[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, GA., N.J., S. DAK., PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Nov 13 18:11:20 CST 2007
Judge refuses to set execution date for Texas death row inmate who wants
The first letter, neatly hand-printed on lined paper, arrived at the
federal courthouse in Dallas nearly a year and a half ago with a simple
address: U.S. District Clerk's Office.
"I am a college graduate and have no delusions what will occur as an end
result of these proceedings," inmate Michael Rodriguez wrote in the first
of an almost monthly series of notes to the courthouse.
Rodriguez, one of the "Texas 7" convicts who escaped from a state prison
in 2000 and killed a Dallas-area police officer while on the run has
dropped his appeals and wants to die.
A federal judge signed off on Rodriguez's request Sept. 27, two days after
the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider a Kentucky challenge to lethal
injection as a means of capital punishment. But now a state judge will not
set an execution date for Rodriguez until after the high court rules on
the Kentucky case.
"We probably won't be able to set the date for the first time until
probably late next year at the earliest, even though he has volunteered
and is otherwise good to go," said Dallas prosecutor Lisa Smith.
This is not the first time executions have been stalled in Texas, the
U.S.'s busiest capital punishment state, because of a court challenge. For
about a year ending in early 1997, lethal injections were virtually halted
while the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reviewed a new state law
intended to speed up the capital punishment process. When the court
finally gave its approval, a then-record 37 Texas inmates were executed
Rodriguez told a psychologist who interviewed him in preparation for a
competency hearing that he "had to accept his death sentence and submit to
it as payment in order to be forgiven and obtain salvation."
Rodriguez and 6 other inmates overpowered workers a south Texas prison on
Dec. 13, 2000, took the workers' clothes, then grabbed 16 guns from the
prison armory and fled in a stolen truck.
On Christmas Eve, while robbing a suburban Dallas sporting goods store,
they fatally shot a police officer. The gang the subject of a nationwide
manhunt was finally caught a month later in Colorado.
A jury took less than 90 minutes to sentence him to death for the
officer's slaying. 5 of Rodriguez's companions also were given death
sentences. The 7th fugitive killed himself before he could be recaptured
with his comrades in Colorado.
Rodriguez escaped while serving a life term for hiring a hit man to kill
his wife, Theresa, 29, to collect her $250,000 life insurance. She was
gunned down in 1992 getting out of her car outside their San Antonio home.
The triggerman, Rolando Ruiz, also is on death row.
The surviving Texas 7 are still appealing their convictions and death
sentences, meaning Rodriguez would be the first of the group executed.
His letters in recent months to the federal court became so frequent that
he began one in May to Irma Carrillo Ramirez, the federal magistrate who
would be presiding over his competency hearing, by saying: "Hello it is me
In one letter, he apologized to the officer's family.
Rodriguez declined to talk to the AP and in one of his letters, he said he
does not give media interviews.
Rodriguez's lawyer, Danny Burns, had urged his client to continue appeals
that could help him and his fellow inmates.
"Don't throw your life away," Burns pleaded unsuccessfully.
In the Kentucky case now before the Supreme Court, justices will consider
whether the mix of 3 drugs used to sedate and kill prisoners and the way
they are administered can cause enough pain to violate the constitutional
ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Arguments in the case will take place
early next year and a decision should come by late June.
Even if Rodriguez succeeded in getting an execution date, prosecutors say
it is likely death penalty opponents would intervene to get his punishment
In Texas, where injection procedures are similar to Kentucky's and where
trial court judges set execution dates, State District Judge Rick Magnis
told prosecutors he will hold off setting a date for Rodriguez until a
decision from the high court, Kissi Jones, Magnis' court coordinator said.
"He's not doing anything out of the ordinary," Smith, the prosecutor,
said. "I think the judge is doing what most judges are, which is everybody
is waiting to see what happens."
Man faces death penalty in officer's death
A man faces the death penalty after gunning down a Fort Worth police
officer 3 years ago.
Jurors convicted Stephen Lance Heard of capital murder Tuesday in the
death of Officer Hank Nava . Police had gone to a mobile home looking for
Heard, who was wanted for a parole violation.
Defense attorneys claimed Heard didn't know Nava was a police officer.
They told jurors he didn't hear his girlfriend announce that officers were
coming in -- and then fired in self-defense after officers fired 34 shots.
