[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----MD., GA., CALIF., NEV., US MIL., N.C.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Dec 5 17:12:46 CST 2008
Guest column: Death penalty will always put innocent lives at risk
In recommending an end to the state's death penalty, the Maryland
Commission on Capital Punishment overwhelmingly supported a critical
finding: Maryland's death penalty system carries a real risk of executing
an innocent person.
At the risk of being called a carpetbagger, I want to address this issue
from Texas, the execution capital of the free world, and echo the
commission's findings that the risk is real - even in Maryland.
I am no wild-eyed, pointy-headed liberal from some out of the way
backwash. I am the former elected district attorney in San Antonio, Texas,
the 7th-largest city in America, and was, until a few years ago, a strong
supporter of the death penalty.
As Bexar County district attorney, I was responsible for the prosecution
of several capital murder cases, each of which resulted in the conviction
and execution of the defendant. In 2005, the Houston Chronicle, in a
remarkable piece of investigative journalism that has complicated my life
immeasurably, argued persuasively that one of my prosecutions - the Ruben
Cantu case - may have resulted in the execution of an innocent man.
I fervently hope that there are only a few current and former prosecutors
in America today who find themselves, as I do, in the position of having
to admit an error in judgment that may have led to the execution of an
Maryland and Texas are very different places when it comes to the
imposition of the death penalty. We have executed more people since
January than Maryland has in the last 40 years.
But Texas and Maryland are identical in those aspects that matter most.
The people and courts of Maryland - like those in Texas - are not
infallible. The fundamental court system is the same in both states, as it
is in every state in the country. Maryland juries determine guilt or
innocence based on testimony from fact and expert witnesses who may or may
not be telling the truth and who, even when they tell the truth as they
know it, are sometimes simply wrong.
As is the case in Texas, the criminal justice system in Maryland, on its
best day, is driven by decisions that are made by imperfect human beings.
Try as we do to always get it right, we sometimes get it wrong.
The Cantu case offers haunting lessons and could happen anywhere - even in
Maryland. Cantu had a fine defense lawyer, a fair judge, and a jury that
returned the only possible verdict, based on the evidence presented. The
trial prosecutor I assigned to the case was one of the most honorable and
ethical prosecutors I have ever known. He investigated the case carefully
and was confident when he stood before the jury that Cantu had committed
Since that time, the key witness has recanted and the alleged accomplice
has said Cantu was not involved. Whether Cantu is actually innocent or
not, it is clear that, 15 years after his execution by lethal injection,
there are serious doubts in the case. The bottom line is that we will
likely never know for sure - and doesn't an irreversible act like taking a
life demand that we know for sure?
Decisions by prosecutors drive the criminal justice system. The best
prosecutors, acting entirely in good faith, make all sorts of judgments in
capital murder cases and, because we are human, we make mistakes. Added to
that undeniable fact is the reality that judges, jurors, defense attorneys
and witnesses also make mistakes despite their best intentions.
What you end up with is a system that, by definition, can never know for
sure - and therefore cannot be relied on to protect the innocent in
capital murder cases.
Some suggest that it's good enough if we get it right most of the time -
that good intentions, strong procedural safeguards, and a fair trial
provide sufficient protection. If you believe that we must always get it
right in capital murder cases, that the system must guarantee the
protection of the innocent, accepting a system that tries hard and gets it
right most of the time is simply not good enough when the sanction is so
(source: Opinion; Sam Millsap----The writer is the former district
attorney for Bexar County, Texas; Hometown Annapolis)
Defense rests without Brian Nichols' testimony -- Jury to hear final
arguments in penalty phase Monday
Brian Nichols called his last witness Thursday in an effort to get a jury
to spare his life.
It wasn't Nichols himself. The 36-year-old defendant never took the
witness stand to explain why jurors should let him live rather than send
him to Georgias Death Row for murdering 4 people on March 11, 2005.
After the defense and prosecution rested, Superior Court Judge James
Bodiford told jurors that they would return Monday for closing arguments.
The judge said he will decide next week if the jurors who convicted
Nichols on Nov. 7 will be sequestered overnight in a hotel when they
begin deliberating whether to sentence Nichols to death by lethal
injection or life in prison.
