[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, MD., DEL., FLA., KAN.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Mon Aug 22 11:31:24 CDT 2011
Death penalty looms in Rojas trial as punishment phase begins
Roberto Aguirre Rojas stands closer to the justice he requested just 1 week
The punishment phase of Rojas’ capital murder trial is set to begin Monday in
the 398th state District Court, where jurors on Thursday convicted him of
slaying his 2-year-old son, 2 stepsons and mother-in-law before he nearly
killed his estranged wife Dec. 6, 2008.
Prosecutors will ask the jury of 6 men and 6 women to send Rojas to death row.
If the jury follows the prosecutors’ request, Rojas will become Hidalgo
County’s first addition to death row since 2007.
That was the year Douglas Armstrong, 41, was sent to death row after he slit
the throat of Rafael Castelan, 60, outside a Donna bar in 2006.
The jury already has seen graphic evidence from the crime scene and has heard
emotional testimony from Ruben Flores and his daughter, Amelia Flores — the
only survivor of Rojas’ gunshots.
More testimony from Flores’ relatives is expected in the punishment phase of
Texas death penalty cases are part of a bifurcated trial system that requires
jurors to reach a verdict to decide whether a defendant is guilty and again to
decide whether they should be sent to death row.
Judge Aída Salinas Flores permitted prosecutors to move forward with presenting
the evidence against Rojas in the 1st phase, even though he admitted guilt from
Since 1976, Hidalgo County has sent 16 murderers to death row. Only 2 have been
executed. Eleven inmates await the death penalty. Three others had their
(source: The Monitor)
Hearings will allow closer look into death penalty cases----Attorneys for
inmate accused of killing corrections officer want to see prosecutors' case
Attorneys for an inmate accused of killing a corrections officer 5 years ago
want prosecutors to reveal their evidence to determine whether it satisfies the
state's death penalty statute.
The hearing, requested by lawyers for Lee Edward Stephens, is now allowed under
a rule enacted by the state's highest court in June. In addition to giving
opposing attorneys a peek into the other side's case, the hearings would allow
judges to weed out death penalty prosecutions that don't satisfy the new law,
one expert said.
Stephens' attorneys are hoping that as a result of the hearing, a judge will
take the death penalty off the table for their client.
"If we are right, and I believe we are, Mr. Stephens will not have a death
penalty trial," said Gary E. Proctor, one of Stephens' attorneys.
Stephens and another inmate, Lamarr C. Harris, are accused of the fatal
stabbing in 2006 of corrections officer David McGuinn, 42, in the now-closed
Maryland House of Correction, where Stephens and Harris were serving life
5 years after the killing, the co-defendants have not been tried, in part
because of changes to the state's death penalty law.
The changes, which restrict the cases in which prosecutors can seek capital
punishment, reserve the death penalty for 1st-degree murder in which there is
DNA or other biological evidence that links the defendant to the murder, a
videotaped confession or a video recording of the crime.
Prosecutors have said in earlier court filings that they will use DNA to tie
Stephens to the crime.
Anne Arundel County prosecutors declined to comment on the challenge to their
"We are still reviewing those motions and will be preparing for those motions,"
said Kristin Fleckenstein, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office.
Stephens' attorneys asked for such a hearing two years ago, but were turned
down by Judge Paul A. Hackner. But the Court of Appeals enacted a rule in June
– two months after Stephens' appeal was dismissed – to allow defense lawyers to
challenge whether prosecutors' evidence measures up to the requirements of the
death penalty law. One judge called the hearings "a preview of coming
attractions" in capital cases.
The new rule was designed to make it clear that judges have the authority to
decide whether there appears to be evidence for a death penalty case if defense
lawyers challenge that assertion.
While the rule was being crafted, a similar proceeding was held for Thomas
Leggs Jr., who was accused of sexually assaulting and murdering a child on the
Eastern Shore. A judge allowed his death penalty case to continue after
prosecutors explained the evidence they intended to use at a trial. However, in
Leggs' case, no trial was held. In exchange for prosecutors' agreeing to not
seek the death penalty, Leggs pleaded guilty in March and was sentenced to life
In Stephens' case, getting the death penalty tossed out would be a major
defense win, said lawyer Andrew Levy, who teaches at the University of Maryland
law school. But the hearing could help Stephens' lawyers if they lose, too:
"Any time you get an opportunity to force the prosecution to show you some of
their hand, it's a no-brainer, you take it."
