[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----CALIF., S.C., N.Y., MO., VA.

Rick Halperin rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Sep 18 03:21:03 UTC 2006

Sept. 16


Double-shooting suspect charged with murder

The suspect in a double-shooting that killed one man and injured another
in San Rafael this week was charged with murder and attempted murder
Friday as authorities continued to investigate a motive.

Robert Thomas Middagh, wearing chains and an orange jail jumpsuit, was
arraigned on the two counts Friday afternoon in Marin Superior Court. The
hearing was attended by Middagh's parents and several family members of
the victim, Adolfo Romeo De Leon Lopez, 34, of San Rafael.

The charges contained no hate-crime allegations, shedding no additional
light on potential motives for the shooting. Witnesses have told De Leon's
family that the gunman shouted ethnic slurs against the two victims, who
are natives of Guatemala, but investigators have not confirmed bigotry as
a motive.

"At this point, there is no hate-crime allegation," said Marin County
District Attorney Ed Berberian. "It's still an open question in our mind."

Even without hate crime charges, Middagh, a 48-year-old San Rafael
resident, could receive 50 years to life on the murder count and 34 years
to life on the attempted murder count, Berberian said.

"He could have consecutive life sentences, theoretically," he said.

As currently filed, the charges lack the special circumstances that would
make the case eligible for the death penalty.

Middagh, who is being held without bail, was scheduled to return to court
Monday to enter a plea. Tara Ann Higgins, Middagh's court-appointed
defense attorney, did not return a call for comment.

The shooting occurred at 11:15 p.m. Monday outside an apartment building
at 192 Belvedere St. in the Canal neighborhood. Police said the gunman
shot De Leon in the abdomen and another man, identified in court documents
as Jeronimo Diaz, in the leg.

Police heard the gunshots and saw a man with a gun near the scene. The
gunman fled and eluded police near the Lexus dealership on East Francisco
Boulevard, prompting a manhunt that lasted several hours.

Middagh was arrested after police found him clinging to a dock in the
canal. A handgun belonging to Middagh was found near the dock several
hours later, and police said the .45-caliber weapon matches the casings
found at the scene of the shooting.

In addition to the charges filed Friday, prosecutor Barry Borden also
filed a petition to revoke Middagh's probation in a prior case. In a plea
bargain in August 2005, Middagh pleaded guilty to unlawfully carrying a
concealed weapon and drunken driving, while prosecutors dropped charges of
disturbing the peace and carrying a loaded firearm.

The court hearing was attended by De Leon's brother and sister-in-law and
several of their supporters, including Roberto Trapaga, a Berkeley-based
social activist representing Guatemalan immigrants. Trapaga said he was
monitoring the case to ensure that Middagh, the grandson of a late Marin
undersheriff and son of a retired county official, did not get favorable

"We want justice," he said.

A memorial service for De Leon has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at
Mount Tamalpais Mortuary at 2500 Fifth Ave. in San Rafael.

Memorial contributions can be sent to the De Leon Family Fund, c/o
Citibank, 1004 Northgate Drive, San Rafael, CA 94903. The account number
is 40031685270.

(source: Marin Independent Journal)


No death penalty in Schockner case----Courts: Conspirators face life in
alleged murder-for-hire

A Bixby Knolls man will be spared the death penalty if convicted in the
murder-for-hire plot of his estranged wife 2 years ago, the Los Angeles
County district attorney's office has announced.

Manfred Schockner, 66, will now face a maximum sentence of life in prison
without the possibility of parole, as will his 2 alleged co-conspirators,
Nicholas Harvey, 24, and Frankie Jaramillo, 31.

The Special Circumstances Committee, a group of 12 deputy district
attorneys, rendered the decision this week after weighing the case's
aggravating and mitigating circumstances - including the level of violence
used, the defendants' prior records and other extenuating circumstances.

But the committee does not disclose the specific reasons behind any
decision, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's

Schockner is accused of plotting to kill his 50-year-old wife, Lynn, with
whom he had a son. According to prosecutors, Schockner paid Jaramillo to
hire a hit man - Harvey - to kill Lynn Schockner and make it look like a
botched robbery. All 3 men were charged with murder for financial gain and
murder during the commission of a burglary or robbery - charges that made
each of them eligible for the death penalty.

The case gained national attention when it was learned that two Long Beach
police officers were posted at the victim's front door at the moment her
throat was being slashed on the back porch.

Investigating a prowler call, the officers spoke to the victim and were
waiting for her to retrieve a key to her back gate. She never returned,
and the officers entered the home and found her dead.

