[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS, US MILITARY, USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Sep 15 12:49:00 CDT 2007
Postponement Motion Denied For Cowart Trial
A state district judge denied a defense attorney's motion Friday to
postpone the upcoming capital murder trial of James William Cowart Jr.,
who faces execution for killing his mother.
During a pre-trial hearing in 241st District Judge Jack Skeen Jr.'s court,
defense attorney Clifton Roberson said he would not be prepared to proceed
with jury selection, which is set to begin Oct 25. He listed other trials
and court cases he has had to work on since he was appointed to be
Cowart's lead attorney June 18, as well the lack of time he has had to
review the 8,000 documents in evidence of the capital murder case.
"There is no way I can effectively represent my client" Roberson said, due
to his workload as a contract defense attorney in Skeen's court and the
brief time since his appointment to the capital murder case.
Defense attorney Tonda Curry was appointed to represent Cowart, but after
prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty against Cowart,
Roberson was appointed first chair in his defense.
Skeen said he had already pushed the murder case back from Oct. 4 until
Oct. 25 for jury selection. Evidence in the trial is scheduled to begin
The judge also told Roberson that he has accommodated him with his other
cases to allow him time to prepare for Cowart's defense.
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham said if the case was delayed,
it would have to be pushed back considerably because he was also preparing
for another capital murder case, in which the state is seeking the death
penalty, and is set for February.
Skeen said Roberson still had more than a month to prepare for jury
selection and had the help of Ms. Curry, who was not present at the
pre-trial hearing on Friday.
The judge denied Roberson's motion to delay the trial but, he said, he
would consider other motions closer to the time of trial.
At times the hearing became heated between Skeen and Roberson, with the
defense attorney yelling when the judge was trying to talk and Skeen
threatening him with contempt of court.
Roberson said repeatedly that he would announce that he was not ready at
the time of trial.
Cowart, 45, is accused of beating his mother, Martha Miller, to death Feb.
The 64-year-old woman was bludgeoned to death with an ash tray and bar
stool before Cowart allegedly stole up to $1,500 from her. Ms. Miller was
the manager of the Airways Motel, 12851 Texas Highway 64 West and
authorities believe Cowart robbed the motel's cash, which the victim kept
in a safe in her room. A relative found her dead on the living room floor.
Deputies found clothing on the roadway that relatives said Cowart had been
wearing the day of the murder. Relatives also reported that the victim
kept a cash box containing three days of proceeds from the hotel, which
averaged $400 and $500 per day, an affidavit stated.
When Cowart was located at the Relax Inn, 1812 E. Gentry Parkway, the
suspect held a knife and was wearing blue jeans with blood on them. When
Cowart checked into the motel, blood stains were left on the registration
card he filled out, according to the affidavit. On the bed inside the
motel room, deputies found a "large sum" of cash.
(source: Tyler Morning Telegraph)
Inmate shocks Texas prison system
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans, is one of the
more conservative federal panels in the nation. So when it hears the case
of a prison inmate who claims his constitutional protection against cruel
and unusual punishment was violated by the state of Texas - and when that
inmate has no lawyer - you can usually bet safely on the state to win.
But in the case of Dale Payne, 50, paroled 6 months ago after serving 16
years for aggravated armed robbery, you'd be wrong. And the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice ought to settle this case with its former
inmate before any trial is necessary.
To be sure, the 5th Circuit did not rule last week that Payne had proved
his charge that a Texas prison guard, Jimmy Parnell, had tormented and
shocked him with a cattle prod and threatened him with a knife for no
disciplinary reason at all. And it upheld the dismissal of his case
against other prison officials.
But a three-judge panel of the 5th - Circuit Judges Carolyn Dineen King of
Houston, Emilio Garza of San Antonio and Fortunato Benavides of Austin -
did agree that Payne had a case worthy of being heard by a jury, and the
panel overturned the lower court ruling that had dismissed his case on
As described by the 5th Circuit, in October 2002, Payne had just opened
the hood of a truck and was looking inside - as he was supposed to be
doing for his prison job at the Estelle Unit at Huntsville - when Parnell
came up from behind and pressed his cattle prod against Payne's back.
