[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----COLO., US MIL., MISS., CALIF., ILL.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Oct 19 20:13:48 UTC 2006
DA Seeks Death Penalty For Inmates In Limon Prison Stabbing Death
Prosecutors have announced they will seek the death penalty for 2 prison
inmates accused of stabbing another inmate to death in March 2004.
David Bueno, 42, and Alejandro Perez, 28, were charged last week with
1st-degree murder after deliberation in the death of Jeffrey Heird, 40, in
the Limon Correctional Facility.
District Attorney Carol Chambers, whose district includes Lincoln County,
where the prison is located, announced her decision to seek the death
penalty on Wednesday. She said she would not seek the death penalty for
Michael Ramiriez, 33, also charged with 1st-degree murder after
deliberation in the case.
Bueno is serving a 24-year sentence for burglary. Perez is serving 32
years for second-degree murder. Ramirez is serving 10 years for assault.
Bueno also faces charges of conspiracy and solicitation to commit murder
and Perez also faces a conspiracy count, both stemming from the slaying of
Heird. Chambers said other inmates at the Limon prison also could face
charges in Heird's death.
The case file has been sealed.
Chambers said one factor in her decision to seek the death penalty could
be killing a witness to keep someone for being arrested and prosecuted.
"That particular aspect, that particular aggravator, is in part related to
the case," Chambers said.
Heird's criminal history included a conviction in Utah for the 1991 murder
of a gas station attendant he had kidnapped in Cortez, Colo.
2 men are currently on Colorado's death row while their cases move through
the appeals process.
Edward Montour Jr., 39, was convicted of murder in the death of a guard at
the Limon prison in October 2002, Nathan Dunlap, 32, was convicted of
killing four people in an Aurora pizza restaurant in December 1993.
Army to seek death penalty for area soldier
A U.S. Army decision to seek the death penalty for Pfc. Jesse Spielman is
an attempt to reach a deal in the case, according to the Chambersburg
soldier's Texas lawyer.
Wednesday, the Army said it would seek the death penalty against Spielman
and one other soldier in the case. 2 others will be tried as non-capital
punishment cases, according to The Associated Press.
Spielman is 1 of 4 soldiers facing a court martial in the rape of an Iraqi
teen and the murder of the girl and her family in Mahmudiya, Iraq, in
March. A fifth has been charged with failure to report the crime and
another, who was discharged before the crime came to light, faces rape and
murder charges in federal court.
"This is a strategy often used by the government," Texas lawyer Dan
Christensen said of the Army's decision to seek the death penalty for
Spielman. "They are trying to put pressure on our client to reach a deal,
but we were just unwilling to plea to something Jesse didn't do."
Spielman, Sgt. Paul Cortez, Spc. James P. Barker and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard
were all charged with rape, murder, obstruction of justice, housebreaking
and arson in the case.
The Army has said it will seek the death penalty against Cortez and
Spielman, but not against Barker and Howard.
The Associated Press does not say if any of the charges against Barker and
Howard have been dropped and that information was not available from the
Army on Wednesday.
The case against Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, who is charged with dereliction of
duty for failure to report the crime, was not mentioned by The Associated
The discharged soldier, Steven Green, is charged with premeditated murder
and rape in federal court in Kentucky. According to Army charging
documents, he conspired with at least two of the other soldiers to rape
the girl. He is accused of firing the shots that killed the girl and her
Spielman's team of civilian attorneys, including Chambersburg lawyer Tom
Trgovac, claim Spielman was an unwilling witness to the crimes and not an
active participant. The head of the legal team, Craig Carlson of the
Carlson Law Firm in Killeen, Texas, said he was shocked at the Army's
decision to seek the death penalty for Spielman.
He said the Army, in the evidence it laid out in charging documents and an
Article 32 hearing in August, does not claim Spielman is a participant in
the rape and murders.
Carlson, Trgovac and Christensen maintain Spielman was not in on the plan
and did not know what was going to happen when he accompanied the others
to the home where the crime occurred.
All of the soldiers were part of a nine-man patrol setting up checkpoints
along a road in a hostile area outside Baghdad. The most senior officer at
the soldier's remote camp was a sergeant, according to the Army's charging
documents, and the patrol was given a prolonged assignment at the
checkpoint when the crime allegedly occurred.
Christensen, the lawyer who traveled to Iraq to defend Spielman in the
Article 32 hearing, said all of the defendants' lawyers were approached by
the Army with offers, describing what he called "a lot of work going on"
behind the scenes to get the defendants to plead guilty to at least some
of the charges.
