[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS., ILL., VA., MONT., WASH.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Feb 5 07:04:07 UTC 2007
DA's office removed from Miller-El trial----Dallas: Supervisor used to
represent defendant in death penalty case
A Dallas judge removed the district attorney's office from Thomas
Miller-El's death penalty retrial Thursday, ruling that a potential
conflict of interest exists because a former member of Mr. Miller-El's
defense team is now a top supervisor in the district attorney's office.
Judge John Creuzot appointed Fort Worth attorney Mike Heiskell to
prosecute the robbery-murder case independent of the Dallas County
district attorney's office. The judge's action came on the same day that
prosecutors filed a motion to withdraw from the upcoming trial.
3 felony cases have been diverted by Dallas judges to outside prosecutors
out of concern for potential conflicts within the new district attorney's
administration. District Attorney Craig Watkins, himself a longtime
defense attorney, took office in January and appointed 5 defense attorneys
to join his administration as supervisors.
Dallas County First Assistant District Attorney Terri Moore said the
office needed to remove itself from Mr. Miller-El's case because Assistant
District Attorney Kevin Brooks, who now oversees felony prosecutions, had
previously represented Mr. Miller-El.
"It seemed like the safest and most prudent thing to do," she said. "Kevin
is not just a supervisor, he is a supervisor of supervisors."
The recusal is just the latest turn in Mr. Miller-El's controversial case.
He was convicted of killing Douglas Walker, a night clerk at an Irving
Holiday Inn, during a November 1985 robbery. Mr. Walker and co-worker
Donald Ray Hall were bound, gagged and shot during the robbery. During the
trial, Mr. Hall, who was paralyzed in the shooting, and Mr. Miller-El's
accomplice identified Mr. Miller-El as the triggerman in the shooting.
Mr. Miller-El sat on death row until 2005, when his conviction and death
sentence were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court out of concern that
prosecutors had unfairly excluded minorities from the jury.
Jury selection for a new trial had been set to start this spring. Judge
Creuzot declined to comment in detail about the case but said the
prosecutorial changes could delay it until 2008. Judge Creuzot is also new
to the case after it was transferred out of newly elected District Judge
Carter Thompson's court.
Judge Thompson said he and Judge Creuzot agreed to the transfer because
Judge Thompson has three other death penalty cases assigned to his court
and Judge Creuzot was already familiar with the Miller-El case.
Mr. Watkins and his new supervisors each had numerous pending cases when
they shuttered their defense practices, and all could present potential
conflicts of interest for the office. Ms. Moore said the administration
should be able to continue prosecuting most of the cases by isolating
prosecutors who have a potential conflict of interest, but the decision
will be made on a case-by-case basis.
Dallas judges have already removed two other felony cases from the
district attorney's control. Attorney Tom D'Amore, who was fired by Mr.
Watkins when he took office in January, has been appointed as a special
prosecutor in the cases of nine suspected members of a white supremacist
gang charged with murder. Mr. Brooks, the district attorney's new top
felony prosecutor, had been one of the men's attorneys.
Attorney Heath Hyde, who left the district attorney's office in December,
has been appointed to prosecute 2 charges of sexual assault against Steven
King, a repeat sex offender who was an employee of Mr. Watkins' bail bond
company when he was accused of 2 new offenses in 2004.
Each of the recusals was requested by Mr. Watkins. By law, it's the
district attorney's decision to ask judges to be removed from cases, said
Robert Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County
The district attorney's office may be able to isolate prosecutors who may
have conflicts of interest from some cases but they often choose to recuse
the entire office from other cases out of "an abundance of caution," Mr.
"This isn't uncommon at all," he said. "At the beginning of any new
administration ... you're going to have a period of time where there's
going to be some recusals."
Mr. Miller-El's lead attorney, Doug Parks, said Mr. Watkins made the right
decision to seek removal from Mr. Miller-El's case.
"I'm not worried that Kevin, who is an honorable man, would disclose
anything intentionally," he said. "But the prudent thing to do would be
for the district attorney's office to recuse themselves."
