[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Jan 31 05:56:20 UTC 2007
Texan executed for killing wife, mother-in-law
Condemned killer Christopher Swift was executed today, spurning appeals
that could stop or delay his execution for the slayings of his wife and
mother-in-law in suburban Dallas.
Asked if he had a final statement, Swift, 31, responded: "No."
7 minutes later at 6:20 p.m., he was pronounced dead as 5 friends watched.
No relatives of survivors attended the execution.
"Receiving the death penalty is what he's wanted from Day 1, from the
first day I met him," said Derek Adame, who was one of Swift's trial
lawyers. "He and I had several discussions about it. It was frustrating
for me. That's what makes it hard to deal with. It's the ultimate
Evidence showed Swift's 5-year-old son watched as the former laborer and
parolee stabbed and strangled his pregnant wife, Amy Sabeh-Swift, in the
family recreational vehicle in Irving. Then he took the boy to a mobile
home park in Lake Dallas and strangled his wife's mother, Sandra Stevens
Sabeh, 61, at her home.
The boy was found the next day, April 30, 2003, wandering the lobby of a
Days Inn in Irving where his father had rented a room. Swift left after
the child fell asleep. Hotel staffers fed him breakfast and let him watch
cartoons in the lobby but then called police after no one claimed him and
he was getting frightened.
When police arrived, the child told them his father had killed his mother
Officers found their bodies. Swift was under arrest within hours.
Defense lawyers tried to show Swift should be found innocent by reason of
insanity. Prosecutors presented witnesses who said Swift knew what he was
doing and was not insane.
"He never denied doing the killings," said Lee Ann Breading, a former
Denton County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case. "The
whole issue centered on his mental state and evidence basically turned on
the legal definition of insanity.
"He didn't meet it. He knew what he was doing was wrong. He had talked a
lot about how police 'are going to put me in jail.'"
Authorities determined after abandoning his son at the Days Inn, he got
himself a room elsewhere and some beer.
"He had some issues," Breading said. "Leave your kid in a hotel and drink
a 12-pack issues juries don't like."
Swift's 27-year-old wife worked as an aide at the Denton State School for
the mentally disabled. The couple had been married 6 years although at one
point Swift had filed for divorce, then didn't follow through on the
filing. She was 8 months pregnant when she died.
Their marriage began on a difficult note. 4 days after their wedding, he
started a four-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to assaulting a
Texas state trooper in 1996 and a Denton County woman in 1997. He also
pleaded guilty to an assault charge for shoving and choking his wife in
March 1996, driving while intoxicated and fleeing a police officer. In
1992, he pleaded guilty to evading arrest.
Prosecutors said Swift had a history of alcohol abuse and drug use. He'd
quit a new job at a concrete company because they asked him to take a drug
test and when he came home, his decision sparked an argument with his wife
that led to the slayings, prosecutors said.
Swift spent about 21 months on death row. The average condemned Texas
inmate is in prison about 10 years before execution. The shortest time on
death row was Joe Gonzales, who in 1996 received lethal injection 252 days
after he arrived.
Another Texas inmate is scheduled to die next week. James Jackson, 47, is
among at least 11 Texas prisoners with execution dates. Jackson was
condemned for the 1997 slayings of his 2 stepdaughters at their Houston
home. Jackson's wife, the mother of the girls, also was killed.
On the Web----Texas Department of Criminal Justice execution schedule
Swift becomes the 3rd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
Texas, and the 382nd overall since the state resumed capital punishment on
December 7, 1982. Swift becomes the 143rd condemned inmate to be put to
death in Texas since Rick Perry became governor in 2001. A record 152
condemned inmates were executed during the tenure of then-Governor George
Swift becomes the 4th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the
USA, and the 1061st overall since the nation resumed executions on January
(sources: Associated Press & Rick Halperin)
Test doesn't link referee to Estell----Collin County: Officials still say
they have right man in '93 slaying
New DNA test results do not link a former youth soccer referee to the
high-profile murder of 7-year-old Ashley Estell in 1993.
Attorneys for Michael Blair, who is on death row for the slaying, and the
Collin County district attorney's office agreed to the DNA testing.
Ashley Estell The findings raise questions about whether Ashley's killer
is still loose. But prosecutors said Monday that they still believe Mr.
Blair is guilty. His defense attorneys maintain he is innocent.
The test results, released Monday, show that tissue samples found under
Ashley's fingernails did not come from a man who was officiating a soccer
game at Plano's Carpenter Park when Ashley disappeared from there. The man
is a convicted sex offender who has used several aliases, including Josh
"We have other suspects we're working on," said Philip Wischkaemper, an
attorney for Mr. Blair. "The bottom line is, it's not Michael."
