[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----N.Y., VA., OHIO, N.H., OKLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Feb 6 10:49:16 CST 2008
NEW YORK----federal death penalty
Death penalty trial set to open in Brooklyn
The last time Edith Cortes spoke with her brother Edward, she said, she
gave him a fresh dish of chicken, rice and beans to take to his new
girlfriend. The date was Feb. 19, 1992.
About 15 minutes after Edward Cortes left his Sunset Park, Brooklyn,
apartment, his sister heard what sounded like gunfire. Then she heard the
"'Your brother! Your brother!'" a girlfriend yelled to her, Cortes
Cortes remembers running into the street and finding her mortally wounded
brother lying on the sidewalk a few blocks away at 41st Street and Eighth
Avenue. He died later of his wounds.
Today in federal court in Brooklyn, a jury will begin hearing the
racketeering-murder case of the man suspected of orchestrating Edward
Cortes' murder. The defendant, Gilberto Caraballo, faces the federal death
penalty if found guilty of the murder-for-hire slayings of either Cortes
or Jose Fernandez, both of whom were reputed drug dealers, officials said.
According to federal prosecutors, Caraballo, a former health club owner in
Sunset Park, ran a cocaine distribution ring based in that neighborhood
from 1989 to 2001. According to testimony from drug dealer Martin Aguilar
in an earlier trial, Fernandez was murdered because Caraballo was having
an affair with his wife and wanted the victim out of the picture.
Fernandez's remains were found in a drainage ditch in Green-Wood Cemetery,
where Aguilar, who is appealing his conviction and life sentence, had once
Cortes was apparently a rival of Caraballo in the drug business when he
died, federal court records indicate.
Caraballo's is the 2nd death penalty trial this year in Brooklyn federal
court. On Monday a jury convicted Folk Nation gang member James McTier of
racketeering and murder, and next week will start considering whether to
give him capital punishment or life in prison without parole.
Caraballo's lawyer, David Stern of Manhattan, declined to comment on the
case. Edith Cortes said her brother, who she said died at the age of 27,
wasn't an angel.
"We knew exactly what he was up to," she said in a telephone interview
Cortes, 38, said her mother wouldn't allow her son to bring any drugs into
the house and tried to deter him. But it took an earlier shooting incident
in 1990, in which he was wounded, to get Edward Cortes thinking that he
had to change his lifestyle and repair a fractured marriage, said his
"He wanted to become a paralegal and go back with his wife. He was going
to change his life and - boom - this happens," said Cortes. "He wanted to
stop [drug dealing] for himself and he wanted to stop for his daughter,"
who is now 21.
Senate Votes to Eliminate 'Triggerman' Rule
The Virginia Senate voted 24 to 14 yesterday to eliminate the "triggerman"
rule, which says that only a person who pulls the trigger in a capital
murder case is eligible for the death penalty.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), would
allow the death penalty to apply to accomplices. A similar bill was passed
last year by the Senate and House of Delegates, but it was vetoed by Gov.
Timothy M. Kaine (D), who has indicated that he would do so again. Kaine
opposes capital punishment on moral grounds but enforces the death penalty
in capital cases.
The bill grew out of the 2002 Washington area sniper case, in which 2 men
fatally shot 10 people. Because it was initially unclear who pulled the
trigger, prosecutors said they were hampered in efforts to have the
mastermind, John Allen Muhammad, executed.
Also yesterday, the Senate rejected a bill, 28 to 10, that would have
required the state to delay setting the execution date for a condemned
inmate until after the 1st appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.
(source: Washington Post)
Federal public defender units in Ohio to focus on death-penalty cases ----
Public defenders' offices to grow
Before 2007, the federal court's Northern District of Ohio never had a
capital punishment trial.
Last year it had 2 - including the high-profile Donna Moonda
murder-for-hire trial in Akron - and the federal public defender's office
watched from the gallery, unable to do much even if it had been asked.
That soon will change. Ohio's 2 federal public defenders - 1 for the
Northern District, based in Cleveland, the other in the Southern District
in Columbus - are both hiring lawyers who will specialize in handling
death penalty cases.
For defendants, it might mean more competent aid from lawyers who better
know the U.S. court system. For the federal government, it might mean the
tab for indigent clients gets cheaper. For the state public defender and
some private attorneys, it probably means less work.
"Those 2 cases [in 2007] were further impetus, but it was not particularly
the strongest motivation," Northern District Public Defender Dennis G.
