[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----MO., W. VA., OHIO, N.C., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Jul 6 23:38:48 CDT 2008
Death-penalty trial begins in Jackson County
The crime spree was both horrific and heinous: It included multiple
victims, sadistic sex and torture, and it sparked a nationwide manhunt.
Today, Jackson County residents among a pool of more than 420 potential
jurors will be on hand as the capital murder trial begins for Richard D.
Davis, the first of two co-defendants to face charges for the crimes.
It marks the 1st death-penalty case in Jackson County to be tried before a
jury since 2002.
Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, who was prosecutor in 2006 when the
case grabbed national attention, said the ghastly nature and totality of
the alleged crimes "screamed out for the death penalty."
That, Sanders said, is one reason the case carries added significance: In
five of the past six attempts that the state has sought death in Jackson
County, it has had to settle for life in prison with no parole.
No criminal has been sentenced to death in the county since 1999, after
Leon Taylor was re-tried and convicted of killing an Independence gas
station clerk while the victims 8-year-old stepdaughter watched.
"I see this as a bellwether case," Sanders said. "In my opinion, this case
has some historical significance in that it could answer the question: Is
the death penalty a viable punishment in Jackson County?"
The 43-year-old Davis is accused of 40 felony crimes, including murder,
kidnapping and rape in the assault and death of Marsha Spicer and the
kidnapping and assault of Michelle Huff-Ricci.
Davis co-defendant, Dena D. Riley, 42, also is accused of capital murder
and is scheduled for trial in Jackson County next year.
In addition to the Jackson County case, Davis and Riley face capital
murder charges in Clay County, where investigators allege Ricci was
killed. They also face federal charges for the kidnapping and sexual
assault of a 5-year-old Kansas girl.
The trial is expected to last weeks, with opening statements not planned
until late July.
When the lengthy jury selection process is done, prosecutors and defense
attorneys will have selected 12 men and women, plus several alternate
jurors, to determine Davis fate.
Prosecutors were reluctant to talk about the case as the trial neared.
Davis public defender did not return calls seeking comment.
Court officials say preparations for the trial go beyond the typical
criminal case, especially when it comes to seating a fair and impartial
Jury selection for many cases is completed in a single day, often with a
pool of about 60 residents.
Even high-profile murder cases typically have a jury seated within 2 days.
Anticipating a drawn-out process, the Jackson County Legislature last
month approved more than $130,000 to help fund costs associated with
selecting a jury to try Davis.
"It's certainly the largest jury pool that I can remember in the county,"
That, in part, is because of the intense media coverage the case received.
But it also is because of the more complicated winnowing process involved
in selecting juries for capital murder cases.
Capital murder cases can take much longer to go to trial because of their
more complex nature.
Motions and legal maneuvers typical in murder cases are multiplied when
the death penalty is involved, Sanders said.
"When the state is seeking the highest possible punishment it creates a
whole series of protections for the defendant, and it should," Sanders
said. "It exponentially expands the work that is involved."
One example played out last month before Circuit Court Judge Marco A.
Roldan who will preside over Davis trial when attorneys from each side
sparred for days as the defense tried unsuccessfully to exclude evidence.
Such suppression hearings are common, but most do not take as long, or
include so many witnesses. The defense's filing of the suppression motion
ran more than 50 pages; the state filed an 87-page response.
When the jury finally is selected, its members will hear evidence behind
violent, sadistic crimes that not only jolted the local community when the
graphic details emerged but also left investigators shaken by what they
The publics first insight to the crimes began when a fisherman in May 2006
spotted part of human arm partially buried among the woods near Sni-A-Bar
Creek in Lafayette County. When police uncovered the shallow grave, they
found the nude and battered body of Marsha Spicer. An autopsy revealed
that the 41-year-old woman had been strangled.
As local media reported the discovery, tips began to flow in to
The tips and subsequent interviews led police to two women who shared
similar stories about a man who liked to choke women during sex. The man
said he wanted to lure women into a videotaped threesome for sex, then
suffocate the women or choke them from behind.
That information led police to an apartment off of Truman Road in
Independence, where Davis was living with Riley, his girlfriend.
