[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS, ALA., GA., FLA., N.H., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Nov 10 10:54:06 CST 2008
Ex-judge wants man off death row----Inmate is scheduled to die this week,
but former judge serving as his attorney says sentence needs review
With Crosby murderer George Whitaker's execution just days away, state
pardons commissioners Monday will consider a former state district judge's
petition that the killer's death sentence be commuted to life in prison.
The request to spare Whitaker's life came from the killer's
court-appointed lawyer, retired state District Judge Jay Burnett. Burnett
presided over Harris County's 183rd District Court from 1986 to 1998 and
was chairman of the State Bar of Texas' Committee on the Death Penalty
from 1995 to 1998.
Whitaker, 37, was sentenced to die for the June 15, 1994, murder of
17-year-old Shakeitha Carrier. Carrier's mother, Mary Carrier, was shot
twice in the attack, and her sister Ashley, 5, was severely
pistol-whipped. His execution is scheduled for Wednesday.
Court testimony revealed the victims were relatives of Whitaker's
ex-girlfriend Catina Carrier, who had ended their relationship.
Burnett said Whitaker's sole chance to live he has exhausted all other
appeals rests on the pardons board's decision either to grant a 30-day
stay so his petition may be further studied or to recommend that Gov. Rick
Perry commute the sentence.
Except for commutations for mentally retarded or juvenile killers mandated
by the U.S. Supreme Court, Perry has spared only 1 murderer from
execution. In 2007, Perry commuted San Antonio killer Kenneth Foster's
death sentence to life in prison.
Jury not told parole rules
In his petition to pardons officials, Burnett argued that his client
unjustly was condemned because the presiding trial judge prohibited the
jury from being told that a life sentence in the case would have required
the killer to serve 40 years, day for day, before becoming eligible for
Additionally, Burnett contended Whitaker suffered poor representation
because lawyers did not present expert testimony regarding lingering
effects of a childhood head injury. Finally, Burnett told commissioners,
that, although brutal, Whitaker's crime did not meet death penalty
Prosecutors, compelled to prove a murder occurred during the commission of
another felony offense in order to obtain a death sentence, argued that
Shakeitha Carrier was shot in the head while Whitaker burglarized the
family home. Burnett countered that although Whitaker had entered the
house, he had not done so to steal anything.
In his petition, Burnett told commissioners, the pardons board bears heavy
responsibility to "do justice now."
In e-mailed comments, Burnett said trial Judge Caprice Cosper elected to
prohibit jurors from learning either through defense attorneys or in her
charge that a life sentence would have required Whitaker to serve 40
years before becoming parole eligible.
"In Whitaker's trial," Burnett said in an e-mail, "the jury was not told
anything (regarding) parole except that he was 'parolable' and like most
of our lay citizens, I am reasonably certain that they believe in the
popular myth that convicted defendants serve only short terms before being
released from prison.
"Therefore, even though Whitaker had no prior criminal record and no facts
showing a murder that was particularly heinous or atrocious. In short,
there was no reason to give a death sentence other than the jury's fear of
Prisoner to be interviewed
Burnett asked the board to interview Whitaker about the case. Texas Board
of Pardons and Paroles Chairwoman Rissie Owens said that request would be
Whitaker refused a Houston Chronicle request for an interview.
Court records indicate that Whitaker and 2 companions arrived at the
Carrier family home ostensibly to deliver personal items his former
girlfriend left at his home. Earlier, though, testimony revealed, the
mechanic told an acquaintance he planned to kill someone.
Once at the Carrier home, he twice shot his girlfriend's mother, leaving
her right hand permanently disabled. He then attacked his girlfriend's
sisters, killing one and leaving the 5-year-old with brain injuries.
Whitaker would be the 16th killer to die in Texas's Huntsville death house
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Protesting the Texas death penalty
The annual March to Stop Executions has become a place for death penalty
opponents from all over Texas to meet and connect. This year's 9th annual
march was no exception, with 150 people--a good percentage of them family
members of death row and other prisoners--marching and rallying in Houston
on October 27.
Activist Ester King opened the march by reading a statement written by
former Texas death row prisoner Kenneth Foster, who expressed his
solidarity with Georgia death row prisoner Troy Davis:
Rise up and be heard, and if needed...rise up and be FELT (there is a
difference). Rise up for Troy Davis. Rise up like it's your first and last
fight, because when we do...the last will finally be first. FIGHT!!!
The multiracial march began and ended in Houston's Third Ward.
