[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Oct 1 14:24:24 CDT 2007
Ex-officer getting new trial in plot to kill wife
A federal judge has ordered a new trial for a former Missouri City public
safety officer sentenced to death for masterminding the fatal shooting of
Although U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon granted the trial without
comment, attorneys for Robert Fratta based his appeal on what they said
was an inadmissible jailhouse confession by the trigger man that factored
into the jury's decision to convict Fratta.
Fratta was convicted in the 1994 murder-for-hire of his wife, Farah, then
33. During the 1996 trial, the evidence against Fratta included a
confession from Howard Guidry, whom prosecutors said was the gunman.
In the appeal, Fratta's attorneys argued that an investigator with the
Harris County Sheriff's Office had tricked Guidry into confessing. They
alleged that Guidry had not been allowed see his attorney during
interrogation, even after he demanded that he be allowed to do so.
At one point, the investigator left the interrogation room, then returned
saying he had spoken with Guidry's lawyer, and that the attorney had given
Guidry permission to speak to police. Guidry then confessed. Guidry's
attorney later said he had never been contacted by the investigator.
Guidry was convicted and sentenced to death. In 2006, he was granted a new
trial, but later convicted a 2nd time.
Prosecutors contend that Fratta had his wife killed after she filed for
divorce following his bizarre sexual desires. He also tried to collect on
his wife's $235,000 life insurance policy days after her death.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Push for innocence panel is renewed
A state lawmaker is making a renewed push for a Texas Innocence Commission
to investigate cases of wrongful conviction after the 14th exoneration of
a prison inmate by the Dallas County district attorney's office.
Sen. Rodney Ellis said he hopes the Dallas County situation will help
revive his plan to create a nine-member commission to examine innocence
claims, identify problems in the criminal justice system and recommend
reforms. Ellis' bill creating such a commission died in this year's
"I think the exonerations are clear and convincing evidence that the
system is broken," said Ellis, a Houston Democrat. "In no other sphere of
public policy would rational people see this many exonerations and not be
willing to be able to pull together a panel of experts to ask what went
wrong and what can be learned from those cases."
This month, Dallas County prosecutors said DNA evidence proved that Steven
Phillips, who served 25 years in prison, did not rape a Dallas woman in
1982. Since 2001, Dallas County has had more DNA exonerations than any
other county in the United States.
Ellis is talking to his Senate colleagues about an innocence commission.
He has also asked Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to order an interim study on the
need for an innocence commission during the Legislature's hiatus.
Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson and Ellis have also
talked about reforms. Jefferson said he agrees that the state should
create some type of innocence commission but added that he is still
studying the issue.
"We can't open up every conviction in the state. We've got to be careful
how we do this," Jefferson said. But he added that "to me, it is
unthinkable that you and I would be sitting in jail for a crime we did not
commit. It shows that something didn't work."
For people who have been exonerated after spending years behind bars, an
innocence commission is long overdue. "We badly need some reconstruction
in the criminal justice system," said James Giles of Dallas, who was
exonerated last year after serving 10 years on a rape conviction. "We
ought to be able to come together and get this thing right."
Ellis' bill would have allowed the governor, the lieutenant governor and
the speaker of the House to make appointments to the commission, among
others. The commission would have had the power to investigate individual
cases, identify defects in the system and suggest reforms to the
Ellis compared the commission to the National Transportation Safety Board,
which sends in teams of experts to investigate airplane crashes.
"We are talking about looking at cases where it is undeniable that the
system made a mistake," said Ellis, who also serves on the board of
directors of the Innocence Project in New York.
Ellis' bill passed the Senate 20-10 but failed in the House. It was
opposed by the state's prosecutors, and some lawmakers said the state has
adequate systems for this kind of review, including the state and federal
judicial appeal process as well as the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, said he voted against Ellis' bill because
he didn't think that the issue had been studied enough or that the bill
offered much improvement. He added, however, that it is a "prime time" to
do an interim committee report on a commission.
"At that time it just looked like another level of bureaucracy to me that
needed more study," Brimer said.
Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, is
not convinced the commission is necessary, saying the state already has a
progressive attitude toward innocence claims. The Court of Criminal
Appeals is the state's highest criminal court.
"I think that the system is working fairly well right now and evidence of
that are the exonerations in Dallas," Keller said. "I don't know what an
innocence commission would add."
6 states have already created similar commissions, according to the
Innocence Project in New York.
North Carolina was first when it approved an 8-member Innocence Inquiry
Commission last year after several long-term inmates were exonerated. The
commission has received requests to review more than 200 cases.
