Charlotte County Justice Center in Punta Gorda.
(source: The News-Press)
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