[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Apr 19 00:11:32 UTC 2007
'Death no more' editorials
Nothing to add except applause for courage
Re: "Death no more We cannot support a system that is both imperfect and
irreversible," Sunday Editorials.
I am unable to add anything to your well-reasoned anti-death-penalty
editorial, which contained nearly every point that capital punishment
opponents have been arguing for decades, but I applaud you for having the
courage to print it.
It made me think of a sign I once saw, purporting to be a quote from God,
that read: "What part of 'thou shalt not kill' don't you understand?"
Steven R. Butler, Richardson
Gruesome crimes only emphasize the need
When I read your politically correct pabulum explaining why the editorial
board now opposes the death penalty, I immediately thought about the
families of the victims of Dennis Rader, nicknamed BTK for "bind, torture
and kill," who murdered 10 people in such a sadistic manner that it would
make most people sick to even think about.
Are you pleased that the BTK killer is serving life in prison, rather than
facing his maker prematurely?
What about John Couey, who sadistically raped and buried little 9-year-old
Jessica Lunsford alive? Does he deserve 3 hot meals a day and a warm place
You fail to mention that defendants' many appeals and safeguards are why
it costs $2.3 million dollars for each execution.
The Dallas Morning News' editorial board is not on the side of justice in
Don Skaggs, Garland
Death sentence only adds to the tragedy
Obviously, the event that leads a person to be on trial with a possible
death sentence is tragic. For the state to somehow redeem that tragedy
with an additional death only adds to the tragedy.
Joe Kalka, Dallas
One innocent's death justifies your stance
I am thankful for the growing diversity of thought we are witnessing in
Texas. Your modified position on the death penalty is sufficiently
justified by the ethical issue of wrongly executing only one innocent
person out of thousands of capital offenders.
We have never been provided with data showing a deterrence effect. Persons
engaged in violent acts probably spend no energy debating what would
happen to them 10 to 20 years in the future.
Prevention of all crime is a much broader process than merely terminating
an offender's life. Let's spend the $2 million per execution on more
reasonable prevention efforts.
Matt Jaremko, Dallas
(source: Letters to the Editor, Dallas Morning News, April 17)
Does death penalty ever apply to those found insane?----The US Supreme
Court hears Wednesday the case of a killer who may not grasp the tie
between his crime and his punishment.
There is universal agreement in the United States that an individual
convicted of a capital crime who is mentally incompetent may not be
executed. To do so would violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and
But just how mentally ill does a defendant have to be to trigger that
broadly accepted Eighth Amendment prohibition?
That is the question the US Supreme Court takes up on Wednesday in a case
involving the often bizarre legal odyssey of Texas death row inmate Scott
Mr. Panetti, who has a long history of mental illness, was found guilty of
the 1992 double slaying of his wife's parents. He shot them at close range
in their kitchen as his wife and his three-year-old daughter watched. He
took the child and his wife hostage, but later surrendered and confessed
After being found competent to stand trial, Panetti fired his lawyer and
represented himself. For the trial, he donned a Tom Mix-style cowboy
outfit complete with boots, bandana, and hat.
He argued an insanity defense, advising the jury that only an insane
person could prove insanity. Then he tried to subpoena 200 witnesses to
testify on his behalf, including John F. Kennedy, the Pope, and Jesus. As
one psychiatrist put it: Mr. Panetti's mind "saddles up and rides off in
Panetti testified at his own trial. He assumed an alternate personality
named "Sarge," who recounted in a barely coherent babble impressionistic
details of the killings.
The jury found him guilty, and the next day sentenced him to death.
Panetti, who refuses to take any medication, has become a jailhouse
preacher, perpetually studying and quoting his well-worn Bible. His lawyer
says he is convinced that his religious devotion is the true reason for
his death sentence.
"Mr. Panetti believes that demonic forces, in league with the State of
Texas, have orchestrated his execution in a final effort to prevent him
from preaching the gospels of Jesus Christ," writes Panetti's lawyer,
Keith Hampton of Austin, in his brief to the court. "According to Mr.
Panetti, the State of Texas is using the murder of his wife's parents as a
pretext to fulfill the devil's plot to silence him."
This is the core of the issue before the Supreme Court: Whether a death
row inmate whose delusions prevent him from understanding the connection
between his crimes and his imminent execution is mentally competent enough
to face the death penalty.