DNA testing completed in October showed that the tissue found under
Ashley's fingernails did not come from Mr. Blair.
However, prosecutors maintain that other evidence proves Mr. Blair
abducted Ashley from a Plano park in September 1993 and killed her. For
example, 2 witnesses testified they saw Mr. Blair at the park the morning
"He's the one who needs to prove that someone else did it," said John
Rolater, chief of the district attorney's appellate section.
District Attorney John Roach has said DNA found under Ashley's fingernails
could have been there for days before her death and could have come from
anyone - not necessarily her killer.
Defense attorneys are trying to win a new trial for Mr. Blair, 35, and get
him off death row. However, even if he is cleared of Ashley's murder, Mr.
Blair will never be released from prison because he is serving 3
consecutive life sentences for sex crimes involving children.
Michael Blair Ashley's death, which generated nationwide publicity,
prompted new Texas laws that require longer prison terms for repeat sex
offenders and better tracking once they are released.
The Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal center in New York that relies on
DNA evidence to exonerate wrongfully convicted people, got involved on Mr.
Blair's behalf several years ago.
The organization paid for the new DNA testing that failed to link the
former soccer referee to Ashley's slaying.
Nina Morrison, a staff attorney for the Innocence Project, said the new
evidence, coupled with the earlier DNA testing on Mr. Blair, adds up to a
"Whenever you have DNA results that indicate an innocent man is in prison,
that's quite significant," Ms. Morrison said.
She recently helped free James Waller, who spent 24 years in Texas prison
for raping a 12-year-old boy. DNA testing ruled conclusively that Mr.
Waller, now 50, was not guilty.
In 2002, DNA findings showed that hair found on Ashley's body didn't come
from Mr. Blair.
DA's office criticized
Roy Greenwood, an attorney for Mr. Blair, criticized the Collin County
district attorney's office for not wavering in its belief that Mr. Blair
"Because of the importance of this case politically, no one will give an
inch," Mr. Greenwood said. "When all the main evidence they used to
convict gets canned, you would think somebody would start backing off. We
all make mistakes."
Mr. Rolater of the district attorney's office had no comment Monday, other
than to say the new DNA test results exclude the former soccer referee.
"Because of the state of litigation, I can't comment beyond that," he
DNA test ruling
In 2001, a Texas appeals court sent the Blair case back to the Collin
County trial court to rule on new DNA evidence. State District Judge
Nathan White Jr., who presided over Mr. Blair's 1994 trial, never made a
ruling. He presided over the case until he left office on Dec. 31.
Judge White's successor, Greg Brewer, appointed a visiting judge, Webb
Biard, to consider the new DNA evidence.
Judge Biard has until April 12 to rule on the merits of the evidence and
send the case back to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Mr.
Wischkaemper said. Only the appeals court could grant Mr. Blair a new
It could also throw out Mr. Blair's conviction based on new evidence, Mr.
"To me, that's a long shot," he said. "It's an extreme option, but they
have done that in other capital murder cases."
Mr. Wischkaemper said 2 other suspects remain in Ashley's murder. Both
were teenagers who may have been at Carpenter Park when she disappeared in
"Obviously, we have no obligation to find the perpetrator," Mr.
Wischkaemper said. "All we have to do is show our guy wasn't the
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Opposing student groups debate death penalty----Longhorns Speak sponsors
dialogue, large crowd attends
An estimated 180 students and faculty members gathered in Jester
Auditorium for a debate between the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and
the Young Conservatives of Texas, hosted by Longhorns Speak, a nonpartisan
organization that brings together students for dialogue.
"The hope is that students get a better understanding of why their
position is what it is," said Arun Venkataraman, a business honors and
government senior and president of Longhorns Speak.
The idea was initiated by the anti-death penalty group, which wanted an
active dialogue, Venkataraman said.
"I think it is a controversial issue a lot of people don't engage and
think about," said Merry Regan, a history and communication studies junior
and member of the anti-death penalty group.
Regan added that this forum lets people know about the realities of the
Bryan McCann, a graduate student in the College of Communication and a
panelist for the campaign, argued that there are racial disparities in the
individuals that end up on death row. He added that many times these death
row inmates do not have the funds to hire appropriate attorneys.
A voice needs to be spoken for the victims of these crimes, said Brianna
Becker, government freshmen and panelist for YCT.
She said the death penalty is not abused in the system, and it transcends
any racial, gender or economic issues - it is the judicial system at its
Becker said the campaign panelists were well prepared and very passionate.
"I thought the Young Conservatives of Texas could have done better,
personally. I think the Campaign to End the Death Penalty was very
articulate, and they presented their arguments very well," said Joseph
Wyly, a government junior and executive director of YCT. But their
arguments and evidence were not strong enough to convince him to get rid
of the death penalty and debate over broader social issues, which is what
is really needed, Wyly said.
