[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS, FLA., ALA., OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Jul 22 16:30:25 CDT 2007
Appeals court affirms man's death sentence
The Court of Criminal Appeals has affirmed the death sentence of a
40-year-old Palestine man found guilty of murdering his 2-year-old
biological child more than 5 years ago.
Robert Leslie Roberson III, 40, of Palestine was sentenced to die by
lethal injection by a 12-person Anderson County jury at the conclusion of
his February 2003 trial.
During the trial's guilt/innocence phase, Roberson had been found guilty
of capital murder in connection with the death of 2-year-old Nikki Curtis
who died of blunt force head injuries at a Dallas hospital on Feb. 1,
Curtis had been transported to a Palestine hospital the previous day
before being transferred to Children's Medical Center in Dallas, with the
defendant claiming the toddler suffered her injuries as a result of
falling from a bed.
Evidence during Roberson's trial, however, showed that Curtis' fatal
injuries were consistent with shaken baby or shaken impact syndrome.
Testimony during the trial also indicated that the defendant had obtained
legal custody of Curtis approximately 3 months before the child's death.
In his appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest
criminal court, Roberson raised 13 points of error, but each was
determined to have no merit.
The Court recently affirmed Roberson's death sentence.
"We are pleased with the Courts decision," Anderson County District
Attorney Doug Lowe said.
"The defendant may request a reconsideration, but I expect Mr. Roberson's
next step will be to proceed with the federal writ process. Our office
remains committed to seek justice on behalf of Nikki Curtis."
Roberson is currently residing on death row outside of Livingston, but
will likely not have an execution date set for several years.
"The federal process begins with the filing of a writ of habeas corpus in
federal district court," Lowe said. "Ultimately, the case will make its
way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is likely many years will pass before
Mr. Roberson faces execution."
Prior to being found guilty of murdering his toddler child, Roberson had
been sentenced to 10 years in prison during the 1990s for burglary of a
(source: The Palestine Herald)
Counties, defendants benefit from program
A state-funded 18-month pilot program expanding the services of the Bexar
Appellate Public Defender Office is good news to indigent criminal
defendants seeking appeals and the counties where they were convicted.
The Bexar County office was created in August 2005 with funding from a
state grant. Last May, the office received additional funding to hire
another lawyer and a paralegal and expand its services to the 32 counties
in the 4th Judicial Region.
Thus far, 26 counties have signed up, said Chief Appellate Public Defender
Crime is a booming business across the state, court records indicate.
Under the new pilot program, participating counties will refer the
criminal appeals of indigent defendants to the Bexar County office, which
will handle them free of charge.
This will assure that experienced appellate lawyers will represent
defendants in rural counties with a limited number of legal professionals.
The counties in turn will be saving court-appointed-lawyer fees that come
with providing legal counsel for indigent defendants.
Legal appeals are not cheap.
The tab for an appeal on a regular felony case can easily add up to
$4,500. A death penalty capital murder case appeal can cost $16,000 or
During its first 18 months of operation, the appellate public defender's
office handled 400 appeals, significantly more than the 120 cases
officials anticipated filing during that time period.
If the expanded program is successful, Moore wants to establish a system
where the outlying counties help support the office with an annual funding
allocation that would be determined by the volume of cases they refer to
the office, similar to a legal service insurance.
It makes a lot of sense.
Court appointed legal fees are always a big budget item for county
Having a central office handling appeals with well-qualified lawyers who
are experts in that field would ensure that the money is being wisely
spent and reduce claims of incompetent legal counsel.
(source: Editorial, San Antonio Express-News)
THE SERRANO MURDER CASE----What Serrano's trial cost us
Nelson Ivan Serrano was recently sentenced to death for the 1997 slayings
of 4 people in what is considered Polk County's worst mass murder.