Every judge or jury in Texas that has considered his case has concluded
that Panetti has a mental illness but that he is nonetheless mentally
competent enough to be executed.
The test in Texas is whether Panetti is aware that he is to be executed
and aware of the state's reason for meting out that punishment.
Panetti's lawyer argues that the Texas standard is too low. Rather than
mere awareness, the condemned man must be capable of having a rational
understanding of the connection between his crime and his punishment, Mr.
"There is a big difference between knowing you are in a room and knowing
why you are in a room," says Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty
Information Center in Washington.
If Panetti doesn't understand why he is being executed, it undermines one
of society's key goals behind the punishment retribution, Panetti's
Others disagree. "Retribution is not focused on the mind of the offender,"
says Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, in a
friend of the court brief. "The focus of retribution is on society as a
whole and what makes for a just society."
A just society punishes those who are morally responsible for their
crimes, he says. "Panetti knows what he did and knows that he has been
sentenced to death for the crime," Mr. Scheidegger writes. "His delusional
belief in a conspiracy against him does not negate his moral
responsibility for the crime he chose to commit and still knows he
Panetti's lawyer counters that retribution is designed to force the
offender to endure suffering proportionate to his crime to pay a debt owed
to society. That is why the offender's mental capacity at the time of
punishment is crucial to retribution, Hampton says. "The offender must
suffer for the right reason before the community can confidently conclude
that he is getting his just desserts for his wrongdoing," Hampton writes.
(source: Christian Science Monitor)
U.S. Supreme Court to consider mental illness in case of Texas inmate
At issue is whether man convicted of killing in-laws should be spared
because he cannot grasp that execution is penalty for his crime.
Can Texas execute a convicted killer if his mental illness prevents him
from comprehending why he will die? That's the heart of a Texas case
facing the U.S. Supreme Court today when it considers whether Scott Louis
Panetti is competent to face execution.
Panetti fatally shot his in-laws, Joe and Amanda Alvarado, in front of his
estranged wife and 3-year-old daughter in Gillespie County in 1992. His
violence capped a turbulent decade of mental illness during which he was
hospitalized 14 times. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and had
Panetti says "Sarge," 1 of 4 personalities, killed the Alvarados. His 1st
competency hearing ended in a hung jury. Panetti demanded to represent
himself at his 2nd competency hearing, and the trial judge agreed.
At that hearing, Panetti wore a cowboy costume and offered a
stream-of-consciousness defense that referenced buffaloes, Jesus and a
"bad sickness in his mother's milk." He subpoenaed President Kennedy, Pope
John Paul II and Jesus. The jury found him competent to stand trial. He
was convicted in 1995.
For the past 12 years, Panetti has been known as the "preacher" to other
inmates on the state's death row. Mental health experts say he is
convinced that the reason the state wants to execute him is to keep him
from preaching the Gospel and that he sees his murder conviction as a
cover for his execution.
According to experts who have examined him, Panetti's mental illness is
worse now because he has refused medication for years. Mental health
experts for both the prosecution and the defense have concluded that he is
not faking his illness, but there is disagreement about its severity.
"Mr. Panetti is absolutely clean, and he is watched all of the time," said
Seth Silverman, a forensic psychiatrist who evaluated Panetti for the
But 2 state psychiatrists found that Panetti was manipulating his
behavior, suggesting that he was competent enough to be punished for his
"There's no dispute that for centuries both the common law and the U.S.
Constitution have prohibited executing the insane; everyone agrees on
that," said Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, who will be arguing the
state's case before the Supreme Court. "What makes this case even more
difficult to assess is there is consensus that Panetti has some degree of
mental illness. But at the same time, 6 different psychiatrists have
concluded he was exaggerating his symptoms and deliberately acting
Silverman said Panetti's behavior is consistent with his delusions. When
Panetti senses that people do not believe him, it affirms his preacher
delusions that the state is out to get him. What results is a predictable,
intensified reaction, Silverman said.
The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas and the 5th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Panetti's death sentence on the grounds
that Panetti knows that "Sarge" killed the Alvarados and that he is to be
executed for those murders.
If that ruling is upheld by the Supreme Court, it could weaken remaining
defenses for criminals with mental illness, said Richard Burr, a capital
punishment litigation expert in Houston.
