[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, OKLA., USA, ALA., N.C., FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Aug 21 09:30:29 CDT 2007
EU urges Texas to halt executions
The European Union today urged Texas Governor Rick Perry to halt
executions. It also called on him to introduce a moratorium on capital
punishment in the United States' busiest death penalty state.
In an unusual direct appeal, the EU said Perry must, in its words,
"exercise all powers vested in his office" to halt the impending 400th
execution since Texas resumed carrying out death sentences in 1982.
The execution of Johnny Ray Conner is scheduled for this week. He is to
die for the shooting death of a Houston grocery store owner during an
attempted holdup in 1998.
The death penalty is banned in the 27-nation EU, which also fights for its
the global abolition.
The EU statement says -- "The irreversibility of the punishment means that
miscarriages of justice -- which are inevitable in all legal systems --
cannot be redressed."
(source: Associated Press)
Inmate relying on high court to avoid execution----Set to die Wednesday,
convicted killer says he got ineffective counsel
3 people identified Johnny Ray Conner as the man they saw running from a
north Houston grocery store after 49-year-old Kathyanna Nguyen was fatally
shot in May 1998. During Conner's trial, none of the witnesses mentioned
the gunman had a limp.
But, then again, none of them was asked.
A federal judge in 2005 ruled that Conner deserved another trial because
his defense attorneys failed to investigate Conner's medical record. His
trial attorneys said they never noticed Conner limp and he only mentioned
the issue in passing and never to dispute the witnesses' testimony. The
5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the federal judge's decision
without addressing the attorneys' performance. Now the issue rests with
the Supreme Court.
If the high court lets the ruling stand, Conner on Wednesday will become
the 101st Harris County inmate to be put to death since 1982. He declined
to be interviewed.
Customer saw robbery
During the May 19, 1998, robbery, the gunman stuffed a revolver into the
small opening of the store's counter, surrounded by bulletproof glass, and
demanded money from Nguyen. There was no escape for Nguyen, who owned the
business. She died from three gunshot wounds to the head. A customer,
Julian Gutierrez, who interrupted the robbery was also shot, but he
"I heard somebody say, 'Give me all your money!' " Gutierrez testified at
Conner's trial. "He was pointing a gun at Kathyanna Nguyen and had his
hand all the way inside the booth. She was shaking."
Gutierrez was shot in the shoulder when he turned to run.
The gunman was seen by 6 witnesses, 3 of whom identified Conner as
Conner said he told his attorneys before the trial about a broken leg he
suffered a year before the shootings that led to a condition known as
"foot drop." Weakened muscles around his right shin made him shuffle his
right foot forward to walk.
No medical testimony about the injury was presented at this trial.
But other evidence may have been too much to overcome.
Conner's fingerprint was lifted from a plastic orange juice bottle police
found near the store's cash register. The bottle does not appear in police
photos of the crime scene a point hammered by the defense during the
trial. Conner told his attorneys he was at the store hours before the
Although three witnesses, including Gutierrez, picked Conner's mugshot
from a photo spread, all of them gave inconsistent descriptions. None of
them mentioned seeing the teardrop tattoo on his face.
Gutierrez told police the gunman was wearing white tennis shoes, brown
shorts, a white T-shirt and a red cap. Another witness, who saw the gunman
running down the street, said he wore dark shorts and no hat. A third
witness, who saw the gunman as she drove along Fulton, said he wore jeans,
tennis shoes and no hat.
Conner's appellate attorneys persuaded U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore
to conduct a hearing about Conner's ineffective assistance of counsel
"The state had him videotaped walking in the prison, unbeknownst to him
that he was being videotaped, and it shows he has a limp," said Robert
Rosenberg, who argued Conner's case during the hearing.
Ricardo Rodriguez and his co-counsel Jonathan Munier never noticed Conner
with a limp during his trial. Rodriguez testified during the hearing that
Conner told him "I broke my leg, but I'm fine now. I went for therapy."
