[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----LA., S.DAK., TENN., S.C.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Oct 22 23:52:13 UTC 2006
Rolling only suspect in Shreveport, La., triple murder
He's never been convicted or even charged, but Danny Rolling remains the
only suspect in a 1989 triple slaying in Louisiana.
With Rolling's scheduled execution this week, justice will be served in
both states, said Don Ashley, who was the lead investigator on the case in
Shreveport, La., considered one of the major murder investigations in the
"I just have no doubt that he's the guy," said Ashley, 55, who now is an
investigator for the Caddo Parish District Attorney's Office in Louisiana.
"The only just punishment for him is him receiving the death penalty."
The investigation into the deaths of Shreveport residents Julie Grissom,
24, her nephew Sean Grissom, 8, and her father Tom Grissom, 55, helped
lead Florida authorities to Rolling. The three were discovered stabbed to
death at Tom Grissom's home in November 1989.
Louisiana officers later learned about the slayings in Gainesville and
noted the similarities to Julie Grissom's death. Like some of the 1990
attacks in Alachua County, the Louisiana woman's body had been mutilated,
cleaned and posed. And, Ashley said, officers in Louisiana spoke with
investigators in Gainesville about Rolling, realizing he would have been
in Shreveport and Florida at the times when each of the killings occurred.
Rolling had disappeared from his hometown of Shreveport after officers
said he shot and injured his father, a retired police officer, following
an argument in May 1990.
Days after the Gainesville deaths, Rolling was arrested for committing
robberies in Tampa and Ocala and held at the Marion County jail. He was
listed as a possible suspect in the Gainesville case by November 1990 and,
within the next several weeks, authorities began gathering DNA samples.
A grand jury indicted Rolling for the Gainesville killings in November
1991. Before testimony began in his trial in 1994, he pleaded guilty.
Rolling never officially confessed to investigators handling the Grissom
case, Ashley said.
"But we do have some written communication. He writes about the Grissom
case and writes information that only the killer would know," he said.
An arrest warrant for Rolling had been prepared for the Shreveport
Ashley said the case against Rolling in Louisiana wasn't as good as the
one in Florida. "We didn't have a forensic link," he said, although they
did determine Rolling's blood type matched the killer's.
If there had been problems with Rolling's prosecution in Gainesville,
authorities could have proceeded with the Louisiana case, said Spencer
Mann, spokesman for the State Attorney's Office in Gainesville.
Investigators think Rolling targeted Julie Grissom after seeing her at a
mall where she worked in a department store, Ashley said. He followed her
home and then attacked the family.
Relatives of Tom, Julie and Sean Grissom were notified by authorities in
1994 that the Louisiana case was considered closed.
Once in custody in Florida, Rolling has never left the state, even though
he was linked to the other attacks.
Louisiana officers were concerned that moving Rolling out-of-state would
pose a possible security risk, Ashley said.
And relatives of the Grissoms were in agreement. "If he got the death
penalty (in Florida), it wasn't a thing where they said he's got to come
here and we've got to get it here," Ashley said.
Prison and law enforcement officials in Florida said that arrangements are
being made so relatives of the Grissom family can attend Rolling's
(source: Gainesville Sun)
Issues of life define race
Late on the day he refused to let Elijah Page die, Gov. Mike Rounds went
to bed a peaceful man.
Hours earlier, about the time Page was eating what was supposed to be his
last meal in the South Dakota State Penitentiary, Rounds had shocked news
reporters and shaken up his own re-election campaign by stopping the
scheduled 10 p.m. execution.
Citing a conflict between state law and state Corrections Department
policy on lethal injections, the governor gave Page a death-row inmate
who months earlier had dropped his legal appeals and asked to die a new,
if relatively short, lease on life. Rounds delayed the Aug. 29 execution
until at least July, saying he would ask the 2007 state Legislature to
reconcile a state law that calls for two drugs in the lethal-injection mix
with a corrections policy that would use 3.
The temporary reprieve angered friends and family of Chester Allan Poage,
the 19-year-old Spearfish man who was tortured and murdered by Page and 2
others in an icy Black Hills creek bed in March of 2000. And the sometimes
confusing sequence of explanations that followed the reprieve amplified
charges by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Billion that Rounds was
an indecisive leader who ran a government shrouded in secrecy.
