[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, VA., FLA., PENN.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Tue Aug 16 09:30:38 CDT 2011
Texas Again Sets Skinner Execution Date
For the 4th time, the state of Texas is scheduled to execute death row inmate
Hank Skinner for the 1993 murders of his live-in girlfriend and her 2 sons,
potentially quashing his ability to request DNA testing under a new state law.
Gray County District Attorney Lynn Switzer asked a state district judge last
month to grant an order setting an execution for Nov. 9, even as Skinner awaits
a federal court ruling on whether prosecutors must turn over DNA evidence for
testing that he says will prove his innocence. Skinner’s lawyers call the move
a pressure tactic that makes it tougher for the court to adequately weigh the
“No one's interests will be served by rushing to a decision under the pressure
of a looming execution,” Rob Owen, one of Skinner’s lawyers and director of the
University of Texas School of Law's Capital Punishment Clinic, said in a
The execution date also means that Skinner’s lawyers must hurry to try to take
advantage of a new state law that allows increased access to post-conviction
DNA testing. In 2001, legislators passed a law allowing those who had already
been convicted to ask for DNA testing. The original legislation allowed testing
only in cases in which DNA tests were not conducted during the original trial
because the technology was unavailable or for some other reason that was not
the fault of the defendant. This year, lawmakers repealed those restrictions.
Beginning Sept. 1, post-conviction testing will be available for DNA evidence
not previously analyzed, and for DNA evidence that was tested but that can be
re-examined with updated technology.
Switzer’s office directed calls to the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Lauri
Saathoff, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, declined to respond to
Skinner’s lawyers’ comments and said the execution warrant was sought “because
Skinner has exhausted his appeals and habeas corpus petitions, and there are no
outstanding stays of execution from any court.”
The 2001 post-conviction DNA testing law is at the heart of Skinner’s quest for
DNA testing. He has always maintained that he did not kill Twila Busby and her
sons, Randy Busby and Elwin Caler. Although he was at the house at the time of
the murders, Skinner contends — and toxicology tests indicated — that he was so
inebriated from a concoction of vodka and codeine that he was passed out on the
couch in their small Pampa home, unable to physically overtake the 3 victims.
DNA evidence presented at his trial showed Skinner’s blood was at the scene,
and an ex-girlfriend — who later recanted her testimony — told jurors that he
confessed to her. The jury convicted him in 1995.
But not all the available DNA evidence was tested. A rape kit, biological
material from Twila Busby's fingernails, sweat from a man’s jacket resembling
one that another potential suspect often wore, a bloody towel and knives have
never been tested. Skinner's original trial lawyers worried the results might
be incriminating. But Skinner has asked the state to release the evidence now
Texas courts have repeatedly said no. Citing the 2001 law, they ruled that
Skinner had his chance in 1995. They have also agreed with prosecutors who
contend that more tests wouldn’t prove that Skinner was innocent.
But less than an hour before Skinner was scheduled for execution in 2010, the
U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay. After a hearing, the high court sent the case
back to the federal district court to decide whether Skinner is entitled to
additional DNA testing. That court is set to decide in the coming months
whether Texas courts have arbitrarily and unconstitutionally applied the
state's 2001 post-conviction DNA testing law.
“It would be logical and sensible for the state to hold off setting another
execution date until Skinner’s legal claims can all be heard in a reasonable
fashion,” said Doug Robinson, one of Skinner’s lawyers. “It makes everything
just so much more difficult, certainly for Skinner’s lawyers, and I would
imagine for the federal courts."
Meanwhile, Robinson said, it also means that Skinner’s lawyers must quickly
decide whether to file another request in state court for DNA testing based on
the new post-conviction DNA testing law that takes effect next month. If
lawyers file the request on Sept. 1, the day the law takes effect, it will give
the courts only two months to issue a ruling before the execution date,
practically lightning speed in death row litigation terms. “The two previous
motions we filed took two to three years for the state courts to rule on,”
Which makes it very likely, Robinson said, that Skinner and his lawyers will be
asking the courts to grant another stay of execution.
(source: Texas Tribune)
Man Indicted on 3 Counts of Capital Murder
A man accused of a double homicide in Odessa has been indicted.
27-year-old James Doyle Burwell was indicted on 3 counts of capital murder for
killing 2 people at the same time and for murder during a robbery and burglary.
Burwell is accused of murdering Richard Jess Glover and Peggy Colleene Glover
in their home back in May.
Burwell was found in Lubbock with the victim's Lincoln Navigator.
