[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Oct 11 00:52:25 CDT 2007
Lawyers file complaint over court closure in death case
20 lawyers from across Texas today filed a formal judicial conduct
complaint against Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon
Keller, accusing her of violating the constitutional due process of a
The complaint to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct says Keller
improperly cut off appeals that led to the execution of Michael Richard on
Sept. 25 despite the fact the U.S. Supreme Court earlier in the day had
accepted a case on the propriety of lethal injection, which had direct
implications for Richard's execution.
"Judge Keller's actions denied Michael Richard 2 constitutional rights,
access to the courts and due process, which led to his execution," the
complaint states. "Her actions also brought the integrity of the Texas
judiciary and of her court into disrepute and was a source of scandal to
the citizens of the state."
Those lawyers signing the complaint included former State Bar President
Broadus Spivey, Houston criminal defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin, University
of Houston law professor Mike Olivas, former appellate Judge Michol
O'Connor, state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, and former Nueces County
Attorney Mike Westergren.
The lawyers are being represented in the complaint by Jim Harrington,
director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. Harrington said Keller's
actions were "morally callous, shocking and unconscionable for an
The commission's proceedings are secret. At the end, the commission can
dismiss a complaint without making it public; publicly reprimand a judge
or recommend to the Texas Supreme Court that the judge be removed from
At issue is the sequence of events leading up to the execution of Richard,
49, for the 1986 rape and fatal shooting of Marguerite Dixon, a Hockley
mother of 7.
Lawyers for Richard had called the court's clerk, asking that the office
stay open an extra 20 minutes so a stay of execution request could be
filed. Even if it was denied by the state court, that request was
procedurally necessary to get a stay from the Supreme Court.
Keller last week voiced no second thoughts about her actions.
"You're asking me whether something different would have happened if we
had stayed open," Keller said, "and I think the question ought to be why
didn't they file something on time? They had all day."
Although other judges at the Texas appeals court were waiting for
Richard's appeal, Keller ordered the clerk to close promptly at 5 p.m.
Because of that, Richard's appeal was not filed and he was executed later
in the evening.
Judge Cheryl Johnson was the appeals court jurist in charge of Richard's
case. She said she never heard anything about the clerk's office closing
off the appeal until the following day.
"I wasn't consulted," Johnson said. "I have been here almost 9 years. My
understanding was that on a death case we were here up until the time of
the execution and we would take filings that came in up until 6 o'clock
and the execution is underway."
Johnson said it is not a question of whether Richard is guilty but did he
have the right to appeal.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Officers testify about Davis' violent behavior in jail
Inmate testifies that convicted killer told him he was 'going to go on a
killing spree' before being caught.
The half-dozen officers were there to testify about Selwyn P. Davis'
violent behavior in jail at the punishment phase of his capital murder
trial. Davis faces life in prison or death for killing 57-year-old Regina
Lara, his ex-girlfriend's mother, on Aug. 22, 2006.
Also testifying Wednesday were two former inmates who did time in jail
with Davis, including Brian Griffin, who said he played chess with Davis
after Davis was booked into the downtown jail last year.
Griffin said that when someone showed Davis a newspaper article about his
case, Davis laughed.
"He said the Mexican lady deserved it," Griffin recalled, quoting Davis.
"They better be glad they caught me when they did because I was going to
go on a killing spree."
The statement riled Hispanic inmates housed in the same unit, Griffin
said, and they began plotting to beat Davis up. But Davis learned of the
plot, broke a broom handle so it would be sharp and approached a group of
Hispanic inmates inviting them to fight.
"I killed before," Griffin said, quoting Davis, "and I ain't scared to
In November 2006, Davis was incarcerated at the county jail in Del Valle,
corrections officer Kelvin Rucks told the jury.
Rucks said that at about 5 p.m. one day that month, he heard a commotion
and saw Davis standing over an inmate named Justin Brodman, who had blood
coming from his face.
As Davis saw Rucks running toward him, Davis "stomped him (Brodman) in the
back of his head, smashing his head into the floor."
Brodman testified that he had done nothing to provoke the attack.