"It is forward-thinking for this state. People are open to watching what
we give them," said Kendra Montgomery-Blinn, the commission's executive
director. "It doesn't matter where you fall on the political scale, you
don't want innocent people in prison."
Texas Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal
Justice Committee, said any proposed reforms will have to be supported by
stakeholders in the state's criminal justice system.
Whitmire said he is more hopeful about getting an innocence commission
approved after the Dallas County exonerations. Whitmire said he will
encourage Dewhurst to let legislators study the idea.
He said prosecutors and judges have expressed concern that an innocence
commission would give rise to political retaliation and not an honest
effort to clean up the system.
"It can't be about 'I gotcha!' It ought to be about going forward and not
repeating the same mistakes," Whitmire said. Honest judges and prosecutors
will welcome outside review of their cases, he said.
But clearly, after what has happened in Dallas County, Whitmire said,
there is room for improvement in the criminal justice system.
"What we don't know should scare the hell out of us," he said.
Commissions across the United States
At least 6 other states have created innocence or criminal justice reform
California: Lawmakers created the California Commission on the Fair
Administration of Justice in 2004. The 18-member agency includes
prosecutors, defense attorneys and a member of the judiciary. In 2006, the
commission began looking into wrongful convictions.
Connecticut: Created in 2003, the Connecticut Innocence Commission has 12
members, including a chief administrative judge, a police chief and a
state representative. It does not review individual cases but adopted a
broader reform mandate.
Illinois: After then-Gov. George Ryan issued a moratorium on executions in
2000, he created a commission to study capital punishment that made 85
recommendations for additional safeguards. In 2007, lawmakers considered a
permanent innocence commission.
North Carolina: The Innocence Inquiry Commission, created in 2006, grew
out of a study of the state's criminal justice system. It has 8 members
and 8 alternates representing judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and
Wisconsin: After a high-profile exoneration, lawmakers created the
Criminal Justice Reform Package, which produced recommendations aimed at
minimizing factors in wrongful convictions, including preservation of
Pennsylvania: In 2006, the state Senate approved an advisory committee for
wrongful prosecutions after nine DNA exonerations. The committee, with
about 30 members, is scheduled to make recommendations to the Senate by
[source: The Innocence Project]
Under a bill sponsored by state Sens. Rodney Ellis and Leticia Van de
Putte in the last session, a Texas Innocence Commission would be composed
of 9 members:
2 gubernatorial appointees, one of whom must be the dean of a law school
and the other a law officer.
One appointee by the lieutenant governor, who may be a member of the
One appointee by the speaker of the House, possibly a member of the
A member of the judiciary appointed by the presiding judge of the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals.
A forensic scientist picked by the Texas Forensic Science Commission.
A prosecutor named by the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.
A criminal-defense attorney picked by the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers
An attorney with appellate experience representing 1 of the 3 innocence
projects at 3 state law schools.
[source: Senate Bill 263]
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Make cocktail deadly, but humane
Re: "High court looks at lethal injection At issue: Do drugs inflict
excessive pain?" Wednesday news story.
I think that lethal injections are necessary, but I agree with the article
that we need to be humane about the executions. To do this, we could
increase the dosage of anesthetic so inmates will be asleep the whole
time, or we could cut out one of the drugs used so that the process takes
David Owens, Arlington
Isn't death penality itself cruel?
Hanging. Gas chamber. Firing squad. Now, lethal injection. All considered
by many death penalty opponents to be cruel and unusual punishment.
Perhaps my logic is faulty, but isn't the death sentence itself cruel and
Gary Engel, Brenham
Let inmates die as victims did
What about the victims? What about the excessive pain and suffering they
went through at the hands of these criminals? If you ask me, dying by
lethal injection is the easy way out.
How about we change the death penalty law to having the death row inmates
executed the same way they executed their victims?
Stephanie Garrison, DeSoto
(source: Letters to the Editor, Dallas Morning News)
I couldn't believe that the Star-Telegram used a large photo of a crying
convicted killer, Chelsea Richardson, with a Sept. 11 story that tried to
get us to empathize with her now that she's on death row.
Was it the gruesome murders that she and her accomplices can't stop
thinking about? No, it was the fact that she's on death row.
Should we feel sorry for her? The only thing we should be sorry about is
the fact that her 2 accomplices, Andrew Wamsley and Susana Toledano,
didn't get death sentences along with her for the premeditated,
cold-blooded, brutal murders they committed against Andrew's parents.
She doesn't deserve our pity -- but the victims do.