"The defense attorneys failed to conduct a reasonable investigation that
would permit them to make a reasonable choice among trial strategies,"
said Jim Marcus, a University of Texas School of Law professor who filed a
petition with the Supreme Court about Conner's case. "That's no way to
make an informed decision."
Assistant District Attorney Lyn McClellan, who prosecuted the case,
doesn't buy Conner's claim.
"It's all about delaying the inevitable," McClellan said.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Welch scheduled to die for Norman woman's death in 1987
Jo Talley Cooper's family has every reason to find Oklahoma unbearable.
Cooper, a 28-year-old Mississippi native who came to Norman to pursue a
master's degree at the University of Oklahoma, was raped and killed in her
southeast Norman home in 1987.
The case went unsolved for nearly a decade, and when DNA evidence finally
linked career criminal Frank Duane Welch to her murder, the family
traveled from Mississippi to Norman and was forced to relive the intimate
details of the grisly killing.
Now, Cooper's family is making one last trip to Oklahoma - to witness
Welch's execution Tuesday inside the death chamber at the Oklahoma State
Penitentiary in McAlester.
"Closure is sort of a cliche, but there is a finality in the sense that
the legal system is done and the dragging it out is over with," said Jeb
Anderson, Cooper's younger brother, who lives in Franklin, Tenn. "There's
no getting over it. You just learn to live with it, and that's where we're
Despite the painful memories, Cooper's family still offer up words of
praise for the detectives, prosecutors, court officials and others in
Oklahoma who tried to offer solace during their trips here.
"(Norman police detective) Steve Lucas calls me every year on the
anniversary of Talley's death," said Cooper's mother, Jo Anderson, of
Okolona, Miss. "I told him one time he'll never know how much that means
Welch, 46, who was serving time in prison for a kidnapping charge in 1997,
was linked by DNA to the killings of Cooper and Grady County resident
Debra Stevens, whose nude body was discovered in her family's home outside
Tuttle less than three months after Cooper's death.
Both cases had remained unsolved for nearly a decade, in part because of
the random nature of the crimes.
A former employee of a local cable television company, investigators
believe Welch wore the company uniform and posed as a worker to gain
access to the women's homes.
"There was just no connection we could find until DNA," retired Norman
police detective Allan Dupuis said.
While frustrating for detectives, the wait for justice seemed even slower
and more painful for Cooper's family.
"That 10-year period was a dark, dark time. All we had was hope," said Jeb
Anderson. "But I always knew in my heart, and I think I can speak for my
mother and my siblings, we always knew he would be caught.
"DNA caught up with him and science caught up with him."
She was living in Oklahoma in 1987 when she met and married Tracy Cooper.
The couple had an infant son, Travis, who was in a room down the hallway
from where his mother was killed.
Travis, now 21, lives in Madison, Wis., with his father. In a letter to
the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board last month, Travis urged the board to
deny clemency for Welch and wrote of the pain of growing up without his
"It would be different if my mother would have died of natural causes," he
wrote. "It would be different if it was God's will, but the truth is that
an evil man named Frank Welch took her life.
"And the unspeakable things he did to her, my mother, is what fills me
with anger, the pain, and the loneliness that I feel to this day."
(source: Associated Press)
Greasing the Wheels on the Machinery of Death
Death penalty cases can take a long time. Attorney General Alberto R.
Gonzales wants to move things along.
Under an odd provision in last year's reauthorization of the USA Patriot
Act, the antiterrorism law, the attorney general is to take on a role that
has for more than a decade belonged to the courts. After the Justice
Department finishes writing the regulations, Mr. Gonzales will get the job
of deciding whether states are providing condemned inmates with decent
If the answer is yes, federal litigation in capital cases from those
states - one of the main reasons for the lengthy appeals - will move to a
Inmates will have to file habeas corpus challenges in 6 months rather than
a year, and judges will be subject to strict deadlines. Appeals courts,
for instance, will get 120 days to decide cases.
The trade-offs themselves are not new, and they are not necessarily a
problem. If states can be encouraged to provide able defense lawyers to
death row inmates in state proceedings, the federal courts may indeed have
less to worry about.