"I think the [YCT] panelists were very vocal, and they brought up a lot of
excellent arguments," said Stephanie Cagniart, a member of the anti-death
penalty group. "However, none of the arguments they brought up addressed
Dana Cloud, associate professor of communication studies, said she hopes
students use the debate as an opportunity to think critically about the
"The debate was very lively," said Nikki Lockhart, a government and
It was good to hear how the death penalty is implemented versus people's
personal principles on the subject, Lockhart said.
"We were very pleased with the turnout," Venkataraman said. "I think a lot
of people had already made up their mind, but were able to express their
(source: The Daily Texan)
Jury selection beginning in new trial for Guidry
Jury selection begins today in the retrial of a 30-year-old man whose 1997
capital murder conviction in the death of Farah Fratta was overturned by a
Testimony in Howard Paul Guidry's trial is expected to start Feb. 19.
In a hearing Monday, visiting state District Judge Doug Shaver ruled
against Guidry's defense team, which had asked for a continuance to
investigate the claims of a jail inmate scheduled to testify that Guidry
confessed to him. In 1997, Guidry was convicted as the triggerman and
sentenced to death in the 1994 murder-for-hire plot.
Robert Fratta, a former Missouri City public safety officer, hired Joseph
Prystash to carry out the killing of his wife. Prystash's girlfriend
testified during the trial that Prystash told her that he paid Guidry
$1,000 to assist him.
Fratta and Prystash, both convicted of capital murder, are on death row.
In 2004, a federal judge ruled that Guidry deserved a new trial because he
was tricked into confessing. The judge also said hearsay testimony
contributed to the conviction.
Guidry has been in custody since his arrest in 1995.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Family & Friends Of Murder Victims Go Face To Face With Accused Killer
A man accused of shooting and killing 2 men during a robbery in Beaumont 2
years ago is now serving a life sentence in prison.
Prosecutors say in January 2005 Williams Moore III shot 26-year old
Phillip Broussard and 28-year old Deonza Hills in the back of the head in
Beaumont's Avenue district and left their bodies in a vehicle.
On Friday, Moore pleaded guilty to a capital murder charge for the death
of Deonza Hills.
His attorney tells KBTV Moore, a father of 2 young children, wanted to
plead guilty to avoid the possibility of the death penalty.
Assistant District Attorney Pat Knauth says Moore was indicted on 2
charges. The 1st indictment charged Moore with the robbery and shooting
death of Deonza Hills. That's the charge Moore pleaded guilty to last
The 2nd indictment charged Moore with the robbery and shooting death of
The jury selection for Moore's trial on the first indictment began last
week but Moore made the surprise plea agreement on Friday.
Knaught says taking Moore to court on the first indictment gives his
office the option of taking Moore back to court at a later date.
On Monday, family and friends of both murder victims appeared in court for
a victim's impact statement.
"All I have to go on is the memories and pictures and him calling me big
sister", said Phillip Broussard's sister Edna Kimble.
"Lord knows I believe in God and everything I was taught tells me to
forgive him right now but I can`t", said Broussard's sister Michelle
Moore will be up for parole in 40 years.
There is one other man charged with the murders.
His name is Gerald Loudd and prosecutors say his case may go to trial
sometime this fall.
They do 'not' plan to seek the death penalty for Loudd.
(source: KBTV News)
Former Bexar DA crusades against the death penalty----Millsap has become
an unlikely voice against executions
Sam Millsap Jr. knows that most people in his home state disagree with his
fervent opposition to the death penalty, but the former Bexar County
district attorney remains puzzled by a particular expression of sympathy
he gets from many of his fellow Texans.
They frequently admonish him not to beat himself up over the execution of
Ruben Cantu, a potentially innocent man Millsap helped send to the death
Millsap says his well-wishers almost always offer the same advice:
"Whether he was in fact guilty of the crime for which he was executed is
immaterial he was a worthless human being who is better off dead."
Those words always stop him in his tracks, convincing him that he has a
lot of work to do in his own backyard.
Millsap has trouble getting an audience for his views in Texas, where
polls consistently suggest a majority supports the death penalty. But when
a New Jersey commission earlier this month backed the abolition of the
death penalty, it was partly based on Millsap's testimony.
"I remember him well," recalled the commission's chairman, the Rev. M.
William Howard Jr. "Whenever a prosecutor is able to tell that kind of
story, people stand up and take notice."
Millsap travels to Paris in early February to speak to the Third World
Congress Against the Death Penalty to explain his evolution from a
full-throated execution advocate to a death penalty abolitionist. He knows
that his pedigree as a Texas prosecutor is part of the draw.