Serrano was convicted of killing Frank Dosso, 35; Diane Patisso, 28; and 2
business associates, George Gonsalves, 69; and George Patisso Jr., 26. A
financial dispute led Felice Dosso and Gonsalves to fire Serrano as
president of a garment-conveyor factory months before the December 1997
Now that Serrano, 68, is out of the local jail and on death row at the
Florida State Prison in Starke, some of the public costs associated with
his case have been tallied.
Here's a look at the Serrano case by the numbers, which are rounded.
$1 million plus----Price the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reports
its investigation cost. 1,762----days in the Polk County Jail. Serrano was
booked into the jail Sept.1, 2002 and booked out June 28, 2007.
$69,883----Minimum cost to house Serrano in the jail. Sheriff's Office
officials say the actual cost is likely more since Serrano was on suicide
watch, which requires more security.
$68,000----Estimated cost of the salaries of State Attorney's Office
employees who were devoted to the case full time -- 2 lawyers, 1
secretary, 1 investigator and media employee. $36,657----State Attorney's
Office reports includes cost of expert and expert travel, court reporter,
attorney travel and travel for witnesses.
$29,926----Court reporter for all hearings
$29,857----Real-time court translator
$58,596----Public funds used for his defense, which include
$290----Information and evidence
(source: Orlando Sentinel)
A Capital Cause
Inspired by the passion of his late mentor's dogged representation of a
hard-luck prisoner on Alabama's death row, David A. Kochman will fly to
Montgomery sometime in the next few weeks for talks with the state
Attorney General's Office in the cause of freedom for William Ernest
Kuenzel, pro bono client of New York labor lawyer David "Duff" Dretzin
until his own death a year ago next week.
Mr. Kochman's trip will come on the heels of his significant victory this
month in a federal appellate court, the latest move in a battle long waged
by Mr. Dretzin to reverse the 1988 conviction of Mr. Kuenzel for the
shotgun slaying of a convenience store clerk in Talladega County -
described by the Birmingham Post-Herald as "death row country" due to
former District Attorney Robert Rumsey's record of sending a dozen
criminal defendants to a flame-prone electric chair known as "Yellow
Mama." (Alabama changed its primary form of execution to lethal injection
in 2002.) Behind the mountain of legal papers in state and federal courts
is the story of a respected New York attorney's belief in the innocence of
a 7th-grade dropout from rural Alabama, his protg's sink-or-swim education
in capital defense, the anomaly of attorneys giving in to emotion and the
pro bono support of Anderson, Kill & Olick.
In addition to greenlighting its own lawyers - Mr. Kochman, fellow
associate David A. Solomon and partners Jeffrey E. Glen and Harry H. Rimm
- Anderson Kill provided its resources to the late Mr. Dretzin, who ran a
solo practice from rented space at the firm.
As a summer associate in 2004, Mr. Kochman began what he called
"secretarial work" for Mr. Dretzin in the cause of Billy Kuenzel, as their
client became known. Last year on Father's Day, Mr. Dretzin suffered a
stroke while driving back to the city with his family from their weekend
home in Columbia County. Several days later, he died at age 77.
Mr. Dretzin's widow - the actress Joanna Merlin, who portrays Judge Lena
Petrovsky on television's "Law & Order/Special Victims Unit" - said his
long relationship with Mr. Kuenzel was exceptional.
"Duff tried to maintain the professional relationship all through the
years," Ms. Merlin said. "But I saw something developing, something
extraordinary. Duff and Billy both knew it. It had become a friendship.
There was real love between the 2 of them."
In 1990, when Mr. Dretzin left a law firm partnership in search of
full-time public service work, he came upon the Alabama-based Equal
Justice Initiative, which had taken on the appellate case of Mr. Kuenzel.
Mr. Kuenzel had been convicted in state court after a brief trial,
represented by appointed counsel at the officially capped rate of $1,000,
and prosecuted by the legendary Mr. Rumsey - so gifted at oratory that
defense lawyers in Talladega County often declined to make closing
arguments in order to prevent the district attorney from speaking his
turn, according to the Birmingham newspaper, which published a
comprehensive series in 2001 about the state's capital cases under such
headlines as "Justice at 50 Cents an Hour."