But giving the power to decide when a fast track is warranted to an
interested party like Mr. Gonzales is a curious way to run a justice
"A 1st-year law student could spot this conflict of interest a mile away,"
said Elisabeth Semel, the director of the death penalty clinic at the
University of California, Berkeley, and an opponent of the death penalty.
The move can only represent Congressional dissatisfaction with the
decisions of the dozens of federal judges who have considered the adequacy
of state systems to provide death row inmates with qualified defense teams
over the last decade.
With one partial exception, they have found that the states are not yet
where they should be. (The exception is Arizona, which a federal appeals
court said had an adequate system on paper, at least as of 1998, though
the court also ruled that the system had not been followed in the case
Opponents of the death penalty say Congress wants Mr. Gonzales to speak
power to truth.
"After the courts had repeatedly found that the states were not providing
competent defense representation in capital cases, Congress decided to
solve the problem by the simple device of having the attorney general
announce that it did not exist," said Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at
Hofstra who submitted testimony opposing a version of the new law for the
American Bar Association in 2005.
"The attorney general can certify that the moon is made of green cheese,
but that will neither make it so nor advance scientific knowledge,"
Professor Freedman said. "The way to fix capital defense systems is not to
deny that they need fixing, but rather to dedicate the needed resources to
There is also some evidence that the law is a solution in search of a
In 1996, Congress imposed new time limits for filing capital cases and
severely cut back on the kinds of issues the federal courts may consider.
That law has had a significant impact, according to a study by Professor
Freedman and David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston,
to be published next year by the Carolina Academic Press.
Before the 1996 law, death row inmates who filed habeas corpus petitions
in federal court succeeded in overturning their convictions or death
sentences about 40 % of the time. According to the study, which looked at
the years 2000 through 2006, that number has dropped to 12 percent. And it
continues to fall.
"Federal courts now grant relief at a very small rate * far smaller than
they would if they had the power to correct significant constitutional
violations," Professor Dow said, "but Congress has already deprived
federal courts of their power to grant relief in most cases, even where
the court believes that a significant error has occurred."
These days, federal courts in the generally conservative Fourth Circuit,
which covers Virginia and four other states, grant habeas petitions from
death row inmates 2 % of the time. In the more liberal Ninth Circuit,
which covers California and 8 other Western states, petitioners succeed 35
% of the time.
The new law was pushed by legislators and prosecutors in Arizona and
California, and it is an expression of their frustration with the Ninth
Elsewhere in the country, the machinery of death is humming along. In
Virginia, for instance, people convicted of capital crimes are executed,
on average, in 7 years.
California, by contrast, seldom executes anyone. It has some 660 people on
its death row and has executed 13 people since the United States Supreme
Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.
It is true that the capital justice system is not efficient. But
efficiency cannot be the only goal. Accuracy must matter, too.
"The notion that the federal government wants to accelerate executions in
the face of known mistakes, and wants to do so just as DNA is becoming
available in more and more cases, is mind-boggling," Professor Dow said.
"It will increase the risk that some state executes a person we later find
to be innocent."
(source: Column, Adam Liptak, New York Times, Aug. 20)
Franklin jury says Waldrop should receive death penalty
A Franklin County jury has recommended Jodey Wayne Waldrop be executed for
his role in his infant son's death almost 2 years ago.
The jury voted 11 to 1 Monday to impose the death penalty.
A formal sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 1 where Circuit Judge Terry
Dempsey will rule whether to uphold the jury's recommendation or sentence
Waldrop to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Waldrop was convicted of capital murder Friday. He was accused of killing
3-week-old Jodey Jo "Chance" Waldrop at the family's Red Bay home.
During a sentencing hearing Monday morning, the baby's mother, Tiffany
Waldrop, asked jurors to sentence her estranged husband to a life
sentence. She said she believed she would have another "casket on her" if
she suggested the death penalty.
After jurors returned their decision, however, she appeared at ease and
relieved that the trial was over.
"I did all I could do," she said. "I succeeded in helping Chance and
that's what I was here to do, not to help (Jodey)."
