[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, OHIO, UTAH, GA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Sep 22 22:22:57 CDT 2007
Inmate's legacy rests on single hair strand----Single hair is key to
lawsuit that may decide if an innocent man was executed
A single strand of hair found on the counter of a rural East Texas liquor
store lies at the center of a legal dispute in which death penalty
opponents hope to prove that career criminal Claude Jones may have been
put to death for a crime he did not commit.
Jones, 60, was executed Dec. 7, 2000, for the November 1989 robbery-murder
of Point Blank liquor store owner Allen Hilzendager. Jones consistently
maintained his innocence in the Hilzendager case.
Key to Jones' conviction, the only physical evidence from the crime scene,
was a 1-inch fragment of hair that was linked to him through microscopic
examination. On the eve of Jones' execution, then-Gov. George Bush denied
a request for a stay so that the hair could undergo DNA testing. Bush
earlier had endorsed such testing in life-or-death cases.
Since Jones' 1989 trial, the incriminating hair has been locked away and
until recently largely forgotten in the San Jacinto County district
clerk's office in Coldspring, about 65 miles north of Houston.
Now, a group of anti-death penalty activists, including The Texas
Observer, a liberal Austin-based magazine, and New York-based Innocence
Project, has filed suit in state district court seeking release of the
hair for mitochondrial DNA testing.
Even though 18 years have elapsed since Jones' conviction, plaintiffs in
the case say testing of the hair remains vital in determining how well
Texas, which has killed more than 400 murderers since executions resumed
in 1982, handles the deadliest of its judicial functions.
Jones was the 239th Texas killer executed since 1982 and the only one from
San Jacinto County.
"It's pretty clear that DNA testing can either show that he was guilty ...
or that he was convicted based on legally insufficient evidence," said
Barry Scheck, Innocence Project co-director. "There must be a way that the
public, the Legislature and the courts, in post-execution situations, can
determine whether the system succeeded or failed."
San Jacinto County prosecutors relied on the hair the only physical
evidence presented at trial to corroborate testimony from Timothy Jordan,
an accomplice who identified Jones as the triggerman.
A Texas Department of Public Safety chemist testified that the hair
microscopically matched one taken from Jones but didn't match samples from
other people who had been in the store.
Jordan, whose .357-caliber revolver was used in the crime, was sentenced
to prison for aggravated perjury after telling differing stories to grand
jurors and trial jurors. He later swore in an affidavit that his trial
testimony, in which he said Jones admitted shooting Hilzendager, had been
A 2nd accomplice, Kerry Dixon, driver of the getaway truck, is serving a
life sentence for the killing.
In December 2000, a day before Jones' execution, his attorney appealed to
Bush for a 30-day reprieve so that DNA testing could be conducted on the
hair. He thought he would receive a sympathetic hearing.
6 months earlier, Bush had stayed the execution of Ricky McGinn, so that
DNA testing could be performed on evidence in his rape/murder case. Bush
publicly went on record saying he favored DNA testing when it possibly
could establish guilt or innocence in capital cases.
But attorney William Knull III of Houston charged in his petition seeking
the hair's release that Bush was never told a stay was being sought in
Jones' execution so that DNA tests could be conducted on the hair.
A confidential memorandum from assistant general counsel Claudia Nadig to
Bush on the matter never mentioned DNA testing. Nadig recommended the stay
But her one-time supervisor, former general counsel Margaret Wilson, said
the DNA testing could have come up in a conversation Nadig would have had
with the governor.
Nadig, now a federal government lawyer in Washington, D.C., could not be
reached for comment.
Not the only evidence?
San Jacinto County District Attorney Bill Burnett, who is named as a
defendant in the current lawsuit, said death penalty activists do not have
legal ground to gain access to the hair. And, citing testimony from
witnesses who had seen a man closely resembling Jones enter the store with
Hilzendager minutes before the shooting, he challenged assertions that the
hair was the only evidence supporting Jordan's testimony.
Other testimony, he said, identified a truck seen at the store at the time
of the robbery as belonging to Dixon.
Furthermore, Burnett, who assisted in Jones' prosecution, said he doubted
that the hair, which lacks a root, could successfully be tested using DNA
Mark Stolorow, executive director of Princeton, N.J.-based Orchid
Cellmark, the high-tech firm that retested samples from almost 400 cases
initially scrutinized by Houston's discredited police crime lab, said even
a rootless hair can offer information through mitochondrial DNA testing.
