[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, OHIO, PENN., N.C.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Nov 18 19:40:54 UTC 2006
Death penalty sought in CPS staffer's death
The suspect in the slaying of a Victoria-area Child Protective Services
supervisor could get the death penalty if convicted, a prosecutor has
Jeffrey Frank Grimsinger, 24, was indicted in August for the kidnapping,
robbery and murder in the death of Sally Ann Blackwell, 53. He has pleaded
Victoria County District Attorney M.P. "Dexter" Eaves' decision this week
to seek death means Grimsinger could face execution or life in prison if a
jury convicts him of capital murder.
Blackwell, whose strangled body was found March 15 in a field about five
miles southeast of Victoria, had intermittently dated Grimsinger's father,
Mike, for many years. She headed CPS' regional office in Victoria.
Eaves, who is leaving office, said he chose to seek capital punishment
after spending a few days alone to consider it.
"What I always do is I usually take about three days to go to somewhere to
be by myself," Eaves said. "I'm a religious man. I have to stand before
God and answer to this."
His successor, Steve Tyler, will prosecute Grimsinger.
"It's a decision I couldn't very well punt on," Eaves said. "It (the
murder case) was on my watch."
Eaves declined to talk about specifics of the case. He said the
investigation has failed to pin down why Blackwell was killed, although he
added that motive is "not something we have to prove."
A trial date is expected to be set at a hearing scheduled for Feb. 21.
The investigation into Blackwell's slaying seemed stalled as months passed
with no arrest. On the day her body was discovered, bloodhounds trailed a
scent to the home of a former sheriff's deputy who once dated her. The
former deputy never was charged and has declined to comment in the case.
When Jeffrey Grimsinger was arrested in August, news that he was
considered a suspect came as a shock.
"The way it came back, it was truly a surprise to everyone," Eaves said of
DNA tests that pointed to Grimsinger. "He was not even on the radar
Even Grimsinger's father was caught off-guard.
"I don't know what to say anymore," Mike Grimsinger said Wednesday.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Texas appeals court does not ensure justice
Monday, November 20, 2006
Justice is not always easy to come by in Texas, particularly for death-row
inmates who have to depend on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for a
review of their cases.
This state's highest appeals court for criminal cases consistently ignores
justice, even when the evidence of injustice is clear. True to its recent
history, the court last week rejected two appeals from condemned inmates
whose trials were travesties of justice.
The most ardent death penalty advocate understands that a capital murder
proceeding must guarantee a fair trial. One of the strongest arguments
against capital punishment in Texas is that the judicial system is so
broken that innocent defendants can be condemned and executed.
Last week's rulings by the Court of Criminal Appeals provided more
evidence for those who hold that view. In separate rulings, the court
upheld the convictions of Jose Ernesto Medellin and Daniel Acker, 2
convicted murderers who had clearly inadequate defense attorneys at their
Neither Acker nor Medellin is a model citizen, and the crimes they were
convicted of are horrible. Acker was found guilty of killing his
girlfriend in Hopkins County, and Medellin was convicted and condemned for
the rape and murder of two teenage girls in Houston.
Nevertheless, even the most despicable defendant should be afforded
competent counsel at trial. In fact, the more heinous the crime, the more
the state should ensure the defendant has a good lawyer and a fair trial.
That was not the case for Acker and Medellin.
Last month, American-Statesman reporter Chuck Lindell detailed the
horrendous appeal filed by Acker's court-appointed attorney, Greenville
lawyer Toby Wilkinson. The appeal was largely taken from a ranting letter
Acker had written. Also, Wilkinson's writ was filled with errors.
That didn't matter to the appeals court judges, who rejected the appeal
without mention of the awful condition of Wilkinson's writ.
Medellin's case went all the way to the International Court of Justice in
the Hague and provoked a memorandum from President Bush. News reports
focused on the Texas appeals court's admonishing the president for
overstepping his authority under the Constitution's separation of powers
doctrine, but the heart of the issue is still ineffective counsel.
Medellin is a Mexican national, one of 51 Mexicans on death row in the
United States that the international court said deserved reconsideration
and review because they had not contacted their consuls. Bush last year
directed state courts to abide by the ruling of the United Nations' court.