Harvey, of Port Hueneme, was arrested within minutes, his clothes covered
in blood, police said.

Schockner allegedly arranged the killing, using Jaramillo as the
go-between, after learning that his wife had retained a divorce attorney.
He stood to lose about $2.5 million in the dissolution of his 24-year
marriage, police said.

The three men are scheduled to appear back in court for a pretrial hearing
on Tuesday.

(source: Long Beach Press-Telegram)


Jury selection delays police shooting trial

The trial of an Abbeville man charged in the shooting deaths of two law
enforcement officers will not begin next month as originally planned
because of a scheduling conflict in a county 150 miles away.

In August, Judge Alexander Macaulay ruled that the jury for Steve Bixby's
trial be picked from Chesterfield County, on the opposite end of the state
from Abbeville. Another trial had already been scheduled to begin in that
county's only courtroom, which would also be needed for jury selection,
said Bill Nettles, Bixby's attorney.

The delay means the trial likely will not begin until next year, Nettles

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Bixby, 39, who has been
charged with murder in the shooting deaths of Abbeville County sheriff's
Sgt. Danny Wilson, and state constable Donnie Ouzts on Dec. 8, 2003. The
shootings marked the beginning of a 14-hour standoff and shootout between
the family and law enforcement officers.

Authorities say the family was angry over plans to widen state Highway 72
in front of their Abbeville home.

Bixby's 77-year-old father, Arthur, has also been charged with murder.

Delays like this, while somewhat frustrating, are not unusual, Nettles
said. "It's all part of the game," he said. "We'll be ready one way or the

At last month's hearing, Macaulay also ruled that prosecutors can't seek
the death penalty against Bixby's 74-year-old mother Rita, who has been
charged with accessory before the fact of murder, conspiracy to commit
murder and lying to police.

(source: Associated Press)


Oversight blamed in Inman release

An overlooked file might have been the difference between life and death
for Clemson University student Tiffany Marie Souers.

Twice-convicted sex offender Jerry Buck Inman, charged in the May 26 fatal
strangling of Ms. Souers, could have been sent to a mental institution
indefinitely upon his release from a Florida prison in September 2005.

But he was not evaluated for civil commitment as a sexually violent
predator because reviewers didn't notice he had 2 prior sexual offense
convictions instead of one, the Florida Department of Children and
Families has concluded.

Under Florida's pioneering 1988 sexually violent predator law, known as
the Jimmy Ryce Act, every sex offender is screened for potential
commitment. Those considered dangerous and likely to reoffend may be
confined indefinitely for treatment until they are safe enough to re-enter

"The people who reviewed (the case) overlooked it," department spokesman
Al Zimmerman said.

The conclusion came from a special re-review of 10,683 referrals to
Florida's Sexually Violent Predator program, prompted by Inman's arrest in
the Souers case and questions raised by the Anderson Independent-Mail.

The review found similar discrepancies in convictions in 16 other cases.
One of the 16 has been a fugitive since June 2003. Of the remaining 15,
two are behind bars, one is dead and 12 are registered sex offenders.

Mr. Zimmerman said the department was making immediate improvements to the
screening process by:

* Determining the criminal history of each referral through independent
review by 3 staff members instead of 2

* Monitoring reviewers' performance with ongoing independent checks of
randomly selected cases

* Using more face-to-face mental health evaluations.

"It's a very low number, and we're actually pleased we only found 16
errors. But we're concerned obviously if there's only one error. As a lot
of people and agencies, we strive for perfection," Mr. Zimmerman said.

The Souers family could not be reached for comment for this story.

Mark Plowden, a spokesman for South Carolina Attorney General Henry
McMaster, said the review's results are "disturbing."

South Carolina law differs substantially from Florida's. Here a
five-person multi-disciplinary team evaluates a qualifying sex offender's
background to determine whether he should be reviewed for commitment. A
second 3-person panel makes a recommendation to the attorney general, who
then must decide whether to take the case to a judge.

After finding probable cause, a judge assesses whether a subsequent mental
health evaluation of the offender meets legal standards for commitment. A
jury ultimately decides whether to commit an offender.

"Any case of human error or computer error or otherwise that escapes
review of the civil commitment process could turn out to be an offender on
the loose that could result in someone being killed or sexually attacked,"
Mr. Plowden said. "It's certainly nothing to be proud of."

Inman was paroled in September 2005, just 16 years into a possible
150-year sentence for sex crimes in North Carolina and Florida. His
convictions predated "truth in sentencing" laws that require offenders to
serve 85 % of their sentences.

