[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Nov 7 01:01:33 CST 2007
Criminal appeals court creates emergency filing system----Move comes
following Sept. 25 appeal for death row inmate
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals created an emergency e-mail filing
system Tuesday, hoping to avoid a repeat of an execution process that has
raised national alarm.
For more than a month, Presiding Judge Sharon Keller has faced withering
criticism and national attention for her decision not to keep the court
open for an extra 20 to 30 minutes to review an emergency death penalty
"It's about time" the court provided an e-mail filing system for such
contingencies, said James C. Harrington, executive director of the Texas
Civil Rights Project. "It certainly goes a long way towards solving the
The problem stemmed from a Sept. 25 appeal for Texas inmate Michael
Richard. Defense lawyers called the clerk's office shortly before 5 p.m.
to say they had suffered computer problems and asked the court to remain
open so they could hand-deliver their appeal, as required.
That morning, the U.S. Supreme Court had announced that it would hear a
case on whether ingredients in a lethal injection might induce suffering
that could be considered cruel and unusual punishment. The Texas defense
lawyers were rushing to submit a new appeal based on the lethal injection
Judge Keller was consulted and replied that the clerk's office closes at 5
p.m. She did not inform the judge who was assigned the case, who was
working in her office, awaiting the possible appeal.
Higher courts refused to hear the appeal because it had not been reviewed
first by the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Mr. Richard was executed, the last inmate to die by lethal injection
nationwide. The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked all subsequent executions.
2 weeks ago, more than 300 lawyers including four former State Bar
presidents and 2 former Texas Supreme Court justices signed a petition
calling for an e-mail filing system for the Court of Criminal Appeals.
In addition, the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association has asked that
Judge Keller be sanctioned by the Commission on Judicial Conduct for
failing in her duties and eroding public confidence in the court system.
Judge Keller said shortly after the incident that she had not been told of
the computer problems and was simply stating the court's long-standing
practice of closing at 5 p.m. Since the complaint has been filed, the
judge has declined requests for interviews.
Judge Tom Price, a spokesman for the criminal appeals court, could not be
reached for comment.
The announcement of the new e-mail system states that lawyers can now send
emergency pleadings, which will be "routed to an on-call 'duty' judge as
well as the rest of the court to begin consideration of the matter."
"This procedure will allow the court to begin action on a matter before an
official filing has been completed. It will assist all attorneys and
judges in responding quickly in unforeseen emergency situations," the
Mr. Harrington said he believes the change in procedures was warranted but
also a rebuke of Judge Keller's decision.
"When there was discretion, Sharon Keller misused it," he said. "So the
rest of the court has had to step in."
(source: Dallas Morning News)
----Texas Court of Criminal Appeals announced today that they will accept
emergency appeals through email for death penalty cases. Download file
Ex-prosecutor sues DA, claims discrimination ---- F ormer organized crime
chief says Watkins fired him because he's white
A former chief prosecutor in the Dallas County district attorney's office
has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against District Attorney Craig
Watkins, contending that he was fired because he is white.
Rick Jackson, who oversaw the organized crime unit, was one of 10
high-level prosecutors fired during a shake-up that resulted in more
diversity in the office when Mr. Watkins took over in January.
Mr. Jackson's lawyer said Monday that several more discrimination lawsuits
"There was absolutely no other reason to terminate or demote these folks
other than race," said Matthew Bobo, an attorney for the former
prosecutors. "All of these individuals were all replaced by
African-Americans with less experience than they had."
But Mr. Watkins, the 1st black district attorney in Texas, said the
prosecutors weren't let go because of race but because of philosophical
"This is a new administration," Mr. Watkins said. "So we wanted to bring
other people in that can carry out the policies we want to implement in
Since becoming the first Democrat to hold the office in 20 years, Mr.
Watkins has blasted past administrations for a prosecution-at-all-costs
mentality that didn't always mean that justice was served.
He has made a number of changes this year, including diversifying his
corps of 245 lawyers.
Mr. Watkins said there were no minorities among the 14 top administrators
when he took over. Now there are 6. The percentage of black people in the
office increased from about 10 % to about 18 %.
"It's a reflection of Dallas County," Mr. Watkins said. "I think it serves
the public well to see the largest law firm in this county, the law firm
responsible for dispensing justice, to be made of qualified individuals
that look like the makeup of this county."
But the new prosecutors aren't as qualified as their predecessors, Mr.
Mr. Jackson worked in the DA's office for 17 years, the last 11 as a chief
felony prosecutor, according to the lawsuit filed late Friday.
His cases included the death penalty trial of one of the Texas Seven
prison escapees who killed an Irving police officer on Christmas Eve 2000
and the prosecution of a teenager who shot two police officers in a 2004
drug investigation near Love Field.
Mr. Bobo said he expects to file several more lawsuits against Mr. Watkins
in the coming weeks and has talked to more than 20 prosecutors who feel
they were discriminated against.