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Jurors deliberate in capital murder trial of former youth pastor
A Bexar County jury is deliberating Friday morning the guilt or innocence
of a former youth minister accused of choking and stabbing to death his
17-year-old pregnant girlfriend.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys presented their closing arguments in
Adrian Estrada's capital murder trial and jurors began deliberations at
about 10:35 a.m.
Estrada, 24, a former youth pastor of El Sendero Assembly of God, is
charged in the Dec. 12, 2005, slayings of Stephanie Sanchez and her unborn
Sanchez's body was found on the kitchen floor of her family's West Side
home. Estrada was arrested the following day after he admitted to stabbing
In her closing statements, prosecutor Kirsta Melton told jurors that
immediately after the slayings, the defendant went to exercise at a local
gym and then went to Wal-Mart. "The man was picking out clothes while his
girlfriend and his child bled to death on the kitchen floor," Melton said.
"2 lives, 2 futures, destroyed by one man -- Adrian Estrada," Melton said.
The prosecution is seeking a capital murder conviction, but the defense is
asking that jurors consider lesser charges of murder in Sanchez' death and
manslaughter in the death of the fetus.
Defense attorney Suzanne Kramer argued there was no evidence that Estrada
went to the home with the intent to kill anyone or that he had a weapon
when he arrived at the house.
Kramer said there is evidence; however, that an altercation occurred
inside the home, and it's possible that Sanchez came at him with a knife
until Estrada took it away.
"We will not argue (the killing) was in self-defense," Kramer told jurors.
"I think it will insult your intelligence. I think it's obvious whatever
happened was emotions gone awry."
If convicted of capital murder, Estrada faces either life in prison
without parole or the death penalty. A murder conviction would carry a
punishment range of 5 to 99 years in prison; manslaughter is punishable by
a maximum of 20 years in prison.
(source: San Antonio Express-News
Change of venue denied in murder case
A change of venue motion was denied in the capital murder case of
Francisco Castellano, 22, who is charged with the April 29, 2005, stabbing
death of his 4-year-old niece.
Castellano defense attorney, James Stafford of Houston, filed several
motions in the Castellanos pre-trial hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 30,
including a motion to preclude prosecution from seeking the death penalty.
The motion was denied.
A Jan. 17 motion to preclude death as a sentencing option and to impanel a
jury to determine whether Castellano is a person with mental retardation
The child, identified as SanJuanita S. Gaona, was found on Friday, April
29, in a weeded patch behind her home in the 1400 block of Avenue E in Bay
City, according to a May 5, 2005, story in the Victoria Advocate.
The child had been stabbed in the chest and throat and suffered head
According to court records, investigators found evidence that the child
had been sexually assaulted.
The child had been left in Castellanos care while her mother and her
mothers boyfriend went to Matagorda General Hospital for an unspecified
reason. They returned to find the child missing.
Bay City police officers discovered her body at about 3 a.m., about 2
hours after her mother called 9-1-1, according to the Advocate story.
2 other girls, a 10-year-old and a 3-year-old, were also left at the home
and were unharmed.
Under state law, anyone accused of killing a child under 6 years old is
charged with capital murder, which can bring the death penalty.
(source: Victorial Advocate)
Couple face capital murder in boy's death
A Nueces County grand jury on Thursday indicted a couple on capital murder
charges in the death of a 4-year-old boy in their custody who authorities
said was given Cajun spices as a punishment.
Hannah and Larry Overton were indicted on the charges in the Oct. 3 death
of Andrew Burd, whom the couple planned to adopt.
Larry Overton, 30, had been charged with injury to a child in the incident
but the grand jury upgraded the charge to capital murder, officials said.
His wife is 29.
"We're pleased with the grand jury's decision," said prosecutor Sandra
Eastwood said prosecutors want to try the case as quickly as possible. The
capital murder charge gives prosecutors the opportunity to ask for either
the death penalty or life in prison without parole, a decision which still
is pending, prosecutors said Thursday.
Hannah Overton's attorney, John Gilmore, said he plans to ask for time to
gather more evidence.
