[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Jan 25 05:29:05 UTC 2007
TEXAS----new death sentence
Death awaits Ramey----Triple homicide leads to death chamber for Kersean
It only took about 20 minutes Tuesday for a Victoria County jury to decide
that an Edna man should be sentenced to death for his part in the shooting
deaths of three Edna residents in 2005.
Kersean Ramey stood with his hands in the pockets of his black trousers as
Judge Stephen Williams issued the verdict about 11:20 a.m. Tuesday.
Ramey was found guilty last week of capital murder in the shooting deaths
of Samuel Roberts, 24, Tiffani Peacock, 18, and Celso Lopez, 38, inside
their Edna home on Aug. 24, 2005. The trial was moved from Jackson County
to Victoria County on a change of venue request.
After the sentence was read, Linda Coker stood with other family members
in the courtroom and said, "At one time, I needed for someone to say they
were sorry for what they took from me. I no longer need that."
Coker, the mother of Samuel Roberts, was 1 of 4 family members allowed to
speak to Ramey through victims' impact statements.
"I picked out a crib and a coffin for my son," she said. "Your mother will
have to do that and it is your fault."
Her husband, Steve Coker, echoed her words adding, "I encourage you to get
to know Jesus. That is the only hope you have."
Waynette Hons, Peacock's grandmother, said, "We know where they are ...
They were saved. She is happy in heaven. I pray you will find God."
Attorney Joseph Willie II, who represented Ramey, said after the trial
that he would handle the appeals process, which is automatic with the
ARGUING THEIR CASE
Prior to this verdict, defense and prosecuting attorneys summed up their
cases in attempts to persuade the jury. Defense attorneys were asking for
life in prison while prosecutors wanted the death penalty.
Jackson County District Attorney Bobby Bell placed a framed photo of
Peacock and Roberts on a table near the jury.
"I think it is right that you remember those folks," Bell said. "These are
the people that aren't here to speak. These are the people that won't have
any wedding plans."
Bell recounted briefly the horrific scene inside the home and the details
of how prosecutors said the killings occurred when Ramey and LeJames
Norman, who is awaiting trial, forced their way into the home.
"He put the gun on Celso Lopez's head. Can you imagine what was going
through his head knowing death is seconds away," Bell said. "What did
(Ramey) say to LeJames Norman prior to the robbery? 'If someone gets out
of line, I'm going to pop them.' That is his heart. That tells you what
his actions will be."
Eli Garza, first assistant district attorney in Victoria who assisted Bell
in the trial, said that the crime was not simply a botched robbery. "It
was an execution," he said. "If it was a robbery gone bad, Celso would
have come over here and told you about the wound to his cheek. Sam and
Tiffani would have told you how scared they were."
Garza approached the jury box standing within a few feet of their chairs.
"Imagine being this close as he pulled the trigger," Garza said. "Imagine
going up to a girl that is laying down and you put the muzzle up to her
temple so hard it bruises it.
"Does that sound like someone insensitive to someone's feelings? Does that
sound like someone insensitive to someone's rights?"
Defense attorneys maintained their stance that it wasn't Ramey who shot
the three people but instead it was Norman.
"We recognize that a decision has been made by this jury and Kersean Ramey
has been found guilty," said James Evans III, who represented Ramey.
Evans pointed to physiological reports from Ramey's youth as a reason for
the jury to rule that there are mitigating circumstances that should
prevent his execution and reduce his "blameworthiness."
Evans held up the evaluation from when Ramey was about 5 years old.
"What we attempted to show is he had a problem," Evans said as he picked
up other, later evaluations. "He was being disciplined at school but not
"You will find that Mr. Ramey was suffering from moderate emotional
disorder," Evans said. "He was inconsiderate or insensitive to the rights
and feelings of others ... He was resistant to authorit y... He was
"We are still looking at an 8-, 9- and 11-year-old kid ... He sees the
world as a dangerous place ... He feels the need to be cautious of
himself," Evans said.
"The defense's theory is that this child, 8 and 9 years old, never
received the kind of assistance or attention he needed to succeed in
Evans did not place the blame upon the school system, which he said helped
with dyslexia training and ensuring that he stayed on his medication.
"The Victoria Independent School District did what it could to help
Kersean Ramey," Evans said of the time Ramey attended Victoria schools.
Instead, Evans put blame partly, as least, on a lack of morals and a rough
"He didn't get any help about the world being a dangerous place," Evans
said. "He didn't get any help with his emotional problems."
"No single fact or circumstance would cause a person to be involved in
this triple murder."