"They served Dallas County well," he said. "They had impeccable service
records, impeccable performance evaluations."
Mr. Watkins disputed the contention that a flood of lawsuits awaits. He
said the DA's office has been notified of only two unlawful termination
claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Texas
Both claims were thrown out, he said.
But Mr. Bobo said that isn't correct. In Mr. Jackson's case, the workforce
commission wasn't able to reach a conclusion and issued him a right-to-sue
letter, he said.
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Still no trial set for 2003 murder suspect
Another hearing date has come and gone for the man accused of killing Mel
Cotton. Cotton, 30, was stabbed to death on Oct. 8 2003 for trying to help
a friend get out of an abusive relationship.
Her 5-year-old son was also stabbed. He survived.
Milton Dewayne Gobert, 35, faces the death penalty for capital murder. His
case is hung up on whether a confession he made to police can be used as
"The judge agreed with the defense that that confession should have been
suppressed, because Mr. Gobert requested council and was not given
council. The police continued the interrogation even after they were
required to stop," appellate defense attorney Karyl Krug said.
Krug said she doesn't expect a resolution any time soon. Gobert's case has
been circling through the courts for about the last year and a half.
(WATCH THE VIDEO - Murder trial - Milton Gobert faces death for the murder
of a woman who helped his ex-girlfriend get away from him.)
"We're just still litigating that preliminary issue of whether or not the
confession was taken illegally and should be suppressed or not. That's the
only issue going up before the appellate courts now and that what we
expect to be litigating for quite a number of months," Krug said.
So far there have been 8 hearings, appeals and motions. 2 more steps in
the process and the case will have been appealed all the way to the U.S.
Gobert's trial date is still nowhere in sight.
"Right now the case is focused exclusively on the police investigation,"
Krug said this isn't an unusual timetable for death penalty cases. She
calls it "appellate orbit."
"Karla Faye Tucker, I think her case sat at the Court of Criminal Appeals
for 7 years. Anything can happen. There's no way to accurately guess how
long something like this is going to take," Krug said.
State prosecutor Gary Cobb said their case against Gobert will not be over
if his confession to police is thrown out. Between DNA, confessions to
other people, and the child as a witness, Cobb said they have enough
evidence to convict, but they want as much evidence as possible.
Gobert is being held in the Travis County jail without bond.
His next hearing is Dec. 17.
(source: News 8 Austin)
Jurors hear, see ballistic evidence
The capital murder trial of an ex-convict accused of intentionally causing
the death of Fort Worth officer Henry "Hank" Nava turned technical Monday,
with jurors hearing from crime scene officers who spent days collecting
shell casings and projectiles from the trailer where a gunbattle broke
Stephen Lance Heard, 41, is on trial in state District Judge Elizabeth
Berry's court. He is accused of fatally wounding Nava on Nov. 29, 2005,
after Nava and fellow officers Ernest Tamayo and Steve Myers, looking for
Heard, entered a trailer in the 7000 block of Seth Barwise Street. If
convicted of capital murder, Heard will face the death penalty.
Alan Levy, Betty Arvin, and Miles Brissette say Heard, who was wanted on a
parole violation warrant and for questioning in an identity-theft
investigation, intentionally fired at Nava to avoid a return to prison.
Mark Daniel and Tim Moore say that Heard did not know Nava was an officer
when he entered Heard's bedroom and that Heard fired in self-defense after
being peppered by gunfire and getting hit in the chin.
Key testimony Monday
Longtime crime scene officer J.G. Wilson testified that he and other
members of his team took more than 2,000 photos and spent 6 consecutive
days processing the trailer after the shooting. Jurors saw many of the
photos and a computer-generated diagram detailing where bullet casings and
projectiles were recovered. They also heard that officials with the Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives used an X-ray machine to help
locate projectiles that were lodged in doors, insulation and walls. The
physical evidence revealed that Tamayo fired 16 times, Nava nine, Myers
nine and Heard 10. On cross-examination, the defense team asked whether
anyone had conducted sound tests inside the trailer to see whether, with
an air conditioner, TV and radio on, Heard would have been able to hear
the officers as they entered the trailer. Wilson answered that such tests
were discussed but that they were never done.
Daniel Miller, who lived next-door to Heard, testified that he was about
to go to the store on the afternoon of the shooting when he noticed 2
officers, one in an unmarked vehicle and one in a marked vehicle, approach
"About 1 to 2 minutes later, I heard 4 rapid gunshots, a pause, and then
it sounded like World War III," Miller told the jury.
Soon after, Miller said, he heard a loud crash and saw Heard run across
the field. Moments later, Miller said, an officer came out.
"He said, 'Which way did the shooter go?'" Miller testified. "He asked me
if he had been hit, and I said, 'I don't know, but he's limping.'"
Later, Miller said, another officer asked him the same question, and
Miller pointed in the direction that Heard had fled.
The prosecution is to continue making its case starting at 8:45 a.m. today
in Criminal District Court No. 3.
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
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