The Texas judges didn't like that, and in denying Medellin's appeal, wrote
that the president had overstepped his authority. Perhaps, but that
ignores the fact that Medellin's 1994 trial was flawed. His
court-appointed defense attorney was suspended from practicing law during
the trial for ethical violations, and he failed to call any witnesses
during the punishment phase.
International treaties should ensure fairness for everyone. Americans
arrested abroad most certainly want to be able to contact their government
officials and be assured a fair trial. Their rights can only be secured as
long as foreign nationals arrested and tried in this country are afforded
those same considerations.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals continues to ignore justice and common
sense, and it has been admonished for its untenable rulings by the U.S.
Supreme Court, which is where these 2 cases are inevitably headed.
Support for capital punishment in Texas wanes a little each year, in no
small part because cases like Acker's and Medellin's raise so much doubt
in the public mind about the system's fairness. It is essential that
anyone on trial for his life have competent counsel and a fair trial. But
that isn't happening in Texas because the Court of Criminal Appeals
neglects its duty.
(source: Editorial, Austin American-Statesman)
DEATH ROW INMATE REQUESTS NEW ATTORNEY
A death row inmate requested Friday a new attorney to represent him in his
second punishment trial, which will decide whether he will die or receive
a life sentence for the capital murder of an elderly Tyler man.
An appellate court ruled in June that Gregory Russeau receive a new Smith
County jury punishment trial to decide his sentence for the 2001 capital
murder of local auto mechanic James Syvertson, 75. The reversal ruling on
Russeau's appeal did not affect his conviction.
On Friday, 114th District Judge Cynthia Stevens Kent discussed scheduling
for the case with defense attorneys and prosecutors and took up a few
routine motions. At the end of the brief pre-trial hearing Judge Kent
asked Russeau if he had any problems with his attorneys and he said he
"I do not want the same lawyers that represented me in my prior trial,"
said Russeau, clad in a Smith County jail jumpsuit and chains.
Judge Kent told the defendant that defense attorneys Clifton Roberson and
Brandon Baade were the lawyers appointed to represent him in his 1st trial
and the new punishment trial was really a continuation of that. She said
if he wanted to hire an attorney quickly he could and the new attorney
would assist the appointed counsel.
Russeau said one of the issues in his appeal was that the appointed
attorneys were ineffective assistance but Judge Kent said she and
appellate courts had found that they were not ineffective counsel. She
told him to talk with his appointed lawyers and get ready for trial.
The punishment trial is set for April 10.
The Court of Criminal Appeals found that the 35-year-old's Sixth Amendment
right to confront witnesses against him was violated when witness
statements were admitted into evidence while those witnesses didn't
testify during the penalty phase of his trial. The ruling states that the
trial court "erred" in admitting into evidence Smith County Jail incident
reports and Texas Department of Criminal Justice disciplinary reports
containing statements written by corrections officers. The documents
alleged repeated disciplinary offenses by Russeau while he was
The officers' statements relied upon their own observations or the
observations of others, but no one who saw the disciplinary offenses
testified at Russeau's trial. Most of the reports were read aloud to the
jury during the punishment trial.
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham has said that before 2004,
records could be admitted under the business record exception to the
hearsay rule. But Crawford v. Washington, a case decided by the U.S.
Supreme Court, found that it was unconstitutional.
Syverston's body was found in his Vine Avenue mechanic shop on May 30,
2001. The defendant, who was on parole with a pending theft charge, was
found in Longview in the victim's car.
(source: Tyler Morning Telegraph)
Ex-inmate fails to meet with McKinney
Not many realized what Floyd Edwards was doing Friday in the front row of
the Jermaine McKinney capital murder trial.
Jurors were listening to a mitigation expert reveal his profile of the
26-year-old convicted murderer's life while anticipating weighing
aggravated circumstances of a brutal double murder and mitigating factors
of McKinney's upbringing.
Edwards, though, was watching the jurors.
"They already stopped taking notes. I think they might have made up their
minds," said Edwards, 53, of Columbus, who knows too well about being
tried for murder.
The former Akron man was once a death row inmate, who spent about 30 years
behind bars before being released on parole Dec. 30, 2002.