Participating in the march were the Kids Against the Death Penalty, a
group of young people that are related to, and friends of Jeff Woods, who
is wrongly imprisoned on Texas death row. These young people, ages 10 to
14, have become very outspoken against the death penalty and brought a new
spirit to the march.
Clarence Brandley, an exonerated Texas death row prisoner, was a featured
speaker at the rally.
Many family members were present, and at one point, all the family members
gathered at the podium. Delia Perez Meyer, sister of Texas death row
prisoner Louis Castro Perez, gave a short speech on behalf of the gathered
family members. Delia said of the event:
Standing among the other family members was really an awe-inspiring and
emotional time--while it's good to see that we're not the only ones
suffering from this horrific nightmare, it was so sad to see so many
family members affected by the death and destruction that the death
penalty imposes on all of us.
We have each other to lean on, to share our stories with, to cry with, to
hope with, and to ultimately stand next to each other to hold each other
up as our loved ones are taken by this monster we call justice in Texas.
God willing, some day it will end!
(source: Socialist Worker)
Death penalty opponents share stories
Shirley Cochran fought back tears as she made her way to the podium.
She was the last of 4 panelists to speak out against the death penalty,
but as she said, certainly not the least.
Before a quiet audience Cochran recalled the day she found out her first
husband was murdered. She remembers wanting his killer to die.
But years later she would marry her new husband, James Bo Cochran. Her new
husband spent 19 years and 4 months on death row before being exonerated
for the murder that sent him there.
She remembers wanting him to live.
"The death penalty should not be," Cochran said shaking her head. "I know
that if it was someone in your family, you wouldn't want it to happen."
Cochran and a group of death penalty opponents spoke out last week at the
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Alabama. It was an open forum, where
members of the panel took questions from the audience. The speakers
included Cochran's husband and former Tuskegee Police Chief Leon Frazier,
a one-time supporter of the death penalty who now opposes it.
Eliminating the death penalty does not mean criminals should not pay for
the crimes they commit, just that they do not have to die for it, Cochran
" I can understand how people can feel that way. All I could think of was
my husband was murdered and that my children don't have a father," she
But after giving her life to God, Cochran said she realized revenge
wouldn't change anything and she found mercy in herself for the man who
killed her husband.
"No one should get away with doing a crime, but when we sentence them to
death are we sure? Are we very sure, (they did it)?" she said.
Her husband, James Bo Cochran, was sure he didn't do it, but he said for
almost 20 years that didn't make a difference.
"I had no business being there, he said, "I just used to cry and cry and
my mom would say put God in your life and take it easy," he said.
James Bo Cochran said he was arrested in 1976 for murder he left a store
with nothing more than something to eat. According to a report from
Project Hope, an organization that works to abolish the death penalty,
Cochran is 1 of 7 men released from death row that authorities found have
been wrongfully convicted.
Esther Brown, executive director of Project Hope, said Alabama has the
largest per capita death row population nationwide and has sentenced more
people to death per capita than any other state.
James Bo Cochran had a number of trials before he was convicted of robbery
but not of murder. He maintains he is innocent of that crime, as well.
He said his life changed for the better after he was brought to Christ by
another inmate on death row.
James Bo Cochran said he was on death row for such a long time that when
he was finally free to go he struggled with his decision to leave.
"When I got ready to go I didn't want to. Those were my brothers," he said
about fellow inmates.
Leon Frazier, who came to oppose the death penalty after spiritual
self-exploration, said that it is better to let a guilty man go free than
to see an innocent person executed, and he believes many innocent people
have been executed in Alabama.
"If you kill them, you can't just say 'Oops,'" he said. "I think we should
punish them but, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' is barbaric.
The death penalty is not the answer."
Cora Cobb's son, Melvin Hodges, has been on death row for nine years and
she is fighting to save his life. She said the jury voted by an 8-4 margin
to give Hodges life, but the judge overturned the recommendation and gave
him the death penalty.
Cobb said she thinks that judges should be appointed instead of elected.
In her son's case it was re-election year, and Cobb thinks judges not
wanting to seem "soft" on crime are quicker to sentence someone to death.
According to Brown, a quarter of prisoners on death row in Alabama are
there because a judge overruled a jury's recommendation.
(source: Montgomery Advertiser)
BRIAN NICHOLS TRIAL----After verdict, court turns to penalty for Nichols;
Judge says no decision expected until after Thanksgiving
The Fulton County jury that found Brian Nichols guilty of the 2005
courthouse killing spree convenes this morning to decide whether he should
receive the death penalty.
