[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----OKLA., MD., N.C., CALIF., PENN., FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Jul 26 16:24:20 CDT 2008
DA asks for death penalty for killing of truck driver
The prosecution, defense, and a judge have signed off on a lengthy juror
questionnaire in the case of Clint Edward Baker, who is charged in the
March 2007 death of a California truck driver.
Baker, 33, of Crockett, Texas, is set to go to trial in August on a charge
of 1st degree murder in the death of Todd Eugene Rich. The body of
42-year-old Rich was found on a road near Bugtussle in March 2007.
Baker was captured in Wyoming. He was eventually brought back to Pittsburg
County after fighting extradition. He has been held at the Pittsburg
County Jail since his return.
Associate District Judge James Bland granted a motion for a juror
questionnaire that is 16 pages long and has 121 questions potential jurors
A jury questionnaire wasn't the only business before the court.
Prosecutors filed a bill of particulars signaling that the state plans to
pursue the death penalty in the case. If Baker is convicted of 1st degree
murder, a jury would then be asked to decide on his punishment which
could include death.
The jury would need to find 1 or more aggravating circumstances from among
a specific list to be able to consider the death penalty.
The defense moved to toss the bill, but the judge denied that motion.
There was also a request to exclude testimony from jail informants in the
case. That request was also denied.
In April a Pittsburg County jury deliberated less than an hour before
saying Baker was competent to stand trial.
(source: McAlester News)
Md. police: Pending execution caused surveillance
A pending execution prompted the lawful state police surveillance of
anti-war and death penalty opposition groups, the head of the force said
Superintendent Colonel Terrence B. Sheridan said a preliminary review
determined the officers involved did not break any laws, although their
judgment could be questioned. The superintendent said he did not think a
federal probe or new legislation was needed.
Sheridan said the head of the state police's homeland security division
made the decision to begin surveillance after receiving a request from a
colleague in another division that was preparing for Vernon Evans'
execution. The surveillance of the groups ended in May 2006, and Evans'
execution was postponed about six months later, according to a timeline
handed out by state police.
Sheridan's statements "do very little to assuage concerns about political
spying by the Maryland State Police," the state chapter of the American
Civil Liberties Union said in a statement Friday night.
But Sheridan's argument that the spying was connected to opponents of the
planned execution does not explain why peace groups were targeted, the
group said. E-mail records show police were engaged in surveillance
unrelated to the Evans case three months before Sheridan said surveillance
began, the ACLU said.
Sheridan said he was continuing to review policies and would implement
safeguards, including training and education, to ensure unwarranted
surveillance was not conducted.
"This is, I believe, a rational explanation. It's just the tactics are
very concerning," Sheridan said at the news conference outside state
Sheridan's promise of safeguards was not comforting to the ACLU, which is
calling for federal and state investigations into the matter.
"Col. Sheridan will not be superintendent forever, and the fact that these
events occurred demonstrates the need to have safeguards that are
permanent and formal," the ACLU said.
Members of Congress and state lawmakers have called for an investigation
of the surveillance, which was revealed in documents released by state
police after they were sued by the state chapter of the ACLU. The
documents show undercover officers infiltrated meetings of peace and
anti-capital punishment groups for more than a year, spending nearly 300
hours on surveillance.
Sheridan has said his agency has never done anything illegal to citizens
or groups that have exercised their right to free speech and assembly.
The superintendent repeated that Friday when asked what he thought about
claims by the ACLU that the surveillance violated federal law prohibiting
the surveillance of groups based on political beliefs.
"Well, that will have to be wrangled out with the attorneys," Sheridan
said. "Because we are getting an opposite view of that."
(source: The Examiner)
Judge OKs death penalty trial for Wong
Prosecutors have nearly 1,300 pages of evidence, videos and audio
recordings in the case against a Florida man charged with killing a state
trooper, according to statements in court Friday.
Also in a hearing in which prosecutors noted the evidence, a judge ruled
the state may seek the death penalty against 37-year-old Edwardo Wong II.
Investigators believe Wong shot Trooper David Shawn Blanton Jr. on June 17
during an Interstate 40 traffic stop near Canton.
Wong was in the courtroom but did not speak during the hearing other than
to talk with his attorneys.
Assistant District Attorney Jim Moore said the state can prove 6 factors
in the crime that warrant a capital punishment. They include Wong's
violent criminal history, the charge of killing an on-duty law enforcement
officer and that he shot Blanton while trying to avoid arrest, Moore said.
