[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----IND., VA., NEV., PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Apr 14 00:56:31 UTC 2007
URGENT ACTION APPEAL
13 April 2007----UA 85/07 Death penalty / Legal concern
USA (Indiana) David Leon Woods (m), aged 42
David Woods, white, is scheduled to be executed in Indiana on 4 May 2007.
He was sentenced to death in 1985 for the murder of Juan Placencia in
1984. David Woods has spent more than half of his life on death row.
On 7 April 1984, David Woods, Gregory Sloan and Patrick Sweet went to the
apartment of Juan Placencia, a 77-year-old acquaintance of Woods' mother,
with a plan to steal his television. According to the state's evidence,
when the elderly man opened the door, David Woods stabbed him repeatedly.
A television and some money were stolen. Gregory Sloan and Patrick Sweet
received prison terms.
David Woods was 19 at the time of the crime. According to his clemency
petition, ''not presented at Woods' trial is a litany of graphic,
troubling and horrific abuse suffered by Woods as a child Undiscovered
until post-conviction was the magnitude of the abuse. Woods was regularly
beaten, starved, sadistically tortured, and left to fend for himself
throughout his life Prior attempts at intervention on Woods' behalf by the
local welfare department were thwarted by a lack of resources and
available services... Essentially Woods became a product of a failed
family system and a failed welfare system''.
Some evidence of David Woods' abusive background was raised at his trial,
and the trial court found that his ''turbulent childhood'' was a
''significant mitigating circumstance''. Post-conviction appeals arguing
that his lawyers failed to relate the extent of the abuse have been
dismissed under the high bar set by the 1984 US Supreme Court decision,
Strickland v. Washington. Under Strickland, an inmate has to prove not
only that the lawyer's performance was deficient, but also that it
affected the outcome of the trial. The Strickland decision instructed
appeal courts that judicial scrutiny of a defense lawyer's performance
must be ''highly deferential'', and ''indulge a strong presumption'' that
the lawyer's performance was reasonable.
According to the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 2005,
''Woods unquestionably came from a tragic background'', and the jury had
heard enough to be left in ''no doubt that Woods had a truly horrific
childhood''. It noted that the jury was told how the defendant's mother
''and the various men in her life took sadistic pleasure in physically
abusing Woods and his siblings. In addition, the children frequently
witnessed [the mother] herself being mercilessly beaten by these men''. It
recalled that at one point Woods' mother ''became the 'mama' of a local
motorcycle gang and regularly hosted wild parties at her home, during
which much sex and drinking went on in the presence of the children. One
evening, [the mother] 'offered' two of her daughters (aged 13 and 11) to
some of the bikers''. David Woods' father had abandoned the family when
the boy was a few years old, and after that the family moved around the
country, ''often living in very unhealthy and impoverished conditions''.
The jury also heard some expert evidence on the effects that the abuse had
had on David Woods, including depression, anger and emotional problems. A
social worker, for example, testified that after he was placed in foster
care, Woods was aggressive towards other children and against himself. One
at least one occasion, he inflicted knife wounds to his own stomach and
The Seventh Circuit acknowledged that the evidence discovered after the
trial had ''undeniably revealed additional, often unpleasant details about
Woods' upbringing and the nature of the various abuses he sufferedFor
example, Woods points to additional details of his mother's neglect, such
as chaining the refrigerator shut and giving food only as a reward for
stealing. Other unsavory factsprovided additional detail regarding Woods's
and his siblings' physical and sexual abuse''. However, it concluded that
''Woods's claim boils down to the contention that his counsel did not
present enough mitigating evidence'', and that even if his lawyer's
performance was deficient, ''Woods cannot satisfy the prejudice prong of
There is evidence that David Woods has borderline mental retardation, and
an expert recently noted the ''clear evidence of brain damage''. In March
2007, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the evidence did not support a
finding that David Woods had actual retardation which would render his
execution unconstitutional. This issue is now in federal court. There are
also ongoing challenges to Indiana's lethal injection procedures.
