[Deathpenalty] death penalty news------PENN., MONT., MD., N.Y.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Feb 6 03:31:54 UTC 2007
Jury selection opens in Fayette death penalty case
Interviews begin today for prospective jurors in the 2nd potential death
penalty case of the year in Fayette County.
Jury selection opens in the trial of James W. VanDivner, who is charged
with fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend, Michelle Cable, 41, from
point-blank range at her home in Grindstone, Jefferson Township, on July
Last month, Judge Gerald Solomon rejected VanDivner's quest to quash the
death penalty on the basis that he is mentally retarded.
Solomon ruled that VanDivner's defense team failed to prove an important
legal stipulation -- that the former truck driver's alleged mental
retardation began before he was 18.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 in a Virginia case that the execution
of a mentally retarded defendant is cruel and unusual punishment that is
prohibited by the 8th Amendment.
Fayette County District Attorney Nancy Vernon will ask jurors to impose
the death penalty if they find VanDivner guilty of 1st-degree murder.
Upon his arrest, the 57-year-old Brownsville native reportedly told state
police that he would have killed himself if he knew that Cable had died
because he feared he would face the death penalty.
Authorities arrested him in Washington County after a 3-day manhunt.
VanDivner, who is also charged with attempted homicide, is accused of
shooting Cable's son, Billy, and firing a shot toward Cable's neighbor,
Billy Cable still has a bullet lodged in his spine.
Jurors last month spared another Fayette County man from the executioner's
Prosecutors sought the death penalty for Edward Belch, 46, of
McClellandtown, for killing 2 people, including an ex-girlfriend, with his
However, jurors were swayed that his intoxication from alcohol, marijuana
and prescription medicine affected his ability to form an intent to kill
and convicted him of 3rd-degree murder.
Death penalty bill before Legislature
Montanans this week will be able to tell a legislative committee whether
they want to see the death penalty eliminated or retained in the state.
Senate Bill 306, by Sen. Dan Harrington, D-Butte, is up for hearing
Wednesday, at 8 a.m. in Room 303 before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
His bill would abolish the death penalty in Montana and replace it with
the sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of the convicted
person ever being released. Similar efforts to end the death penalty have
failed in recent legislative sessions.
At 8 a.m. Thursday, the same committee will consider another bill that
lawmakers have defeated in past sessions. It is SB300, by Senate President
Mike Cooney, D-Helena, which would make it a primary crime for the driver
and occupants of a motor vehicle not to be wearing seatbelts. Under
current law, this is a secondary crime in which charges for failing to
wear seatbelts can be issued only if the vehicle is stopped for another
(source: Billings Gazette)
Until proven innocent
On the morning of July 25, 1984, 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton headed outside
to do what so many children do on hot summer mornings. She went looking
for friends to play in the sunshine. She met 7-year-old Jackie Poling and
10-year-old Christian Shipley fishing at Bethke's Pond in Fontana Village,
near Baltimore. They had caught a turtle and were showing it to a strange
man. Dawn asked the boys if they had seen her friend, Lisa Helmick, 4.
"Lisa and me is playing hide-and-seek," the strange man said. "Let's go
find her." Together they walked away into a wooded area.
Five hours later, Dawn's brutalized body, naked from the waist down, was
found in the woods. She had been raped. A large rock was near her head,
and police figured it had been used to crush her skull. The killer had
also stomped on her neck so violently that he left an impression of his
sole on her flesh.
The best lead police had was a description, a composite sketch constructed
from the memories of the 2 boys. Christian had the clearest recollections.
He described a white man, about 6-feet-5, skinny, with wild blond hair and
Jackie's recollections were slightly different, but he wasn't really sure
about anything. Finally the detectives decided to go with the composite
based on Christian's memory.
More than 500 leads came in after the face was flashed on TV and front
pages. Police narrowed their chase when an anonymous tipster said she knew
someone who looked just like the composite sketch of the killer.
