[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Jul 7 22:31:12 CDT 2007
Court denies death row appeal----Hired killer claimed appellate lawyer
botched case; execution set for Tuesday.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals declined Friday to halt the execution
of a hired killer who claimed his appeals lawyer failed so miserably that
he would have been better off with no lawyer at all.
The court's 5-2 ruling keeps inmate Rolando Ruiz of San Antonio on
schedule for a Tuesday execution after 12 years on death row.
Morris Moon, Ruiz's lawyer, said he may ask the federal courts to review
"We're disappointed, clearly," Moon said. "But we're still looking at our
The appeals court found that Ruiz did not have a legal right to object to
the performance of his court-appointed appeals lawyer, C. Wayne Huff,
whose work on Ruiz's behalf was so lackluster it "was doomed to failure on
the day it was filed," according to Ruiz's latest appeal.
Dozens of death row inmates have raised similar objections and failed,
despite ample evidence of bungled appeals, but Ruiz's lawyers thought
their case had several advantages the others did not, including:
- A federal judge who called Ruiz's appellate lawyer's performance
"appallingly inept" and "egregiously deficient."
- Evidence that Ruiz could have avoided a death sentence had his lawyers
- Recent action by the Court of Criminal Appeals to bar lawyers who
perform poorly from accepting future court-appointed death penalty
The crackdown began last year after an October investigation by the Austin
American-Statesman discovered that court-appointed lawyers routinely filed
incomplete, incomprehensible or improperly argued writs without
But though the court has taken steps to sanction lawyers, its 9 judges
disagree over how to handle apparently botched appeals that have already
Several judges believe such inmates should be given a second chance on a
case-by-case basis, while Friday's ruling indicates that the majority
feels bound by state law that limits death row inmates to one appeal, no
matter how ill-prepared.
Ruiz's guilt is not in dispute.
In 1992, he shot to death Theresa Rodriguez, 29, at her San Antonio home.
Rodriguez's husband and brother-in-law, now serving life terms, paid Ruiz
$2,000 so they could split her $400,000 life insurance policy.
At his trial, jurors learned about Ruiz's assaults on a girlfriend, an
aggravated robbery and 3 attacks against inmates and corrections officers
while acting as an enforcer for a violent prison gang.
But jurors did not hear about Ruiz's childhood with a mentally unstable
mother who sent him on drug-buying trips and who tried to kill herself
several times, once in front of her first-grade son. Ruiz also lived with
a series of drunken, abusive guardians and was identified as having
trauma-induced brain damage that resulted in violent and suicidal
behavior, according to court records.
Ruiz's latest appeal, filed Tuesday, rested on the constitutional
principle that jurors must have all available information before deciding
whether to end a defendant's life, particularly details that can lessen
culpability, such as childhood abuse or mental illness.
Though such mitigating evidence was available to Ruiz's trial lawyers,
they neglected to adequately investigate his past, Ruiz's new appeal said,
adding that the failure was compounded when Huff, Ruiz's habeas lawyer,
also failed to search for mitigating evidence.
Under Texas law, every indigent death row inmate can file - at state
expense - one writ of habeas corpus to challenge their conviction and
sentence on constitutional grounds. The habeas lawyer is required to
reinvestigate many aspects of the case to ensure that defense lawyers
performed adequately, prosecutors and police acted properly and the death
penalty was legally assessed.
No additional state writs are allowed, except in rare circumstances. And
federal courts - the next step in the appeals process - cannot consider
most issues unless they were raised in state court first.
When Huff failed to include potentially mitigating evidence in his writ
application, he precluded Ruiz from raising those issues in every
jurisdiction, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruiz's new appeal
"Mr. Huff was so derelict in his duty that he essentially failed to
function as (habeas) counsel," the appeal stated.
Huff disputes the characterization.
"I believe, under the standards of that time and what I was expected to
do, I did a thorough job of investigating and preparing and presenting
that writ," said Huff, who no longer takes death row habeas appointments.
"I talked to his family and his friends, and I talked to him. I think I
asked all the necessary questions at that time, the same things
Yet when Ruiz's case moved into federal court, his new lawyers uncovered
detailed mitigating evidence that U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia
called "compelling and potentially meritorious." He also blasted Huff for
offering "little more than a set of boilerplate, frivolous claims which
had repeatedly been rejected by both the state and federal courts."
Still, Garcia concluded he could not consider the new mitigating evidence
because Huff did not raise the issues in his state writ.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Garcia, adding that
Ruiz's jurors had enough compelling evidence to assess the death penalty
despite whether they knew about Ruiz's childhood traumas.
But 2 of those jurors have since signed affidavits stating that they would
not have sentenced Ruiz to death had they known of the new evidence at
trial. A death sentence requires a unanimous jury verdict.