Stephens' trial, predicted to last seven weeks, is scheduled to begin in
In 2006, investigators wrote in charging documents that Harris was seen
stabbing McGuinn and that a bloody T-shirt was found under Stephens' bed.
But Stephens' lawyers have countered that McGuinn's blood on their client's
clothing and other items in his cell does not prove that he had a role in the
slaying because blood was "everywhere."
"His link to the crime scene, also his home, is not, however, a link to the act
of murder," they wrote to the judge in their request for the hearing.
They have long claimed that the tier was so blood-covered that at least one
inmate slipped and fell in it and that others had blood on their cells or
Stephens' lawyers also claim that the death penalty unnecessarily allows
execution in violation of the state Constitution. That argument did not gain
traction in the Leggs case.
Hackner, the judge, is scheduled to hear Stephens' pretrial motions in
September but it's not clear if he will weigh the death penalty evidence at
(source: Baltimore Sun)
Capital punishment is an issue that must be revisited
Every time there are debates about the death penalty or abortion, I wonder
about the apparent contradiction that those who favor one strongly object to
Poll after poll shows while about three-fourths of Americans favor imposing the
death penalty in certain cases, the country is split about evenly on ending
The death-penalty debate has risen again recently as U.S. troops killed Osama
bin Laden and the State of Delaware executed Robert Jackson. Some of those
against capital punishment say they would even have spared bin Laden his
As we near the 10th anniversary of the tragedy that killed nearly 3,000, how
can anyone think this criminal deserved to live?
The Osama bin Ladens have had their counterparts in my lifetime with Hitler and
his henchmen, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao, Saddam Hussein and too many
others who masterminded the deliberate death of thousands or millions. None
deserved to live either to continue their murders or to escape their just
Should the life of Syria's Bashar al-Assad be spared? His forces are gunning
down unarmed protesters in the streets. What about the Somali troops allowing
their fellow citizens to starve by blocking humanitarian aid? Unfortunately,
too many other examples can be cited in today's world or the recent past of
similar deliberate taking of innocent lives.
It's a completely different issue on whether convicted murderers should be put
to death in Delaware and the United States. Over the years -- and I think I
have written more about this issue than any other in the 22 years of this
column -- I have become much more conflicted in my own thinking about the death
penalty in Delaware and in this country.
Opponents of capital punishment often cite the fact that almost every civilized
country has abolished executions. In Norway, for example, the recent mass
murderer may not even go to prison for life. Is that a proper punishment?
In this country, the recent debate has revolved around whether the method of
administering fatal drugs is cruel and unusual punishment. That, however, is
really a sideshow to the central issue.
The American Bar Association called for a moratorium to make sure that first-
degree murder convictions are based on indisputable evidence, not just on
unreliable eyewitnesses, jailhouse snitches, inadequate legal defense, police
or prosecutorial misconduct, DNA and other laboratory errors or any of the
other problems that could cast doubt on guilt.
We have seen the opening of cells on death row for men within hours of being
executed because one of the various justice projects has found the evidence to
prove these convicted defendants were not guilty.
Other factors also argue against the death penalty. For instance, Jackson,
executed on July 29, had spent half his life in prison awaiting execution for
murdering a woman during a home robbery. Of the 19 men in Smyrna still on death
row, two others have been there for crimes almost 20 years ago.
These men are, in effect, already serving the life sentences that are the
alternative to capital punishment that opponents recommend. About 3,000
prisoners nationwide are in the same position, most of them waiting for their
detailed appeals to wind their way through state and federal courts. Often
cited as another argument against capital punishment is the tremendous
financial and resource costs of those appeals designed to make sure their
convictions were justified.
A strong counter-argument to life sentences without any chance of release is
the high cost of imprisonment in state correctional systems already packed with
2.3 million prisoners, of whom about 140,000 are lifers.
