[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, TENN., FLA., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Oct 21 22:40:45 CDT 2008
Northeast Texas man executed for burglary-slaying
Condemned inmate Joseph Ries was executed Tuesday evening for the slaying
of a 64-year-old Northeast Texas man during a burglary almost a decade
Ries expressed love to friends who watched through a death chamber window
and urged them to stay strong because "Jesus is coming back soon."
Looking toward another window, he told 2 daughters of his victim he was
"really sorry for what I've done." Ries said he prayed that they would
find peace through God.
"I hope he heals your heart. The truth is that you are going to feel empty
after tonight. Standing with Christ in your heart, he can only give you
peace. I pray you can find it. I really do."
As the lethal drugs began flowing, he started to sing a hymn. "Our God is
an Awesome God," he sang. "Lord I lift your name on high." He then slipped
into unconsciousness and was pronounced dead 7 minutes later at 6:17 p.m.
Ries, 29, was executed for breaking into the rural Hopkins County home of
Robert Ratliff, fatally shooting him as the man slept, then driving off in
the victim's car.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals by Ries' lawyer, James Terry Jr.,
who wanted the court to halt the punishment and examine the case,
contending among his arguments that Ries' rights were violated because his
earlier appeals were handled by an incompetent attorney. Terry also argued
Ries' trial lawyer failed to adequately show jurors how Ries was raised by
a drug-addicted and alcoholic mother whose parental rights twice were
revoked, and how Ries was abused in some of the dozen foster homes where
"We've got a system that's broken and at every level it's been broken for
him," Terry said. He acknowledged the crime was horrible but contended
Ries' life had been "shaped by the failures of those whose legal and moral
duty was to help him.".
Ries had lived at Ratliff's home in Cumby, about 65 miles northeast of
Dallas, but Ratliff kicked him out after he suspected Ries of stealing
On Feb. 18, 1999, Ries stole Ratliff's farm pickup for a trip to San
Antonio. He and a friend, Christopher Lee White, also 19 at the time,
returned 3 days later to take Ratliff's Lincoln Continental because the
truck got poor gas mileage.
Ratliff wasn't home, so they broke in and stole 2 rifles, drove the pickup
into a pond until it sank, then waited behind a barn until he came home
and went to sleep. Ratliff was shot, then they drove off in his Lincoln.
Ratliff's body was found by a relative.
"Why Mr. Ries decided to stop and murder him, it's beyond me," said Martin
Braddy, the Hopkins County district attorney who prosecuted Ries. "That's
something only he can understand. He had the keys and he was leaving the
house when they killed him. It just seemed so cold and callous and so
Ries was arrested by police in Lawton, Okla. He was driving Ratliff's car,
which by then had been reported stolen, and was wearing Ratliff's hat.
Prosecutors said Ries was the triggerman. A jury in Sulphur Springs
deliberated seven minutes before convicting him.
"We don't have a lot of violent crime here, and so our jurors are not
callous to it," Braddy said. "I imagine citizens in other jurisdictions
see murders all the time, a part of everyday life, but not here. So it
probably took some people aback."
Ries, who said drug use in high school worsened when he found easy access
to drugs while attending Texas A&M-Commerce, said he was high when the
"I'm not sure exactly what happened," he said recently in an interview
outside death row.
He said he remembered stealing the pickup, driving to San Antonio and
getting high and driving back.
"The next thing I know, I'm sitting in a car freaking out," he said. "I'd
He said he was high when he was arrested and when he made a videotaped
confession to police.
The prospect of death was frightening "in a way," Ries said, but added
that he'd accepted Christ into his life and was prepared for it.
"Life is just a bridge," he said.
Jurors who decided Ries should die also were told of his auto thefts,
property damage, poor impulse control, disregard for rules and anger
toward some relatives. White, his accomplice, was tried separately and
received life in prison.