But the seemingly unflappable Republican governor apparently didnt lose
any sleep over the reprieve or its potential impact on his re-election
campaign. When asked how he slept the night of Aug. 29, Rounds gave an
almost imperceptible shrug: "Very well. I'm comfortable that I made the
Not everyone is so comfortable, however. Critics still question the
reasoning behind the reprieve and the seemingly sloppy way it was handled.
Sen. Bill Napoli, R-Rapid City, said the Rounds administration bungled the
Page execution. And Billion said the Page controversy was a clear example
of Rounds' leadership failures.
"It's transparency in government and honesty and leadership," Billion
said. "We've heard a lot of different explanations about what happened in
that (Page) deal, and they're inconsistent. It's still not clear,
honestly, what really happened, or why."
Billion said it's difficult to believe that neither Rounds nor anyone in
his administration knew of the distinct difference between state law and
state policy on lethal injections. The issue was raised in June during an
appeal by death-row inmate Donald Moeller and again by Page's lawyer 2
weeks before the scheduled execution.
Rounds rejects charges of inconsistency and secrecy and maintains that the
first he knew of the lethal-injection problem was when he was reading a
transcript of a Page court hearing the week before the scheduled Aug. 29
execution. He asked for an explanation of the possible legal effects from
state lawyers, which he received at 4:15 p.m., Aug. 29.
After he was certain of the legal conflict, Rounds said it was clear that
he had to delay the execution to assure that the law was followed and
because a mistake with Page might strengthen the appeals of other
"The only person who knows is me, and I've been consistent in my message
from day one," Rounds said.
Particularly worrisome, Rounds said, was Briley Piper, another confessed
killer in the Poage murder who continues his death-sentence appeal.
Piper's appeal could use the fact that state law calls for 2 drugs to be
used in an execution, when the policy of the state Corrections Department
calls for 3 drugs.
Although several states with two-drug statutes have executed inmates using
3 drugs, Rounds said, he had to focus solely on South Dakota, its
potential liability and the appeals of other death-row inmates here.
"Someone has to make a decision. What I knew was that if I made the wrong
decision and allowed him (Page) to be executed, I couldnt take it back,"
Rounds said. "What we did not want to have was any chance that Briley
Piper who is as close to a (Charles) Manson as youre going to find that
he could somehow void his own death penalty at some point in the future
because of some mistake we might make now."
If the Page reprieve was a political mistake for Rounds, it didnt show in
his approval ratings for September, according to the monthly approval
rating of all governors by Internet ranking service SurveyUSA. The
September survey of 600 South Dakota adults showed Rounds with a 65 %
approval rating, up 3 % points from the mid-August support of 62 %.
It was the SurveyUSA poll last March that recorded the most dramatic drop
in Rounds approval rating, from 72 % in February to 58 % on March 13. The
drop came about a week after Rounds signed the controversial abortion ban,
HB1215, which would outlaw abortions except when needed to save a pregnant
Rounds had consistently been above 70 % in SurveyUSA polls before signing
HB1215, including a nation-leading 76 % approval rating in September of
Rounds began to recover from his sharp drop in March with 60 % approval in
April and 65 % in May. He hasnt yet been able to break 65 %, although he
is still well above the 53 % approval rating for all 50 state governors.
Rounds still ranked 12th in approval ratings among the governors this
month. And that general approval rating was reflected in a telephone
survey in July of 800 likely South Dakota voters, who picked Rounds over
Billion 56 % to 27 %, with 17 % undecided.
Rounds says tracking polls conducted for his campaign show him to be
maintaining a wide lead over Billion. Billion admits hes behind. Even a
recent tracking poll for his own campaign had Rounds with about an
The bad news from Billion's own polling numbers show his support
"approaching 30 %," which is a modest rise. But Billion said that polling
was done before his campaign advertising really began. And he takes heart
in the fact that Rounds only ranked about 46 %, leaving almost 25 %
That's a reasonably large percentage of fence-sitters at this stage of a
race against a Republican incumbent, Billion said.
"I need 80 % of the undecided to win," he said.
That's a lot to ask, especially against a popular, "nice-guy" governor who
starts, as a Republican, with a substantial statewide edge in Republican
voters. He also uses even-tempered sales skills developed through his
former life as an insurance man to keep as many voters happy or, at
least, not mad as possible.
