[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Oct 8 16:58:46 CDT 2007
Trial starts today in model-home slaying----McKinney: Prosecutors say man
attacked, robbed sales agent
Sarah Walker never knew Kosoul Chanthakoummane.
Collin County prosecutors contend Mr. Chanthakoummane walked into a
McKinney model home where she was working one day last summer and stabbed
her 27 times, taking her life and her new Rolex watch and silver ring.
The real estate professional's body was discovered face down that
afternoon by a couple who walked into the ransacked D.R. Horton model home
in the Craig Ranch subdivision .
Mr. Chanthakoummane's capital murder trial begins today at the Collin
County Courthouse here. Prosecutors want the death penalty for the
27-year-old in a case that has drawn national media attention.
Randy Tate, Ms. Walker's ex-husband and the father of their 5-year-old
son, Josh, said he does not want to attend the trial. But he's a potential
witness for the prosecution. Mr. Tate would rather remember the last time
he saw Ms. Walker, when she dropped Josh off with him before heading to
the model home with a smile on her face.
"I rolled the back window down," Mr. Tate said. "Josh was sitting back
there. He blew a kiss to his mama and said, 'I love you.' She blows him a
kiss and says it back."
"I want to remember that moment," Mr. Tate said. "I don't want to ever
hear all the gory stuff about how she died."
Sketch led to arrest
Ms. Walker, 40, fought her attacker, McKinney police said. Many of her
wounds were defensive.
Interviews with neighbors and customers who went to the model home that
morning led police to a composite sketch of an Asian man in his 20s and a
white Ford Mustang.
Mr. Chanthakoummane was arrested nearly two months after the slaying. The
arrest came just seven months after Mr. Chanthakoummane moved to Texas to
live with his sister after his release from a North Carolina prison where
he served time for holding an elderly woman hostage, tying her up with a
vacuum cleaner cord and stealing her car. He was 16 at the time.
McKinney police would not say what connected Mr. Chanthakoummane to the
crime scene, only that forensic evidence played a part. WFAA-TV (Channel
8) has reported that DNA taken from physical evidence at the model home
matched the suspect's DNA.
Before an arrest was made, McKinney Capt. Randy Roland, who oversees the
criminal investigation unit, said that Ms. Walker's killer was also cut
during the attack, possibly leaving the assailant's blood in the house.
The weapon used to kill Ms. Walker was never recovered. Neither was her
There is still a $10,000 reward available for anyone who leads police to
the watch and ring. They've already paid out a $50,000 reward to a few
people for identifying Mr. Chanthakoummane as their suspect.
Mr. Chanthakoummane's attorney, Steve Miears, says he wants to make sure
the evidence against his client is fairly presented, and, if he's found
guilty, that he gets a fair shot at life in prison.
"We believe that because the stakes are so high, we have the duty to make
sure that the evidence against our client sees the light of day and is
tested in court," Mr. Miears said. "But if that evidence has been looked
at and examined and found to be credible, then we don't plan on playing a
shell game or trying to convince 12 people that something is not true,
when it is."
So what led 2 strangers to a bloody battle in that McKinney model home?
Capt. Roland said only Mr. Chanthakoummane can answer that.
"But one of our working theories is he's a small-time thief. He'd steal
things, pawn them and go get some money," Capt. Roland said. "We can only
surmise and have theories. Until the suspect talks it will all be
Regardless of the reason, Ms. Walker's family says nothing was worth her
life. And they've spent the last year coping with her death in their own
Mr. Tate puts memories of his ex-wife into a box for Josh to look through
one day, when he's ready.
Not a day has gone by that Jackie Mull has not thought about her sister.
Sometimes it's a song on the radio that they used to sing together, or
vacations together, she said.
She also remembers the thousands of people Ms. Walker sold homes to in her
20 years as a saleswoman.
"I often think that perhaps Sarah is on the welcoming committee and
helping those in need find a place in heaven," Mrs. Mull said.
Josh knows where his mother is. Before going to bed recently, he sat in
the dining room with his father, his dad's girlfriend, and his
grandparents in his west Plano house and talked in the 1- or 2-word
sentences kids use with strangers.
While ducking his chin into his chest, he explained that a "bad man" sent
her to heaven. But her ride there was special.
She went, he said, on an "invisible, golden escalator."
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Lawmakers helping lawmakers
Sometimes, elected officials need a little help from each other.
A state legislator identified as a rebel leader against the House speaker
from his own party certainly does. And so does a popular U.S. senator who
persists in fanning speculation (for the third election cycle) that she
will run for governor.
So, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and state Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless,
will be saying nice things about each other today as Hutchison headlines a
re-election kickoff luncheon and fundraiser for Smith on his home turf.
This doesn't mean that Hutchison is taking sides in the current effort, of
which Smith is a part, to unseat Speaker Tom Craddick when the Legislature
reconvenes in 2009, said the senator's spokesman, Matt Mackowiak.
"Sen. Hutchison is receiving a large number of requests for fundraising
events in Texas, and she's trying to accommodate as many as possible," he
Signaling neutrality, Hutchison also plans to attend fundraisers for 2
Craddick supporters, Reps. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, and Jodie
These are the only legislative events on the senator's schedule so far,
although others may be added, Mackowiak said.
Hutchison may or may not care about Craddick's political future, but her
presence at Smith's fundraiser could give a boost to a veteran House
member whom Craddick would like to see unseated.
Smith never has had much trouble winning re-election, and it remains to be
seen whether he will draw an opponent in next year's GOP primary. He
already has compiled a long endorsement list of local Republican
officeholders as well as 15 House colleagues, including several who
apparently are still on Craddick's team.
The fundraiser appearance, meanwhile, offers Hutchison another opportunity
to meet with Republican donors and voters and stay visible as she
continues to weigh a potential race for governor in 2010, when most people
assume that Gov. Rick Perry won't seek another term.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst also is eyeing a gubernatorial race in 2010 and
likewise will be making the rounds. But he will have to be more careful
than Hutchison about which legislative fundraisers he attends because he
will have to work with the speaker Craddick or whomever during the 2009
"The lieutenant governor has proudly supported and campaigned for many
Republicans over the years and will continue to do so as the opportunity
arises and his schedule permits," spokesman Rich Parsons said.
Hutchison also remains a potential vice presidential candidate for the
Republicans next year, particularly if Hillary Clinton heads the
Despite the outrage over Presiding Judge Sharon Keller's decision to slam
the door (literally) at the Court of Criminal Appeals on a death row
inmate's last-gasp attempt to avoid execution, longtime Keller observers
shouldn't have been surprised.
Ever since the former prosecutor first took a seat on the court in 1995,
she has showed strong support for the death penalty and on at least one
occasion tried to deny DNA evidence in a noncapital case.
Within 10 months after taking office, she and fellow Republican Judge
Steve Mansfield were instrumental in reversing an earlier decision by the
court and reinstating a death sentence against a Houston man, who later
Keller also wrote the court's majority opinion concluding that a convicted
rapist didn't deserve a new trial even though DNA testing showed he had
not raped the victim.
That defendant eventually was released anyway and pardoned by then-Gov.
George W. Bush.
Convicted murderer Michael Richard, however, was executed on Sept. 25,
only a few hours after the U.S. Supreme Court had decided to consider the
constitutionality of lethal injection, because Keller refused to allow his
lawyers to file an appeal after 5 p.m.
Keller was re-elected to the all-Republican court last year and won't face
the voters again until 2012. Although races for this court normally
generate little public attention, the furor could give Democrats some
It was interesting to note that Judges Cathy Cochran and Paul Womack, who
will be on the ballot next year, were complaining publicly about Keller's
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Rubio on suicide watch at county jail----Convicted child killer back home
from death row
John Allen Rubio was returned Sunday to Cameron County and assigned to
suicide watch at the Carrizalez-Rucker Detention Centers infirmary.
Rubio was convicted in November 2003 for his part in the killing and
dismemberment of three small children, his son, daughter and stepdaughter.
Rubio's common-law wife, Angela Camacho, was also convicted for the
murders. She was the mother of all 3 children.
It was the states use of Camacho's videotaped testimony that helped
overturn his conviction, by order of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
His lawyers argued that because Camacho did not testify, she was not
cross-examined and her statements should not have been used against him.
Camacho was sentenced to three life sentences.
In a 5-4 ruling, the court said Rubios conviction and death sentence could
not be upheld because her statements were erroneously allowed into
District Attorney Armando Villalobos is asking the court to reconsider its
decision to throw out the conviction, saying that although a "harmless
error" was committed it would not have impacted the outcome of the trial.
Villalobos has promised to re-try Rubio and will seek the death penalty
for the March 2003 murders of Julissa Quesada, 3, John E. Rubio, 14 months
and Mary Jane Rubio, 2 months.
State District Judge Arturo Cisneros Nelson issued a bench warrant Friday,
requesting that the 27-year-old be brought to Cameron County from the
Polunsky Unit near Huntsville, according to Villalobos office. He arrived
shortly after 2 p.m. Sunday.