Ries becomes the 12th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
Texas and the 417th overall since the state resumed capital punishment on
December 7, 1982. Ries becomes the 178th condemned inmate to be put to
death in Texas since Rick Perry became governor in 2001.
On Thursday, another condemned inmate, Bobby Wayne Woods, 42, was
scheduled to die for the 1997 murder of Sarah Patterson, the 11-year-old
daughter of his ex-girlfriend. Her throat was slashed when she and her
9-year-old brother were abducted from their home in Granbury, about 25
miles southwest of Fort Worth.
Ries becomes the 28th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the
USA and the 1127th overall since the nation resumed executions on January
(sources: Associated Press)
TENNESSEE----federal death sentence
Man sentenced to die after 2 days' deliberation
A federal jury sentenced a Georgia man to die today for the abduction and
slaying of an Atlanta restaurant owner in Tennessee, prompting his
attorney to call Justice Department officials "Nazis" for seeking the
The 7 women and 5 men on the jury were in their 2nd day of deliberations
when they voted unanimously to sentence Rejon Taylor, 24, to death. The
jury is the 1st in the state to return a federal death sentence. There are
more than 50 inmates on federal death row.
Taylor showed no emotion as the sentence was read.
U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier said he would set a hearing later to
formally impose the sentence.
The predominantly white jury took less than 4 hours last month to convict
Taylor, who is black, of abducting restaurant owner Guy Luck from his
Atlanta driveway in 2003 and shooting him on a rural road near
Before the sentencing, defense attorney Bill Ortwein asked for a mistrial
after a majority of jurors told the judge they were aware of media reports
in which a prosecutor said Taylor described them as "racist rednecks." The
request was denied.
Ortwein said his client will appeal.
"There is only one conclusion I can come to as to why the Nazis in the
Bush Department of Justice decided to seek the death penalty in this
particular case," he said. "Statistically and overwhelmingly where the
victim is white and the defendant is an African-American, they certainly
ask for and seek the death penalty."
Ortwein said there are "more horrendous murder cases" in Hamilton County,
where the trial was held.
"Race had nothing to do with this," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris
Poole. Fellow Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Neff said lethal injections
are done humanely.
"Obviously, what the defendant did was drag this man out of his house at
gunpoint, put him in the back of a van, drive him for 2 hours and shoot
him four times, including through the mouth," Neff said. "To the extent
that there are different degrees of death, that seems to me much more
2 co-defendants pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty and testified
Court records show the 3 abducted Luck from his driveway in an upscale
Atlanta neighborhood where Taylor had committed a series of burglaries and
Prosecutors contend Taylor knew Luck was a witness in one of those cases
and wanted to get rid of him.
Taylor drove Luck's van while 1 co-defendant held him at gunpoint and
another followed in a car as they drove to Tennessee. When Luck tried to
overpower his abductors, one co-defendant shot him in the arm and Taylor
fired several shots, one of which hit Luck in the mouth.
Taylor's mother, Reba Taylor, also showed no emotion as the verdict was
read. She is charged with helping Rejon Taylor and several others attempt
to escape from jail in April 2006. She declined comment, as did jurors.
The case is the 1st federal death penalty trial in the eastern district of
Tennessee. Federal prosecutors handled it because Luck was abducted and
taken across state lines.
(source: Associated Press)
Man Sentenced to Death In Stepdaughter's Murder
A judge Monday sentenced Roy Phillip Ballard to die for the murder of his
stepdaughter, Autumn Traub, whose body has never been found.
Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen needed only about 10 minutes to impose his
sentence. But the judge spent weeks devising an in-depth, 18-page
sentencing order analyzing the complex murder case.
Jacobsen noted that prosecutors clearly proved "a single strong
aggravator" for the law's ultimate punishment: The murder was "cold,
calculated and premeditated."
"The murder of Autumn Traub was not a crime of rage," Jacobsen wrote. "It
was a well thought out and planned murder."
In July, a jury found Ballard guilty of the 1st-degree murder of Autumn
Marie Traub of Lakeland. The same jury recommended by a 9-3 vote that
Ballard be executed.