The Fulton Superior Court jury of 6 black women, 2 white women, 2 black
men, 1 white man and 1 Asian man deliberated 12 hours last week before
finding Nichols guilty Friday on all 54 counts stemming from the murders
of Judge Rowland Barnes, his stenographer Julie Ann Brandau, Fulton
sheriffs Deputy Hoyt Teasley and David Wilhelm, an off-duty U.S. customs
Nichols had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
Cobb County Superior Court Judge James Bodiford, who is presiding over the
trial, has said he expects the evidence to be extensive in the penalty
phase, and doesn't expect a decision until after Thanksgiving.
The jury must decide whether to sentence Nichols, 36, to death or to life
93 witnesses testified during the 32-day trial, which was moved to Atlanta
Municipal Court since 2 of the shootings happened inside the Fulton County
Nichols was on trial for rape on March 11, 2005, when he beat and
overpowered a female Fulton deputy in a courthouse holding cell.
Nichols took the deputy's gun and used it to kill the judge and his court
reporter in Barnes' courtroom. He fled the courthouse, killing Teasley on
the sidewalk outside. Later that night, he killed Wilhelm at a house the
agent was building in Buckhead.
About 26 hours after he became the object of the biggest manhunt in
Georgia history, Nichols surrendered to authorities who had surrounded the
Gwinnett County apartment of Ashley Smith, where Nichols had holed up for
about 8 hours, holding Smith prisoner.
DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller initially agreed to
oversee the Nichols trial, but stepped down after being quoted in a New
Yorker magazine story saying of Nichols, "everyone in the world knows he
(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Death penalty phase begins in Nichols case
The death penalty phase is expected to begin Monday in the case of a
gunman found guilty of killing 4 people in a shooting spree that began at
a downtown Atlanta courthouse. Brian Nichols, 36, was found guilty Friday
in the fatal shootings of a judge, a court reporter, a deputy and a
federal agent in the 2005 rampage.
He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, claiming he was gripped
by a delusional compulsion that he was a slave rebelling against
authority. But a jury soundly rejected his claims, finding him guilty of
all 54 counts against him, including murder and aggravated assault.
(source: Fort Mill Times)
Back-to-back death sentence waivers point to trend on Treasure Coast
It's happened twice within the past four months: The Florida Supreme Court
gave a man on death row for murder in St. Lucie County a new chance at
Attorneys say it's rare for 2 defendants in separate cases from the same
county to be taken off death row within months of each other.
But that's what happened in July, when the state's highest court ordered a
new sentencing hearing for murderer Eddie Bigham. And then again, in early
October, when the court ordered a whole new trial for Andrew Michael
Gosciminski, who is accused of bludgeoning a woman to death on Hutchinson
Those 2 decisions bring the total to 5 men in the past 3 years whose death
sentences in Treasure Coast cases have been tossed by the state Supreme
Court. Just last week, the state Supreme Court overturned the death
penalty imposed in 1991 for murderer Rodney Lowe in Indian River County,
ordering a new sentencing hearing in that case.
Last year, the same court downgraded a death sentence to life in prison
for murderer Christopher Jones in Okeechobee County. And in 2005, the
court reversed a death sentence for St. Lucie County murderer Daniel
Perez, who was re-sentenced to life in prison.
That number may seem high, but Assistant State Attorney Ryan Butler said
the number of reversals by the state Supreme Court is likely linked to the
higher than usual number death-penalty cases tried on the Treasure Coast
in the past several years. For instance, of the 6 men on death row from
St. Lucie County at the beginning of this year, all but one came from a
case tried since 2004.
"Given the number of death penalty verdicts we've had recently, I'd say
this is not a particularly high number of reversals," said Butler, who
tracks death penalty appeals for the 19th Judicial Circuit, which includes
Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties. He said a
majority of the circuit's death sentences are affirmed, adding that the
same day Bigham's sentence was tossed, the state Supreme Court upheld a
death sentence in a 2001 Okeechobee murder case.
At least nine of the 48 death verdicts in the circuit since the late 1970s
have been overturned by the state Supreme Court, Butler said. Of the nine
overturned, several of those defendants ended up back on death row after
their cases were retried, and others were sentenced to life in prison, he
Attorney Rusty Akins, who represented Bigham at trial and also handled the
successful death-sentence appeal in Jones' case, said these cases show why
the appellate process is so important.
