[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----USA, N.C., TENN., OHIO, MISS.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Feb 16 02:03:27 CST 2008
Weighing evidence against the death penalty
Rep. Mary Walz and American Bar Association Death Penalty Moratorium
Implementation Project Director Deborah Fleischaker speak about the future
of the death penalty during a panel discussion with the American
Constitution Society for Law and Policy last night.
Legal and forensics specialists at the American Constitution Society's
panel discussion at the Boston Bar Association yesterday said unless
changes are made to the legal process, forensic evidence should not be the
main decider in a capital punishment conviction case.
Sponsored by the Boston Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution
Society, Suffolk University's ACS Law School Student Chapter, the Civil
Rights and Civil Liberties Section of the Boston Bar Association and Rep.
Marty Walz, the panel tackled the topic: "The Future of the Death Penalty:
Can Science Ever Make it Foolproof?"
Former Gov. Mitt Romney's bill to reinstate the death penalty in
Massachusetts, defeated in the House in November, inspired the panel. The
bill states that with the proper use of scientific testing, preservation
of evidence and better funding for crime labs, scientific evidence must be
used for cases in which capital punishment is applicable.
"I think this bill has no chance of passing [even if it were changed] -
there is significant opposition to the death penalty in the state
legislature," said Walz, who voted against the bill.
The panelists discussed how scientific advances like DNA testing would
affect the use of the death penalty and whether using it to prove guilt
would make the use of capital punishment more "foolproof."
American Bar Association Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project
Director Deborah Fleischaker said the goal of the ABA's Moratorium Project
is to raise the quality of legal representation in order to reduce
unfairness in the justice system.
"[Lawyers] have a responsibility to speak up when we see our legal system
is not working as it was designed to work," she said.
She said the ABA does not take a position on capital punishment but works
to ensure due process for everyone facing the death penalty. Fleischaker
said DNA testing has helped the justice system as a whole by providing
another form of concrete evidence.
"Good science can only take you part of the way," she said. "You need
adequate human action to take it further."
DNA testing can answer questions of linkage or association between
victims, suspects and scenes, but cannot answer questions of guilt or
innocence, said Connecticut State Department of Public Safety's forensic
lab DNA unit supervisor Carl Ladd.
The nuances of science in general do not appeal to juries - DNA evidence
does not usually sway them one way or the other, Ladd said.
"DNA or any science never makes any aspect [of the situation] foolproof,"
Ladd said. "We're supposed to do what legislators tell us to do."
Ladd also gave evidence of forensic fraud, instances when forensic
scientists presented false DNA, among other scientific results, in capital
cases. He said forensic DNA testing is nothing like television show CSI,
which skews facts about the role of forensic labs in investigations.
Northeastern University law professor Daniel Givelber, a founding member
of the New England Innocence Project, said DNA testing could not help the
system because in "stranger cases" where the victim and the defendant have
no connection, there is little physical evidence and the case is based
primarily on defendant statements.
"DNA is like a partial print," he said. "It becomes debatable."
(source: The (Boston Univ.) Daily Free Press)
Case could draw death penalty
Gary Michael Hilton may have escaped the death penalty in Georgia to find
it awaiting him in North Carolina or federal courts.
The 61-year-old drifter pleaded guilty Jan. 31 in the killing of
24-year-old hiker Meredith Emerson in the north Georgia mountains. He was
sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole when he is 91.
Hilton avoided the death penalty through a plea agreement by telling
authorities where they could find Emerson's body. But he cut no such deal
in North Carolina.
Transylvania County officials have named Hilton as the prime suspect in
the murders of Horse Shoe retirees John Bryant, 81, and Irene Bryant, 84.
The couple disappeared Oct. 20 after going hiking near the Pink Beds
picnic area and the Cradle of Forestry, two of Pisgah National Forest's
Transylvania County authorities discovered Irene Bryant's body Nov. 9 off
Yellow Gap Road near where the couple had gone to hike after a long search
involving dozens of volunteers and professionals. She had been beaten to
death. John Bryant's skeletal remains were found Feb. 3 in an illegal dump
on the Nantahala National Forest near Franklin.
The spot where the body was dumped was on a route between the Pisgah area
and Ducktown, Tenn., where someone had tried to use the Bryant's stolen
ATM card Oct. 22. Witnesses in Ducktown told a Times-News reporter on Jan.