"DNA testing is not a panacea. It cannot answer all possible questions,"
he said. "But if a hair can be tested, it will add more information than
you have today."
DNA for testing can be extracted from a hair strand in more than half the
cases, he said, adding that the age of the hair does not affect its
viability for testing.
Mitochondrial testing tracking DNA inherited from the subject's mother
can eliminate a relationship between two strands of hair with 100 percent
certainty, he said.
In the plaintiffs' petition, Knull alleges that investigators found a
court order to destroy physical evidence from Jones' trial filed in the
San Jacinto clerk's office. Knull has obtained a temporary restraining
order to protect the hair, but Burnett said that neither he nor District
Clerk Rebecca Capers ever have seen a directive to destroy the evidence.
Knull conceded in an interview that the order may not have been signed. A
hearing on the issue has been set for Oct. 3 in Coldspring.
Jones, a Houston native who had spent most of his life in Texas, Kansas,
Arkansas and Missouri prisons, shot Hilzendager 3 times at close range
during the robbery and gained only $900 for his trouble. Beneath the
counter, undetected by Jones, lay a bag containing $6,000.
Several days after the liquor store robbery, Jones robbed an area bank of
$14,000. His videotaped image in that crime led to his connection in the
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Ruling on murder suspect's competency postponed
A ruling as to whether Abigail Louann Whytus is competent to stand trial
on a charge of capital murder has been postponed.
A hearing regarding a psychological evaluation performed on Whytus which
had been scheduled in the 196th District Court Friday morning was reset
for next Wednesday.
Whytus has been charged and is awaiting a Dec. 3 trial involving the
February 2004 death of her daughter, 2-month-old Marisol Marrisa Perez.
She has pleaded not guilty and remains in custody in the Hunt County Jail.
Earlier this month, Judge Joe Leonard ordered Whytus to undergo an
evaluation at the Lakes Regional Mental Health Mental Retardation Center,
"to determine whether or not she is in need of further testing and/or
treatment with regard to her mental or psychological needs."
The test was ordered to be completed by Sept. 14.
Whytus, 31, has been diagnosed as mentally retarded and will not face the
death penalty, should she be convicted of capital murder. Instead, she
would face an automatic life prison sentence.
Autopsy reports indicated Perez died as the result of a homicide, and the
indictment against Whytus accuses the defendant of, "causing blunt force
injuries to the head and/or squeeze compression injuries to the head,"
which resulted in Perez' death.
(source: Greenville Herald-Banner)
Stevens Indicted On Murder Charge
Catherine Alana Stevens has been indicted on a capital murder charge for
allegedly strangling her 2-year-old son to death July 8.
The child's father, Mickey Stevens, reportedly slept in an adjoining room
during the attack at the family's home, at 2513 Memory Lane.
When the father awoke and went to look for his wife, he found Mrs.
Stevens, 38, standing over the child, who was on the floor. The man took
his son, who was not breathing, to the couch and called 911, an affidavit
Mrs. Stevens' indictment alleges she strangled, smothered or suffocated
her son, William, by "blocking his airways" with carpeting, a blanket, her
hands or with an unknown object.
A Smith County grand jury in 241st District Judge Jack Skeen Jr.'s court
issued the indictment Sept. 13.
The true bill was released Friday after Skeen set her bonds at $1 million.
She remains in the Smith County Jail.
If convicted of the charge, Mrs. Stevens faces life in prison without
parole or death by lethal injection.
On Friday, Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham said he had not
decided whether he would seek the death penalty in the case.
Police have said Mrs. Stevens, who has a history of mental illness,
confessed to strangling the toddler and they believe she did it with her
Tyler defense attorney Brett Harrison was appointed to represent Mrs.
During a court hearing on July 9, Harrison told 7th District Judge Kerry
Russell that Mrs. Stevens' mental competency to stand trial "might be an
Harrison told the judge he advised his client not to speak to anyone,
including law enforcement investigators, or anyone in the jail or from the
district attorney's office.
Mrs. Stevens' husband has also been indicted for an alleged scuffle with
Bingham and his investigators.
He has been charged with assault on a peace officer, a felony, as well as
2 misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and criminal trespass.
Stevens went into Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham's office
June 23 and asked Bingham about retrieving his computer that had been
seized as possible evidence in his wife's capital murder case, a probable
cause affidavit states.
