[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, VA., MISS., N.MEX.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Thu Aug 18 21:52:05 CDT 2011
Rojas guilty on all counts in capital murder case
Jurors convicted an Hidalgo County man of capital murder Thursday afternoon.
The jury spent about an hour deliberating the fate of Roberto Aguirre Rojas,
who had already pleaded guilty to 2 counts of capital murder and 1 count of
attempted capital murder.
The convictions came after four days of trial in the 398th state District
Court, where jurors heard from investigators as well as Amelia Flores and her
father — Rojas' two surviving victims in the case.
Jurors now will decide whether Rojas, 45, will be sentenced to death. The
punishment phase of the trial is set to begin Monday morning.
Jurors heard closing arguments Thursday morning in the capital murder trial of
Rojas, who admitted to slaying his four relatives in 2008.
Rojas admitted to the murders of his 2-year-old son, two stepsons and
mother-in-law when the trial began Monday.
Nearly killed in the massacre was Flores, his ex-wife, who had already filed
for a divorce the night he killed her family Dec. 6, 2008. That divorce was
finalized in 2009.
Flores, 27, wept and held her arm around her father as prosecutor Michelle Puig
displayed photos of her sons in the courtroom while asking jurors to convict
"You have to remember you can't shoot four people, three kids, all at once,"
Puig told the jury. "You can't kill them all at once."
Puig recounted testimony Flores gave Thursday in the trial, when the victim
spent more than an hour detailing her abusive marriage and the horror that
occurred that night.
Flores told the court her ex-husband was a jealous man, constantly accusing her
of cheating while he verbally and physically abused her and the children.
Puig reminded the jury of how Flores described her ex-husband and how he tried
to kill her the same night he killed her 3 sons and mother.
"He think she's cheating and guess what? He's wrong," Puig said. "He took all
these lives for nothing. Amelia wasn't doing anything. Amelia was not supposed
to survive. She survived for a reason and took that stand and looked at all of
you to tell you what the defendant did to her. So Amelia too deserves a
Rojas' defense lawyers focused on how the defendant has accepted responsibility
for the slayings since he turned himself in at the Hidalgo County Jail the day
after the attack.
"It is very tragic what happened and none of us can imagine what they are going
through," attorney Sergio Valdez said of the Flores family. "But the day after
(the attack), Mr. Rojas went and accepted responsibility. The day after he went
and told the investigators, 'I want justice.'"
Rojas repeated those words at the onset of the trial on Monday, that he wants
justice for his victims.
(source: The Monitor)
Judge rules against serial killer David Leonard Wood's DNA petition
A visiting judge for the 171st Judicial District Court ruled against convicted
serial killer David Leonard Wood's petition involving DNA test results.
Wood, who received a stay of execution 2 years ago, had expanded his death
penalty appeal to include a petition for a new finding of his 1992 conviction.
He requested, and was granted, new DNA tests of items from 1987 victims of the
notorious desert deaths in Northeast El Paso.
"The court finds that the results of the DNA analysis do not establish that,
had the results been available during the trial of offense, it is reasonably
probable that (Wood) would not have been convicted," according to Judge Bert
Richardson's ruling dated Aug. 17.
According to court records, prosecutors did not rely on DNA evidence to try
Wood initially appealed his 1992 death sentence, arguing that he was mentally
retarded, and therefore exempt from the death penalty.
The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in another case years after Wood's conviction
that it is unconstitutional to execute mentally retarded people.
A separate hearing has not been set to determine whether Wood meets the legal
threshold of mental retardation.
(source: El Paso Times)
Jackson executed for rape, murder of 88-year-old woman
Jerry Terrell Jackson was executed by injection tonight for the rape and murder
of an 88-year-old woman he suffocated with a pillow and robbed of $60.
Jackson, 30, was pronounced dead at 9:14 p.m., said officials at the
Greensville Correctional Center where Virginia executions are carried out.
Asked if he had any last words, Jackson shook his head indicating no.
It was the 1st execution in Virginia using the sedative pentobarbital as the
1st of 3 drugs administered in lethal injections. Virginia and most states
traditionally used another drug that is no longer available.
Larry Traylor, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections, said there
were no complications.
Jackson was escorted into the execution chamber by execution team members at
8:53 p.m. He was quickly ushered onto the gurney and strapped in.
At 8:55 p.m., curtains were closed, blocking the view of witnesses while an IV
line was inserted in each of his arms.
After the curtains reopened, Jackson declined to make a last statement and the
1st of 3 chemicals started flowing.
His chest moved as he breathed, his right toe appeared to tap and he moved his
head a bit, but the movements quickly ceased.
He was pronounced dead by a doctor who was remotely monitoring his heartbeat.
Jackson was sentenced to death for the slaying of Ruth Phillips in August 2001.
Jackson broke into her apartment, where she lived alone, assaulted her and fled
with her automobile.
Her partially clothed body was discovered by her son, Richard Phillips, who
went to check on her when she failed to attend church and did not answer her
"These were senseless crimes committed with no regard for anyone or anything
other than Jackson's own gratification," Virginia Attorney General Ken
Cuccinelli said in a statement tonight. "The just sentence of death has now
been carried out. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the family and friends
of Ruth Phillips."