David Woods has been on death row for more than two decades. The US
Supreme Court has not ruled whether prolonged confinement on death row
violates the US Constitution, but individual Justices have raised
concerns. In 1995, Justice Stevens wrote that executing a prisoner who had
been on death row for 17 years arguably negated any deterrent or
retributive justification for the punishment, supposedly the two main
social purposes of the death penalty. If these goals no longer existed, he
suggested, the outcome would be ''patently excessive and cruel''. In 2002,
in the case of a Florida inmate who had been on death row for about 27
years, Justice Breyer stated that if executed, the prisoner would have
been ''punished both by death and also by more than a generation spent in
death row's twilight. It is fairly asked whether such punishment is both
unusual and cruel.''
David Woods is due to be interviewed by the five-member Indiana Parole
Board on 20 April at the Indiana State Prison. The Board will conduct a
public hearing in Indianapolis on the morning of 23 April before voting on
clemency later that day. The Board's non-binding recommendation will then
be forwarded to the Governor.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases,
unconditionally. Since the USA resumed judicial killing in 1977, 1,070
inmates have been put to death. Indiana accounts for 17 of these
executions. Capital justice in the USA is marked by arbitrariness,
discrimination and error. A recently published study of Indiana's death
penalty system noted that it had ''aptly been called Indiana's 'other
lottery.' The Indiana report, conducted under the American Bar
Association's (ABA) death penalty project, stated that ''we are deeply
troubled that [the death penalty] is not imposed in a fair or consistent
manner upon only the very worst offenders who have committed the very
worst of offences.'' Among the specific problems it identified were
inadequate qualification standards for defense lawyers in capital cases.
The ABA neither supports nor opposes the death penalty, although it
supports a moratorium on executions.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible
in your own words (please include David Woods' inmate number, #851765):
- expressing your sympathy for the family and friends of Juan Placencia,
explaining that you are not seeking to condone the manner of his death, or
to downplay the suffering caused;
- noting that David Woods was only 19 years old at the time of the crime,
and emerging from what the US Court of Appeals has described as a
''tragic'' and ''truly horrific'' childhood of abuse and neglect;
- noting evidence that he has borderline mental retardation and brain
- noting that he has been on death row for more than two decades, adding
that US Supreme Court Justices have questioned whether an execution in
such circumstances would be constitutional;
- noting that the power of executive clemency is not constrained in the
way that the judiciary may be, and can take into account all aspects of a
case which the courts have been unable to unwilling to reach;
- calling for clemency for David Woods. APPEALS TO:
For appeals arriving before 23 April:
Indiana Parole Board
Indiana Government Center - South, Room E321
302 W. Washington Street
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204-2278
Fax: 1 317 232 5738
Emails: rgentry at doc.in.gov (this is the Vice Chairman of the Board,
Randall P. Gentry).
Salutation: Dear Board Members (or if sending email, Dear Mr Vice
For all appeals between now and 4 May:
Governor Mitch Daniels
Office of the Governor, Statehouse
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204-2797
Fax: 1 317 232 3443
Email via: http://www.in.gov/gov/contact/index.html.
Salutation: Dear Governor
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY.
Amnesty International is a worldwide grassroots movement that promotes and
defends human rights.
This Urgent Action may be reposted if kept intact, including contact
information and stop action date (if applicable). Thank you for your help
with this appeal.
Urgent Action Network
Amnesty International USA
600 Pennsylvania Ave SE 5th fl
Washington DC 20003
Email: uan at aiusa.org
END OF URGENT ACTION APPEAL
State inmate pleads guilty to 1982 rape and slaying of Culpeper mother,
ending case that almost led to execution of the wrong man
After 25 years, one of the most bizarre murder cases in Culpeper County
history is finally over.
In a move that surprised many of those involved--including Circuit Court
officials--62-year-old state inmate Kenneth Maurice Tinsley pleaded guilty
yesterday to the June 1982 rape and murder of 19-year-old Rebecca Lynn
Under a plea agreement, Tinsley will serve 2 life sentences for raping the
mother of 3 in her home, and in the presence of 2 of her small children,
and then stabbing her 38 times.
