[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----CALIF., FLA., ALA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Sep 30 17:41:30 CDT 2007
Defending yourself in court has perks
Battling for their lives, criminal defendants in Tulare County again and
again fire their lawyers and demand their right to represent themselves.
Again and again, they lose.
In the most recent example, Vons shootout defendant Jose D. Hernandez,
charged with murder, managed to avoid the death penalty and was sentenced
to life in prison instead.
But 4 others who have represented themselves here in high-profile cases
since 2002 wound up on death row.
Interviews with prosecutors, defense lawyers and even one defendant who
represented himself say that occasionally a defendant will disagree so
strongly with his lawyer's strategy or believe so strongly in his own
ability to present his own case that he will decide to go "in pro per."
That's shorthand for "in propria persona" - "for one's self" - the legal
term referring to putting on your own defense without a lawyer.
But David Alavezos, a deputy district attorney for Tulare County, said
that based on his 15 years as a prosecutor, he suspects a lot of
defendants who represent themselves aren't doing it because they think it
gives them a better chance to win their cases. He cites as examples those
who start to represent themselves, then change their minds just before
Other lawyers, for both prosecution and defense, agree.
They say the reasons are more likely to be the jail privileges other
inmates with lawyers can't get, as well as trying to draw out their
But why drag out a case for months or years?
Alavezos, who prosecuted Hernandez, said he believes many defendants want
to avoid punishment, much like a 5-year-old hoping to put off being
punished by a parent as long as possible.
While he wouldn't talk about Hernandez's case specifically, Alavezos said
he's seen or heard of defendants dragging out cases an extra 1 to 3 years
by defending themselves for a time and then asking for attorneys.
"In some cases, I think defendants think they're winning as long as they
aren't convicted," Alavezos said.
Then there are jailhouse privileges.
Inmates awaiting trial can get time alone to research their cases and
don't have their case-related phone calls recorded or their mail read.
"In my experience in prosecuting gang cases, gang members are known to use
this as a tactic to manipulate the system," said Ed Gil, a former Tulare
County prosecutor who is now a prosecutor in Madera County.
Having access to protected phone calls and correspondence has allowed some
defendants to conduct their gang business from behind bars, he said. "They
can subpoena another gang member to their trial for the purpose of doing
Gil prosecuted Todd Givens and his wife during their much-publicized 2005
double murder trial.
Todd Givens, a member of the Nazi Lowrider prison gang, represented
himself in the trial.
"I think that he actually did a very good job of addressing legal issues,"
But, he added, there was an investigation into suspicions that Givens used
his in pro per privileges to conduct gang business and possibly even to
arrange a murder attempt on his former attorney, Charles Rothbaum, who
withdrew from the case after temporarily losing his license to practice
Rothbaum survived being stabbed in a Visalia motel room in June 2003, and
police said three men arrested for the attack were part of a "skinhead
Gil said investigators never obtained proof that Givens was involved in
the attack or that he used his in pro per privileges for purposes not
related to preparing his defense in court.
Attorney Wes Hamilton, a former Tulare County public defender, represented
Timothy Young for a time after he and his brother, Donald, were arrested
for the 1995 killings of 5 people at Tulare's Pato's Place bar.
Hamilton said he doesn't believe he was fired over the conflicts Timothy
Young cited to the judge in the case, but rather a desire by his client to
get the same jail privileges as his brother, who already was defending
"I could tell from our conversations he was a little impressed with the
privileges," Hamilton said. "[Donald] got all day in the library, he had
access to a phone, he had access to a private investigator and a
"It made for a better life while he was in [jail]."
Tulare County Sheriff's Capt. David Williams said in pro per inmates can
get time out of their confinement areas to do legal research online, but
they are restricted to using a Web site the county subscribes to, and they
can't access other Web sites.
Harder to control are abuses of their phone privileges, Williams said.
Inmates representing themselves can call investigators and paralegals
assigned to their cases - as well as lawyers assigned to advise them - and
jail officials are prohibited from listening in on or recording the calls,
So if the inmates are calling people for reasons not related to their
cases, "There's absolutely nothing you can do to stop them, since we can't
listen to privileged conversations."
On the other hand, if improper calls are discovered through separate
investigations or if the people being called tell authorities, Williams
said the court could revoke the calling privileges.
More common in Tulare County?