Next week will be the 12th week of the trial, 45 months after Nichols
killed the judge presiding over his rape trail, Rowland Barnes, and court
reporter Julie Ann Brandau. He also shot and killed Fulton County sheriffs
deputy Hoyt Teasley and, later that night in Buckhead, U.S. Customs agent
Lead defense lawyer Henderson Hill rested his case after calling the 144th
witness, Alton Brooks Pollard, dean of the divinity school at Howard
Pollard, a friend of Hills from their days at Harvard University,
testified that he befriended Nichols in visits to the Fulton County jail
at Hills request. He described Nichols as a spiritual and intelligent man
for whom he developed respect despite the crimes.
"There is no such thing as a human being who is beyond the pale of
redemption, of salvation, of life," Pollard said.
"We were always talking about his faith, and mine. He was wrestling with
the implications of his own life who he was and who he represented and
how he mattered."
On questioning by lead prosecutor Kellie Hill (no relation to the defense
attorney), Pollard said he didn't know that while Nichols was talking to
him, he was also plotting escapes and was willing to kill other people, if
Earlier, Nichols' former pastor testified that Nichols drank a six-pack of
beer a day, smoked pot and spent thousands of dollars for sex with Asian
prostitutes at Atlanta massage parlors.
Donnie Moore, pastor of the Word of God Christian Center in Gwinnett
County, said that allowed demons of Nichols spirit to push him into the
rages that caused the rape of Nichols' former girlfriend as well as the
But Nichols life is still worth saving, said Moore, comparing Nichols to
the Apostle Paul, who became a changed man and devoted his life to Christ
after years of persecuting Christians.
The pastor said that he talked to Nichols on Wednesday about restoring his
Moore said that Nichols once was a faithful member of his church. But the
pastor had no idea that, during that same period, Nichols was leading a
double life of beer, drugs and hookers.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Clint Rucker challenged Moore's belief in
Nichols. Why was Moore so fearful of Nichols that he agreed to go into
protective custody while Nichols was still at large after the shootings?
"I could have stayed home," he said, "but I thought that protective
measures should be taken when a person is enraged."
Rucker pushed on Moore in a futile effort to knock him off his position
that Nichols should be spared.
"The concept of just pure evil exists in the world, doesnt it?" asked
Yes, Moore agreed.
"Even in the context of your religious belief there are some people who
just cant be saved?"asked Rucker.
"I don't agree with that," said Moore, explaining that Christ believed
that all people can be saved even Nichols.
(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Get breaking news and daily headlines.----Man Faces Death Penalty In
A security guard accused of gunning down his pregnant ex-girlfriend after
showing up at her Mission Valley workplace with a bouquet of roses will
face the death penalty if convicted, a prosecutor said Friday.
Roger Jerone McDowell, 35, is charged with two counts of murder -- of
Dawnna Denize Wright and her unborn fetus -- and special circumstance
allegations of multiple murders and lying in wait.
Trial is currently set for April 15, but that date is expected to be
changed at a Dec. 19 status conference before Judge John Einhorn.
According to evidence presented at a preliminary hearing in April,
McDowell drove to a doctor's office where the 31-year-old Wright worked as
an office manager on June 12, 2007, and shot the victim in the head and
San Diego police Detective Maria Rivera testified that another employee
told her that he was in a room with Wright when he heard someone enter the
The employee, Manuel Duarte, saw a man with a bouquet or flowers, then
returned to his desk, Rivera testified.
Duarte next heard Wright say, "I'm not going to accept those flowers,"
followed by loud popping noises, which he thought were balloons, Rivers
Detective Brett Burkett testified that McDowell called 911 after the
gunfire and said he had just shot his ex-girlfriend.
A search of the defendant's Mid-City home turned up a handgun and a book
with notes about an April 21, 2007, text message from Wright about being
pregnant, Burkett testified.
There were also notes about plans to kill members of Wright's family and
how, with McDowell's training in security, he could "use the element of
surprise to catch them at a gathering," the detective said.
In a television interview after his arrest, McDowell admitted killing
Wright, with whom he also had an 8-year-old daughter, Burkett testified.
McDowell and Wright -- who also had 2 other children -- had what friends
called an "on-again, off-again" relationship, police said.
Wright suffered seven gunshot wounds, including the shot to the head that
destroyed her spinal cord, said Dr. Christina Stanley.