The juror statements prove that Ruiz was harmed by lawyers who failed to
do their job, said Moon, a lawyer with the Texas Defender Service, a
nonprofit law firm specializing in death penalty cases.
But to accept Ruiz's arguments, the court would have had to carve out an
exception to the law that limits inmates from filing a 2nd writ
application unless the law or legal precedent has changed or the new
information was not available the first time around.
(source : Austin American-Statesman)
Hitman Set To Die; Victim's Family Talks
A loving wife was gunned down in her own driveway. She was the target in a
murder for hire plot 15 years ago. Now, the man who carried out the plan
is set to be executed on Tuesday.
Before that happens, News 4 WOAI's Kristina De Leon was able to sit down
and speak with the victim's family.
Eddie Sanchez described the day he found out his oldest child, Theresa
Rodriguez, had been murdered. "When we turned in about 3 blocks from the
house, we saw all the police cars and that yellow ribbon around."
"They brought her out and [her mother] and I went and blessed her and
kissed her and then they took her to the morgue," Eddie told us.
His 29-year-old daughter was shot in the head by Rolando Ruiz. Police say
he was hired by Theresa's husband, Michael Rodriguez.
Eddie told us, "I don't think [Ruiz has] ever realized, or cared, what we
are going through." He and his wife said they think Ruiz's punishment is
just, but it does not bring their daughter back.
"There's no closure. There will never be closure, never," Eddie said.
Susie added, "I hope that he prays to God, and I hope that he repents, and
I have a feeling he will."
Theresa's mother, Susie, said her daughter wanted to be a teacher just
like she is.
"I used to cry all the way to school, and when I got back, but when I got
there, I was ready to work," said Susie.
Eddie and Susie do not plan on going Tuesday for the execution, but 3 of
Theresa's siblings will be there.
The man who hired Rolando Ruiz, Michael Rodriguez, is also on death row.
If that name sounds familiar, Rodriguez was one of the infamous "Connally
7" prison escapees who killed a police officer back in Dallas in 2000. His
execution date has not yet been set.
(source: WOAI News)
'You should be locked up forever'----Victim's family rejects killer's
sense of remorse
Janie Elizabeth Marquez's killer was given a life sentence. But it was
little consolation for her family, who will never see her again.
Jose Israel Tejeda, 29, of Victoria, pleaded guilty Friday to charges of
murder and burglary, both first-degree felonies, for the 2004 slaying of
After the sentencing, Marquez's husband, Cornelio Garza, addressed Tejeda
in the courtroom and expressed the anguish he has felt since he found
Marquez dead in their home, stabbed 27 times.
"You took a part of our family. You took a mom and a sister. You took a
sister-in-law, a grandma and a friend. You took my wife," he said, as
other family members in the courtroom wiped away tears.
"My wife didn't deserve this. She didn't deserve any of this. I hope that
every day in prison you have to think about what you did."
Tejeda, who seemed unfazed during the proceedings, told the Marquez's
family he was sorry for their suffering and asked that God bless each and
every one of them.
"I don't forgive you," Garza responded. "You should be locked up forever."
Tejeda's charges were reduced from capital murder, which could have
resulted in the death penalty, to murder. He also received an additional
20 years in prison for the burglary charge. According to District Attorney
Stephen Tyler, Tejeda won't be eligible for parole for at least 40 years.
Tyler added that, since Tejeda is an illegal immigrant, if he finishes his
sentence or makes parole, he would be shipped back to Mexico by the
"There's no decision I could make that erases the tragedy. I always have
mixed feelings after something like this," he said.
"But you have to balance and say what is justice for the victim's family,
what is justice for the community, and what is justice for the defendant?"
"I think this is what is best for the community and the family."
Marquez, a health care worker at Citizens Medical Center, was found dead
on Dec. 18, 2004, inside her home at 2601 Plover St. Jewelry, money,
credit cards and her truck were taken from the residence and the truck was
abandoned at a convenience store near her home.
Tejeda, who was her neighbor, was arrested on Jan. 3, 2005, in San Antonio
in relation to the crime after officers received a tip that he had applied
for a job as a maintenance worker at an apartment complex, according to
Delays in the trial have been due to scheduling, a competency hearing and
allowing the defense attorneys to develop their case.
(source: Victoria Advocate ---- Aprill Brandon is a reporter for the
Judge denies killer's appeal----Convict cites bad defense
U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson on Monday denied an appeal by
attorneys for convicted murderer Henry W. Skinner.
A Gray County jury convicted Skinner, 45, of capital murder in 1995 for
the Dec. 31, 1993, slaying of his girlfriend, Twila Busby, 40, and her 2
mentally retarded sons, Elwin Caler, 22, and Randy Busby, 20, all of
Pampa. Skinner received the death penalty for the killings.
In the ruling, Robinson said, "The objections filed by the petitioner are
without merit and are hereby overruled."
