[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----MISS., ALA., TENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Jan 22 16:06:54 CST 2008
Killer spared death penalty
A Jackson County jury decided Saturday against the death penalty for John
Louis Woods, sentencing him to life in prison without parole.
Woods also was sentenced to 7 years in prison for commercial burglary.
The jury convicted Woods Friday of capital murder in the March 12, 2005,
beating death of Derek Williams.
Kerry Johnson and Bryan Carter have pleaded guilty to manslaughter for
their roles in Williams' murder. District Attorney Tony Lawrence said they
will be sentenced later, adding that he believed they testified truthfully
Manslaughter carries a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison. Johnson
also pleaded guilty to commercial burglary, which carries a maximum
sentence of seven years in prison.
"I'm happy that it's over for the family," Lawrence said. "They have
waited a long time for this. They are very satisfied with the jury's
verdict. I hope this will help them have closure and move forward.
"The pleasure I get out of this is when I meet with the family (of the
victim) and have them tell me that they have experienced justice," he
In his testimony Friday, Woods said he had killed Williams, destroyed his
life and severely affected the lives of Williams' family and his family.
Lawrence indicated Saturday what Woods testified to is true.
"Both families have tremendous stress put on them," he said. "One person
made the decision that affected so many people. He will be punished for
that decision the rest of his life."
Before deliberating on Woods punishment, jurors heard from family members
on both sides of the courthouse aisle.
Relatives of Williams described a cheerful, happy teenager who brightened
everyone's lives. Relatives of Woods described a good son and brother who
was hit hard by divorce shortly following the birth of his son.
"He never met a stranger," Tony Williams, Derek Williams' father, said.
"He was a very loving child. He loved everybody."
Williams said the loss of Derek was hard on the family, which had close to
20 members in court Saturday for the sentencing hearing.
"I can't describe in words the loss," he said. "He was at all the family
events. Now there is an empty spot that can't be filled."
Annette Williams said that Derek was her 1st grandson. "He was the 1st
grandchild to carry the family name," she said.
"He was so full of life," she said. "He was cheerful. It's so hard to
think now that we will never have Derek again, that he will never be
Robert Woods, John Woods' father, said his son was a good man. He said the
events of March 11 and 12, 2005, when Derek Williams was murdered, were
the culmination of a bad period in John Woods' life.
In 2004, John Woods, then 22, and his wife had a son, Robert Woods said.
Soon after that, he and his wife were divorced.
"Everything fell apart for John," Robert Woods said. "He lost his job. It
was like he had given up."
"The divorce had a real impact on John," Patricia Woods, his mother, said.
"He looked like he did not know if he was coming or going."
Patricia Woods testified that John Woods lost an eye at 10 years old.
Later, he was put on Ritalin. As a freshmen, she said the family decided
to take him off of Ritalin, but put him back on mood-controlling drug when
he had problems, including failing his freshman year at Ocean Springs High
Woods was convicted after testimony painted a wild camping trip in March
Woods and Williams were joined on the camping trip by Johnson and Carter.
Woods, Williams and Carter were roommates, with Johnson moving out of the
apartment shortly before Williams moved in.
Woods testified Friday that the four arrived at the campsite near Bluff
Creek Water Park shortly before nightfall. After moving their camping
stuff to the campsite, Woods said the quartet went to Ocean Springs, where
they shoplifted meat and snacks from Wal-Mart, participated in a drive-off
for gas and shoplifted at a Vancleave convenience store.
Later that night, he testified that the quartet left the campsite a 2nd
time to go to a nearby Conoco and broke into the store for cigarettes,
beer and snacks.
After they returned to the campsite, Woods testified the 4 drank about 6
cases of beer in four hours as they sat around talking.
Woods testified that the talk turned to women and sex. He testified that
Williams said he would like to have sex with Woods' sister.
"I was enraged," Woods testified Friday. He walked off from the campsite,
he said, paced and came back and struck Williams several times in the head
with a metal bar, killing him.
According to testimony, Woods, Johnson and Carter then loaded Williams in
the back of Williams' truck and carried the body to Mobile County where
they left the body at a trash dumpsite.
"It's another example where the lifestyle of alcohol and drugs inevitably
led to horrible things," Lawrence said.
The defense team of Calvin Taylor, George Shaddock and David Futch, argued
that deals made to Johnson and Carter encouraged them to exaggerate Woods'
role in Williams' death.
They also said that questioning techniques used by Jackson County Sheriff
investigators led Johnson and Carter to say what they needed to say to get
However, Lawrence said testimony given by Johnson and Carter was
consistent with their 2005 statements to investigators. He also said that
Woods testimony Friday confirmed that Johnson and Carter testified
truthfully Wednesday and Thursday about what occurred when Williams was
(source: Mississippi Press)
Death row inmate turns to mental retardation claim
Kenneth Glen Thomas has been on death row at Holman prison in Atmore for
nearly 22 years.
Now, his attorney is claiming that Thomas, who is in his mid-40s, is
mentally retarded and should be exempt from execution.
Limestone County District Attorney Kristi Valls said the U.S. Supreme
Court has ruled that mentally retarded prisoners should be treated like
juveniles in death- row cases.