Before he left the Tulare County Public Defender's Office last year to
practice law in Mendocino County, attorney Barry Lee Robinson - 1 of 2
lawyers fired by Hernandez -said he was seeing a rise in the number of
people here wanting to defend themselves.
"The amazing thing in Tulare County is it seems to be of epidemic status,
at least when I was there," he said. "And it seems to be with people
charged with serious crimes."
But Alavezos likened the changes in the number of people wanting to defend
themselves to a fad. "Somebody says it's a good idea, and everybody wants
to do it," he said.
"A lot of that is through the jailhouse lawyers, who are stupid," Hamilton
Those are inmates who have learned some aspects of the law and give other
inmates legal advice.
"That blows up on them a lot of times because if they were smart, they
probably wouldn't be in jail," Hamilton said.
Stephen Girardot, a Visalia defense attorney and former Tulare County
prosecutor, said that as far as he's concerned, defending yourself in
court is about the worst mistake you can make.
"They don't know the rules. They just get by on sheer emotion," he said.
"Someone has to know what they are doing."
Despite this, Alavezos said, defendants do have an right to defend
themselves in court.
He said 14 years ago, before he came to Tulare County, he prosecuted a
driving-under-the-influence case in which the defendant asked on the day
of the trial to represent himself, and the judge refused.
That refusal resulted in a successful appeal of the conviction and a
second trial, though the 2nd time around the defendant opted not to defend
himself and was represented by a lawyer - the same one who represented him
in the 1st trial.
While some may think a defendant working without a lawyer gives the
prosecution an advantage, Alavezos said that may not be true.
For one thing, it can draw out the case for months or years as the
defendant needs time to review evidence and prepare a defense, he said.
And things can get drawn out even more if defendants change their minds
and ask for lawyers, who also would need time to get up to speed.
Then there is the possibility that a nonlawyer going up against a trained
lawyer could win that person points with the jury or cause an appellate
court to more acutely scrutinize the prosecution's actions on appeal,
"It's human nature to look out for somebody who doesn't know what he's
doing," he said.
"You sometimes hear about a guy getting an acquittal," Hamilton said, "but
it's usually not a great case to begin with."
One defendant tells why he represented himself
Jose D. Hernandez said he didn't see himself as having a choice.
He either could defend himself in his capital murder trial last month or
let a court-appointed lawyer put forward a defense of him that he didn't
agree with and didn't have much input in planning.
Hernandez, 25, chose to defend himself, a decision that seemed all the
more remarkable - or foolhardy -considering he had dropped out of high
school at the age of 14, earned his diploma in a Nebraska juvenile hall
and never attended college.
Then there was the fact that this nonlawyer wasn't just defending his
freedom, but also his life, as a guilty verdict would make him eligible
for the death penalty.
Hernandez was charged with the May 2002 killing committed by his
half-brother, Carlos R. Landois, 24, during a shootout with police in
front of the Vons grocery store in Visalia.
Landois was killed, but Hernandez was charged with the killing of a
bystander by a stray bullet and the attempted murder of a Visalia police
officer, though he never fired a shot.
Hernandez had fled the scene before the shooting, but because he was an
accomplice to the robbery that led to the shooting, he was, the law said,
equally responsible for what happened afterward.
Some may call Hernandez's decision to defend himself in trial a bad one.
After all, he lost his trial and was convicted of murder, attempted murder
and other criminal counts.
On the other hand, he convinced the jury to forgo the death penalty and
instead sentence him to life in prison.
"I was successful. I did a good job," Hernandez said in a telephone
interview from jail a few days prior to his sentencing on Wednesday.
Twice since 2003, Hernandez fired his lawyers, representing himself for
about 5 months the 1st time before asking for another lawyer. Then, in
July of this year, Tulare County Superior Court Judge Darryl Ferguson
again granted Hernandez's request to represent himself just weeks before
Hernandez, despite his claims of holes in the prosecution's case and
unfairly being charged with his half-brother's crimes, said he expected to
be found guilty and didn't believe a lawyer could have done a better job.
Part of the reason, he said, was that he didn't believe his lawyers were
interested in putting on a rigorous defense. One, he said, "was going to
put up a defense other than what I had wanted as a proper defense, so I
couldn't be part of my own defense.
"My constitutional rights were violated. I felt deprived. I had nowhere
else to go."
