[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, OKLA., FLA., ILL.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Jan 28 17:50:13 CST 2009
Execution set for Wednesday for convicted killer
Neighbors watched in horror while a gunman repeatedly shot 27-year-old
Veronica Fuentes as she fell to her knees in the front yard outside her
trailer home in Brazoria County, south of Houston.
The carnage would get worse.
"Anybody that saw these 2 little kids, laying out like cordwood with a
bullet in their heads, shot for no reason that sort of sticks with you,"
Dale Summa, a former Brazoria County district attorney, recalled.
In all, 4 people were gunned down in the October 1996 shooting frenzy.
On Wednesday, Virgil Martinez, 41, a former Houston security guard, was
set to die for the killings.
Martinez would be the 4th Texas inmate executed this year and the 1st of 2
on consecutive nights this week in the nation's most active death penalty
David Dow, a University of Houston law professor, said he hoped to get the
lethal injection delayed so lawyers can be certain Martinez is competent
to be executed.
"He seems to us to have some potentially significant mental illness
issues," said Dow, who works with the Texas Defender Service, a legal
group that represents death row inmates.
Don Vernay, a New Mexico lawyer who had been representing Martinez in
federal court appeals, argued unsuccessfully that temporal lobe epilepsy
suffered by Martinez caused the shooting spree.>
"The problem was, it was a bad crime," Vernay said.
Martinez declined to speak with reporters in the weeks preceding his
He was picked up by police in Del Rio, more than 300 miles to the
southwest, ranting about voices telling him to kill and was taken to the
Kerrville State Hospital for a mental evaluation. 2 weeks later,
authorities determined he had given them a false name and that he was the
man wanted for the 4 slayings.
His ex-girlfriend, Fuentes, had been shot 14 times. Her 5-year-old son,
Joshua, was shot 5 times; his sister, Casandra, 3, 3 times; and a
neighbor, John Gomez, 18, 8 times. Gomez had been helping the woman watch
her kids. Before dying, he identified the gunman as Fuentes' former
Just before his sentencing at his 1998 trial, Martinez told the court:
"God knows my heart. I'm innocent."
At trial, Martinez was defended by Jeri Yenne, who later was elected
district attorney in Brazoria County. She declined to elaborate on her
involvement in the case, which was taken over by the Texas Attorney
General's Office after she became district attorney.
"I did everything we could from an advocacy perspective," she said of her
defense. "We also want to make sure the system properly reviews it. I
don't think I should talk about the particulars."
In 2004, a federal appeals court ordered a hearing to look into Martinez's
claims defense lawyers didn't present enough evidence about his medical
condition being responsible for the shootings. Lawyers said pursuing that
strategy would have contradicted Martinez's assertion going into the trial
that he didn't do the shooting.
Witnesses testified they saw Martinez shoot Fuentes. Her two children were
found dead in their beds, both shot in the head at point-blank range.
Gomez was gunned down as he ran to Fuentes' aid.
Prosecutors combined all four slayings into a single capital murder
charge. Police concluded a single 9 mm gun fired all the bullets. Police
recovered a holster for the gun in Martinez' car and a box designed to
house the same caliber weapon in his mother's Houston home, where he
lived. The murder weapon, however, never was recovered.
The shootings occurred a short time after Fuentes had ended a relationship
On Thursday, Texas prisoner Ricardo Ortiz was set to die for the
retaliation killing of Gerardo Garcia, 22, a fellow inmate at the El Paso
County Jail in 1997. Garcia died of a lethal injection of heroin.
(source: Associated Press)
US death row inmate battles conviction after execution halted
Prosecutors fought back Wednesday against evidence offered up by a death
row inmate who says he was in jail when the victim he is accused of
killing died, one day after his scheduled execution was halted.
A federal appeals court on Tuesday suspended the execution in Texas of
Larry Swearingen, 37, for the murder of a 19-year-old student, and allowed
his attorneys time to present new evidence.