Working with Equal Justice - and with funding from private sources as well
as the support of Anderson Kill - Mr. Dretzin set about unearthing
evidence to disprove the testimony of Mr. Rumsey's sole witness at trial,
a roommate of Mr. Kuenzel's who was himself implicated in the attempted
robbery of the convenience store at question and served time in prison.
"It was clear at a very early stage that Billy was innocent," said Ms.
Merlin. "There was no physical evidence. Duff began by going down to
Alabama, traveling to trailer camps and all over the state to look up
everybody who had any kind of connection to Billy - any possible
Mr. Dretzin compiled a defense case that included a solid alibi for Mr.
Kuenzel at the time of the murder, expert evaluation of a shotgun used by
Mr. Kuenzel near the time of the slaying that would eliminate it as the
murder weapon, and evidence withheld from defense counsel that points to
the prosecution's sole witness as the probable killer.
But time after time in federal court encounters, the state insisted that
Mr. Kuenzel's habeas petition was time barred.
With the blessing of Ms. Merlin and partners at Anderson Kill, Mr.
Kochman, 27, lightened his insurance litigation caseload to devote time to
the Kuenzel case. "I am 100 % convinced that Billy Kuenzel was screwed,"
said Mr. Kochman. "It isn't my case; it's Duff's case. I never imagined
I'd be working on it without him. It was palpable how much [Mr. Dretzin]
cared about Billy and believed in his innocence."
Habeas Denial Overturned
9 days ago in the matter of Kuenzel v. Allen, 06-11986, the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta found for Mr. Kochman by
vacating denial of habeas relief by the U.S. District Court for the
Northern District of Alabama - despite the lower court's having "never
discussed or squarely ruled on Kuenzel's claim of actual innocence,"
according to the appellate decision.
The ruling means that Mr. Kuenzel may again ask federal district court to
order a new state trial - based on what Messrs. Kochman and Glen described
in their argument before the court last October as "a large quantity of
new evidence gathered without any court-ordered discovery or funding or
expert witnesses that a reasonable juror would find he is more likely than
not 'actually innocent' of the crime for which he was convicted."
In its response to Mr. Kochman's brief filed to the Eleventh Circuit, the
state of Alabama continued to resist a new trial for Mr. Kuenzel.
"Kuenzel has failed to demonstrate that the state prevented him from
timely pursuing his claim of actual innocence in federal court, or that he
could not have timely pursued this claim with due diligence," wrote
Assistant Attorney General J. Clayton Crenshaw. "Furthermore . . . Kuenzel
has not come close to showing that a reasonable juror would have refused
to convict him in the light of the alleged new evidence."
The appellate court, however, agreed with Mr. Kochman's claim that
discovery would likely uncover motives for false prosecution testimony at
Mr. Kuenzel's trial as well as exculpatory evidence in the form of
statements withheld by police.
Accordingly, Mr. Crenshaw contacted Mr. Kochman this week to say he was
open to status discussion. Mr. Crenshaw said in an interview yesterday
that the state will not appeal the Court of Appeals ruling. However, it
will continue to argue in the District Court that Mr. Kuenzel received a
fair trial and is guilty of murder.
Help From Others
Mr. Solomon, a friend of Mr. Kochman's since undergraduate years at Emory
University in Atlanta and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is set to
assist his colleague in dealing with Mr. Crenshaw and others at the
Alabama Attorney General's Office.
In turn, Messrs. Kochman and Solomon consult with Mr. Glen, as well as Mr.
Rimm, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New
York who received the Thurgood Marshall Award from the New York City Bar
Association for a successful death penalty appeals case in Alabama. "A
prosecutor is charged with doing the right thing, not simply securing a
conviction," said Mr. Rimm, who endorsed Mr. Kochman's strategy in
negotiating with Alabama authorities to avoid further procedural delay in
the Kuenzel case. "An actual innocence claim is the most important claim
that a prosecutor must hear."