12 they had seen Hilton in the area about that time.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would investigate
the Bryant's murders. Federal authorities aren't discussing whether they
will prosecute, seek the federal death penalty or any other details of the
Just because the murders happened on federal lands and federal
investigators have started a probe does not mean they will take over
prosecution. But in a handful of past cases, the United States has sought
the federal death penalty for murders committed on national forests.
In March 2002, Marvin Gabrion was sentenced to death for a 1997 murder in
Michigan's Manistee National Forest. Gabrion was sentenced under the
federal system because the victim was killed on federal lands, according
to the Death Penalty Information Center, an organization opposed to
capital punishment. It was the first time a federal death sentence was
imposed on a defendant in a state without a death penalty since the
federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988.
The federal death penalty has been rarely invoked since then and even more
rarely carried out. Among 60 inmates nationwide sentenced to death under
the federal statutes, only three, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy
McVeigh, have been put to death. Three others had their sentences reduced
or reversed on appeal. At least 2 other cases involving slayings in
Western North Carolina national forests or parks have been tried in state
Federal death case:The Styles murder
Even in cases where crimes are committed on federal lands, state courts
often take the first shot at trying and convicting defendants. A notorious
case in Western North Carolina is that of Buncombe County resident Richard
Allen Jackson's 1993 rape and murder of jogger Karen Styles in Bent Creek
Recreation Area in Pisgah National Forest.
Jackson was tried and convicted in Buncombe County for the kidnapping and
murder of Styles in 1994. The conviction was overturned and Jackson later
pleaded guilty to 2nd degree murder. Federal authorities took another run
at the case, convicting Jackson on May 7, 2001, for using a firearm on
federal property in a felony that resulted in the death of the victim. He
was sentenced to death under the federal statutes and is listed among 54
federal death row inmates, although he remains incarcerated in Central
Prison in Raleigh pending appeals.
Jackson's case is among 3 involving killings on federal lands. The others
are Gabrion's 1997 case in Michigan, and the Oklahoma case of Edward
Fields. The former prison guard was convicted in 2005 of the murder of 2
campers in the Quachita National Forest while wearing a homemade sniper
suit. A federal judge sentenced him to death Nov. 8, 2005, according to
the Associated Press.
May the strongest law apply
Whether a case involving homicide on federal lands is first tried in state
or federal courts depends on a complex set of variables. Such cases
involve what is known as "concurrent jurisdiction" where both federal and
state officials hold authority.
When a homicide is committed in a national forest, park or Indian
reservation, law officers from both state and federal agencies usually
meet to compare notes, except in certain cases where the federal
government has clear jurisdiction. Examples include federal gun laws, such
as the one used to convict Jackson in Styles' kidnapping and death.
Federal authorities also may supersede state jurisdiction in cases
involving Internet sexual predators of children and civil rights.
No public evidence has come to light as yet indicating that Hilton used a
firearm against his victims. Witnesses in Georgia reported seeing him in
the woods with an expandable police baton. A search of Hilton's Chevy
Astro by Georgia authorities uncovered blood stains, piles of outdoor
clothing, camping gear and a license plate stolen from Transylvania
County. Potential weapons discovered included two black batons and air
powered BB gun.
Since joining the investigation this week, federal authorities have
clamped down on the information they, state or local authorities will
discuss about the Bryant case. In coming weeks they will be meeting to
determine which jurisdiction holds the strongest cards to try and convict
a man described as a menacing loner and suspected as a multi-state serial
Federal, local and state authorities "are diligently working together to
follow every credible lead, and to fully investigate every prospective
piece of evidence," said Gretchen C.F. Shappert, U.S. Attorney for the
Western District of North Carolina. That includes authorities in North
Carolina and Georgia as well as Florida, where Hilton is a suspect in
another killing on the Apalachicola National Forest.
"There are many tasks yet to be accomplished in this investigation,
including complete and detailed forensic examinations of evidence obtained
in Georgia, North Carolina and Florida," Shappert said. "Any announcements
of decisions made before this investigation is complete could damage any
future prosecution. Only with a full investigation can we guarantee the
Bryants that justice will be fully and finally dealt to the perpetrator of
these heinous crimes."
