[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-------------TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Oct 29 23:52:03 CDT 2007
Trial of man accused of killing Fort Worth officer begins
On the 1st day of his capital murder trial, Stephen Lance Heard was
portrayed as a career criminal who had vowed to never return to prison.
Mr. Heard, 41, was on trial Monday in Tarrant County accused of fatally
wounding Fort Worth police officer Henry "Hank" Nava 2 years ago.
Officer Nava was fatally shot while investigating an identity theft ring.
During opening statements, Betty Arvin, an assistant district attorney,
asked jurors to look at Mr. Heard's background and the events that led up
to the shooting including a high speed chase that involved 3 police
"I'm not going back to jail. That was this defendant's motto," Ms. Arvin
said."He did everything in his power to make his wish come true - all at
the expense of Hank Nava."
Mr. Heard has convictions for theft and drug use.
His attorney, Mark Daniel, called Officer Nava a fine public servant and
that his death was a tragedy.
However, the circumstances surrounding his death did not amount to capital
murder, Mr. Daniel said
Mr. Heard, who was on parole for unlawful use of a car, did not know that
the 3 men who had come to the trailer on Bar Wiser Road were police
officers, Mr. Daniel said.
Mr. Heard, he said, "acted consistently with what the law allows" although
he concedes that his client should not have had a weapon.
"There was no reason for him to know who was coming into that trailer,"
Mr. Daniel said.
Mr. Heard, he said, "fired a blind, wild shot - meant to go nowhere."
Officer Nava died Dec. 1, 2005 - 2 days after he was shot.
Mr. Heard's trial is expected to last about 3 weeks. Prosecutors were
seeking a death penalty.
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Appellate judge called 'out of control'
Sharon Keller won election to Texas' highest criminal court 13 years ago
with a promise to be a staunch supporter of the death penalty and a
Since that time, Keller has risen to become the presiding judge of the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals with a term lasting until 2012. Depending
on the point of view, she is either a tough-as-nails jurist or an
ideologue who puts the execution of convicted criminals ahead of
constitutional due process.
A fellow judge once accused her of turning the court into a "national
laughingstock" after Keller said DNA tests clearing a convicted rapist
were not conclusive because the man could have worn a condom.
And now 20 lawyers have filed a grievance against her with the State
Commission on Judicial Conduct because on Sept. 25 she ordered the court
clerk's office to close promptly at 5 p.m., denying death row inmate
Michael Richard an opportunity to get a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Richard was executed a little more than three hours later.
"This isn't a liberal or conservative matter no matter what your opinion
is on the death penalty, you've got to have due process," said Jim
Harrington, a civil rights lawyer who filed the complaint on behalf of the
other attorneys. "She's out of control. It's frightening to think of the
arbitrary power she wields."
But former Presiding Judge Mike McCormick, who led the court in a
conservative direction in the 1990s with Keller's help, said Keller has
worked hard to preserve the idea that after conviction, the burden is on
defendants to prove they got a bad trial or are innocent.
"Sharon Keller is one of the brightest individuals I have ever known,"
Keller, 54, declined to be interviewed for this story. She is a Dallas
native. Her parents owned a popular local chain of hamburger stands. With
an undergraduate degree from Rice, Keller obtained her law degree from
Southern Methodist University.
Last year, Keller was elected to her 2nd term as presiding judge of the
Court of Criminal Appeals.
She had been a Dallas County assistant district attorney for six years
when she first ran for the Court of Criminal Appeals in 1994. In an
atmosphere of public anger over criminals getting their cases reversed on
what appeared to be technicalities, she promised to be a
During that race, she equated the executions of convicted killers with
protecting human rights.
"The failure to impose capital punishment on convicted murderers is a
human rights violation particularly if we take into account the human
rights that murderers violate when left alive to kill again," Keller said
in an op-ed piece published in the Houston Chronicle. "Society should
answer the most serious crimes with the most serious punishments."
Since joining the court, she has developed a reputation for rulings that
Keller was in the court majority that allowed the 2003 execution of
Leonard Rojas to go forward despite a showing that his lawyer had just 2
years of experience, had his law license suspended three times and missed
a deadline for federal appeals because of bipolar disorder.
Three judges, in a dissenting opinion, wrote, "A capital murder habeas
proceeding is no place for a green attorney with multiple suspensions from
the State Bar."
Keller responded by saying the lawyer only needed to be competent when
appointed. She said the fact the bar had probated the lawyer's suspensions
showed that the bar "still found counsel to be competent to practice law."
In wording that has echoes in Keller's actions in the Richard case, she
complained that Rojas' complaints of incompetent counsel "were not brought
to this court's attention until mere days before applicant's scheduled
Keller wrote an opinion saying DNA evidence did not prove convicted rapist
Roy Criner was innocent even though the semen in his alleged victim was
not his. Keller said Criner could have worn a condom during the rape, a
theory that was not raised by the prosecution in his trial.
Fellow appeals court Judge Tom Price told Texas Lawyer that Keller had
turned the court into a "national laughingstock." Price ran unsuccessfully
against Keller in 2000 and 2006. He did not respond to a request for an
Further DNA testing proved saliva on a cigarette butt at the scene of the
rape belonged to another man, whose DNA also matched the semen. Criner
received a pardon from then-Gov. George W. Bush in 2000.