Police were able to track him by using the GPS unit that was installed in the
If found guilty, Burwell faces either life in prison without parole or the
(soruce: KWES News)
Inmate to be executed this week speaks of abuse
Jerry Terrell Jackson says he wonders what his life would have been like if
someone had saved him from the hell that was his home, where broken bones,
sexual abuse and beatings — with a fist, a belt or even a 2-by-4 — left him
bloodied and bitter.
He's certain of 2 things: Ruth Phillips would not have died the way she did,
and his life would not be ending in Virginia's death chamber.
It's quiet in Greensville Correctional Center, steps away from the room where
he is set to take his last breaths Thursday night. Thoughts about what could
have been are hard to avoid.
"I know it would have been different, because I wouldn't have had to have been
so afraid of people," Jackson, 30, said in a telephone interview from
Greensville, where he was moved from death row at Sussex I State Prison late
last week in preparation for his execution.
An impassioned plea by his attorneys detailing Jackson's years of savage
beatings failed to move Gov. Bob McDonnell, who denied a request to commute
Jackson's sentence to life in prison Friday. The only thing that stands between
Jackson and lethal injection is the U.S. Supreme Court.
There's no doubt Jackson's crime was horrible.
On Aug. 26, 2001, a 20-year-old Jackson broke into a Williamsburg apartment.
Ruth Phillips, an 88-year-old widow, woke up and caught him going through her
purse, offering whatever she had if he would just leave. Instead, Jackson put a
pillow over her face and raped her, fleeing in her Dodge sedan and using the
$60 he stole to buy marijuana.
Phillips' son, Richard, found her the next day, her body twisted and exposed.
It took a jury only 2 hours to determine Jackson should die for what he did.
His attorneys argue that jurors didn't get to hear the graphic details of his
childhood because his trial attorney failed to put his brother and sister on
the stand. Instead, the attorney relied on accounts read from social services
and medical records that prompted the judge to warn the attorney that it was so
boring he worried jurors would doze off.
Jackson's attorneys also failed to present evidence on the connection between
childhood abuse and poor moral development in adults.
A federal judge allowed the siblings to testify at a 2008 evidentiary hearing.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema ordered that Jackson get a new
sentencing hearing, saying the testimony "painted a graphic picture of an
unwarranted, continuous, sadistic course of conduct that terrorized and
dehumanized Jackson throughout his childhood."
Their testimony, Brinkema wrote, "would have helped create a more accurate
picture of a young, badly damaged young man whose life should be spared."
But earlier this year, a federal appeals court overturned that ruling on a
technicality — a ruling in a recent case meant the evidentiary hearing was
Jackson's attorneys continue to argue that the testimony would have swayed at
least 1 juror to vote for life in prison — all that was needed to avoid the
"The environmental within the home reached a point to which the word abuse
frankly cannot capture what (Jackson's stepfather) put the family, and
particularly Terrell, through," said Dr. Matthew Mendel, a clinical
psychologist who specializes in long-term abuse and trauma in men. "This was
terror. This was torture, and this was terror for this boy."
Jackson doesn't remember when the beatings started. Court records show that his
arm was broken at 19 months old. He thinks it happened when his mom and dad
He remembers his father slamming his head in the refrigerator door when he
tried to sneak food one night when he was about 5 and throwing a glass Pepsi
bottle at his head when he blocked the television.
Court documents speak of things he doesn't — of rape by an older male, of
Jackson hiding in the closet while his brother was raped, afraid he'd be next.
The only affection Jackson remembers from his father was when he gave him
alcohol, starting when he was around 3 years old. Jackson says he doesn't know
why his father did it, but thinks it was because he liked to make fun of the
way the child acted when he'd had a few drinks.
By 9, Jackson's father and mother split up and within months he had a new
stepfather. The abuse got worse.
The beatings became almost daily, he and his brother say. He was beaten for
being too loud, saying he was hungry, for looking too much like his father. The
beating with the two-by-four came when he was in second grade, when his
stepfather didn't believe that he was telling the truth when quizzed about
whether his mother was sleeping with his father. The family spent that night in
a shelter, and his stepfather was arrested.
The next few years brought emergency room visits and more broken bones. He was
hogtied with duct tape and beaten. Once, he received 77 lashes with a belt, his
brother and sister said, because of stolen candy. Child protective services
called them "planned, calculated beatings."
Sometimes his stepfather made Jackson and his brother strip naked before a
beating, according to testimony. More than once, he made the boys masturbate
while he watched. Other times, he made them strip and do exercises. Jackson's
sister testified that she slept with a knife under her pillow after her
stepfather tried to molest her.
