[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, CALIF., FLA., MO.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Tue Aug 30 17:12:52 CDT 2011
Is Rick Perry Ready to Execute an Innocent Man?
As soon as Rick Perry threw his hat into the 2012 electoral ring, anti–death
penalty critics brought up his staggering execution record as governor of
Texas: 234 prisoners have been put to death under Perry’s watch, a number of
whom had serious innocence claims. Most famous among them is Cameron Todd
Willingham, who was executed in 2004 and whose case opened up an investigation
that Perry has taken aggressive—and largely successful—measures to squash. But
a lesser-known case could also haunt the governor if it reaches his desk: that
of Larry Swearingen, convicted and sent to death row for the kidnapping, rape
and murder of a 19-year-old college freshman named Melissa Trotter in 1998.
Like Willingham, Swearingen was convicted largely on circumstantial evidence
and a history of run-ins with the law. But Willingham was convicted based on
the inexact science of arson investigations, whose flawed assumptions have been
slow to evolve. The scientific evidence in Swearingen’s case, medical experts
say, is beyond dispute—and it proves his innocence.
Swearingen was scheduled to die on August 18. But his execution was stayed in
late July by the state’s highest criminal court, the notoriously
pro-prosecution Court of Criminal Appeals, in order to have the trial court
consider new evidence: Histological samples of Trotter’s cardiac, lung and
vascular tissue that a growing number of doctors, including well-respected
Texas pathologists, say show conclusively that Swearingen could not have killed
But is that enough? The Swearingen case has raised questions about the
intersection of science and the law: how courts and cops view science, and how
decisions are made about what kind of scientific proof is “good enough” to
override the type of circumstantial evidence that lends itself to the finality
of conviction that Texas courts crave—especially in death penalty cases.
On December 8, 1998, during finals week, Trotter drove to campus for a biology
class review at Montgomery College, just North of Houston. That night she
failed to return to her parents’ house in Willis, a small town just eight miles
away. This was especially odd since her brother, stationed at an overseas Army
post, had come home for a break and the family—the two kids and their parents,
Sandra and Charles—had dinner plans.
For weeks there was no sign of Trotter. Police repeatedly searched the dank
pine woods of the Sam Houston National Forest, which surrounds the northern
shores of the man-made Lake Conroe, located West of Willis. On January 2, a
group of locals was out searching for firearms that had gotten lost while
hunting a few days before—in the same area of woods that police had previously
searched. They made a gruesome discovery: the body of a young woman. “At first
I thought it was a mannequin,” Raglind told then–Montgomery County, Texas,
prosecutor Michael Tiffin. “I mean…you’re not expecting to see a body,” he
testified. “I walked up to it…I touched it…. It felt like flesh to me.”
It was the body of Melissa Trotter.
Even though it took several weeks to find her body, police had been fairly
certain that Trotter was dead early on. What’s more, they thought they knew who
was responsible: Larry Swearingen, a 27-year-old married electrician with a
modest history of trouble with the law. Swearingen had been seen talking with
Trotter at the college the day she disappeared. The police maintain that
Swearingen was the last person to see her alive.
3 days after Trotter disappeared, police arrested Swearingen on outstanding
warrants. After her body was found, Swearingen was charged with capital
murder—according to the state, Swearingen kidnapped, raped and then murdered
Trotter by strangling her with a single leg of pantyhose, cut from a pair,
before dumping her body in the forest. Prosecutors sought, and got, the death
Yet Swearingen maintains his innocence, and his date with death has been
postponed 3 times by the courts. At issue is the science surrounding Trotter’s
death, specifically, the science of decomposition. Doctors say the histological
evidence shows conclusively that Trotter had not been dead for twenty-five days
when her body was found. Samples of Trotter’s tissue—taken almost three weeks
after Swearingen was locked up—are consistent with that of a person dead less
than a week. Despite doctors’ insistence that Trotter could not have been dead
and her body left outside for nearly a month, Texas authorities remain
unconvinced that this proves Swearingen’s innocence. Trotter’s parents, too,
remain certain that Swearingen killed their daughter. “How long can they
examine this evidence?” Sandra Trotter asked in the Houston Chronicle this
summer. “From the victims’ rights view, when does this end?”