In 1996, Keller wrote an opinion that death row inmate Cesar Fierro
received a fair trial even if his confession was coerced by threats that
Mexican police would torture his parents. After learning of the threats,
the prosecutor and judge in the case called for Fierro to receive a new
"We conclude that the applicant's due process rights were violated,"
Keller wrote for the court. "But, because we conclude that the error was
harmless, we deny relief."
Keller, writing for the court majority, said Fierro could have been
convicted on a co-defendant's testimony alone.
Keller's legal opinions have not been her only source of controversy.
Other members of the court in 2002 stripped Keller of the sole authority
to hand out grant money after she gave $225,000 to a little-known legal
organization to provide legal training for lawyers who represent poor
clients. The group was headed by a 1-time staff attorney at the court.
To help balance the state budget in 2003, Keller announced a cut of
$860,000 from a fund that pays for lawyers who represent death row
inmates. Keller said the money would not be needed before the next budget
State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, recently filed the latest complaint
against Keller with the judicial review commission. He said her actions in
the Richard case cast doubts on the impartiality of the Court of Criminal
(source: San Antonio Express-News)
Slaying suspect walks out of Bexar jail
Sheriff Roland Tafolla vowed Sunday to re-examine every aspect of release
procedures at Bexar County Jail after a slaying suspect walked out of jail
Sunday morning after passing himself off as his cellmate.
David Sauceda had been on the loose for more than six hours before
authorities realized he was missing. Despite a multi-agency manhunt,
stretching to the border, Sauceda remained at large Sunday night.
"We have no idea where he is," Tafolla said Sunday night.
Sauceda, who was charged with murder, aggravated robbery, burglary with
intent to commit assault and a parole violation, is considered armed and
dangerous; law enforcement officials ask that the public not confront him
but call police if they have any information on his whereabouts.
The 27-year-old has a small tattoo of an Aztec temple on his chin that he
got from the cellmate, Michael Garcia, while in jail, authorities said.
Sauceda is 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 170 pounds. He has short brown
hair and was wearing a white muscle shirt, blue shorts and white tennis
shoes at the time of his escape at 1:30 a.m.
Sauceda posed as Garcia, who is in jail on a felony auto theft charge.
A person who had not been identified Sunday night paid Garcia's bond
amount, and officers went to retrieve him, the sheriff said. But when they
called Garcia's name, Sauceda stepped forward and repeated his cellmate's
personal information. Believing him to be Garcia, officers took Sauceda to
When a detention officer checked Sauceda's fingerprints via a computer
database, the officer matched his face with the photo on file but,
according to the sheriff, failed to notice that the name belonged to his
cellmate, Michael Garcia, who allegedly was conspiring with Sauceda.
How Sauceda managed to penetrate the elaborate computer scanning program
meant to streamline a prisoner's release while acting as an integrity
check of the prisoner's identification with a seemingly simple ruse will
be a top priority, authorities said.
"We're going to look at everything," Tafolla said.
Tafolla, who took office Sept. 19, took full responsibility.
"We made an error," he said Sunday afternoon. "I am responsible for
everything that happens in the Sheriff's Office."
Tafolla said Sauceda and Garcia are members of the Mexican Mafia. Garcia
apparently gave all his personal information to Sauceda address, birth
date, Social Security number and system ID number while giving up his own
"He had it down pat," Tafolla said.
While in booking, Sauceda was fingerprinted. His prints were supposed to
be checked against those on file, Tafolla said, but they came out smudged,
so a sergeant ordered a detention officer to check his fingerprints using
LiveScan, the jail's electronic fingerprint system.
"So he takes him over, scans his fingerprint, looks at the picture, looks
at him, and says, 'It's him,' but doesn't look at the name."
It wasn't until about 8 a.m. that other officers realized Sauceda was
If human error was involved in the escape, the sheriff said, sanctions for
those involved could run from reprimand to termination.
Law enforcement at every level has been notified, including U.S. marshals
and the FBI.
"He's long gone," said Adan Muoz, executive director of the Texas
Commission on Jail Standards.
Muoz said re-identifying an inmate before his release is internal policy,
not a state jail standard. He said procedures could be slightly different
at each jail in the state.
"It looks like somebody screwed up big-time," said County Judge Nelson
Wolff, who heads the Commissioners Court, which has oversight of the
Sheriff's Office. "We're going to want to know how it happened, of
Sauceda and his brother, Jesse Sauceda, were charged in the killing of
Juan Guevara. On Nov. 9, 2006, Guevara, 25, was found shot in the head in
front of his home at Casa Verde and Casa Alto streets. Witnesses reported
seeing 2 men standing over Guevara's body and then using his car to back
6 days later, a 59-year-old woman was found bound with duct tape in her
home in the 400 block of Dresden Road. She said a man had pushed his way
into her home just after her husband left for work. After taking cash, an
ATM card and jewelry, he took off in her Ford Explorer.
Police in Corpus Christi saw the SUV the next day parked at a Motel 6.
After being surrounded by a SWAT team, Jesse Sauceda, David Sauceda's
brother, came out. But David Sauceda ran. He was taken into custody that
evening at a convenience store. Jesse Sauceda is still in custody.
Police are also seeking Angela Jaime as a person of interest in the case.
Jaime, according to police, and her 2 children, are believed to be with
While there have been many attempted escapes from Bexar County Jail since
it opened in 1988, most were foiled.
(source: San Antonio Express-News)
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