Tinsley, who is now in poor health after suffering two heart attacks, is
already serving 2 life sentences plus 14 years for the November 1984 rape,
sodomy and robbery of an Albemarle County woman. That attack occurred more
than a year after Williams was killed.
"I'm sorry for the things I have done," Tinsley said in a subdued voice
yesterday after Judge John Cullen accepted his revised plea.
After the hearing, Tinsley was returned to the Sussex II prison.
Tinsley had pleaded not guilty during his January arraignment. Although he
admitted guilt on the rape charges yesterday, he entered an Alford plea in
connection with Williams' murder.
Under an Alford plea, the defendant refuses to admit to the crime but
acknowledges the state has enough evidence for a conviction.
Earl Washington Jr. was originally convicted of Williams' rape and murder
in 1984. He spent almost 18 years in prison--and was almost
executed--before DNA tests led to a pardon.
Because of similarities between the Albemarle rape and Williams' murder,
Tinsley became a suspect a few weeks after Washington's pardon.
According to evidence presented yesterday, both crimes were committed
short distances from U.S. 29, which passes through both Culpeper and
In the Albemarle case, according to court documents, Tinsley followed a
jogger home, forced his way into her residence and then robbed and raped
her at gunpoint. He left when he heard someone in another room but
threatened to further harm her if she contacted police, which she did.
Several days later, Tinsley returned to the woman's apartment, but her
roommate, noticing a knife protruding from his pocket, would not let him
inside. This led to his arrest.
Special Prosecutor Richard E. Moore said Tinsley, who lived and worked in
Martinsville, admitted traveling U.S. 29 on frequent occasions en route to
horse tracks in Charles Town, W.Va., and suburban Maryland. In initial
interviews, Tinsley admitted traveling through Culpeper but denied any
involvement in the attack on Williams.
In late 2003 and early 2004, however, Edward Blake of Forensic Science
Associates in Richmond, Calif., isolated Tinsley's "full DNA profile" from
evidence collected at the crime scene, according to court documents. His
determinations were confirmed by a 2nd lab.
Tinsley was indicted for Williams' murder in August following a 3-year
Virginia State Police investigation.
According to Moore, yesterday's plea change was a closely guarded secret
that even officers of the court didn't know about. A hearing had been set
for the purpose of hearing motions in the case.
Moore said he was "very satisfied" with the outcome.
"This in no way will bring Rebecca Williams back to her family--her
widowed husband [Clifford Williams] and three children, and her mother
[Helen Richards]," Moore said. "But it does give assurance to the family
and this community that the person who committed these crimes has been
convicted for his deeds and should to continue to remain in prison for the
rest of his life."
(source: The Free Lance-Star)
High Court criticizes judge, prosecutor for ignoring order
The Nevada Supreme Court charged Thursday that a Las Vegas judge and
prosecutors ignored its order to reconsider a ruling in a capital
Robert Byford was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by Clark
County District Judge Valerie Vega. His appeal was rejected, and he
eventually petitioned for release saying he didn't receive adequate legal
help during his trial. Vega denied the petition and Byford appealed to the
state high court.
The court, in 2005, concluded the district judge failed to adequately
address his claims and ordered the district court to reconsider the case.
But the judge never held a hearing. Instead, the Clark County District
Attorney's office submitted a new proposed order in the case. Vega signed
it and filed it without notifying Byford.
The opinion filed by the high court Thursday says that violated several
district court rules, including not giving Byford notice of the proposed
order or a chance to respond to it before it was signed.
"This is particularly troubling given that, after this court had vacated
the prior findings and remanded the matter for further proceedings, the
district court never notified the state of any new ruling upon which the
state could have relied in drafting a new findings and conclusions," the
The opinion by Justices Ron Parraguirre, Jim Hardesty and Nancy Saitta
says the district court didn't follow the order issued in the case to
"reconsider" Byford's claims of ineffective counsel. And, it says, an
evidentiary hearing is required to do so.
"The district court should have reconsidered Byford's claims as
instructed, conducted an evidentiary hearing if necessary, issued a new
ruling and either drafted its own findings of fact and conclusions of law
or announced them to the parties with sufficient specificity to provide
guidance to the prevailing party in drafting a proposed order," it states.