Davis and Riley denied knowing Spicer, but by the time police left that
1st meeting with the 2, both were suspects in her death.
Police obtained a search warrant for Davis' home and recovered evidence,
including graphic videotapes.
Additional evidence led to a warrant for the arrests of Davis and Riley,
but by then, the couple had fled the area. 5 days passed before police
arrested the pair.
At one point while they were on the loose, they were dubbed America's most
wanted couple by the FBI.
While investigating Spicers death, police linked a second victim to the
suspects Michelle Huff-Ricci who had been missing more than a month
before Spicers body was found.
Police allege that evidence showed Davis and Riley brutally assaulted
Ricci before killing her.
(source: Kansas City Star)
Time to decide death penalty
Nicholas T. Sheley's alleged killing spree is another reminder that
Illinois needs to quit stalling on debating the death penalty.
Six of Sheley's alleged victims were killed in Illinois, and two in
Missouri. But even though Illinois was first to file murder charges
against him, Missouri probably will take the lead in prosecution. Why?
Because Missouri enforces the death penalty, while Illinois has capital
punishment on paper only.
Former Gov. George Ryan put a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000,
supposedly a temporary measure while capital punishment was reformed. The
idea was to ensure that an innocent person would never be sentenced to
death, not end it altogether.
But in the intervening years it has become clear that Illinois' lawmakers
lack the intestinal fortitude to tackle this tough topic. A bill to end
capital punishment, and another to end the moratorium, went nowhere last
year. Gov. Rod Blagojevich is also unwilling to act. His spokesman said he
doesn't want to "rush to judgment." Obviously, that's not a worry.
It's easy to support the death penalty when confronted with cold-blooded
killings like those in the Sheley case. The victims, who were bludgeoned
to death, ranged in age from 93 to 2. Illinois juries have decided since
2003, the year Ryan cleared death row, that 14 other killers deserve to
die for their crimes.
But why should a prosecutor go to the time and expense of a capital case
if the state may never carry out the punishment? Why should families be
put through that roller coaster of emotion?
People who support the death penalty and those who oppose it can agree on
one point: It's time to end the uncertainty.
(source: Editorial, Belleville News Democrat)
WEST VIRGINIA----re: possible federal death penalty
Prosecutor: Soldiers could face death
2 alleged Army deserters charged in the death of a Huntington minister
could face the death penalty if convicted.
Charles Miller, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West
Virginia, says if the case against Daniel Smith, 22, of Newport News, and
Stephen Wilson, 19, of Cincinnati meets the criteria for a death penalty
case, he'll be obliged to inform the U.S. Attorney General.
West Virginia does not have a state death penalty, but the federal
government can seek the death penalty in certain cases if it so chooses.
Smith and Wilson are accused in the shooting death of the Rev. Mark
McCalla at a shooting range on June 19.
(source: Daily Press)
Victim's family wants death penalty
Sandra Crank was 8 months pregnant when her father was murdered.
Robert "Bobby" Houseman never saw his 1st grandchild, 5-month-old
Christina. He was gunned down Dec. 26 outside his Epworth residence.
Larry Evans, 40, of Epworth, is charged with 2 counts of aggravated murder
for the incident. He is accused of killing his brother, Mansfield police
officer Brian Evans, and Houseman, 44, his neighbor.
Crank, 22, lives 2 houses away from where her father was killed.
"Every time I look out at it, it reminds me of that night," she said.
Crank was home that night. She woke up to see a SWAT team outside her
residence and ambulances at her father's home.
If convicted, Evans could receive the death penalty. Crank called the News
Journal to voice her opinion after a Sunday story in which local attorney
Eric Miller, who is not involved with the case, questioned prosecutors'
decision to seek the death penalty.
"It really got us upset," Crank said of Miller's opinion. "He had nothing
to do with the case, and he put his two cents in."
Crank said she supports the death penalty if Evans is convicted. His trial
is scheduled to start Sept. 2.
"I can't put my dad to rest because of the way he died," she said. "We
can't put my dad to rest until Larry has the death penalty."
While still filled with anger, Crank tries to remember the good times. She
is the oldest of Houseman's three daughters. The others are Brooke, 15,
and Kirsten, 9. Houseman and Brooke watched football games together.
