[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, OKLA., USA, ARIZ.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Feb 13 20:03:23 UTC 2007
Father on trial in baby's death----Prosecutor says 5-month-old had the
kind of injuries seen in high-speed wreck.
An Austin father is on trial for capital murder and injury to a child in
state district court in Travis County, accused of killing his
five-month-old son in March 2005.
Derrick Daniel Gutierrez is charged with shaking his baby son, Derrick
Daniel Gutierrez Jr., and striking him with an unknown object.
"This child died at the hands of his father. I don't know why," prosecutor
Patrick McNelis told a jury during opening statements. "I don't know what
happened that day. But he was the only one there."
McNelis said that Gutierrez called 911 on March 4, 2005, from his
apartment on East Slaughter Lane in Southeast Austin, saying that his son
was choking on something. When paramedics arrived, though, they found no
signs of anything in the baby's throat, and the baby was almost lifeless,
Doctors said that Derrick Jr. had suffered a traumatic brain injury "the
kind of injury that you see when a child is involved in a high-speed car
crash," McNelis said.
He suffered numerous retinal injuries and would have shown signs of severe
problems immediately after the injury, doctors will testify, McNelis said.
Gutierrez's lawyer, David Pia, described his client as a proud and loving
father who is being unfairly prosecuted on uncertain medical theories.
"Doctors have a tendency to think that they know," he said. "Sometimes the
doctors are wrong."
Pia said that Derrick Jr., who was born prematurely, showed signs of
possible retinal injuries reddish eyes immediately after his birth.
"Should they have done a scan?" he asked. "Should they have checked him
out? I don't know. But I can tell you they didn't."
Pia also disputed the idea that a man could exert similar force to that
from a high-speed car wreck and said if Gutierrez had shaken the child
that violently there would have been exterior bruising or marks on the
Gutierrez, who is unemployed, watched Derrick Jr. while the baby's mother,
Veronica Magana, was at work. Magana, who is watching the trial in Judge
Julie Kocurek's court, will be a witness in the case.
(source: Austin American-Statesman)
Fight for freedom: Innocent man recounts years in prison
The night Dennis Fritz was sentenced to life in prison, it should have
been the most frightening evening of his life.
Yet, when the bars to his cell clanged shut, there was a sense of relief.
"I was in a state of shock," Fritz said. "That evening when I was taken
back to the one-man cell, the finality of it hit me. I wasn't surprised,
but I was in a state of shock."
Even though there was a chance he would never see the outside world ever
again or never see the smile on his daughter's face, Fritz was not sent to
death row and that meant he could still fight for his freedom.
But what made it unbearable for the Oklahoma native was that he knew he
didn't belong there.
Going to prison for a crime you didn't commit, it's a fear most Americans
do not have to worry about.
However, for Fritz it was very real. He spent 12 years locked away after
being convicted of rape and 1st-degree murder.
Fritz has written a book called "Journey Toward Justice," in which he
details his arrest and subsequent imprisonment until his release April 15,
"It is something that was a devastating circumstance," Fritz said after a
recent trip to Norman for a book signing. "It was a 12-year nightmare I
suffered with my family for not doing anything and being completely
innocent. That's a large part of the book, the obstacles and hurdles we
had to go through."
Acclaimed author John Grisham wrote "The Innocent Man," a book about Fritz
and co-defendant Ron Williamsons ordeal. It was then that Fritz, who now
lives in Kansas City, Mo., knew he had something to say, despite having to
endure the pain of reliving the past.
"When Grisham announced in 2005 he was going to write a book I decided
then that if he could do it so could I," Fritz said. "My stance now is
that although I am exposed to it everyday, I have gotten to the point I
realize I have a mission. That is to bring about public awareness of false
Wrong place, wrong time
Fritz's life changed forever one fateful night in 1982. Dec. 8,
21-year-old Debra Sue Carter, a waitress at the Coachlight Bar , was found
in her apartment raped and murdered. A wtiness at the bar, Glen Gore, told
police Williamson had been harassing Carter that night at the bar.
