[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----ILL., ARIZ.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Oct 13 00:08:36 CDT 2007
Exonerated inmate decries death row
Juan Melendez spent almost 18 years on death row for a crime he did not
commit, until his eventual exoneration in 2002. Now he speaks at schools
and forums across the country, urging his audience to fight the death
On October 4, Melendez spoke to 20 students and staff at an event
organized through the University chapter of Amnesty International, a group
that protects human rights and is opposed to the death penalty.
Melendez, an American citizen, was raised in Puerto Rico but moved back to
the United States to work as a migrant farmer. He was arrested on May 2,
1984 and charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery in Florida. He
was appointed a public defender, but spoke almost no English.
There was no physical evidence against him, just the testimony of 2
"questionable witnesses," said Melendez. He had four alibi witnesses, all
of whom were black. He felt that their and his own race were held against
The trial began on a Monday. He was convicted on Thursday and sentenced to
death the next day.
"Death row is hell," Melendez said. In prison, he said, he was surrounded
by cockroaches and rats. Many of his friends and fellow inmates committed
suicide, and those who got sick were poorly cared for and often died. But
Melendez says that "the worst of all is when the government kills."
With the help of other inmates, Melendez learned to read, write, and speak
English, which allowed him to communicate better with his lawyer. 16 years
after Melendez's conviction, his new lawyer discovered a tape of the
confession of the actual killer, and Melendez was released. He was the
99th person in the U.S. to be exonerated from death row.
He feels for the friends that he left behind in prison.
"Believe me, some of them are innocent.and I still can't stop [their
deaths]," he said. "I dream and I pray to God that in my time I can see
the death penalty abolished."
Many of the students in attendance were moved by Melendez's story.
"I thought it was really powerful and I give Mr. Melendez a lot of praise
for being able to share," said U of C Amnesty International co-chair
(source: Chicago Maroon - University of Chicago))
Hearing to determine competency of 1982 killer
On Oct. 15, 1982, at about 1 a.m., Alfonso Bracamonte, a lieutenant with
the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department, responded to a call regarding
a double murder at the Salero Ranch near Tubac.
Thanks to Bracamonte's rapport with Mexican lawmen and relentless
investigative work, 38-year-old Ramon Martinez Villareal was subsequently
arrested, tried and sentenced to death for the murders of ranch hands
Fernando Estrada Babichi and James Thomas McGrew. He was also convicted of
According to court records, the ranch hands had been shot in the chest
with rifles stolen from the Tubac home of former Arizona Assistant
Attorney General Sarah Bailey. Their bodies were then dragged and placed
end-to-end under a Caterpillar bulldozer.
At the scene, Bracamonte and Deputy Rudy Cubillas discovered boot tracks
they had seen at previous crime scenes and then later at various area
burglary sites. The boot tracks were unique in that they were missing some
of the knobs on the heels.
They doggedly tracked those boots through washes and along the railroad
tracks. In one instance, they led Bracamonte directly to the now defunct
red-light district in Nogales, Sonora known as Canal Street.
In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Bracamonte said, "I remember we
were in court and I looked over and saw (Villareal's attorney) Billy
Rothstein shaking his head after the verdict. I went over and asked him,
'What's wrong, Billy?' He turned with a look of disbelief and said his
client was asking if he could get his boots back" from the evidence
"Had he switched his shoes anytime during the investigation, the case may
have been lost," Bracamonte said. "It was the boots that got him
2 dismantled rifles Bracamonte found in the hands of law enforcement
officials in Hermosillo also proved key to Villareal's conviction. The
high-powered weapons belonging to Bailey had been used in the murder,
according to court documents.
The guns had been confiscated from Villareal and a teen-ager when they
were arrested aboard a freight train in Empalme, Sonora for possessing
firearms. Bracamonte said he got one of the arresting officers to testify
in Santa Cruz County that he had beat Villareal to a pulp during
questioning about the rifles and had eventually left him for dead at a
Following that harrowing experience, Villareal still came back to continue
his burglary spree in Santa Cruz County, he said. Villareal, originally
from a small town in Durango, Mexico, eventually was arrested near Chavez
Siding Road following a manhunt comprising the Border Patrol, the Arizona
Department of Public Safety and a contingent of sheriff's investigators
led by Bracamonte.
Appeals filed and based on several angles by various attorneys were in
vain and on Feb. 24, 1999, the Arizona Supreme Court issued an order of
execution. The director of the state Department of Corrections even set
the date: April 7, 1999.
Defense attorney William Rothstein; Jaime Teyechea, the sheriff at the
time; and Robert Stuchen, one of the investigators, have since died. Yet
Villarreal, 63, is alive today and interned at the state mental hospital.
His lawyers intend to keep it that way.
Superior Court Judge James Soto will travel to Phoenix on Friday, Oct. 26,
to preside over a hearing to determine whether Villareal is competent to
On Wednesday, Bracamonte, who later served as sheriff from 1985-92, said,
"This guy knew exactly what he was doing. Of all the burglaries I ever
investigated, this guy was really smart."
Bailey, whose ranch house was ransacked by Villareal, concurred. "He
wasn't crazy then and he's not crazy now," she said.
Denise Young, 1 of 2 attorneys representing Villareal, did not return a
telephone call requesting comment by press time.
Villareal was responsible for at least 10 burglaries in the Tubac and Rio
Rico areas, Bracamonte charged. Among other items, "he would steal food
and hide it in different areas he planned to stake out later."
Bracamonte recalled that he asked Villareal point-blank once why he had
killed the two men. "Por mis huevos," he said Villareal told him. Roughly
translated, he did it because he could and he had the balls to do so.
So why is this man, who stands about 4-foot-8 and whom officials say looks
decrepit and far beyond his years, still alive? After all, it cost Arizona
taxpayers an average of $55 each day to house each prisoner. Since 1983,
he has cost the system at least $400,000, not including lawyers' fees.
Before the execution date, the Mexican consulate stepped in and filed a
petition for a stay of execution with the Arizona Board of Executive
An attorney then visited Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Roberto
Montiel, who had sentenced Villarreal to death 16 years earlier. Jose
Cardenas presented documentation to Montiel that showed Villareal had been
institutionalized for mental disorders in Mexico prior to the incident at
This information was never presented at Villareal's trail by his young and
budding lawyer Rothstein. Montiel told the clemency board that he would
have never sentenced Villareal to the gas chamber had he known of his
A code of ethics forbids standing judges to testify at such proceedings.
But Montiel, who has since retired, knowingly violated the rule. It got
him in hot water with the Arizona Judicial Qualifications Commission. The
matter never went forward after he explained his reasoning to the panel.
In a response to a letter of inquiry, he informed the commission that if
placed in the same predicament he would do it all over again.
Rothstein, who died in 2002, also testified before the clemency board that
he provided ineffective council because he omitted information about
Villareal's mental problems during court proceedings and at the time of
sentencing due to his inexperience as a trial lawyer. He failed to have
his client examined for mental competency.
Mental health experts who have examined Villareal over the years have
issued contradictory opinions; some confirming he is unstable and others
suggesting he is malingering, which is a legal term for pretending to be
While Montiel was convinced and regrets that he sentenced a mentally ill
person to death, it remains to be seen if Soto will reach the same
conclusion based on evidence presented to him in Phoenix later this month.
(source: Nogales International)
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