"The state has had all this time to put their case together," Gilmore
said. "We're going to ask for as much time as it takes to represent them
properly in this case."
Larry Overton's attorney, Lisa Harris, could not be reached for comment.
According to arrest affidavits, Hannah Overton fed Andrew a mixture of
water and Cajun seasonings as punishment on Oct. 2. After he drank the
mixture, vomited and drifted in and out of consciousness, the Overtons
waited nearly three hours before taking the boy to a medical clinic,
He later was taken to Christus Spohn Hospital South, where he died the
following day, hospital officials said.
The Overtons' biological child, born on Jan. 22, was placed in the custody
of Hannah Overton's mother, court officials said.
The Overtons were not in custody late Thursday, Nueces County jailers
said. Hannah Overton was released from custody in October after posting a
$250,000 bond on a capital murder charge and Larry Overton also was
released in October on a $150,000 bond on what at the time was a charge of
injury to a child.
(source: Corpus Christi Caller-TImes)
Anti-Death-Penalty Governor Gets Nobel Nomination; From: The Campaign to
Support the Nomination of George H. Ryan for the Nobel Peace Prize -----
Former Illinois Governor George Ryan Nominated For The 2007 Nobel Peace
University of Illinois College of Law Professor Francis A. Boyle has
nominated former Illinois Governor George Ryan for the 2007 Nobel Peace
Prize because of his courageous and heroic opposition to the death penalty
system in America.
Despite tremendous opposition and criticism, Ryan single-handedly started
what he calls a "rational discussion" on capital punishment in 2000 when
he declared the Illinois death penalty moratorium. To this day, despite
paying a heavy personal price for his courage, integrity, and principles,
Ryan remains committed to the principle of seeking justice for the poor
and oppressed. Ryan now takes his message globally, recently speaking
before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Switzerland,
continuing to initiate dialogue against the barbaric use of capital
punishment around the world.
Directly because of Ryan's imposed 2000 moratorium, a tidal wave of change
has gained momentum in the United States. Death sentences are at a 30-year
low, while the number of executions has dropped to a 10-year-low. And for
the first time in two decades, more Americans now support life sentences
over death as the proper punishment for capital crimes. New Jersey's
governor signed into law a 1-year moratorium on executions due to public
demand, and Florida's Governor Bush suspended all executions until methods
of execution can be examined in that state. California now has an imposed
moratorium, and Ohio's new governor has stated moral questions concerning
the use of capital punishment.
The American Bar Association has also now declared that there should be a
blanket moratorium on all executions in the United States because of
widespread problems with the quality of defense given to poor and indigent
capital defendants. As Governor Ryan exposed to the country in 2000, the
burden of capital punishment consistently falls upon the poor, the
ignorant and the forgotten underpriviledged members of society, and is
often used as a racist institution against people of color.
The United States attitude towards capital punishment is undeniably
changing, and as a direct result of Ryans historical acts as former
Governor of Illinois. Ryan exposed capital punishment to be a distorted
means of justice rife with flaws and defects, and he began the dialogue
that will one day abolish capital punishment in America.
Professor Francis A. Boyle has stated that, "George Ryan is the beginning
of the end of the death penalty in America," and it is for this reason
that he richly deserves to win the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
Joining him on the nomination papers were Chicago Attorneys Karen Conti,
Greg Adamski and Jerome Boyle.
Execution team's privacy is goal----Measure advances that would shield
identity of members
The Virginia General Assembly is considering legislation critics say could
stop the investigation of a botched execution.
The Virginia Attorney General's office is seeking the law, which they say
simply makes state law what is already state policy that has been
respected by the courts: keeping the identity of execution-team members
from being disclosed.
In a federal case in which a death-row inmate challenged the
constitutionality of the way lethal injections are performed in Virginia,
the judge allowed execution-team members to give depositions.
In that case, neither the complainant nor the court learned any personal
identifying information about those team members.
However, the American Civil Liberties Union says the proposed law goes
beyond that by stating: "The identities of persons designated to carry out
an execution, and any information reasonably calculated to lead to the
identities of such persons . . . shall not be subject to discovery or
introduction as evidence in any proceeding."