Evans said it was everything combined that led him down his path, which
early testimony included not only the triple killing but also a school
break-in and 4 home burglaries.
"Just maybe if he had counseling ... had he gotten help with those
problems ... perhaps he would not have been involved in the school
burglary," Evans said. "Much of this is not his fault. Each of us have
been given the power of choice by a divine being ... but there are those
of us in our society that need help in those decisions."
Bell said Ramey received counseling after his assault conviction that
stemmed from the sexual assault of a 7-year-old boy when Ramey was 16.
Referring to prior testimony of one youth, Bell said, "All he could do as
the tears ran down his cheek was shake. He spoke, 'This will be with me
the rest of my life.'"
"That is serious mitigating circumstances that scarred those kids for the
rest of their lives."
Bell also said that Ramey's evaluations did not carry enough weight to
overpower what he did the night of Aug. 24, 2005.
"On the basis of that diagnosis ... you are supposed to reduce
blameworthiness," Bell said. "That is not reducing blameworthiness. That
is shifting blameworthiness."
Willie, defense co-council, went over the evidence, including a stabbing
tool found in Ramey's Jackson County cell, presented during the 3 days of
testimony in the sentencing phase.
He pointed out that no one testified to seeing Ramey make the weapon.
"In assessing his moral blameworthiness ... we are not making excuses but
mitigating circumstances are what they are," Willie said. "We believe in
this case there has been no proof he will be a danger to society."
But Bell disagreed, reminding jurors of an expert's testimony who said
that Ramey's past as that of someone who would continue down an unlawful
Bell pleaded with the jury for a death sentence.
"If he gets life, I pity the people who come in front of him," Bell said.
"He is going to kill and destroy without a moment's notice ... He doesn't
give a 2nd thought to stealing and killing.
"If he gets the death penalty, then you are sending him to the highest
security level (prison)."
(source: Victoria Advocate)
Texas AG: doctors can't face death penalty for abortions
Attorney General Greg Abbott says the death penalty can't be used against
doctors who do abortions without parental approval or after the 3rd
The opinion released today was sought by a Texas legislator who asked
Abbott to clarify the available punishments.
A prosecutors group contended that a 2005 law had the unintended
consequence of allowing doctors to be charged with capital murder in those
In Texas, capital murder is punishable by life in prison or the death
No doctors have been charged with capital murder.
Representative David Swinford of Amarillo says he wanted Abbott to clarify
the law before any cases arose.
On the Net: Abbott's opinion:
(source: KLTV news)
El Pasoans push for death penalty moratorium
El Pasoans Carol and John Tures were in Austin today urging Texas
legislators to consider a moratorium on the death penalty. Carol Tures
said she became involved in the anti-death penalty movement after watching
the Susan Sarandon movie "Dead Man Walking." Since 2001, she has been
pushing legislators in Texas, the state that executes more criminals than
any other in the country, to end the death penalty.
"When we started doing this we were sure the death penalty was going to be
gone that year," she said. The death penalty is far from gone, but she
said some strides have been made, including a law passed in 2005 that
allows jurors to consider giving convicted murderers life sentences
(source: El Paso Times)
Death penalty eludes family
For more than 31 years the family of Kennewick High graduate Mike McMahan
have waited for the man who murdered their son and brother to be executed.
His killer, Ronald Chambers, has been on Texas' death row since 1976,
longer than any other prisoner in a state known for its speedy and
frequent executions. But that record was supposed to end Thursday.
Mike's sister, Janna McMahan of West Richland, had tickets to fly to Texas
this week to witness Chambers' execution at 4 p.m. Thursday.
She and her parents, Mabry and Bennie McMahan of Kennewick, already have
sat through three trials for Chambers as one death sentence conviction,
then another, was overturned. But Janna never got on the plane this time.
Monday, Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court granted Chambers
a reprieve on the third conviction.
"You think there finally might be an end to it," Janna said. "It's very
disappointing. It's been hard on my folks."
Mabry and Bennie still live in the Kennewick home where Mike raised cows
for 4-H in what was pasture out back. He'd show them each August at the
Benton-Franklin County Fair.
On the wall is the last formal portrait of Mike they have, his senior
picture from the Kennewick class of 1971. Nearby, his tennis racket is
framed with a photo from the Tri-City Herald showing Mike practicing for
the state high school tennis tournament.
Sometimes his old high school friends drop by, especially during reunions.
During the years the McMahans have waited for their son's case to be
resolved, his classmates have married. They've raised children to
adulthood. They've had 30-year careers.
Mike, a good math student, dreamed of attending Texas Tech University,
just like his dad, a Westinghouse-Hanford engineer. By 1975, Mike was 22
and a senior engineering student at the university in Lubbock.