Houseman was a fixture at Crestview Elementary School, where Kirsten is a
student. He was memorialized in a ceremony last month for his volunteer
work at the school.
"It was awesome, just to know that people appreciated him," Crank said.
Crank said she and her sisters have pulled together since their father's
"We're really close. We talk a lot. We cry a lot," she said. "We all talk
about memories and stuff. That's what keeps us going."
Crank regrets her sisters not getting to have more memories with Houseman.
"My dad walked me down the aisle, but he won't be able to walk his other
daughters down the aisle," she said. "He was always right there. He was a
Crank will make sure baby Christina knows about her grandfather.
"I talk about him all the time," she said.
Despite the vivid and painful memories, Crank and husband Brian have no
plans to move.
"We've done too much to this house," she said. "We want our child to be in
the Crestview district."
Crank said she and her sisters also owe a debt of gratitude to Brian
Evans, who died a hero while tending to their dad.
"We really appreciate Brian and what he did," she said. "From what I hear,
he was a great guy."
(source: Mansfield News Journal)
Attorneys prepare charges in Eve Carson case----Grand jury meets Monday in
A local expert in criminal law predicts District Attorney Jim Woodall will
charge Eve Carson's accused killers with "just about everything you could
imagine" when the Orange County grand jury meets Monday. Also Monday,
Woodall is scheduled to announce whether he intends to seek the death
penalty for Demario Atwater, one of the two accused, though he expects
that hearing to be continued to a later date.
Additional charges and new information released to the public in recent
days could add up to aggravating factors that would support a death
sentence for the murder of Carson, the student body president at
UNC-Chapel Hill, who lived in Athens.
Irving Joyner, a law professor at N.C. Central University, said based on
information in search warrants and an autopsy report, he anticipates
Woodall will charge both Atwater and alleged accomplice Laurence Lovette
with kidnapping, burglary, robbery and two separate counts of murder.
The grand jury has already indicted Atwater and Lovett on charges of
first-degree murder. Joyner expects additional felony murder charges
because the death resulted from the commission of an inherently dangerous
felony such as robbery. He also said the killing appears premeditated and
deliberate, which would validate the existing 1st-degree murder charges.
"The fact that you had two guns used to shoot her would be sufficient for
jurors to conclude that they wanted to shoot her to kill her," Joyner
said. "I'm not trying to draw any conclusion as to their guilt.
"Those are the possible charges that I see based on what I've read. That's
a pretty wide range of charges that they'll have to deal with," Joyner
said. "They could certainly proceed without all these charges, but I would
think that they're going to stack them up and charge them with as many
felonies as they could find."
Tony Baker, professor of criminal law at Norman Adrian Wiggins School of
Law at Campbell University, disagrees.
"I would be shocked if they were to prosecute anything other than the most
serious charge that they can use," Baker said. "1st-degree murder is
plenty. ... It's very expensive to run a trial. It's double expensive to
run a capital trial."
Baker said Woodall will face ample public pressure to pursue the death
penalty, particularly in light of Carson's prominence.
"It's a passion play," he said. "We've seen the outpouring of affection
for this remarkable young woman. ... We've got a situation where it would
be easy to assign a white hat and a black hat."
Joyner thinks the "multiplicity of charges" could translate into
aggravating factors that a judge or jury would consider when and if
Woodall decides to pursue the death penalty for Atwater.
L ovette, 17, was not old enough at the time of the crime to face the
"It's highly likely that this would be a capital case," Joyner said.
The possibilities that Lovette and Atwater killed Carson during the
commission of another felony and for financial gain and that the crime was
especially heinous and atrocious could all serve as aggravating factors,
"I think that would be sufficient to inflame jurors," he said.
Orange County has not sent anyone to death row since 1970, and no offender
from Orange County has been executed since 1948.
"They've not come back with a death penalty verdict for 30 years," Joyner
said. "But if they do, this might be the case that would push 'em that
Joyner said the multiple felonies and weapons, combined with Carson's
stature might be enough to lift Orange County's de facto moratorium on
"The young lady herself would be a sympathetic person in the eyes of most
jurors," he said.