(source: Austin American-Statesman)
White House, Texas argue death-penalty case
In a case that pits President Bush against his home state of Texas, the
Supreme Court on Wednesday was asked to resolve a far-reaching
international dispute that could decide the extent of the president's
powers in ordering states to observe international treaties.
The case centers around Jose Ernesto Medellin, a Mexican national who has
been on death row for 14 year in the gang rape and murder of 2 Houston
Medellin confessed to the killings but contends that he should have a new
trial because he was not given access to a Mexican consular officer after
his arrest, as required by a 44-year-old international treaty ratified by
166 countries, including the United States.
The legal dispute reaches far beyond Texas and could determine the extent
to which states are compelled to observe international agreements. The
United Nations International Court of Justice in the Netherlands, also
known as the World Court, ruled in 2004 that Medallion and 50 other
condemned Mexican nationals in nine states are entitled to new hearings
because they were denied consular access.
Bush, who served as Texas governor in the mid-1990s, has ordered states to
comply with the World Court order but has encountered an aggressive
push-back from Texas officials. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled
in 2006 that Bush is overstepping his constitutional authority through "an
intrusive exercise of power" over the Texas court system.
R. Ted Cruz, solicitor general from the Texas Attorney General's Office,
called on the high-court justices to reject the administration's argument,
contending that Medellin waited too long to invoke his treaty claim and is
grasping at the issue in a bid to avoid execution.
In his arguments before the court and at a press conference outside, Cruz
echoed the Texas appeals court's ruling that the presidential order,
delivered in a memo to the Justice Department, represents an historical
overreach of presidential authority and would fundamentally change the
balance of power between the state and federal governments.
But Donald Francis Donovan, Medellin's attorney, maintained the U.S.
Constitution requires state courts to enforce international treaties under
federal law. Donovan also maintained that Bush acted properly in ordering
Texas and other states to observe the treaty under his presidential
authority to conduct the nation's foreign affairs.
"Texas' position is directly contrary to constitutional design," said
Donovan, asserting that Cruz's arguments "couldn't be more wrong."
Medellin, now 32 and confined to Polunsky prison unit near Livingston, was
19 when he was sentenced to death for raping and killing Jennifer Lee
Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, after the 2 girls stumbled into a gang
initiation near a railroad track while hurrying home from a party.
Witnesses said Medellin, who confessed to his involvement, later bragged
about the assault and described using a shoelace to strangle one of the
girls because he didn't have a gun. He also "put his foot on her throat
because she would not die," according to the state's supreme court brief.
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
******************************** Bush's Surprising Plea for Clemency
If you tried to come up with the best way to enrage the nativist right in
America, you might dream up something like this: a Mexican immigrant,
convicted of raping and murdering 2 adolescent girls, has his execution
stayed by President Bush out of deference to the International Court of
Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.
Believe it or not, that's the storyline in the controversial case of
Medellin v. Texas, which the Supreme Court will hear on Wednesday. The
Administration is siding with Jose Ernesto Medellin and his lawyers,
arguing that he along with 50 other Mexican nationals should have their
convictions reviewed because, in what the International Court has ruled a
violation of a treaty signed by the U.S., they were not offered access to
Mexican consular officials after their arrest.
The raucous right is in an uproar, stunned that their one-time hero,
George W. Bush, is going against them on a case that combines three of the
issues closest to their heart: immigration, the death penalty and
international sovereignty. But the real lesson the right wing should take
from the case is that the Presidential power they so jealously defend when
it is used against foreign nationals looks a lot less attractive when it's
applied at home.
The Administration isn't taking Medellin's side out of sympathy. After
all, Bush pushed through more than 150 executions as governor of Texas,
and he's generally no fan of international courts. In fact, though the
Administration is going along with the court in this particular case, it
has also withdrawn from the same international accord at issue in the
case. It may not seem consistent, but what Bush is interested in is
achieving maximum latitude in determining compliance with international
treaties and gaining the right to tell states when they do or don't have
to comply with a treaty.
"It's a jujitsu move of acceding to the International Court of Justice
ruling, but aggressively pursuing presidential powers at the same time,"
says Thomas Goldstein, who heads the Supreme Court practice of the
Washington law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld LLP. "The idea is
that you can essentially write the states a note and tell them what to do.