Arlene Derozier, Arlington
(source: Letter to the Editor, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Prison escapes: myth and mayhem----Past attempts abound despite state's
reputation for security
The date was July 22, 1934, one that would remain forever significant in
law enforcement history, thanks to Public Enemy No. 1, a lady in red and a
fledgling federal police agency eager to grab as much publicity as it
On any other day, the death of John Dillinger would have topped every
newspaper in the country. Readers were eager for every detail of the woman
who lured the best-known criminal in the country to his death outside a
Chicago movie theater and of the FBI agents who lay in wait for him.
In Houston, however, the day's biggest headline belonged to Raymond
Hamilton, another Depression-era desperado whose daring escape from death
row in Huntsville would have made Dillinger proud.
Hamilton and 5 others used a ladder, two smuggled pistols and no shortage
of bravado to go over the walls in the most spectacular escape in Texas
Last week, prison guard Susan Canfield was knocked off her horse and
killed after John Ray Falk and Jerry Duane Martin bolted from the work
fields and stole a nearby truck in Huntsville. Were it not for her tragic
death, the incident might soon have been forgotten by all but officials in
the prison system. Their desperate and ill-planned bolt will likely get
them capital murder charges.
Among those whose breaks for freedom remain a part of prison lore are
Hamilton, the Texas Seven, Martin Gurule and his death-row comrades, and
even a small-time thug and kidnapper named Jose Juan Salaz. All made a
mark doing what is harder to do in Texas than just about anywhere else:
Statistics indicate that the Texas prison system is one of the most secure
in the nation. Many states with large prison populations measure annual
escapes in the hundreds. Last year in Texas, there were two, the same as
in 2005. The 5-year total is only 14.
"Prisons are stronger and better designed, with lots of bells and
whistles, and there is more security," said Terry Pelz, a corrections and
criminal justice consultant who spent a decade as assistant warden at
three Texas units. "And there's no honor among criminals anymore. You
hatch a plot today and somebody is going to snitch you off."
It was not always that way. In the early days of Texas prisons, when many
were little more than work camps, it was easy to get away. In the first 6
months of 1921, for example, state newspapers expressed outrage that 290
prisoners had broken out in the first 6 months.
"Most escapes today involve walk-aways," said Dennis Longmire, a criminal
justice professor at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. "They are
usually a trusty on a light security detail and just sort of wander away.
They usually go home or somewhere near their home and are pretty easily
In fact, virtually all escapees are recaptured. Of those who have fled
Texas prisons, only Salaz remains a fugitive.
Salaz, 32, was serving a 35-year sentence for aggravated assault and
aggravated kidnapping at the Garza East Unit near Beeville in 1997 when he
scaled 3 16-foot fences near a recreation yard. He is believed to be in
Unlike the 1930s, when communication between authorities was poor and
there was no television, the chance of more than a few days of freedom is
In 2001, for instance, convicted murderer Harold Laird spent weeks
planning his escape from a solitary confinement cell at a prison unit near
Beaumont. He used a dummy in his bed to avoid detection and homemade tools
to pry open and widen the opening that held his light fixture. That led to
a crawl space and ultimately onto the prison's roof. From there, he made
his way across rooftops and down to a prison yard, past a picket tower and
over 2 12-foot security fences.
Shivers and bulletins
For all that, Laird's time amounted to 2 days. He was caught in
Hattiesburg, Miss., by an officer who spotted a truck he had stolen.
Common or not, futile or not, prison escapes carry the same buzz and
titillation that they always have. Even with its slapdash nature and short
duration, the flight of Falk and Martin on Sept. 24 was, for a moment at
least, big news, sending a shiver down the backs of locals, and bulletins
across the state.
"The public always seems to be fascinated with crime, no matter what the
nature of the crime or the criminal, and people escaping from the custody
of the state are sort of the ultimate criminal, the ultimate renegade, the
rebellious spirit," Longmire said.
Unlike most prison break movies, where those who break out tend to be
unjustly imprisoned or brutally mistreated, real-life escapees are more
likely to fit the mold of Hamilton, a bank robber and murderer who made
his name with Bonnie and Clyde.
Imprisoned under sentence of death, Hamilton had been sprung from the
Eastham Unit in January 1934 by his brother, Floyd, Clyde Barrow and
Bonnie Parker. That escape resulted in the murder of a prison guard, which
set into motion the chain of events that led to Barrow and Parker's death
that May at the hands of legendary Texas Ranger Frank Hamer. By that time,
Hamilton had gone his own way, but he was soon captured as well.
Hamilton and the 5 others, aided by 2 pistols smuggled into prison, used
ladders to climb the walls. 1 inmate was killed by guards and 2 others
were wounded and left behind. The remaining 3 jumped into waiting cars and
Hamilton remained free 9 months before he was captured in Fort Worth. He
died in the electric chair in August 1935.