If a retrial is scheduled, Nelson will hear the case.
Meanwhile, Villalobos said Friday that Rubio's court-appointed attorney,
Larry Warner, is not qualified to handle a death penalty case and asked
that Warners qualifications be reviewed.
An unqualified lawyer, Villalobos has said, might give defense attorneys
cause to appeal a possible conviction.
Warner said Friday that he would not comment on the case after Nelson
issued a gag order.
Detention Center staff said Rubio would be held in a single cell at the
infirmary isolated from the general population and on constant suicide
watch. Rubio would "more than likely wear a paper gown," for his own
safety, a staff member said.
Neither Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio nor Chief Deputy Gus Reyna could
be reached for comment Sunday afternoon.
Though he offered a confession for the killings, Rubio originally pleaded
not guilty by reason of insanity and claimed he killed the children
because they were possessed by demons. Camachos statements claim Rubio
killed the children because of the familys financial problems.
(source: Brownsville Herald)
Selective gag----Order banning Benton's lawyers from talking to the media
inconsistent with precedents.
For someone charged with the murder of a young man in a Montrose park
fight, Ashley Benton, 17, is an unusually attractive and sympathetic
defendant. By contrast, the victim she stabbed was a member of MS-13, a
notoriously violent street gang.
That might be one reason her first trial ended in a hung jury and why
prosecutors requested that state District Judge Devon Anderson gag
attorneys in the case to keep them from talking to the media.
After the mistrial, Judge Anderson reconsidered the prosecution's request
for a gag order and granted it in August. Now Benton attorney Brian Wice
has filed a writ of mandamus with the 14th Court of Appeals seeking to
have the order overturned. As the writ persuasively argues, the judge's
stated reasons for imposing a gag on trial participants contradicts
previous stances by both prosecutors and judges in high profile Harris
In such intensively reported trials as those of railroad car mass murderer
Angel Maturino Resendiz; Andrea Yates, who drowned her 5 children; and
former TSU President Priscilla Slade, accused of misusing public funds,
prosecutors made no request for a gag. Judge Anderson was one of the
prosecutors in the Resendiz case.
In imposing the gag, Anderson cited concerns that intensive media
publicity could potentially taint a jury pool for the retrial scheduled
for early January. Yet prosecutors argued the opposite in opposing a
motion by Slade's attorney to have the trial moved to another venue
because of adverse media coverage in Houston. They introduced six
affidavits to establish that Slade could get a fair trial in Harris County
despite negative media coverage. One of them was from prominent Houston
attorney and former Harris County prosecutor Rusty Hardin, who stated he
had "never experienced a case in which a fair and unbiased jury could not
be selected from a Harris County venire, no matter how much pre-trial
publicity attended the case." Likewise, veteran prosecutor Kelly Siegler
stated that "a significant segment of the jury pool in Harris County
doesn't pay attention to media reports and ... would not be affected by
alleged negative publicity."
Anderson also cited as justification for a gag order the disclosure by a
Benton defense lawyer of an alleged plea bargain offered by prosecutors
that would have allowed Benton to avoid prison time. According to the
defense, a Houston Chronicle report that incensed the judge was based on
an overheard conversation between the lawyer and an investigator outside
the court and was not a deliberate attempt to publicize the aborted deal.
Gag orders are a prior restraint on free speech and the ability of the
media to cover a criminal proceeding and report the facts. A gag order
should be a judge's last option in cases in which publicity is clearly
interfering with the right of a litigant to get a fair trial.
That does not seem to be the case in Benton's second trial. Gags should
not be used as tools by prosecutors to employ only when they feel media
exposure is to the advantage of the defendant. The Chronicle has opposed
unjustified limits on news coverage in the past and believes the 14th
Court of Appeals should expeditiously remove Judge Anderson's order.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
It's U.S. versus Texas in death penalty case----Supreme Court to rule
whether international treaty trumps state law
By his own admission, the crime was savage. Jose Medellin and 5 other gang
members were drinking, brawling, swaggering, talking smack and hanging out
by the railroad tracks near a Houston apartment complex on a warm night in
June 1993. Along came 2 girls, Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena,
16, taking a shortcut home from a friend's house.
Medellin stopped Pena. When she tried to run, he threw her to the ground.
Ertman ran to help her but also was shoved to the ground. They were
gang-raped and beaten. Even as the girls begged for their lives, they were
dragged to nearby woods and strangled, one with her own shoelace, the
other with a belt and then by a shoe pressed on her windpipe. Their bodies
were found 4 days later.