So, Hernandez said, he decided to represent himself, studying the law in
jail to so he could put on a "proper defense."
Barry Lee Robinson, a former public defender for Tulare County who was the
1st lawyer Hernandez fired, said attorney-client privilege prevented him
from responding to Hernandez's claims about his lawyers.
He did say that he did a good job representing Hernandez.
"I managed to get one of the murder charges dismissed," he said.
That was the charge for the death of his brother by a Visalia police
officer during the shootout.
As for Hernandez's job representing himself in trial, Robinson said, "From
what I read in the paper, he did a decent job."
"Not too many people are capable of doing it," Hernandez said. "It took
every ounce of my faith and my confidence in myself to do what I did. I
wasn't scared, but I was a little nervous."
As for why other people choose to defend themselves in court, Hernandez
said a lot of inmates he has spoken to have lawyers who are indifferent to
their cases or are unwilling to put much effort into them.
"I think their caseloads have a lot to do with it, or their personal
opinions of people charged with the crimes. It's bias or prejudice," he
But some have said Hernandez's decision to represent himself had nothing
to do with how he was being defended prior to his trial.
During Wednesday's sentencing hearing, Ferguson said he believed Hernandez
fired his lawyers as a delaying tactic that helped drag out the case that
lasted more than 5 years.
Donaldson's sister, Amy Schaap of Tulare, said she believes Hernandez
represented himself to improve his chances of appeal.
"That man has nothing to live for except that - the appellate court," she
Despite Hernandez's claims of putting on a good defense for himself, on
Wednesday he asked Ferguson to set aside his conviction, in part because
of a claim of incompetent counsel.
Ferguson denied the motion, noting that Hernandez had argued that he was
prepared to go to trial on his own.
"The defendant elected to run his own case against the advice of this
court," Ferguson said.
He added that even if Hernandez had a lawyer, the outcome likely would
have been the same.
Still, when asked about the old adage about a person defending himself
having a fool for a client, Hernandez said, "In this case, I wasn't a
fool. I was out [to] defend my life, and I did. I beat it."
(source for both: Visalia Times-Delta)
A painful argument
In one sense, it is good that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide
whether the method of lethal injection used in most states, including
Florida, is constitutional. In another sense, it just bumps an insane
question up to another level.
The specific case the court will consider is out of Kentucky. But, as in
so many other bizarre areas, Florida has been at the forefront of the "Is
it painful?" argument. Last year, technicians trying to execute Angel Diaz
incorrectly placed the needles and it took him 34 minutes to die.
Then-Gov. Bush halted executions while the state tried to determine
whether lethal injection was painful and revised some of its obviously
inadequate procedures. Satisfied, Gov. Crist lifted the ban in August.
This month, a Marion County judge denying an appeal from another prisoner
ruled that "inmate Diaz died within a reasonably short time after
chemicals were injected in a manner that the court finds was painless and
No matter what "the court finds," the only witnesses who could testify
conclusively whether the 3-drug cocktail used in executions is painful are
Lots of people, of course, don't care whether the method of execution is
painful - a human failing that is precisely why the ban on cruelty is in
The Supreme Court can't hear from those dead witnesses any more than lower
court judges can. But at least the examination is likely to be as thorough
Florida and other states using lethal injection obviously should halt
executions until the Supreme Court rules. A stay most immediately would
affect Mark Dean Schwab, a pedophile and child murderer scheduled to die
Even those convinced that Schwab should die should be worried by the
number of inmates freed from death row because of court mistakes. Don't
look for a way to kill Schwab and others "humanely." Look for a guarantee
that the system won't kill an innocent person. Perhaps the right
"cocktail" can be found. The guarantee can't.
(source: Editorial, Palm Beach Post)
Man faces charges in sex assaults on boy, girl
A 28-year-old Spring Hill man arrested Friday faces the death penalty if
convicted of charges of sexual battery on an 8-year-old boy, according to
an arrest report.
Hernando deputies arrested Michael Lawrence Frank after a relative of the
boy came forward to report the sexual abuse. The relative discovered the
boy performing a sexual act on Frank in a bedroom, according to the
report. Frank is also charged with sexually molesting an 8-year-old girl
in a bathroom, reports say.
Hernando deputies would not reveal the relationships of those involved,
other than to say they were known to each other. Frank's listed address is
5200 Quintiles St. in Spring Hill, but authorities said the alleged crimes
did not take place at his home. According to the reports, he is
The sexual abuse occurred between Jan. 1, 2003, and Jan. 27, 2003. It is
unclear why the relative has only now come forward.