In modern times, no escape rivals that of the so-called Texas 7, who used
an elaborate plot to get out of the Connally Unit near Kenedy in December
2001. Led by George Rivas, who was serving a 99-year sentence for
aggravated kidnapping and burglary, the group took several correctional
officers and prison employees captive, stole their clothes and money,
snared a prison truck, then used a series of ruses to get past the prison
gate without an alarm sounding.
Word of the escape went out almost immediately. But outside assistance in
the form of a car and money left at a designated spot enabled the group to
get out of town. They went to San Antonio, then to Houston and finally
north, committing robberies to fund their trip, eluding capture and
commanding public attention. Any public sympathy they might have gained
evaporated, however, after they killed a police officer during the
Christmas Eve robbery of a sporting goods store.
A time-honored ruse
They managed to stay free until Jan. 22 and 23, just after their story had
aired on America's Most Wanted. They were captured in central Colorado,
where they had holed up in an RV park. One of the seven killed himself
just before capture. The rest were brought back to Texas, tried for
capital murder and sent to death row.
If Falk and Martin end up joining them there killing a corrections
officer is a capital offense they would live locked in their cells for
most of their remaining years. For that, they could thank Martin Gurule
and 6 other inmates who attempted to break out of death row on
Thanksgiving Day 1998 when it was still at the Ellis Unit near Huntsville.
The 7 used the time-honored trick of leaving hand-fashioned dummies to
make it look like they were asleep in their beds when, in fact, they had
remained behind in a recreation yard. They cut through a fence and hid on
a roof for several hours before attempting to get free.
A prison guard spotted them and opened fire. 6 stopped. Gurule kept going,
dodging gunfire, making it over 2 fences topped with razor wire and into a
wooded area. More than 500 peace officers spent a week trying to find him,
to no avail.
Finally, his body was discovered by 2 off-duty prison employees baiting a
trotline in a creek about a mile from the prison. Gurule, the 1st death
row inmate since Hamilton to escape, had drowned. Work programs and
socializing ended for condemned inmates. Death row was moved to what now
is the Polunsky Unit.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Executions should be put off while court considers issue
The Supreme Court stepped in late Thursday night to block the scheduled
execution of Texas inmate Carlton Turner Jr., who was convicted of killing
his parents. This followed the court's decision on Tuesday to hear a
challenge from 2 inmates on Kentucky's death row on whether lethal
injections are constitutional.
This is the 1st time justices of the high court have agreed to consider
whether this form of execution violates the Eight Amendment's prohibition
of cruel and unusual punishment. The case could affect the way inmates are
executed around the country.
Until that decision is reached, Texas should postpone another execution
scheduled for this week and 3 others set for the rest of the year.
Some studies indicate that the lethal cocktail of drugs used to execute
prisoners in Texas and 36 other states don't always work as planned and
can cause slow, sometimes painful deaths. Even when administered properly,
some of the condemned suffocate while they're still conscious.
Questions about the humaneness of lethal injection have been debated for
years. No scientific group has ever validated that lethal injection is
humane because medical ethics bar doctors from taking part in executions.
According to a study released last year by PloS Medicine, most states use
3 drugs for lethal injection -- thiopental, an anesthetic; pancuronium
bromide, a nerve blocker and muscle paralyzer; and potassium chloride,
which stops the heart. In a review of 33 executions, researchers found
that it took 10 to 14 minutes for the condemned person to die. They
concluded that based on weight, some did not receive enough dosage and
suffered painful deaths -- mainly feelings of asphyxiation and a burning
sensation "like being put on fire."
A simple fix could be to increase the dosage to such high levels that it
would insure a quick and painless death. This would not satisfy
death-penalty opponents who hold that any method of state-ordered
execution is barbaric. There are legitimate questions about the death
penalty beyond the method used that need to be addressed by the high
court. There are growing doubts about the efficiency of the criminal
justice system, doubts fed by a steady diet of stories about the freeing
of prisoners based on DNA confirmation of their innocence and of stories
of questionable actions by prosecutors.
We are a long way from agreeing on capital punishment. But no doubt people
can agree that if lethal injection is the most humane way to execute
prisoners, it should be carried out properly in accordance with the Eighth
Amendment of the Constitution. That's the narrow issue the Supreme Court
has agreed to decide.
(source: Editorial, Corpus Christi Caller-Times)
County jail clamps down on visitation
Inmates in the Angelina County Jail beginning Monday will no longer be
able to have unapproved visits from friends or family.