(source: Blue Ridge Now)
Another death penalty notice in Christian-Newsom slayings----Woman could
face execution if convicted in couple's slayings
At least 2 defendants in a brutal 2007 double-slaying could face the death
penalty if convicted in trials next year.
Prosecutors haven't revealed whether they will push for capital punishment
for the two other defendants in the racially charged case.
Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols gave notice Thursday
that the state would seek the death penalty against Vanessa Coleman, one
of four people charged in the carjacking, kidnapping and killing of
University of Tennessee student Channon Christian, 21, and her boyfriend,
Christopher Newsom, 23, in January 2007.
Coleman's boyfriend, Letalvis Cobbins, already faces death if convicted.
Cobbins, Coleman, alleged ringleader Lemaricus Davidson and George
Giovanni Thomas face first-degree murder, especially aggravated
kidnapping, aggravated rape and theft charges in the couple's slayings.
Attorneys for Davidson and Thomas have said they would consider
negotiating plea agreements. Nichols has not filed notice the state would
seek the death penalty for them, though he said after the hearing that
doesn't necessarily mean plea negotiations are ongoing.
"I just concern myself with what's on my plate today," Nichols said. "It
would be unfair to draw a conclusion either way."
Davidson's lawyer, David Eldridge, would not comment as he left the
courtroom. Davidson and Thomas are scheduled for hearings March 3.
Coleman made a brief appearance Thursday before Knox County Criminal Court
Judge Richard Baumgartner. After a brief conference in Baumgartner's
chambers with a squadron of lawyers present, Nichols handed the death
penalty notice to the judge.
The notice cites that both murders "involved torture or serious physical
abuse beyond that necessary to produce death," and that Coleman "knowingly
mutilated the body of Chris Newsome (sic) after death."
After Coleman's appearance, Cobbins settled in for a nearly 3-hour
Baumgartner postponed Cobbins' trial from May to Jan. 26, 2009.
"To expect the defense to be put on notice in January and be ready for
trial in May is just totally unrealistic," Baumgartner said. "It can't be
Baumgarter plowed through 89 motions during Cobbins' hearing. Many of them
were routine filings for capital cases, while others focused on court
The judge did not decide whether to grant Cobbins a change of venue, but
repeated his plan to bring in a jury from elsewhere should he decide
pre-trial publicity would taint the jury pool.
The case has received national attention, and white supremacists have
rallied in Knoxville twice since the slayings.
The victims were white, while the defendants are black. Authorities,
however, have said there's no evidence race was a factor in the slayings.
Baumgartner said the jury, once selected, will be sequestered.
Nichols said the judge should be able to seat a jury in Knox County.
Cobbins' lawyer, Kim Parton, predicted even more attention - including
more rallies - would focus on the cases once they go to trial.
"Is it going to endanger jurors and participants in the trial?" she asked.
As the hearing drew to a close, Parton accused the Knox County Sheriff's
Office of taking legal papers from her client during a raid of his jail
cell. She demanded the return of the papers. Nichols said his office
didn't have them.
Baumgartner noted that while Cobbins doesn't have a "reasonable
expectation of privacy" while in jail, legal documents in his possession
and conversations with his lawyer are covered under the attorney-client
"I expect the sheriff's department would respect those rights as they
would any other defendant," the judge said.
Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Martha Dooley said Cobbins exceeded the
amount of paper allowed under the jail fire policy and that by policy
defendants' cells are checked before court appearances for makeshift
weapons and contraband.
"The papers were personal letters and photos and all were placed in his
property unit," Dooley said in a statement. "None were identified as legal
(documents). Cobbins can authorize the property to be reviewed or released
to his attorney as we have stated to his attorney previously."
Dooley said Parton did not immediately return a call left at her office
(source: Knoxville News Sentinel)
Mayfield man avoids death penalty
Jennifer Whickham makes a statement to Carl Kahoon on Thursday before he
is sentenced to life in prison without parole in Cuyahoga County Common
Carl Kahoon smiled and shook his attorney's hand after being sentenced to
life in prison without parole for killing his wife and 6-year-old
Kahoon, 45, shot 48-year-old Vikki Kahoon and their daughter, Krystal, one
time each in the head with a .22-caliber gun as they slept Feb. 22, 2006,
at their Mayfield Village home.
