[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----MO., GA., S.C., FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Feb 21 03:47:40 UTC 2007
Normandy drug-hit death penalty case going to U.S. Supreme Court
In almost 20 years of legal wrangling, there has been little dispute that
William Weaver was a hired hit man who shot a federal drug case witness
six times in Normandy.
But the question of whether a prosecutor unfairly fired up jurors with
allusions to a soldier's duty to kill has taken Weaver's death sentence on
a tortuous course through Missouri and federal courts.
On March 21, it will arrive at the U.S. Supreme Court, which has agreed to
review a lower federal court's blocking of Weaver's execution.
It is a narrowly drawn case, which seems more focused on Weaver's
particulars than on general death-penalty themes that lend themselves to
Defense lawyers Phil Horwitz and Eric Butts insist that remarks at trial
by St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney George R. "Buzz" Westfall so
inflamed the jury that Weaver was denied a fair trial.
Westfall, who went on to be county executive and has since died, won death
sentences against both Weaver and Daryl Shurn for the murder of Charles
Taylor was expected to testify against two brothers of Shurn in a federal
drug trial, so Daryl Shurn hired Weaver to kill him on July 6, 1987,
according to the prosecution. Shurn's death sentence has since been
converted to life in prison.
Westfall's arguments included a reference to World War II Army Gen. George
Patton telling troops that sometimes it is necessary to kill to do what's
In 2003, U.S. District Judge Charles A. Shaw wrote a 135-page ruling that
set aside the death sentence because, he said, Westfall had played on
jurors' fears and emotions.
The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, in St. Louis, affirmed Shaw in a
2-1 decision last year.
Judge Michael Melloy wrote for the court that, "Describing jurors as
soldiers with a duty eviscerates the concept of discretion afforded to a
jury as required by the Eighth Amendment."
He and Judge Kermit Bye focused on Westfall's repeated references to a war
on drugs, in which he told jurors that Weaver and drug dealers "are taking
our streets away from us" and urged the death penalty or "the dope
Melloy called the arguments "unfairly inflammatory," and Bye said that
they "clearly violated Weaver's constitutional rights."
But prosecutors for the state attorney general's office are arguing that
the federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act limits federal
judges' power to override state court rulings in capital cases. They point
out that the Missouri Supreme Court sustained the death sentence.
Indeed, in a dissent, 8th Circuit Judge Pasco Bowman had said the law
barred federal judges from blocking Weaver's death penalty, "even though
we may believe the state court got it wrong," because the state courts'
rulings were not unreasonable.
Horwitz argues that the Missouri Supreme Court in fact was unreasonable in
ignoring the impact of Westfall's comments, and thus is subject to federal
Peter Joy, a law professor at Washington University, said Monday that
although every U.S. Supreme Court decision sets some precedent, "There is
nothing screaming in this one" that would have broad consequence.
For Weaver, now 44, the decision could mean execution or a new sentencing
hearing and potentially a penalty of life in prison without parole.
(source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Fee fight could halt death penalty cases
A Gwinnett County judge has ordered the state to pay more money to at
least one attorney involved in a pending death penalty case.
But the additional money may not be enough to head off a dispute that has
the potential to affect death penalty cases all across the state.
Attorneys have said the trial of 2 suspects in the 2004 stabbing death of
a Snellville widow could be delayed because of a fight over state funding
for indigent legal defense cases.
In an order disclosed on Monday, Gwinnett Superior Court Judge William Ray
II ruled that the attorneys representing Kayla Sanders, one of the
defendants in the case, should be paid $125 an hour instead of $95 an
Ray's order, filed last week, did not change the fee of Buford attorney
Walt Britt, who represents Donald Steve Sanders, the other defendant
accused in the stabbing death of Doris Joyner, 68.
The Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council, which oversees the system,
recently reduced the hourly fees for death-penalty attorneys to $95 an
hour from $125. The council has cited budget shortages and the cost of
defending Brian Nichols in the Fulton Coybty Courthouse shootings case.
Nichols' defense already has cost $1.2 million.
The indigent council was planning to get another $9.5 million from the
Legislature this year but that funding has not been allocated.
Mike Mears, the director of the council, did not return calls seeking
comment for this article.
It's not just a matter of pay for the lawyers. Britt said the money, while
based on hours billed, also affects funding for experts and witnesses,
along with other costs associated with the trial.