"None of this occurred here."
The high court sent the case back to Vega's court for proceedings to
resolve Byford's claims.
(source: Nevada Appeal)
'Race Against Death' in Mumia Abu-Jamal's case
In the latest attempt by the state to deny his legal rights and derail
political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal's appeal of his 1982 death penalty
conviction, prosecutors have called on the entire Third U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals to recuse itself from hearing Abu-Jamal's case in Philadelphia
on May 17.
One of Abu-Jamal's pending appeals cites routine practices of Philadelphia
prosecutors that are racially discriminatory. In his case, this is
specifically racial discrimination during jury selection. At the time of
the trial, Pennsylvania's Governor Ed Rendell was the elected district
attorney in Philadelphia. Rendell's wife Marjorie Rendell currently serves
as a judge on the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.<>P> Instead of
simply asking that Marjorie Rendell recuse herself, a move that the
defense might favor, prosecutors say "they want to avoid any possible
grounds for future appeal" by removing the entire court. They show no
concern that Ed Rendell, as Pennsylvania's governor, can reissue a death
warrant should Abu-Jamal's appeals be denied.
>From the moment that Mumia Abu-Jamal was arrested for the Dec. 9, 1981,
shooting of a Philadelphia police officer, the bourgeois state-police,
courts, prison and media-has used every means at its disposal in its drive
to convict an innocent man.
"The history of the criminal case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, which is by now
almost 25 years old, has been characterized by bias right from the start:
against a Black man whom the court denied a jury of his peers, against a
member of the economic underclass who did not have a real claim to a
qualified defense, and against a radical, whose allegedly dangerous
militancy obliged the state to eliminate him from the ranks of society."
So writes German author Michael Schiffmann in his new book, "Race against
Death-Mumia Abu-Jamal: a Black Revolutionary in White America," just
released in Germany this past month.
Schiffmann's book builds upon evidence presented by two earlier books
written about Abu-Jamal's case: Dan Williams' 2001 "Executing Justice" and
Dave Lindorff's 2003 "Killing Time," and presents new evidence as well.
While researching his book last year, Schiffmann discovered two
photographs on the Internet taken by Pedro Polakoff, the only press
photographer present at the 1981 crime scene. Polakoff arrived 12 minutes
after hearing about the shooting on the police radio and ten minutes
before the arrival of the police unit responsible for forensics and
photographs. No photographs had been taken by the police unit when
Polakoff left 45 minutes later.
A picture worth a thousand words...
3 of Polakoff's original shots were published in Philadelphia newspapers
at the time. Polakoff also published five photos on the Internet to
demonstrate 3 points:
1) "The cops manipulated evidence and supplied the trial court with stuff
that was simply stage-managed. On Polakoff's photos, P.O. Faulkner's
police hat at first is clearly on the roof of Billy Cook's VW, and only
later on the sidewalk in front of 1234 Locust where it was photographed by
the police photographer who arrived 10 minutes after Polakoff!
2) "In court, Police Officer James Forbes claimed that he had 'secured'
the weapons of both Faulkner and Mumia without touching them on their
metal parts in order to not destroy potential fingerprints. However, in
the single photo reprinted in the book you can see that Forbes is touching
the weapons on their metal parts, and quite a few of Polakoff's other
photos make it clear that Forbes touched and smudged these weapons all
over, destroying any potential fingerprint evidence that may have been on
3) "The 2nd-most important prosecution witness, cab driver Robert Chobert,
simply was not parked in the spot, allegedly right behind Officer
Faulkner's police squad car, where he claimed to have been and from where
he claimed to have observed Mumia fire the shot that killed the officer."
Schiffmann also writes that Polakoff heard all the officers present
express their conviction that Abu-Jamal had been the passenger in Billy
Cook's VW and had fired and killed Faulkner by a single shot fired from
the passenger seat of the car-a very different story than what prosecutors
presented at trial. However, the passenger in Cook's car was Kenneth
Freeman, not Abu-Jamal.
According to Polakoff, police opinion was based on the testimony of 3
witnesses who were still present at the scene-a parking lot attendant, a
drug-addicted woman and another woman-all of whom either disappeared or
died within days of the shooting.