Through it all, Jackson did his best not to cry. He said he didn't want to give
his stepfather the satisfaction of seeing his tears.
He doesn't blame his mother, who worked multiple jobs while his stepfather
"If she didn't work so much or if she didn't love my stepdad and my dad too
much," Jackson says, trailing off. Another what if.
His only reprieve was when his grandmother took him to church.
"It was like an environment where home didn't matter because those people
there, they loved you," he said. "They told you the right way to go, but they
didn't do it with mean faces and loud voices."
Once when his grandmother was sick, he walked 10 miles to get to her. At her
funeral, he tried to lead the congregation in singing her favorite hymn but
broken down crying.
Alcohol was the only thing that could numb the pain. It took him away, he said.
It gave him the strength to run away from home. But he doesn't blame alcohol
for what happened that night in Phillips' bedroom.
"I'm sorry Mrs. Phillips lost her life due to something that I done," he said.
"I'm sorry to Mr. Phillips that he hurt so much. I'm sorry that he lost his
Richard Phillips said Jackson must face the punishment he was given. Phillips
doesn't plan to witness Thursday's execution.
"There have been times where you want to have vengeance, but that's not my
thing," Phillips said.
Jackson has tried to change things while on death row. He fought for visits
from his spiritual adviser, and he's been an outspoken critic of a policy that
bans contact visits for death row inmates, whom he calls his brothers.
Jackson said it took him going to death row "for me to believe people really
While he refuses to openly blame his mom, he leaves a cautionary message.
"Mothers and fathers, take care of your kids," he said. "Love your kids,
because they are the people that grow up and make this world."
(source: Associated Press)
Setting up battle of mental health experts, Schenecker attorneys claim insanity
Before the murders, she bought a gun. She left a note about "the massacre." She
sent a suicidal-sounding e-mail and incoherent text messages saying she might
need help that day.
Did her actions show Julie Schenecker planned and reflected on killing her 2
children? Or was she out of her mind?
On Friday, the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office announced it would
seek the death penalty against Schenecker, charged with 1st-degree murder in
the Jan. 27 shooting deaths of her 16-year-old daughter, Calyx, and 13-year-old
Now Schenecker's attorneys have filed notice they will use insanity as her
defense, a move that was expected. They say she suffers from "a bipolar
disorder with psychotic features."
The filings show the murder case will be a battle of mental health experts, say
local lawyers not connected with the case.
"The state will argue that the planning shows premeditation and therefore that
she was sane at the time of the killings," said Tampa lawyer John Fitzgibbons.
"The defense, I am certain, will argue that some planning can certainly take
place by an insane individual."
At the time of the shootings, Schenecker was being treated for depression,
bipolar disorder and substance abuse, court records show. Detectives found
numerous prescribed medications in the house.
Neither side has got it easy.
Prosecutors must present aggravating factors in support of the death penalty.
St. Petersburg lawyer Robert Heyman said he thinks that will be hard to do,
given Schenecker's lack of a criminal record and evidence of her psychological
"Death might be on the table but with all the psychological issues it's going
to be an uphill battle," he said. "Death is given to the cold, calculating
criminal. … Not to a mother who commits a horrendous crime."
Schenecker's attorneys, too, could have a hard time proving insanity, a defense
that is difficult to meet in the legal sense — no matter how insane the crime,
said Cheryl Meyer, a professor at Ohio's Wright State University who has
studied mothers accused of killing their children.
In Florida, defendants must show that because of a mental defect they either
did not know what they were doing or did not know it was wrong.
Andrea Yates, the Texas mother convicted of drowning her children, had a long
history of mental illness. In her 1st trial, the jury rejected her insanity
argument and found her guilty on murder charges. The convictions were later
thrown out, and Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity at a 2nd
But, Meyer said, "overall the insanity defense is not successful."
Tampa defense lawyer Grady Irvin said the public still doesn't know what led up
to the killings. Still unknown, he said, are many of the family dynamics that
could play into an insanity defense.
Meyer said Schenecker's attorneys could make a strong case against the death
penalty, arguing their client is a woman already struggling with serious mental
problems, trying to raise teenagers with a military husband who was frequently
She acknowledged plenty of mothers face such difficult circumstances and don't
kill their children. But why do they not cross that line?
"What puts her in Category A and everybody else in Category B? We don't know
who they are in Category B," she said. "We don't know what pushes you over."
