[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Feb 7 05:58:39 UTC 2007
Victims' kin won't witness execution----Man scheduled to die Wednesday for
strangulation of his wife and 2 stepdaughters
Ethel Farley opposed the death penalty until her daughter and two teenage
granddaughters were strangled in their home, one at a time.
Although that experience a decade ago changed how she feels about
execution as punishment, Farley does not plan to be in Huntsville on
Wednesday when James Lewis Jackson is scheduled to die for the slayings.
"Bad memories," she explains, "that's all it would be."
On April 9, 1997, Farley and another daughter found Sharon Jackson, 39,
and her two daughters, Ericka Mayes, 18, and Sonceria Mayes, 19, dead in
their north Houston apartment. Sharon, a data entry clerk at the Harris
County Clerk's Office, and her daughters had been placed in their beds and
covered with sheets.
On a dresser in one of the bedrooms, police found a note, signed by James
Jackson, Sharon's husband and the girls' stepfather. It said he loved the
women but could not take care of them because he didn't have a job.
"I gave them back to God," the note read. "He and they will understand."
Police shortly later arrested Jackson, a 6-foot-7, 280-pound crack addict.
After 12 hours of questioning, he confessed to killing the women, one
after another, as they arrived home after school and work, because Sharon
had planned to divorce him.
Claim of innocence
Jackson, now 47, says he's innocent. In a recent interview at death row in
Livingston, he denied committing the murders, saying he did not come home
that night and returned instead the following morning to find his family
dead. He said his wife had no plans to end their relationship.
He dismissed the note detectives found as a prayer he had written asking
God to protect his family. As for Jackson's oral confession, his trial
attorney Donald Davis said during trial that he made the statement while
under duress from lengthy questioning.
Jackson argued it would have taken more than 1 man to kill 3 women.
"It's just a lot of things that don't make sense," he said.
Prosecutors, though, said it was possible for him to do it alone because
he killed them one at a time.
"That's a very personal type of death, when you strangle somebody with
your own hands," said Lyn McClellan, who prosecuted Jackson for the state.
"If the death penalty wasn't made for him, then I don't know who it was
His attorney, Kenneth Williams, a law professor at the University of
Miami, said Jackson has no more avenues for appeal.
The U.S. Supreme Court last month refused to hear his latest appeal, which
argued that Jackson's right under the Eighth Amendment to submit
mitigating evidence had been violated when the trial judge denied his
request during the sentencing phase to allow jurors to hear from his
family about how the execution would affect them.
Convicted of killing both Ericka and Sonceria, Jackson never was tried for
the murder of his wife or for raping Ericka, though she was found naked
from the waist down.
Even before the murders, Jackson had a history of family violence. In the
early '90s, he served time in a prison in his hometown of Dallas for
shooting the grandfather of the woman he was dating, the mother of his 2
After Jackson was paroled, he moved to Houston, where he met Sharon
Jackson, a Harris County employee who family members said was deeply
"She was a beautiful person. She was a church-going lady," Sharon's
sister, Jackie Ross, said through tears. "I think that's what attracted
him to her."
Seeking a divorce
The couple married in 1995, but Jackson couldn't keep a job and spent
countless nights away from the apartment using drugs. The morning of the
murders, he said in his confession, Jackson's wife told him she wanted a
According to Jackson's confession, he committed the murders in succession:
he first asked his stepdaughter Ericka, a high school senior who had just
returned home from school, whether she would still love him if her mother
divorced him. She expressed ambivalence, and he strangled her.
Soon after, Ericka's older sister Sonceria, known as Sonnie, arrived home
from a local community college, where she was a freshman. Jackson asked
her the same question. When she responded that she would love him
regardless and tried to hug him, Jackson choked her. He then placed the
women in their beds.
Later Sharon called, seeking a ride home from work. Jackson picked her up,
brought her to the apartment, told her the girls were asleep, then
"He took my sister's life," said Sabrina Farley. "Now he's going to have
to stand in judgment with the Lord."
4th execution in 2007
Texas law has allowed surviving relatives to attend executions since 1996.
But Farley, like her mother, does not plan to attend.
The memories are too strong.
Jackson would be the 1st person from Harris County, and the fourth from
Texas, to be executed by the state this year. Texas by far leads the
nation in executions since the penalty was reinstated.
Jackson said he is relieved the appeals process is over, and he's ready to
face God when he dies by lethal injection.
"I'm gonna embrace it with open arms because I'm tired of this place," he
said, "and I just want to be reunited with my family."
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Jury selection under way in murder trial
In Angleton, a hundred potential jurors in a capital murder case started
the lengthy jury selection process Monday by receiving a 98-question
The questionnaires are the initial phase of the jury selection process for
the capital murder trial of John Joe Bodley, 22, of Freeport. He is being
held at the Brazoria County Detention Center on $2.25 million bond.
Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty if Bodley is convicted.
Bodley is accused of shooting four people in a Freeport apartment in the
early morning hours of July 14, 2005. 2 people died from gunshot wounds to
their heads and 2 others were hospitalized in Houston.
James Beverly, 31, died at the scene from gunshot wounds to his back, and
Desmond Nelson, 27, died several months later in a hospital from a gunshot
wound to the head, police said.
Bodley originally had been charged with murder, but prosecutors refiled
for capital murder upon Nelsons death.
Jury selection in a death penalty case is more thorough than that of a
regular trial, said prosecutor Keith Allen. Each potential juror is
questioned individually for up to an hour after they complete the
District Judge Randall Hufstetler assigned a date for almost 100 potential
jurors to be questioned one by one. The process is expected to last until
the 1st week of March.
"You want to learn everything you can about the jury," Allen said. "The
questionnaire is more in-depth."
The questionnaire handed to jurors Monday was 17 pages long and ask
questions regarding political affiliation, what kind of religious services
they attend, prior jury service as well as their feelings on the death
The way the jurors answer the questions asked will help determine if they
are unbiased enough to serve on a death-penalty case, said Jimmy Phillips,
one of Bodley's attorneys.
"It becomes obvious that a juror is biased or not," he said. "It saves
A juror told Hufstetler on Monday afternoon she already had developed an
opinion in the case because she knew one of the victims. After conferring
with the attorneys, Hufstetler dismissed the juror.
Individual questioning of jurors is set to begin Monday in Hufstetler's
courtroom at the Brazoria County Courthouse in Angleton.
Bodley's case will be the first time a Brazoria County jury will consider
sentencing a person to death since 1998, when Virgil Martinez was
sentenced to die after being convicted of killing four people, including 2
children, in a trailer home outside of Alvin.
This will be the 1st time District Attorney Jeri Yenne will seek the death
penalty in a capital murder case since she taking office in 1999. She
served as Martinez's defense attorney when he sentenced to death in 1998.
Martinez's sentence was reversed in 2005 and the reversal was appealed by
the state attorney generals office, which took the case in light of Yenne
becoming district attorney.
Some of the questions on the questionnaire handed out to potential jurors
in the John Joe Bodley capital murder case:
16. Have you ever been opposed to any government action?
18. Would you describe yourself more as a follower or a leader?
20. Do you attend religious services?
51. List any bumper stickers or decals that are affixed to your
79. What do you think of prosecutors?
80. What do you think of criminal defense attorneys?
88. What are your feelings about the death penalty?
91. What is your best argument for the death penalty?
92. What is your best argument against the death penalty?
96. Do you want to be a juror in this case?
(source: Brazosport Facts)
Death row inmate talks about hate crime
As much as we may like to think hate crimes are a thing of the past, the
Federal government shows that in the Midsouth hate groups are more of a
threat than terrorists from other countries.
To find out about this kind of deep seeded hate News Channel 3 travelled
the long road to Jasper, Texas. We found the message of hate came in many
forms and the worst kind happened here.
It's down this rural stretch of road where three white men chained a black
man, James Byrd, to the back of a pick up truck and dragged him down the
"You just get through dragging somebody. Their head is gone. Their right
shoulder is gone. Their right arm is gone. You know they're dead," says
Deputy Curtis Frame, Jasper County, Texas.
8 years later, the lead investigator, Deputy Curtis Frame, still chokes up
when he talks about what he saw that day.
"You've drug them all this way in a black community on an asphalt raod and
you're gonna say let me fix him. Uhhh.. Naw. I don't think this was just a
killing. This was look what we've done," says Frame.
Driving down the road where the incident happened, there's an eery
feeling. With each mile, you wonder how much further? How long did it take
before Byrd died? What pain did he feel before he hit the culvert?
It's believed that James Byrd was alive up until that point, but John
"Bill" King and the other 2 men would continue to drag his bloody body
down this asphalt road for a total of 3 miles until they reached the gates
of a cemetery.
"It could have been Memphis. These guys were opportunist. I don't think
they purposely said lets go to Jasper or let's pick Jasper," says Frame.
Deputy Frame is right. This incident could have happened anywhere and
experts who study hate crimes say the man News Channel 3 visited in a
Texas prison could have lived anywhere.
John "Bill" King, the man thought to be the ring leader, is now on death
row, but killing Byrd is a crime he denies to this day.
"I didn't think they would do anything more than beat him up. Matter of
fact, the plan was to beat him up somewhere. I didn't think they would
kill him," says King.
News Channel 3 asked him what gave birth to his hatred for blacks and he
told us it stemmed from an earlier prison sentence.