Britt filed motions Feb. 9 saying he cannot give Sanders proper
representation because Georgia's public defender system is running out of
money. Without adequate funding, his client cannot be guaranteed the right
to adequate representation on the charges, and that, he says, violates
Sanders' constitutional rights.
Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter has said that Britt's motion, if
granted, could halt the Sanders trial and all other pending death penalty
cases around the state.
The fight got a little personal earlier this month when Ray held Britt in
contempt of court and ordered him jailed for refusing to go ahead with
pretrial hearings in the Joyner case until the judge dealt with the
The judge fined Britt $500 and ordered him to spend 24 hours in jail,
according to court documents. Britt said he was released on his own
Despite Ray's new order, Britt said he intends to continue his fight to
declare unconstitutional the state's program that pays the legal fees of
poor death penalty defendants.
Britt has also subpoenaed all payments by the Georgia Public Defenders
Standards Council to defend poor death penalty suspects. In his order, Ray
mandated that the Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council hand over to
Britt records of all expenditures the council made to defend poor death
penalty defendants except for documents pertaining to the Nichols case.
The next scheduled hearing in the Sanders case is March 5.
(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Supreme Court overturns death sentence for baby killer
In Columbia, the South Carolina Supreme Court has overturned the death
sentence of a man who asked to die after killing his infant daughter.
The justices cited misconduct by prosecutor Donnie Myers as one reason for
overturning the sentence for C. Robert Northcutt.
The Supreme Court says Myers cried and staged a mock funeral procession
with the baby's crib during the 2003 trial.
The justices said it was wrong for Myers to say a failure to recommend a
death sentence would mean what he called "open season on babies in
Myers says he hasn't seen the opinion. He said Northcutt slapped, punched,
choked, shook and bit his four-month-old daughter, Breanna, and broke her
back when she wouldn't stop crying in 2001.
He had been left with the child while his then-wife was at work.
(source: Associated Press)
Death penalty phase of Bixby trial underway
Steven Vernon Bixby's own brother Danny Bixby is to take the stand today
to tell of the New Hampshire natives bullying behavior.
19 witnesses are scheduled to testify for the state Tuesday in the final
phase of the trial for Bixby.
In this phase a jury must decide Bixby's character and whether he should
receive the death penalty for the shootout that occurred on his parents'
land 3 years ago.
Aside from Bixbys only biological brother, the state is expected to call
authorities from New Hampshire and read more letters written by Bixby
himself that will show his hatred of law enforcement.
Deputy solicitor Andrew Hodges told the judge that 11 years prior to the
shootout in Abbeville Bixby was threatening officers in New Hampshire.
"He was saying then if you come onto my property, you better bring lots of
people because there will be dead officers," Mr. Hodges said.
(source: Independent Mail)
Letters of convicted killer show no remorse for officers' deaths
Steven Bixby considers himself a patriot and a prophet with no regrets
about gunning down two law officers at his parents' home, according to
hundreds of pages of letters written after his arrest.
The letters, each signed "chaotic patriot Steve," also reveal his personal
demons and ironclad beliefs, and in one he questions his own sanity.
The 39-year-old man was convicted Sunday, after a 5-day trial, of
murdering the two officers. On Tuesday, the penalty phase of his trial
begins; the same jury that convicted him has a choice of sentencing him to
death or to life without chance of parole.
His family was upset because the state wanted to take about 20 feet of
land near their home to widen a highway. Witnesses said Bixby and his
father, who is awaiting trial on murder charges, had threatened to gun
down any officer who set foot on their land.
During deliberations that lasted less than 2 1/2 hours, jurors asked to
rehear some of the letters to a former girlfriend in which Bixby described
how he took one wounded officer's gun, handcuffed the dying man, dragged
him inside the house and read him Miranda rights.
"I started to cry but I got refocused on the job," he wrote to former
girlfriend Alane Taylor. "If we had wanted to, that whole day would have
been an entire bloodbath."
The officer, Abbeville County sheriff's Sgt. Danny Wilson, was dragged
into the house after he was gunned down while standing on the front porch,
authorities said. State Constable Donnie Ouzts was sent to check on Wilson
and was shot when he stepped out of his patrol car. Ouzts died on the way
to a hospital.