In 1988, Inman was convicted of a sexual assault on 2 men in North
Carolina. In 1989, he was convicted of a 1987 rape of a woman in Florida.

Inman is charged with murder, rape and kidnapping in the death of Ms.
Souers, a 20-year-old civil engineering student from Ladue, Mo. She was
found naked except for a bra and a bikini top around her neck that was
used to strangle her.

Thirteenth Circuit Solicitor Bob Ariail is pursuing the death penalty
against Inman. A gag order prevents him from speaking about the case to
the news media without permission from a judge.

Inman also is charged with violent sexual assaults in Alabama and
Tennessee in the days leading up to Ms. Souer's death.

Florida's 4-step commitment process involves: collection of background
information; review of the information by 2 licensed psychologists or
psychiatrists to determine whether the offender is a sexually violent
predator; a face-to-face evaluation; and a civil petition and jury trial
to commit the offender to a secure facility.

The report found that "had the second offense been known and considered,
the screeners would likely have referred Inman for a face-to-face mental
health evaluation before deciding whether he should be recommended for
civil commitment," Mr. Zimmerman said.

The department released a statement in June offering sympathies to the
Souers family and saying it regretted a different decision was not made.

Mr. Plowden welcomed the changes Florida is now implementing.

"Of course mistakes are going to happen, yes. But a mistake in the traffic
ticket division is one thing. But a mistake in this part of the law could
easily be fatal," he said. "The more eyes that comb these files for a
mistake and the more oversight the better. That goes without saying."

(source: Anderson Independent Mail)


Pigott May Provide Swing Vote on 2 Major Cases

Eugene Pigott, named to the state's highest court Friday, is likely to
provide the swing vote in two major cases: the death penalty and funding
for education.

Three weeks from now, Pigott, of Grand Island, will be listening to
arguments on how the state's public schools should be funded.

Sometime next year, he will help decide a case that is likely to determine
the fate of the death penalty in New York State.

He will also decide with the other Court of Appeals judges on the legality
of confining felony sex offenders in mental health facilities when they
are released from prison and another case with broad implications for the
state's liquor industry.

"I know what's coming," Pigott said after his unanimous confirmation by
the state Senate Friday.

Pigott, described as a moderate with deep Republican Party ties, joins a
court that has been moving to the right in recent years with appointments
by Gov. George E. Pataki, who nominated Pigott for the vacancy created by
the departure of a liberal judge. And he takes his seat on a court
described by observers as in flux; as many as three of the court's members
could be leaving in the next 15 months, paving the way for Pataki's
replacement next year to place his imprint on the court.

"For the next year, the court is going to be finding its way," said
Michael Hutter, an Albany lawyer who has appeared often before the court.

The confirmation of Pigott, 59, came a day after he appeared to go out of
his way to assure lawmakers that he cherishes the legal notion of
separation of powers and basing decisions on the laws passed by the

Pigott appears unlike several of the more predictable jurists Pataki has
appointed, according to Vincent Bonventre, an Albany Law School professor
and observer of the high court.

"He really hasn't been a lopsided conservative," Bonventre said of Pigott.
"He doesn't seem to be consistently liberal or conservative."

"I think he's his own person," Hutter added.

The state's legal and political communities will be closely watching
Pigott next year, when he will help decide whether the death penalty is
brought back in New York. The Legislature restored capital punishment in
certain cases in 1995, though no one has been put to death since.

In 2004, the Court of Appeals for all practical purposes, invalidated the
law when it tossed out the death sentence of a convicted murderer because
of concerns that the statute's provisions involving instructions to jurors
could tilt them toward a death sentence. The court ruled 4-3 in that case,
with Judge George Bundy Smith writing the majority decision. Pigott is
replacing Smith.

Since that decision, a judge in a case against a man convicted of killing
5 people in a Wendy's restaurant in Queens considered the 2004 case and
changed how he instructed the jury. The Court of Appeals sometime next
year will consider if those jury instructions were legal. If they were,
the court could then get to the larger question: is the death penalty
itself legal.

"That will be a major, major case," said Hutter, who is also chairman of
the board of the state's Capital Defender Office, which represents
individuals in death penalty cases.

If the court gets past the sentencing issue, Hutter said, "then they have
to address directly, there's no other way around it, whether the death
penalty is cruel and unusual punishment."

Pigott's first major case will come Oct. 10, when the court hears
arguments in a case that will affect school aid funding across the state.

The case was first brought in 1993 by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, and
this will be the third time the high court will be hearing the case.