That April he visited Dallas to attend a student engineering conference.
As he was leaving a popular nightclub about 12:45 a.m. with a former
classmate, Deia Sutton, they were approached by 2 men armed with a pistol
and a shotgun, the Herald reported at the time.
Mike and his friend were forced into Mike's Camero and driven to the
Trinity River bottoms. The 2 men took the $25 in their wallets and told
them to walk through the mud toward the river. As they faced the river, 2
shots were fired and both fell to the ground, the Herald reported.
When the 2 men heard Mike call out to ask his friend if she was all right,
Chambers came back to the river's edge and beat Mike with the butt of the
shotgun until he died. The second man beat Sutton and held her under water
until she passed out.
But Sutton survived to crawl several blocks for help and later testify
against Chambers. At his trial in July, the jury took less than 30 minutes
to reach a decision.
The McMahans thought that was the end of the case.
But questions were raised about whether a psychiatrist who had interviewed
Chambers had made clear that anything he said could be used as evidence
The verdict was overturned on appeal and a second trial was held in 1985.
Because there wasn't a black person on the jury -- Chambers is black --
that guilty verdict also was overturned and a third trial was held in
Each trial, starting with the 1st when Janna was still in high school, was
difficult for the family, Janna said.
"You hear different things at each one," she said.
The 3rd trial was the worst, Bennie said. Although there was never any
doubt that Chambers killed her son, the family was less confident that
Chambers would again be sentenced to death.
Chambers has said in interviews as his execution date drew near that he
believes 31 years on death row is punishment enough.
But the McMahans want to be sure that Chambers never will be allowed back
in society to harm another person, they said.
Death by lethal injection is one way to assure that.
"Execution is the penalty," Janna said. "He did the crime. He has to pay
the price. He made the choices in his life."
"The shots were not life threatening," Bennie said. "They could have left
them alone and not beaten him to death."
The execution of Chambers would not bring Mike back, nor does the taking
of Chambers' life bring the family joy, Janna said.
But in the month before the execution date, the family was thinking
"finally we will get to close this chapter of our life," Janna said.
The McMahans decided that only Janna would attend the execution, sparing
Mabry and Bennie, both in their 80s, the trip.
"You can only do so much," Bennie said. "It takes the life out of you
going through this all again."
But then the McMahans began to hear that chances were only 50-50 that the
execution date would stand.
In the latest appeal, Chambers' attorney argued that the jury instructions
for the third trial did not specify that factors such as character
evidence and Chambers' upbringing in government projects could be
considered in choosing the sentence.
Scalia stopped the execution until the Supreme Court decides whether to
consider Chambers' petition, which likely will come after it makes a
decision in similar cases involving jury instructions in death penalty
cases. That decision may not be made until June or later.
In the worst-case scenario for the McMahans and the prosecutors, the case
would be sent back to Dallas for a retrial of the punishment phase.
"We are going to fight, said Lisa Smith, a deputy chief in the Dallas
County prosecutor's office. "We are not giving up."
The McMahans are particularly concerned that Texas did not have a life
without parole penalty when Mike was killed. If the case were retried and
a jury did not sentence Chambers to death again, he would be eligible for
The man convicted of attacking Sutton, Clarence Williams, was given two
life sentences and was eligible for parole in 12 years. Every 2 or 3 years
since then as Williams was considered for parole, the McMahans have
launched a letter writing campaign to ask that Williams continue to remain
Chambers, who was 20 when he entered death row, is now a 52-year-old
Janna remembers one reporter covering the high-profile case asking if she
knew Chambers' grandchild had visited him in prison.
"Well, when I want to talk to (Mike), do you know where I go? I go to the
cemetery," Janna said she replied.
Chambers has shown no remorse for taking Mike's life, the McMahans said.
The closest he has come is saying that he's sorry for the pain he's caused
his own parents, Bennie said.
Monday, when the reprieve for Chambers was announced, was a tough day,
But Tuesday evening she was resigned.
"It's been going on for 31 years," she said. "I guess 6 months is not
going to make a difference."
(source: Tri-City Herald)
Circumstances Needed For A Capital Felony
Many people are wondering why Colton Pitonyak cannot be tried for the
death penalty, given the gruesome nature of the crime that he is accused
of committing. But, in Texas, a person has to be guilty of a capital
felony in order to be subject to the death penalty. It's not enough to
cause someone's death, it has to happen under certain special
- The murder of a public safety officer, firefighter, or correctional
- Murder during the commission of other felonies, including kidnapping,
arson, robbery, or aggravated rape.