Police surrounded the house for the rest of the day in a standoff with
Bixby and his father that didn't end until after hundreds of rounds were
Steven Bixby and his father, Arthur, who was wounded, were charged with
Public defender Charles Grose said Bixby composed more than 1,500 pages
worth of letters to Taylor in the first year after his arrest that day in
2003. In them, Bixby is steadfast in his belief that the shootings were
justified, calling them "right and correct in God's eyes."
"We the people are a majority," Bixby wrote. "The laws were made to
protect us from the police."
On the stand for the defense Saturday, Bixby's mother agreed. "He has the
right to protect his property by any means necessary," testified Rita
Although she wasn't home during the gun battle, she was charged as an
accessory because authorities say she knew her husband and son planned to
harm police officers.
The 20 feet of land the family refused to give up has since been used to
expand a highway that runs near the now-vacant home.
The letters include ramblings about the significance of some numbers,
including mathematical equations involving his birth date, age and length
of jail time. He says God "wants all the evil to be exposed" and mentions
a premonition of the shootout: "I saw this in a dream about a month before
(source: Associated Press)
Execution monitor tells Fla. panel that condemned inmate's IV lines were
Intravenous lines were properly placed in the veins of a death row inmate
and were not to blame for his botched execution in December, a medical
professional who monitored his death said Monday.
Testifying anonymously by phone before the Governor's Commission on
Administration of Lethal Injection, the man said the IV lines were always
in place during the process and were not responsible for the difficulty in
pushing the fatal drugs into Angel Nieves Diaz's system.
The medical professional's qualifications were not disclosed. State law
protects the anonymity of executioners and anyone involved with a lethal
"At no time was there any evidence to suggest infiltration (of the veins)
or compromise of the IV line," the man told the commission, which is
examining whether improvements can be made to how lethal injections are
The medical professional rebutted doctors' claims that the IV needles had
been pushed through his veins into soft tissue, delaying the flow of
chemicals into his bloodstream and possibly causing pain. Asked to explain
why an autopsy indicated that IV lines had passed into the soft tissue,
the medical witness suggested it could have happened while Diaz's body was
being moved after his death.
An investigation found that when the drugs became hard to push into the
vein in Diaz's left arm, the medical team switched the drugs to the IV
line in his right arm, only to finish in his left arm.
Diaz's execution took 34 minutes -- twice as long as usual -- and required
a rare second dose of lethal chemicals. Some witnesses reported Diaz
appeared to grimace as the execution dragged on, but prison employees
inside the execution chamber have disputed the claim.
Florida, like many states, uses a deadly mix of chemicals that first
sedates condemned inmates, then paralyzes them and finally stops their
Experts who have testified before the commission said there is no way to
definitely tell whether Diaz was properly sedated.
Diaz, 55, was sentenced to death for killing a Miami bar manager 27 years
ago. He had proclaimed his innocence.
After Diaz's death, then-Gov. Jeb Bush halted executions and created the
commission, which will meet for the final time Saturday. Its report is due
to be sent to Gov. Charlie Crist by March 1.
Court Rules Against Death Row Inmate
The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a Florida death row prisoner lost an
opportunity to challenge his conviction in the federal court system
because he missed a 1-year filing deadline.
In a 5-4 decision, the justices sided with the state of Florida against
inmate Gary Lawrence, who faces execution for murdering a man who had
moved in with Lawrence's wife.
Under the federal Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996,
death row inmates have one year after a conviction becomes final in state
courts to petition the federal system to review the case.
Lawrence's lawyers say they stopped the clock from running on the state's
1-year time limit by petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court. A majority of the
court rejected that argument.
Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said the language of the
law is clear and that the approach favored by lawyers for the death row
inmate "would provide incentives for state prisoners to file ... as a
delay tactic ... regardless of the merit of the claims asserted."
In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said rejecting Lawrence's
arguments is "neither a necessary nor a proper interpretation" of the law.
Lawyers for the state of Florida had argued that Lawrence's request to the
Supreme Court did not suspend the 1-year deadline in effect in the state.
Therefore, state attorneys argued, Lawrence's subsequent habeas petition
seeking review of his conviction in U.S. District Court in the northern
district of Florida was nearly 4 months too late.