Terez explained. "We just want to make ourselves more available to the
Later this year, when each district has established its Capital Habeas
Unit, or CHU, the districts will be among just 17 of the U.S. court
system's 89 districts with public defenders dedicated to handling death
There are currently 55 people on federal death row, including Daryl
Lawrence of Columbus, convicted in 2006 of killing a police officer. But a
trial judge has overturned Lawrence's sentence, a decision that is being
The federal government had stopped seeking the death penalty until 1988's
drug kingpin statute, used for murders committed during illegal drug
operations. Then in 1994, the government expanded the list of death
penalty-eligible crimes to include more than 60 other offenses - including
murder-for-hire. Since then, the number of cases in which the U.S.
attorney general has sought capital punishment is on the rise.
But the new CHUs will not only handle federal death penalty trials but
will become the courts' first option when appointing lawyers for
state-convicted death row inmates whose appeals have reached the federal
In Ohio courts, a death penalty conviction is automatically appealed to
the Ohio Supreme Court. If that fails, the next stop is federal court for
a habeas hearing.
Thomas Galan of Fostoria in 2006 became the 1st person indicted in the
Northern District under the federal death penalty code. He was convicted
in November in federal court in Toledo of a drug-related double-murder but
was spared a death sentence, instead getting life in prison.
Moonda, the wife of a wealthy Pennsylvania doctor, was the 2nd death
penalty trial for the district. She was convicted last summer of having
her boyfriend kill her husband on the side of a darkened highway. She,
too, received a life sentence.
Public defender cites cost, level of advocacy
The federal public defender's office has always been around to handle
other crimes and civil cases but left the more expensive and
time-consuming capital punishment cases to state public defenders or
private attorneys on the federal dime.
But in recent years some lawyers with the Ohio public defender's office
have been accused of unscrupulous defense work, and a cadre of private
defense attorneys who make a living taking on federal cases are overworked
and expensive at $170 an hour.
That left an opening for Terez and his counterpart, Steve Nolder with the
Southern District, to persuade judges and the Administrative Office of the
United States Courts - which controls the purse strings - to expand the
public defender's role.
"Having a CHU, I think, is becoming more favored by the courts for a
variety of reasons," said Nolder. "Cost and level of advocacy is part of
Nolder said a defendant facing the death penalty in a U.S. court would be
better served by a lawyer intimately familiar with the federal system.
As far as cost, the public defender's lawyers aren't paid by the case, "so
the federal government at least gets a bigger bang for their buck," said
Ohio public defenders stigmatized, lawyer says
All those are plausible reasons, says Greg Meyers, chief counsel of the
Office of the Ohio Public Defender.
But Meyers, a capital punishment lawyer, still says his office is
suffering from a stigma left from 2002 and 2003.
That's when former Ohio Public Defender David Bodiker and at least three
assistants handling death penalty cases were accused of mishandling cases.
"We hope we can convince the federal bench that those days are done and we
are still ready to stand in," Meyers said. "But I think what we certainly
realize here is that sooner or later it will have an impact on work done
out of this office."
Neither Terez nor Nolder will say how much their new units will cost.
Terez is starting his unit with two lawyers and expecting them to be
appointed to co-counsel positions, since every death penalty defendant
gets two attorneys, or used as substitute lawyers. The unit would also
help train other lawyers to handle federal capital punishment cases.
Nolder plans to hire seven lawyers, including a supervisor.
(source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Don't expand capital punishment, abolish it
New Hampshire lawmakers have been asked to expand the death penalty to
cover crimes like that of Michael Woodbury, the Maine man who killed 3
people in an Army Navy store in Conway last July.
Was Woodbury's crime worse than the alleged crime of John "Jay" Brooks,
the millionaire charged with hiring hit men to kidnap and kill someone he
believed had stolen from him? Was it worse than the alleged crime of
Michael Addison, charged with killing a Manchester police officer? Brooks
and Addison face the death penalty. Woodbury, who pleaded guilty, did not.
Because he did not commit 1 of the 6 offenses punishable by death under
New Hampshire law, he is serving life without parole.
It's logical to argue that if a state sanctions death as the punishment
for certain offenses, the penalty should apply to multiple murders. But
the death penalty should be eliminated, not expanded.
Lawmakers should consider a sentence written by lawyer and legal analyst
Jeffrey Toobin in an article in the current issue of The New Yorker on
efforts to try Brian Nichols, who killed 4 people in a Georgia crime
"The Nichols case illustrates a troubling paradox in death-penalty
jurisprudence: The more heinous a crime - and the more incontrovertible
the evidence of a defendant's guilt - the greater the cost of the defense
may be." Now substitute the name Woodbury for Nichols.
Nichols's defense has cost his state $1.2 million and consumed all the
funds set aside for defense of the state's indigents. No jury has been
seated, nor may one ever be. Georgia has refused to pay more to defend
Nichols. As a result, he may never get the death penalty.