Medellin had no regrets. He bragged about the crime to his cousin and gave
one of the girl's rings to his girlfriend. His brother kept Ertman's
Disney-brand Goofy watch as a trophy.
It didn't take long for police to catch Medellin. Once they did, he
confessed. Nor did it take long for the jury to return a verdict: Guilty.
And Texas-style justice means death for a crime like his.
For the past 13 years, Medellin has been on death row in Texas. Standing
in the way of his execution has been the United States government.
Texas has taken the U.S. to court to allow it to execute Medellin. This
week the case will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It's a crime even among capital crimes that stands out for its
gruesomeness and its barbarity," said R. Ted Cruz, the Texas solicitor
The case might be the ultimate test of states' rights versus the power of
the federal government. Indeed, 28 states have signed on in support of
Texas. But it also indicates the extent to which states are bound by
international law and the United States' treaty obligations.
The government of Mexico forced the U.S. stance. After Medellin was
convicted, Mexico brought suit in the International Court of Justice, the
judicial body of the United Nations, charging that the U.S. had violated
the Vienna Convention. That treaty requires that foreign nationals
arrested in a signatory country be allowed to meet with a consular
official from their home country. It's a tool treasured by diplomats,
American and otherwise, worldwide.
Although he had lived most of his life in Houston, Medellin was born in
Mexico. Its government, like many in the world, is critical of capital
punishment in the United States. Mexico claimed that Medellin and 50 other
Mexican nationals on death row in the U.S. had been denied their right to
consult with its consulate, where they would have received legal
assistance in an effort to avoid a death sentence.
The international court found for Mexico in 2004 and ordered the U.S. to
review the convictions and death sentences of the 51 Mexican nationals.
"It's the first time in the history of this nation that any foreign
tribunal has asserted its authority to command the U.S. justice system,"
The White House criticized the ruling, but in 2005 it startled Texas
officials and others by saying it would comply. President Bush ordered the
Texas courts to allow Medellin's habeas corpus claim challenging his
conviction to go forward, and Mexico praised the decision.
New York lawyer Donald Francis Donovan, who will argue on behalf of
Medellin at the Supreme Court, said the case is about showing the
international community that the U.S. lives up to its treaty obligations.
"What's at stake is the U.S. commitment to the rule of law," he said.
Cruz calls the administration's decision "breathtaking."
"With the stroke of a pen, by writing a two-paragraph memorandum to a
Cabinet official, the president can set aside any state law he or she
deems contrary to international comity," Cruz said.
Texas courts have found repeatedly that under state law, Medellin has no
right to challenge his conviction and sentence, even if the Vienna treaty
was violated. There is no dispute that Medellin wasn't notified of his
treaty rights when he was arrested, but the state has argued he failed to
raise that objection at trial, forfeiting the claim.
The litigation has bounced between Texas and the U.S. Supreme Court for
years over procedural issues. On Wednesday, the appeal will finally be
considered on the merits.
Michael Matheson, a law professor at George Washington University, said
the Vienna Convention and other treaties protect Americans abroad who are
charged with crimes. He also cites the need to maintain a good
relationship with Mexico.
But Kent Scheidegger of the California-based Criminal Justice Legal
Foundation, a victims-rights advocacy group, said the case is about a
heavy-handed federal government interfering with state affairs. His group
has filed a brief with the Supreme Court on behalf of the parents of
Jennifer Ertman. The brief said the girl would be 29 now and "her parents
have waited longer for justice to be done in this case than Jennifer lived
her entire, much too short, life."
One of Medellin's fellow gang members was executed last year, with
Jennifer Ertman's father present as a witness.
(source : Chicago Tribune)
No wrongful death (for now)
President Bush plans to stop the execution of a man in Texas. Yes, you
read that right. The man who presided over 152 executions during his
tenure as governor of Texas wants to uphold the International Court of
Justice's decision that the convictions of Ernesto Medellin and 50 other
Mexican-born death row inmates violated their rights to get legal
assistance from the Mexican government. The 1963 Vienna Convention
guarantees that Medellin, who was convicted of the capital murder of two
women, was allowed to request legal counsel from Mexico before his trial,
which the police who arrested Medellin failed to inform him of. While
President Bush plans to uphold the ruling on Medellin, a statement from
the U.S. government says that this will be the only case on which he
agrees with the International Court - because, according to the same
statement, he would like to protect our interests abroad.
(source: Daily Texan)
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