Melissa Trotter went missing December 8, 1998 in Texas, and her body was
found in a wooded area on January 2, 1999. At that time, a forensic expert
dated her death 25 days before she was found, evidence that led to
Swearingen's conviction and his death sentence.
However Swearingen's attorneys on Monday rolled out 5 forensic medical
counterarguments, including a revised one by the 1st forensic expert in
They all said that Trotter died 2 to 15 days before the body was found,
placing it days after Swearingen was arrested on drug charges.
But on Wednesday, Montgomery district attorney Brett Ligon said in a
statement that the new evidence related to how long the body had been
outside, not when she died, and was therefore irrelevant.
"One of the world's leading authorities in forensic entomology has
determined that capital murder victim Melissa Trotter was killed prior to
the date that convicted murder Larry Ray Swearingen was placed in
custody," Ligon said in a statement.
"Dr. Neal Haskell's definitive opinion should end the irrelevant debate
between defense experts regarding the degree of decomposition of Ms.
Trotter remains," he argued.
Haskell found that "larval insect development observed during examination"
of Trotter's body "remains was consistent with her body having been left
in the forest no later than December 10, 1998, the day before Swearingen
was arrested," the statement read.
The defense kept up its barrage against the prosecution's evidence.
"The entomology can't tell anyone where that body was. It is ludicrous to
think that entomology can do anything for the state in this case," said
defense lawyer James Rytting.
"The use of entomology is completely and thoroughly illogical."
Swearingen had a prior conviction for rape, and has maintained his
Plea spares life of elderly Pasadena woman's killer----Beaumont man is the
2nd hurricane evacuee convicted in the case
A Beaumont man facing the death penalty for strangling a Pasadena church
worker who helped him after Hurricane Rita pleaded guilty on Tuesday to
capital murder in exchange for life without parole. Jimmy Hoang Le is the
2nd defendant convicted in the Oct. 28, 2005, murder and robbery of Betty
Le stood emotionless as state District Judge Jim Wallace sentenced him a
week before his trial was scheduled to begin.
Le; his girlfriend; Stephanie Jacobo, both 18 at the time; and Roosevelt
Smith rented a Houston apartment in the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane.
In October 2007, Smith, 47, a Napoleonville, La., resident who fled
Hurricane Katrina, was sentenced to die for his part in the scheme to tie
up the schoolteacher and community leader before ransacking her home.
Blair, an active member of St. Pius V Catholic Church, took the trio in,
giving them money and odd jobs and helping them get GEDs, prosecutor Brad
He said the woman had been hit in the head with a vase and strangled,
first by hand, then by a telephone cord.
Her body was discovered by a daughter, who told police her wedding ring,
jewelry, purse, computer, television, video equipment and 2000 Buick were
Using a locating device in her car, police arrested the three at a toll
booth on the West Sam Houston Parkway.
Hart said charges are still pending against Jacobo, who had offered to
testify against Le.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Prosecutor: Slain Texas toddler said 'I love you' at end
A slain toddler tried to stop her mother and stepfather from beating her
to death by reaching out to her mother and saying, "I love you," a
prosecutor told jurors Tuesday. The pleas from 2-year-old Riley Ann
Sawyers didn't stop her mother, Kimberly Trenor, from continuing to
brutalize her, assistant district attorney Kayla Allen said in her opening
statement at Trenor's murder trial.
But defense attorney Tommy Stickler Jr. told the jury that Trenor, 20,
never intended to kill her daughter in 2007 and that things just "spun out
The toddler was dubbed "Baby Grace" by investigators who worked to
identify her decomposed remains after the body was found in a plastic
container in October 2007 on a tiny island in Galveston Bay.
Trenor's 25-year-old husband, Royce Zeigler II, is to be tried separately
on murder charges. His attorney points the finger at Trenor.
Prosecutors declined to seek the death penalty because they didn't think
they could prove that either one would be a future danger, as required.