He said the case still has a long way to go before it reaches the trial
stage in a general court martial. He said Spielman's legal team has not
been given any new evidence or information that would change the way they
are handling the case.
As for the threat of a death penalty for his client, Christensen said the
civilian legal team was looking to completely exonerate Spielman and would
not let a fear of the death penalty interfere with that job.
(source: Evening Sun)
Jailer could face death----Teel's trial reset to May 28; related cases are
In Gulfport, federal prosecutors have four months to declare whether the
trial of Ryan Teel will be a death-penalty case.
U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. on Tuesday reset Teel's trial for
May 28 and gave the federal government no later than Feb. 16 to declare
whether it will seek the death penalty.
The former Harrison County corrections officer, indicted on criminal
charges in the Feb. 4 fatal beating of jail inmate Jessie Lee Williams
Jr., was set to stand trial Nov. 6. Teel has been in custody at an
undisclosed location since his arrest by the FBI on Aug. 28.
At least two related cases hinge on the resolution of charges against
Teel. Former corrections officer Regina Rhodes' sentencing, set for this
past Monday, has been continued until after Teel's trial. Also, a
wrongful-death lawsuit filed for Williams' estate in a related civil case
remains in limbo.
If prosecutors do decide to seek the death penalty, they must first obtain
a new indictment from a grand jury to guarantee Teel's Fifth Amendment
rights. Those rights include one that prohibits a trial on a capital
charge without a grand jury indictment.
And if the death penalty is sought, Jim Davis, Teel's attorney, said he
probably will ask for a later trial date.
"A trial date is always subject to change," Davis said, "but if they
decide to go for the death penalty, I'll ask for another court-appointed
attorney to assist me. I'm probably one of the few Coast attorneys with
death-penalty experience, but I'd rather get additional assistance because
of all that a (death-penalty) case involves."
Teel waives the right to a speedy trial by agreeing to a later trial date.
Guirola's order states that "the ends of justice served by the granting of
a continuance outweigh the best interest of the public and the defendant
in a speedy trial."
The count that accuses Teel of using excessive force in an attempt to kill
Williams uses a federal statute involving deprivation of civil rights
under color of law. As it stands, that count is punishable by any number
of years up to life in prison.
It also is the count that prosecutors could upgrade through a new
indictment to seek the death penalty.
The other count, destruction, alteration or falsification of records in a
federal investigation, accuses Teel of falsifying a report with the
intention of impeding or obstructing justice. That count carries a penalty
of up to 20 years.
Attorneys for Williams' estate, which represents his seven children,
expressed disappointment Wednesday over the continuance of Teel's trial.
Their civil lawsuit, filed March 14, was placed on hold in July pending
developments in related criminal matters.
"On behalf of the family, we want to make sure that justice is done and
done right," said attorney Michael W. Crosby. "We will see it through to
the end, no matter how long it takes."
Crosby and co-counsel John Whitfield have filed motions asking permission
to proceed with the civil lawsuit.
The civil lawsuit and Rhodes, in her guilty pleas to criminal accusations,
claim a pattern of abuse existed at the jail. Rhodes, who remains free on
bond, has admitted she assaulted Williams and lied to cover it up. Her
charges carry maximum penalties of 13 years in prison.
Teel and Rhodes, both 29, worked together in the jail booking room. Teel,
on occasion, was Rhodes' supervisor. Teel resigned March 8. Rhodes was
terminated April 11.
(source: Biloxi Sun Herald)
Court denies appeal of death penalty----COURT: The inmate, who was
sentenced for 3 Inland murders, says he's mentally retarded.
The California Supreme Court turned down an appeal Wednesday from a man
who claimed his death sentences for three Inland murders should be
overturned because he is mentally retarded.
The decision upheld Riverside County Superior Court Judge W. Charles
Morgan's ruling earlier this year that Horace Edwards Kelly is not
Kelly's hearing before Morgan was the 1st of its type in the state. It
used guidelines set by the state Supreme Court in 2005. If Kelly were
found to be retarded, his death sentences would be overturned as
Kelly, 46, was condemned for the 1984 murders of 2 women in San Bernardino
County. He also received the death penalty for slaying an 11-year-old boy
in Riverside County that same year.
"For years, Horace Kelly has been claiming there is something wrong with
him," Riverside County Chief Deputy District Attorney Kevin Ruddy said.
"But every time he gets in front of a tryer of fact, they find there's
nothing wrong with him. He is malingering and working the system."
The Wednesday court decision ends his state appeals. He can still take the
matter to the federal courts.