(source: St. Petersburg Times)
Northeast Woman: Deborah Doyle Belknap
Deborah Doyle Belknap, J.D., Ph.D., started her professional career in the
>From there, she ventured into the halls of academia.
Now, she's back to where it all started.
The Clarks Summit resident is an attorney by training, but for the past decade
she's been a social and behavioral sciences professor at Keystone College. And,
more recently, she's become an in-demand mitigation specialist for defense
attorneys throughout the state.
A mitigation specialist is responsible for preparing and presenting mitigating
evidence in the penalty phase of a capital case, i.e. a trial in which the
death penalty is an option. Essentially, it's her role to explain the
circumstances that led to the defendant committing the crime, with the ultimate
hope that the death penalty not be imposed.
Dr. Belknap works on as many as three cases at a time. Each one takes months of
preparation, from conducting dozens of interviews to researching the
defendant's school records and employment history.
"It's every aspect of a person's life you can think of," said Dr. Belknap, an
ardent opponent of capital punishment. "It's almost like writing a biography of
"You do become very close to the people you work with. You really empathize
with the clients and their families," she continued. "You find most of these
people come from very hard circumstances.
"It really is a field that puts all my skills to work."
A Clarks Summit native - she grew up just a few streets from her current home -
Dr. Belknap majored in journalism and psychology during her undergrad years at
The Pennsylvania State University. Her interest in the law didn't come about
until one of her journalism professors made a keen observation one day in
"He told me I liked to argue a lot, so I'd be a better lawyer than a
journalist," Dr. Belknap said with laugh. "He gave me an idea I hadn't had
Upon finishing law school at Catholic University of America in Washington,
D.C., she moved to Allentown to serve as a clerk for a Common Pleas Court
Eventually, she joined a firm in Philadelphia. There, she worked on a number of
cases with a strong mental health component, including one involving a woman
who went on a shooting spree at a suburban Philadelphia mall.
"It was a lot of cases involving psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health
law," she said. "There was just a lot of things going on in the mental health
world that I wanted to be involved in."
She became so fascinated with the field that she ended up enrolling at Temple
University to pursue a doctorate in social and forensic psychology.
Once she completed her doctoral work, she moved back to Northeast Pennsylvania,
along her husband, Bryant, and their three daughters, Natalie, Madeline and
Dr. Belknap interned at Scranton Counseling Center before joining the faculty
at Keystone, where she teaches psychology and criminal justice classes, making
her a part of two different departments.
"Keystone's a really nice school," she said. "It's a really nice environment.
You get to know the students well."
Dr. Belknap's work keeps her plenty busy, but she does make time for other
She just completed her tenure as president of the Abington Heights Middle
School PTA, and she recently served on Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty's Task
Force on Law Enforcement and Mental Health. The group, composed of mental
health and law enforcement officials from throughout the area, recommended
implementation of a local Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) for police officers
handling mental health crisis calls.
She's currently on the local CIT board, whose members are certified to conduct
CIT training for area police officers and other interested professionals. So
far, she and her fellow board members have trained about 40 people.
Stopping death penalty
Dr. Belknap is also on the board of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the
Death Penalty, a nonprofit group dedicated to ending capital punishment in the
commonwealth. One case at a time, she's doing her part to accomplish the
TO NOMINATE A NORTHEAST WOMAN, please submit requests via e-mail to lifestyles
@timesshamrock.com or mail them to Northeast Woman Nominations, The Sunday
Times, 149 Penn Ave., Scranton, PA 18503. Please include the woman's name,
address and the reason the reader feels the woman is deserving. Those
submitting need to include their name and a daytime phone number.
Meet Deborah Doyle Belknap, J.D., Ph.D.
At home: Resides in Clarks Summit with her husband, Bryant, and their 3
daughters, Natalie, Madeline and Celeste. She is the daughter of Jack and
Joanne Doyle, Clifford Twp.; two sisters, Jackie, Philadelphia, and Erica
Dolan, North Carolina.
At work: Assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences at Keystone
College; also a freelance mitigation specialist
Inspiration: "Nature," she said. "I always feel refreshed and inspired after a
walk in the woods."
Aspiration: "To continue to do work that I love."
Diversions: Hiking, canoeing and spending time with family and friends.
Aversion: "The death penalty," she said. "It doesn't reduce crime, it is
arbitrary and inhumane, and it is so costly that one capital case can bankrupt
a town or force a school to close. As so many have already concluded, the death
penalty experiment has failed."
Quote: "Whatever you are, be a good one." - Abraham Lincoln
(source: Scranton Times-Tribune)
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