"The way the issue is presented, if the (Supreme Court) agrees with the
5th Circuit, then many (mentally ill) people in the small category who are
like Scott Panetti - who have a basic understanding of where they are, but
who have lost the connection of why the state wants to kill them - will
die for something they think is utterly unjustified," Burr said. "Severe
mental illness has to be dealt with in a different way."
The Supreme Court's opinion in the Panetti case could set new standards on
how to judge whether a mentally ill person is competent to face capital
In previous cases, the court found that the execution of mentally
incapable criminals violates the Eighth Amendment's "cruel and unusual"
clause. But the courts have struggled with degrees of mental disabilities;
to date, there is not a clear set of standards on how to judge a
A 1986 case, Ford v. Wainwright, is the closest that the courts have come
to setting a standard. That case established that if the "defendant
perceives the connection between his crime and the punishment" and that
"if the defendant is aware that his death is approaching," the defendant
can be executed.
But the ruling left vague whether that means a factual or a "rational"
understanding. Panetti's lawyers will argue today that it's inhumane to
execute criminals who do not have a "rational" understanding of why they
must die. Since Ford, about 1,000 inmates have been executed, Burr said.
About 60 raised mental competency claims, he said.
Cruz worries that if a "rational" standard is set, it would forgive a
broad variety of capital crimes. "On some level, anyone who commits a
heinous crime is not rational," Cruz said. "Very few people on death row
are entirely rational; many have some form of mental illness. But under
the Panetti test, a significant number of those on death row could be
rendered immune from execution, despite their heinous crimes."
(source : Austin American-Statesman)
I am disturbed by the flippant attitude that the April 17 Viewpoint "You
are what you eat on death row" takes toward the criminal justice system.
Indeed, if the author doubts that prison issue sushi is any good, I'm sure
certain that she would pass on the food loaf, a bread-like substance baked
from leftovers, that is often served to inmates on Texas' death row.
There is certainly much about the experience of inmates that is
down-played by focusing only on their final meals. The life and humanity
of Stan "Tookie" Williams would certainly be better remembered by his
efforts to inspire social and political change, rather than his choice of
oatmeal as a last meal. Many inmates on Texas' death row have committed
themselves to a similar project by struggling against Texas' inhumane
Members of the DRIVE movement protest their 6-foot-by-9-foot cells,
extremely limited visitation rights and the injustice of death penalty
itself through non-violent protests such as hunger strikes. Perhaps as a
final act of defiance and dissent, they too will deny their final meals.
Maybe then, they will be remembered for their struggle against a system
that reduces their humanity to a single meal.
Merry Regan----Communication studies and history sophomore; Campaign to
End the Death Penalty)
(source: Daily Texan)
Symposium focuses on justice system flaws-----Former death row inmate says
death penalty 'targets the poor' during speech
There are 5 flaws in the American justice system, said Kerry Max Cook, a
man who was incarcerated for 22 years after being wrongfully convicted of
rape and murder.
Cook made the opening address at an annual symposium on civil rights held
at the UT School of Law Tuesday. The symposium focused on prison systems
in Texas and across the U.S.
"These flaws send innocent men and women to their deaths," said Cook, who
wrote a book called "Chasing Justice," addressing his experiences with the
The 1st flaw is an error of mistaken identification, and the 2nd is the
use of weak inmate testimony by the prosecution, he said. The 3rd flaw is
"junk sciences." Cook said this is when the prosecution calls expert
witnesses who essentially tailor their findings to remove reasonable doubt
and ensure conviction.
The 4th flaw, prosecutorial misconduct, Cook deems the most critical in
regards to his own false conviction, he said.
"The reason for that degree of prosecutorial misconduct is that
prosecutors enjoy qualified immunity, and in the wrong hands, it becomes
nothing short of a license to lie and cheat," he said.
The 5th flaw is ineffective assistance counseling, Cook said, using a
comparison between Kmart and Saks Fifth Avenue shoppers to show what
having the money to hire the best lawyers can do for someone.
"Money is what determines who lives and dies in this country. The death
penalty is not racist; the death penalty targets the poor," Cook said.
The symposium's first panel discussed juvenile justice, specifically
sexual abuse which the Texas Youth Commission failed to report in a timely
manner. Speakers in this panel included Scott Medlock of the Texas Civil
Rights Project, Will Harrell of the American Civil Liberties Union of
Texas and Isela Gutierrez of the Texas Coalition Advocating for Juvenile
The 2nd panel addressed what ordinary people can do to reform prisons and
featured speakers Nicole Porter of the American Civil Liberties Union of
Texas, J. Rogue of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, Andria Shively of
the Inside Books Project and Michele Deitch, adjunct professor at the
Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.