(source: Press Enterprise)
Evolving science challenges old arson convictions
Flames shot from a first-floor window and smoke curled from the 2nd floor
as Amanda Hypes pulled up to her frame house near Alexandria, La., in
Hypes called to her oldest child, 10-year-old Sadie. "I yelled from the
stairs, `Sadie, just come down the stairs!'" she told investigators the
following day. "I yelled and I yelled. . . . She wouldn't answer me."
Hours later, when firefighters entered the smoldering home, they found
Sadie, her 6-year-old brother, Luke, and their 3-year-old sister, Jessica,
dead in the debris.
In April 2002, a Rapides Parish grand jury indicted Hypes on charges of
arson and murder based on a California fire expert's findings--an analysis
conducted more than a year after the blaze was extinguished and the house
was razed. Prosecutors said they would demand the death penalty.
Hypes remained in jail for more than four years awaiting trial until this
June, when a judge dismissed the indictment and ordered her released. He
ruled that the initial arson finding by Louisiana authorities was based
"merely on an old wives' tale" and that "every shred of evidence to prove
or disprove a possible crime was destroyed and placed in a pile."
The arson prosecution of Hypes is one of a growing number where defense
experts are challenging cases based on science that undermines long-held
theories. They represent a new wave of courtroom challenges that are
causing older cases to be re-examined and are pitting expert against
expert in the name of science and justice.
The cases highlight not just the evolving science behind arson
investigations, but two crucial issues facing the field: an ongoing split
on whether to accept scientifically established fact and a lack of
training to bring investigators up to date on the latest thinking.
"The current training process is, in most cases, deficient in teaching
fundamental knowledge that can be applied to all fires," said Douglas
Carpenter, a fire investigator.
Earlier this year, Carpenter and Richard Roby, both of Maryland-based
Combustion Science & Engineering Inc., along with Jose Torero of the
University of Edinburgh, which has long pioneered fire research, called
for development of a more advanced science curriculum for fire
The leading guide to fire science is a manual known as NFPA 921, a
publication of the National Fire Protection Association, an international
group dedicated to fire safety. First published in 1992, it is a guide to
the scientific debunking of old and unproven arson theories.
"I am not sure how far we have come since the introduction of NFPA 921,"
said Carpenter. "We certainly have raised awareness, but I do not think
the [investigation of fires] has advanced as much as some think it has."
While some in the forensic community equate the significance of the new
scientific findings with the advent of DNA testing, there are key
differences. For one, fire science is nowhere near as precise, and in fact
makes a strong case that investigators should rarely point to fire-scene
evidence as 100 percent proof of arson.
With some investigators refusing to embrace new science, a spate of
high-profile court cases is emerging where fire evidence is being
strenuously debated. Among them:
- Louis Taylor is serving a life prison term for the worst fire disaster
in Arizona history--a 1970 blaze in Tucson that killed 29 people. Taylor,
then 16, was convicted of setting a series of fires in a hallway of the
Pioneer International Hotel to distract authorities while he burgled guest
rooms. In a bid to get Taylor a new trial, private fire experts have
re-examined the case and say prosecution testimony about the fires has
been scientifically debunked.
- Dennis Dougherty is on Death Row in Pennsylvania after being convicted
of setting a fire in 1985 that killed his two sons, Daniel, 4, and John,
3, in Philadelphia. Newly appointed lawyers expect to ask for a new trial
next month, citing expert opinion that the state's proof of arson at trial
in 2000 was scientifically wrong. Gerald Hurst, an arson expert, found the
state's proof was based on unreliable evidence.
- For the past 2 years, state prosecutors pursued the death penalty
against Dennis Counterman for allegedly setting a 1988 fire in Allentown,
Pa., that killed his three sons, even though a fire investigator hired by
the prosecution said there was no basis for the original finding of arson.
On Wednesday, after 18 years behind bars, Counterman accepted a plea deal
under which he maintained his innocence, but admitted prosecutors had
evidence that could convict him. He was freed and the case was closed.
The increasing focus on arson prosecutions was spurred in part by a
Tribune investigation that showed Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in
Texas in 2004 based on scientifically invalid arson evidence.
Prompted by the Tribune report, Barry Scheck, co-founder of The Innocence
Project, formed an arson review committee to re-examine cases where
defendants say they were wrongfully convicted of arson.
The Willingham case was the first to be reviewed, and 4 experts, including
Carpenter, concurred with the Tribune findings and called for Texas
authorities to re-examine that case and hundreds of others.
Since the formation of the review committee, The Innocence Project, which
has used DNA testing to free scores of wrongfully convicted defendants,
has received about 30 requests to review individual arson cases, according
to a project spokesman.