The high price of death penalty cases and their impact on the judicial
system is not the biggest reason to oppose capital punishment. It is just
one of many reasons.
It is extremely difficult to impose the death penalty fairly. Justice,
unfortunately, is not always blind to the color of a defendant's skin or
the size of his bank account. Witnesses can be mistaken, informants can
lie, police and prosecutors can overlook evidence that may exonerate a
suspect, juries can be swayed by emotion. So many things can go wrong.
That's one reason New Hampshire has not put anyone to death in nearly 70
More than 200 U.S. inmates, including some on death row, have been
exonerated by DNA evidence since 1989. The intense examinations of cases
by just one Northwestern University journalism professor, David Protess,
and his students have led to the release of 10 prisoners, including 5
innocent men on death row. The law and the humans who apply it are simply
too fallible to fairly levy the death penalty.
Capital punishment should also be abolished because it is
counterproductive. It does nothing to deter people from committing murder,
but it simultaneously sends the message that, under circumstances other
than war or defense of oneself or another, it is permissible to kill
another human being.
Expanding the death penalty to apply to more offenses will not reduce the
murder rate. Making killing a cultural taboo so heinous that society
doesn't impose it on the worst of criminals, might.
(source: Editorial, Concord Monitor)
Tulsa pair's killer gets death sentences
Tulsa County jurors handed Phillip Anthony Summers two death sentences
Tuesday for murdering a Tulsa couple 4 years ago.
District Attorney Tim Harris said that punishment is appropriate for
Summers, who "killed this mom and dad in cold blood in their home."
The jury deliberated for more than 4 hours before returning the death
verdicts in District Judge Tom Thornbrugh's court, concluding a trial that
began in mid-January with jury selection.
The 8-woman, 4-man panel found Summers, 22, guilty Thursday of 2 counts of
1st-degree mur der in the killings of Shelly and Ples Vann Jr.
They were each shot 3 times on Feb. 23, 2004, in their home at 38 E. 50th
Prosecutors theorized that the killings were linked to gang rivalry and a
belief among Hoover Crips members -- including Summers -- that Lawrence
"Bud" Tennyson was responsible for the murder of one of Summers' brothers.
Tennyson was then a leading member of the Neighborhood Crips gang. Shelly
Vann was his mother, and Ples Vann -- who was a corrections officer at the
Tulsa Jail -- was Tennyson's stepfather.
After the trial, Harris said the outcome sends a strong message that "we
will not tolerate this violence."
Defense attorney Robert Stubblefield said, "Obviously, we're
An appeal is automatic, and many rounds of appeals spanning many years are
routine in death-penalty cases.
"This is a marathon," Stubblefield said.
Summers will remain in the Tulsa Jail to await his formal sentencing, set
for March 24.
Harris and Assistant District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler alleged that the
case has 3 "aggravating circumstances, as defined by statute, to justify
the ultimate punishment."
Prosecutors asserted that Summers had a previous felony conviction --
shooting with an intent to kill -- that involved the use or threat of
They also asserted that Summers created a "great risk of death" to more
than one person and, lastly, that he constitutes a continuing threat to
Jurors found that all 3 aggravating circumstances applied to both
A jury can return a death verdict even if it finds that only one such
The other sentencing options were life in prison with the possibility of
parole or life without parole.
During the trial's sentencing stage, Stubblefield and co- counsel Mark
Matheson stressed that the death penalty was an option but not a
In an effort to mitigate punishment, defense lawyers pointed to evidence
that Summers emerged from a family environment of crime, drug abuse and
Summers was the youngest of 7 siblings. Of the other 6, 2 have been shot
to death, 3 are in prison, and one is on probation, defense lawyers said.
"Phillip Summers was doomed from the start," Stubblefield said.
Summers remained outwardly composed and silent as the verdicts were
announced Tuesday. Not a single family member or supporter of his was in
the courtroom gallery for much of the trial, including the conclusion.
Kunzweiler said Summers "shot 2 innocent people" as they were eating
dinner and watching television in "the warmth of their home."
Harris said that if Summers went to the house intending to kill Tennyson,
Summers was "callous and cold enough" to shoot Shelly Vann "because she
looked like Bud."
Prosecutors asserted that Gregory McKinney, a now-dead gang associate of
Summers', accompanied him and also fired shots.
Ples Vann "exemplified the true meaning of being a husband and a father,"
and Shelly Vann was "compassionate and loving," a family member said
Monday in an impact statement read to jurors.
"Ples and Shelly together can no longer be the presence that uplifted the
entire family," said Jennettie Marshall, a family spokeswoman and sister
of Shelly Vann's.
(source: Tulsa World)
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