Because Fritz was a friend of Williamson, he was questioned by the police,
even though he was not seen at the bar. But they were both released due to
lack of evidence.
Fritz, who had an 8-year-old daughter named Elizabeth at the time, went
back to his life, hoping the ordeal would be put behind him. What he
didn't know was that it was just the beginning.
5 years after the murder, Williamson was in jail for writing bad checks. A
prisoner told officials Williamson claimed to have killed Carter.
The prisoner's declaration, along with hair found at the scene, led to
Fritz and Williamson's arrest May 8, 1987, for Carter's rape and murder.
"Just the fact that I was a suspect in a murder got me fired from my job,"
Fritz told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. "5 years later I was
arrested. The detectives then told me they knew I had not committed the
crime, but they believed I knew who did it. From the very beginning, I
always told them I was innocent, but it made no difference."
The evidence still was slim until the day before charges against Fritz
would have to be dropped. A fellow inmate came forward and stated that
Fritz had confessed to the murder. According to Fritz, when they went to
trial, an overzealous District Attorney, Bill Peterson, had a case built
on flawed hair evidence and jailhouse snitches who received reduced
sentences for their testimony.
However, it must have been enough. A year and a month after his arrest
Fritz was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison while Williamson
was sent to death row.
"After I got my life sentence, there was a sense of relief," Fritz said.
"The pressure of whether I was going to get death was over. I had prepared
myself for the worse. I believed I was going to be convicted with the
reputation of the county."
Faith and family
Fritzs daughter, now named Elizabeth Challis, went to live with her
grandparents because her mother was murdered by a neighbor when she was 2
years old. She was 13 when she found out her father would be going to
prison for the rest of his life.
Even though it took an emotional toll on him, Fritz made the decision
early on that he would not allow Elizabeth to see him in prison.
"I think it is the strongest part of my book is the total anguish and
misery that I go through from being totally excluded from family,
including my daughter," Fritz said. "I would not let her come and visit me
because of the sexual activities that were going on in the visiting rooms.
I could not bear for Elizabeth to see what went on in that prison, so I
restricted her from visiting me. It was not the kind of thing that any
11-year-old girl should see, and it tore my heart out by not being able to
However, Fritz knows he would not have been able to do his time or dream
of getting out if it had not been for his family.
"My family, my mother my aunt and daughter stuck behind me the whole way,"
Fritz said. "Through our faith and their belief in my innocence, that is
what busted those prison gates wide open. If it was left up to man
himself, I would still be in their today."
When his appeals to higher courts failed, Fritz was at the point to where
he was about to cut off all communications with his family.
"I was thinking maybe I should just separate myself from my daughter,"
Fritz said. "Didn't want her to linger and hang on. I wanted her to have a
happy life. Didnt want to be a burden to her."
Fritz finally reached out to the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal
clinic which only handles cases where postconviction DNA testing of
evidence can yield conclusive proof of innocence.
Led by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld, the Innocence Project was
able to get the DNA test on the hair found at the scene of the crime. The
tests showed the hair did not belong to Fritz or Williamson, but to Gore,
the states main witness.
Mark Barrett, who was Williamsons lawyer, Jim Payne, Janet Chesley, Bill
Luker and Kim Marks of the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, were also key
in proving Williamson and Fritz's innocence.
Almost 11 years to the day Fritz was sentenced to life in prison, he
walked out a free man.
"There is no more decent and dignified a man, no a more gentle soul, than
Dennis Fritz," Scheck said. "He has had the fortitude to tell his whole
story. As always, I am in awe of his courage and humbled by his efforts."
On that same day he saw his daughters face for the 1st time in more than a
"Our love prevailed over the mighty forces of the evil prosecutions that
went on then," Fritz said. "Love itself is the most powerful thing. No
matter what circumstances love always prevails. It just took 12 years for
it to happen. We would not let go that the good Lord would set me free one
A story to tell
After his release Fritz had to get used to life back on the outside. It
was not an easy transition as he went through counseling for post
But Fritz says the best help for him was taking pen to paper.