No mention of these witnesses appears in any report presented by the
police or prosecution. Schiffmann writes that Polakoff told him that he
was simply ignored when he repeatedly contacted the DA's office to give
them his account-and his photos-of the crime scene.
"Race against Death" also presents explosive and entirely original
ballistics analysis, arrived at after more than three years of research,
that also clearly disputes the state's case.
Schiffmann's book is important, not just for his comprehensive research on
Mumia's case, but for placing the case in the historical context of the
Civil Rights and Black Power movements; Mumia's extraordinary yet typical
history as a Black youth confronting racism; and the development of the
U.S. into a virtual police state for many segments of the population.
Schiffmann's book has been published in Germany. It is still awaiting a
(source: Workers World)
3rd suicide attempt won't delay murder trial
The defendant in a 2003 homicide in Upper St. Clair tried to commit
suicide in jail this week, but jury selection in his case has continued.
Attorney James DePasquale said Patrick J. Stollar, 28, cut his arms and
legs at the Allegheny County Jail Wednesday. He was not seriously injured.
It was Mr. Stollar's third suicide attempt.
Jury selection continued yesterday without him, and Mr. Stollar is to be
in the courtroom of Judge David Cashman when jury selection is expected to
be completed today.
Mr. Stollar is charged with killing and robbing Jean Heck, 78, at her
Upper St. Clair home on June 4, 2003. Mr. Stollar did landscaping work for
His trial has been delayed by several false starts and plea changes.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, and the trial is expected to
start next week.
(source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
'55 school killer: A life taken, lived----Film spotlights Swarthmore,
At Swarthmore College on Jan. 11, 1955, Bob Bechtel shot and killed a
fellow student, Francis Holmes Strozier. One bullet, from a .22-caliber
rifle, in the head.
5 years later, Bechtel was at Susquehanna University, pursuing a degree in
50 years later, in 2005, filmmaker Macky Alston trained a camera on
Bechtel, now a professor of environmental psychology at the University of
Arizona. His daughters Carrah Bechtel and Amanda Willis were there. So was
Bev Bechtel, his wife.
The Killer Within, the documentary showing tomorrow and Sunday at the
Philadelphia Film Festival, is about the night that Bechtel, a proctor in
Swarthmore's Wharton Hall dorm, a kid who had grown up taunted and
bullied, finally had had enough.
He had driven home to Pottstown, eaten a slice of his mother's coconut
cake, taken his gun, and returned to campus. He was going to exact
vengeance on students he said had hazed and degraded him.
But after shooting Strozier and firing a few rounds in the hall, Bechtel
put the gun down.
"A lot of people have this idea that I must have been angry or enraged or
something," said Bechtel, 74, reached at his home in Tucson on Tuesday.
"Actually, I was just pretty scared, and as soon as I shot . . . I had
this feeling of a hand over my heart, and I just gave up on the whole
thing right then.
"As far as I was concerned, I would just go to the police, turn myself in
and go right to the chair, get it over with."
That didn't happen.
Found not guilty by reason of insanity, the 22-year-old Bechtel was sent
to Farview State Hospital, in Waymart, Wayne County. One factor that
swayed the judge: a letter from Strozier's mother, expressing sympathy and
forgiveness. Another: In 1950, the teenage Bechtel, at his mother's
request, had been briefly hospitalized for psychotic episodes.
4 years and 8 months after the sentencing, Bechtel was released. He went
to Susquehanna and then to the University of Kansas, where he earned a
doctorate and began his teaching career. Until his daughter Carrah turned
19, the only person in his life who knew of the murder was Bev, his wife.
Then he decided to tell his daughters, his friends, his colleagues at the
University of Arizona, and his students.
Alston's film is about Bechtel's revelation, and its aftershocks. It is a
story about forgiveness and guilt and, by extension, about Columbine,
Nickel Mines, and other school massacres that have left their bloody mark
on the nation.
It is about a life lived. And a life not lived.