Rough month gets rougher
On the evening of Aug. 8, police hammered on the door of a house in
Inside, asleep, was Kirk Bloodsworth, a 24-year-old former Marine discus
champion and a local fisherman from a family with deep roots on the
It had been a rough month for Bloodsworth. He had been having trouble with
his wife, a much older woman whose life was devoted to partying.
Early in July, Bloodsworth had run out on her. He had told friends that he
had done a "terrible thing" that would make it impossible for him to patch
up the shaky union.
When police caught up with him, he was staying at the home of his cousin
Cindy Bloodsworth, drowning his sorrows.
"There he is," a cop bellowed when bleary-eyed Bloodsworth opened the
door. "There who is?" Bloodsworth blurted out and turned around.
They grabbed him, read him his rights and told him he was under arrest for
the murder of Dawn Hamilton.
>From the start there were problems with the case. Physically, Bloodsworth
did not fit the description of the man at the pond. He was only 6 feet
tall, his hair was red and no one had ever accused him of being thin. His
shoe size - 10-1/2 - didn't match the size-8 print on Dawn's neck.
There was one other problem with this suspect: Kirk Bloodsworth was
innocent. There was not a shred of physical evidence linking him to the
murder, just shaky eyewitness identification and hearsay.
None of it seemed to matter.
The young fisherman had no alibi, and both boys tentatively picked him out
of a lineup, as did a few of the adults who said they thought they had
seen someone who looked like him loitering around the scene.
His friends told police of the comment that he had done something terrible
that would make it impossible for him to return to his wife.
When police asked him about that, Bloodsworth told them that the "terrible
thing" was that he had forgotten to buy his wife a taco salad.
Bloodsworth knew he was doomed after his first meeting with his lawyer,
public defender Steven Scheinin. After assuring his new client he knew his
way around the courthouse, Scheinin stood up and slammed into the wall,
sending his glasses flying.
His trial started Feb. 25, 1985, and, despite the paucity of evidence, by
March 22 he had been convicted and sentenced to death.
But in July 1986 the condemned man was granted a new trial, primarily
because prosecutors had withheld evidence about other possible suspects.
Things didn't go much better the second time. Despite a competent
attorney, the verdict was the same - guilty. But instead of the gas
chamber, the judge gave Bloodsworth back-to-back life sentences.
In prison, he sought refuge in books - thousands of them, on every topic.
One of these books pointed his way to salvation.
The books had come in a small bundle. Bloodsworth had not ordered them and
to this day has no idea where they came from. The reading list was a
little weird - origami, pastel painting, poetry and a true-crime story by
Joseph Wambaugh. It jolted Bloodsworth out of his seat.
The book was "The Blooding," an account of a 1986 British murder case, the
first crime solved through the use of a new technology, DNA, the science
of genetic fingerprinting.
"I was physically shaking. I knew this was it," Bloodsworth would recall
later. There had been a small semen stain on Dawn's panties. It was of
little importance at the first trial. Now Bloodsworth knew his life could
depend on it.
His luck started to improve. Evidence is often destroyed after a case is
closed, but for some reason, the judge at his 2nd trial stashed the box of
trial exhibits in his chambers.
The stain from the girl's panties yielded DNA, and the DNA confirmed what
Bloodsworth had been insisting for 9 years. He was innocent.
He became a legal landmark - the first capital conviction in the nation to
be overturned by genetic evidence.
Out - but not free
On June 28, 1993, he walked out of prison and into a waiting limousine
sent by a local deejay. He received $300,000 compensation, the
government's estimate of the money he'd have had he been working all those
years he was rotting in prison.
Life on the outside was not easy. Many people shunned him, he found it
hard to get work and he was plagued by nightmares and anxiety.
Another thing gnawed at him: Dawn Hamilton's killer was still on the
loose. He became obsessed with finding him.
It would take 10 years, but the same semen stain that proved Bloodsworth's
innocence would eventually finger the real guilty man. In 2003, the state
put the DNA into national genetic database of convicted offenders - the
FBI laboratory's combined DNA index system, which became fully operational
The real killer had been under Bloodsworth's nose all the time.