Traub was 33 when she disappeared Sept. 13, 2006, after meeting with
Ballard in Lakeland.
At trial, prosecutors argued that the 67-year-old Zephyrhills man was
motivated by a sexual obsession for a 14-year-old female relative. Traub
was preventing Ballard from regaining custody of the girl.
The Ledger is not naming the girl because she is an alleged victim of a
Ballard's former cellmate had testified Ballard confided to him how he
killed Traub. Michael Eugene Needham said Ballard told him he hit Traub in
the head with a pipe, bashed her teeth out and put her body in acidic
Inside the trunk of Ballard's car, detectives recovered plastic Wal-Mart
bags with a small trace of Traub's blood on them, a roll of duct tape with
blood on it thought to be Traub's and a sex toy with the girl's DNA
material on it.
Detectives also found a receipt from a home improvement store dated Sept.
2, 2006, for an 18-inch metal pipe and a roll of duct tape.
But the pipe was never recovered, and Ballard told detectives he could not
remember what he did with it.
Records for Ballard's cell phone show he was using cell towers in an
undeveloped rural area in North Lakeland on the day before and the day of
Prosecutors argued Ballard scouted a remote area to commit the murder and
dispose of her body.
Ballard's lawyers, Byron Hileman and Stephen Fisher, argued brain damage
and other medical problems impaired Ballard's ability to follow the law
and control his behavior.
They provided doctors who testified Ballard suffers from mild to moderate
brain damage caused over the years by multiple small strokes.
The defense said Ballard suffers from other medical problems - dementia,
diabetes, epilepsy and hypertension. They also argued Ballard's behavior
problems were intensified by a toxic level of seizure medication in his
But Jacobsen only gave "slight weight" to the various medical and
He wrote that there is some evidence of brain damage, but Ballard "did not
demonstrate any outward signs of extreme or emotional disturbance."
Ballard's boss - during "practical day to day observations" before and
after the murder - did not notice any changes in Ballard's demeanor or
Ballard was leading a normal life putting in full days as a maintenance
supervisor for Atlantic Metal Industries in Tampa, the judge wrote.
"His aging did not appear to slow him down," Jacobsen wrote.
At 67, Ballard won't be the oldest Polk County inmate on Florida's death
row. Nelson Serrano, convicted of four murders at the Erie Manufacturing
plant in Bartow in 1997, is 70.
The oldest inmate currently on death row is 80, according to the Web site
of the Florida Department of Corrections.
There are 14 other Polk County killers on death row. The last Polk
murderer to be executed was Phillip Atkins in 1995.
(source: The Ledger)
Skylar Deleon found guilty of killing Tom and Jackie Hawks----Orange
County jury takes only 2 hours to convict the Long Beach man of the 2004
murder aboard the Hawkses' yacht.
With his conviction a foregone conclusion, Skylar Deleon did not flinch
Monday when he was found guilty of killing Tom and Jackie Hawks in a plot
to steal their yacht and plunder their bank accounts.
"He knew that was going to happen," his attorney, Gary Pohlson, told
reporters moments after an Orange County jury, which had deliberated just
two hours, found Deleon guilty of killing the Hawkses and Jon Peter Jarvi,
an Anaheim man found dead in Mexico after Deleon swindled him out of
All sides agree that the real deliberations for the same five-man,
seven-woman jury start Wednesday, when they return to court to begin
determining whether Deleon should die for the 3 murders.
"Let's get on with the penalty phase," Ryan Hawks, one of the Hawkses'
sons, said outside the courtroom. He and other family members and friends
of the couple support the death penalty for Deleon and will be testifying
during the next stage, as will Jarvi's family.
Pohlson had conceded during his opening statement that Deleon was guilty.
But he has maintained that Deleon was not the evil, manipulative genius
prosecutors have made him out to be, and has been seeking all along to
spare Deleon a death sentence.