Angelina County Sheriff Kent Henson is requiring inmates to provide jail
staff with a list of five people they want to see while behind bars.
A visitor list, requested from each inmate, must include visitors' names,
addresses and a description of the inmate's relationship with that person.
The inmates' requests must be approved by jail staff before visitation,
Henson said, in a memorandum posted at the jail.
"Only those 5 will be able to visit you while you are incarcerated,"
The policy change is intended to reduce lobby crowding during visitation
hours and give listed visitors a chance to visit, said Chief Deputy Jim
"It's more of a safety and security matter. The reason, as it stands now,
we have so many people show up to visit that some people don't get to
visit," Casper said.
At times, the line for visitation has snaked through the lobby doors and
onto the sidewalk outside.
"We have so many people coming in that not everyone gets a chance to
visit," Casper said.
At times, fights have broken out amongst visitors.
"It's extremely difficult to control that type of situation," Casper said.
Beginning Tuesday, visitors who are not on the list cannot visit.
Visitors should bring a photo identification issued by the Texas
Department of Public Safety or a school. Each inmate is allowed 3,
20-minute visits a week.
On the 15th day of each month, inmates can amend their visitor list.
The visitation change at the Angelina County Jail falls under internal
policy that is unique to each county jail in Texas, according to Adan
Munoz, executive director of Texas Jail Commission on Standards. It is not
a part of regulations put forth by TJCS.
(source: Lufkin Daily News)
Defenders office to be up, running soon
Sometimes things don't go as planned, and David Slayton understands that.
Slayton, Lubbock County's director of Court Administration, is in charge
of hiring the chief public defender for the West Texas Regional Public
Defender for Capital Murder Cases office, a Lubbock-based multi-county
office that will soon represent indigent defendants facing the death
The chief public defender was to be hired last month and start today, but
the hiring process continues, and it may be later this week or next week
when 1 of 5 candidates under consideration is offered the job, Slayton
"This is a very important position, and it's taking us a little longer,"
Slayton said. "But it's OK. We want to make sure we get the right person."
Once the chief public defender is hired, he or she will then hire the
10-member staff, including four more attorneys and two investigators. The
regional office, which will represent 85 counties in West Texas, from
Dallam in the northwest of the Panhandle to Mills in Central Texas, is
expected to begin accepting cases at the start of the year.
Despite the high-profile cases the agency will handle, supporters and
opponents of capital punishment welcome the regional public defender
"Personally, I think it's a good idea," said William "Rusty" Hubbarth, an
attorney and vice president of legislative affairs at Justice For All, an
Austin-based pro-death penalty organization.
"We like to see every defendant get adequate legal representation so that
there is no doubt whatsoever if they are found guilty," said Hubbarth,
also a former counsel for the parole division of the Texas Department of
Added Rick Halperin, "It's long overdue."
Halperin is a history professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas
and president of the Texas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, an
umbrella for various anti-capital punishment groups.
"In Texas and across America, it is the indigent who gets sentenced to die
because the court-appointed lawyers they are assigned to are not
qualified," Halperin added. "This office should be everywhere, not just in
a particular area."
Like Slayton and others, Hubbarth and Halperin agree Texas has developed a
reputation for not providing qualified court-appointed attorneys to
indigents accused of murder. The Lubbock office will help tremendously to
erase such perception, they say.
The Austin American-Statesman, for example, reported last week that 2
Austin attorneys are seeking a new trial for a man on death row on grounds
that his attorney not only did a lousy job representing him but allegedly
bilked the state with shoddy filings.
Since 1982, Texas has executed 406 prisoners, including 26 so far this
year, more than all 49 other states combined, Halperin said. 3 more
inmates are scheduled to die this year, but it is uncertain if the
executions will be carried out because the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing
whether the lethal injection method Texas and other states use is
Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, said the Regional Public Defender office is
needed because in his Senate District 28, many of the 46 counties would go
broke if they had a costly capital murder trial.
"This is a concern that I hear all the time," Duncan said after the
legislature approved $2.7 million to fund the office. "One of these trials
could bankrupt a county."
It is estimated an average capital murder trial in which the accused gets
a court-appointed attorney costs the taxpayers $250,000.
By Austin's standards, the creation of the Regional Public Defender office
happened rather quickly. The idea was suggested a year ago by Philip
Wischkaemper, a Lubbock attorney.
Wischkaemper, who works for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers
Association, a 2.800-member organization, called Task Force on Indigent
Defense Director Jim Bethke to ask why Texas could not have a statewide
public defender office. The idea narrowed to a regional office, and
Lubbock was chosen for a variety of reasons, including its central
location in West Texas.
(source: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal)
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