Will the courts rule some day that a life sentence is perhaps an even more
cruel and unusual punishment than execution? Is the certainty that a prisoner
will never be executed an invitation for him or her to commit murders in
These and many other issues make it imperative that Gov. Markell follow the
lead of many other governors and order a close re-examination of capital
punishment in Delaware during a temporary halt to all executions.
(source: Harry Themal has been writing a column for The News Journal since
Chester native sitting on death row in Fla. hopes for new beginning
For more than 15 years, Walker Davis Jr. and Lamar Z. Brooks have sat behind
bars in separate Florida Department of Corrections prisons, convicted of
brutally murdering a woman and her infant daughter in 1996.
During that span, the family of Davis and Brooks, who are cousins, adamantly
have proclaimed the pair’s innocence to no avail.
Davis, who grew up in Chester and South Carolina, is serving a life sentence
without parole. Brooks, a Chester native and 1990 graduate of Chester High,
sits on death row.
But they have new hope.
A witness has come forward saying he has information that proves Davis and
Brooks could not have murdered Rachel Carlson, 23, and her 3-month-old
daughter, Alexis Stuart, in Crestview, Fla., on the night of April 24, 1996.
Citing newly discovered evidence, both Davis, 40, and Brooks, 38, have filed
post-conviction relief motions in the Okaloosa County Circuit Court in Florida.
The evidence comes via Ira Ferguson, an inmate incarcerated at the same prison
Ferguson, 41, claims he was in Crestview on the night of the murders and saw
the victims alive at a time after Brooks and Davis had returned to Eglin Air
Force Base, about 17 miles away, according to Assistant State Attorney Robert
Davis and Carlson were senior airmen with the U.S. Air Force stationed at the
base. Brooks, a Gulf War veteran, was visiting his cousin at the time of the
If Ferguson’s claims are true, they’ll have to be proven in court. The family
of Brooks and Davis believe the new evidence, and note a private investigator
has confirmed its legitimacy.
Elmore, who prosecuted both Davis and Brooks, maintains the state has convicted
the correct murderers.
There’s not much common ground between the family and Elmore, but both agree on
this — the murders of Carlson and Stuart were heinous.
Carlson was stabbed 75 times while sitting in her idle car. Stuart, her
daughter, was killed by a single slash to her heart while still strapped in her
Police arrested Davis, who was Carlson’s lover, in Florida six days after the
murders. They picked up Brooks in Chester the next day.
They have been incarcerated ever since.
If the new evidence proves true, Brooks and Davis have spent almost all of
their adult lives wrongly imprisoned.
In that new evidence, Ferguson claims a man named Gerald Gundy, 36, committed
the murders, Elmore said.
Ferguson claims to have seen Carlson and Gundy, both of whom Ferguson knew,
with another blond female on the night of the murder, Elmore said.
After the murders, a wildlife officer’s dog tracked footprints located on a
dirt road about 15-20 yards from the car back to a house associated with Gundy,
Elmore said. A confidential individual added that they saw, from down the
street, that Gundy’s vehicle was at the crime scene, Elmore said.
Gundy has served two prison sentences, most recently for cocaine possession,
according to online public records. He also served time for aggravated battery,
grand theft auto, burglary, criminal mischief and aggravated assault with
intent to commit a felony.
Daniel Ashton, the investigator who examined the legitimacy of Ferguson’s
claims, declined to comment because of the possibility of being called as a
Attorneys D. Todd Doss and Glenn Swiatek, who represent Brooks and Davis,
respectively, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
However, the family of Brooks and Davis recently spoke openly with the Daily
Times . More than 20 family members, including cousins, aunts and uncles,
gathered at the home of Dorothy Brooks, Lamar’s mother, to vouch their support
of Brooks and Davis.
“I’ve never lost hope,” said Diane Davis, the mother of Walker Davis Jr. “I
truly believe they will find the person or persons who did this.”