There is no doubt that Swearingen was among the last to see Trotter alive. The
two were acquaintances—both lived in Willis, and Swearingen’s sister had gone
to school with Trotter—and Swearingen saw Trotter the day she disappeared. He
had gone to the college that day to talk with a campus cop, for whom he had
promised to do some work, according to trial testimony, and he ran into Trotter
while she was working at a computer in the library. According to Swearingen, it
was the last time he saw her.
Although there was no direct evidence linking Swearingen to the murder, there
was plenty of circumstantial evidence upon which the prosecutors rested their
case. Most damning was a single leg of pantyhose discovered several days after
Trotter’s body. Found by his landlord inside the trailer home that Swearingen
rented with his wife, Terry, the pantyhose leg was a visible match to the leg
found knotted around Trotter’s neck, a Texas Department of Safety analyst said
Swearingen did not do himself any favors at trial. Over the vociferous
objections of his defense attorneys, he took the stand in his own defense,
delivering a rambling testimonial. He said that on the day she disappeared,
Trotter told him that she’d had a disagreement with another man—and he said
that he’d actually seen her with this mystery man, but had failed to mention
this to police. The college had no video surveillance, so determining whom
Trotter was last seen with at the college is impossible.
Several witnesses who said they saw her talking to a man in the library could
not positively identify Swearingen as that person. Instead, they described
Trotter’s companion as blond—a description that Swearingen’s appeal attorney,
Houston’s James Rytting says does not match his client, who has “dark hair and
dark eyebrows; he’s a swarthy man.” In short, the witness testimony putting
Swearingen and Trotter together at the college on the day she disappeared was
tenuous and confusing. Still, to prosecutors it was far more cohesive than
Swearingen’s muddled defense. And Swearingen’s defense team didn’t do much to
challenge the state’s basic theory of the case, focusing their efforts instead
on disputing the charges of rape and kidnapping, since without an aggravating
offense, the murder would not be a capital crime. It was an effort to save
their client from lethal injection.
It didn’t work. “When you stop and look at all of the evidence here…you’re
going to see one thing,” prosecutor Tiffin said during closing arguments. “All
roads lead to Larry Swearingen.”
Had Swearingen’s lawyers focused on the medical evidence more closely, they
could have built another road—the one that Rytting has been developing since
taking the case on appeal: medical proof does not match the state’s theory of
the case, and points strongly toward another killer, he says. Evidence left
unexplained includes male DNA found in Trotter’s fingernails, which does not
match Swearingen. But more importantly, there is the tissue evidence that more
than a half-dozen respected forensic scientists from Texas and beyond say is
completely inconsistent with the state’s theory of Trotter’s death.
Dr. Lloyd White, a deputy medical examiner in Ft. Worth, first called into
question the biological evidence in Swearingen’s case back in 2007. The
autopsy, which had been performed by Dr. Joye Carter, then the chief ME in
Houston, described organs that were easily dissected and weighed. Had the body
been outside for nearly a month, White told Rytting, that would not be
possible. North Carolina doctor G.M. Larkin agreed: “All pathological diagnoses
are based on the fact that changes in death are predictable, cumulative and
irreversible,” he wrote in his findings. In this case, the “undisputed forensic
evidence,” was that Trotter did not die until late December.
In late 2007, Carter recanted her trial testimony, which claimed that Trotter
had likely been dead for twenty-five days, saying that the internal organs
belied that conclusion. Why she didn’t grasp the import of those findings in
2000 is unclear; Carter did not return calls requesting comment.