Convicted in Summit County for the 1973 slaying of a tool and die shop
operator during the course of a robbery, Edwards said he was 13th of 113
on Ohios death row before the states capital punishment laws were set
aside in 1978.
Edwards talked about the murder which landed him on death row.
"They said it was execution style, but it wasn't," he said.
Edwards said he and the shop owner struggled over the gun which went off,
the bullet striking the victim in the head.
The ex-convict, who remained in the general population of several prisons,
said he's convinced that life is better than death.
"I think about death row every day. And every day outside of prison is an
adjustment," said Edwards, who remembers being shook up the first time he
noticed a price tag scanner at a grocery store once he was free.
McKinney's attorney Donald Malarcik arranged for Edwards to speak to
McKinney and counsel him briefly. But Trumbull County Jail officials nixed
the idea, citing Edwards' criminal record.
McKinney's defense lawyers have been treating their client cautiously. The
team is concerned about an unsworn statement McKinney intends to give
Monday when jurors are brought in to hear final arguments prior to
Earlier this month, the defendant was convicted of the Dec. 21 double
murder of Wanda Rollyson, 70, and her daughter Rebecca Vargo Cliburn, 43.
The bodies of the 2 women were burned beyond recognition in Rollyson's
Newton-Bailey Road home.
After Friday's session, Edwards talked about what he would have said to
"I wanted Jermaine to know that the laws change every day. There's always
a chance things can change. It happened to me," said Edwards, who speaks
to classes at Akron University School of Law and residents of halfway
"Jermaine is smart. He will be a tutor in prison," said Edwards, who
wanted to remind McKinney to keep any final statements to jurors very
short and sweet. "Show remorse and let your attorneys do the talking."
As Edwards observed the testimony, he took note of the detailed profile
Dr. James Eisenberg laid out about McKinney, whose most recent adult
father figures were murdered in Youngstown. One was described as a member
of the Crips.
"He told me that all his friends were either dead or on death row," said
Eisenberg, using a power point presentation to show an example of a
substandard upbringing of a boy who attained excellent grades somehow.
McKinney's 10 prior criminal convictions and anti-social behavior will be
considered by the 9 women and 3 men of the jury. Also part of the
defendant's background are suicide attempts in prison, his possible rape
as a child and his first experience with sex as a 10-year-old thrown
together with a friend of his mother.
Edwards says the anger, hostility and distrust that he heard as
characteristics of McKinney can be turned around in prison. He's seen it
"You might not make major contributions to society, but you can contribute
in prison. You must never give up," Edwards said.
PENNSYLVANIA----new death sentence
Convicted Cop Killer Gets the Death Penalty
It took about an hour for a jury to hand Robert Flor a death sentence for
the murder of Newtown police officer Brian Gregg. Jurors say the facts in
the case were hard to take. But what some found equally shocking were the
words Flor spoke after hearing his fate.
WFMZ's Jaccii Farris reports from Bucks County.
"So what did he say as he walked out?" Diane Gibbons: "He called me the c
word and invited me to give him the needle." Bucks County District
Attorney Diane Gibbons says 39 year old Robert Flor couldn't hold back his
rage after being sentenced to death.
Diane Gibbons: "That was just a sliver and slice of what is in that man's
soul and it's very black and very dark."
Gibbons says that darkness revealed itself September 29th, 2005 when Flor
was taken to St. Mary's emergency room for a dwi blood test. Flor took a
gun from one of the arresting officers and opened fire. Officer Brian
Gregg died, another officer and a hospital worker were injured. Flor
pleaded guilty to Gregg's murder, but his attorney claims he wasn't
responsible for his actions because of brain damage, mental retardation
and drug use.
After the verdict the Bucks County courthouse was filled with people
watching the Gregg and Flor family reactions.
John Gregg siad that "he didn't just hurt us... he didn't just hurt Brian,
some of those were included in his own family and it's just a bad thing
that took place and we're just sorry for them."
Trisha Shaw: "I feel that God's will was done. "
The Gregg family says they will send Flor religious material so he can
make his peace with God before dying. This is the 1st death penalty
verdict in 12 years. The D-A says Flor will appeal.
(source: WFMZ TV News)
Decision came in record time
Moments after a jury sentenced him to death for the murder of Newtown
police Officer Brian Gregg, Robert Flor unleashed his anger at Bucks
County District Attorney Diane Gibbons.