Stanley said the victim's female fetus was about 12 weeks old.
(source: KGTV News)
Court overturns death penalty
Death row inmate Ricky David Sechrest, turned down 10 times in his appeals
over the years, finally won in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which
ordered a new penalty hearing.
Sechrest, now 47 and in prison in Ely, was convicted in 1983 of the
kidnapping and murder of Maggie Weaver, 10 and Carly Villa, 9, whose
bodies were found in a remote area east of Reno.
He was sentenced to death. But the appeals court, which had denied a
previous appeal of Sechrest, ruled Friday that the prosecution had
committed an error during the penalty phase by continually saying the
killer needs to be put to death or he will eventually be released to harm
The court also ruled the defense attorney was deficient by permitting his
defense psychiatrist Dr. Lynn Gerow to testify for the prosecution at the
penalty hearing. It said the testimony of Gerow was "some of the most
damaging" in swaying the jury to return the death penalty.
The court said there should be a new penalty hearing for Sechrest, who was
22 at the time of the slaying.
(source: Las Vegas Sun)
Death sentence overturned
Condemned inmate Ricky Sechrest's death sentence for the 1983 beating
deaths of 2 Reno girls was overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of
The San Francisco-based appeals court said Sechrest's death sentence
couldn't stand because his rights were violated by "false, inflammatory
statements" and "gross misconduct" by a prosecutor during his trial.
The prosecutor "misled the jurors to believe that if they did not impose
the death penalty, Sechrest could be released on parole and would kill
again," the court said, adding that the trial judge "did nothing to stop
the prosecutor from making these erroneous assertions."
The court also said Sechrest had inadequate legal counsel, noting that
some of the most damaging testimony during the penalty phase of his trial
was elicited by his own lawyerfrom a witness the attorney had originally
selected and could have prevented from testifying.
The case was remanded to lower courts in Reno, where the federal court
said lawyers for Sechrest could try to have his murder convictions
If the convictions stand, the appeals court said a lesser sentence could
be imposed or another penalty phase proceeding would be needed. In the
meantime, the court said Sechrest must be removed from death row at Ely
Sechrest got the death sentence after confessing to killing Maggie
Schindler, 10, and Carly Villa, 9, after taking the girls from an
ice-skating arena. The girls' bludgeoned bodies were found in a shallow
grave by a hunter in hills east of Reno.
Sechrest, the grandson of the woman who babysat one of the girls, admitted
he tricked the girls into his car and drove them to the isolated area but
said he didn't intend to kill them.
He claimed one of the girls panicked and he hit her with a shovel.
Thinking she was dead, he then murdered the other girl. When he discovered
the first girl was still alive, he beat her again with the shovel until
she was dead.
US soldier acquitted of murder in officers' deaths
A soldier was acquitted of murder Thursday in the 2005 bombing deaths of 2
superiors in Iraq, triggering loud outbursts and gasps from the slain
A military jury found National Guard Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez not
guilty of 2 counts of premeditated murder in the deaths of Capt. Phillip
Esposito and 1st Lt. Louis Allen. Both officers were killed when an
anti-personnel mine detonated in a window of their room at a U.S. military
base in Iraq in June 2005.
"He slaughtered our husbands and that's it?" yelled Allen's widow, Barbara
Allen, moments after the verdict was read. Someone else shouted out that
Martinez was a "murdering son of a bitch" before the judge quickly ordered
the courtroom cleared.
The 14-member jury spent two days deliberating following a six-week trial
at Fort Bragg, during which Martinez chose not to testify. The New York
National Guard soldier could have faced the death penalty if he had been
"We are pleased that the military justice system worked," the Martinez
family said in a written statement released afterward by defense
attorneys. "Our sympathies go out to the families of the victims."
Martinez, 41, was the 1st soldier from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to
have been accused of killing a direct superior, a crime known as
"fragging" during the Vietnam war. All three men were members of the 42nd
Esposito, 30, worked as an information technology manager in Manhattan and
was Martinez's company commander. Allen, 34, was a high school science
teacher and the company operations officer. The Espositos had a young
daughter, and the Allens had four young sons.
Witnesses had testified that Esposito and Martinez were at odds and
clashed regularly because the officer thought Martinez was lax in his
operation of the unit's supply room.