Then, in 2009, Rytting got access to the histological evidence Carter preserved
in 1999, but which had never been made available to the defense for some
reason. Analysis of those tissues, done with a high-powered microscope used in
marine biology studies, were performed last year and again in June. The results
have caused doctors to further shorten their timeline for Trotter’s death: Now,
they say, it is likely that Trotter was dead only 2 or 3 days before being left
in the forest—weeks after Swearingen was behind bars. “The way biological
tissue reacts [during decomposition],” says Dr. Stephen Pustilnik, the medical
examiner for Galveston County, Texas, who has also reviewed the evidence,
“there’s no doubt about it. Period. End of story.” With the tissues under the
microscope “looking as good as they do,” he concluded, “it’s incontrovertible.”
Under the microscope, Dr. White and a colleague, Dr. Gary Sisler, were able to
see clearly the intact cellular structures of Trotter’s lungs, heart and
vasculature, basic structures that break down quickly after death—and which
certainly would not remain intact for a month in a body exposed to the
elements. “Any reasonable person can easily comprehend what would happen to a
piece of meat if it were periodically removed from an ordinary kitchen
refrigerator, usually kept at 40 degrees, and left outside on the ground in 70
degree weather for three weeks,” the doctors wrote in their June 20 report.
Still unclear is whether the Texas courts or its prosecutors will understand,
and accept, this basic biology lesson. William Delmore, the affable assistant
DA in Montgomery County, a veteran Texas prosecutor, is unconvinced. “The
science is mystifying to me,” he recently said. In fact, he’s concerned that
maybe “more is being made of it than we should actually give credit for.”
That’s exactly the reaction thus far from the Texas courts. Although the Court
of Criminal Appeals sent the case back to have the recent tissue evidence
considered—judges have yet to be swayed that the decidedly less “hard”
science—like the visual match of the pantyhose legs—should take a backseat to
the biological analysis.
“The hallmark of a scientifically sound hypothesis is that it is consistent
with, and accounts for, the totality of the known facts,” Texas appeal Judge
Cathy Cochran wrote in a 2009 opinion in the case. “If Melissa did not die
until December 29th, where was she and what was she doing from her
disappearance…until 21 days later?”
That, of course, remains the question—and it is where science and the law have
clashed in this case. University of Texas School of Law professor Jordan
Steiker, who is a co-director of the school’s capital punishment clinic, says
that it is a conceit of the law that science must overcome intuitive biases.
“There’s this deep intuition that when someone disappears and they’re not heard
from, that they’re not out there,” he explains. “That’s the hard thing that the
science is running up against.”
Courts in Texas have proven on numerous occasions that they do not consider
scientific evidence as representing a gold standard for reliability. This has
happened, infamously, in DNA cases; DNA science is considered so reliable that
courts rely on it in the face of whatever circumstantial or eyewitness evidence
would contradict it. In Texas, that has led so far to the exonerations of
forty-four men, most convicted of sexual assaults—and more than one who had
been sentenced to death.
The doctors in the Swearingen case are adamant that the science in
question—histology and gross anatomy, the basic building blocks for modern
medicine—cannot be dismissed. If the court rejects this evidence, they argue,
they are turning their backs on the basic work done by the state’s forensic
pathologists, tasked with determining both cause and manner of death, in
thousands of cases each year.
Basic science, according to Dr. White, proves that Swearingen could not have
killed Trotter. “It isn’t possible that…Trotter was killed and her body left at
that location by…Swearingen,” he wrote in a June 20 report. This conclusion is
“affirmed beyond all reasonable doubt.”
(source: The Nation)
Group announces bid to eliminate death penalty in California
After a losing a round in the Legislature last week, advocates of abolishing
the death penalty in California announced a new effort Monday to take the
matter directly to voters next year.
Organizers say they will push for a ballot measure to focus the public's
attention on the high cost of keeping inmates on death row – $4 billion since
1978, according to one estimate – and offer guarantees that condemned prisoners
could never win release from prison.