Deleon will not testify during the penalty phase, Pohlson said.
But several of his relatives and doctors will take the stand to show that
Deleon was emotionally and physically abused by his father, a
bumper-sticker salesman who traveled the country in a converted mail
truck. He died earlier this year.
"We have quite a lineup," Pohlson said of his witnesses. "He's had a
Deleon is the 2nd defendant tried in the Hawkses' deaths and the first to
face a potential death sentence.
2 years ago, lead prosecutor Matt Murphy won the conviction of Deleon's
wife, Jennifer. She is serving two consecutive life terms without
possibility of parole after Murphy portrayed her as a coldhearted,
money-hungry plotter in league with her husband, even using their
9-month-old baby to gain the Hawkses' trust.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, described by prosecutors as the "brawn" behind
the murder plot, is awaiting trial and also faces the death penalty if
Alonso Machain is awaiting sentencing. He admitted being on board the
yacht when the Hawkses were killed, and he was instrumental in helping the
government figure out what happened to them.
The couple were last seen in November 2004, leaving Newport Harbor aboard
their 55-foot yacht, Well Deserved. Their disappearance drew international
headlines and sent a wave of fear through boating communities around the
Tom Hawks, 57, was a retired probation officer and firefighter; his wife,
10 years younger, was a homemaker who had helped raise his 2 boys from an
earlier marriage. The couple spent nearly two years plying the Sea of
Cortez and Pacific Ocean before deciding to sell the boat and move closer
to their first grandchild in Arizona.
That's when they met Deleon.
Thinking he was a serious buyer, the couple agreed to take him and 2 pals,
Kennedy and Machain, out for what they thought was a sea trial. They
headed out of the harbor the morning of Nov. 15, 2004. Though the boat
returned, Tom and Jackie Hawks did not.
At the time, Deleon was out of work and facing mounting debt. He also had
a second child on the way. He was living with his wife and their first
child in a converted garage attached to her parents' home in a
working-class section of Long Beach.
Deleon, his wife and the other co-defendants insisted for weeks that they
had bought the boat outright and last saw the Hawkses alive and well in
But Machain eventually cracked, and he provided the 1st eyewitness account
of what happened to the couple, whose bodies have never been found.
According to Machain's testimony and other evidence, the Hawkses were
overpowered, handcuffed and held captive in a bedroom in a lower cabin,
with their eyes and mouths covered with duct tape. One at a time, husband
and wife were taken to the main cabin to sign and fingerprint documents
that transferred the boat title to Deleon and gave him power of attorney.
Jackie Hawks cried and begged for their lives. She and her husband were
reassured they would be released if they cooperated.
Instead, they were taken out to sea, where they were tied together to an
anchor, her back to her husband's chest and their hands still cuffed
Tom Hawks kicked Deleon, sending him into a deck chair. Kennedy responded
with a hard punch that left Tom Hawks staggering before Deleon lifted the
anchor and threw it overboard as Kennedy gave the couple 1 final push.
The men collected cash, jewelry and other valuables, and Kennedy cracked
open a beer, grabbed a fishing rod and fished all the way back to Newport
200 sex assault cases pass prosecution deadline before LAPD tested DNA
kits----The cases are part of a backlog of 7,000 DNA kits that the
department has not tested, according to an audit by City Controller Laura
Chick. Police say they don't have enough money.
As many as 200 potential sexual assault cases have gone without
prosecution because Los Angeles police officials failed to meet legal
deadlines to test DNA evidence that might have identified a suspect,
according to a city audit released Monday.
The audit was the 2nd critical assessment of LAPD forensic work in as many
weeks. A confidential report obtained by The Times last week disclosed
shoddy work by the department's fingerprint experts that had falsely
implicated people in crimes.