It's a very novel assertion of presidential powers."
The prospects for the government are mixed at best. On the one hand,
conservative court members might bridle at anti-federalist infringement on
states' rights to execute prisoners. On the other hand, the conservatives
are firm believers in expanded Presidential powers. The left, similarly,
is torn between supporting American compliance with international law, but
not wanting to affirm executive branch control over its application.
Politically, the Administration may be acting too clever by half. Perhaps
the outrage on the right will pass, and the case will slip unnoticed into
the books. But the last thing Bush needs right now is to try and explain
to an already disillusioned Republican base why he's opposing the death
penalty for a convicted immigrant murderer on orders from a bunch of
judges in The Netherlands. If he hasn't already, this might make more
Americans think twice about the wisdom of ever-expanding presidential
(source: TIME Magazine)
Houston case gets lively Supreme Court hearing
Neither the president nor an international court can tell Texas how to
treat criminal defendants, the state's top Supreme Court advocate told the
justices in a lively argument today over the fate of a Mexican citizen on
Texas Solicitor General R. Ted Cruz said Jose Ernesto Medellin received a
fair trial and adequate representation even though he was not notified of
his right under an international treaty to request help from Mexican
diplomats when he was arrested on suspicion of raping and killing 2
teenagers in Houston.
"Both state and federal courts concluded there was no prejudice," from the
violation of the 1963 Vienna Convention, Cruz said.
The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that U.S. courts should
review the convictions and sentences for Medellin and 50 other
Mexican-born prisoners because of the treaty violation. President Bush has
ordered that the ICJ ruling be enforced through new hearings in state
The argument today, for which an hour was allotted, stretched to nearly 90
minutes as the justices threw question after question at lawyers for
Medellin, the U.S. government and Texas in a case that mixes Bush
administration claims of executive power with the role of international
law in state court proceedings.
Several justices suggested that U.S. ratification of an agreement
promising to abide by the international court's decisions is a sufficient
basis for ruling in Medellin's favor. "The United States gave its promise.
It voluntarily complied," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.
The administration's position is that the president's declaration that the
ruling should be enforced is reason enough for Texas to grant Medellin a
new hearing. "Obviously, we feel the president's determination here is a
critical element," U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement said.
But Justice Antonin Scalia reacted skeptically to that idea. "You're
telling us we don't need Congress. The president can make it domestic law"
on his own, Scalia said.
Texas courts have said the international court ruling has no weight in
Texas and that Bush has no power to order its enforcement.
Medellin was arrested a few days after the killings of Jennifer Ertman,
14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, in June 1993. He was told he had a right to
remain silent and have a lawyer present, but the police did not tell him
that he could request assistance from the Mexican consulate under the 1963
Medellin, who speaks, reads and writes English, gave a written confession.
He was convicted of murder in the course of a sexual assault, a capital
offense in Texas. A judge sentenced him to death in October 1994.
Texas acknowledges that Medellin was not told he could ask for help from
Mexican diplomats, but argues that he forfeited the right because he never
raised the issue at trial or sentencing. In any case, the state argues,
the diplomats' intercession would not have made any difference in the
outcome of the case.
At this point, 14 years after the killings, the state says neither the
international court nor Bush has any say in Medellin's case.
State and federal courts rejected Medellin's claim when he raised it on
Then, in 2003, Mexico sued the United States in the International Court of
Justice in The Hague on behalf of Medellin and 50 other Mexicans on death
row in the U.S. who also had been denied access to their country's
diplomats following their arrests.
Mexico has no death penalty. Mexico and other opponents of capital
punishment have sought to use the court, also known as the World Court, to
fight for foreigners facing execution in the U.S.
The international court ruled for Mexico in 2004, saying the sentences and
convictions should be reviewed by U.S. courts. Bush ordered state courts
to give the prisoners new state court hearings.
Bush has since withdrawn the United States from the international
agreement that allows the world court to have the final say when citizens
claim they were illegally denied access to their diplomats when they are
The case is Medellin v. Texas, 06-984.