"It is time to replace California's dysfunctional and horribly costly death
penalty," former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti said at a
Sacramento news conference. "The death penalty in California is broken and it
Garcetti was joined by former San Quentin Warden Jeanne Woodford, who presided
over four executions; Sacramento attorney Don Heller, who wrote the 1978
initiative that restored the death penalty in the state; and crime victims who
said the money spent on death row should be used to fight crime.
Under the plan offered by the group, which calls itself Savings Accountability
and Full Enforcement, or SAFE, condemned inmates would be given life without
the possibility of parole and would be required to work in prison.
Contending that $184 million is spent annually in California on the death
penalty, the group said the initiative would take savings from abolishing it
and instead spend $30 million a year in the first 3 years on unsolved murder
and rape cases.
The notion that the campaign will focus on saving money by abolishing
executions left one death penalty advocate bemused.
Kent Scheidegger, legal director for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in
Sacramento, said the people pushing for abolition are the ones who have
contributed to the high cost of the death penalty.
"The death penalty doesn't need to cost anywhere as much as it does," he said.
"The only reason it does is that the very same people who are complaining about
costs have succeeded in killing every reform we have."
Scheidegger contends reforming the appeals process could cut years off the
average time it takes from sentencing to execution, eventually cutting that
time down to 5 years.
Currently, death row houses more than 700 inmates, some of whom have been there
Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, 13 inmates have been put to
death at San Quentin, two by cyanide gas and 11 by lethal injection.
The last inmate to be executed was Clarence Ray Allen in January 2006. Legal
fights and a shortage of one of the injection drugs used in the process have
derailed other planned executions.
Advocates of repealing the death penalty say they will need up to $1.5 million
to gather the more than 500,000 valid signatures needed to get the measure on
(source: Sacramento Bee)
Initiative could replace death penalty with life in prison without parole
A coalition of law enforcement personnel, crime victim advocates and exonerated
ex-criminals announced a ballot initiative Friday that would replace the
California death penalty with life in prison without parole.
After the death penalty bill proposed by State Senator Loni Hancock,
D-Berkeley, was withdrawn Thursday because it did not have enough support in
the Assembly Committee on Appropriations to move forward, supporters of the
SAFE California Act are trying to put it on the November 2012 popular ballot.
Hancock’s spokesperson Larry Levin said the death penalty bill, which was meant
for the Legislature, was inspired by a study published in the Loyola of Los
Angeles Law Review in June by Loyola Law School Professor Paula M. Mitchell and
U.S. 9th Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcon. According to the study, capital
punishment has cost California taxpayers over $4 billion since it was
reinstated in 1978, a figure that led the authors to call California’s system
“the most expensive and least effective death penalty law in the nation.”
Levin attributes the bill’s failure to the short timeline between its inception
and when it was scheduled to be put up to vote Thursday.
“We didn’t have enough time to build up the momentum and the community pressure
from the districts and the education process to make it happen so fast,” he
Considering the financial findings of the June study and that Hancock’s bill
was unsuccessful at making it through the Legislature, SAFE California
Spokesperson Erin Mellon said the group Taxpayers for Justice decided they
needed to take the death penalty issue directly to the voters and formed the
SAFE California Campaign.
So far, the initiative has secured the support of 104 law enforcement officials
including former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti and former
Warden of San Quentin State Prison Jeanne Woodford, according to Mellon.
Mellon said the group will start collecting the necessary signatures required
for the initiative to make it onto the ballot in October. She estimated they
will need between 700,000 and 800,000.
According to a press release from the campaign, the act would reserve $30
million of the money the elimination of the death penalty would save and put it
toward solving murder and rape cases each year for 3 years.
“That money should be going toward law enforcement and education and actually
get our streets safer and get criminals off the street,” she said.
Levy said that while the Hancock administration will work with the initiative,
Hancock’s bill can be brought up again in January if “there is a reason to”
because it was withdrawn before it was voted on.