But he also thinks an unspoken tug-of-war between the Florida Supreme
Court and the state Legislature might have something to do with the number
of death sentences overturned in recent years.
"The justices, I think, feel the death penalty scheme in Florida is
unconstitutional, but they won't take that step and say it," Akins said.
"They seem to be finding other well-established legal reasons to reverse
cases rather than saying the death penalty is unconstitutional."
No matter the reasons for tossing a death sentence, prosecutors say the
result can be devastating for the victims' loved ones -- especially when a
new trial is needed.
"It's always difficult to explain to a victim that a case they thought was
over is now coming back," Butler said.
OVERTURNED DEATH SENTENCES
Since October 2005, the Florida Supreme Court has overturned death
sentences in five Treasure Coast area cases.
Andrew Michael Gosciminski, 55
Convicted in 2005 for the Sept. 24, 2002 death of Joan Loughman, 55, of
Connecticut. She was visiting her elderly father on Hutchinson Island when
she was bludgeoned, stabbed and cut to death inside his St. Lucie County
home. Gosciminski was working as community outreach director at Lyford
Cove and helped Loughman move her father into the assisted living
facility. Prosecutors argued Goscimiski murdered Loughman for her jewelry,
especially her large diamond ring.
Found guilty of 1st-degree murder in April 2005 and sentenced to death
after a 9-3 jury vote in favor of death.
Florida Supreme Court on Oct. 9 threw out his sentence and ordered a new
trial. It said evidence should not have been allowed that Gosciminski gave
his girlfriend Loughman's blood-coated ring because there was no evidence
that the ring was blackened by the victim's blood.
Prosecutors are reviewing the ruling but say they probably will retry the
Eddie Bigham, 50
Convicted in 2005 for the May 2003 death of Lourdes "LuLu" Cavazos, 40,
who was strangled to death in a wooded Fort Pierce lot. Prosecutors argued
Bigham dragged Cavazos into the lot at 26th Street and Avenue E, where he
raped and murdered her. His DNA was found on her clothes. The trial judge
threw out the rape charge, saying there wasn't enough evidence to support
it, and the jury convicted him of 1st-degree murder.
Jury unanimously agreed to recommend a death sentence after learning that
this murder happened only a month after Bigham finished a prison sentence
for killing an infant in 1988.
Supreme court threw out Bigham's death sentence in July and downgraded
his conviction to second-degree murder. The court ruled that there was not
enough evidence to prove Bigham acted with premeditation during the
killing, so it could not support a 1st-degree murder conviction.
Bigham is awaiting resentencing.
Christopher Jones, 29
Convicted in the July 17, 2001 murder of Hilario Dominguez inside his
Okeechobee County home. Prosecutors said Jones shot Dominguez during a
State's high court upheld the conviction but reduced Jones' sentence to
life in prison, citing the lack of sufficient aggravating circumstances to
warrant his death.
The court ruled the state failed to prove Jones killed Dominguez to elude
police or eliminate witnesses, one of the aggravating factors prosecutors
used to push for a death sentence. Taking that circumstance out of the
equation, the court said Jones' sentence was overly harsh when compared
with similar cases.
Daniel Ely Perez, 30
A jury found Perez guilty in 2003 for the 1st-degree murder of Susan
Martin, who was found bludgeoned and stabbed 94 times inside her Port St.
Lucie home. Perez and a co-defendant broke into Martin's home in August
2001 to steal jewelry and valuable coins.
The trial jury voted 9-3 in favor of recommending the death penalty.
In October 2005, the state supreme court threw out his death penalty, but
upheld his conviction. It ruled the death sentence was disproportionately
cruel because the crime was not heinous enough when compared with his
accomplice's sentence and with similar cases.
Instead of conducting a new penalty phase trial where he could have
received another death sentence, Perez agreed to be sentenced to life in
prison. His new sentence was imposed in July 2006.
Rodney Lowe, 38
Convicted in Indian River County for 1st-degree murder during an
attempted robbery of a convenience store in July 1990. Donna Burnell, 30,
of Palm Bay was shot twice while she and her 3-year-old son were in the Nu
Pack Market on County Road 512, Sebastian
Supreme Court ordered a new hearing on the death sentence last week;
upheld the murder conviction.
The court was troubled by what Lowe's appeal attorney said was the
discovery of evidence after trial that Lowe may not have acted alone.
Lowe is awaiting re-sentencing.