In North Carolina, prosecutors must provide evidence of at least 1 of a
set of aggravating factors before the state can proceed with a capital
Moore, after presenting the 6 factors, told the judge the state has
provided the defense with 1,299 pages of evidence prosecutors might use at
trial along with 3 DVDs and 15 CDs.
The DVDs likely contain a recording of the traffic stop and shooting made
by the video camera in Blanton's patrol car.
District Attorney Michael Bonfoey met with Blanton's mother, his widow,
Michaela Blanton, who was not in the courtroom, and other family members
after the hearing. He declined to talk about the case.
The State Bureau of Investigation is handing the investigation. The SBI
does not normally discuss the details of its investigations.
Before the hearing started, Wong's attorney, Mark Melrose, asked Judge
Marlene Hyatt to remove news cameras from the courtroom. He said images of
Wong in his jail jumpsuit, leg irons and handcuffs could harm his right to
a fair trial. The judge denied the motion.
A trial date has not been set.
Death penalty upheld in deputy's '91 homicide
The state Supreme Court this week upheld the 1994 death penalty conviction
of a migrant worker who fatally shot a sheriff's deputy in the back of the
head while en route to the Shasta County jail.
In a 67-page ruling, the state's top justices roundly rejected the appeal
of now 40-year-old Tomas Verano Cruz, calling his claims of an unfair
trial in the death of deputy Kenneth Perrigo "without merit."
Bradd McDannold, a retired Shasta County sheriff's captain, said he hopes
the high court's decision will "close the door" on Cruz's further attempts
"Of all the homicides I worked, that was the worst one," McDannold said.
With the help of an interpreter, McDannold, then a sergeant, and Detective
Richard Newsome conducted the interrogation that resulted in confessions
from Cruz and his co-defendant, Carlos Estrada, then 23, in the Oct. 21,
Seventeen years later, the killing still reverberates with Perrigo's
sheriff's office peers.
Perrigo is remembered by former colleagues like McDannold simply as
"Kenny," a quiet family man who began his career with the sheriff's office
as a cook in the jail.
Perrigo arrested Cruz and Estrada on the evening of Oct. 21 after they
were found passed out drunk in a car in front of the fairgrounds in
Belligerent, Cruz repeatedly threatened to kill Perrigo during the arrest,
court documents show.
Perrigo nonetheless agreed to work overtime to transport Cruz and Estrada
halfway to Redding, where he was to meet another deputy to take them the
rest of the distance to jail, documents say.
Perrigo didn't know Cruz and Estrada had managed to reach under the
driver's seat and find the 9mm handgun the deputy had stored there in a
Cruz shot Perrigo in the back of the head through the Plexiglas screen
that separated the deputy from his charges.
The vehicle swerved, rolled over at least once and careened off Highway
After the two suspects kicked out the back window and got free from the
car, Cruz put down the gun and Estrada picked it up. He shot Perrigo in
the neck while the deputy was slumped over the steering wheel, documents
Capt. Dave Compomizzo, a resident deputy in Burney in 1991, said he'll
never forget the brisk morning he was awakened from a sound sleep to
respond to the call.
He was 2nd to arrive.
Compomizzo said that if he's called out on the crisp, damp of an early
fall night, he still gets a "real weird sensation" that takes him back to
He said he can't shake the image of Perrigo's arm hanging limply out the
driver's side door.
Nor can he forget spotting Cruz's cowboy boot print in dust on the patrol
car's trunk, which Cruz had left as he climbed out from the back window,
A similar print can be seen in the concrete near the Shasta County
"I know that it's just some kid wearing cowboy boots who walked through
the wet concrete," Compomizzo said. "But every time I see that, I think
'Dang it, that's Tomas Cruz's boot print.'"
Cruz turned himself in after a 6-day manhunt.
Still wearing parts of the handcuffs, Cruz and Estrada were arrested at
the rice mill five miles north of Fall River Mills where one of the men
had worked for several weeks. The murder weapon, a hacksaw and the other
parts of the cuffs were found in the hayloft where they had been hiding,
Cruz's trial was moved to Solano County after prosecutors and defense
attorneys agreed that he couldn't get a fair trial in Shasta County.
He remains today on death row at San Quentin State Prison.
Estrada was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
In his appeal, Cruz's attorneys charged that members of the Solano County
jury that convicted him were picked by prosecutors to discriminate against
his Mexican ethnicity or were unfairly sympathetic to death penalty cases.
Among other issues, Cruz also argued he had been pressured by
investigators to confess without an attorney present, and that a judge
during the penalty phase of the trial suppressed sympathetic testimony
from Cruz's mother and a psychologist who said he had been beaten by
Mexican police as a teen.
