[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Apr 27 14:18:10 UTC 2007
Convicted killer of Amarillo couple executed
A street gang member convicted of fatally shooting an Amarillo couple
during a botched beer theft at their grocery store more than a dozen years
ago was executed Thursday evening.
Ryan Dickson, 30, spoke rapidly when asked if he had anything to say,
expressing love to his family and apologizing to the relatives of his
victims. No witnesses attended the execution.
"I am sorry for what I did, and I take responsibility for what I did,"
Dickson was pronounced dead at 6:17 p.m., 8 minutes after the lethal drugs
began running through his veins.
Dickson had frequent run-ins with the law as a juvenile, including
burglary and assault arrests, was on probation at age 9 for stealing bikes
and served time with the Texas Youth Commission.
He was just 2 weeks past his 18th birthday when he was arrested in the
double homicide hours after the bodies of Carmelo Surace, 61, and his
wife, Marie, 60, were found by a customer at their store.
Police found a witness who recognized 4 young people running from the
store Nov. 27, 1994, as being from the neighborhood. Dickson, his
14-year-old brother, Dane, and 2 friends soon were taken into custody.
Prosecutors said Dickson told authorities he hoped the killing would earn
him a teardrop tattoo to impress his colleagues in a gang known as the
Varrio 16 Locos, or "VSL," as Dickson called it.
Thursday's punishment is for Carmelo Surace's slaying.
"That's a big part of my case," Dickson said. "I'm a gang member. I've
never denied it."
Dickson and his brother, with 2 friends, walked to the store a few blocks
from their home in Amarillo. They'd been smoking marijuana. Dickson wanted
"I was high," Dickson said. "It was just something spur of the moment I
The 2 friends waited outside. Dickson walked in. His brother, Dane, stood
watch at the door.
"The man came out from behind the counter," Dickson said. "He walked in
the aisle with me. He grabbed my gun, tipped the gun. ... When I jerked it
back, I pulled the trigger. And that's how he was shot."
Marie Surace reached under the counter. Dickson said she was getting a
gun. Prosecutor King said the woman was trying to dial an old-style rotary
phone when she was shot.
"When the shooting started, I wasn't thinking about beer no more," said
Dickson, who fled the store empty-handed. "I attempted to shoot over her
head and we ran out. I didn't even know I shot her until later that night
when they told me."
King said ballistics evidence disputed Dickson's account.
"She was on her knees," King said. "She had the phone in her hand. He bent
down. She was looking up at him. Ballistics showed it was
Prison records show Dickson last December stabbed a corrections officer in
"I'm a fighter," he said. "It's pretty much a given that I can't beat the
system, but I can create some difficulties for them after the fact. If
they go ahead and kill me, that's fine."
Dane Dickson testified against his brother and is serving a 15-year prison
Dickson becomes the 13th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
Texas, and the 392nd overall since the state resumed capital punishment on
December 7, 1982. He becomes the 153rd condemned inmate to be put to death
since Rick Perry became Governor of Texas in 2001; the execution surpasses
the total of 152 condemned inmates who were executed while George W. Bush
was (then) Governor of Texas.
At least 9 other Texas inmates have execution dates in the coming months.
Scheduled next is Jose Moreno, 40, set to die May 10 for the abduction and
fatal shooting of a San Antonio man 21 years ago.
Dickson becomes the 15th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
the USA and the 1072ne overall since the nation resumed executions on
January 17, 1977.
(source: Associated Press)
Moratorium: Governor needs authority to halt executions
State lawmakers have had a huge tug-o'-war with the governor this year
over the kinds of executive powers he should have.
In one life-or-death matter, there should be little debate.
A House committee this week heard a proposal (HJR 23) to grant the
governor authority to place a moratorium on capital punishment if he
deemed it necessary. The measure, by Austin Rep. Elliot Naishtat, would
call a statewide election on whether to create a safety valve that most
all other death penalty states now have. A moratorium would allow a study
period so the state could reckon with any grave misgivings that stirred
We think the public deserves and would want the right to decide the
Capital punishment may have popular support in Texas, but there are signs
the public is increasingly conflicted. Opinion surveys detect growing
sentiment for the life-without-parole sentence as an option to death, a
shift linked to doubts about the mistake-prone criminal-justice system.