Arrest records show Frank initially denied the allegations when
interviewed by deputies but later admitted to the charges. Frank is being
held at the Hernando County jail in lieu of bond.
Under state law, prosecutors can pursue capital punishment for a sexual
battery involving penetration when it is committed on a child under the
age of 12.
(source: St. Petersburg Times)
Triple murderer gets life
Convicted capital murderer Ricky Wayne Goodwin, 45, was formally sentenced
to life in prison without the possibility of parole Friday afternoon by
Talladega County Circuit Judge Julian King.
Goodwin's IQ is less than 70, which makes him ineligible for the death
penalty under a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Goodwin shot his stepfather, Carl Frisbie, 73; brother Jerry Goodwin, 43;
and mother Melba Frisbie, 71, to death in their home on Stemley Bridge
Road in Talladega County in April 2002. Defense attorneys Jon Adams and
Mark Nelson never disputed Goodwin's having pulled the trigger, but argued
instead that he was suffering from a severe mental illness and was not
legally responsible for his actions.
The conviction will be automatically appealed. Adams indicated in court
Friday that he objected to the testimony from a psychologist who disputed
the defendant's claims that he was mentally ill at the time, and indicated
this argument would be the basis for the upcoming appeal.
Adams added that his client "wanted to apologize to his family. He has
written letters to them saying that he does regret his actions, and he has
asked for their forgiveness. He also understands that they may never be
able to forgive him."
Dennis Goodwin, the defendant's brother who acted as family spokesman
during the trial and at sentencing, falls into the latter category.
"I know everybody was doing what the law says they have to do," Dennis
Goodwin said after the defendant had been led out of the courtroom. "But
they don't know him the way we know him. He's not crazy, he's just looking
for an easy way out. I'd give anything if I could have the three of them
back, and we lost our baby sister in May, so she never got to see this
end. I know he was talking about forgiveness up there, but I can't forgive
him. That's in God's hands now."
Talladega County District Attorney Steve Giddens said it was in many ways
a sad day for the family.
"They're all still asking themselves why," he said. "I don't know if it
makes it any easier when it's a stranger, but when your own brother kills
your mother, your step-father and your brother ... that 'why' just can't
be answered. I'm glad it's over, and I'm glad he's been sentenced.
"You know, the day-to-day job of representing victims is difficult, and
every case is different. But it's especially difficult in this case,
because you've got a family who can't figure out why their loved ones have
According to the evidence presented at trial, Ricky Goodwin had a serious
drug habit and was not averse to stealing his mother's pain medication
when he could. Carl Frisbie had gone so far as to put a lock on his
bedroom door to keep his stepson out of his mother's medication.
At some point prior to the killings, Goodwin took a shotgun and four
shells from his mother's room and a .22 revolver from his stepfather's
room. According to a taped statement given shortly after his arrest,
Goodwin shot Carl Frisbie with the shotgun, then shot Jerry Goodwin with
the shotgun and the revolver, and lastly killed Melba Frisbie, who was
confined to a hospital bed in the living room while recovering from foot
The medical evidence showed that Carl Frisbie did die from a single
shotgun blast to his jaw.
Jerry Goodwin was shot in the back with the shotgun, and could would have
bled to death without immediate medical treatment. Goodwin then fired 2
shots from the .22 into Jerry's forehead, but the 1st bullet lodged in the
barrel, and the 2nd did not penetrate far enough into his brain to be
fatal. The defendant then fired a 3rd shot from the .22 into his brother's
temple, and the bullet again appears to have gotten stuck in the barrel.
The 4th shot, which shared an entry wound with the 3rd, was fatal.
His brother was begging for his life the entire time, according to the
He then shot his mother with the .22 once in the chest, but the wound was
only superficial. He then shot her in the gut with the shotgun at close
range, then shot her once in the head with the .22. Either injury would
have been fatal.
He later disposed of the weapons at Logan Martin Dam, bought crack cocaine
and watched television. He had taken Carl's car to visit a friend when
Curtis Goodwin, another brother, discovered the bodies and called the
The defendant returned, still wearing some of the bloody clothes he had on
during the killings, while police were securing the crime scene and
(source: Daily Home)
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