Billion has focused his attack on continuing problems in education
funding, rising costs of health care and a statewide average wage that is
tied for last in the nation with Mississippi and forces young people to
abandon the state for a livable wage.
"Young people are still leaving the state to find jobs," Billion said.
"They can't find jobs here because we're a low-wage state."
What growth the state has experienced in its economy is more tied to
inflation than any initiatives by the state, Billion said.
Rounds defends his economic-development work by noting a three-year growth
in average per-capita income (a variety of income sources, including
wages) that led the nation. The state has gained 18,000 new jobs in that
period and has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, Rounds said.
Meanwhile, the gross state product has grown from $25 billion to $29
"Some people say that's just inflation," Rounds said. "It's not. It's true
Billion argues that constant funding troubles for local school districts
and the state's position at the bottom of the national scale in teacher
pay reflects the failings of Rounds and previous Republican governors and
Billion said the fact that South Dakota has 90,000 citizens living without
health insurance 17,000 of them children is another sign of
Rounds said state aid to schools increases every year, usually above the
increase required by law. And last year, Rounds proposed a teacher-salary
enhancement package of more than $3 million from the state, if it could be
matched local school districts. It received little support from the
education community, he said.
Billion has made HB1215 a more prominent part of campaign because abortion
was tabbed as the most important issue of the campaign barely nudging out
education issues in the July survey. 66 % said the candidates' positions
on the abortion issue would influence their vote.
The governor signed the abortion ban, but he also separated himself from
it somewhat by saying that it wasn't his bill and that it was more far
reaching than he would have preferred.
Billion, who opposes HB1215 and believes current state restrictions on
abortion are strict enough, saw lots of politics and little leadership in
the governors combination of distancing and support for the bill. Billion
also said it was a sign that the governor had caved into the pressures
from the most extreme wing of the Republican Party, the same group that
promotes the teaching of creationism in public schools.
"Governor Rounds has let a small percentage of his party, perhaps, swing
the pendulum way to one side," Billion said. "And that's not leadership,
Round said he supports HB1215 as "the right thing to do" in the fight to
prevent as many abortions as possible. His choice would have been a
step-by-step approach to dismantling the Roe v. Wade decision that
affirmed abortion rights in 1973, rather than the all-out approach of
But Rounds said he decided to accept the bill that was given him by almost
2/3 of the legislators.
Opponents of HB1215 gathered more than twice the necessary signatures to
refer the law to the general election, where it appears on the ballot as
Referred Law 6. It's at the far opposite end from the Page controversy of
the spectrum of "life" issues in South Dakota. Each, in its own way, has
been a prominent part of the governor's race. Rounds and Billion will soon
see if that prominence is reflected at the polls.
(source: Rapid City Journal)
Johnson execution plans draw little attention
No lottery was held to select media witnesses for the now-stayed execution
of Donnie Johnson. He killed his wife in Shelby County by stuffing a
plastic bag in her mouth and has been on death row for about 9 years. On
Thursday a federal appeals court ruled more arguments could be heard on
Attention was paid to those announcements twice this month because of 2
other men on death row who await their end: Daryl Holton and Gregory
Thompson, both with Shelbyville victims and both well-enough known here.
In Johnson's case, the details of the crime are less my interest as the
state's procedures. Tennessee allows up to seven witnesses from the media
at executions. They become a pool of observers to be available to other
reporters so they may share what they experienced in the viewing room.
Memphis is the state's biggest city. It's media market is larger than
those of Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga. Yet Donnie Johnson's death
isn't so newsworthy as to draw more than seven news departments'
applications for entry at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution to
witness the murderer's last breath.
Move on. Closure. Getting on with the rest of life. These are the words
people say what victims want from the end of the criminal justice system.
However, America's reach for absolute fairness and justice stalls like an
airplane's wing that won't fly without forward motion, and these
conditions haunt courthouse halls.
Actually, there were less than seven reporters applying to be witnesses. A
state spokesman said there were 5-6. He was not immediately certain how
many, but he knew there were not enough to require a lottery.
Tennessee does not require media witnesses. Executions will happen without
"Don't forget us," was what a Shelbyville minister reported as the message
from the victims of Hurricane Katrina. They want to be remembered; to have
life after rescue. It's almost like life after death.