Of Mr. Kochman's labors, Mr. Rimm added, "It's hard and challenging work
in your home state, let alone trying to do something hundreds of miles
Mr. Solomon, 30, a 6th-year associate at Anderson Kill, said of Mr.
Kochman's lead work in the Kuenzel case, "Doing an Eleventh Circuit
argument where you're up there arguing against the attorney general is
something most lawyers wait their entire careers to do. It's priceless
experience. Chances are slim of an associate doing an Eleventh Circuit
argument on a commercial case, just because there would be so much money
involved. But [Mr. Kochman] is doing this work in the context of making an
enormous difference - a real, individual, personal difference in
Mr. Kochman describes his work as "education by the seat of my pants."
With the circuit decision as endorsement, he said conciliation is the best
tactic going forward.
"I have the luxury of being a young attorney," he said. "I'm going in with
my eyes wide open, full of idealism and telling myself that somebody will
eventually see [Mr. Kuenzel's conviction] was wrong."
He added, "This is an opportunity for justice to work itself out. I'm
doing this for myself, and for Billy - and also for Duff. I hope he'd be
proud of me."
(source: New York Law Journal)
Moonda case reflects U.S. trend by rejecting death penalty
A jury's decision to reject the death penalty and sentence Donna Moonda to
life in prison without parole is in line with recommendations made by
other juries across the country.
Moonda, 48, of Hermitage, was convicted of murder for hire and other
crimes in the killing of her husband Gulam Moonda, 69, a Mercer County
"Even if a jury says someone is guilty, they still have lingering doubts
about innocence," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death
Penalty Information Center. "(Jurors) want a higher standard of proof even
though the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. They felt the
standard should be higher (in death penalty cases)."
The number of death sentences per year has dropped 60 % since 1999 to the
lowest level in three decades, and executions are the lowest in 10 years,
according to a report released in June by the Death Penalty Information
Center, a nonprofit specializing in research on capital punishment in the
Juries are less inclined to impose the death sentence due to the long
appeals process, which can result in overturned convictions, retrials and
exonerations and because many executions aren't carried out, according to
a survey of 1,000 adults the Death Penalty Information Center conducted in
"Jurors are more aware that mistakes do occur and most feel more confident
with a decision of guilt by not sentencing death," said Art Patterson,
senior vice president of the jury consultant firm Decision Quest in State
Over the past 35 years, 124 death row inmates have been released following
acquittal at retrial, dropped charges or a pardon based on new evidence of
innocence, and DNA testing has freed 205 people in the United States,
including 15 on death row, according to the Death Penalty Information
"Life without parole - that's an attractive option for jurors," Dieter
said. "It gives a severe punishment instead of death just in case
something comes up 10 years down the road."
Bruce Ledewitz, a professor at Duquesne University School of Law, said
fewer death sentences could be the result of social factors, such as a
drop in murder rates and violent crime, better race relations, and a
general liberalization on social issues.
A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling barring the execution of juveniles for
crimes committed while they were under age 18 took 72 youths off death
row, Dieter said.
The ruling might be a factor in the 40-% decrease in executions since a
peak in 1999, he said. A bigger influence, however, was the number of
stays imposed over the past year due to the ongoing controversy
surrounding lethal injection practices, Dieter said.
Pennsylvania hasn't had an execution since 1999, and fewer than 1/2 of the
36 states with the death penalty had executions last year, according to
data from the Death Penalty Information Center.
Jury sentiments have had little influence on prosecutors' willingness to
seek the death penalty, said Bernard Siegel, president of the Pennsylvania
Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
"Their knowledge of how the public feels should play a role in which cases
they seek the death penalty," said Siegel, who has practiced law for more
than 40 years. "If they focus on heinous cases, it could slow the process
of juries denying the death penalty."
(source: Pittburgh Tribune-Review)
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