They say that removes a court's authority to determine if the identities
are necessary to properly handle a case.
Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, alleged in a
prepared statement that, "The bill is a license for cover-up when
something goes wrong with an execution."
"Under current law, we protect the privacy of persons who carry out
executions by not revealing their names, but when a problem arises we have
the ability to know who carried out the execution and what they did. Under
the proposed law, we may never be able to get to the bottom of a botched
execution," said Willis.
The House Committee on General Laws sent the bill to the full house for
consideration. The Senate version of the proposed law has already been
passed and sent to the House.
(source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Death penalty talk to coincide with bill
A former prison warden, former Texas prosecutor and the brother of
Unabomber Ted Kaczynski will headline a public forum on the death penalty
next week at Carroll College.
The forum takes place the night before Senate Bill 306 is introduced to
the Legislature. If passed, the bill would abolish Montanas death penalty.
Dan Harrington, the Butte Democrat behind the bill, said capital
punishment denies due process of law and forever deprives the accused
their opportunity to benefit from new evidence.
His bill may be the 1st of its kind introduced to the senate. The House,
supporters said, has seen one such bill in each of the past 3 sessions.
"The death penalty comes from earlier days of barbarism where slavery,
whipping, branding and other corporal punishments were commonplace,"
Harrington wrote in a letter to newspaper editors. "Like those other
practices, state-sponsored executions have no place in a civilized
Harrington argues that a society which respects life should not
deliberately kill human beings. He called executions a "violent public
spectacle of official homicide" that "endorses killing to solve problems."
Scott Crichton, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union
in Montana, said court and administrative costs make the death penalty
more expensive than life in prison. He also said past studies have shown
that capital punishment fails to deter crime.
"Nationally, over 100 innocent people have been released from death row
some only hours from execution," Crichton said. "The risk that innocent
people have been and will continue to be executed is too great to retain
the death penalty."
As many as 12 states have abolished capital punishment, along with the
District of Columbia and roughly 120 countries around the world.
In Montana, 74 men have been executed since 1863, including three in last
43 years. Duncan McKenzie was executed in 1995; Terry Langford in 1998;
and David Dawson just last year. 2 men accused of murder are currently on
David Kaczynski, the brother of Unibomber Ted Kaczynski, turned his
brother in to authorities in 1996 after suspecting he was behind the mail
bombs that killed three people and injured 23 others.
Kaczynski said he was horrified to learn that authorities were charging
his brother with a capital crime for which he could face execution.
"It didn't seem to concern prosecutors that my brother was mentally ill,
or that executing him would discourage other families from following our
example in the future," he said.
Kaczynski, who now serves as the executive director of New Yorkers Against
the Death Penalty, will be joined at the Carroll seminar by Gary Hilton, a
former warden of the New Jersey State Prison, and former Texas prosecutor
Millsap prosecuted accused killer Ruben Cantu, who was executed in 1993.
After Cantu's execution, however, a Texas newspaper uncovered evidence
proving Cantus innocence.
"He received a perfect trial," Millsap said. "Yet, we have determined 21
years later that he may have well been innocent. Whether he was innocent
or not, the system failed him completely. The system as it relates to
capital punishment is simply broken."
The panel also includes two relatives of murder victims, including J.A.
Ziegler, a former Yellowstone County Commissioner whose father was killed
in Los Angeles, and Marietta Lane, whose 7-year-old daughter was abducted
and killed in 1973.
"My own daughter was such a gift of joy and sweetness and beauty that to
kill someone in her name would have been to violate and profane the
goodness of her life," Lane said. "The idea is offensive and repulsive to
The forum on the death penalty will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 6, in the
Carroll College commons from 7-10 p.m. The hearing on the bill is
scheduled the following morning at 8 a.m. in room 303 at the Montana State
Harrington's bill is supported by the Montana Abolition Coalition, the
Montana Catholic Conference, the Montana Association of Churches, the
Montana Human Rights Network, Amnesty International, and Murder Victims
Families for Reconciliation.