BACK TO DEATH ROW
Even though the state Supreme Court can overturn a death sentence, it
doesn't necessarily mean a defendant won't go back to death row. Several
local defendants have had their original death sentence thrown out and
were re-sentenced to death after a new hearing or trial. Those cases
Alphono Cave, who along with co-defendants J.B. Parker and James Earl
Bush kidnapped and killed Julia Frances Slater. She was stabbed and then
shot in the back of the head in Martin County in 1982.
Jim Chandler, bludgeoned Harold and Rachel Steinberger, an elderly
Sebastian couple, to death with a baseball bat in July 1980.
Billy Kearse, who shot Fort Pierce police Sgt. Danny Parrish 13 times
after Parrish pulled him over for driving the wrong way down a 1-way
street in 1991.
David Alan Gore, who was sentenced to death for the 1983 murder of
17-year-old Vero Beach resident Lynn Elliot and received 5 consecutive
life sentences for the killings of 5 other women.
DEATH SENTENCES UPHELD
Several Treasure Coast defendants' death sentences were upheld by the
state supreme court after the original trial. Those included:
Richard Johnson, who raped and murdered a Vero Beach woman and dumped her
body in Savannas State Park in St. Lucie County in 2001.
Neil Salazar, who along with a co-defendant, fatally shot a woman in the
head after attempting to suffocate her with a plastic bag in June 2000.
Thomas Wyatt, who killed three Domino's Pizza employees in Vero Beach in
William Reaves, who killed Indian River County Deputy Richard Raczkoski
at a convenience store in September 1986.
NH judge instructs jurors in Addison trial
A judge told jurors in Michael Addison capital murder case that as they
deliberate, they should not be influenced by knowing their decision could
lead to the death penalty.
Addison's lawyers concede he shot Officer Michael Briggs in October 2006,
but said the shooting was reckless and unintentional. They asked jurors to
convict Addison of 2nd degree murder instead of capital murder, for which
he could face the death penalty.
Superior Court Judge Kathleen McGuire told jurors Monday morning that the
key decision they must make is whether they believe Addison acted
knowingly. She said they don't have to find he acted intentionally. She
said knowingly means that Addison knew his actions in shooting Briggs
would cause death.
The jury is expected to begin deliberating Monday afternoon.
(source: Associated Press)
A DNA Backlog
In 2004, Congress approved a bipartisan measure aimed at clearing up the
shameful nationwide backlog of rape kits, the physical evidence from
sexual assaults, awaiting DNA analysis.
The measure was named for Debbie Smith, a Virginia rape victim whose
assailant was finally apprehended on the basis of DNA evidence collected
during the invasive exam she consented to following the attack after her
rape kit sat untested for 6 years.
Sadly, despite tens of millions of dollar in federal grants, a significant
backlog remains. When the new House and Senate take office in January,
lawmakers need to address this ongoing insult to women and the intolerable
loss for effective law enforcement.
The problem is particularly egregious in California. An audit issued last
month by the Los Angeles city comptroller said at least 7,000 rape kits
remain untouched by the police department's crime lab. That includes open
cases and solved cases awaiting analysis and entry of the DNA profiles
into state and national databases, a critical step for identifying any
other crimes committed by the assailant, and preventing future attacks.
More than 200 rape kits had been sitting so long, the audit found, that
the 10-year statute of limitations for bringing prosecutions had expired.
The causes of this disaster include a lack of resolve, trained personnel
and accountability. Under Bill Bratton, the former New York City police
chief who is now police chief in Los Angeles, the number of untested rape
kits has grown by around 700 each year while some federal money available
to pay for testing has gone unclaimed.
California is not alone. West Virginia's State Police reported that its
DNA case backlog grew to 697 cases by the end of 2007, from 560 cases 6
months earlier, despite receiving about $230,000 in federal money. The
Miami-Dade Police Department failed to spend any of the $200,000 it
requested in 2007 to cut its DNA backlog, whose size was not reported to
the federal government.
Between 2005 and 2007, half the states receiving grants did not spend all
the money. States that did were not required to specify what portion was
used to process rape kits, compared with other DNA testing, for which
grant money can be spent under the law.
Sarah Tofte, a researcher who has studied the issue for Human Rights
Watch, says the chief failure here is "to treat rape as seriously as other
Congress can help fulfill the law's promise by tweaking the Debbie Smith
law, say by requiring states to use at least 30 % of their grant money to
test backlogged rape kits and lifting restrictions on paying private labs
for DNA testing. Senator Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman,
has expressed concern about the backlog. We urge him to hold hearings and
build momentum for needed revisions to the law.
(source: Editorial, New York Times)
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