(source: Associated Press)
Killer of Alexandra Flores back in court today
Jury selection starts today for the sentencing hearing of an El Pasoan who
had his death sentence vacated last year by an appellate court.
David Renteria was sentenced to death in 2003 after being convicted by a
state district court jury of capital murder in the 2001 slaying of
5-year-old Alexandra Flores.
The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas last year upheld Renteria's capital
murder conviction, but said he is entitled to a new sentencing hearing
because the appellate court believed prosecutors introduced testimony from
an expert who left the jury with a false impression that Renteria did not
express remorse for the slaying, according to court documents.
Renteria's sentencing hearing is set for Jan. 29 in the 41st District
Court. Prosecutors have said they will once again seek the death penalty
The jury for Renteria's sentencing phase is expected to be selected from a
pool of 700 potential jurors summoned this week to jury hall in the
Downtown across from the County Courthouse.
Today, half of the potential jurors are expected to fill out a lengthy
questionnaire, which prosecutors and defense lawyers will use to pick a
jury. The other half of potential jurors are expected to do the same on
Jury selection is expected to take more than a month.
(source: El Paso Times)
Wrongly convicted man finally free after 14 years---Ronald Taylor urges
City Hall to prevent the same ordeal from happening to someone else
Ronald Taylor's first moments of release
Instead of going directly to his mother's kitchen for the home cooking
he'd been denied while serving 14 years for a rape he didn't commit,
Ronald Gene Taylor's 1st order of business after getting out of prison
Tuesday was to confront the mayor at City Hall.
"I think there is a lot of people who have the same problem I had," he
told the standing room only crowd in the City Council chamber. "There are
a lot of people who can't get help because they don't have the finances.
Something needs to be done."
Recent DNA testing on the rape victim's bed sheet revealed that another
man with a history of sexual violence committed the crime.
Taylor had emerged from the Harris County Jail an hour earlier in clothes
purchased the night before and with his only belongings a Bible, court
documents and toiletries in a mesh sack.
He embraced his family, who had traveled from Huntsville to greet him,
thanked his lawyers and went directly to City Hall to speak about his
ordeal, caused by the faulty work of the Houston Police Department's
troubled crime lab.
Mayor Bill White and City Council members attentively listened to Taylor's
plea. Some offered apologies and vowed to devise a plan to quickly review
180 newly identified cases with crime lab evidence similar to Taylor's.
But they stopped short of proposing a concrete plan for reviewing the
cases or committing resources for the effort.
"If (speaking to the council) is going to help even one person, it's worth
it," Taylor said as he left City Hall.
Lawyers from the Innocence Project, a legal clinic that works to free the
wrongfully convicted, secured Taylor's release Tuesday morning during a
brief hearing. State District Judge Denise Collins ordered him released on
a personal recognizance bond.
During the proceedings, to which Taylor wore an orange inmate's uniform,
his lawyers spoke of the significance of his case in the context of the
years-long scandal at the HPD crime lab.
"There are a legacy of cases where the Houston Police Department did
faulty serology," said Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project.
Harris County's top prosecutor, Chuck Rosenthal, appeared in court and
expressed regret for Taylor's years of wrongful incarceration.
"I would like to apologize to Mr. Taylor," Rosenthal said.
After a 2-hour wait, while jail officials processed his release, Taylor
walked outside a free man for the 1st time in 14 years.
"I always believed this was coming one day," Taylor said outside the jail.
"I'm just glad to see my family. It ain't sunk in yet."
Eyewitness was wrong
Taylor was accused in the 1993 rape of a woman attacked while sleeping in
her Third Ward home. The victim never got a good look at her attacker,
Taylor's lawyers said, but police showed her a video lineup. The woman
identified Taylor, whose image was included because a neighbor reported
seeing him in the area that night, his lawyers said.
Taylor was charged in her attack and at trial, about two years later, the
woman's testimony was the core of the evidence against him. An analyst
from the HPD crime lab also testified, incorrectly telling jurors that DNA
testing could not be performed on a bedsheet from the apartment because it
contained no semen.
