[Deathpenalty] death penalty news------TEXAS, FLA., TENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Sep 24 23:14:14 CDT 2007
Tuesday's execution recalls years of legal battles
Aug. 18, 1986: Broke into Hockley home of 53-year-old Marguerite Dixon,
raped and shot her, then stole 2 television sets and a van.
Aug. 20, 1986 : Arrested in case.
1992: Conviction was reversed for an error made in the jury instructions.
1995: Convicted again with arguments concerning his limited intellect
failing to convince a jury that his life should be spared.
2002: U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of the mentally retarded
December 2006 : Hearing determined that Richard did not meet the state's
criteria for retardation.
Tuesday: Scheduled for execution.
Back in the bad old days of the 1980s, when the Texas prison system was
bursting at the seams, a small-time crook named Michael Wayne Richard
caught a break.
Sentenced to a five-year prison term for auto theft, he was released after
serving less than 18 months, the second time in a decade he had his
sentence cut well short because of crowding.
His parole did not seem like much of a risk at the time. Richard, whose
name is pronounced in the French style because of Louisiana roots, was a
nonviolent offender. He was a burglar and a thief, occupations, he said,
learned through family training.
2 months after getting out, however, Richard made a huge jump in class, in
so doing, pointing out the danger of assuming that nonviolent criminals
stay that way.
On Aug. 18, 1986, he broke into the Hockley home of 53-year-old Marguerite
Dixon, raped and shot her, then stole two television sets and a van parked
in the driveway. He was arrested 2 days later and eventually convicted of
capital murder and sentenced to die.
After most of two decades, one retrial and a lengthy bout of appeals,
Richard, 48, finally faces execution in Huntsville on Tuesday evening.
It is little consolation to Dixon's family that crimes like his helped
spur public outrage over mandatory releases, which, along with federal
court intervention, led to the construction of more Texas prisons.
"This was a guy who wanted to not work, to rob and steal, do drugs and
live an irresponsible life," said Steve Dixon, the victim's son. "He
didn't have to kill her. There were numerous other things he could have
done other than kill her."
Dixon is the only family member who will witness the execution, though his
aunt, Mary E. Chance, wishes she could.
"I'm 79 years old, and I have prayed every day that I would live long
enough to see that man die," said Chance, Marguerite's sister. "I wonder
if he ever thought how many lives he ruined."
Dixon, a registered nurse, was the mother of 7 children. She often worked
at night, which is why she was at home when Richard broke in.
Though Richard gave police a confession during interrogation, he now
denies having killed her, saying a detective tricked him into signing a
document he could not read.
"I was a thief I ain't gonna lie to you because that's what I was taught
by my father," Richard said in an interview last week. "But I've been
trying to tell everybody I didn't break in that house or kill that woman."
The prosecutor in his first trial, Lee Coffee, scoffed at Richard's
"There never was an issue of identity or culpability, never a question of
innocence," said Coffee, who is now a judge in Memphis, Tenn. "He never
said he didn't do it. There was more than enough evidence. It was just a
brutal, nasty killing."
Despite that, Coffee offered Richard a life sentence at the request of
Dixon's family. Richard said he accepted and Coffee reneged. Coffee said
it was always on the table.
"He just flat-out refused the plea," Coffee said. "I told him point blank
you have an indefensible case. We offered him life because the family did
not want to go through the trial. He said he wasn't pleading to anything.
He said the death penalty is the last, ultimate high."
Richard's appeals have centered on the issue of his intelligence. His
attorneys in his first trial argued that his low IQ, measured in the low
to mid-60s, made him incapable of understanding the Miranda warnings given
to him by police.
Richard's conviction was reversed in 1992 for an error made in the jury
instructions. He was convicted again 3 years later, with the arguments
concerning his limited intellect failing to convince a jury that his life
should be spared.
When the U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of the mentally retarded
in 2002, Richard's chances of a permanent reprieve improved, especially
after a psychologist for the state, George Denkowski, reviewed tests
performed on him and declared him to be retarded.
That led to a hearing last December in which Harris County prosecutor Lynn
Hardaway submitted additional information to Denkowski, who then changed
his opinion and said Richard did not meet the state's criteria for
"We gave him a great deal of records regarding Mr. Richard," Hardaway
said. "A woman testified in his retrial about being a pen pal with him. We
had photographs of his cell showing books. There was evidence of chess
playing. He had had a typewriter at one time. He had stamps and writing
paper. There never was any indication from early years that he had been
diagnosed as retarded."
She said the low IQ test by itself was not conclusive of retardation.
"A lot of these guys have a low IQ, and that is partly the result of a
poor education," Hardaway said. "They can have ADHD. They are not good
students, and consequently they are not going to do well on IQ tests."
Richard said he had others write the letters for him and he just copied
them. As for the books and stamps, they were items he traded with other
inmates for favors, he said.
"The psychiatrist (sic) man changed all those numbers and he never came
back and talked to me," Richard said. "There's a lot of things I can't do,
but if I sit and watch you I can learn to do a little."
After a weeklong hearing, State District Judge Mary Bacon ruled that
Richard was not retarded. Les Ribnik, Richard's attorney at the hearing,
said the DA's office pressured Denkowski into changing his opinion.
"We had (psychologist) Jerome Brown testify, and he said you can't
re-score the test results without going back to the subject and asking the
questions again," Ribnik said. "If you have been around the high
functioning retarded, they are good at covering up. Richard is a talker
he is very verbose. That's how he gets by."
Bacon's ruling was a relief to some of Marguerite Dixon's children, but
not all. Celeste Dixon, 43, said that she has changed her views on the
death penalty over the years.
"After it happened, I spent a lot of time really angry," she said.
"Finally, I reached a point where I realized that if I let it go, my life
would be a lot better. I was actively wishing for another person to die,
and I don't like that feeling. I think that people who grab onto execution
as a way of dealing with their grief get stuck in their anger."
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Death penalty jury selection continues
Jury selection in the death penalty trial of a convicted murderer James
Darrell Lewis enters its 6th day today.
Prosecutors said Lewis, 37, confessed to the April 19,1999, beating death
of Donald Kirby, a homeless man whose body was discovered in a ditch
alongside railroad tracks in Rockledge.
According to police, Lewis currently serving 2 back-to-back life
sentences for another 1999 slaying fatally struck a sleeping Kirby
several times in the head with a solid metal pipe, fracturing his skull.
Lewis took money from Kirbys wallet and dumped the body.
He pleaded guilty in February 2006 to 1st-degree murder and robbery with a
deadly weapon in connection with the slaying.
A 12-member jury panel will decide whether to recommend a death sentence
for Lewis. Jury selection began last Monday.
Circuit Judge Lisa Davidson will preside over the trial.
(source: Florida Today)
State Asks Harbison Execution Be Delayed
The state is asking that the execution of a Chattanooga man be put off
after a federal judge ruled last Wednesday that the state of Tennessee
cannot use the present method of lethal injection to execute Edward Jerome
Harbison had been scheduled to die on Wednesday by lethal injection for
the 1983 murder of Mrs. Frank Russell.
The Tennessee Supreme Court must act on the request by Attorney General
Robert Cooper for the delay.
Judge Aleta A. Trauger said lethal injection as Tennessee administers it
is "cruel and unusual punishment."
But she said the death sentence against Harbison remained in effect unless
the state chose to cancel it.
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