Deitch discussed non-litigation strategies to address the problems in the
Texas prison system, saying the judicial standards aren't adequate enough.
The 1st strategy is to reduce this country's reliance on incarceration,
"We lock up more people in this country than anywhere else in the world,"
she said. "If Texas was its own country, we would have the 6th-most people
locked up. We lock up more people than 5 European countries put together,
including Britain, France, Portugal, Denmark and the Netherlands."
The United States doesn't have as many community-based strategies as other
countries, which better address social issues, such as drug abuse and
mental-health problems, and emphasize imprisonment as a last resort,
(source: Maya Srikrishnan, Daily Texan)
Compromise Would Allow Death Penalty For Repeat Child Predators
A compromise bill in the state Senate would permit the death penalty for
offenders who repeatedly prey on children.
Backers of tougher punishment for child-sex offenders distributed the
compromise bill to members of the Senate for possible debate this week.
It would allow the death penalty only for those twice convicted of raping
a child 13 or younger.
It also boosts mandatory minimum sentences for a variety of sex crimes
The House passed its version of the bill last month.
That version carries a minimum of 25 years to life in prison on a 1st
conviction and possibly the death penalty for a second offense.
A spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst says the goal of the bill is to
send a message to child predators that such crimes won't be tolerated.
(source: KWTX News)
Man, 22, found guilty of capital murder
A jury took less than 3 hours to find Clarence Badgett guilty of capital
Badgett, 22, was 1 of 4 men charged in the Aug. 30, 2005, slaying of
26-year-old David Ibarra in a robbery that a friend of Ibarra's, Jason
Leacock, testified was supposed to be a drug deal at Park Town Homes
apartments in the 1900 block of Budding Boulevard.
John Casanova, Gregory James Hayes and Andre Omar Clewis were also
Because the state was not seeking the death penalty in the case, a guilty
verdict means an automatic life sentence for Badgett.
(source: San Antonio Express-News)
Psychiatrist: Russeau Would Be Threat To Society
Jail and prison guards testified Tuesday about alleged offenses committed
by convicted killer Gregory Lynn Russeau during the past 17 years, while a
psychiatrist testified he would continue to commit acts of violence.
Russeau, 37, was convicted of capital murder for the robbery and beating
death of 75-year-old James Syvertson on May 30, 2001. The victim's body
was found on the floor of his auto repair shop on Vine Avenue by his wife
and daughter. Russeau was found driving the victim's car in Longview the
next day. A Smith County jury in 114th District Judge Cynthia Stevens
Kent's court will decide whether he receives the death penalty or life in
Dr. Tynus McNeel, a forensic psychiatrist, testified he believed Russeau
would commit future acts of violence and would be a continued threat to
He said he reviewed about 3,500 documents containing Russeau's criminal
history and evidence in the capital murder case and that Russeau has
characteristics of anti-social personality disorder, including a low
frustration tolerance, frequent aggressive traits, opposition to authority
figures and no feeling of remorse for harm caused to other people.
McNeel said Russeau has an extensive criminal history, including
burglarizing homes and vehicles, stealing cars and possessing controlled
substances. Between the ages of 18 and 32, Russeau was arrested at least
15 times. McNeel also said he has refused to complete court orders, such
as undergoing substance abuse treatment, and shows an opposition to
While in jail, Russeau was cited for fighting at least five times and
threatening to harm an officer twice. In 2002, he was caught with five
razor blades hidden in a Bible in the Smith County Jail.
Since 2002, Russeau has been in administrative segregation, which means he
is locked in a cell by himself for 23 hours a day and is not in the
He said there was no evidence Russeau showed feelings of remorse for the
"brutal killing," which was not necessary to accomplish his goal of
robbing Syvertson for crack money.
ACTING OUT IN PRISON
Brexton Lloyd, a former correctional officer for the Texas Department of
Criminal Justice (TDCJ), testified that on Feb. 17, 1990, Russeau was
yelling and making inappropriate comments to a female officer. When Lloyd
ordered him to stop, Russeau threatened him, he said.