Jurors sentenced Taylor to 60 years, a crushing verdict for his mother,
"He was away for so long that I watched my 5 sisters and 3 brothers die
while he was incarcerated," she said. "No parent should have to go through
Taylor's stepfather contacted the Innocence Project in 1998 and pleaded
with the legal clinic to take his case. 12 years after Taylor's
conviction, Innocence Project lawyers arranged for a private lab to
re-examine the evidence.
"I just knew that if I could get it tested, it would be over," Taylor
The lab, ReliaGene Technologies in New Orleans, found semen on the sheet,
discrediting HPD's work on the case. A DNA analysis of the fabric revealed
the profile of another man Roosevelt Carroll and no evidence from
Both men had short-cropped hair and 6-foot frames. They both also lived
within a mile of the victim's home.
Suspect in jail
Unlike Taylor, who had been convicted and released on nonviolent crimes of
forgery and cocaine possession, Carroll had a history of violent sexual
A twice-convicted rapist, Carroll is serving a 15-year sentence for
failing to register as a sex offender.
Carroll cannot be prosecuted for the 1993 case because the deadline for a
grand jury to indict him has passed.
Although Carroll was free for much of the time Taylor was imprisoned,
Taylor said he is not angry.
"I don't have grudges," he said. "What good would that do me?"
While Taylor is free, the case against him has not yet been officially
resolved. Judge Collins must forward documents that detail the case's
history, submitted by prosecutors and Taylor's lawyers on Tuesday, to the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
That court will taken final action on the case, but those steps can take
Some long waits
Men recently exonerated of crimes in Harris County including Josiah
Sutton and George Rodriguez, who were convicted on faulty evidence from
the HPD crime lab have waited more than a year for their cases to clear
the legal labyrinth. Taylor's case may move faster, however, because
prosecutors and his lawyers agreed he is innocent.
Assuming that Taylor eventually receives a pardon based on his innocence
and does not pursue a lawsuit, he could receive $50,000 from the state for
each year he was incarcerated, or as much as $700,000.
Taylor's first priority is to begin rebuilding his life. He planned to
spend some time with his family in Huntsville and then, as soon as
possible, say goodbye to Texas.
Taylor said he plans to settle in Atlanta with the fiancee who waited 14
years for him and whom Taylor hopes to soon make his wife.
Jeannette Brown, a nursing assistant and student in Atlanta, could not
make the trip to Houston for Taylor's release but is hoping for a reunion
as soon as possible.
"Now that he is out and they all know he is innocent, the rest will come,"
she said. "It's hard to be patient, but I will."
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Cruel and unusual and dishonest arguments
With the stay of Heliberto Chi's scheduled execution this week, the debate
over capital punishment in Texas resumes.
Note, I didn't say begins.
The argument around here concerning the state's established right to take
life in vindication of life never stops.
Technically, in the Chi case, the question at issue is the alleged cruelty
and unusualness of the designated method of execution, viz., injection of
sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride.
Thats the surface issue. Getting rid of capital punishment altogether is
the goal that drives most if not all of Chis advocates.
In "progressive" circles, the conviction burns like fire that no one,
never mind what hes done, deserves to die at the hands of the people. The
great Mark Twain had these folk in his sights. In Tom Sawyer, he noted
dryly that "Injun Joe was believed to have killed 5 citizens of the
village, but what of that? If he had been Satan himself, there would have
been plenty of weaklings ready to scribble their names to a
pardon-petition, and rip a tear on it from their permanently impaired and
As with Injun Joe, so with Chi, a Honduran-born illegal alien who came to
death row after using a 38-caliber handgun on March 24, 2001, to remove
permanently from this world 56-year-old Armand Paliotta, the manager of a
K&G Men's Superstore in Arlington, who had admitted Chi, a former
employee, to look supposedly for his wallet.
It turned out that Chis real mission was to stuff his wallet with whatever
cash K&G had on hand. When an understandably rattled Paliotta tried to
flee, Chi shot him 3 times in the back. Another employee fled in a
different direction. Chi shot him, as well unfortunately, from the
gunman's viewpoint, leaving the victim alive to recover and testify.
The state of Texas was ready to pay him back, so to speak, when the U. S.
