[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Oct 31 22:32:57 CDT 2007
Hello? Hello?! Criminal justice
During Presiding Judge Sharon Keller's tenure, the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals has been derided for seeing no harm when lawyers commit obvious
errors. In its zeal to uphold convictions come what may, the court has
been scolded by the U.S. Supreme Court for not following precedent.
But for sheer myopia, it's hard to top Keller's refusal to keep the court
open long enough to accept an emergency appeal from a death row inmate
about to be executed.
Even Keller's fellow judges were dumbfounded by her rigidity.
There's no question that rules exist for a reason. And justice does demand
But condemned killer Michael Richard's attempted appeal on Sept. 25 wasn't
a baseless ploy to avoid execution for raping and fatally shooting
Marguerite Dixon in 1986.
The last-minute scramble was set in motion by the U.S. Supreme Court's
announcement earlier in the day that it would use a Kentucky case to
decide whether the three-drug execution cocktail used by 36 states,
including Texas, amounts to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.
Richards' attorneys pulled together a petition arguing why the court's
action warranted a delay of his execution, set for 6 p.m. that day.
Computer problems delayed printing of the materials, so the attorneys
asked the appeals court to let them file 20 minutes after the regular 5
p.m. closing time. Keller refused.
She did it without consulting Judge Cheryl Johnson, who was assigned
Richards' case and who told the Austin American-Statesman that she would
have accepted a last-minute filing, given that it was a death penalty
Keller did it without consulting Judge Paul Womack, who told the Houston
Chronicle that he stayed at the courthouse until 7 p.m. anticipating a
last-minute filing, given the Supreme Court's action and the importance of
She did it even though courts often allow after-hours petitions under
atypical circumstances. The Texas Supreme Court, which handles civil
appeals, has stayed open for urgent filings in parental notification
cases, a spokesman said.
Richard's lawyers couldn't get a stay of execution from the U.S. Supreme
Court, probably because they hadn't followed proper procedure by getting a
Court of Criminal Appeals ruling first. So he was executed -- the only
inmate whose death sentence has been carried out since the justices said
they would examine the lethal injection scheme.
4 other Texas inmates have since had their executions postponed until the
Supreme Court rules.
In the meantime, the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct will have to
decide whether there's merit to 3 formal complaints in which lawyers say
Keller undermined public confidence in the judiciary.
The court itself ought to seriously consider starting an electronic filing
system, as 300 lawyers have asked.
>From her few public comments, Keller doesn't appear to be soul-searching
about her actions. But Texans can do it for her: Courts, she should be
reminded, do justice by ruling fairly on vital issues that come to their
door -- not by pretending there's no one there.
(source: Editorial, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Central Texas Prosecutor Asks Judge To Cancel Execution
Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza has asked a state district court
judge to cancel the Jan. 24, 2008 execution of Denard Manns, 41, who was
sentenced to die for the 1996 rape, robbery and murder of a 26-year-old
female Army medic.
Garza said Wednesday he will wait for a US Supreme Court ruling in a
Kentucky case challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection before
asking a judge to set a new execution date.
Manns' name did not appear Wednesday on the list of scheduled executions
on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Web site.
Manns was sentenced to death in Marcy 2002.
Prosecutors say he entered Michelle Robson's apartment on Nov. 18, 1998,
raped her, shot her repeatedly with a .22 caliber handgun and then took
her credit cards, cash and car.
Roe Wilson, who handles death penalty appeals for the Harris County
District Attorney's Office in Houston, says she'll ask for no new
execution dates until the Supreme Court rules.
She also says she plans to ask a judge to withdraw the Feb. 26 execution
date for a man convicted of killing a woman and her 2-year-old son.
Previously, Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez said he would
seek no death sentences until the Supreme Court rules.
Instead, he says he'll seek life sentences for murder defendants.
Texas plans no more executions in 2007 after federal and state judges
stopped four death sentences from being carried out.
On Tuesday the US Supreme Court halted an execution in Mississippi less
than a hour before the inmate was scheduled to die.
The reprieve for convicted killer Earl Wesley Berry was the third granted
by the justices since they agreed late last month to decide a challenge to
Kentucky's lethal injection procedures.
Berry was convicted of kidnapping a woman in 1987 and beating her to death
before dumping her body in the woods.
Berry asked for a delay at least until the court issues its decision in
the Kentucky case.
He claims the mixture of deadly chemicals Mississippi uses would cause
unnecessary pain, constituting cruel and unusual punishment.
Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia would have allowed Berry's
execution to go forward.
The Supreme Court has allowed just one execution since agreeing to hear
the Kentucky case, which it's likely to hear before its July recess.