(source for both: Associated Press)
Amnesty International USA Press Release----FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Amnesty International Calls Georgia Supreme Court Hearing on Troy Davis
Case 'Essential,' Saying 'the Original Case Has No Legs'
Jared Feuer, Southern Regional Director of Amnesty International USA
(AIUSA), released the following statement after the Georgia Supreme Court
hearing for Troy Anthony Davis:
"Today, the Georgia Supreme Court will begin considering whether to grant
a new trial for Troy Anthony Davis. It is essential that the Court is
undertaking such a review, but a shame that it has to intervene at all.
"More than 18 years ago, Davis was charged quickly and under dubious
circumstances. When some witnesses later admitted to making false
statements and others alleged coercive police tactics, authorities should
have jumped to attention. Instead, they ignored the evidence in the name
of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, legislation that
was never intended for this type of case. As a result, it is far from
certain that the right person is behind bars.
"Clearly this case presents serious questions -- not only about Troy
Davis' conviction, but also the administration of the death penalty in
Georgia. Investigators never recovered a murder weapon and there was a
complete absence of any physical evidence. Now that seven of 9 original
witnesses have recanted or changed their testimony, the original case has
no legs. A new trial can help ensure that unanswered questions are laid to
rest, and that Georgia will not risk executing an innocent man."
(source: Amnesty International)
New Jersey to vote on death penalty repeal
State lawmakers will vote in mid-December on the issue of abolishing the
death penalty. If passed, the measure would reduce the state's severest
punishment to life-imprisonment without parole, making New Jersey the
first state to abolish the death penalty since the Supreme Court allowed
states to reinstate capital punishment in 1976.
The measure has been supported by Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, who
opposes the death penalty and has said he hopes to work with the
legislature to abolish it.
The proposal comes as nationwide attention has been focused on the death
penalty following a U.S. Supreme Court moratorium on death by lethal
injection implemented on Oct. 30, which will stay in effect until the
court hands down a decision on the issue. New Jersey has had its own
moratorium on lethal injections since January 2006, when the legislature
appointed a commission to study the state's death penalty policy.
David Christie '10, co-chair of the Princeton Justice Project's initiative
opposing capital punishment, said he hopes the proposed legislation
indicates that the death penalty is on its way out. "The state has spent
over a quarter of a billion of dollars on it and hasn't executed anybody,"
he said. "It's a huge, unnecessary waste of resources for what we believe
is an antiquated and cruel punishment."
Christie and other members of his group, the Princeton Coalition Against
Capital Punishment (PCACP), will set up tables in Frist Campus Center in
upcoming weeks to ask students especially those from New Jersey who can
contact their legislators urging them to vote for the bill to support
eliminating the death penalty.
The Garden State may already be primed for such a move. In January, the
13-member New Jersey Death Penalty Commission issued a report that
concluded there is no evidence that the death penalty "rationally serves a
legitimate penological intent." The report also recommended its abolition.
Though the state currently has eight men on death row, the last execution
in New Jersey took place in 1963 by lethal injection.
The commission's report also found that death by lethal injection
considered more humane method than its precursors: lethal gas, the
electric chair and the firing squad imposes a greater burden on taxpayers
than life imprisonment.
Supporters of the death penalty argue that problems with how the death
penalty is administered don't discredit the policy itself.
College Republicans president Jon Fernandez '08 said that, though his
group doesn't have an official stance on capital punishment, "overall most
of our membership is in favor of it as a deterrent against repeat
offenders in criminal court."
Fernandez added that he is concerned that Democrats in the state
legislature have purposely timed the current bill so that many state
residents won't be aware that a vote is taking place. "They waited until
the lame duck session to make a political point," he said, "and in my
political opinion the voters are entitled to know about something that's
going to be a major issue."
Relatives of the victims of New Jersey's death row inmates have also
opposed to the bill, but since no inmates have been executed in New Jersey
for several decades, it is unclear whether keeping the death penalty
technically legal in the state would have any effect.
The Death Penalty Commission's report recommended that the funds
previously allocated to support the death penalty policy be used to create
services for the victims' families.
Celeste Fitzgerald, program director for the Trenton-based New Jerseyans
for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, which works closely with PCACP,
said she hopes a vote to abolish the death penalty in December would
signal a broader national push against the policy. "It would be one more
significant piece of evidence that Americans are rethinking capital
punishment," she said. "Death sentences are down, executions are down,
states are studying the issue. There are problems everywhere."