Supreme Court in September stayed the execution of Carlton Turner, another
convicted Texas murderer. The issue: whether lethal injection qualifies as
cruel and unusual, hence unconstitutional punishment. The Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals decided a few days later to hold up on Chis execution "a
sign," noted the New York Times, "that judges in the nation's leading
death penalty state were taking guidance from the Supreme Court and
putting off execution."
Maybe Chi will eventually get what the Texas courts say is coming to him,
and maybe well, you have to wonder at least.
A couple of decades ago, it was all the rage in anti-death penalty circles
to protest the cruelty and pain, etc., etc., of the then-standard
execution technique of electrocution. Electrocution became current (so to
speak) as a way of eliminating the accidents that sometimes resulted from
hanging -- such as the rope's failing to break the subjects neck and
choking him instead.
Injection, you'd think, while subject to the same human imperfections as
everything else including U.S. Supreme Court decisions represented a
considerable step up toward humane treatment of folk whose own claim to
humanity could be judged disputable. The 1st drug knocks the murderer
unconscious, the 2nd prevents breathing, and the third stops the heart.
What else would the anti-death penalty coalition like? Nothing, is what
they'd like. No proportionate response at all on the states part to the
offense of taking a human life.
Cruelly and not a bit unusually clear is that death penalty foes worry
less about execution methods than about the fact that executions take
place at all. Their leaky waterworks are endlessly available to people who
shoot others in the back, and worse. Not so to those who get shot, and
worse. Foes of the death penalty won't stand for executing anyone. Hitler,
Stalin, and Mao would have won sanctuary in their tender hearts at least
if they were being intellectually consistent.
There is a moral upside-downness to anti-capital punishment fervor, whose
insistent theme is that victims matter far less than do their killers.
How's that for a social judgment - - the need, at all costs, to shield
evil from confronting its due consequences?
Death penalty foes are fond of pointing to capital punishment's
imperfections, such as the possibility of an innocent person's being
sentenced to death.
No one in his right mind would suggest such things never have happened
before and couldn't now though it's less likely now than ever before,
given scientific advances like DNA tests.
Society has a profound duty to the utmost care in securing convictions.
And yet to say the very possibility of a mistake rules out the risk is to
stop in its tracks the quest for justice.
Besides which, no one contends that Chi didn't do what the state says. The
argument is over injection. A backup argument concerns the imputed duty of
the authorities, under international treaty, to have helped put him in
touch with the Honduran consul at the time of arrest. We're back to the
case of a man who shot another man in cold blood and wants the taxpayers
to pay for his care and feeding in perpetuity. Baloney.
(source: Opinion, William Murchison, East Texas Review)
Hearing Turns into Courtroom Mayhem
Multiple lawyers want to defend murder suspect
BROWNSVILLE - A court hearing turned into a squabble over who would defend
a man accused of killing his own children.
An appeals court recently overturned John Allen Rubio's 2003 murder
conviction. He was in back in Cameron County preparing for a retrial.
It was only a hearing to appoint his defense team. But six attorneys were
in the courtroom fighting to be part of the case. One of them was Nat
Perez, Rubio's original court-appointed attorney.
He filed a motion to disqualify the district attorney's office, because
one of its attorneys was on Rubio's original defense team.
That attorney is Alfonso Padilla. He now wants to be the prosecuting
attorney in the case.
Larry Warner, a Brownsville attorney, argued he should be lead counsel.
But the District Attorney's Office argued Warner isn't qualified to deal
with a death penalty case.
The defendant stood and smirked during the courtroom mayhem.
In the end, three attorneys were appointed. Nat Perez will be lead
counsel. Ed Stapelton will be co-counsel, and Larry Warner will work on
The judge lost patience with the attorneys.
"I don't want to hear it. I don't. This is not a debate," he said. "I
ruled and that's it."
NEWSCHANNEL 5 asked former State District Judge Robert Garza why the
attorneys would want to represent a man who confessed to murdering his own
He tells us it's because of publicity.
He says, "Depending on the results that the lawyers get, it may very well
propel him to be appointed to other capital murder cases throughout the
state. His name will be everywhere and he will get a lot of publicity."
(source: NEWSCHANNEL 5)
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