(source: The Buffalo News)


Spitzer's Goals May Test Uneasy Alliance With Speaker

>From the moment he announced that he was running for governor, Eliot
Spitzer has described New York's government as being in "crisis," and he
made it clear he believes that part of the problem lies with the State

He complained that lawmakers deferred most of the difficult issues
confronting the state in their most recent budgets. He helped defeat a
constitutional amendment that would have given lawmakers more budgetary
powers. And he has vowed to end one of the Legislature's most closely
guarded prerogatives: its practice of drawing district lines to protect

In taking these positions, Mr. Spitzer, who is the Democratic attorney
general, has found himself on a collision course with the Assembly
speaker, Sheldon Silver, who has been the most powerful Democrat in state
government for nearly 12 years. One of the more intriguing parlor games in
a Capitol with no shortage of intrigue has been trying to guess whether a
Governor Spitzer would try to replace Mr. Silver to realize his vision of
a reformed Albany.

Underlying the speculation are the memories of 1994, when George E. Pataki
used his newfound clout to install friendlier leadership at the helm of
the Republican-led State Senate over the Thanksgiving weekend between the
election and his inauguration.

"Somebody recently asked me what I am doing this Thanksgiving," Mr.
Spitzer said in an interview, hastening to add that his plans include
eating plenty of turkey with his family, not plotting coups in the
Assembly. "I look forward to working with Shelly."

Mr. Spitzer and Mr. Silver said they have established a good working
relationship - a relationship that they expect to continue after the

The legislative leader that Mr. Pataki helped remove, Senator Ralph J.
Marino, had sparred for years with Mr. Pataki and had initially opposed
his candidacy. Mr. Silver, by contrast, was an early, ardent supporter of
Mr. Spitzer. Several Democrats noted that Mr. Silver endorsed Mr. Spitzer
for governor when it counted most: when Senator Charles E. Schumer was
still considering running for the office.

Mr. Silver, who has a reputation here as a canny and tough negotiator,
said that he is excited at the prospect of working with a Democratic
governor after 12 years of serving as the lone Democrat among the 3 men
who run Albany: the governor and the leaders of both houses of the
Legislature. But he also suggested that he would seek to leave his imprint
on a Spitzer agenda.

"Hopefully it will be a partnership that will enable us to go forward and
put forth an agenda that is consistent with Eliot Spitzer's vision, as I
say, modified by what is acceptable to the Democratic conference of the
Assembly," Mr. Silver said.

In recent months, Mr. Silver has gone out of his way to defer to Mr.
Spitzer, who has a commanding lead in opinion polls.

Although Mr. Spitzer is more conservative on criminal justice issues than
most Assembly Democrats, the Assembly passed a law this year that he
supported - but that they had previously resisted - requiring all people
convicted of felonies to provide DNA samples. More recently, Mr. Silver
delayed a vote on the plan to build a new train station in Manhattan after
Mr. Spitzer raised questions about it. This week Mr. Silver even scheduled
hearings to look at the issue of nonpartisan redistricting.

But there have been bumps along the road, too.

There was some ill will between the two camps at the Democratic convention
in Buffalo. Aides to Mr. Spitzer decided that they did not want Mr. Silver
to introduce Mr. Spitzer directly; in his speech, Mr. Spitzer said that
"on Day 1, everything changes" and went on to say that there would be "no
more lifetime appointments to the State Legislature."

In the end a compromise was reached, and Mr. Silver delivered a red-meat
speech to the delegates, but another speaker introduced Mr. Spitzer.

More recently Mr. Spitzer said that he opposes any effort to raise the
salary of lawmakers this year - a raise that Mr. Silver has said is
merited, but not currently planned.

Mr. Spitzer's opponent in the Democratic primary, Thomas R. Suozzi, the
Nassau County executive, repeatedly tried to use Mr. Spitzer's
relationship with Mr. Silver to question whether Mr. Spitzer would deliver
on his promises to reform Albany. At one point, the Suozzi campaign was
calling the two men "the no-can-do duo."

Speaking before the primary, Mr. Silver laughed off the charge. "I like to
joke with people that Suozzi is running for governor against me, and even
against me, he's losing," he said.

At one point, speculation making the rounds at Democratic fund-raisers in
the Hamptons had Mr. Silver being removed for an interim speaker,
eventually to be replaced by a new speaker entirely. Names of successors
were bandied about.

But Democrats close to both men said that they do not expect any such
thing to happen.