Straining against the 6 deputy sheriffs who were leading him out of the
courtroom, Flor leaned toward Gibbons, cursed at her and said, "Why don't
you give me the needle?"
Flor's outburst brought a chaotic ending to a 2-week sentencing hearing
that was marked by emotional testimony from Gregg's family and the dozens
of people who witnessed the officer being gunned down in the St. Mary
Medical Center emergency room in Middletown.
Echoing Flor's own words to another officer after shooting Gregg, county
Judge Alan Rubenstein said people will forever look back on the case and
say of Flor: "The punk got what he deserved."
The verdict brought tears from Gregg's wife, Kella Ann. She was comforted
by family members and by Gibbons, who got up from her seat at the
prosecution table to squeeze the widow's hand.
Flor's grandmother Zelda Boell, and sister, Tricia Shaw, wept quietly on
the other side of the courtroom. They then stood and apologized to Gregg's
"I'm so sorry. God's will is done," Shaw said.
Numerous jurors returned to the courtroom to see Flor formally sentenced.
They erupted in applause after Rubenstein's comments.
In addition to the death verdict, Rubenstein sentenced Flor to 65 to 130
years on 30 other charges, including the attempted murder of Newtown
police Officer James Warunek and ER technician Joseph Epp.
The jury of 8 men and 4 women deliberated for less than 90 minutes a
record in Bucks County for a death verdict, court officials said before
finding that prosecutors overwhelmingly proved the aggravating factors
needed to warrant a sentence of death.
The panel rejected the defense claims that Flor's mental illness, brain
damage and turbulent upbringing prevented him from controlling himself
when he killed Gregg.
Flor, who lived in both Bedminster and Falls at the time of his arrest,
pleaded guilty last month to killing Gregg, 46, on Sept. 29, 2005.
The attack took place in the ER, where Flor had been brought following his
arrest for drunken driving and domestic assault. After Warunek uncuffed
Flor so he could provide a urine sample, Flor grabbed Warunek's gun and
Gregg, who was just a week shy of his one-year anniversary as a full-time
police officer, was hit twice in the head. Despite the attempts of St.
Mary staff who pulled him off the floor and immediately began life-saving
techniques, Gregg died a short time later.
Witnesses said that after Flor shot Gregg, he turned the gun back on
Warunek, pulling the trigger and saying "Die pig! Die!" Unbeknownst to
both men, the gun was empty.
The case marked the 1st time in Bucks court history that a defendant
pleaded guilty to 1st-degree murder then asked that a jury be empanelled
to decide his sentence.
Gibbons said she was not surprised by Flor's courtroom outburst Friday,
and said she was glad the jurors were able to see his true colors.
"This jury rejected all of his excuses for this brutal, violent murder
where he not only killed a police officer but he tortured and horrified
everyone in that emergency room," Gibbons said. "And I am very glad this
jury got to see the evil man that witnesses saw in that emergency room
that night. When he acted out in that courtroom, it was just a sliver and
slice of what's in that man's soul."
Gibbons said she also felt bad for Flor's family.
"His family has been in a horrible situation. They know how violent he is.
They have had to suffer from his violence,'' she said.
Gregg's brother, John "Jack" Gregg, said the family is "relieved" by the
verdict and thanked the jury and prosecutors. He said family members have
leaned on each other and their faith to get them through the ordeal.
Jack Gregg said the family was not pushing for, or against, the death
penalty. They were seeking justice, not vengeance, he said.
"Honestly, we just wanted to make sure that he was off the streets and
would not have the opportunity to do this to anyone ever again. However
that would fall in the courtroom, that's up to the legal system,'' he
Chief Deputy Public Defender Bradley Bastedo, who represented Flor along
with public defenders Peter Hall and Courtney Kirschner, was disappointed
by the verdict.
After putting 3 mental health experts on the stand, Bastedo argued that
Flor suffered from mental illness, brain damage and alcohol addiction, and
was the product of an upbringing so chaotic he dubbed Flor's family "The
Fellowship of the Miserable."
Bastedo chalked up Flor's courtroom outburst to his client's inability to
control his emotions.