(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Questions remain over Rosenbergs' convictions
Historians and freedom of information advocates are eagerly awaiting the
release of sealed testimony this year in the case of Julius and Ethel
Rosenberg, executed 55 years ago as Soviet spies.
Their case remains as alive as ever in the popular consciousness novels,
nonfiction books, plays and documentaries are still produced partly
because of many unanswered questions surrounding the couple's trial and
The US government to the surprise of many agreed last month to make public
some of the secret testimony in what was called the biggest spy case of
the Cold War. The government agreed that grand jury testimony given by 35
of 45 witnesses could be made public because of the great historical and
public interest in the Rosenbergs. The 35 are either dead or gave consent
to have their testimony made public. The 10 remaining witnesses are either
alive and refused to give consent or could not be found.
In the US system, grand juries meet in secret to determine whether there
is enough evidence to bring charges in a trial. Evidence is released in
only very exceptional cases. This month a judge is to hold another hearing
to determine whether the remaining testimony should be made available.
Resolving this dispute could take months.
"We hope to win even though the presumption against opening grand jury
records is very strong," said David Vladeck, a Georgetown University
professor, who led a petition for a group that includes historians and the
National Security Archive, which is an independent organisation that
presses for release of government information.
The Rosenbergs' ordeal started in 1945 when a Soviet code clerk defected
to the West and helped expose a wide-reaching espionage operation by
Soviet Union against the United States. The couple were executed in the
electric chair of New York's Sing Sing prison on June 19 1953.
"Many witnesses gave grand jury testimony, but only three were called to
trial," Mr Vladeck said. "So theres tremendous interest in why the
government didn't call the others."
This left the question whether there was further evidence that would
confirm the convictions or clear the couple.
"The degree of explicit guilt is contested terrain," said Thomas Blanton,
director of the National Security Archive, which uses the Freedom of
Information Act to unearth government secrets.
"Without the primary sources, the scholarship descends to a polemical
debate. Historians of every opinion have been looking for new evidence
since the time of the convictions and it's an area of huge controversy."
In particular, the evidence against Ethel Rosenberg appears weak. Records
released by the Russians in the 1990s indicated Julius was involved is
some kind of espionage but not Ethel.
"The grand jury records will likely clarify the government's prosecutorial
strategy against Ethel Rosenberg," said Ellen Schrecker, a history
professor at New York's Yeshiva University, in a declaration to support
"While Ethel was probably aware of her husbands espionage activities, the
government had no evidence that she was directly involved with espionage.
[In] order to pressure Julius Rosenberg to confess, the government
prosecuted his wife and threatened her with the death penalty."
Her conviction hinged on the testimony of her brother, David Greenglass,
whom the couple is alleged to have recruited while he worked at the site
of the first atom bomb test in New Mexico.
Mr Greenglass escaped execution in return for his testimony and served 10
years in prison. Released in 1960 and living under an assumed name, he
said in recent years that he lied about seeing his sister transcribing spy
notes on a typewriter.
He is one of the witnesses who declined consent to release his testimony
although lawyers will argue that he waived his privilege by giving
interviews about the case. "His evidence is pivotal and we will fight to
get his testimony released," Mr Vladeck said.
Historians also hope to learn more about whether Julius Rosenberg passed
on secrets relating to nuclear weapons for which he was convicted or
about conventional, if innovative, munitions.
"There is huge speculation over what Julius and his crew were up to. If
the evidence points to conventional weapons, then the US government at the
time was guilty of one of the worst counter-espionage failures as some of
these arms were used in North Korea and Vietnam," Mr Vladeck said.
"Or perhaps the case was limited to nuclear weapons to avoid embarrassment
or because it was more sensational and easier to get convictions. There
are a lot of unanswered questions."
Robert Meeropol, one of the Rosenbergs' 2 sons, was 6 when they were
executed. In a speech two years ago, he drew a parallel that put his
parents deaths in context of both the Cold War and present-day concerns.
In the Cold War, he said, people feared the atomic bomb and communists.
"Now, they're taking the thing the public fears most weapons of mass
destruction and linking it to the people the public fears most Islamic
fundamentalists," he said.
(source: The National)
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