Prosecutors contend that Jodey Waldrop slammed the child against something
or shook him during a 20- to 30-minute period when he was home alone with
the infant on Sept. 22, 2005. Chance Waldrop died three days later at
Children's Hospital in Birmingham.
"My oldest little boy said that he was going to get his Superman cape and
fly to heaven to get his little brother back," Tiffany Waldrop said, as
she spoke of how the baby's death had affected her family.
"This is something I think about every day and always will," she said. "I
still have every little thing that was Chance's. I use that to get me
through the day. Maybe I can move on now."
Waldrop's father, Mike Waldrop, pleaded with jurors to spare his son's
"God loves all of us, and we are supposed to love our children. I wouldn't
be a daddy if I didn't stand behind my son."
He told jurors his son was a good person growing up and he believed that
he would have done anything to help any of them had they needed something.
"He loved his kids, too," Mike Waldrop said.
Defense attorneys contend that the case should not be a capital murder
case and were surprised at the conviction and the subsequent sentence.
"As a defense counsel, we respectfully disagree with the decision of the
jury," said Florence attorney John Odem.
"We never anticipated the capital murder conviction and there will
definitely be an appeal."
If Dempsey does not overturn the death recommendation or if the death
penalty is upheld during the appeal process, it will be the first time a
death penalty has been imposed in Franklin County since capital punishment
was reinstated, according to courthouse records.
District Attorney Joey Rushing said he understood the family's wish to see
Waldrop get a life sentence, but said jurors took into account all of the
facts when making their recommendation.
"The jury got to see and hear all of the evidence and determined that he
did, in fact, murder his own child," Rushing said. "When you have a case
like this that is as well investigated by the Red Bay Police Department
and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, the jury is given an opportunity
to get a full picture of both the crime and the individual who committed
(source: The Times Daily)
Freshmen tackle death penalty
UNC's 1st-year students brought a national political issue into an
academic setting before they even set foot in their first classes.
About 20 first-year students met with Chancellor James Moeser and Student
Body President Eve Carson on Monday afternoon to discuss this year's
Moeser began by asking students to share what surprised them most about
Sister Helen Prejean's "The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of
The book gives Prejean's account of her relationship with 2 men on death
row whom she believed to be innocent.
Several students expressed their concern with Prejean's representation of
the American justice system.
In the book, Prejean defends her anti-death-penalty stance with examples
of prosecutorial misconduct and convoluted legal procedures.
"I was surprised that something like this actually happened in the
American justice system," freshman Brad Waters said.
Lizzy Hazeltine, another 1st-year participant, said she thinks the book
also reveals the modern legal system's deviation from the adage "innocent
until proven guilty."
Moeser said the problems of prosecutorial misconduct and assumptions of
guilt have been illuminated by events following last year's Duke
University lacrosse scandal.
Former N.C. District Attorney Mike Nifong, was disbarred from the N.C.
State Bar because of his actions in prosecuting the case.
Many of the students also said they were astonished to read Prejean's
evidence implying that the death penalty is not the quick, cheap solution
that many of its supporters claim.
"I feel like it kind of gave me a perspective that you don't usually see
as much," Waters said. "I am much more informed about the topic now."
Most group members said that the discussion session forced them to examine
"I won't say that it converted me in any way," freshman Jordan Seal said.
"But I would like to sit down and have a conversation with Helen Prejean."
Moeser, who has led a summer-reading discussion group at the start of each
of his 8 years at the University, said different opinions are desirable in
"The quality of this discussion was really wonderful," he said. "I would
have been disappointed if there had been no difference of opinions. This
is what a University discussion should look like."
(source: The (UNC) Daily Tar Heel)
Jurors defend penalty process
2 weeks of gut-wrenching testimony.
Close to 30 pages of jury instructions.
About 15 hours of deliberations.
Deciding whether Richard Henderson Jr. was insane when he killed four
family members in 2005 was formidable.
But the 5-man, 7-woman jury had been chosen to determine the 22-year-old
Myakka City man's fate.