For years, the family has been adamant that those persons are not Lamar and
The family noted that Lamar and Walker Jr. were convicted largely on
circumstantial evidence and cite what they believe are several holes in the
* No DNA evidence ever linked Brooks or Davis to the crime scene, nor was a
weapon recovered. No blood was found on their clothing or at the house of
“How can you have someone stab someone 50-60 times and have no blood on their
clothes?” said Horace Davis, Brooks and Davis’ uncle.
* A clump of blond, Caucasian hair was found in the hand of Carlson. Davis and
Brooks are both black. Carlson was white.
“She was struggling with somebody,” Diane Davis said. “It couldn’t have been
Walker or Lamar.”
* An official time of death was never determined. Prosecutors claimed the
murders happened between 8:30 and 11:45 p.m. The family cites the fact that the
cousins were stopped for a traffic violation at the time of the murders,
several miles away.
“If we get the correct time of death, this would solve the case — and they know
it,” Diane Davis said, noting the coroner that went to the crime scene never
* The tracking dog did not lead to Brooks or Davis. It instead went to the
house of Gundy.
The families learned of Ferguson’s testimony within the last year. After years
of proclaiming the cousins’ innocence, Donna Davis said the new evidence was
“We started asking questions like we were lawyers,” said Davis, who, like her
cousins, served in the military. “It was like our prayers had been answered,
slowly but surely. We were trying to get the message to Lamar that all the
faith, love and prayers may finally be answered.”
Brooks is in maximum security and has limited opportunities to interact with
his family. Davis is in close custody.
“I know Lamar and Walker Jr.,” said Crystal Davis a cousin of them. “We grew up
as little kids. None of this is something they would do. We come from a good
family. We come from a praying family.
“Lamar was just down there visiting his cousin and having a good time. I know
this is something that they wouldn’t do.”
The state attorney’s office has a different view on the matter.
“We have no doubt — and neither did any jury hearing the case, nor any judge —
that Walker Davis and Lamar Brooks are responsible for the heinous murder of
Rachel Carlson and her infant daughter,” Elmore said. “The evidence is very
powerful that that’s what happened.”
In response to the family’s claims that the cousins were convicted without DNA
evidence and an established time of death, Elmore said, “There was no forensic
evidence that links either of them to the car or the bodies, but there’s a
whole lot of other evidence that links them to them.”
He cited a taped video confession in which Davis admitted to being at the
murder scene and watched Brooks commit the murders. He also noted that Davis
took out a $100,000 insurance plan on the baby, a fact prosecutors used as the
motive for the murders. Though married, Davis was Carlson’s lover, but it was
eventually determined that Davis did not father Stuart.
As for the new testimony presented by Ferguson, Elmore isn’t convinced.
“It goes without saying we highly suspect the credibility of his testimony,”
Ferguson is serving time for second-degree murder, 3 counts of armed robbery,
robbery without a weapon and grand theft auto. He is set to be released Sept.
2, 2019, according to online public records.
In regard to the tracking dog that traced footprints to Gundy’s house, Elmore
said the car containing the victims was located on a paved road and that
officers never had dogs trace items from the car.
Ferguson is being held at the same prison as Davis. That, Elmore said, is the
only connection he knows of between Ferguson and Davis or Brooks.
Asked about the frequency of inmates of collaborating to bring new evidence
forward, Elmore said such attempts weren’t out of the ordinary.
“It’s not an unusual thing for inmates to try to help each other and to give
testimony designed to do so,” Elmore said.
Davis was convicted of the murders and sentenced to life without parole in
Brooks was convicted of the two murders in 1998, but that conviction was
unanimously vacated in 2001 by the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled a trial
judge had allowed improper hearsay evidence at Brooks’ trial.
Thus, Brooks was granted a retrial, but was again convicted of the murders,
this time in 2002. He was again given the death sentence.
(source: The Daily Times)
Tundidor son turns on father as capital murder trial approaches----Father and
son accused of murdering Nova Southeastern professor
A Plantation murder suspect pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in exchange for
testimony that could send his co-defendant – his own father – to death row.
Randy H. Tundidor, 23, was scheduled to stand trial next month on charges of
first-degree murder , two counts of attempted murder, attempted felony murder,
armed kidnapping, robbery and arson for the April 6, 2010, attack at the home
of Nova Southeastern University professor Joseph Morrissey, who was killed.