Gov. Bob McDonnell turned down Jackson's bid for clemency last week and U.S.
Supeme Court rejected his appeal this afternoon.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor would have granted his request
for a stay of execution, according to a short order from the high court.
Jackson's lawyers filed an appeal and a request for a stay of execution with
the justices, in part on the grounds that Jackson’s trial lawyers failed to
interview and present testimony from Jackson’s brother and sister about the
physical, psychological and sexual abuse Jackson suffered as a child.
The testimony could have persuaded at least one juror to vote for a sentence of
life without parole instead of death, they contend.
The Virginia Attorney General’s Office, however, countered that the jury heard
a great deal of evidence about the abuse suffered by Jackson and that testimony
from his brother and sister would not have broken new ground.
Jackson becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
Virginia and the 109th overall since the state resumed executions in 1982. Only
Texas, with 473 executions, has put more people to death since the death
penalty was re-legalized in the USA on July 2, 1976. Jackson becomes the 32nd
condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1266th overall
since executions resumed on January 17, 1977.
(sources: Richmond Times-Dispatch & Rick Halperin)
Va. executes man who killed widow
A Virginia man who raped and suffocated an 88-year-old widow has become the
state's 1st inmate executed using a new drug cocktail.
30-year-old Jerry Terrell Jackson was executed by lethal injection at 9:14 p.m.
Thursday at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt. Jackson was sentenced
to death for the August 2001 rape and murder of Ruth Phillips in her
Asked if he had any final words, Jackson shook his head and said "no" under his
Virginia replaced the sedative sodium thiopental with pentobarbital in the
3-drug cocktail after a nationwide shortage of the drug, like other states.
While attorneys in some states have contested that drug's use, federal courts
have ruled that the change is not significant enough to stop executions. There
have been about 20 executions using pentobarbital.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli released this statement:
" The jury's verdict sentencing Jackson to death has been exhaustively reviewed
and upheld by the trial court and twice by the Virginia Supreme Court. It has
been reviewed and upheld by the United States Court of Appeals, and the United
States Supreme Court has denied Jackson's petition for review and his request
for a stay. The governor has declined to intervene. The just sentence of death
has now been carried out. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the family and
friends of Ruth Phillips."
Richard Phillips, who found his mother dead on Aug. 26, 2001, after she missed
church, said the execution is long overdue. Phillips said he and others in his
family would not witness the execution.
Ruth Phillips, a widow for 30 years, followed her son to Virginia from New
Hampshire in the late 1990s. She worked as a seamstress making slip covers and
draperies until her death. Richard Phillips said he moved her in close to him
so that she would be safe.
Jackson broke into her apartment to rob it. When she woke up and found him
rummaging through her purse, she offered him anything if he would leave.
Instead, he put a pillow over her face and raped her.
Jackson nearly got a reprieve last year when U.S. District Judge Leonie
Brinkema allowed a two-day evidentiary hearing in which Jackson's brother and
sister testified about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father and
stepfather while growing up.
(source: WAVY News)
Death Penalty Possible In Alleged Miss. Hate Killing----Deryl Dedmon Charged
With Capital Murder In Death Of James Craig Anderson
The prosecutor investigating the hit-and-run killing of a black man in Jackson,
Miss., announced he has upgraded the charge against suspect Deryl Dedmon from
murder to capital murder. This makes the white 19-year-old suspect eligible for
a possible death sentence if convicted.
Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith released a statement that said the
upgrade to capital murder was made after new evidence was discovered that
supported the allegation that Dedmon committed the crime of robbery during the
commission of the killing of James Craig Anderson.
"It does not change the theory of the case," Shuler Smith told CNN. "It is
still a hate crime."
The killing -- which sparked national attention after CNN obtained and aired
exclusive surveillance video that shows the attack as it took place -- is also
being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department, federal and Mississippi
officials tell CNN.
Anderson, 49, was first beaten by the group of teens as he stood in a hotel
parking lot early on the morning of June 26, according to some of the teens who
were interviewed by police.
After the beating, a group of the teens drove a large Ford pickup truck over
Anderson, according to witnesses and officials. Anderson died from his injuries
later the same day.
Federal investigators are in Jackson at the request of Smith, who says he will
be seeking indictments against some or all of the white teens in coming weeks.
"This was a racially motivated murder, committed because the victim was black.
We want to prosecute and bring justice in this case to the fullest extent of
the law," said Smith, explaining that he called Justice Department officials
and asked for more investigators to come to Mississippi to help interview
witnesses and pursue leads in the crime.
Under federal law, authorities can pursue further charges and punishment if it
is determined that a crime was racially motivated. Officials from the U.S.
Department of Justice confirmed to CNN that "the department has an ongoing
The group of teens that night was led by Dedmon of Brandon, Mississippi,
according to police and officials in the DA's office. Dedmon is being held in
Another teen, John Aaron Rice, was also charged with murder at first, until a
judge reduced his charges because Rice was not believed to be driving the
vehicle used to kill Anderson.