"After I began writing my book in July of 2005 I found myself going back
into feeling the facts of post traumatic stress. For about four or five
months it was the kind of thing if I saw a cop car I would go back into
the mode of being overly cautious. I was there again as I was writing my
book in the harms way of corrupt officials. But I kept on writing. It
started to become a cathartic thing for me. Getting those last remaining
tentacles hanging on, the feelings that were deep inside, and purge them
With Grisham's involvement, Fritz's story has gotten national attention.
That includes a piece on NBC's Dateline, which will air this month.
"The story of the unwarranted prosecution and wrongful conviction of
Dennis Fritz is compelling and fascinating," Grisham said.
According to Fritz, his and Grisham's book are companion pieces to go hand
in hand. Grisham's is narrative written in 3rd person and predominately
center's on Williamson, who came within 1 day of being executed. In his
novel Fritz gives readers a first person account of the entire saga.
Williamson, who came within five days of being executed, will not be able
to read either book. He was in a nursing home when died of cirrhosis of
the liver in 2004 Williamson was 51.
It was Williamson's obituary that inspired Grisham write his book.
With the release of his novel, Fritz's goal still is the same. He wants
the world to know innocent men and women have been sent to jail and it can
If not, what happened to him could happen to anyone.
"The harm that it did to me was that it took 12 years out of my life and
away from my family members," Fritz said. "I was subjected to indignities
that no person should have to suffer, let alone a person who was innocent
of the crime."
(source: Shelbyville Daily Union----Michael Kinney writes for The Norman
Book outlines realities of capital punishment
It's time for a time out when it comes to the use of the death penalty to
deter crime, according to a criminal justice professor at Appalachian
In his latest book, "Death Nation: The Experts Explain American Capital
Punishment," Matthew B. Robinson assesses the costs and benefits of
capital punishment. The book will be released in March by Prentice Hall
publishing company. Robinson also will present his findings at the Academy
of Criminal Justice Sciences national conference in March.
Robinsons book includes information gleaned from a survey of about 50
death penalty scholars from across the country. They conclude that capital
punishment doesnt deter crime, and that the practice is prone to racial
discrimination and mistaken convictions, among many other serious
problems. A review of the latest empirical evidence supports the opinions
of the scholars, according to Robinson.
"The experts I surveyed believe capital punishment is plagued by serious
problems," Robinson said. "These are people who are widely known, have
published widely in the field, and are considered experts by their peers.
They believe that innocent people are subjected to the capital punishment,
that there is a significant racial bias in its application, a significant
social class bias and to a lesser degree, a gender bias."
Seventy-nine percent of the experts who responded to Robinson's survey
believe that capital punishment does not deter would-be murderers from
committing murder; 84 % believe capital punishment is plagued by racial
bias; and 80 % believe there is a social class bias in terms of who is
sentenced to death. 80 % oppose the death penalty and 79 % support a
moratorium in executions pending further study of the practice.
"The experts also unanimously recommended something other than death as
punishment for someone convicted of murder, such as life imprisonment
without parole" Robinson said.
Between 1977 and 2005, there were more than 577,000 murders across the
nation, which led to 6,934 death sentences. Of that number, only 1,004
individuals have been executed. In North Carolina during these years, the
state averaged only 14.5 death sentences and 1.6 executions per year, in
spite of suffering approximately 594 murders annually. "The rarity of the
death penalty is precisely why it is so ineffective and inefficient,"
according to Robinson.
"The main lesson of the book is that the death penalty fails to meet its
goals," he explained. "It's not used frequently enough to deter would-be
murderers, to incapacitate murders so that we have a reduction in murder
by killing murderers and it's not used widely enough to provide
retribution to society and families of murder victims. It's so rarely
applied that it doesnt serve any legitimate purpose."
So why is capital punishment still used? Politics is the simple answer,
Robinson said. Geographic location is another.
"Politicians have to be tough on crime," Robinson said. "To come out
against the death penalty is pretty much political suicide."