"This kid was a train wreck waiting to happen. He's had a death wish,
probably since he was a little boy,'' he said.
In handing down the additional sentences, Rubenstein said he wished to
"send a message" to any appeals court or parole board that might look at
the case in later years.
"We stand for something in Bucks County," he said.
Rubenstein, a former district attorney, told Flor that he had watched him
throughout the hearing, and was struck by the killer's demeanor.
"In my 34 years at the bar of this court, I have never seen a more
cold-blooded, remorseless defendant. The testimony ... was gut-wrenching.
Yet you sit there like a robot,'' the judge said.
Rubenstein said there was a macabre irony in the crime; Gregg initially
pulled Flor's car over because he suspected he was driving drunk, possibly
preventing Flor from crashing and killing himself and others.
"He attempted to protect your life and he paid with his own,'' Rubenstein
The last person to be sentenced to death in Bucks was Jerome Gibson, 48,
of Bristol Township. He shot and killed a 76-year-old storeowner on Mill
Street in Bristol during a 1994 robbery.
Gibson remains on death row, while the death sentences of 2 other men
Frank Chester and Richard Laird have been reversed on appeal. Laird's
retrial in the 1988 slaying of Levittown artist Anthony Milano, will begin
in Doylestown in January.
Only 3 people have been executed since capital punishment was reinstated
in Pennsylvania in 1978.
Death sentences are automatically appealed to the state Superior Court.
Bastedo said he will speak to Flor about additional appeals, but doubts
Flor will fight his sentence.
Gibbons, who was criticized while running for office as being soft on the
death penalty, said that she expects that she hasn't heard the last from
"He will continue to appeal until his appeals are exhausted, and we will
be fighting him for a long time," she said.
Emotional ending for jurors
After 2 weeks of long days in the jury box, no one would have blamed the
12 Bucks County residents hearing the Robert Flor murder case if they
would have made a beeline for their cars the moment county Judge Alan
Rubenstein excused them.
But after rendering their death verdict, the 8 men and 4 women stuck
around, filing back into the courtroom more than an hour later to watch
the judge formally sentence the admitted cop killer.
As Rubenstein finished a blistering speech in which he condemned Flor as a
cold-hearted killer and "punk," a female juror whispered "Can we clap?"
After a moment of hesitation, the applause started. It rose to a deafening
crescendo as sheriff deputies walked Flor, handcuffed and shackled, across
the courtroom and out a back door.
"Ha!," juror James White shouted. "How do you like us now?"
It seemed that emotional floodgates had opened for the jurors, who had had
to sit mum throughout the hearing as witness after witness recounted
painful images of Newtown police Officer Brian Gregg being shot, execution
style, in the St. Mary Medical Center emergency room in Middletown.
After rendering their death verdict at less than 90 minutes the fastest
capital punishment deliberation in Bucks' court history the jurors went
out to lunch together at B. Maxwells near the courthouse.
There they ran into District Attorney Diane Gibbons, who was grabbing a
quick bite before rushing back for Flor's formal sentencing hearing.
The jurors gave her a standing ovation.
Gibbons said she was grateful to the jurors and pleased that they rejected
Flor's claim that a bad childhood and emotional distress led him to kill.
"What this shows is, Bucks County jurors can't be fooled. They understood
exactly the horror this man created and how brutal and violent this man
is, and that what he did was not excusable," she said.
Juror Joe Muredda of Perkasie said sentencing Flor to death was an easy
decision. The verdict was unanimous.
"It was the heinous part of the crime, the way he did it. If there were
more bullets, more people would be dead,'' he said.
Muredda said he was swayed by Gibbons' presentation of the evidence, and
that emotions ran high when the panel began deliberations.
"What he did was so wrong. He didn't care about anyone else's life. What
if I was in that ER with my children? He only had 5 bullets. What if he
had 20? It's something to think about,'' the juror added.
Juror James White of Levittown said he was so affected by the case that
he's going to write a book about his experience. He already has a
play-on-words title: "As the Flor Drops."
White said he was not surprised by Flor's profane outburst toward Gibbons
in the courtroom after they sentenced him to death.