Bethalie Schaefer, a former guard for TDCJ said on May 6, 1990, Russeau
continuously performed sexual acts on himself while looking directly at
her, at least eight times that day. She said Russeau was refuting
authority and the rules and regulations of the prison and that he looked
at her as if he was challenging her while he performed the sexual acts.
Ms. Schaefer said Russeau was in the 2 to 5 percent of the inmates who
were a problem for her.
Former TDCJ guard Christopher Wright said Russeau threatened him Feb. 8,
1995. After Russeau caused a problem, Wright was asked to stand with him.
The defendant told him "this was nothing compared to the trouble I'm going
to give you" when they got back to the building in which Russeau was
housed. Wright said Russeau was instead placed in a solitary cell.
Gustavo Zigler, a TDCJ prison guard for 13 years, said on Feb. 23, 1995,
Russeau was violent, aggressive and loud. When Zigler told him to be quiet
and calm down, Russeau spit a mouthful of an unknown liquid on him, he
said. He said Russeau was aggressive toward him on two other occasions,
calling him names and yelling at him.
Cheryl Whitesel, a prison guard at an administrative segregation unit and
Brenda Taylor, a correctional officer in an administration segregation
unit in TDCJ, both testified Russeau performed sexual acts on himself
while he looked at them.
Stephen Rogers, who works for TDCJ in the state classification office,
said if Russeau received life in prison, he could be placed in with the
general population in prison. He said as a former guard and warden, he has
seen both good and bad people in prison. He said he believed Russeau would
"fall somewhere between the middle of the road and a bad offender," from
what he's seen while Russeau was in prison.
"I can't predict that he won't hurt anyone else," he said.
Smith County Sheriff deputy Bryce Hatton testified he was working as a
jailer on March 28, 1998, when he found contraband in Russeau's cell. The
defendant had taken three 1-foot-long pieces of metal out of a leg brace
that could be used as a weapon to harm others or to open his cell door, he
said. When Hatton took them away, Russeau said if he didn't get the brace
back he would set off the fire alarm, Hatton said.
On March 30, 1998, Hatton again searched the tank, which held 9 individual
cells including Russeau's. He said he located 7 razor blades, a broken
toilet brush and extra mattresses and blankets in the 9 cells, although
his report did not show which cells they were located in. Hatton said he
found a 1-foot metal vent blade in Russeau's cell, which could be used as
The defendant was convicted and sentenced to death in 2002 for the capital
murder, but the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in 2005 that Russeau
receive a new punishment trial. The court found his Sixth Amendment right
to confront witnesses against him was violated because the trial court
admitted into evidence jail and prison disciplinary reports containing
statements written by officers, but no one who saw the alleged offenses
Before 2004, records could be admitted under the business record exception
to the hearsay rule. But Crawford v. Washington, a case decided by the
U.S. Supreme Court that year, found it was unconstitutional. The ruling
was retroactively applied to Russeau's case.
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham and First Assistant DA April
Sikes are prosecuting the case while Clifton Roberson and Brandon Baade
are representing Russeau.
The trial will resume Wednesday.
(source: Tyler Morning Telegraph)
Louisiana man loses Texas death penalty appeal
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals today rejected the appeal of a
death-row inmate from Louisiana.
Donnie Lee Roberts Junior is under a death senteence for the fatal
shooting of his live-in girlfriend 3 1/2 years ago in East Texas. Vickie
Bowen died in an October 2003 robbery of her home near Lake Livingston in
No execution date has been set. Roberts raised 16 appeal points with the
Austin appeals court -- including an argument that the facts of the case
were insufficient to prove robbery.
But the court's presiding judge, Sharon Keller, says Roberts, "by his own
admission," pointed a gun at Bowen and demanded money from her immediately
before killing her.
In a dissent, Judge Lawrence Meyers agreed with Roberts that a victim of
an earlier robbery involving him shouldn't have been allowed to testify
during the punishment phase of his trial.
Joined by two other judges, Meyers wrote that the testimony was irrelevant
and inadmissable. But in an opinion joined by five other judges, Keller
wrote that the evidence was admissable.
She also said that Roberts' trial lawyers weren't ineffective when they
failed to object to testimony Roberts argued was improper.
(source: Associated Press)
A transcript from today's oral arguments in the Panetti case is available
The Court should rule later this summer (hopefully by the end of June).
Some of the media coverage is at www.standdown.org
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