Payne hollered, jumped and then fled to a bathroom, pursued by Parnell,
who tried to shock him again.
Payne filed a complaint, and the prison system's Office of Inspector
General investigated. When the prison guard was first questioned, he "lied
about the incident by denying that it had ever occurred," the court said.
After further investigation, the court noted, "Parnell admitted that
Payne's allegations concerning the cattle prod were true." Parnell then
claimed he had just been joking around, and he was suspended for 2 days
without pay and placed on probation for 90 days.
Still, when Payne - acting as his own lawyer, with no professional help -
sued the state, the prison system resisted. And U.S. District Judge Keith
Ellison of Houston ruled for the state, accepting the guard's horseplay
But the 5th Circuit said Payne was right, that based "on this record, a
rational jury could determine that in shocking Payne, Parnell acted
maliciously and sadistically to cause harm."
Payne, who is black and now working in a carpet cleaning business in
Dallas, said he sued "for me and everybody else who is being beaten and
tortured and called racist names." Too many prison guards, he said, still
have "a good ol' boy plantation mentality."
A spokeswoman for the prison system said it does not tolerate racism or
brutality by guards. The prison guard, though, still works for the people
of Texas. In fact, he's been promoted to sergeant.
The state shouldn't waste taxpayer money defending this case but settle -
and make sure that guards don't confuse using cattle prods with horseplay.
(source: Editorial, Austin American-Statesman)
Cruel and unusual?
Steven Kenneth Staley There's no denying that the 1989 slaying of
restaurant manager Robert Read by a pair of scofflaws fleeing a botched
robbery was unnecessary and heartless.
That doesn't diminish the state's responsibility to make sure it is acting
humanely in carrying out the punishment for one of those killers, Steven
Asked to weigh disturbingly conflicting interests in Staley's case, the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals essentially punted on Sept. 12. The judges
decided only that they didn't have jurisdiction to rule on whether a trial
judge's order violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual
State District Judge Wayne Salvant in Fort Worth had ordered the state to
forcibly give Staley anti-psychotic drugs if he wouldn't take them
voluntarily. Staley, who has been diagnosed with severe paranoid
schizophrenia, says he believes the drugs poison him and won't take them.
But state officials want him medicated so he'll be competent enough to be
executed. A Tarrant County jury voted in 1991 that he should get the death
penalty for shooting Read after trying to rob a Steak & Ale in west Fort
Worth. 2 accomplices received long prison sentences.
In a brief opinion, the Court of Criminal Appeals addressed only whether
procedural law permits an appeal of Salvant's order.
But this case isn't about proper procedure. It's about fundamental
concepts about justice and what the Constitution allows. Staley was lucid
when he committed the crime, but his mental health has deteriorated so
much that he can be made competent only temporarily and by artificial
What, then, can and should the state do?
The U.S. Supreme Court has read the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and
unusual punishment to bar states from executing mentally ill inmates who
don't understand the reasons they are receiving the death penalty. In
another context, though, the court has said that prisons can force
medication on inmates who are dangerous to themselves or others.
Salvant concluded that treating Staley, whose symptoms are alleviated by
psychotropic drugs, would be in his best medical interests. But Staley's
lawyers argue that forcing him to take drugs with serious side effects is
not only cruel but violates his privacy. And the state has a basic motive
beyond Staley's health: his death.
The justice system depends on jury verdicts being carried out unless they
are unfair, unjustified or somehow tainted. But even death sentences have
been commuted when circumstances warrant it. In this case, it apparently
will be up to a federal court to decide what the Constitution demands.
Staley deserves punishment for a brutal crime. But if the state must
forcibly drug him to achieve that, then Texans must ask themselves whether
another indecent act is being committed and whether the real aims of
justice are being served.
(source: Editorial, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Why so few convictions in our military courts?
American soldiers and Marines in Iraq are convicted of the homicides of
noncombatants but sentenced to no confinement; no officer is held
accountable for abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. These are just 2 disturbing
military legal headlines.
Why are court-martial convictions seemingly hard to come by? The homicides
of 24 Haditha civilians, including women and children, for example,
resulted in court-martial charges against 8 Marines, including 4 officers.