LAPD blames faulty fingerprint... The latest from The Homicide
ReportPolice Commission chief calls for investigation of fingerprint lab
Chief William J. Bratton said late Monday that he had set up a task force
to examine the Scientific Investigations Division, which oversees the
department's fingerprint analysis unit and DNA lab. He said he had asked
the FBI and Los Angeles County district attorney's office to join the task
"You hired me as chief of police to manage the department day to day. But
you also hired me for when a crisis occurs and they will occur," Bratton
said. "When it occurs, the idea is to quickly get in and assess what is
According to the audit by City Controller Laura Chick's office, the LAPD
has a backlog of 7,000 sexual assault test kits that have not been
examined. Of those cases, 217 are beyond the 10-year statute in which to
prosecute the crimes, according to the report.
Each kit, officials say, contains a potential genetic road map to the
perpetrator of a crime.
"Sometimes I find problems as city controller that simply defy
explanation," Chick said at a news conference. "It is beyond disturbing
that the thousands of victims who have undergone the invasive ordeal of
[submitting to] these tests do not even know that their evidence is still
Unlike the Hollywood portrayal of high-tech crime fighting on police shows
such as "Law & Order" and "CSI," Chick said the LAPD's ability to analyze
evidence seemed "stuck in an era of Wyatt Earp."
The LAPD has been repeatedly criticized for its huge backlog of untested
DNA evidence, but officials have said that they lacked the money to move
faster on the cases. Bratton said his department needed more staff and at
least $7 million to address the backlog.
"What happened here is there are not enough people in the crime lab to do
the work," Bratton said. "We got the City Council to authorize 16
additional people, but they did not fund it."
Bratton said he was so frustrated that he turned to the Los Angeles Police
Foundation to raise private funds. So far $1.5 million has been raised.
Now, Bratton said, the unit that tests the kits is working at maximum
capacity and is able to keep up only with the new cases and ones that must
be processed because the statute of limitations is close to expiring.
Chick's report found that the LAPD's logjam continued to worsen even
though the department had received nearly $4 million in grants in recent
years to address the problem.
Auditors also found that the LAPD was failing to comply with a state law
that requires sexual assault victims to be notified by the police if their
rape kits are not tested within a 2-year period. Bratton said such
failures would be among the issues that the task force would take up. If
authorities had made those notifications the statute of limitations would
have been extended.
LAPD officials acknowledged that some kits were beyond the legal deadline,
but said it was possible that some of those cases had been prosecuted
using other evidence. They added that some of the stored DNA evidence may
be tied to crimes other than sexual assault.
"It's not something we're proud of," Bratton said of the backlog.
In addition to forming the task force, the chief said he has ordered a
reorganization of the department to move the Scientific Investigations
Division -- which includes the crime lab -- into the detectives' bureau
where it would be more integrated with the investigative functions. The
division had been part of an administrative bureau, he said.
The problem of untested DNA evidence is not unique to the LAPD. Forensic
labs throughout the nation have been swamped by demands, not only from
regular investigators but also from "cold hit" squads seeking breaks in
long-dormant cases and from convicts with claims of innocence. According
to U.S. Justice Department statistics, more than 500,000 unsolved crimes,
including 169,000 rapes, have untested DNA evidence.
In Los Angeles County, the backlog has occasionally caused trial dates to
be canceled, frustrated detectives, and delayed justice for victims and
their families. In one case, an evidence kit that went untested for months
left a suspected rapist free to allegedly assault another victim.
Sarah Tofte, a Human Rights Watch researcher who has been studying the DNA
testing backlog at police agencies, said Chick's audit was the latest
example of shortcomings in the LAPD's management of sexual assault kits.
She said the LAPD earlier this year had lost some federal funds because it
had moved too slowly to fix the backlog.
"Why add to the suffering of rape victims by making them wait years to
investigate and prosecute their cases -- or letting a prosecution go
forward without this evidence?" she said.
Councilman Jack Weiss, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, called the
audit findings "heartbreaking."
"It is literally criminal," said Weiss, who wants the department to hire
more lab workers. "The department needs to understand that scientists are
just as important as officers."
(source for both: Los Angeles Times)
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