In the Supreme Court, Lawrence's attorney argued that his previous lawyer
made a mistake in miscalculating the deadline and that the death row
inmate should therefore be entitled to pursue the case in the federal
"Attorney miscalculation is simply not sufficient to warrant" suspending
the deadline, Thomas wrote.
The case is Lawrence v. Florida, 05-882
On the Net: Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourts.gov
(source for both: Associated Press)
Doctor: Execution not medical work
A doctor who oversaw the botched execution of Angel Diaz testified Monday
that lethal injection shouldn't be scrutinized as if it were a medical
"There's nothing medical about it nor to equate to it. An execution has
absolutely nothing even remotely connected to medicine," said the doctor,
whose voice was disguised to protect his identity.
The comments came before Florida's commission on lethal injection, in
response to questions about decisions in the Diaz execution that defied
typical medical procedures and state guidelines.
The doctor suggested that once the execution starts, medical concerns are
"From that point onward, the condemned inmate will not leave the death
chamber alive," he said.
The doctor testified by speaker phone on the commission's last day of
testimony. The 11-member panel holds its final meeting Saturday, where it
will discuss recommended changes to the state's lethal injection process.
Department of Corrections Secretary James McDonough testified Monday he
was open to changes to the procedure and execution personnel.
"If there's fault to be found, then we will fix it," he said. "If there
are people to replace, then we'll replace them."
McDonough said he'd withhold judgment on prison personnel's actions in the
Diaz execution until the commission completed its work.
Diaz's Dec. 13 execution took about 20 minutes longer than the typical
execution and required a rare second round of lethal chemicals. The
Alachua County medical examiner testified last week that IV lines went
through Diaz's veins, causing lethal chemicals to be injected into his
tissues, which took the chemicals longer to work.
But the execution doctor disputed the finding. He said the IV lines were
working fine and suggested the lines punctured Diaz's veins after the
execution, while the inmate's body was being moved.
He said he would have noticed chemicals building under the inmate's skin
during the execution.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see a collection of fluid at an
infiltrated IV site," he said.
The claim conflicts with the testimony of physician assistant William
Mathews, an execution team member who said he saw a swollen area around
the IV site right after the execution.
It also fails to account for why the execution took longer than normal.
University of Massachusetts anesthesiologist Dr. Mark Dershwitz testified
an inmate should die within a few minutes if procedures are followed and
the IV properly inserted.
In Florida's execution procedures, inmates are supposed to be injected
with three drugs in sequence. A sedative renders unconsciousness, followed
by a paralytic to freeze the muscles and finally the lethal drug that
stops the inmate's heart.
The execution doctor testified he has participated in 84 previous
executions and served as a resource to five states and the federal
government. Florida has had 64 executions since the death penalty was
reinstated in 1976, including 20 by lethal injection.
After Diaz's execution, then-Gov. Jeb Bush halted all executions and
created the commission to investigate. In addition, a corrections
department task force did its own investigation of the procedure.
A member of that task force, corrections department attorney Max Changus,
said at least three prison guards said they heard Diaz say "What's
happening?" during the execution.
The task force also found the executioner had difficulty injecting the 1st
2 drugs, so on the advice of medical personnel switched to a backup line
to finish the first round of chemicals. Executioners then moved to the 2nd
round, defying procedure by injecting the sedative and lethal drug at the
same time in both lines.
The execution doctor deflected questions about why those decisions were
"The event is done as simply as possible to avoid technical problems," he
said. "It's also done as expeditiously as possible and as humanely as can
be done under the circumstances."
The execution doctor simply referred to himself as "a medically qualified
member of the execution team." He refused to answer questions about his
credentials out of a fear it would compromise his identity.
Public records show the names of three doctors who pronounce death in
executions. But the corrections department won't confirm whether the
doctors are the same ones overseeing executions.
The American Medical Association's ethical guidelines restrict doctors
from being involved in executions. McDonough said there are also legal
protections and personal reasons to protect execution doctors' identities.
"Perhaps the fact that your family doesn't know about it, your church
doesn't know about it, your neighbors don't know about it," he said.
Commission member Dr. David Varlotta, a Tampa anesthesiologist, said the
fact doctors are involved in executions despite ethical conflicts raises
questions. "I don't know of another field where people are sought out
outside the ethical sphere," he said.
(source: Gainesville Sun)
More information about the DeathPenalty