The justices also denied claims by Cruz that the psychologist who
testified on his behalf was maligned to jurors after media reports
surfaced during the trial that the doctor had been charged with inhumanely
electrocuting chinchillas he'd been raising for their pelts.
Perrigo was the most recent of 12 Shasta County peace officers since 1911
to die in the line of duty.
Compomizzo said the loss of a colleague and the hunt for Cruz and Estrada
was a defining moment for many deputies.
"They all felt it was the most important thing they've done in their
careers," Compomizzo said.
(source: Redding Record-Searchlight)
Death sentence in Reading case is upheld
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Friday upheld the May 2005 Berks County
Court death sentence for Michael Pruitt in the 2002 rape and strangulation
of a longtime Sunday school teacher in her Reading home.
The court ruled that the prosecution provided enough evidence to warrant
death for Pruitt, 45, formerly of Reading, in the Sept. 28, 2002,
strangulation of Greta A. Gougler, 69, of 521 N. Ninth St.
State law requires an automatic appeal to the Supreme Court for all death
Assistant District Attorney Jonathan H. Kurland said the court's opinion
grants justice for Gougler.
"We are pleased," he said.
Pruitt's attorneys, P. David Maynard and Michael J. Cammarano, argued
against the death sentence in favor of life in prison because Pruitt was
high on crack cocaine at the time and did not intend to kill Gougler.
The lawyers said Pruitt was mentally unable to form an intent to kill
Gougler, as required factor for murder, because he was using cocaine.
But the justices said the only evidence that Pruitt was on cocaine was his
own statement to police.
The defense lawyers also argued that Senior Judge Albert A. Stallone
improperly ruled that Pruitt was mentally competent to stand trial.
The court ruled that the testimony from prosecution witness Dr. Timothy
Michals of Philadelphia that Pruitt was mentally competent was credible.
The court also agreed that Stallone properly determined after questioning
the defendant that he was mentally competent to stand trial.
Gougler, taught Sunday school at the former St. Stephen's United Church of
Christ, Ninth and Greenwich streets, and sang in the music program for 57
According to court records:
Pruitt watched Gougler as she worked in her yard, then followed her
inside, where he raped and robbed her.
He told police he wanted to steal money to buy drugs.
Samples taken from Gougler's body contained Pruitt's DNA.
Former Dartmouth resident, once on Florida death row, freed
A Dartmouth native who spent 13 years on Florida's death row in a
murder-for-hire case was released Friday after he agreed to a plea deal,
his lawyer said.
Michael W. Mordenti, 67, was convicted in 1991 of killing Thelma Royston
in Odessa, Fla., after the victim's husband allegedly sought to have her
murdered for $10,000. First sentenced to death and later given life, Mr.
Mordenti accepted a lesser charge of 2nd-degree murder offered by the
state after he won an appeal, his lawyer, Martin McClain, said.
His new sentence is 25 years, and he was ordered released immediately for
time served plus good behavior, said Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for
the Florida Department of Corrections.
"This is a glorious day for me and my family," said his daughter, Michelle
Bergeron, a New Bedford resident. "God has answered our prayers."
Mr. Mordenti, a former used-car dealer, grew up in Dartmouth. He and his
third wife, Gail Milligan, sold a used-car lot on State Road in the early
1980s and moved to Florida, said Ms. Bergeron, who is the daughter of his
The victim's husband, Larry Royston, allegedly convinced Mr. Mordenti's
ex-wife, Ms. Milligan, to arrange a hit on his wife. She said she
contacted three people before getting her ex-husband to carry out the hit,
the St. Petersburg Times reported. Mr. Royston committed suicide before
The Florida Supreme Court granted him a new trial in 2004 on grounds the
prosecutors allegedly withheld evidence casting doubt on the credibility
of his ex-wife, who was given immunity, the newspaper reported at the time
of the court's decision.
However, following a second trial ending with a deadlocked jury, a third
trial in 2005 resulted in Mr. Mordenti being convicted a 2nd time and
Earlier this year, an appellate court in Florida ordered a new trial,
which was scheduled to start next month, due to evidence not admitted by
the judge in the 2005 trial. Prosecutors offered 2nd-degree murder, and
Mr. Mordenti pleaded "in his best interest," without admitting guilt, Mr.
McClain said in a telephone interview.
"He always maintained his innocence," said Ms. Bergeron, who praised his
"It was very hard for my family through the years to go through this," she
It was not immediately clear what Mr. Mordenti would do next. Mr. McClain
said he is considering moving to Alaska.
(source: Standard Times)
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