"My whole hate and anger, I channeled it into racial animosity because it
was convenient to do so at the time," says King. "...it's so bad you only
sit in certain spots. You don't sit in other places because that invites
trouble --even riots. So that's why I bought into the racial stuff."
King says the tattoos on his body tell his life's story, but downplays the
one where a black man is hanging from a tree. He knows he is a symbol of
"I'm a poster boy for both of them. They like to exploit me out of their
way --whether it be for the D.A.'s purpose as hate crime legislation or
pro-white organizations want to exploit me to encourage members to join
their groups," says King.
King says he is a changed man because of death row and believes one day
the courts will exonerate him. Not everyone is as hopeful as King. The
mother of the man he murdered hopes he's never be free.
"You just pick up somebody walking almost home and do what they did to
him. I don't see how they could live with themselves. Really I don't,"
says Stella Byrd, victims's mother.
Byrd is buried in a cemetery in the middle of the small Texas town. Before
Byrd's death, the cemetery that before his death had a fence that separted
blacks and whites. That's now gone, but some, the town is still healing.
Byrd's death is not an isolated incident. Prejudice doesn't exist only in
Jasper, but somehow this killing made some people realize just how close
to home it is. They said they didn't know there was that much hate.
(source: News Channel 3)
Prison break----State Sen. John Whitmire and Rep. Jerry Madden propose a
plan to end the prison building binge.
The evidence has built for years. Judges see the same low-level suspects
over and over; nonviolent offenders languish behind bars while predators
are freed; Texas spends $2.5 billion annually on the nation's 2nd-largest
prison system one already out of beds.
Texas' frenzy of prison building, combined with a dysfunctional parole and
probation system, has bled the state economy without significantly
improving public safety. Last week, in two fiery hearings reviewing the
figures, key Republican and Democratic leaders proposed a saner way.
They're right, and deserve the support of every Texan who respects facts.
"This is not a Republican or Democratic issue," state Rep. Jerry Madden,
House Corrections Committee chair, said. "I look at it as being one that's
smart for Texas." That's an understatement. Following the plan state Sen.
John Whitmire has proposed could save Texas $442 million and thousands of
lives those lost to violent criminals, and those wasted in the limbo of
addiction and recurrent petty crime.
Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, is calling for
more substance abuse treatment, more rational parole and probation
decisions, and effective crime deterrents such as halfway houses and
treatment programs for nonviolent addicts.
According to an exhaustive new study, these steps could avert the need to
spend $377 million more on new prisons. The strategy could also save $65
million by cutting the number of offenders who are convicted again.
Madden, a Republican, also supports the plan, which was recommended by
distinguished criminal justice expert Tony Fabelo. In concert with
researchers at the State Council of Governments Justice Center, Fabelo
found that the state must either rethink its prison system or spend tens
of millions on still more prison beds.
According to Fabelo, as many as 12,500 nonviolent inmates could leave the
system if probation weren't revoked for technical lapses such as inability
to pay fees and if low-level, nonviolent offenders got treatment that
ended their addiction and criminal behavior.
Halfway houses and shorter-term facilities for nonviolent offenders could
reduce the recidivism that keeps prisons jammed. The lesser offenders'
absence from prison also means true predators would stay locked up as they
Fabelo's report echoed similar conclusions by the Texas Public Policy
Foundation, which promotes limited government. The findings elaborated on
those of the Sunset Advisory Commission, a state agency that in November
declared Texas' prison expansion policy economically unsustainable.
The bipartisan demand to rethink that policy is a historic sea change, Ana
Yanez-Correa, head of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, said. "A lot
of it has to do with the amount of money that taxpayers are spending on a
product that is not reducing criminal activity." As Whitmire and Madden
make clear, neither Republicans nor Democrats can afford to close their
eyes to the prison binge's cost.
(source: Editorial, Houston Chronicle)
Judge hears motions in Luna case
A 22-year-old Odessa man accused of killing his pregnant, common-law wife
and her mother was back in court Monday.
Leo Angel Luna was back in Judge John Smiths 161st District Courtroom on
Monday for some pre-trial motions.
"We had a number of motions to take up," District Attorney Bobby Bland
said Monday. "It's all of the legal things you go through to get to the
Despite previously admitting shooting his pregnant common-law wife and her
mother, Luna pleaded "not guilty" on July 25 to 2 charges of capital
murder. If convicted, the prosecution has said it will seek the death
Police arrested Luna on Dec. 28, 2005, and charged him in the shooting
deaths of his wife, Diana Ponce, and her mother, Blanca Ponce. He was also
charged with aggravated assault on his wifes brother, William Ponce.
(source: Odesssa American)
Rap from the Grave----Convicted killer executed in 2006 makes recording
debut on rap album
Before he was sent to Texas death row when he was 21 for shooting a woman
to death, Derrick Frazier dreamed of becoming a professional emcee.