"I spotted weights for that man," Bloodsworth yelled when he heard the
name - Kimberly Ruffner. They had been in the same prison at the same
time. Faced with the DNA evidence, Ruffner confessed, getting a life
sentence tacked onto the 45 years he was already serving.
Bloodsworth couldn't put the nightmare behind him. He worked with author
Tim Junkin on a book, "Bloodsworth: The True Story of the First Death Row
Inmate Exonerated by DNA," a chronicle of his ordeal. He also joined the
Justice Project, a nonprofit organization that lobbied for the passage of
the Innocence Protection Act, which became law in 2004.
Part of the act is a grant program to provide money for genetic tests for
inmates - the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Grant Program.
According to the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of
Law, the science that was taking its first baby steps when Bloodsworth
learned about it has led to the exoneration of 194 innocent people since
1989, including at least 14 who had once been on death row.
Bloodsworth's role in all of this is to tell his story and hope that
people get the message.
"If it could happen to me," he recently told the Daily News, "it can
happen to you."
(source: New York Daily News)
Life imitates art as dealer turned film-maker faces death penalty>
HE THOUGHT he would earn respect from mainstream American society for his
efforts as a film producer, but tomorrow Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, unable
or unwilling to separate himself from the world of thugs, gangsters,
rappers and crime he put to film, will discover whether his fate is life
in prison or death row.
During the mid-1990s and serving a decade behind bars, McGriff, a drug
lord from the New York City borough of Queens, killed time by devouring
novels by Donald Goine. McGriff became convinced that one Goine tale,
about 2 hitmen, could provide his ticket to Hollywood.
"He was passionate about making the film," recalled Bentley Morris, a Los
Angeles publisher who sold McGriff the rights to the book Crime Partners
for $135,000 after McGriff left prison.
But as the fledgling film producer hung out on location in 2000 with Snoop
Dogg and other rappers featured in his film, prosecutors say he was
leading an underground life that closely imitated his art.
Last week, a federal jury convicted McGriff of paying $50,000 to have 2
rivals killed in 2001. He faces the death penalty when the jury reconvenes
As head of the Supreme Team drug gang, McGriff was known as quick to pass
out wads of cash to those in need. Those who betrayed him received only
Authorities suspect a row led to McGriff ordering the shooting in 2000 of
rap artist 50 Cent, which launched the rapper's career to superstardom. He
survived being hit by nine bullets, but no charges were brought.
As a young man, McGriff led a brutal drug gang serving crack addicts in
and around a sprawling housing estate. At the gang's peak in the 1980s,
McGriff employed scores of dealers, taking in 101,000 a day, court
It inflicted violence against competitors and traitors, resulting in at
least eight murders in 1987 alone, authorities said.
After a federal raid McGriff pleaded guilty in 1988 to narcotics
conspiracy charges but, freed from prison in the mid-1990s, McGriff was
older and wiser - and determined to go straight.
He turned to an upstart from the neighbourhood to help pursue his Crime
Partners film project: Irv "Gotti" Lorenzo, founder of the Murder Inc
record label. Lorenzo agreed to market the film and finance the
The cast included rap artists Ja Rule, Snoop Dogg and Ice-T - an
impressive lineup for a first-time executive producer like McGriff.
By McGriff's account, it was a testament to his evolution from crack
kingpin to rap industry insider.
But prosecutors say another type of film, made by security cameras at a
Queens hospital, told a different story. McGriff pushed a wheelchair
carrying a bleeding man into casualty. The victim was Colbert "Black Just"
Johnson, a close friend whose death that night in 1999 ignited a chain
By then, prosecutors say, McGriff had already jump-started his
drug-dealing career, now buying cocaine and heroin in quantity in New York
for distribution in Baltimore and elsewhere.
In 2001, prosecutors say McGriff decided to kill 2 rivals: a little-known
rapper named E-Money Bags who had killed "Black Just", and another man.
At best, McGriff will now spend the rest of his life behind bars. At
worst, he'll receive a lethal injection - a final chapter even the mother
of one his murder victims does not want written.
"There's been enough death," she said.
(source: The Scotsman)
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