Texas put Michael Richard to death on Sept. 25, the same day justices said
they would hear the Kentucky case.
State and lower federal courts have halted all other scheduled executions
since then, putting the nation on a path toward the lowest annual number
of executions in a decade.
(source: KWTX News)
Testimony continues in capital murder trial
The 3rd day of testimony continued Wednesday in the capital murder trial
of Stephen Lance Heard. Heard, 41, is on trial in state district Judge
Elizabeth Berry's court, accused of intentionally shooting Fort Worth
Police Officer Henry "Hank" Nava on Nov. 29, 2005.
If Heard is convicted of capital murder, prosecutors will seek the death
penalty. Here's an overview of the case and whats happening in the trial:
Background and Timeline of events:
Nov. 27, 2005: Stephen Heard leads police on a high speed chase after a
clerk at a gas station in Sansom Park calls 911 after Heard broke the
nozzle off of a gas pump. Heard's girlfriend, Sally Renea Smith, and
Smith's niece, Betty Diane Newell, are in the pickup with Heard during the
pursuit. Heard eventually stops in a field near Cromwell Marine Creek Road
and flees on foot. Smith and Newell are arrested and police seize Heard's
pickup, which contains computers and others material used to steal peoples
Nov. 28, 2005: Fort Worth Police Officer Hank Nava goes to Sansom Park
Police Department to assist them with their investigation into Heard. Nava
is particularly interested in the case because he learns that Heard may
have been making false identities for members of the Aryan Brotherhood.
Nov. 29, 2005: Nava and fellow officers, Steve Myers and Ernest Tamayo, go
Sally Renea Smith's mobile home in far northwest Fort Worth looking for
Heard, who has a parole violation warrant. She tells them he is not there
but they can look around. Nava finds Heard in a middle bedroom and a
gunfight breaks out. Nava is shot above the left eyebrow. Heard, who was
shot in the chin, breaks out a bedroom window and flees. He runs to a home
nearby, kicks in the back door and holds a woman hostage for 3 hours
before eventually surrendering.
Dec. 1, 2005: Nava dies of his injuries at Harris Methodist Fort Worth
Hospital. He leaves behind his wife, Teresa, daughter, KayLeigh, and son,
Summary of people who have testified:
Raymond Cervantes, videographer for the Fort Worth Police Department:
Jurors watched a video Wednesday that showed the trailer where Nava lost
his life after a shoot-out with Heard. The video depicts numerous bullet
holes in the walls, ceiling and doors, as well as to the side of the
trailer. Blood was on the floor were Nava was gunned down. Glass was on
the ground outside the window where Heard escaped.
Detective Steve Myers, a member of the north criminal response team who
went in the mobile home with Nava: Myers testified that that he, Nava and
Tamayo entered the mobile home after receiving permission from Heard's
girlfriend. Seconds later, Myers said he heard gunfire. When he looked at
the other end of the trailer, Myers could tell someone in the bedroom was
firing at Nava. He said officers returned fire and Nava was fatally
wounded. Myers endured an aggressive cross-examination by defense attorney
Mark Daniel, who suggested that Myers recollection of what happened inside
that trailer will not match the physical evidence.
Jill Nesbitt, a custodian of records for the Fort Worth Police
communications: Jurors heard communications between the officers Nava,
Myers and Tamayo before they entered the mobile home. They also heard the
frantic calls for help from Tamayo and Myers after Nava was gunned down,
as well as the 911 call from a hysterical woman who watched Heard kick in
the door to her home after the shooting. That woman was the mother of the
woman who was held hostage for several hours until Heard finally
Amanda Tevevaughn, Heards parole officer: Tevevaughn told jurors that
Heard was paroled from prison for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in
May 2005 and that she inherited his case in July 2005. She said that Heard
failed to report to her on numerous occasions and failed two drug tests.
She eventually sought -- and received -- a "blue warrant" for Heards
arrest for violating his parole.
Several officers from Sansom Park and Lake Worth police departments, as
well as two Secret Service agents: These law enforcement officials
testified primarily about the high speed chase and the identity theft
materials recovered from Heard's pickup. Jurors have learned that Heard
had at least 150 names and Social Security numbers, forged checks and
altered drivers license. The jury also learned, through defense attorneys'
cross-examination, that Heard was not overly sophisticated with the
identity theft materials or computer programs and that no one had been
financially harmed by his efforts.
Prosecutors: Alan Levy, Betty Arvin and Miles Brissette maintain that
Heard intentionally killed Nava to avoid a return to prison.