"If you're for the death penalty and say you believe in God, what do you
do with the good that can come from a life?" said documentarian Alston,
who met Carrah Bechtel when both were students at Union Theological
Seminary in New York. Carrah had approached Alston with the idea for a
"When I think of all the people who are locked away and weigh the good
that they can do against the bad that they have done, I'm left with this
trouble in my heart," Alston said during an interview last fall at the
Toronto International Film Festival.
For Carrah Bechtel, 32, the discovery that her father was a murderer
opened a floodgate.
"I actually couldn't comprehend what he was telling me, and still can't -
that he is that person," said the self-described
writer/actor/baker/songwriter, who lives with her older half sister,
Amanda, in Kansas City. It made her realize that she might not be here at
all if her father had been sentenced to death, or to a long term behind
"Every day, I question my existence," she said, also in Toronto. "There
are people in the asylum that let my father go, the mother that forgave my
father - people who didn't know it at the time, but [they] created life.
Desmond Tutu has a book: No Future Without Forgiveness. And forgiveness
creates future. . . . That's my perspective."
While making The Killer Within, Alston discovered that Bechtel's victim's
brother, John Strozier, lived just a few hours from Bechtel in Arizona.
When the news came out about Bechtel's past, Strozier read it in his local
paper. The headline implied that Francis Holmes Strozier had been among
the group of students Bechtel suspected of vicious pranks.
"I wrote a letter to John Strozier," said Bechtel, who acknowledges that
he didn't know whether his victim had been involved. "The headline said I
killed 'my tormentor,' and that really upset him because it made it look
like Strozier was a mean person, and I had never said anything like that.
. . . So I wrote to John Strozier, and I said I'm really sorry about this,
and I'm also terribly sorry about what I did, and so on, but I never heard
"And that's perfectly his right - I can understand he doesn't want to have
anything to do with me."
Bechtel speaks of the events at Swarthmore with matter-of-factness. In the
film, he is seen with his family retracing steps at Swarthmore and
Farview, not a hint of emotion on his face, nor in his voice. His
daughters say he is and has always been reserved.
Bechtel recognizes the perception that he is cold. "But this was 50 years
ago," he said, "and I'd been through this so many times. . . . And I don't
necessarily show emotions anyway.
"You also have to remember - and I think this is mentioned in the film -
that people used to get me to cry for their amusement. That's one thing I
learned to resist - the idea of crying." Though he agreed to participate
in the film at the behest of his daughter, Carrah, Bechtel is not
particularly happy with the way The Killer Within turned out.
"Who wants to be known because they killed somebody?" he asked.
He also believes that the documentary underplays what he sees as the root
of his actions. In his view, he suffered from post-traumatic stress
disorder. Since he was 4, Bechtel said, he had been the target of bullying
and taunting, continuing through Swarthmore.
"Children are traumatized by bullying, and I was traumatized many times,"
said Bechtel, who successfully lobbied the Arizona legislature to pass a
bill protecting students from bullying. "And it's not the bullying at
Swarthmore that really caused it; it's that whole history of bullying that
I brought to Swarthmore, and that's what triggered it off."
In a prepared statement, Swarthmore officials term The Killer Within
"compelling but potentially misleading." The school, which launched an
investigation into the shooting in 1955, takes issue with Bechtel's claims
of rampant harassment.
"Out of respect for the Strozier family and our alumni from the time, and
for the sake of accuracy, the Swarthmore administration objects to Robert
Bechtel's misleading portrayal of the events of 1955. . . . Prof. Bechtel
appears to attribute the shooting solely or primarily to 'bullying'
perpetrated by his fellow students. Holmes Strozier was a completely
innocent victim, and no one can watch the film without being moved by the
nobility and generosity of his family."
Amanda Willis, Bev Bechtel's daughter from a prior marriage, said her
stepfather's actions forever haunt her.
"It's something that I'll never understand about an insane mind," she
said. "That the insane mind doesn't know it's insane. And my father says
that very clearly: There was just no question. You take a gun and you
"It was not an odd moment to him, and that's when you know you're pretty
For more about the movie, go to http://go.philly.com/killerwithin
Read Steven Rea's blog on films and the people behind them at
(source: Philadelphia Inquirer)
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