Did Donnie Johnson get the message that his execution isn't newsworthy
enough to require a lottery?
Would that knowledge make the sound of his death row cell door's closure
that much more punishing?
Which is worse: Life in prison without parole and the likelihood of being
forgotten, or the recurring on-again, off-again attention-getting place on
death row to a death watch cell and back to the row as lawyers argue over
the death penalty?
This is to be an opinion column, but there'll be no endorsement or
opposition to the death penalty here.
This is to potential jurors in capitol cases. Which sentence delivers the
(source: Clint Confehr, Shelbyville Times-Gazette)
Legal ordeal torments murder victims family----Killer who pleaded guilty
after three death sentences were overturned will be able to seek parole in
David Brooks is determined never to let the man who killed his uncle get
out of prison.
The Patterson case
It was dark when Matthew and Ruth Brooks pulled in at the Mid-Carolina
Motor Inn in Lexington County on Nov. 19, 1984.
Matthew, stiff from 10 hours of driving, wanted to stretch his legs. Ruth
grabbed her pocketbook, and the couple walked.
The next thing Ruth remembered was looking up as blood gushed into her eye
and seeing 19-year-old Raymond Patterson beating her husband.
"I have never seen anything in my whole life to compare the way that he
was beating him," she testified during Patterson's trial. "And I just
couldn't stand to look."
Patterson got away with a comb, $30 and a black rain bonnet. He left
behind 66-year-old Matthew Brooks, mortally wounded, with a bullet hole in
his left eye.
In the 20 years since, 36 jurors have signed warrants authorizing
Patterson's execution 3 trials, 3 death sentences.
All were overturned.
On July 19, Patterson pleaded guilty to murder and was given a life
sentence, resolving the decades-long legal battle.
Ruth Brooks, weary from 3 emotional trial testimonies, died in 2001,
leaving no eyewitnesses for a 4th trial.
Her daughter, Jenny Ruth, had disappeared. Family members haven't heard
from her in years.
Her son, Matthew Brooks Jr., committed suicide shortly after the 3rd
"He just couldn't handle it anymore," said David Brooks, Matthew Brooks'
nephew. "The way they kept overturning it, and his father being gone. He
A special plea deal ensures Patterson will stay in prison until at least
2019, when he is 54.
That means David Brooks has a new hobby. He vows to keep Patterson in jail
for life. He said he owes it to his parents and his uncle.
"I'll still be here until the day I can't," he said. "I'll be there
Ruth Brooks was 67 in 1984. Born and raised in West Virginia, she was
married to Matthew Brooks for 38 years.
Matthew Brooks retired from his job as a conductor for the N&W Railroad in
West Virginia in 1983. He came to South Carolina in 1984 to help his
brother, Linsay Brooks, mourn the death of his wife. He hadn't seen Linsay
in 7 years.
Matthew and Ruth figured they did not have to make hotel reservations.
They drove around the Columbia area until they found the Mid-Carolina
Motor Inn on St. Andrews Road, off Interstate 26.
Ruth wanted to make a fruitcake, and Matthew wanted to eat, so the couple
decided to go for a walk as soon as they arrived. When they got back to
the motel, they stopped to get their nightclothes out of their car's
Down the hill, Patterson was sitting in a car while his brother-in-law,
Dwayne Keels, pumped gas.
Patterson had been on parole for 2 months for breaking into a house.
Carrying a long-barreled, Western-style .45-caliber pistol that he had
stolen from a car a few weeks before, Patterson saw the hotel and told
Keels he was going to "look around."
He found Matthew and Ruth Brooks.
When Patterson tried to take Ruth Brooks' purse, her husband fought back.
Patterson beat Matthew Brooks, shot him and fled.
Across the river, David Brooks was at a funeral home making final
arrangements for his mother when two sheriffs deputies arrived to tell him
and his father that Matthew had been shot.
"It was everything I could do to compose myself and keep my dad composed
because we weren't even through with the arrangements for my mom yet," he
said. "We immediately got up and went to the hospital. We thought there
was a chance of him making it."
Matthew Brooks died the next morning. Linsay Brooks carried a vendetta
against Patterson to his grave. His goal was to live to see Patterson
However, when Ruth Brooks died, Linsay's son knew that would never happen.