Defense attorneys: Mark Daniel and Tim Moore contend that Heard did not
know Nava was an officer and that he fired recklessly in self-defense at a
stranger who was wearing street clothes.
Judge: Elizabeth Berry is judge of Criminal District Court No. 3 and has
issued a "courtroom conduct order" which prohibits cameras in the
courtroom, media interviews in the halls or people from entering or
leaving the courtroom except during breaks. Berrys courtroom is on the
seventh floor of the Criminal Justice Building, 401 West Belknap.
Heard, who has gained a considerable amount of weight since his arrest, is
seated at the defense table with his attorneys. He sometimes wears reading
glasses and appears to be paying close attention to the testimony. When
jurors were played the radio communications that occurred after Nava was
shot, which included frantic calls for help and shouts of "Officer Down!
Officer Down!" he asked a bailiff for a box of tissue.
Nava's wife, Teresa, is in the courtroom, along with numerous supporters.
She cries at times, but perhaps most noticeably on Tuesday when she heard
her husband's voice on radio traffic before he entered the mobile home. On
Wednesday, Police Chief Ralph Mendoza was in attendance, along with
several other police officers.
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
DA's office to seek life without parole for Kennedy
The state has indicated it will not seek the death penalty against a
29-year-old Palestine man accused of brutally stabbing his long-time
friend to death inside a Westwood residence in June 2006.
Jeramy Lee Kennedy, 29, of Palestine was arrested on April 3 and charged
with capital murder in connection with last years stabbing death of
27-year-old Jarod Lee Evans.
On Tuesday, a representative of the Anderson County district attorney's
office told the Herald-Press that the "State's Notice of Intent to Seek
Life without Parole" would be filed in the coming days.
Authorities have described the defendant and decedent as "long-time
friends," although also saying the pair had been involved in some type of
ongoing disagreement in the days prior to Evans' death. Evans was found
deceased at his Westwood residence on Ferguson Road during the early
afternoon hours of June 24, 2006 by a relative, authorities have said.
An autopsy performed on Evans' body at the Southwestern Institute of
Forensic Sciences in Dallas showed he sustained a total of 57 sharp force
injuries of the head, neck, upper chest, hands and left side of the chest.
"There was a large volume of blood in the dining room and kitchen area (of
the residence)," Palestine Police Det. Nick Webb told the Herald-Press
around the time of Kennedy's arrest.
One of the wounds penetrated 6 inches into the left side of Evans' chest,
perforating part of the lung and the heart, according to the autopsy
Autopsy results showed that Evans had multiple controlled substances and
other drugs in his body at the time of his death. Although no testing was
performed on Kennedy, police said other evidence supported that the
suspect also was using drugs around the time of the alleged offense.
Webb said authorities charged Kennedy with capital murder because he
allegedly stole "a small amount of money" from the victim during the
commission of the murder.
Authorities have said Kennedy has previously served time in the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice after being convicted of burglary of a
habitation in Anderson County.
In June 2005, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill into law giving juries
in the state the option of sentencing persons convicted of capital murder
to life in prison without parole.
Previously, convicted capital murderers in Texas had been sentenced to
either death by lethal injection or life in prison with the possibility of
parole after 40 years.
(source: Palestine Herald)
Prosecutors will wait for Supreme Court ruling
Noting that the U.S. Supreme Court may not rule in a key death penalty
case for months, a top Harris County prosecutor today said she will ask
that a February execution date for a man convicted of murdering an Humble
woman and her 2-year-old son be withdrawn.
Derrick Sonnier, 40, is scheduled to die Feb. 26 for the 1991 rape-murder
of Melody Flowers and the stabbing murder of her 2-year-old son, Patrick.
Sonnier attacked the pair after Flowers rejected his sexual advances,
Harris County killer Michael Richard, 48, condemned for the 1986
rape-murder of Hockley nurse, was the last person executed in the United
States. He was put to death on Sept. 25, the same day that the high court
agreed to hear a Kentucky case challenging the constitutionality of lethal
Since then, state and federal courts have delayed scheduled executions.
On Tuesday, Supreme Court justices stayed the execution of Mississippi
killer Earl Berry just minutes before he was to die.
Assistant District Attorney Roe Wilson, who handles Harris County's
capital appeals, said she will ask a judge to withdraw Sonnier's execution
date next week.
Additionally, she said, her office will wait for the Supreme Court's
decision in the Kentucky case before asking that execution dates be set
for other killers.
"At this point," she said, "we're just waiting to see what the Supreme
Court is going to do."
Roe expressed optimism that the court might rule before its term expires
Harris County leads the nation in sentencing killers to death.