During her opening statement, Allen detailed for jurors the day that she
said Riley Ann died for forgetting to say "please" and "yes, sir."
Allen said that on July 25, 2007, Trenor and Zeigler disciplined Riley by
whipping her with a belt, pushing her head against a pillow and holding
her head under water. She said Zeigler grabbed Riley and tossed her across
the room, fracturing her skull. An autopsy concluded the skull fractures
caused her death.
"To the very end, Riley said, 'I love you' to her mom. She's reaching
out," Allen said. "That's her lifeline, to her mother. What does Kim do
after hearing her say I love you? She starts beating her."
Allen said the adults did nothing to help even as Riley lay dying.
She said the pair bought a plastic container, stuffed Riley's body inside
and stored it in a shed for a month or 2 before setting it out to sea,
Stickler portrayed Trenor as a scared 19-year-old girl who had moved to
Texas from Ohio to marry a man she met while playing an online game. She
said Riley's father, her former boyfriend, had assaulted her and Zeigler
was her "knight in shining armor, her Texas cowboy."
"I don't want to use the word accident, but this wasn't something that was
intentional," Stickler said.
Trenor could receive an automatic sentence of life in prison without
parole if convicted of capital murder. The jury could also convict her of
a lesser charge.
Riley's remains were unidentified for weeks until an Ohio woman, Sheryl
Sawyers, saw an artist's sketch and told authorities she believed the girl
was her granddaughter. Sawyers' son is Trenor's ex-boyfriend.
(source: Associated Press)
Jury recommends death penalty for fatal robbery
A Polk County jury has recommended that a Winter Haven man with a history
of robberies should be executed for fatally shooting a convenience store
The jury voted 7-5 in favor of putting 28-year-old Jamail Hogan to death
on Tuesday. A circuit judge will make the final decision, but Florida law
requires judges to give jury recommendations great weight.
The same jury found Hogan guilty last week of 1st-degree murder in the
2005 death of Remesh Desai and attempted armed robbery.
Hogan's attorneys said that his crime was not bad enough to warrant the
death penalty, but prosecutors argued that Hogan had a history of violent
Attorneys will provide the judge with additional arguments at a March 4
(source: Associated Press)
Death penalty hearing next week in 2006 Rolling Meadows murder
By next week, Patrick Taylor will know the sentence he'll face if a jury
finds him guilty of the 2006 murder of musician Marquis Lovings.
At a hearing Wednesday before Cook County Judge Joseph Scotillo,
prosecutor Karen Crothers said the state's attorney's office will announce
next week whether it intends to seek the death penalty for the 40-year-old
Police say Taylor entered Lovings' Rolling Meadows condominium with
another offender at about 9 p.m. on Aug. 19, 2006, and demanded money and
jewelry from Lovings and several friends. Authorities say Taylor, whose
last address was the 7500 block of Vernon in Chicago, struck the 30
year-old Lovings with a pistol and ordered him to open a safe. When
Lovings was unable to do so, Taylor shot Lovings repeatedly in the neck
and torso, authorities say.
Taylor's criminal background includes arrests for delivery of a controlled
substance, possession of marijuana and aggravated assault for which he
spent a year in prison. In the nearly 18 months since Taylor's arrest,
Scotillo has proceeded as if it was a capital case "to ensure Mr. Taylor
the safeguards provided by the statutes."
Assistant public defender Jim Mullenix also requested that his client be
moved to a special unit at the Cook County Jail so that his medical needs
can be met. Taylor, who uses a wheelchair and crutches, has been shot more
than 20 times in unrelated crimes. He said that sheriff's deputies have
provided him with neither his medication nor his crutches, leaving him
Scotillo said he had no objection to the transfer to a medical unit and
would recommend it, but allowed that the final decision rests with Cook
County Sheriff Thomas Dart.
Taylor next appears in court Feb. 6.
(source: Daily Herald)
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