Smith and officials in the Hinds County District Attorney's office say they
plan to indict both Dedmon and Rice for murder and a hate crime.
Attorneys for Dedmon and Rice did not return CNN's calls.
During a bond hearing, Dedmon's attorney told the court he saw nothing to back
up the "racial allegations."
Neither teen has pleaded yet, and none of the other teens has been charged.
But Hinds and officials from the DA's office say they hope to bring indictments
against not only Dedmon and Rice, but also other teens who were in their cars
and part of the attack that early morning.
Dedmon led and instigated the attack, according to officials; he took part in
and led the beating of Anderson, and Dedmon was also the driver of the Ford 250
truck that served as the murder weapon, according to officials.
Before the murder, as the teens were partying and drinking miles away from
Jackson that night, in largely white Rankin County, Dedmon told friends they
should leave, saying, "Let's go fuck with some niggers," according to law
Then the gang of teens climbed into Dedmon's green truck and a white SUV
Cherokee and drove 16 miles down Interstate 20 to the western edge of Jackson,
a predominantly black area.
The teens would have seen Anderson immediately as they exited the highway,
because the parking lot where he was standing is just beside the exit ramp.
"This is the first business that you get to coming off the highway and so that
was the 1st person that was out here and vulnerable," said Smith.
On the videotape, obtained and reviewed by CNN, a truck is seen pulling into
the parking lot and stopping where Anderson is standing, though he is just off
camera and not visible.
Teens can then be seen going back and forth between their cars and Anderson.
Witnesses told law enforcement officials this is when the repeated beatings of
Anderson took place. Dedmon pummeled Anderson repeatedly as he crumpled to the
street, according to officials, though this is not visible in the videotape.
After the beating, some of the teens left and some got into the truck.
At this moment on the video, Anderson becomes visible, as he staggers into view
and walks toward the headlights of the truck. The truck suddenly surges ahead,
running over Anderson, then continues at high speed away from the scene.
Shortly after he allegedly drove the truck over Anderson, Dedmon allegedly
boasted and laughed about the killing, according to the testimony of police
detectives who interviewed the teens.
"I ran that nigger over," Dedmon allegedly said in a phone conversation to the
teens in the other car. He repeated the racial language in subsequent
conversations, according to the law enforcement officials.
"He was not remorseful. He was laughing, laughing about the killing," said
district attorney Smith.
NM Supreme Court to examine death penalty repeal
The state Supreme Court will consider whether New Mexico's death penalty repeal
should rule out a death sentence for an Albuquerque man convicted last year of
killing a sheriff's deputy in 2006.
The court on Thursday scheduled a hearing for Sept. 1 on legal questions about
the upcoming sentencing of Michael Astorga for the shooting death of Bernalillo
County Deputy James McGrane Jr. during a traffic stop near Albuquerque.
The death penalty repeal took effect on July 1, 2009, and applied to crimes
committed after that date. McGrane was killed in 2006. Astorga was convicted in
the slaying nearly a year after the repeal took effect and his sentencing
trial, which currently still includes the possibility of capital punishment, is
to begin Sept. 12.
Astorga's lawyer, Gary Mitchell, contends the Legislature improperly tailored
the repeal legislation so that his client could continue to face the
possibility of being put to death.
The justices directed lawyers to submit arguments about the effect on Astorga's
case of a state statute that says after a criminal penalty is reduced by a
change in law, the amended penalty is to be applied to those not previously
The hearing before the Supreme Court came at Mitchell's request, but he didn't
raise questions about the statute that governs the interpretation of laws after
they've been amended. That issue was brought up by the justices in their order.
Mitchell said he was pleased by the court's order.
"What it tells me is the Supreme Court has been looking at this issue. They did
some research," he said in a telephone interview.
Mitchell had asked the justices to overturn a district court's decision
limiting what evidence he could present to the sentencing jury. He wants the
death penalty repeal to be considered as a mitigating factor by the jury in
deciding whether to sentence his client to death. He also wants to present
evidence of Astorga's innocence of the killing.
"The United States Supreme Court says once you evolve to a higher standard
that's the standard that sets what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
Once you set that, of course, you can't violate it anymore. The death penalty
is now cruel and unusual punishment in New Mexico," said Mitchel. "So how can
you have a death penalty?"
There's no guarantee the Supreme Court will rule on whether the death penalty
can be imposed on Astorga.
In 2009 — after the repeal legislation was signed but before Astorga went to
trial — the court heard arguments on whether it should put a stop to death
penalty prosecutions. Astorga's lawyers argued then that New Mexico's capital
punishment law should be declared unconstitutional. But several months later
the court declined to rule on the constitutional challenge and Astorga's
prosecution went ahead.
New Mexico has executed 1 person since 1960, child killer Terry Clark in 2001.
There are 2 men on death row and Richardson declined to commute their sentences
after then Gov. Bill Richardson signed the death penalty repeal.
(source: Associated Press)
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