"We all thought he was going to do something like that. That's why we
didn't find any mitigating circumstances. We knew it was a front, a way
for him to get off. We knew this guy was trying to play a game all along,
and we weren't falling for it. We didn't."
A female juror, who did not want her name published, said that all the
jurors felt bad for Gregg's family, and also for Flor's family.
"It was a terrible thing for them all to go through. Our hearts go out to
them,'' she said.
(source for both: The Intelligencer)
Allen's fate goes to jury----Attorneys make closing arguments; the jury
will now decide whether to impose the death penalty
Ezavia Allen stared straight ahead while attorneys argued whether he
"He chose his life path," Jeff Cruden, a Wake County assistant district
attorney told jurors Friday in the final phase of Allen's four-week
capital murder trial. "He chose how Shirley Newkirk's life was going to
But he also was a young man who had potential before succumbing to an
impoverished and crime-ridden upbringing, said defense attorney Maitri
"That is enough to let this boy live," Klinkosum said of the promise Allen
Allen sat through it all, taking deep breaths at times, closing his eyes
at others. He did not speak with his attorneys or turn to look at his
mother, sister and grandmother seated behind him.
No glances went to the remnants of the family he shattered: the Newkirks.
Allen, a 20-year-old high school dropout and convicted killer, could get
the death penalty for shooting Shirley Newkirk, a retired teacher, as she
headed out for a predawn walk April 28, 2005. As the 63-year-old woman
backed her car down the driveway at her Dacian Road home in Southeast
Raleigh, Allen and two friends approached, intent on robbing her,
according to testimony. Allen shot her as she tried to flee. He was 18 at
His comrades, Marvin Johnson and Cameron Morris, both 17 at the time, face
the same charges but not the death penalty because of their ages. Cruden
said Johnson will plead guilty, and Morris' trial is set for January.
A jury of 10 women and 2 men spent two hours Friday deciding whether Allen
should die for killing Newkirk. The panel made no decision and will return
to the Wake County Courthouse on Monday.
Jurors convicted him Tuesday of 1st-degree murder and multiple robbery
counts stemming from a 3-week crime spree that preceded Newkirk's death.
The 3 young men robbed people to pay a light bill, according to testimony
heard in the trial.
If jurors sentence Allen to death, he will join 166 others on North
Carolina's death row, including 11 who were sentenced from Wake County and
6 others from Orange, Durham and Johnston counties.
No mistrial declared
The final arguments Friday in the sentencing phase of Allen's trial
followed a tumultuous day Thursday.
Superior Court Judge James C. Spencer Jr. had dismissed and replaced a
juror after she became emotional and said she could not consider a death
penalty. The juror, a middle-aged woman, told Spencer that other jurors
blocked discussion during the guilt-innocence phase, in which the panel
weighed whether to convict Allen of 1st-degree murder or 2nd-degree murder
-- a lesser offense that does not carry the death penalty as a punishment.
Spencer brought the woman back Friday for further discussion of her claims
that the jury's conduct was inappropriate. But the judge released her,
deciding he had no grounds under state law to throw out the verdict or
declare a mistrial, as the defense proposed.
The trial resumed late Friday morning with closing arguments.
For Allen's 2 attorneys, the summation was a chance to tell jurors that
Allen would spend the rest of his life in prison, never free again.
"You have condemned him to a life in an iron cage and cinder block walls,"
They said Allen acted commendably for telling police about his role as the
triggerman, knowing that the slaying could result in a death penalty.
"He chose the path that could lead to his death but is the one we would
all say is the right one to choose," Klinkosum said.
Cruden, the assistant district attorney, told jurors that Allen grew up in
a household that was not ideal but was far from deprived. Allen went to
church weekly and played youth football at the urging of his single
mother, who worked multiple jobs to raise him and 2 older siblings.
"The person here today is not the one his mother raised," Cruden said. He
recounted how a Raleigh police detective, taking Allen's confession hours
after Newkirk was shot, remarked that Allen seemed calm and collected.
"We're all here for his actions," Cruden said. "Did you ever see one ounce
Allen did not testify in his own defense and has displayed little emotion
throughout the trial.
As he closed his arguments, Cruden walked up to Allen and, in a tone of
controlled disgust, spoke directly to the convicted man: "May God have
mercy on your soul."
(source: The News & Observer)
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