Once behind bars, his musical aspirations gave way to a passion for Islam
and a crusade to abolish the death penalty. He was executed in August
More than 6 months later, Frazier is making his professional recording
debut from beyond the grave.
Frazier's demo, "Gots to Know," is the featured track on the album, "Cruel
and Unusual Punishment." The album was recorded, produced and released by
The Welfare Poets, a New York-based group of activists and performers who
use music and poetry to spread their message.
Though the group claims it is not affiliated with any political
organization, it supports various political and race-based initiatives,
including U.S. withdrawal from Vieques and the exoneration of prisoners
affiliated with the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement.
Among their most controversial initiatives is a campaign to free
Pennsylvania death row inmate Mumia abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther who
was convicted in 1982 of killing a Philadelphia police officer.
Recently, the group joined the fight against the death penalty by
performing at rallies and fundraising to provide financial assistance to
Texas death row inmates. Their album, "Cruel and Unusual Punishment,"
supports that effort.
Frazier, who took the name Hasan Shakur in prison, was 17 when he wrote
and recorded the song, which is about a relationship with a married woman.
While on death row, Frazier and three other Texas death row inmates
reached out to The Welfare Poets for help with raising funds to prove
their innocence. After Frazier's execution, the group acquired the track
from Frazier's girlfriend for inclusion on the album.
Ray Ramirez, co-founder and manager of The Welfare Poets, says Frazier
became the centerpiece of the album because of his death penalty activism
while behind bars.
>From his cell, Frazier began the newsletter Operation LIFE, which contains
accounts of life on death row, poems and artwork by inmates. He also
helped The Welfare Poets network with other anti-death penalty
organizations campaign and raise funds for death row inmates' legal funds.
"He felt art and hip-hop was an excellent way to push for social change.
He talked about that whole alliance and continued to push for it, to link
up different organizations and get a network going," Ramirez told
"Despite his situation, he felt the issue of the death penalty was bigger
than him. Right up until the very end, he was always so positive about the
future and the need for change," Ramirez said.
Ramirez says proceeds from the album will go to legal fees for death row
inmates' appeals, as well as to other non-profit organizations dedicated
to fighting capital punishment.
Another purpose behind the album, says Ramirez, is to draw the hip-hop
community into the death penalty debate, an arena traditionally dominated
by activists and scholars.
"Cruel and Unusual Punishment" was produced by The Welfare Poets, an
"Right now, it's mostly a movement for people who aren't of color," he
said. "We hope to get those who are disproportionately affected by the
death penalty involved in fighting it."
Apart from Frazier's track, the album consists of 18 anti-death penalty
songs by artists from across the country and one from Amsterdam. Members
of The Welfare Poets, a collective of 11 self-described artists, educators
and activists who met as Cornell University students in 1990, also
contributed to the album.
Frazier's girlfriend, Debbie Harris, says she supported the album because
she believed it was a continuation of Frazier's work.
"He was a fighter in the system holding administration, courts, police,
judges, DAs accountable for all the wrong they were doing," Harris wrote
in an e-mail.
"He wanted to show people that there are sick men on the row, but that
doesn't mean we should kill them. He also wanted to show people that he
and others are innocent of their crimes, but if you're poor, black, then
you don't have a chance against Texas to win your case," she wrote.
Ramirez admits that The Welfare Poets are little more than a grassroots
effort without the backing or support of a record label. The album is only
available for sale on the group's Web site, Welfarepoets.com.
David Elliot of The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty says
even small organizations like The Welfare Poets have a place in the
"We reach different audiences with different types of media, and some
people use various forms of music to convey their anti-death penalty
views," said Elliot, director of communications for the NCADP. "[The
Welfare Poets] are effective because they reach an audience that might not
be fully receptive to getting their information from the Internet or from
Ramirez says Frazier's song reflects a mature state of mind that contrasts
the popular culture of mainstream hip-hop.
"There aren't too many 17-or 18-year-olds who can write or rhyme like
that, especially in the current consciousness of hip-hop, where it's
mostly about gang-banging and degrading women, all those recurring
themes," Ramirez said. "You rarely see that kind of clarity or maturity
come through in someone's rhymes."
Frazier was convicted in 1998 of capital murder for fatally shooting Betsy
Nutt after robbing the home of a neighbor. Frazier's co-defendant, Jermain
Herron, was also executed in 2006 for shooting Nutt's 15-year-old son.
Authorities claimed that the two men admitted to shooting the Nutts after
going to their home and asking for a ride. Both men later claimed their
confessions were coerced.
Refugio County prosecutors declined to comment on Frazier's song.
(source: Court TV)
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