Texas is now ill-equipped to react to unforeseen crisis involving the
nation's most active death chamber. That's bad policy.
This newspaper recently published a four-part editorial project calling
for an end to executions in Texas. That position stems from clear evidence
of miscarriage of justice. It was unconscionable to sit mute about capital
punishment while witnessing a parade of innocent men leave the Dallas
County courthouse after years behind bars for crimes they didn't commit.
Our critics have reacted sharply, some arguing that the very DNA that
frees the wrongly accused also guarantees airtight prosecution in death
cases. They're only partly right, and partly right isn't good enough. DNA
evidence figures into only a minority of criminal cases. DNA exonerations,
meanwhile, reveal an array of poor or outmoded police methods.
The need to assure higher standards in criminal prosecution is cause to
applaud Senate passage of a bill (SB 263) to create an Innocence
Commission and learn from defective cases. That bill, by Houston Sen.
Rodney Ellis, has gone to the House for an uncertain fate.
Prospects are bad to awful for a long list of other bills focused tightly
on the death penalty. That includes the Naishtat moratorium. But from our
vantage point, there's a scrap of good news it got the first legislative
moratorium hearing since 2003. That's a small step in what's certainly a
(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)
Worst criminals must face the music
As of Wednesday afternoon, Ryan Heath Dickson was scheduled to be executed
today by the state of Texas.
In November 1994, Dickson, then 18, and his juvenile half-brother robbed
an Amarillo grocery store. According to the Texas Department of Criminal
Justice, Dickson shot the 61-year-old store owner in the chest with a
sawed-off .22-caliber rifle. The store owner's 60-year-old wife was then
shot in the face after placing the money from the store's cash register on
the counter. Dickson killed 2 people and got away with $52 and some beer.
Unless Dickson can prove his parents didn't love him enough, or if he can
score no higher than a 69 on an I.Q. test, he will receive the ultimate
form of punishment.
There's no official word on whether John Lennon's Steinway will be in
Huntsville, playing a sad song for justice.
Lennon's piano, on which he wrote "Imagine," has been dragged around Texas
and the nation recently on a so-called tour of peace. Lennon's ivories
were on display April 11 in Huntsville when James Lee Clark was executed
for raping and shooting to death a 17-year-old female honors student in
Denton County in 1993.
"What this guy (Clark) did was violent, and the death penalty is violent,"
Caroline True told the Associated Press earlier this month. True is
writing a book about the piano and its journey.
Using this type of logic, apples and oranges are about the same, also.
Clark, who was convicted with DNA evidence, shot his victim in the back of
the head after raping her. He was not tried for also shooting the victim's
classmate fatally in the back of the head.
Clark died 7 minutes after an injection of lethal chemicals. His last
"Oh, I didn't know anybody was there. Howdy," Clark said to a group that
witnessed his execution.
It is doubtful Clark's victim died in such a non-violent fashion.
Speaking of violence, Dickson, an admitted gang member, hasn't changed his
ways. According to prison records, he stabbed a corrections officer in the
eye in December.
If Lennon's piano shows up again today, there will be plenty of sour
Here's an alternative, though.
No one in rock 'n' roll has tickled the ivories quite like Jerry Lee
Jerry Lee himself may not be up to it, but how about trucking one of
Lewis' classic keyboards to Huntsville?
It would be fitting to have a piece of "The Killer" on hand to see that
sweet music is played to the tune of justice.
(source: Column; Dave Henry is an editorial writer for the Amarillo
Anderson County DA May Seek Death Penalty In Kennedy Capital Murder Case
The Anderson County District Attorney's office is determining whether to
pursue the death penalty in the capital murder case against a 29-year-old
Jeramy Lee Kennedy is being held in the Anderson County Jail on a $1
million bond. He was arrested and charged April 3 after coming to the
Palestine Police Department for an interview in connection with last
summer's stabbing death of his close friend, 27-year-old Jared Lee Evans,
said Police Det. James Muniz.
"It was a combination of the interview and evidence that we had prior to
that," Muniz said Wednesday. "We still have some other work that we need
to finish up on this."
According to the indictment, Kennedy is alleged to have stabbed Evans in
the course of committing a robbery.