- Murder for pay, or multiple murders (this also covers hiring someone to
- Murder committed during prison escape.
- Murder by a state prison inmate who is serving a life sentence for other
- Murder of an individual under 6 years of age.
[source: U.T.'s Tarlton Law School Library online]
College Student's Killer Wins Reprieve From Execution
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the scheduled Wednesday
execution of a man convicted of abducting and strangling a Montgomery
County college student 8 years ago.
The punishment for Larry Swearingen, 35, was put off late Tuesday so
questions about evidence used against him at his capital murder trial can
be reviewed, lawyers said.
Swearingen's attorneys had appealed in the state and federal courts,
arguing the presence of specific insects from the site where 19-year-old
Melissa Trotter's body was found in the Sam Houston National Forest
disputes prosecutors' insistence and evidence that Swearingen killed her.
"The insect evidence is powerful proof that Ms. Trotter died when Mr.
Swearingen was in the custody of Montgomery County police," his appeal
Montgomery County prosecutors had opposed the request but acknowledged
because of the short time until Swearingen was to have died, the appeals
court needed more information and stopped the punishment.
"At some point, once they get that information, the execution can be reset
as long as they don't find any problems," Marc Brumberger, an assistant
district attorney in Montgomery County, said.
James Rytting, one of Swearingen's lawyers, said the case would be
returned to the trial court.
"It is good," Rytting said Tuesday. "He doesn't die tomorrow."
Witnesses said Trotter left the campus library at Montgomery College on
Dec. 8, 1998, with Swearingen, whom she met two days earlier outside a
Lake Conroe marina.
Swearingen denied any involvement in the woman's slaying. He acknowledged
seeing and speaking with Trotter at the college but "we parted ways, with
her heading towards the cafeteria, and me going to the parking lot, never
to see another again," he said on a Web site devoted to his innocence.
"I was in no position, literally, to have committed this crime, as I was
in the county jail," he said.
Swearingen was arrested on outstanding warrants three days after Trotter
was last seen. At his trial, he said Trotter left the campus that day with
a man he didn't know.
Evidence showed Trotter had been in Swearingen's trailer in Willis and in
his pickup truck, where detectives found hair that had been forcibly
pulled from her head. A companion piece of pantyhose used to strangle
Trotter was found in the trash outside Swearingen's trailer. And cell
phone records from the day she vanished showed he was in the area where
her body eventually was discovered.
Swearingen had a history of at least two rapes plus an assault on an
ex-wife, but charges never were brought against him, prosecutors said.
Swearingen told the Houston Chronicle from death row his history made him
"the easiest target."
Another condemned inmate, Christopher Swift, 31, is set to die next week
for killing his wife, Amy, who was 8 months pregnant, and her mother. Amy
Swift, 27, was beaten and strangled in a recreational vehicle at an RV
park in the Dallas suburb of Irving. Sandra Sabeh, 61, was strangled the
same day in April 2003 at her Lake Dallas home.
(source: Associated Press)
Houston's crime rate drops more than 5 % in 2006
HOMICIDE IN HOUSTON
Estimated population: 2,060,444
Rate per 100,000: 16.3
Estimated population: 2,198,755
Rate per 100,000: 17.1
[source: City of Houston]
The city's overall crime rate fell more than 5 % last year compared with
2005, despite a well-publicized spike in homicides, statistics released
Houston police reported declines from 3 % to 8 % in the rates per 100,000
population of serious crimes including rape, robbery, aggravated assault,
burglary, theft and auto theft.
Overall, factoring in increased population including hurricane evacuees,
the crime rate per 100,000 residents was down 5.7 %.
The homicide rate, however, increased about 5 %.
According to the statistics, the homicide rate was the only crime tracked
by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program that increased in 2006.
Homicides totaled 336 in 2005 and 376 last year.
Police Chief Harold Hurtt was expected to detail the statistics today at
the weekly City Council meeting.
Today's news was positive for Mayor Bill White, who has made public safety
and crime reduction a top priority.
Crime rates spiked in late 2005 and early 2006, but White's staff has
noted a downward trend since the summer, and especially in October,
November and December.
The city recorded 26 homicides in December, for example, compared with 41
during December 2005, a 36 % decrease.
The Police Department and White credit targeted enforcement in "hot
spots," the 8 police districts with the highest crime in the latter part
of 2005. Violent crime was down in seven of those eight districts last
year, White said.
The extra effort, though, hasn't been cheap. The city expects to spend as
much as $50 million on overtime this fiscal year to boost patrols amid an
officer shortage. The department's budget the city's largest has
increased more than $100 million in the last 3 years.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
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