And they followed the law, the jury's foreman, Heather Staples, said
"I know there are a lot of negative ideas about what the jury was
thinking," said the 31-year-old Staples, a Bradenton nanny. "But there are
steps many people don't know about, in how the decision was made - a legal
process we were instructed to follow."
Last week, jurors found Henderson guilty of 3 counts of 1st-degree murder
and one count of second-degree murder, then recommended he spend life in
prison. Presiding Judge Diana Moreland, who had the final say, agreed
Friday. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty.
Henderson's defense team had contended he was temporarily insane when he
swung the steel pipe that killed his parents, 82-year-old grandmother and
11-year-old brother in the family's mobile home on Thanksgiving Day, Nov.
"There wasn't anyone who didn't say he had a problem - it's the extent of
the problem that was in dispute," said Jennifer Joynt-Sanchez, one of
Henderson's 3 public defenders.
Jurors "listened to hours and hours of testimony regarding his mental
state and found that his moral culpability was less than someone who
should be executed," she said.
A jury's verdict, by law, is based solely on what is presented at trial.
"That's the system - we have a system and it works," said Joynt-Sanchez.
Chris Slobogin, a criminal law professor at the University of Florida,
said it is unfair to criticize a jury unless people are familiar with all
the evidence in a case.
"My guess is the public reads about the offense and thinks this is the
perfect candidate for the death penalty, but they don't have access to his
background, his mental state and other mitigating factors," Slobogin said.
"This jury did and balanced the mitigators against the aggravators and
decided this isn't the worst of the worst."
All 12 jurors agreed Henderson suffers from a mental illness, Staples said
in an interview with the Herald.
"We broke down the definition of insanity, word for word, and applied his
testimony through his confession and decided he was legally sane," Staples
Under the law, people are considered insane when they had a mental
infirmity, disease or defect and, because of this condition, did not know
what they were doing or its consequences; or, although they knew what they
were doing, did not know it was wrong.
"We felt pretty much that the degree of the crime and the actions carried
out (on his parents and grandmother) were bad enough to find him guilty of
premeditated murder," Staples said.
Jurors convicted Henderson of second-degree murder in the death of his
brother, whom Henderson attacked first, because they did not feel beyond a
reasonable doubt that he had planned the death, Staples said.
"But once he started, he had the opportunity to reflect," Staples said.
Medical records, along with witness and expert testimony, also factored in
the verdict, Staples said.
A psychiatrist testified that a PET scan taken of Henderson's brain in
August 2006 indicated an abnormality consistent with problems including
schizophrenia, manic-depressive disorder, a brain injury or a combination.
In 2001, Henderson was convicted of possession of a firearm. Officials say
he and two other Lakewood Ranch High School students had entered into a
suicide pact. The state did not file additional charges against Henderson
because prosecutors found he was mentally unstable and needed professional
After hours of determining his guilt, it took the jury fewer than 10
minutes to decide on a recommendation for Henderson's punishment. Staples
said nine jurors voted for life and three voted for death.
The brevity of the deliberations stemmed from conversations the group had
earlier while determining whether to convict Henderson, Staples said. Jury
members had discussed issues that would affect the penalty phase.
"In looking at it, a majority of us found that the death penalty was not
appropriate in this case," Staples said.
For Staples and the majority who voted for life, these mitigating factors
Henderson's criminal history: As far as the jury knew, he did not have a
His love for his family: "Not one witness said he had (serious) problems
with his family," Staples said. "There was clear testimony all around he
His mental illness: "He didn't get the care he needed," Staples said,
referring to Henderson's psychiatric history. "Some, he sabotaged or
didn't want, yeah, but he was a kid and there was some responsibility on
his parents and society to help him."
Some testimony during the punishment phase of the trial also had an impact
on why the jury did not recommend death, Staples said.
For example, Henderson's grandfather, Loyal Stringer, described Henderson
as "good guy."
"It's a tragic loss, but when his grandparents took the stand and proved
they could still love him despite what has happened - that speaks toward
what we had already thought." Staples said. "That confirms our belief he
wasn't a cold, calculating monster."
(source: Bradenton Herald)
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