Southern states tend to hold on to the death penalty, Robinson said,
because of a long history of the practice.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Illinois and New Jersey
have formal moratoriums on executions, while New York's highest court has
ruled that the state's existing death penalty is unconstitutional.
Executions by lethal injection have been halted in 11 states, including
North Carolina. 11 states are considering legislation to repeal capital
punishment or impose a moratorium on executions. 5 states are considering
legislation to expand the death penalty.
While written to be supplement college textbooks dealing with criminal
justice, crime prevention, criminology and other related topics, Robinson
says the book also should guide policy makers in better understanding the
realities of the death penalty according to experts.
Robinson hopes legislators in states with moratoriums on the death
penalty, will take time to look critically at capital punishment and
whether it truly works.
"I'd really like them to look at the empirical evidence," Robinson said.
"If the evidence suggests the death penalty is a failed policy, then let's
do away with it and come up with some alternatives. According to my
research, the death penalty is a failed policy."
(source: Appalachian State University News)
Going full throttle on the train to hell
In a court of law, an experienced defense attorney like Marty Lieberman
may be able to get the better of Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas,
but in the court of public opinion, he has no chance.
"He knows how to get the media's attention," Lieberman said.
Thomas snaps his fingers and every TV station in town rushes over to his
office. He keeps his face on TV through public service advertisements. He
appears on radio. He writes op-ed columns for the newspaper. advertisement
Putting away bad guys is the perfect political stepping-stone. Just ask
Gov. Janet Napolitano. During his time, Thomas has transformed the
prosecutor's office into a public relations juggernaut.
Lately, he has pulled out a prosecutor's ace in the hole: the death
penalty. He's pushing a proposal in the Legislature that would speed up
death-penalty trials, and he's asking a Superior Court judge to increase
the caseloads of death-penalty defense attorneys. Lieberman claims that
such attorneys already are overwhelmed by the more than 130 capital cases
in Maricopa County. Pima County, for example, has fewer than 10.
Thomas and I played telephone tag on this subject Monday, not quite
connecting. But in an essay he wrote for the Republic earlier this month,
Thomas said, "The issue is whether the death penalty will become, once
again, a meaningful deterrent to would-be murderers. I alone in this
system am working to make this happen."
The death penalty has been called a one-way ticket to hell. But such cases
crawl along the rails of the justice system like an old trolley car,
stopping and starting. With Thomas at the controls, it would be more of an
"It's real easy for him to make headlines and say, 'Justice delayed is
justice denied,' " Lieberman said. "But when you get to the nitty-gritty,
people want to make sure these cases are done right. That takes time.
Police have done the job for prosecutors. A defense needs time."
Put another way, "They cannot be done correctly if they are rushed through
the system," said James Keppel, the presiding criminal judge.
Lieberman founded the Arizona Death Penalty Forum, which argues against
"If Thomas has his way, Maricopa County is going to pass Texas (in
death-penalty cases)," he said. "It's nuts. It makes the death penalty a
political issue and it shouldn't be."
Lieberman and others believe there should be a nonpartisan statewide
commission to decide which cases fit the death penalty. As it is, county
prosecutors get to decide, meaning that a killer's fate could be
determined as much by an election as by his crime.
"People also seem just as satisfied with the punishment of life without
parole as they are with the death penalty," Lieberman said. "That costs
taxpayers less and makes more sense."
However, Thomas says that the stalling tactics of defense attorneys often
slow the process. He points to the fact that it takes an average of 19
years for a murderer in Arizona to be executed. The truth is, that seems
like a long time when we're talking about the worst of the worst.
Then again, there was a time when a local man named Ray Krone was
considered to be such a cold-blooded killer.
In the early 1990s, Krone was convicted of a horrific murder and spent 10
years in prison, including a stint on death row. DNA evidence exonerated
him. In Krone's case, speeding up the process may have made some people
feel a lot better about the sluggish justice system, but only until the
wrong guy was executed.
(source: Arizona Republic)
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