After Bingham informed Stevens the computer could not yet be returned,
Stevens began making threatening gestures, using profanity and calling
He was asked to leave and, as an investigator escorted him toward the
door, Stevens allegedly struck the investigator with his elbow as he was
turning to go back into Bingham's office. Two investigators restrained
Stevens, put him in handcuffs and took him to jail, according to the
Stevens has been released from jail on $185,000 in bonds and awaits trial
on the charges.
(source: Tyler Morning Telegraph)
Former death row prisoner expresses relief
A Scot who has spent more than 20 years on death row in America has spoken
of his relief after he was finally moved to a lower security prison.
Kenny Richey from Edinburgh faces a retrial after his death sentence was
quashed earlier this year.
He said it felt "great" to feel the wind in his hair for the 1st time in
Richey added: "It's the first time I've had fresh air in a long time.
"Its the first time I've felt wind blowing through my hair in 21 years."
He was transferred from Ohio`s death row to another jail in the county
where he was convicted more than 20 years ago.
Richey was convicted of starting an apartment fire in 1986 that killed a
2-year-old girl in Columbus Grove in north-west Ohio.
He was sentenced to execution, but a federal appeals court threw out his
conviction and death sentence last month.
(source: ITV News)
Seeks info on brother's death ---- Utah lawyer may interview bomb
A judge has given permission for a Utah attorney to conduct taped
depositions of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols and a
death-row inmate in a lawsuit that claims the attorney's brother was
murdered in a federal prison.
Attorney Jesse Trentadue says the two prisoners have valuable information
on his brother's death in 1995 and the FBI's alleged withholding of many
of the relevant documents requested in his Freedom of Information Act
(FOIA) suit. He believes federal authorities mistook Kenneth Trentadue for
a bombing conspirator and that guards strangled him with a set of plastic
handcuffs in an interrogation that got out of hand.
Kenneth Trentadue, who had served time for bank robbery, was arrested near
San Diego in June 1995, two months after the bombing. He later was sent to
a federal prison in Oklahoma City for an alleged parole violation.
Guards found Trentadue's blood-soaked body in his cell on Aug. 21, 1995,
hanging from a noose made of torn bedsheets.
Prison officials say the 44-year-old inmate committed suicide and have
adamantly denied any wrongdoing in his death.
However, the inmate's family insists Trentadue was mistaken for John Doe
No. 2, a suspect sought in connection with the bombing who turned out to
be bank robber Richard Lee Guthrie.
In February, Trentadue requested an order allowing the depositions from
Nichols and David Paul Hammer, who now is on death row at the federal
penitentiary at Terre Haute, Ind.
Lawyers for the FBI objected, saying the agency has made appropriate
searches for documents requested by Trentadue and that judges in FOIA
cases lack the authority to order depositions.
In an order issued Thursday allowing the depositions, U.S. District Judge
Dale Kimball in Salt Lake City said information from the two inmates might
help Trentadue better identify the existence of other records pertaining
to his FOIA request.
"While the FBI's failure to discover documents is not necessarily an
indication of bad faith, it is puzzling that so many [court's emphasis]
documents could be referenced but not produced," Kimball wrote.
The judge notes that he is not compelling the two prisoners to cooperate,
only allowing Trentadue to take videotaped testimony if they agree.
Kimball said the federal institutions housing Nichols and Hammer - who
supplied Trentadue with affidavits to include with his request - must
cooperate in arranging these sessions.
Nichols said in his affidavit that a high-ranking FBI official
"apparently" was directing Timothy McVeigh in a plot to blow up government
Both Nichols and Hammer - who says he had lengthy conversations with
McVeigh during the 11 months the 2 were housed on the same tier at the
Terre Haute facility - say McVeigh claimed to be an undercover operative
for the military.
The FBI has denied participating in the bombing or having any advance
warning of it. Nichols is serving a life sentence at the U.S. Penitentiary
Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo., for his part in the
attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which took 168 lives.
McVeigh, who carried out the bombing, was executed in 2001. Hammer was
sentenced to death for the 1996 slaying of a fellow inmate at the U.S.
Penitentiary in Allenwood, Pa.
Guthrie was eventually captured and struck a plea deal in 1996 on bank
robbery charges. A few months later, he was found hanged in his cell in
Kentucky in what was ruled a suicide.
(source: Salt Lake Tribune)
10 reasons to impose the death penalty
State law specifies 10 aggravating factors that allow a prosecutor to seek
the death penalty:
The killer has a previous conviction for murder, rape, armed robbery or
kidnapping with bodily injury.
The murder involved rape, armed robbery, kidnapping with bodily injury,
aggravated battery, burglary, first-degree arson or a second murder.
