[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----FLORIDA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Nov 18 23:19:16 CST 2008
Prosecutor Prepares For 6 Death Penalty Cases
Death penalty cases, by their very nature, are significantly different
court proceedings than, say, a drug trafficking case.
For one, defense attorneys have to meet a certain set of qualifications,
according to Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin.
"They have to have certain training and a certain amount of experience,"
he said. "No such requirements for the prosecutors. The judges also have
to have special training and certification to hear death penalty cases."
Houchin certainly has his hands full with these, having filed notices of
intent to seek the death penalty in 6 1st-degree murder cases in Highlands
The 1st to go to trial is the case of Joshua Lee Altersberger, 20, who is
accused of shooting to death Sgt. Nicholas Sottile with the Florida
Highway Patrol during a Jan. 12, 2007 traffic stop in Highlands County. A
status jury trial is scheduled for March 6, with the jury trial set to
begin March 16.
Before that, death penalty motions will be heard in Altersberger's case
Dec. 19 in Bartow in front of Judge Michael J. Hunter.
"If we file the notice, if it begins to get close to time for trial, the
defense will file a series of motions attacking the constitutionality of
the death penalty," Houchin said.
Other Death Penalty Cases
Besides Altersberger, Houchin has filed a notice of intent seeking death
for 5 other defendants.
Joseph Paul Graham, 19, is charged in connection with the Nov. 24, 2007
shooting death of Samuel Tiller, 82, who was killed in his house while the
defendant and 2 others were allegedly in the process of burglarizing it.
Both Brandon Johns, 29, and Terrance Barnett, 27, are accused of binding
Bryan Edward "Red" Fanning inside his home and then burning it on Aug. 22,
Thirdly, Donald Henry, 37, faces accusations that he shot to death Hugh
Andrew Marks, who was found Jan. 7 near the intersection of Garrett Road
and Alabama Avenue in Avon Park.
Finally, Andrew Kalinowski, 21, is charged with shooting both Walter
Enrique Vilchez and Jose Franklin Escalante, with the former dying as a
result of his injuries.
The Time To Seek Death
When it comes to seeking the death penalty, Houchin said Florida statute
requires that, on top of it being a first-degree murder case, certain
aggravating circumstances must exist.
"There's about a dozen aggravating circumstances that you can consider
above and beyond the fact it's a first-degree murder (case), such as
heinous, atrocious and cruel, in other words, unnecessary suffering like
you might have in the Bryan Fanning case," Houchin said. "The fact that
the victim's a law enforcement officer is one of them."
Other aggravating circumstances include the capital felony being committed
while the defendant was in the commission of another crime, like burglary,
or the crime being a homicide that was committed in a "cold, calculated
and premeditated manner," according to state statutes.
"The law is simply that the aggravating circumstances must outweigh any
mitigating circumstances," Houchin said. "It's a balancing act."
Mitigating circumstances include the defendant having no significant prior
criminal history, committing the crime while under "extreme mental or
emotional disturbance" and the age at the time of the alleged crime.
The Long Haul
Death penalty cases are also infamous for their length, with most lasting
anywhere from 2 to 3 weeks, according to Houchin.
"In long cases, the harder part for finding jurors is finding people who
can spend 2 or 3 weeks out of work," he said.
The trials are more involved, since the defense brings in a 2nd attorney
to assist and witnesses are often brought in from out of state, Houchin
Death penalty cases can also happen in two phases. Part one would consist
of the jury unanimously finding a defendant guilty of first-degree murder
beyond a reasonable doubt.
If the trial gets this far, part 2 will have both sides show aggravating
and mitigating evidence for the jury to consider when recommending a
"It does not have to be a unanimous vote, but they make a recommendation
to the judge, life or death, and then it's the judge's final decision in
weighing these aggravating circumstances," Houchin said.
Of course, sentencing a defendant to death can be an expensive endeavor.
Enforcing the death penalty costs Florida $51 million a year above what it
would cost to punish all 1st-degree murderers with life in prison without
parole, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).
Based on the 44 executions the state had carried out since 1976, that
comes to $24 million for each execution, according to information from a
Jan. 4, 2000 edition of the Palm Beach Post.
The Sunshine State has put 66 inmates to death since 1976, including 2 so
far this year, according to DPIC statistics. In 2007, Florida executed no
death row prisoners.
Death May Not Always Be The Case
Even though a notice seeking the death penalty may be filed, Houchin said
it can be taken back at some point if the case warrants it.
That is not going to be the case in the upcoming Altersberger trial.
"We recently sent the defense a short little letter saying we would not
consider anything but death," Houchin said.
(source: Highlands Today)
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