"The allegations are based on the fact that not only is it alleged that he
obviously killed the individual, but there's an allegation that he took
some money from the victim's wallet," said Stanley Sokolowski, assistant
Sokolowski said the district attorney's office is awaiting more
information from police and Evan's family before determining whether to
pursue the death penalty.
"I think we're still looking into it, gathering more information as to
whether that is an appropriate penalty in this case," he said.
Sokolowski said several factors play into whether the death penalty is a
proper punishment if Kennedy is convicted. He said the likelihood Kennedy
would repeat this type of crime plays an important role.
"We also consult with the victim's family to determine what kind of
punishment they would like him to get, and we haven't had an opportunity
to do that yet," he said. "We're very much involved with the victim and
their wishes in any kind of case, and especially in this kind of case."
A family member found Evans dead in his grandmother's home on June 24,
2006. He reportedly had multiple stab wounds to his upper torso and head
area. Evans had been living in the house for several days while he
renovated it. The grandmother who owned the home had died several years
Muniz said police have not yet located a murder weapon.
"We found there were several knives lying about inside the house. At this
point, we haven't been able to determine if it was one of those or another
weapon that was used," he said.
Sokolowski said the district attorney's office has not set a timetable for
determining whether to pursue the death penalty.
(source: Tyler Morning Telegraph)
Panel can help state avoid fatal injustice
I am heartened that the Texas Legislature is a step closer to creating an
innocence commission to review wrongful convictions in the hopes of
learning "what went wrong."
The Senate voted the bill out Tuesday, and it now moves to the House.
Senate Bill 263, authored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, would create a
commission of 9 members unpaid, except for travel expenses who would
each serve a two-year term.
The body would have the authority to review forensic and other evidence in
cases where a wrongful conviction has been proven with the aid of, for
example, DNA testing.
Although the original language would have allowed the commission to
administer oaths and subpoena documents and witnesses as part of its
investigations, the bill was stripped of such provisions out of political
That's unfortunate, because such a commission should be given the tools
necessary to do its job. House members should consider reinserting the
There is ample evidence to support the need for such a commission, which
Ellis has twice proposed in previous Legislatures.
Earlier this month, James Curtis Giles of Dallas was exonerated through
DNA evidence after serving 10 years in prison for a brutal rape he didn't
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has witnessed three such
exonerations since taking office in January. Giles is the 13th person to
be exonerated in Dallas County since 2001, when a state law began allowing
inmates to petition for DNA testing. No other county in the nation has had
that many exonerations.
Statewide, 28 men have been exonerated after collectively serving 344
years in prison, according to Ellis. Those are 28 good reasons to create
an innocence commission.
This week, Jerry Miller of Chicago became the 200th person nationwide
exonerated because of DNA evidence, according to the New York-based
I applaud the steps taken toward the creation of a Texas innocence
commission. While I'm all for it, I'm still uneasy about what the bill
does not address: the legitimacy of the death penalty as a weapon of the
Nationwide, the death penalty is being scrutinized as states grapple with
troubling revelations of wrongful convictions and the specter of innocent
people being executed.
Lethal injection has been legally challenged as "cruel and unusual"
punishment, and some states have instituted a moratorium on the practice.
Meanwhile, Texas senators voted Tuesday to pass the so-called "Jessica's
Law," which would make repeat child molesters eligible for the death
The original proposal has been watered down to reserve the needle for only
those committing the most heinous crimes twice or more. The bill ups the
mandatory sentences for a first-time aggravated sexual assault against a
child, requires GPS monitoring systems for offenders and eliminates the
statute of limitations in cases where the child is under 17.
All of those are good changes.
Nevertheless, the law will expand the use of the death penalty at a time
we ought to think about other options, including more widespread use of
the life-without-parole option passed into law two years ago.
This state needs to take a long, hard look at why we continue a practice
that is so clearly flawed. Hopefully, a well-designed innocence commission
will help answer some of those questions.
[Next week: The disturbing case of an El Paso man on death row for nearly
30 years. Many, including the prosecuting attorney and the judge in the
case, believe the case should not have gone to trial. He'll probably die
by the state's hand anyway.]
(source: Commentary, Rebeca Chapa, San Antonio Express-News)
3 Texas death sentences tossed----Dallas County case included as high
court faults jury instruction
In a fresh rebuke to the appeals courts that review Texas death row cases,
the Supreme Court threw out sentences Wednesday for three killers sent to
die by juries that weren't allowed to explicitly weigh childhood abuse and
other mitigating factors.