"It's natural speculation when you have a change in administration, and I
would expect that there would be some tension between them, but I think
that at this point each of them is willing to give the relationship a
try," said a Democratic assemblyman who is close to Mr. Spitzer and Mr.
Silver. Of the Spitzer camp, he said, "They're not deluding themselves:
they expect there will be conflicts and problems, but they're not plotting

Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky of Westchester County called the
relationship "the $64 question."

"Lots of people are telling Eliot that he has to find a way to make the
Legislature a political target, and I think there's been this tension
there about that," he said. "But one of the real advantages in being such
a clear front-runner is that Eliot has very properly been conducting this
campaign in ways that will allow him to govern once he is elected."

For years Mr. Silver, as the only Democrat among the 3 men who run the
state, has had to play the part of the opposition with the tools he had,
employing a sort of rope-a-dope strategy in which he refused to pass
measures the Republicans wanted until they passed some measures that he
wanted. Although the strategy was often effective, it left him shouldering
much of the public blame for gridlock and late budgets.

Mr. Spitzer said in an interview that Mr. Silver seemed excited at the
prospect of no longer being the odd man out. "I think he is looking
forward to a more affirmative partnership with a Democratic governor," he
said, adding that he hoped to win support for his agenda from the
Republican-led Senate as well.

But there are sure to be areas of tension. Mr. Spitzer supports the death
penalty, which the Democratic Assembly does not. And he will be under
pressure to restrain spending, something that is never popular among

Mario M. Cuomo, a Democrat, said in an interview that he often had to
contend with opposition from the Democratic Assembly when he was governor.
"In the end, what happens here, on many of the important subjects, it's
the governor on one side and the Legislature on the other," he recalled.
"Both houses of the legislature. And that's the most difficult thing to
deal with for a governor with a split legislature."

(source: New York Times)


'Bucky' deserves no sympathy from us

"He can run but he can't hide." That was heavyweight champion Joe Louis
talking about challenger Billy Conn before their heavyweight title fight
in 1941.

"He could run but he couldn't hide." That was New York State Police
Superintendent Wayne Bennett talking about Ralph "Bucky" Phillips, who had
done a pretty good job of running and hiding for 5 months before
surrendering to police on Sept. 8 in, uh, Pennsylvania.

Despite the fact that he's believed to have shot and wounded a New York
State trooper 8 days after breaking out of an Erie County jail on April
10, Bucky became something of a folk hero, at least among inhabitants of
southwestern New York, after leading police on a not-so-merry chase back
and forth across the Southern Tier, leaving behind a string of burglarized
camps and stolen cars.

Diners offered "Bucky Burgers," and opportunistic entrepreneurs began
peddling "Run Bucky Run"-emblazoned T-shirts. That nonsense ended on Aug.
31 when he, again allegedly, shot two troopers, one fatally, who had been
on surveillance outside the residence of Kasey Crowe, a former girlfriend.

At that point, Bucky reverted to what he had been for most of his life, a
misanthropic punk.

It was also at that point that the pursuit of Bucky became a national news

The prom queens who read the news on the cable channels began chattering
about him, and before long the wire services and even The New York Times
discovered the story.

It had been a story for nearly five months, but The Times operates on the
Hanes underwear principle: It isn't a news story until the Times decides
it's a news story. And once The Times got on the story, it was only a
matter of time before one of its social scientists would come up with the
heart-wrenching story of young Bucky, squatting in the rubble-strewn yard
outside the family shanty staring at a hay bale and pretending it was a
television set.

Of such stuff are career criminals made. At least according to The Times'

Something else happened about that time, too: a two-week hole in the hunt
for Bucky Phillips.

In a time sequence compiled by The Associated Press that ran in this
newspaper on Sept. 9, there is a 10-day gap between the shooting of
Trooper Sean Brown and a car theft, allegedly by our Bucky, in Hancock.

During that time the search for Bucky was concentrated in northern Broome
County and southern Chenango, with the state police coordinating the
efforts from a command post in Colesville near Harpursville.

Motorists were stopped and cars searched round the clock.

Police helicopters prowled overhead day and night, spotlighting rural

Families went to bed at night behind locked doors and with loaded firearms
close at hand.

But you'd never know it from later accounts.

The Colesville CP was shut down after the Hancock car theft, and attention
shifted back to Chautauqua and Cattaraugus, Bucky's old stomping grounds.

Now Bucky, who vowed not to be taken alive, has been and will spend the
rest of his days in prison, unless he decides to break out.

He would be and should be looking at a lethal injection, if Pataki and his
legal eagles had known how to draft a death penalty law that didn't read
as if it had been put together by Alberto Gonzales.