Of 405 Texas executions since lethal injection was implemented in 1982,
102 of them were Harris County cases. At present, 122 Harris County
killers await execution on death row.
26 of this year's 42 U.S. executions took place in Texas.
Pair accused of covering up inmate assault
2 former state correctional officers have been indicted on charges of
assaulting a former inmate, covering up the assault and obstructing
justice, U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle announced today.
Eugene Morris, 39, of Huntsville and Tracy Jewett, 35, of Huffman were
named in a 5-count federal indictment returned Monday. Morris is accused
of kicking and injuring the inmate in November 2002 and both are charged
with making a false report with the intent of obstructing justice.
The indictment was unsealed today following their arrests by FBI agents.
The pair is scheduled to appear before a magistrate judge this afternoon.
Morris and Jewett, both former sergeants assigned to the Ferguson Unit of
the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, are charged with depriving an
inmate of his civil rights to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. The
indictment also accuses the pair of persuading other TDCJ employees to
make false statements about the circumstances surrounding Morris' alleged
use of force.
If convicted, each of the three charges - deprivation of civil rights,
making a false report and obstruction of justice - carries a sentence of
up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The case will be prosecuted by a Houston assistant U.S. attorney and a
trial attorney from the Justice Department's civil rights division.
(source Houston Chronicle)
(source for both above: Houston Chronicle)
Protestors call for Texas judge to resign
Protestors visited the Austin home of Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
presiding judge Sharon Keller Tuesday night, as a decision she made in
late September continues to draw a flurry of judicial complaints.
On September 25, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider the
constitutionality of lethal injection. As the issue is pending, every
scheduled execution nationwide has been put on hold.
Except for one.
Convicted killer Michael Richard was set to die the same day the high
court set its docket. His attorneys filed an appeal to Keller's court, but
didn't get the filings in until 5:20pm. Keller refused to keep the court
open, saying "we close at 5."
"A man was executed that shouldn't have been executed that night," said
Scott Cobb, who led the Tuesday protest. "He certainly was guilty, from
everything we know about this case. But even the guilty are protected
under the United States constitution."
Other judges who were working late Sept. 25 said they would have reviewed
the post-deadline appeal.
"It's stunning that it happened in the first place, it's amazing that it
happened without the consultation of other judges," said Steve Hall, whose
organization Stand Down Texas works for death penalty reform.
The protest is accompanied by an additional judicial complaint, signed now
by more than 1,200 Texans. Lawmakers, lawyers and advocacy groups have
filed separate judicial complaints against Keller. It's up to the State
Commission on Judicial Conduct to decide whether Keller is reprimanded.
"She has violated the public trust that the people of Texas put into her
when we elected her and she's also damaged the integrity of the entire
Texas judicial system," Cobb said.
Keller, who was first elected in 1994 as a tough-on-crime Republican, did
not comment for this story. Questions were directed to Judge Tom Price,
whose office didn't return KVUE's calls as of Tuesday evening.
(source: KVUE News)
Protesters picket outside judge's home
A protest to announce a judicial complaint against Sharon Keller,
presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, was done on the
sidewalk outside her Northwest Austin home.
7 people gathered outside the judge's home after business hours on Tuesday
hoping to get her attention by saying "administering justice is not a 9-5
Keller is under fire for not accepting a stay of execution request on
Sept. 25, minutes after the court closed for the day at 5 p.m.
Convicted killer Michael Richard was executed several hours later.
Since then, 20 lawyers have filed complaints against Keller and the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals. The Texas Moratorium Network started an online
"So far, more than 1,200 people or around 1,200 people have signed on.
These are ordinary people from all walks of life across Texas who are
outraged about what happened on Sept. 25," Scott Cobb of the Texas
Moratorium Network said.
The group plans to file the petition with the state commission on judicial
conduct next Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Death penalty panel
Also Tuesday, a U.S. Attorney and death penalty advocate debate at the LBJ
Library on the University of Texas campus.
U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton and Dave Atwood of the Texas Coalition to
Abolish the Death Penalty have both seen executions carried out firsthand.
Local author and producer Bill Crawford - who published a book on Texas'
execution system - moderated the discussion.
The audience asked questions about issues ranging from errors in
convictions to alleged racism in deciding who gets put to death.
Sutton and Atwood also responded to questions about alternatives.
"Until we get off saying the death penalty is the answer to the problem
and start working on prevention, Texas is not going progress as a state,"
"The best way to change a law is to enforce it. If the people are
uncomfortable, this is what the people send. This is what the Legislature
has voted on time and time again," Sutton said.
(source: News 8 Austin)
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