(source: Daily Californian)
Jury Upholds Death Sentence for Murder of Fresno Teenager
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death sentence
for a Fresno man convicted of the murder and attempted rape of a 14-year-old
girl and the attempted murder of her best friend.
In an opinion spanning nearly 200 pages, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye
cited a half-dozen instances in which Fresno Superior Court Judge John Fitch
clearly or arguably erred. But defendant Royal Clark Jr. was not prejudiced in
the guilt, sanity, or penalty phases of his lengthy trial, the chief justice
“Given the strong evidence of defendant’s guilt of first degree murder and the
aggravating circumstances attending that crime, we further conclude that none
of the trial court’s missteps amounted to substantial error and there was no
prejudicial cumulative effect warranting reversal,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote.
Clark was sentenced in 1995 for the killing of Billie-Jo Laurie Farkas, whose
body was found on a rural road in Madera County in January 1991. Her friend
Angie Higgins, then 15, was found badly beaten in a rural area of Fresno
Higgins testified that Clark, whose girlfriend Donna Kellogg was a cousin of
the murdered girl, drove the two Fresno High School students to Lost Lake
Recreation Area to look for a party, then became angry when Farkas refused to
have sex with him. Others testified that Clark had shown a longstanding sexual
interest in the victim.
The prosecution presented evidence that Clark tied up Higgins in one restroom,
then took Farkas to another and strangled her with a rope. Higgins said Clark
told her Farkas had run away, then put her in his car and drove towards the
area of southwest Fresno called “Chateau Fresno.”
Higgins was choked with a rope, then left by the roadside at about 3 a.m. She
was found by a passing motorist and hospitalized.
Clark confessed to assaulting Higgins and killing Farkas, whom he said was like
a sister to him. He pled not guilty by reason of insanity, and a defense expert
testified he became insane at the point he assaulted Higgins and that he
remained in that state during the next 4 to 6 hours until he returned home, but
jurors found him sane.
He was found guilty of eight felonies—the 1st degree murder and attempted rape
of Farkas, the attempted murder, felonious assault, false imprisonment, and
kidnapping of Higgins, and the robberies of both girls, based on the taking of
small amounts of money they had in their pockets.
The jury also found three special-circumstances—murder in the commission of
robbery, murder in the commission of attempted rape, and murder with intent to
prevent the victim from testifying in a criminal proceeding. The last special
circumstance was based on evidence Clark killed Farkas, in part, because he
feared she would tell police he had assaulted Higgins.
In the penalty phase, the prosecution portrayed Clark as a violent man,
presenting testimony from two witnesses from Texas that he once slit a man’s
throat and stole his money on a train. Clark, who was convicted of robbery in
that incident and imprisoned, later assaulted two fellow inmates, and committed
two batteries and a robbery in California after his release, the evidence
The defense urged jurors to spare Clark, citing his mental problems and abusive
childhood, and the fact that he was a father of 5 children, 3 of them with
Kellogg. But jurors, who deliberated for about 5 hours, according to a Fresno
Bee account, retuned a death penalty verdict.
Jurors told the newspaper that the deliberate nature of the murder, the fact
that the victim trusted Clark, and his lack of remorse led them to their
The defense argued on appeal that the penalty verdict was flawed by an
inconsistency in the special-circumstance verdict. The sequence of events, they
argued, precluded a finding that Clark killed the victim in the course of
attempted rape and robbery and also to prevent her from testifying about what
he had done to Higgins earlier.
It was also argued that Clark’s right to a fair determination of penalty was
violated because the court ordered his lead lawyer, who was ill, replaced
during a months-long recess prior to the penalty phase, and that jurors may
have forgotten testimony or been exposed to prejudicial publicity during the
Cantil-Sakauye said there was nothing in the law that precludes different
special-circumstance findings based on multiple intents.