Lt. Col. Kerry Erisman, the chief prosecutor at Fort Bragg, refused to say
when Martinez would be released, citing security concerns. Martinez was
escorted out of the courtroom soon after the verdict and wasn't available
When asked what the acquittal said about their prosecution, Erisman
responded: "We wouldn't have brought charges if we weren't convinced that
Staff Sgt. Martinez was guilty."
Before the trial began, Martinez was discharged from the National Guard
and assigned to Fort Bragg for the purposes of the court-martial. He is
allowed to leave the military because he has completed his term of
Several other charges were dropped earlier this year, including counts of
illegal possession of a firearm, alcohol and explosives. Martinez also had
been accused of illegally giving government printers and copiers to an
Iraqi, a charge also dropped.
Before reaching a verdict, military jurors spent several hours Thursday
reviewing the recorded testimony of trial witnesses, including a sergeant
who said she had delivered explosives to the supply room Martinez oversaw
shortly before the bombing.
Prosecution witness Staff Sgt. Amy Harlan said she delivered ammunition
and Claymore mines the type of explosive that killed the officers to
Martinez's supply room about a month before the fatal bombing. Harlan said
she neither received nor requested a receipt documenting who took the
equipment, a usual military practice.
Sgt. 1st Class Ashvin Thimmaiah's testimony also was reviewed. He said
Esposito asked him for a list of "potential candidates to take over the
supply room" the day before he was killed.
Staff Sgt. David Wentzel, in testimony recorded in October, said Martinez
"seemed unconcerned" moments after the fatal blast.
Wentzel said he assumed Martinez was shell-shocked because he didn't
respond when he yelled for Martinez to take cover. Wentzel said he jumped
up and pulled Martinez to the shelter of a building.
"I was expecting there was more to come," Wentzel testified. "He was
standing in the middle of the road not trying to seek cover or anything.
It was almost like he knew it was over."
(source: Associated Press)
Cooper won't face death penalty
Brad Cooper learned Friday that he won't face the death penalty if he is
convicted of killing his wife, Nancy Cooper.
The 35-year-old was charged with first-degree murder more than four months
after his wifes body was found in an undeveloped subdivision less than
three miles from the couples home in the Lochmere subdivision in Cary.
First-degree murder is punishable by either the death penalty or life in
prison without parole. Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens ruled the case
doesn't qualify for capital punishment after prosecutors said in a Friday
morning hearing that there were no aggravating factors in the case, such
as the commission of another crime that led to Nancy Cooper's death.
"Based on the investigation our office is aware of working with the Cary
Police Department, we don't believe at this time there are any aggravating
factors to proceed capitally," Assistant Wake County District Attorney
Howard Cummings said.
Brad Cooper told police he last saw his wife on the morning of July 12
before she went running. A friend reported her missing after she failed to
show up for a scheduled meeting.
A man walking his dog on July 14 found Nancy Cooper's body lying on the
bank of a storm water pond. The 34-year-old mother of two was likely
strangled, according to a medical examiner's report.
Through his attorneys, Brad Cooper has denied being involved with her
slaying but has admitted to police that he and his wife were having
Cooper has been held without bond in the Wake County Jail since his
arrest, and defense attorney Howard Kurtz asked Stephens to set a bond
Friday morning, saying Cooper's job at Cisco Systems Inc. depended on him
getting out of jail.
Stephens was a bit put off by the request, noting notice is usually
required for a bond hearing.
"Mr. Cooper's employment may be important to him, but frankly sir, it is
of little consequence in the scheme of things in light of the charges he
is facing," Stephens said.
Kurtz said Cooper has no criminal history and continued to live and work
in Cary after his wife's death, even though he knew the police
investigation centered on him. He said Cooper's mother would stay with
Stephens set a $2 million bond and said he would revisit the matter in
February if Cooper were still in jail at that time.
Claiming Brad Cooper was emotionally abusive to his wife in the months
prior to her death, Nancy Cooper's family was granted temporary custody of
the couple's 2 young daughters.
Under a judges order, Cooper is limited to 2 15-minute phone calls with
the girls each week as long as he is in jail. He may correspond with them
through the mail .
Also, as part of the temporary arrangement, neither he nor Nancy Cooper's
family are allowed to discuss with the children the circumstances of their
mothers death or the charges against him.
(source: WRAL News)
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