(source: Dave Rossie / Commentary; The Ithaca Journal.com)


Federal case against Robinson is dismissed

A federal judge on Friday granted a request by prosecutors to dismiss a
potential death penalty against convicted serial killer John E. Robinson

U.S. District Judge Gary Fenner dismissed the case without prejudice,
meaning it could be refiled if Robinson's convictions and death sentence
in Kansas are overturned.

His attorneys had wanted the case dismissed with prejudice, which would
have prevented it from being refiled.

Robinson, 62, was charged in U.S. District Court with kidnapping resulting
in death, which can be punishable by death.

The federal government filed its case after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled
the state's death penalty unconstitutional. Earlier this year, the U.S.
Supreme Court reinstated the death sentences against Robinson and other
death row inmates in the state.

Fenner dismissed the case Friday and ordered that Robinson be returned to
custody in Kansas.

Robinson, 62, formerly of Olathe, pleaded guilty to 5 killings in Missouri
and was convicted of 3 in Johnson County, Kan., over a 15-year period.

He was sentenced to death for 2 killings, those of Suzette Trouten and
Izabela Lewicka.

(source: Kansas City Star)


Death penalty sought in Ellis case----Prosecutors in Ellis case say
they'll seek it if teen's convicted

Henrico County prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty against Louis
Shawn Lindenfeld, 18, if he is convicted of capital murder in the shooting
death and robbery of Midlothian teen Allen "Chip" Ellis.

Henrico Commonwealth's Attorney Wade Kizer said he has advised
Lindenfeld's two court-appointed attorneys of his decision, as well as the
Ellis family. "We do intend to pursue the death penalty in this case," he

Kizer's announcement comes as Lindenfeld's defense team indicated the teen
has been deemed competent to stand trial, which is scheduled for the week
of Nov. 27.

Defense attorney Craig S. Cooley said he and state capital defender John
B. Boatwright will not raise Lindenfeld's competency as an issue after
reviewing a mental health evaluation from Dr. Evan S. Nelson, a forensic
psychologist hired by the defense.

Cooley also said he has notified prosecutors that he and Boatwright will
not pursue an insanity or mental retardation defense.

However, Cooley said he does anticipate using mental health testimony
during the sentencing phase of Lindenfeld's trial, should it proceed that

Dr. Dewey G. Cornell of the University of Virginia was appointed at the
request of the defense to evaluate Lindenfeld's overall mental health to
determine whether there are mitigating circumstances for his al leged

Yesterday was the court-imposed deadline by which the defense was required
to give notice to prosecutors whether they intended to pursue an insanity
defense. They also had to disclose whether they planned to present
mitigating mental health evidence during the sentencing phase of the

Kizer and Cooley said they don't anticipate any other major issues that
could potentially delay the trial, although a final pre-trial hearing is
scheduled for Oct. 20.

Cooley said he doesn't anticipate the need for a hearing on any of the
evidence in the case, and the defense has no plans to have the trial moved
to a locality outside the Richmond area, despite the intense publicity
surrounding the case.

Lindenfeld, the son of a Richmond sheriff's lieutenant, is accused of
robbing and fatally shooting Ellis, an 18-year-old Midlothian High School
senior. Ellis disappeared May 22 after driving from his family's home in
Queensmill to drop off DVDs at the Midlothian Library.

Authorities believe he met Lindenfeld there and offered him a ride. Ellis
was carjacked and killed sometime after the 2 left the library in Ellis'
2005 Nissan Sentra.

Ellis' body was found 3 days later in the trunk of his car in woods off a
dead-end road in eastern Henrico. He died of 3 gunshot wounds to the head.

Among other things, prosecutors plan to introduce DNA evidence that
potentially ties Lindenfeld to the gun used to kill Ellis.

State forensic scientists obtained a DNA profile mixture that included
Lindenfeld's DNA from inside the barrel of a .38-caliber Colt detective
special. The gun was given to a case investigator by an acquaintance of
Lindenfeld who was questioned by police

The likelihood that the DNA sample belonged to someone other than
Lindenfeld is 1 in 720,000 in the Caucasian population and 1 in 7.3
million in the black population taken at random, according to a Virginia
Department of Forensic Science report. Lindenfeld has a white father and a
black mother. He is listed in court documents as being black.


Triggerman rule debated: Its Elimination is Being Sought in Virginia
Death-Penalty Cases

A bill to eliminate Virginia's long-standing triggerman rule exposing more
capital-murder accomplices to the death penalty is under consideration.