The killer knowingly risked the lives of more than one person in a public
The motive was to receive money or something of monetary value.
The killer murdered a judge or prosecutor.
The killer ordered someone else to commit murder, or murdered someone at
the direction of another person.
The murder was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible, or inhuman in that
it involved torture, depravity or aggravated battery.
The killer murdered a peace officer, corrections employee or firefighter
while on duty.
The killer was in police custody or imprisoned, or had escaped from
The murder was committed to avoid arrest or imprisonment.
Same crime, different outcome
The U.S. Supreme Court has set a high standard for execution: No death
sentence should be out of line with punishment for similar crimes. Georgia
has struggled to meet that bar. Here's how the death penalty was applied
between 1995 and 2004 for five types of killings.
ARMED ROBBERY (BUSINESS)
FROM 1995-2004: DEATH SENTENCES: 8 | LIFE SENTENCES: 168
Warren King and his cousin forced a clerk to hand over the keys to a
convenience store after she closed up. An alarm went off and King shot the
clerk, who knew him, in the parking lot. His co-defendant said King, 18,
exclaimed, "I hope I killed the bitch." A jury gave him death.
Vincent Carero shot and killed the owner of Shady's Food Store, allowing a
co-defendant to grab the day's receipts. A day earlier, Carero, 19, and an
accomplice had robbed an elderly couple who ran a nearby laundromat.
Carero confessed. Prosecutors did not seek death.
MURDERS FOR HIRE*
FROM 1995-2004: DEATH SENTENCES: 3 | LIFE SENTENCES: 60
Kelly Brookshire Gissendaner talked her lover into killing her husband for
the insurance money. Gregory Bruce Owen led Gissendaner's husband into a
wooded area, beat him with a nightstick and stabbed him. Owen took the
man's watch and wedding ring to make it look like a robbery. Owen
testified against Gissendaner in exchange for a life sentence with the
possibility of parole. A jury sentenced her to death
Edgar Lynn Pike told his daughter's boyfriend that he could move into the
family's home if he killed Pike's wife. Pike said he expected to receive
insurance money. After Pike provided a knife, gloves and a ride to his
wife's parked van, Ashanti Priester stabbed her repeatedly as she begged
for her life. Pike and Priester both pleaded guilty in exchange for life
with the possibility of parole. Prosecutors did not seek the death
FROM 1995-2004: DEATH SENTENCES: 13 | LIFE SENTENCES: 223
Kenneth Earl Fults went on a burglary spree, looking for guns. He planned
to kill his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend, but broke into a neighbor's
home instead. The woman there begged for her life and offered him the
rings off her fingers. He taped her eyes shut, covered her head with a
pillow and shot her 5 times in the head. Fults pleaded guilty and was
sentenced to death.
Calvin Dwight Teasley broke into an 82-year-old woman's home, sexually
assaulted her and strangled her before fleeing with her car and VCR.
Teasley, who admitted his involvement, had fatally stabbed a woman weeks
earlier. Teasley pleaded guilty in exchange for life without parole.
FROM 1995-2004: DEATH SENTENCES: 10 | LIFE SENTENCES: 53
Timothy Woodrow Pruitt's ex-wife kicked him out of her trailer one night
after he had been drinking. He broke into the trailer next door, raped and
sodomized a 10-year-old girl, then stabbed her and cut her throat, nearly
severing her head. DNA and blood evidence linked Pruitt to the murder. A
jury gave him death.
Cody Lee Humphrey tried to rape an 11-year-old neighbor. He hit her in the
head with an iron and cut her throat, leaving her body with 42 stab
wounds. Her 5-year-old sister identified Humphrey, who told a cellmate
what he had done. 3 women testified he had molested or assaulted them as
children. Prosecutors did not seek death.
FROM 1995-2004: DEATH SENTENCES: 17 | LIFE SENTENCES: 155
Scotty Garnell Morrow's girlfriend dumped him because of his abusive
behavior. When she wouldn't take him back, he beat her, then shot and
killed her in front of her 5-year-old son. He also shot 2 of her friends,
killing 1. A jury gave Morrow death.
Deunte Parks broke into his ex-girlfriend's home after she ended their
abusive relationship. He fatally shot her and her aunt and wounded 2 of
her friends. Authorities believed Parks may have shot his ex-girlfriend in
the back as she was shielding their 3-year-old daughter. Prosecutors did
not seek death.
* Murders for hire includes killings committed at someone's direction but
not for money.
(Note: Some crimes appear in more than one category)
(source for both: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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