“That defendant’s plan to engage in sexual intercourse with Laurie preceded his
decision to silence her as a witness to Angie’s assault by killing her meant
only that he had more than one reason for killing her,” the chief justice
explained. “There is no inconsistency in the application of both special
With respect to the replacement of counsel, Cantil-Sakauye said Fitch acted
within his discretion when Deputy Public Defender Barbara O’Neill, the lead
counsel in the guilt phase, underwent cancer treatment and reported that she
did not know when, if at all, she would be able to resume representing Clark.
Under the circumstances, the chief justice said, the judge was not obligated to
wait for the results of O’Neill’s scheduled surgery before taking her off the
The chief justice also approved of Fitch’s handling of the delay prior to the
The publicity issue, she said, was adequately handled by asking jurors if they
had been exposed to the media coverage. Since none indicated that they had,
nothing further was required, Cantil-Sakauye said.
And “even if the lengthy delay caused jurors to forget evidence presented at
the guilt or sanity phase, their memories could be restored by referring to
their notes, requesting readbacks of testimony, and relying on counsel’s review
of the guilt and sanity phase evidence during closing arguments,” she wrote.
The chief justice was joined by Justices Marvin Baxter, Ming Chin, and Carol
Corrigan, and by Court of Appeal Justice Sandy Kriegler, of this district’s
Div. Five, sitting on assignment.
Justices Joyce L. Kennard and Kathryn M. Werdegar, in separate opinions,
disagreed with the majority as to the sufficiency of the evidence that Farkas
was killed to prevent her from becoming a witness.
The dissenters argued that the prosecution did not prove that Farkas “witnessed
a crime prior to, and separate from, the killing,” an essential element of the
special circumstance. But the error was harmless, they said, because the other
two special circumstances were sufficient to impose the death penalty, and the
evidence presented as to the circumstance of witness killing was admissible in
any event because it was relevant to the circumstances of the crime.
The case is People v. Clark, 11 S.O.S 4802.
(source: Metropolitan News Company)
Family not planning for execution yet
We're just 8 days away from the execution of a convicted Florida cop killer.
Manuel Valle, 61, murdered a Coral Gables police officer over 30 years ago.
That officer's family lives in southwest Florida and even though the execution
is just around the corner, the family says they aren't planning for it just
Valle was set for execution on August 2. Supreme Court justices put a stay in
place so a judge could hear evidence about a new lethal injection. Now one week
from Tuesday, Valle is set to die for killing a police officer 33 years ago.
"After 33 years you don't, you don't, you don't feel its happening until its
getting down to the last half hour," said Louis Pena, son of Coral Gables
Officer Louis Pena.
It's something the family of Officer Pena doesn't easily forget but wants to
put behind them.
"He figured out how to beat the system because he lived for 33 years for
killing a police officer in cold blood," said Pena.
In April 1978, Officer Pena was killed by Manuel Valle. Sentence for the crime?
The death penalty. Due to appeals and case delays, Valle has never faced
execution in over 3 decades.
"He's been alive. My dad isn't alive because of him, why should be alive?" said
Pena's daughter and son call southwest Florida home. They plan to travel to
Starke to witness first hand the execution but realize it may get delayed
"Still excited but not going to be ready for awhile. Its up and down. You hold
your breath and then you cant hold it that long and then you start all over
again," said Jeanne Skeen, Pena's daughter.
August 2 was the date of the original execution but was delayed. Justices
rejected Valle's claim that a new lethal injection drug may cause him pain.
It's the first death warrant Governor Rick Scott has signed since taking
office. Something he didn't take lightly.
"This is a hard part of the job for him. He is troubled, but he feels this is
his duty," said Sheila Hopkins, Florida Catholic Conference.
With Tuesday being just a week away, the children of Officer Pena hope their
roller coaster stops September 6.