The rule in many cases bars death sentences for capital-murder
participants who did not, literally, pull the trigger or otherwise
directly kill the victim or victims.

Proponents of the rule argue its elimination would open a whole new class
of less culpable offenders to capital-murder prosecution at great expense
to the state and resulting in few, if any, new death sentences.

Opponents say the rule can tie the hands of prosecutors when more than one
person is equally responsible for a capital murder and that the intent is
not to execute lookouts or others playing less significant roles in
capital murders.

The rule could have jeopardized death sentences won for the murder of the
Harvey family in Richmond or against John Allen Muhammad, one of the
Beltway Snipers, said state Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, who wants
the rule eliminated.

Gilbert said that if the rule were eliminated, prosecutors would still
have to prove an accomplice had the same "willful, deliberate,
premeditated intent to kill" as the triggerman.

David Bruck, a professor at the Washington and Lee University School of
Law, said the rule is an essential safeguard. "Courts make mistakes
deciding what people did. But we make a lot more mistakes in deciding what
someone thought or intended," he said.

When life and death are at stake, said Bruck, director of the Virginia
Capital Case Clearinghouse, it is a bad idea to substitute a rule based on
finding facts with one that attempts to figure out what was in someone's
mind and heart. The Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse is a legal aid
clinic providing free services to defense attorneys who represent
capital-murder defendants in cases throughout Virginia.

Under current law, only the triggerman can be executed except in cases of
murder for hire or murder ordered by a drug dealer or terrorist.

In addition, the Virginia Su- preme Court has held that if more than one
person was an immediate perpetrator -- for instance, if one holds a victim
down while another strikes fatal blows with a rock then all such people
are eligible for the death penalty.

The justices also ruled that Muhammad's role as mastermind in the Beltway
snipings established he was an immediate perpetrator, even though Lee Boyd
Malvo was the triggerman.

Gilbert sponsored a bill in the last General Assembly session to eliminate
the triggerman rule, but it was referred to the Virginia State Crime
Commission for study. The commission discussed the matter at its meeting
last Tuesday.

Gilbert's concern is that when 2 or more people play key roles in a
capital murder, it is sometimes not possible to prove who pulled the
trigger, so no one gets the death penalty. He contends that without a
confession, the rule might have prevented a death sentence in the slaying
of the Harvey family in Richmond.

Only 4 of the 38 states with death-penalty laws have a triggerman rule. It
has been part of the state's death-penalty law since it was rewritten in
1977 to overcome U.S. Supreme Court objections that barred executions from
1972 until 1976.

Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert, who won the
death sentence against Muhammad, said the rule muddied the waters in the

"If the law was to require the person to actually pull the trigger, so to
speak, before they could be guilty of capital murder, we would have had a
hard time prosecuting either one of those people because nobody actually
saw them do that, Ebert said.

"I think there are enough safeguards in capital punishment for the defense
without having that as a predicate."

State Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, a former police officer
and now chairman of the crime commission, expressed skepticism last
Tuesday about the need for eliminating the rule.

He said that prosecutors seem to be able to work around it, citing the
death sentences won in the Harvey and Muhammad cases. Indeed, Ricky Javon
Gray, who confessed to the Harvey murders, and Muhammad each got more than
one death sentence.

But Katherine Baldwin, a senior assistant Virginia attorney general, told
the commission: "There have been numerous examples of prosecutors not
being able to proceed with a capital case where they had equally culpable
[killers], but they couldn't determine through ballistics or other
evidence who actually did the shooting."

"We're not talking about a situation where an individual who's being a
lookout and a murder happens to take place inside a 7-Eleven," she said.

"This [proposal] will give the prosecutor an additional law-enforcement
tool . . . so he can go after the persons who are equally liable."

Steven D. Benjamin, the crime commission's counsel and a defense lawyer,
said there may be a narrow intent to doing away with the rule, but he
cautioned that prosecutors are adept at using circumstantial evidence to
prove intent and premeditation. An intent to kill on the part of an
accomplice may be inferred from the circumstances of the case, even if the
accomplice truthfully did not intend for anyone to be killed.

"People are people and . . . these are tremendously emotional situations,"
he said. "The victims' families, the survivors, are going to press
[prosecutors] for the harshest punishment available," Benjamin told the

Bruck said that "by abolishing the triggerman rule, we would be greatly
increasing the number of potential [and expensive] capital cases."

But he said juries will sentence very few nontriggermen to death if the
rule is abolished. According to Bruck, the triggerman rule never applied
in murder-for-hire cases and yet no one was sentenced to death as a hirer
in Virginia until 2001.