"It says neither a juvenile nor a mentally retarded person can not be
executed," Valls said. "That is what is being argued now in Kenny Thomas'
Limestone County Commission Chairman David Seibert, who was Thomas'
special education teacher at West Limestone High School in the early
1980s, is one of those who has been summoned to testify in the capital
"I know when he was in my class, he was a kid and living with a foster
family," Seibert said Friday. "He was in my class because his IQ justified
he be there. Kids I had were slow."
Thomas was convicted in April 1986 of murdering 82-year-old Flossie
McLemore. McLemore, who lived alone across from the old jogging track at
Athens Middle School, was killed in her home in early December, 1984. Her
house was set on fire in an attempt to conceal the crime, police said.
Police followed a blood trail leading from her home to an old, black
automobile parked across the street at the jogging track. Kenny Thomas was
inside the vehicle and was arrested there.
A federal court hearing for Thomas was scheduled this past week but was
postponed and has not been rescheduled.
A law firm in Kansas City, Mo., is now representing Thomas, Seibert said.
"They called me to testify because I had him in my class," he said. "I had
8th- through 12th-graders then. I remember Kenny. He never gave me any
Jerry Barksdale, Thomas' attorney when he was tried for capital murder in
Limestone County in 1986, claimed then that Thomas was a paranoid
"I don't know if he's crazy or not, but in court he testified that he had
seen a flying saucer and people exit it," Barksdale said. "When I would
visit him in jail, he had this imaginary dog he would talk to, and a
jailer once told me he was eating light bulbs while incarcerated."
Barksdale, who left the case after appealing Thomas' conviction to the
Alabama Supreme Court, said Attorney General Troy King has discussed the
case with him.
"He told me no date has been set for Thomas' execution. This may be what
this is all about. They may be getting close to setting that date."
(source: The News Courier)
State motives suspect in appeal of death-row release
"Once the initial trial and appeal have occurred, it is clear from the
studies that the state, and its officials who have prosecuted, sentenced
and reviewed the case, are inclined to persevere in the belief that the
state was right all along. They tend to close ranks and resist admission
of error. Intelligent citizens who strongly believe in the reliability of
the capital sanction are also inclined to persevere in the belief that a
case raising the 'embarrassing question' will never really arise and close
ranks with the state in resisting the admission of error. This case is a
good example of how these errors can lead to the execution of a defendant
who is actually innocent.''
- U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Gilbert S. Merritt, in a
dissenting opinion in Paul Gregory House's appeal of his murder conviction
before the court in 2004
You could feel the hurt in Stephen M. Kissinger's voice. "I just got off
the telephone with Jennifer Smith,'' Kissinger told me Friday from his
federal public defender's office in Knoxville. "The state is going to
appeal the case this afternoon to the 6th Circuit.''
I couldn't believe it; and then, yes, I could. I'm sure Stephen Kissinger
didn't want to believe it, either, but Smith, who is handling the Paul
Gregory House murder case for the state attorney general's office, had
just told him that her office was going to appeal a Dec. 20 ruling that
ordered House to be released unless prosecutors begin a new trial within
180 days after the order becomes final.
That ruling would have become final if the state attorney general's office
had not appealed it by Tuesday.
"Our office today filed a notice of appeal in the capital case against
Paul Gregory House,'' the attorney general's office said in a news release
shortly after 3 p.m. Friday. "The appeal notice is in response to the
judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Tennessee granting House habeas corpus relief from his conviction and
death sentence for the 1985 murder of Mrs. Carolyn Muncey.
"It is the position of the state that the district court did not follow
the United States Supreme Court's precedents in this area. The state will
argue on appeal that the district court erred in concluding that House
failed to receive effective assistance of counsel at his criminal trial.
The state will also argue that the district court was wrong to conclude
that material evidence may have been withheld from defense counsel.
"Finally, the state will contend that there is sufficient evidence of
guilt to support the jury's verdict and that none of the alleged errors
attributed to defense counsel and the state call into question the
reliability of the jury's guilty verdict and sentence.''
Kissinger, who represents the 46-year-old House, said his immediate
response was that there is no basis for this appeal.
"The timing indicates to me the state's intention to obtain further delay
in the case with the apparent hope that Mr. House dies before this case is
Is that the reason for this appeal, and could it be, too, that the state
doesn't want to admit the state made an error in the Carolyn Muncey case?
For those who may not have been keeping up with this case, six of the 15
members of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati,
said in October 2004 that House is not guilty of murdering Carolyn Muncey.
Eight other judges on the court at the time said in an appeal decision
that House should be executed, while another judge said the condemned
prisoner should at least be given a new trial.
In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that DNA evidence from semen
collected from Muncey's nightgown and underwear, along with other
evidence, were strong enough that a jury would not have convicted House.
And it was just a month ago that U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr.
issued the Dec. 20 ruling the state is now appealing.
What an embarrassing moment this is for the state of Tennessee. And
remember what Judge Ronald Lee Gilman of Memphis wrote in his dissenting
opinion for the 6th Circuit in 2004: "Was Carolyn Muncey killed by her
down-the-road neighbor, Paul House, or by her husband, Hubert Muncey?''
The state should now allow Paul House, who suffers from a severe case of
multiple sclerosis, to be released on bond until this case is resolved,
and not take a chance of him dying in prison, when there's a very good
chance he's innocent.
(source: Dwight Lewis is a columnist and member of The Tennessean
editorial board. His column appears on Sundays and Thursdays----The
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