Skinner filed his notice of appeal May 9 with five claims of ineffective
assistance of counsel including: failure to effectively cross-examine
witness Andrea Reed; failure to effectively present the blood spatter
evidence reflected in police report of officer Morse Burroughs and use the
evidence in final argument; failure to advise the defense toxicology
expert of petitioner's codeine allergy; failure to develop additional
evidence as to Robert Donnell as a suspect; and failure to have additional
DNA testing performed.
Police said they found Caler sitting on the porch of a neighbor's home
with a blanket pressed against his side where the young man had been
stabbed. Caler died a short time later in a Pampa hospital.
The body of Randy Busby was found in a bunk bed in a bedroom that he
shared with his brother. He apparently was stabbed in the back 3 times.
Twila Busby was strangled into unconsciousness and struck 14 times about
the face and head with a club, court records show.
(source: Amarillo Globe-News)
Pursuing the death penalty a delicate decision----Collin: Lawyer says case
doesn't justify penalty; DA explains reasoning
Murder alone is not enough for the death penalty in Texas. It takes
special circumstances to mete out the ultimate punishment.
For Curtis Lee Armstrong, life or death could come down to a broken window
and a stolen wedding ring.
Mr. Armstrong, 37, is accused in the May slaying of his ex-wife, who was
stabbed and beaten in her Plano apartment. Jennifer McCallum's apartment
window was broken and her wedding ring stolen, authorities say.
That burglary evidence opened the door for prosecutors to charge their
lone suspect with capital murder and seek the death penalty, according to
Mr. Armstrong's attorney, Richard Franklin.
"I don't believe this case justifies the use of the death penalty," Mr.
Franklin said. "This is just a technicality being used to kill someone."
Collin County District Attorney John Roach wouldn't discuss the Armstrong
case, but said his office considers capital murder charges on a
case-by-case basis and does a careful evaluation before seeking the death
"We look at the egregiousness of the offense. How bad is it? How brutal?
Also, we look at the terror inflicted, all the circumstances surrounding
the murder, whether it was premeditated. We consider all the horrifying
factors," he said.
"We review all the facts and determine if we believe that this crime was
so serious that a jury should have the ability to determine if a death
penalty should be imposed."
The Armstrong case is the 8th capital murder case in Collin County since
2003. The death penalty was sought in five of those cases, according to
First Assistant District Attorney Greg Davis.
The last time a Collin County jury considered the death penalty, the case
also involved domestic violence. In November, John Steven Gardner of
Westminster was sentenced to die for the death of his estranged wife. He
drove from his parents' home in Mississippi to kill his wife, sending
text-messaged threats along the way.
Mr. Gardner admitted in 1983 to shooting a previous wife, who was pregnant
at the time, in Mississippi. She and the baby died.
In September, Mr. Roach and his staff decided not to pursue the death
penalty in the capital murder of a 14-month-old boy. The McKinney boy's
nanny, Ada Betty Cuadros Fernandez, beat the child's head against a
cabinet. She was sentenced to life in prison.
Capital felonies are the most serious of the 5 felony classifications in
the Texas Penal Code. They are punishable by life in prison or death by
The penal code defines capital murder as:
- the murder of a peace officer or firefighter.
- murder during the commission of a kidnapping, burglary, robbery,
aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction or retaliation, or
- murder for hire.
- murder during a prison escape or escape attempt.
- the murder of a prison employee by an inmate.
- a murder committed by an inmate already serving time for murder.
- multiple murders.
- the slaying of a child under 6.
- the retaliatory killing of a judge.
A high-profile Collin County case that met none of those tests was that of
Mr. Wingfield, a former Allen firefighter, shot his wife and her friend,
nurses who were returning to work after lunch. His wife died. But because
the friend survived, Mr. Wingfield did not qualify for the death penalty.
"That guy was much more dangerous," Mr. Franklin said. "He laid in wait
and shot not only his wife but her friend to try to get rid of any
Mr. Armstrong has no criminal history. He remains in the Collin County
Jail with bail set at $750,000. He lived in Dayton, Texas, near Houston,
with his wife, Lisa Armstrong. She could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Armstrong and his ex-wife regularly argued about visitation and
custody of their 6-year-old daughter. Ms. McCallum told a co-worker that
she was afraid of him, according to court records.
The same day that Ms. McCallum was reported missing, Mr. Armstrong was
arrested near a Plano movie theater and blood was discovered in the bed of
his truck. From jail, Mr. Armstrong gave police a map leading to the body.
A trial date has not been set.
"There is a lot of evidence against him in terms of the offense itself,"
Mr. Franklin said. "But he's a train engineer, not a serial robber" or
Mr. Roach said prosecutors don't seek the death penalty frivolously. And
they pursue it when they believe a jury will side with them, he said.