The prosecution of Hypes began with the discovery by Louisiana state fire
investigators that her home's concrete slab was flaked and chipped--a
phenomenon known as spalling. A day after the fire, the house was razed
and the slab washed clean in an attempt to find more spalling.
Arson proof' discredited
Until disproved by scientific testing, spalling for decades was considered
proof of arson, the result of heat so intense that it could only have come
from a fire fueled by an accelerant. But in recent years, tests have
proved spalling can be caused by fires that involve no accelerants.
5 days after the fire that killed her 3 children, Hypes was interrogated
for hours by Rapides Parish sheriff's investigators in an attempt to get a
confession. Hypes insisted she was innocent.
"There was never a chemical in my hand," she said, according to a
transcript of the interrogation. "There was never anything to light a fire
in my hand. There was nothing. . . . How this is happening, I'll never
When an investigator told her she had murdered her children, Hypes
replied, "No, they were not murdered. My babies were not murdered."
"Gas poured all over them," the investigator said, even though there was
no evidence of gasoline found in the house. "You won't get a bond, 3
counts of 1st-degree murder. You won't ever get out." After Hypes
continued to insist she did not start the fire, the interrogation ended
and she left to bury her children.
More than a year later, she was indicted after the prosecution hired John
DeHaan, a private fire investigator from California, to re-analyze the
In an interview with the Tribune, DeHaan said, "I came along and I said
spalling doesn't have anything to do with it. The original investigation
was pretty dreadful, and there were very few things I could salvage from
DeHaan examined grand jury testimony of witnesses who had been in the
house before the fire and described the household furnishings. He also
examined the testimony of witnesses who saw the fire. DeHaan concluded
there were separately ignited blazes in a first-floor bedroom and the
His report, based in part on calculations of the amount of heat that would
be generated by the furniture, said that because the fire moved
quickly--consistent with the use of an accelerant, though none was
found--and because he could find no accidental cause, the fire must have
As part of his report, DeHaan submitted his findings to David Icove, a
fire expert at the University of Tennessee, who conducted a computer
modeling and said he agreed with DeHaan's conclusion that the fire was
started in two separate places--an indication the blaze was deliberately
Earlier this year, defense lawyers J. Michael Small and James Doyle
requested the indictment be dismissed, alleging that prosecutors violated
grand jury secrecy by providing its testimony to DeHaan.
After Judge Donald Johnson granted the motion, Hypes' lawyers asked that
she be released from jail while the ruling was appealed. They also called
three fire experts to testify about the prosecution's arson evidence.
The 1st witness, George Barnes, a retired agent from the federal Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said he initially declined to
work for Hypes because he had never before testified for a defendant in a
But after examining the evidence, he changed his mind. "I took this case
because the methodology and conclusions were outrageous," he testified.
"There was very little if any adherence to the scientific method, and
conclusions were based on wives' tales that had long since been proven to
be incorrect. And based on the reports, I saw absolutely no indication of
an incendiary fire."
Expert: Case was 'botched'
Carpenter also was called as a defense witness and severely criticized
Icove's computer modeling, noting that the computer program showed
temperatures in a hallway where there was no fire to be higher than in
rooms where there were flames.
He said Icove's "report is wrong. His modeling is wrong. And any
conclusion based on it is wrong."
The defense also summoned John Lentini, a fire investigator who reviewed
the Willingham case for The Innocence Project as well. "I was just shocked
that this far down the road, where we have done so much work to try and
dispel the mythology, that I was looking at a case based on spalling,"
Lentini testified, calling the examination of the Hypes fire "a case that
has been botched worse than any fire investigation I've ever seen."
Lentini said the damage to the kitchen, the living room and a downstairs
bedroom were the result of a fire phenomenon known as "flashover," where
large areas suddenly explode in flames due to a buildup of gases. Once
flashover occurred and Hypes' house was razed, he added, there was no way
to determine if the fire was started in more than one place.
"What we've got is John DeHaan ... trying to get to an arson determination
without any evidence," Lentini testified.
On June 27, after hearing the testimony, the judge ordered Hypes released
on bond. "The court finds that proof is not evident that arson even
exists," Johnson ruled.
Thomas Walsh, the Rapides Parish prosecutor, appealed, but last month the
Louisiana appellate court upheld the indictment's dismissal.
Walsh said that should further appeals fail, the case would be "returned
to our jurisdiction, and we would be able to go back to the grand jury to
ONLINE Find Chicago Tribune coverage of Forensics Under the Microscope,
including the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man executed on
disproved scientific evidence in a deadly fire, at
(source: Chicago Tribune)
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