The ruling means Dallas County prosecutors will seek a new death penalty
for LaRoyce Smith, who murdered a night manager 16 years ago at the Dallas
County Taco Bell where he had worked. Prosecutors in the 2 other cases
Brent Ray Brewer and Jalil Abdul-Kabir were pondering their options.
44 other Texas death row inmates were condemned under the same set of
problematic jury instructions.
Many are expected to try and use the latest rulings to get their sentences
"It depends on what kind of evidence they had, what stage they are in the
procedure, what kind of reviews they've had," said Jordan Steiker,
co-director of the Capital Punishment Center at the University of Texas
law school, who argued the Smith case at the Supreme Court. "There will be
ripple effects from these decisions."
The Supreme Court has been engaged in a struggle to bring both appeals
courts into compliance with its death penalty rulings, though defense
lawyers had hoped for a more unified front. Wednesday's trio of rulings
came from 5-4 majorities.
Even so, Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, who argued the cases, lamented
the decisions. He said in a prepared statement that state and federal
appeals courts had struggled for years with the Supreme Court's "rapidly
changing and sometimes inconsistent rulings" in death cases.
"Unfortunately, today's 5-4 opinion causes yet another delay for the
victims' families, who are still awaiting justice in the wake of these
senseless deaths," he said.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had upheld the Smith sentence, finding
it "harmless" that jurors weren't explicitly told to take account of his
background in deciding between life and death. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals handled the Brewer and Abdul-Kabir sentences.
All three involved jury instructions used in the late 1980s and early
1990s, during an evolution in Supreme Court capital cases.
Texas juries at the time faced a 2-part test in sentencing. Was the
conduct deliberate, and did the defendant still pose a threat? 2 "yes"
answers meant death.
Mr. Smith's judge told the jury to provide a "no" answer if they felt he
deserved to be spared. The defense argued that wasn't enough to let jurors
genuinely consider his IQ of 78, and that he was a 19-year-old
The state Legislature resolved the problem by adding a third question in
1991, explicitly letting jurors consider mitigating evidence.
But in 2004, the Supreme Court threw out the Smith sentence on a 7-2 vote
and ordered the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to fix the problem. Then,
in what was widely seen as an act of defiance, the state appeals court
voted 8-1 in March 2006 to uphold the death sentence again.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in the Smith case,
repeatedly tweaked the lower court for its "confusion" and inability to
The implication that the lower court "doesn't understand some fairly basic
principle of death penalty law, that's ... insulting," said David Dow, a
University of Houston law school professor who specializes in capital
cases. "If I were a judge on the [Texas] court, I would be embarrassed."
But Chief Justice John Roberts, the lead dissenter, defended the lower
courts and blamed his own court for the conflicts. Instead of providing
clear guidance, it had given lower courts "a dog's breakfast of divided,
conflicting, and ever-changing analyses."
The court's guidance on whether Texas' jury instructions allowed
"sufficient consideration of mitigating evidence," he wrote, boiled down
to a vague: "it depends."
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said he will seek the death
penalty again for Mr. Smith. Aides have examined the facts and have spoken
with victim Jennifer Soto's mother. "She does want to go forward," Mr.
Watkins said. "I don't think we'll have a problem, considering the
horrendousness of this crime, of obtaining a new death sentence."
In Tom Green County, the district attorney's office said no decision had
been made on whether to seek a new death sentence for Mr. Abdul-Kabir. In
1988, before he changed his name from Ted Calvin Cole, he was convicted of
strangling a 66-year-old man with a dog leash during a $20 robbery in San
In Randall County, District Attorney James Farren said he was
"disappointed and terribly frustrated" that the court threw out the Brewer
sentence. Mr. Brewer, who said he had been abused as a child and suffered
mental illness, fatally stabbed a 66-year-old man and robbed him of $140.
Mr. Farren said he will consult the victim's family, evaluate whether the
evidence is still available and strong enough and weigh the cost of a
One inmate expected to invoke the latest rulings in court is Ronald
Chambers, convicted in 1975 for a carjacking and murder in Dallas. He's
been on death row longer than any other current resident, and the jury
instructions at issue were used at his 3rd trial. The Supreme Court
granted him a reprieve this year pending the outcome of the Smith case.