"When I go to these conferences," he said, "people kind of stare at me
like I'm the two-headed donkey in the freak show because I come from this
place where people love to execute criminals."
He's 55 now, but Millsap was young and brash when he took over as Bexar
County district attorney in 1983. He left office in 1987, he said,
confident that all who were sentenced to die on his watch was guilty of
the crime for which he was convicted.
But the next 13 years whittled away at that confidence.
DNA evidence was routinely setting the convicted free, he said, and a
groundbreaking Columbia University study of capital murder cases that had
been overturned on appeal revealed rampant errors in defense and
misconduct by prosecutors and police. When Illinois Gov. George Ryan
declared a moratorium on executions in his state, based on evidence that
13 Illinois death row inmates might have been wrongfully convicted, it was
Millsap, now in private practice, issued a statement in 2000 revealing
that the man who had once been so bullish on the death penalty now had
grave doubts about the system.
"I made my statement. I went back to living my life," the former San
Antonio prosecutor said. "And in December 2005, (reporter) Lise Olsen and
the Houston Chronicle complicated my life immeasurably by satisfying me
that a prosecution and execution that I was responsible for may well have
... produced the execution of an innocent man."
Ruben Cantu, a gang member convicted of a robbery-related murder when he
was 18, was executed on Aug. 24, 1993. In 2005, a Chronicle investigation
suggested that Cantu was possibly innocent.
A co-defendant signed a sworn affidavit saying Cantu was not with him the
night of the killing. The sole eyewitness to the crime has since recanted
his identification of Cantu, saying he felt pressured by police to name
him as the killer. And there was no physical evidence connecting Cantu to
"What I realize now with maturity I didn't have at 35, or however the hell
old I was, I realize that eyewitness testimony is not as reliable as I
thought it was at that point in my life," Millsap said. "We'll never know
whether Cantu was innocent or not."
Playing a constructive role
When someone raises serious questions about something that happens on a
former prosecutor's watch, Millsap said, that prosecutor has a duty to
deal with it. And he's willing to travel just about anywhere to talk about
the stakes involved when the judicial system fails to protect the
innocent. "The corresponding regret that I have and feel so deeply," he
said, "is that prosecutors of the other Texas cases at the center of this
debate are silent or refuse to acknowledge the possibility of mistakes."
Robert Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County
Attorneys Association, agrees that enforcement of the death penalty is not
a particularly troubling issue for most state prosecutors.
"If you ask prosecutors if they feel comfortable about asking for the
assessment of death, they're going to say yes," Kepple said. "Of the vast
majority of eligible cases, the vast majority (of prosecutors) seek
something other than death."
While 9 men sit on death row in New Jersey, the state has not executed
anyone in 43 years. The state Legislature is expected to accept the
commission's recommendation to abolish the death penalty.
"It was encouraging for me to have the opportunity to play a constructive
role in a state that is looking hard at whether the death penalty is
something that they want to be part of their legal fabric," Millsap said.
"I love the state of Texas and wouldn't live anywhere else," he said. "I
just think, on this particular issue, we're dreadfully wrong."
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Death penalty, abortion a bad mix ---- Swinford, AG, make law loud and
Texas has a reputation for using capital punishment as the ultimate form
The Lone Star State routinely leads the nation in the number of
individuals sentenced to death for their crimes - and ultimately executed.
Texas has been both criticized and praised for this, but there is one
thing both sides of the capital punishment debate can agree on - let's not
bring abortion into the controversy.
At the request of state Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, Texas Attorney
General Greg Abbott clarified a 2005 law that could have been interpreted
to allow the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions without
parental approval or during the third trimester.
That was not the intent of the law, however, according to Swinford and,
more importantly, to the attorney general.
"We never discussed a capital murder deal at any time, so I know that was
not anybody's opinion about the thing," Swinford said.
The confusion stems from a 2003 state law that makes killing an "unborn
child" at any point capital murder.
Combine that law with a 2005 law defining an abortion on an unmarried girl
under 18 without proper consent as an act considered a "prohibited
Under such circumstances, some construed that as meaning a doctor could be
subject to the death penalty.
Abbott ruled the offense is no greater than a 3rd-degree felony.
When lawmakers who wrote and passed a law have a problem with how it might
be applied, further guidance is necessary to prevent manipulation that is
not related to the law's intent.
Besides, many laws at various levels - local, state and federal - are
For instance, it would be troublesome for a doctor facing the death
penalty under the aforementioned circumstances to have to resort to legal
shenanigans - such as mental retardation or childhood abuse - which now
are standard legal maneuvers by defendants trying to avoid capital
punishment for their heinous crimes.
Hey, stranger things have happened.
Thankfully, in this case, they won't in Texas.
(source: Editorial, Amarillo Globe News)
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