"Whatever else he can pull out of his hat he's going to try to do up until the
last day. So we're just biding our time and hopefully he's getting anxious,"
"Your little joy ride is over with. I hope you had fun for 33 years," said
Skeen said 2 more appeals by Valle were denied on Tuesday. If Valle's execution
is carried out as scheduled, he'll be the first person executed in Florida
since February 2010. Valle is set to be executed on Tuesday, September 6 at 6
(source: WINK News)
Prosecutors to again seek death penalty in 1982 slayings
Prosecutors will assemble a jury in the hope the 12-person panel reaches the
same conclusion a different jury did 27 years ago – that Richard Cooper should
be put to death for his participation in the 1982 execution-style slaying of
three men in the Highpoint area of Clearwater.
The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office had to decide whether to present its
arguments for a death sentence to a jury for a second time because a federal
appeals court last month overturned Cooper's 1984 death sentence.
In a 68-page decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, ruled that had
the jury impaneled in 1984 heard more about Cooper's troubled childhood, it
might have recommended Cooper spend the rest of his life in prison. Instead,
jurors recommended Cooper die for his crimes.
In 1984, the jury only heard from Cooper's mother, who talked about the abuse
she suffered, not her son's, the appeals court said in its decision. The jury
also should have heard from Cooper's siblings, the court ruled. They, along
with Cooper's elementary school principal, and Cooper's girlfriend, could have
spoken about the abuse Cooper suffered at the hands of his brother and father.
In addition, the jurors heard nothing of Cooper's use of drugs and alcohol
beginning at the age of 11 to escape the abuse; his abandonment by his mother
for short stretches of time; his 7th grade education; his depression, and his
propensity to be dominated by older men, the appeals court said.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said prosecutors still want the
"We are going to retry it," Bartlett said. "It was an execution. It was an
Cooper, now 47, was 1 of 4 masked men who burst into a home in the Highpoint
area of Clearwater on the night of June 18, 1982, in what started out as a
The hands of three men – Steven Fridella, Gary Petersen, and Bobby Martindale –
were bound behind them with duct-tape. Once little of value was found, they
were fatally shot with shotguns.
"That's about as egregious a homicide as you can get," Bartlett said. "It is as
egregious now as it was then, and there's no reason not to take the same path
now that we did then."
Cooper's accomplices were Terry Van Royal, J.D. Walton, and Jeff McCoy. McCoy
was sentenced to life. Van Royal was originally sentenced to death, but that
sentence was overturned. Walton was sentenced to death, and remains on death
(source: The Tampa Tribune)
Charges against Shawn Morgan amended, State could pursue death penalty
The man accused of killing 3-year-old Breeann Rodriguez could face the death
penalty after Dunklin County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Sokoloff announced he
was filing amended charges against him.
According to Sokoloff, 1 count of child kidnapping—a class A felony—is to be
added to 3 existing accounts of 1st-degree murder, armed criminal action and
tampering with evidence against the 43-year-old Shawn Morgan.
Sokoloff also said he filed a notice of statutory aggravating circumstances,
which will permit the State to seek a death sentence for the first-degree
murder charge against Morgan. While this does not guarantee that the State will
seek the death penalty, it is a procedural step to make the penalty an option.
"I have spoken with Breeann's parents about this issue, and they are in support
of my taking this step," said Sokoloff.
Morgan is accused of killing 3-year-old Breeann Rodriguez of Senath after
police say he admitted to an agent of the Bootheel Drug Task Force that he
suffocated Breeann with a trash bag after finding her standing on the ladder of
Police say he admitted that he dumped her body in the floodway ditches on
Missouri Highway 164. He then told police he returned home, dismantled the bike
she was riding and dumped it in the same floodway ditches.
Breeann went missing Saturday August 6 while riding her bicycle in front of her
home. Morgan was arrested and admitted to police that he killed her on Saturday
Breeann's body was found more than a week later on Tuesday August 16 near the
floodway ditches about eight miles southeast of her family's home in Senath.
Morgan has not hired an attorney, and is set to appear in court again on
(source: KAIT news)
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