Christie said he doubts how much nationwide impact the December vote will
have, since a large part of the argument against the death penalty in New
Jersey stems from the wasted funds allocated to the unused policy.
"Unfortunately, I think New Jersey is a little independent of the other
states because it hasn't executed anyone in 25 years," he said, "so the
rationale here isn't necessarily going to impact other states."
Despite her strong views on the capital punishment issue, Fitzgerald
cautioned students against jumping to conclusions about the controversial
topic. "I think it's important for college students, no matter what the
issue, to delve a little deeper than what you read in the newspapers to
understand nuance and that things aren't necessarily all up and down,
right and wrong," she said. "Study as much as you can before drawing
The State Assembly plans to vote on the death penalty bill on Dec. 13,
while the Senate will tackle the topic before the legislative session ends
on Jan. 8.
(source: The Daily Princetonian)
Murder suspect could face death penalty
The prosecutor in the case against a 22-year-old man charged with
1st-degree murder for the death of a 44-year old woman Nov.8 could face
the death penalty if convicted, prosecutors say.
Tad Blackburn made his initial court appearance Tuesday before 7th Circuit
Magistrate Judge Shawn Pahlke.
Blackburn is charged with murdering Tamara Magic of Rapid City.
Ken Varnes, deputy state's attorney for Pennington County, said 1st-degree
murder carries a mandatory sentence upon conviction of life in prison or
the death penalty and that prosecutors will decide later in the case
whether to pursute the death penalty.
Magic was found dead Thursday night at her residence on the 100 block of
East St. Charles Street.
Police said Blackburn and Magic knew each other.
Blackburn is also charged with an alternate count of 2nd-degree murder,
which carries a mandatory life sentence upon conviction.
Because the 2 murder charges are alternate counts, Blackburn cannot be
convicted of both.
He also faces a charge of driving under the influence.
Varnes said Blackburn was arrested by Box Elder Police after Magic's body
Blackburn had been drinking at the time.
Pahlke did not set bond for Blackburn. He remains in custody at Pennington
Varnes said autopsy results on Magic are pending.
(source: Rapid City Journal)
Prosecutors cannot seek death penalty for murder suspect, judge rules
Prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty against of 2 suspects in a
January 2006 murder, a Lebanon County judge has ruled.
In a ruling dated Friday and made public Tuesday, Judge John C. Tylwalk
barred the district attorney's office from seeking the death penalty
against James Hower.
The judge ruled prosecutors could seek the death penalty against Hower's
co-defendant, Roberto Laboy.
Hower and Laboy, both 23 years old and from Lebanon, face trial on
1st-degree murder and other charges for the Jan. 21, 2006, murder of David
An autopsy concluded that Kern was stabbed 3 times in the chest. One of
the wounds pierced his heart and caused his death, according to the
"Although charged as a principal and accomplice, there is no evidence that
Hower inflicted the fatal blow upon the victim," Tylwalk said in his
ruling. "His actions of allegedly kicking (Kern) in the head may infer the
intent to inflict serious bodily injury, but does not rise to the level of
intent to kill.
Although fists and feet have been held to constitute deadly weapons when
death results, the alleged kick of (Kern) by Hower did not result in
(source: Lebanon Daily News)
Court spares Hower death penalty
A Lebanon County court has ruled that James Hower, one of two suspects in
the Jan. 21, 2006 murder of David Kern must be spared the death penalty.
In a ruling handed down Friday, Judge John C. Tylwalk allows the
prosecution to continue to seek the death penalty against Howers alleged
accomplice Roberto Laboy.
As far as Howers role in the murder is concerned Tylwalk wrote "there is
no evidence defendant Hower inflicted the fatal blow upon the victim." As
a result, Tylwalk wrote, "We find insufficient evidence to establish Hower
possessed the specific intent to kill as required to be convicted of first
Tylwalk also denied motions by both defendants to rule out the death
penalty on the grounds it is unconstitutional.
Lebanon County District Attorney Dave Arnold, who had sought the death
penalty for both defendants, said this morning he would not comment until
he reads the ruling.
In another section of the ruling Tylwalk denied a motion by Laboy to try
the two men separately. Tylwalk said the fact that the defendants have
different interests and conflicting views as to what took place, the truth
may be more easily determined if the two are tried together.
Arnold said no date has been set to try the 2 men.
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