After pleading guilty Thursday morning to two counts of aggravated murder
before a 3-judge panel in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, Kahoon faced
a sentence of anything between 20 years to life in prison to the death
After deliberating for less than 30minutes, Judges John Sutula, Brian J.
Corrigan and Dick Ambrose unanimously agreed to adopt the recommendation
of life without parole made jointly by defense attorneys and Assistant
County Prosecutor Dave Zimmerman.
Vikki's surviving children from a previous marriage urged the judges not
to let Kahoon off easy with death.
"What you did is the most disgusting thing I ever heard of," said Matthew
Posen, Vikki's son and Krystal's half brother. "You are a slimy snake who
murdered my mother and sister. I don't get to curl up in a ball and die.
That's why I'm glad you'll live. I hope you live to be 110 years old and
then burn in hell."
Jennifer Whickham, Vikki's daughter, also spoke.
"Nothing I can say will bring my mom and sister back. I died with them
that night," Whickham said through her tears. "My child will never know
her grandmother. I do not want you to die. You would win that way. I want
you to think about what you have done every day for the rest of your
Family members have struggled to understand what led Kahoon, who had no
prior criminal record, to kill his wife and daughter.
Kahoon refused to give them an explanation.
He declined to speak on his own behalf and would not give a statement
during the plea hearing or sentencing. Nobody from the audience spoke for
him, and defense attorneys James Kersey and Thomas Shaughnessy did not
offer up a motive.
Kahoon remained unemotional throughout the proceedings except to express
his satisfaction with Kersey with a smile and handshake before being led
out of the courtroom to jail.
"Smile, you piece of (expletive)!" one of the victim's male family members
shouted out after the sentencing.
Still, Posen said he was relieved with the judges' decision.
"He wanted to die," the victim's son said. "So why let him?"
The case was delayed numerous times during the past 2 years as Kahoon -
who attempted to kill himself with a gunshot wound to the head during the
night of the murders - tried to convince the court he was not sane at the
time of the killings.
The high school dropout fully recovered from the botched suicide attempt,
and experts recently decided he was competent to stand trial.
Vikki was described as an outstanding mother to her 3 children.
Krystal was in kindergarten at Center Elementary School in Mayfield
Village. Family members described her as a friendly child who loved art
Because of her drawing ability, Mayfield City Schools created an art
scholarship in Krystal's honor. The morning after the killings, Vikki's
mother found the bodies after being notified her daughter had not shown up
for work at D&S Automotive.
Kahoon is not permitted to appeal his conviction or sentence as part of
the plea agreement.
"We believe justice was served," Mayfield Village police Sgt. Don Smith
said. "The family was satisfied that now they won't have to go through a
(source: The News-Herald)
Distribution of death penalty cases comes down to 'luck' of draw
Most criminal cases in county Common Pleas Court are randomly assigned by
But not when the case involves the possibility of the death penalty.
In those cases, determining the judge comes down to the number that comes
out of a rust-colored plastic billiards pill bottle.
A random draw is the only fair way to make sure the computer doesnt pile
death penalty cases and all the work that comes with them on a single
judge, Administrative Judge Edward Zaleski said.
"Under the old method, they were stacking up on one judge," he said.
So about 15 years ago, the countys judges decided to make a change and use
a random draw method, removing judges from the pool as theyre assigned a
case until every judge has gotten one.
Then, all the judges numbers go back in the bottle and the whole process
Thursday when Decio Rodrigues Jr. was arraigned on capital murder charges
in the January slaying of grocer Jose Gonzalez Sr. was the 1st time since
2005 that every judge in the county had their name in the bottle once
Defense attorney Kenneth Ortner drew the No. 5 "pill" from the bottle as
his client looked on meaning his case lands on the docket of Common Pleas
Court Judge Mark Betleski, who received the last death penalty case in the
last round of the drawings.
Betleski said he takes the responsibility seriously but also knows it
means a lot more work.
"I love a good challenge, and a death penalty is a good challenge for the
court," he said.
Judges and attorneys who handle death penalty cases must take ongoing
legal education to maintain their ability to work the cases. Betleski said
the cases take so long sometimes years because of lengthy legal
proceedings to guarantee the defendants get as fair a trial as possible.