"It's a classic proposal for spinning our wheels at enormous cost to the
taxpayers," Bruck said.

The commission asked the staff to work on the wording of the bill -- along
with bills that would include the slaying of judges and witnesses as
capital offenses -- and bring them back to the commission for
consideration this year.

(source for both: Richmond Times-Dispatch)


Trial set for man charged in Virginia family slaying

It was just supposed to be a robbery, one of the men told police. An easy
score that would rake in a little bit of money.

Instead, an entire family was left to slowly suffocate as they lay
helpless and bound, their mouths and noses covered in duct tape, 2 of them
bleeding from knife wounds to their necks.

"Something so simple became so complicated," Ricky Jovan Gray said of that
night during a confession to a string of bloody crimes he said he and his
nephew, Ray Joseph Dandridge, committed - including the slaughter of
another Richmond family less than a week earlier.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Dandridge, 29, charged with
3 counts of capital murder for the Jan. 6 slayings of Percyell Tucker, 55,
his wife, Mary Baskerville-Tucker, 47, and her daughter, Ashley
Baskerville, 21. He is charged with killing someone during a robbery,
killing more than 1 person at a time and killing more than 1 person in a
3-year period. Opening statements in the jury trial are scheduled for

Gray, 29, was convicted last month of capital murder in the New Year's Day
slayings of musician Bryan Harvey, 49, his wife, Kathryn, 39, and
daughters Stella, 9, and Ruby, 4. The family had been bound, beaten with a
hammer and stabbed, their throats cut and their bodies set ablaze. Gray
told police Ashley Baskerville was an accomplice in the Harvey slayings.

In his confession to police, Gray said he, Dandridge and Baskerville had
been looking for a house to rob when they saw the Harveys' front door
open. After the slayings, they fled with a computer, a wedding ring and a
basket of cookies.

The jury recommended Gray be sentenced to death for the murders of Stella
and Ruby. Sentencing is set for Oct. 23.

The Arlington ex-convicts were arrested Jan. 7 in Philadelphia at the home
of Dandridge's father. Gray has not been charged in the Baskerville-Tucker
slayings, and Dandridge has not been charged in the Harvey killings.

Autopsy photos presented during the sentencing phase of Gray's trial
showed bloody gashes to the necks of Tucker and his wife and duct tape
covering the faces of all 3 victims. Medical examiner Darin Trelka
testified the 3 slowly suffocated in about 6 minutes.

In his statement to Philadelphia police, Gray said he and Dandridge had
plotted to rob Baskerville's mother and stepfather. The two entered the
home along with Baskerville in the middle of the night and taped
Baskerville up as part of the plan. After the couple was bound, Gray said
he and Dandridge ransacked the house and loaded up Tucker's truck with
stereo equipment, TVs and hair clippers.

"The next thing I know is we was struggling with the mom and stepdad and
they was all cut up and dead," Gray said in his confession.

Gray said he used a knife from the house to stab the couple, and
Baskerville was "choked out" and left in her room. He did not say in his
confession whether he or Dandridge choked Baskerville, and seemed at a
loss when asked why she, too, had been killed.

"That's a good question," he said. "That things just played out that way
is something, isn't it?"

Percyell Tucker worked in the tobacco industry and his wife worked at a
laundry, said JoAnn Barnes, Ashley's aunt and the sister of Mary
Baskerville-Tucker. The couple had been together for more than 20 years.
Tucker was a whiz at making coconut pies and always quick with a joke,
said Barnes, who often sat on her sister's porch and read the Bible with

Barnes, 53, said her niece had been turning her life around and was just
starting nursing school when she was killed.

"Ashley was a good person," Barnes said. "She just hooked up with the
wrong people."

Dandridge was released from prison Oct. 26 after serving 10 years for
robbery, according to Virginia Department of Corrections records. Gray was
released in 2002 after serving six years for robbery, firearms possession
and cocaine possession.

Gray also confessed to the Nov. 5 killing of his 35-year-old wife, Treva
Terrell Gray, in Washington, Pa., about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh. In
his confession, Gray said he beat his wife to death in their bed with a
piece of pipe while Dandridge held her down. Her body was later discovered
near a wooded area.

The 2 have also been charged in the slashing assault and robbery of an
Arlington man on New Year's Eve. Gray told police he and Dandridge were
driving around Arlington when they spotted Ryan Carey, now 26, getting out
of his car. Gray confessed to breaking off two knives in Carey's body.

(source: Associated Press)

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