He just didn't have the heart to tell his father.
Linsay Brooks died last year.
Patterson's 1st trial began Sept. 3, 1985. It was doomed from the start.
Eleventh Circuit Solicitor Donnie Myers dismissed the only black juror in
the jury pool. Patterson is black. Matthew Brooks was white.
That juror, a woman identified only as Leaphart in records, never clearly
said if she could vote for the death penalty. Myers struck her from the
pool of prospective jurors, saying she was against the death penalty.
"I had a valid reason," Myers said. "I want to try to judge (jurors) on
the basis that they will listen to the evidence and if the death penalty
is warranted, they can vote for it, or if life in prison is warranted,
they can vote for that."
On Sept. 7, 1985, a jury decided Patterson should die.
But during the sentencing phase of the trial, the judge had refused to
allow a psychologist to testify about how Patterson would adapt to life in
prison. The state Supreme Court ruled that was improper, so Patterson had
to be resentenced.
That meant Ruth Brooks had to come to Lexington for another week of
She didn't want to do it.
"Me and a Lexington County deputy flew up there to bring her back, gave
her police protection," David Brooks said. "Mentally, she was just very
unstable. She didn't trust anybody."
Patterson's 2nd sentencing trial began Nov. 2, 1987, and Ruth Brooks was
there to tell her story.
"The most difficult part of the case was the cross-examination of that
poor widow," said attorney John Delgado, who represented Patterson in his
three trials. "She was a very decent human being and didnt deserve any of
On Nov. 7, 1985, a jury again decided on the death penalty for Patterson.
In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled prosecutors could not disqualify
potential jurors on the basis of race. In 1990, the justices ordered the
state Supreme Court to reconsider Patterson's 1985 conviction because the
black juror, Leaphart, was dismissed from his trial's jury pool.
At first, the state Supreme Court sided with Myers, ruling a juror of any
race would have been disqualified for making the statements Leaphart had
made. But, in 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court told the state Supreme Court to
reconsider its ruling. It did, and, in 1992, the states highest court
ruled Patterson should get a new trial.
Prosecutors, defense attorneys and Ruth Brooks had to do it all over
"It's the most convoluted case I've ever seen," Myers said.
The 3rd trial started in February 1995.
Ruth Brooks was in her 70s and in a wheelchair. She told prosecutors she
"We started selecting the jury, and I pretty much knew that if she wasn't
here by Wednesday that I would have to take a life sentence," Myers said,
adding, "He (Patterson) deserved the death penalty."
Ruth Brooks changed her mind, and Patterson was sentenced to death a 3rd
time on Valentines Day 1995.
The trial saga would have been over had it not been for a diagram in the
jury room. Introduced by the defense, it showed Patterson's record of good
behavior while in prison. It also showed his parole eligibility something
jurors cannot factor into their decision.
"It was a mistake," defense attorney Delgado said.
The mistake meant Patterson could get a 4th trial. But without Ruth
Brooks, who died in 2001, Myers didn't have a case.
Patterson has never denied his guilt. However, he says he never meant to
shoot Brooks. Instead, Patterson said, his gun went off while he was
beating Brooks, according to Delgado.
"None of these issues were about guilt or innocence. They were about trial
error," said Laura Hudson, spokeswoman for the S.C. Victim Assistance
Network. "It really disturbs me."
Delgado said Patterson's case did not warrant the death penalty. He said
capital cases are expensive and time-consuming and shouldnt be used in
cases like Patterson's.
"Raymond's case is the epitome of the irrationality of our capital
procedure in South Carolina," he said. "This matter could have been
resolved long ago with the savings of innumerable hours and time and cost
to the system if the prosecution had allowed a life sentence in 1985."
That wasn't an option for the Brooks family. They wanted Patterson to die
for taking Matthew Brooks life. But they didn't know it would take 3
trials and more than 20 years to be done with the case.
David Brooks lives in Columbia and works for the State Budget and Control
Board. He didn't know his uncle Matthew Brooks very well, meeting him a
few times at family reunions. But for 22 years, he has fought for his
uncle, and he is not going to stop. He plans to oppose any effort by
Patterson to win parole from prison when he becomes eligible in 2019.
"I feel a responsibility to my dad, my uncle," he said. "I don't believe
(they) are really ever going to be at rest."
(source: The State)
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