"It has to do with the credibility of the office and the credibility of
the death penalty," Mr. Roach said. "We just don't take any old case
because it is technically a capital murder. It has to be one in which the
death penalty is warranted."
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Suicide shows squalid conditions in Texas prison----Death reveals Idaho
did little monitoring of its private facilities, despite complaints
Problems with GEO prisons are not limited to Dickens.
Lawsuit: Elsewhere in Texas, a female inmate's family sued GEO in 2006
after she committed suicide at the Val Verde County Jail near the Mexican
border. LeTisha Tapia alleged that she was raped by another inmate and
sexually humiliated by a GEO guard.
Dismissal: In March, an investigation into sex abuse allegations at
another GEO-run Texas prison led to the firing of a guard who was a
convicted sex offender.
Riot: At GEO prisons in Illinois and Indiana, hundreds of inmates rioted
this past spring.
Profit:: The complaints have not hurt the company's balance sheet. It
reported profits of $30 million in 2006, 4 times the amount reported in
After months alone in his cell, Scot Noble Payne finished 20 pages of
letters, describing to loved ones the decrepit conditions of the prison
where he was serving time for molesting a child.
Then Payne used a razor blade to slice 2 3-inch gashes in his throat.
Guards found his body in the cell's shower, with the water still running.
"Try to comfort my mum too and try to get her to see that I am truly happy
again," he wrote his uncle. "I tell you, it sure beats having water on the
floor 24/7, a smelly pillow case, sheets with blood stains on them and a
stinky towel that hasn't been changed since they caught me."
Payne's suicide on March 4 came seven months after he was sent to the
squalid privately run Texas prison by Idaho authorities trying to ease
inmate overcrowding in their own state.
His death exposed what had been Idaho's standard practice for dealing with
inmates sent to out-of-state prisons: Out of sight, out of mind.
It also raised questions about a company hired to operate prisons in 15
states, despite reports of abusive guards and terrible sanitation.
Hundreds of pages of documents obtained by The Associated Press through an
open records request show Idaho did little monitoring of out-of-state
inmates, despite repeated complaints from prisoners, their families and a
The bottom line
More than 140,000 U.S. prison beds are in private hands, and inmates'
rights groups allege many such penitentiaries tolerate deplorable
conditions and skimp on services to increase profits.
"They cut corners because the bottom line is making money," said Caylor
Rolling, prison program director at Partnership for Safety and Justice in
Portland, Ore., a group that promotes prison alternatives.
Payne, 43, was among Idaho inmates sent to the prison in Spur, Texas, run
by a Florida-based company called the GEO Group. The business operates
more than 50 prisons across the United States.
Soon after Payne's suicide, the Idaho Department of Correction's health
care director inspected the prison and declared it the worst facility that
he had ever seen. Don Stockman called Payne's cell unacceptable and the
rest of the Dickens County Correctional Center "beyond repair."
"The physical environment ... would have only enhanced the inmate's
depression that could have been a major contributing factor in his
suicide," he wrote in a report on Payne's death.
After Idaho's complaints, GEO reassigned warden Ron Alford, who told the
AP that he was later fired. He insisted that GEO did not provide enough
money to make necessary improvements.
"They denied me everything. To buy a pencil with GEO, it took three
signatures. They're cheap," Alford said in an interview. He disputes
Stockman's findings on his treatment of Idaho inmates.
GEO spokesman Pablo Paez declined to comment on Alford's performance and
would say only that the company had been working to address Idaho
On Thursday, the state announced plans to move 125 inmates from Dickens to
other facilities, citing the poor living conditions.
Boom in private prisons
The private prison business has been booming as the federal government
seeks space to house more criminals and illegal immigrants.
"Sometimes it may be a better situation for the inmates, and sometimes
it's not," said prison consultant Douglas Lansing, a former warden at the
Federal Correctional Institution in Fort Dix, N.J. "Monitoring is a vital
component. You can't just move them out of town and forget them."
That appears to be largely what happened with Idaho's inmates. The
prisoners were sent to Dickens in August from another GEO-run Texas prison
after complaints about abuse by guards.
In the following seven months, Idaho sent an inspector to Texas only once.
That inspection found major problems, including virtually no substance
abuse treatment, and a complete lack of Idaho-sanctioned anger management
classes and pre-release programs.
There's no evidence the inspector's recommendations were followed. And no
one from Idaho visited the prison again until after Payne's suicide.
The new director of the Idaho prison system concedes that his department
did not adequately review the inmates' treatment when he took office in
"If I had to do it over again, I would have," director Brent Reinke said.
Some other states are more vigilant. Washington state, for instance, has
1,000 inmates in Arizona and Minnesota and places full-time inspectors at
the prisons. A superintendent visits every 6 weeks.
(source: Associated Press)
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