Though a trial date of Sept. 6 has been on the court calendar for months,
Broward Circuit Judge Cynthia Imperato was set to rule Monday on whether to try
him separately from his father, Randy W. Tundidor, 44. The elder Tundidor is
accused of planning the attack because Morrissey, his landlord, was in the
process of evicting him.
But the younger Tundidor's plea, taken in open court last Thursday, means that
the trial for the elder Tundidor will be rescheduled.
Prosecutor Tom Coleman said prosecutors agreed to let the younger Tundidor
plead guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for his testimony against his
father. No promises were made about sentencing, Coleman said, but the death
penalty is no longer an option. The younger Tundidor still faces up to life in
prison for nine of 10 charges against him.
Capital punishment is still an option for the elder Tundidor, who as late as
last Thursday was in court with his lawyer arguing that a statement given by
his co-defendant son should not be used against him at trial.
Prosecutors say the Tundidors were about to be evicted from the Plantation
townhome they rented from Morrissey. The father and son are accused of breaking
into the Morrisseys' home in Plantation, forcing Morrissey and his wife to
drive to an ATM and withdraw $500 cash, returning the couple to the house and
stabbing Morrissey to death.
They are also charged with setting fire to the house, leaving Morrissey's wife
tied up and the couple's 5-year-old son sleeping in his bedroom. The boy woke
up and brought his mother a pair of scissors, enabling the 2 to survive the
attack, according to police reports.
The police investigation focused on the Tundidors almost immediately. The
younger Tundidor was arrested at a Plantation restaurant the day after the
murder. Police shut down a car tinting business owned by the elder Tundidor as
they searched for evidence. Late on April 9, police arrested the elder
According to a transcript of a police interview, another Tundidor son, Shawn,
aided police in the investigation, denying his brother was capable of murder
but laying the blame at his father's feet.
"No, he wouldn't hurt a fly," Shawn Tundidor said of his brother. "I'm a tell
you straight up my dad did it."
(source: Associated Press)
Defense to begin presenting witnesses in trial of Osage County man accused of
Defense attorneys plan to begin calling witnesses Monday in the Kansas capital
murder trial of a man accused of killing his wife and 3 other family members,
and the lawyers are expected to question his sanity at the time of the
Prosecutors are expected to formally rest their case Monday in the trial of
James Kraig Kahler at Osage County District Court. They argued during the 1st 2
weeks of proceedings that the killings were premeditated and are seeking the
Kahler is accused of shooting his wife, their 2 teenage daughters and his
wife's grandmother in November 2009 in the grandmother's home just outside
Burlingame, about 20 miles south of Topeka.
Kahler, 48, is a former city utilities director in Weatherford, Texas, and
Columbia, Mo., who lost his job in Missouri amid a contentious divorce and
moved back to Kansas in 2009. His attorneys contend he snapped mentally because
of the divorce and his wife's sexual relationship with a woman from Texas.
The victims were Karen Kahler, 44; her grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89, and the
Kahlers' daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren, 16. Law enforcement officers and
emergency medical personnel have said Wight and Lauren Kahler identified the
defendant as the gunman.
The Kahlers' son, Sean, now 12, escaped without physical injury. He testified
that he saw his father shoot his mother.
While Kahler's lawyers haven't conceded that he was the gunman, defense
attorney Thomas Haney focused in his opening statement on the stresses that
could have led the defendant to snap.
"The defendant's evidence is going to focus on why things happened," Haney told
jurors. "No sane person could do this."
Jurors in Kansas are not asked to consider whether they believe a defendant
understood that his alleged actions were criminal. Instead, they consider
whether his mental state kept him from forming the intent to kill a specific
victim or victims and from reflecting on actions he might take.
"Kansas does not have 'not guilty by reason of insanity,'" said Jeffrey
Jackson, a law professor at Washburn University of Topeka. "Was he so lacking
in his mental state that he did not intend to do what he did? That's kind of a
(source: Lawrence Journal World)
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