"Legislative hearings are pretty limited in terms of your ability to talk
about things in much depth," said Crichton. "We thought that by having a
public forum, a number of these positions could be articulated in a little
more depth and a little more clarity."
(source: Helena Independent Record)
Legislators want limits on death penalty
King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng's decision this week to seek the death
penalty in the slaying of a soldier's family has renewed discussion about
whether capital punishment is good policy for Washington state.
While lawmakers say there's no rush to abolish it, House and Senate bills
introduced this session in Olympia would attempt to limit its use. One
would ban execution unless DNA evidence, a confession or other
sophisticated technology proves guilt. Another, filed in the House on
Wednesday, would allow defendants to avoid the death penalty by showing
they were mentally impaired.
A 3rd effort would put a moratorium on executions until July 2008 though
no one appears in danger of being executed before then while a task force
studies the application of the death penalty in Washington. The House
version of the task force bill is set for a Judiciary Committee hearing
The topic has gained currency since the state Supreme Court upheld
Washington's capital punishment law 5-4 last year and invited lawmakers to
reconsider the death penalty's fairness in light of Malengs decision in
2003 to spare the life of Green River Killer Gary Ridgway. Ridgway pleaded
guilty to killing 48 women and helped authorities find their remains in
exchange for life in prison without release.
"That's an ongoing discussion that we need to have," said Rep. Chris
Strow, a Republican from Clinton, Island County, who sponsored the DNA
bill. "The biggest utility for the death penalty in Washington state right
now is for forcing a plea bargain. We already have a system that makes it
virtually impossible to force anyone to go under the needle."
Maleng announced Tuesday that he would seek the death penalty for Conner
Schierman, a 25-year-old maintenance worker accused of knifing to death
the family of National Guard Sgt. Leonid Milkin in Kirkland last summer,
then burning the home to conceal the crime. At the time, Milkin was
serving in Iraq.
It's the 1st case in which Maleng has sought the death penalty since
The task force bills in the House and the Senate call for a 14-member
commission to review the application of the death penalty, including
whether race, gender or economic status play roles in who gets it; whether
prosecutors uniformly file aggravated 1st-degree murder charges, the only
crime that can bring the death penalty; the costs associated with trials
and appeals; and whether its applied randomly, as the four dissenting
Supreme Court justices determined.
The state bar associations death penalty subcommittee called for such a
commission following an 18-month study that concluded last December .
The subcommittee's report raised questions about the wisdom of continuing
to seek execution, given the exorbitant costs of death penalty trials and
the overwhelming likelihood of reversal by appeals courts. The state has
spent millions of dollars pursuing death in 79 cases over the last 25
years, with 4 executions to show for it. 3 of the convicts executed had
waived their appeals and volunteered to be killed.
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, derisively dismissed the task force bills,
suggesting that any task force was likely to be stacked with death penalty
"There is already a desired outcome: to do away with the death penalty,"
Roach said. "They'll come down and use that finding to try to change the
law next year. Let's not have legislators hiding behind a task force. Put
it up. Let's hear what people have to say."
Roach is a critic of the decision to spare Ridgway and said the debate
should be focused on why he didn't get the death penalty, not whether the
death penalty is proper.
Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle and the Judiciary Committee's chairman, said
lawmakers arent clamoring to do away with the death penalty, but they do
want to ensure it's being applied as fairly as possible.
Kline, a death penalty opponent, sponsored a bill that would bar the state
from executing mentally ill defendants whose appreciation for their acts
is "significantly impaired." Mentally retarded defendants already may not
Rep. Brendan Williams, D-Olympia, has introduced a similar bill in the
Strow said his DNA bill was designed to ensure that innocent people aren't
given the death penalty.
"I'm not a death penalty opponent, but you want to be darn sure you're
right before you execute somebody," Strow said. "I take protecting human
life very seriously."
Roach also criticized that bill, though. "You can watch somebody get run
over again and again and still not have any DNA evidence," she said.
(source: Associated Press)
More information about the DeathPenalty