Almost 2 years later, however, charges have been dropped against - so far
- 2 of the 4 alleged shooters and 1 of the 4 officers.
Is the military justice system broken? Has the Uniform Code of Military
Justice, the military's criminal code, failed? Does the United States pay
lip service to the law of war while disregarding it in fact?
First, remember that war crime charges involve very few of the many
thousands of heroic U.S. war fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also
that being charged does not necessarily mean one is guilty. The Uniform
Code of Military Justice has proved itself in peace and combat, including
in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, undeniably, there are problems in
prosecuting war crimes.
Although the code works well, the law of war - the part of international
law that regulates armed hostilities - does not. The wonder is that it
works at all. Some war crimes go unreported. That was particularly true in
the early stages of the Iraq conflict. After the Abu Ghraib scandal,
greater attention is given to enforcing the law of war, which partly
explains the greater number of media accounts of criminality. Our military
is not riddled with criminals. Rather, commanders are paying closer
attention to possible war crimes and, as required by military law, they
are investigating and reporting them.
In Haditha, after an improvised explosive device killed a popular Marine,
24 Iraqi noncombatants were killed. The Marine battalion commander denied
the possibility of his men's criminality and failed to make sufficient
inquiry into their actions, multiple investigations allege. Time magazine
backed this up, and Marine headquarters cast a wide net in charging those
possibly involved, including senior officers who may have investigated
The division commander, a 2-star general, has been punished
administratively. But multiple-murder cases present difficult problems for
prosecutors, be they civilian or military. At Camp Pendleton, Calif.,
Haditha prosecutors were hard-pressed; every judge advocate available was
brought into service for the defense or prosecution for the preliminary
hearings. Marine lawyers were brought in from across the country.
Mistakes were made. Why so many grants of immunity in the case, and did
they let culpable participants walk? Why so many dropped charges? Should
the process be allowed to work through to verdict? The actual Haditha
trials, not yet commenced, may prove to be models of trial practice.
Another case that didn't go as well as it should have was the one
concerning the Army's abuses at Abu Ghraib. Senior officers were punished
administratively rather than court-martialed. When an officer, Army Lt.
Col. Steven Jordan, was finally tried, he was acquitted of criminal
responsibility for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. But regardless of his
guilt or innocence, his prosecution was inexperienced and poorly done.
This case illustrates another problem hindering military justice in all
armed service branches. Inexperienced judge advocates, lacking the
courtroom time to develop trial skills, are faced with complex cases and
are opposed by civilian defense lawyers who know all the courtroom
gambits. Military lawyers, often graduates of the best law schools, handle
too few contested cases to learn the tricks of the trade.
Finally, juries - civilian or military - are unpredictable in their
findings of guilt or innocence and in sentencing.
Military juries, usually combat veterans, sometimes seem inclined to
demand absolute proof rather than the legally required proof beyond a
reasonable doubt; their sentences sometimes are not commensurate with the
crimes. No judge advocate, experienced or novice, can anticipate or cure
that. Acquittals and dropped charges are part of every legal system.
After a shaky start in Iraq, military justice is working. 3 soldiers
involved in the rape-murder-burning of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl were
court-martialed and sentenced to 90, 100 and 110 years confinement.
Problems remain, but find a system without problems. Over time, our
military's courtroom record is good.
(source: Houston Chronicle - Gary Solis, a retired Marine Corps judge
advocate, teaches the law of war at West Point and at Georgetown
University Law Center.)
Time To Bring Back Hangings
I just was reading an article about a 6-year-old girl in Texas that was
found by her mother in the garage. The little girl was hanged and sexually
assaulted. Who in the world would commit such a crime against a little
I am sick of waking up to the news that some woman or little kid is
missing and then the body found a few days later. We are a nation of
civilized people. When the "freak" is arrested, he/she is tried in a
civilized court and set to a civilized prison.
I saw in the paper the other day that Iran hanged some "bad guys" in
public. I would bet they didn't sit on death row for years. Maybe the old
courthouse should be used for such a thing. Of course the ACLU would stand
up for the idiot and that wouldn't happen.
This little girl suffered. I'm not even sure that would be the word to
describe what she went through. I am sick of this.
(source: Letter to the Editor, The Chattanoogan)
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