Jury selection alone can take more than a week as compared to about a half
day for most other cases.
The process takes a long time for a reason, Betleski said: To make sure
everything is on the record in case an appeals court overturns a
conviction sometimes more than a decade down the road.
"While it is the ultimate price, no one is guaranteed more fair treatment
in this century than a death penalty defendant because of the procedures
we follow and the training we get," he said.
In an odd twist on the process, defense attorney Mike Duff, who vehemently
opposes the death penalty, is the one who gave the judges the pill bottle
He can't recall how it came about, only that it occurred several years
"I don't like the death penalty," Duff said, succinctly.
(source: The Chronicle-Telegram)
Death Penalty Indictment For Michel Veillette
A grand jury has indicted the Mason man accused of killing his wife and 4
Michel Veillette was indicted on a total of 15 counts on Friday.
Veillette is facing 13 counts of aggravated murder and 2 counts of
Court records indicate a majority of the counts come with a death
specification meaning Veillette could be sentenced to death if convicted.
Veillette is accused of stabbing his wife to death, then setting fire to
their house which killed their children.
The grand jury determined Veillette intentionally killed his wife, then
set the fire to cover it up which ended up killing his 4 children.
Veillette will be back in court on February 20.
(source: WCPO News)
Man once on Miss. death row exonerated in 1992 murder case
A man once sentenced to death for the kidnapping and murder of a
3-year-old Mississippi girl was exonerated Friday, more than a week after
another man allegedly confessed to the brutal crime.
As Kennedy Brewer's family and attorneys celebrated his freedom, the same
judge granted a new trial for second man serving time for another child's
murder in the same community. The judge freed that man, Levon Brooks, on
his own recognizance - again based on statements allegedly made by the
Members of Kennedy Brewer's family and some attorneys wept in the crowded
east Mississippi courtroom as Circuit Judge Lee Howard told Brewer he was
a free man. A prosecutor apologized for the miscarriage of justice.
Asked about all that had happened to him since the child's death in
Noxubee County in 1992, Brewer said, "I ain't worried about the past. I'm
thinking about the future."
Brewer, now 36, is the first person to be exonerated in Mississippi as a
result of post-conviction DNA testing, said the Innocence Project, which
handled his case.
The exoneration comes after years of work by the Innocence Project, a New
York-based attorneys' group that assists inmates who have been wrongfully
District Attorney Ben Creekmore filed a motion to vacate Brewer's
conviction days after the arrest of Justin Albert Johnson, 51, who
authorities said told police he raped and strangled 3-year-old Christine
Jackson in 1992. The child's body was found in a creek.
On Friday, Creekmore apologized to Brewer.
Annie Brewer, Brewer's mother, sat in a wheelchair during the proceeding
and called out "Thanks be to Jesus" as Howard ruled.
Attorneys said Johnson also allegedly confessed to the rape and murder of
3-year-old Courtney Smith in 1990. The man convicted in her death, Brooks,
now 48, was sentenced to life in prison.
It will be up to prosecutors whether to pursue Brooks' case further or
move to exonerate him.
"I'm so excited," Brooks said after the ruling. "I really can't talk right
now. I just want to be with my family right now."
Both the murdered children and those involved lived in Brooksville, a
rural community about 10 miles east of Macon in east Mississippi.
Brewer was the boyfriend of Christine's mother, Gloria Jackson, when the
child was killed. He had been baby-sitting the child the night she went
missing. Brewer was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to death, but has been
free on bond since last year.
Johnson was linked to Christine's murder in 2001 when the Innocence
Project sent a blood sample - taken soon after the 1992 killing - for DNA
testing, said Innocence Project attorney Vanesa Potkin. His DNA allegedly
matched semen found on Christine's body.
The blood sample used in the test had been preserved at the Mississippi
State Crime Laboratory for years.
The circumstances of Courtney's death were similar to Christine's.
Courtney's mother, Sonya Smith, had dated Brooks in the past. The child
was abducted from her grandmother's home. She was raped and killed and her
body was tossed in a nearby pond.
District Attorney Forrest Allgood, who prosecuted both of the cases,
relied on forensic evidence to convict the men. Allgood later recused
himself from the Brewer case when he learned that a staff member he hired
had previously represented Brewer on appeal.
(source: Associated Press)
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