James Marquart, a criminologist at the University of Texas at Dallas whose
books include The Rope, The Chair, and The Needle, a study of capital
punishment in Texas, said the ruling showed that in such cases, "it ain't
ever over until that person is put to death."
"The Supreme Court had sent a message that the juries needed to be able to
fully hear and consider mitigating evidence," said Richard Deiter, head of
the Death Penalty Information Center. "Probably these cases never should
have come back a 2nd time."
REMOVED FROM DEATH ROW
The 3 Texas murder convictions thrown out Wednesday by the Supreme Court:
Defendant: LaRoyce Smith, then 19, now 36
Convicted: 1991, Dallas County
Crime: 1991 robbery/ shooting, stabbing of former co-worker Jennifer Soto,
19 at a fast-food restaurant. Co-defendant Kevin Shaw received an 85-year
Defendant: Brent Ray Brewer, then 21, now 36
Convicted: 1991, Randall County
Crime: 1990 robbery/ stabbing death of Robert Doyle Laminack, 66, an
Amarillo businessman, after he gave him and co-defendant Kristie Lynn
Nystrom a ride. Ms. Nystrom received a life sentence.
Defendant: Jalil Abdul-Kabir, formerly known as Ted Calvin Cole, then 31,
Convicted: 1988, Tom Green County
Crime: Confessed to the 1987 strangulation death of Raymond Carl
Richardson, grandfather of co-defendant Kelly Hickey and husband Michael
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Anthony Graves Update
Unbelievably, a retrial of the capital murder case against Anthony Graves
is set to go forward this summer, even though a special prosecutor
admitted on April 13 that crucial evidence in the case including the
alleged murder weapon is lost and likely will never be found.
Graves' 1994 conviction in connection with a gruesome multiple murder in
Burleson County, was overturned last year by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals upon a finding that the state had committed prosecutorial
misconduct, in part by keeping from the defense crucial witness statements
that could have affected the outcome of the trial.
In the wake of the appellate-court opinion, the Burleson Co. District
Attorney's Office stepped aside after a judge disqualified one of the
office's attorneys prompting the appointment of special prosecutor
Patrick Batchelor to take over. Batchelor is likely best known as the
attorney who secured a death sentence for Cameron Todd Willingham, who was
executed in 2004 even though evidence suggests that he was wrongfully
convicted. (Indeed, there's little evidence to suggest that there was even
a crime for which to convict. Willingham was tried and convicted of the
arson-murder of his three children, but an investigation led by the
Innocence Project determined the fire was likely accidental.)
Batchelor told District Judge Reva Towslee-Corbett that he will "account"
for the missing evidence by May 1, reports the Houston Chronicle, but made
no assurance that the evidence would actually be found. Among the missing,
and crucial, pieces of evidence are the skullcaps of the victims, their
clothing, fingerprints, bullets taken from the victims, and a bloody
hammer and knife that prosecutors allege are the murder weapons. In short,
the state is seeking to retry Graves and is seeking the death penalty
without the benefit of any physical evidence to back up its theory of the
crime. It is a stunning admission but one that sources tell us is not
exactly new information. Sources say there have been rumors around
Burleson Co. since late last year that the county deliberately destroyed
evidence in the case. Batchelor noted the "change of jail [facilities in
the county] and personnel" since Graves and co-defendant Robert Carter
were arrested in 1992 for the murder of six people in Somerville. Carter
initially implicated Graves in the crime but subsequently recanted that
claim on numerous occasions, including just before his execution in 2000.
Defense attorneys have been seeking access to the now-reportedly-missing
evidence: Attorney Jeff Blackburn says Graves' legal team wanted to
conduct DNA testing on the victims' clothing DNA analysis wasn't
available at Graves' first trial, but blood-typing analysis did not link
Graves to the scene and to analyze fingerprints found at the murder
scene, which at this point have not been matched to anyone involved in the
case including Graves. Now, Batchelor says, the only answer he may have
to give the defense is that the evidence is simply "gone."
Unless the charges are dismissed and, despite a total lack of solid
evidence, it seems likely the state will push on with this increasingly
embarrassing prosecution Graves' trial is set to begin July 10.
(source: The Austin Chronicle)
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