[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----PENN., MONT., ARIZ., MISS.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Tue Aug 30 17:14:51 CDT 2011
Death row inmate Scott Wayne Blystone pushes for retrial
Attorneys for a death row inmate from Fayette County who was convicted in the
1983 murder and robbery of a hitchhiker has asked a federal appeals court to
review a separate federal ruling overturning a conviction in a local 1977
double murder case.
Federal public defenders for Scott Wayne Blystone, now 55, filed a petition
with the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals asking those judges to look at
a recent U.S. District Court decision in Pittsburgh ordering a retrial for
David Joseph Munchinski. Blystone also is seeking a new trial.
Blystone has been on death row for 2 decades for his conviction in the death of
Dalton Smithburger Jr. Prosecutors contended Blystone robbed Smithburger of $13
before shooting him 6 times in the back of the head.
Yesterday, Blystone's public defenders filed paperwork with the appellate court
in Philadelphia arguing that the alleged prosecutorial misconduct in
Munchinski's case involved "the same individuals who had prosecuted Mr.
In Munchinski's case, Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan ruled recently that Fayette
prosecutors withheld key evidence in a 1977 double murder for which Munchinski
was convicted of committing in 1986. He was convicted then for the slayings of
James Alford and Raymond Gierke in Fayette County.
Munchinski, now 59, has mounted numerous appeals during the years, saying
prosecutors hid a police report that suggests a purported witness was in
Oklahoma when the killings occurred.
Lenihan ruled that prosecutors withheld evidence that resulted in convictions
"that are unworthy of confidence."
Blystone also has previously argued that information was kept from the jury
that convicted him. However, the state attorney general's office has repeatedly
countered Blystone's own lawyers acted on specific instructions from Blystone,
himself, during the original trial not to contest the death penalty.
(source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Juries should have power to decide aggravating circumstances, attorneys
say----Attorneys Argue that Death Penalty Law is Unconstitutional
The attorneys for a Kalispell man accused of murdering a woman and her daughter
on Christmas Day are seeking to declare the state’s death penalty
Tyler Michael Miller, formerly known as Tyler Michael Cheetham, is accused of
shooting to death his ex-girlfriend Jaimi Hurlbert, 35, and her daughter,
Alyssa Burkett, 15, last December. He faces capital punishment if convicted.
Miller’s attorneys, public defenders Noel Larrivee and Edmund Sheehy, filed a
motion to declare Montana’s death penalty unconstitutional in June. His counsel
reiterated the motion’s points during an Aug. 23 hearing in front of District
Court Judge Stewart Stadler.
Sheehy argued that the state’s death penalty law incorrectly gives judges the
power to determine if there were aggravated circumstances warranting capital
In their June filing, the attorneys wrote state law violates the U.S.
Constitution, which, in part, requires that, “other than prior convictions, any
fact increasing a penalty beyond the statutory maximum must be submitted to a
jury, and proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The attorneys cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision Ring v. Arizona, in which the
court holds that juries should decide if there are aggravating circumstances to
support the death penalty.
According to Ring v. Arizona, Montana is one of four states that give capital
sentencing fact-finding power and capital punishment sentencing power entirely
The attorneys also argue that Montana law violates the Constitution because
juries are not allowed to determine if there are mitigating factors that would
prohibit the death penalty.
The Flathead County Attorney’s office filed notice of its intent to seek the
death penalty in Miller’s case in March. The paperwork, filed by County
Attorney Ed Corrigan, portrays Miller as remorseless and premeditating in the
Miller’s case marks the 1st time since the 1983 conviction of Ronald Allen
Smith that the Flathead County attorney has sought capital punishment.
Stadler has not said when he will rule on the defense attorney’s motion. Miller
has a mental competency hearing scheduled for Sept. 28. Previous filings
indicated that he has a history of substance abuse and psychiatric conditions.
(source: Flathead Beacon)
Jury finds Arizona man guilty in quintuple murder of extended family in
An Arizona man was found guilty on Monday of five counts of murder and other
charges in the 2006 killings of an extended family of 5. A Maricopa County
Superior Court returned the verdict against 34-year-old William Craig Miller on
Monday after less than 2 full days of deliberations. In addition to 5 counts of
1st-degree murder, the jury found Miller guilty of 4 counts of solicitation of
1st-degree murder and 1 count of burglary.
Miller was convicted of fatally shooting 30-year-old Steven Duffy and Duffy's
girlfriend, 32-year-old Tammy Lovell, in their east Mesa home on Feb. 21, 2006.
Both were former employees of Miller's who were police informants against him
in a 2005 arson case.
Also killed were Duffy's brother, 18-year-old Shane Duffy, and Lovell's
children — 15-year-old Cassandra and 10-year-old Jacob.
Monday's conviction means Miller now faces the death penalty. Miller already is
serving a 16-year prison term after being convicted in March of burning down
his Scottsdale home to collect insurance money.
"Today's verdict finally brings a measure of justice to a shockingly brutal
crime that stunned the entire community," Maricopa County Attorney Bill
Montgomery said in a statement. "Now we move forward in pursuit of a just
Prosecutors will begin making arguments for the death penalty in court on
Miller's attorneys called no witnesses to the stand to testify on his behalf
during the trial.
The Arizona Republic reported that in her opening statements, prosecutor
Kristen Hoffmeyer described Miller as an "arrogant braggart" who at first tried
to hire four men to carry out the killings but ended up acting alone when they
"He eliminated them as witnesses, and he eliminated their family because there
was to be no witnesses left," Hoffmeyer said.
Hoffmeyer showed graphic photos of the crime scene, prompting the victims'
family members to cry in court. Miller declined to attend the trial.
In his opening statement, the Republic said that defense attorney Eric Kessler
urged jurors to keep an open mind.
"Things are not always as they seem," Kessler had said.
(source: Associated Press)
Justice a long time coming
There's a whirlwind of violence, then a stretch of silence.
John Bryant Jamison stayed conscious for 42 crushingly painful minutes. He was
a doctor. He knew his gunshot wounds were fatal and that he could not be saved.
Anthony Chaney had almost 17 years to think it over before he took his lethal
injection for Jamison's murder.
Jennifer Wilson lay dead for 3 weeks, her family and a legion of searchers
unaware of her location or even if she was alive. Her killer, Richard Bible,
was in a cell on death row for 21 years. His June execution was Coconino
County's most recent.
Todd Smith is still alive, awaiting his execution. He was sentenced to death in
1997 for the brutal murder of an elderly couple near Ashurst Lake. Online
prison records show he'll be up for a standard inmate classification review in
June 2012, some 15 years after he entered prison and 17 years after his crime.
The wheels of justice turn slow when it comes to capital punishment. Arizona
has executed 28 men since it lifted a 30-year moratorium on the death penalty
in 1992. Only four of them were on Death Row for fewer than 10 years. Excluding
those outliers, the average residence is about 19 years.
This is nothing new to Arizona -- and nearly 1 in 5 death row inmates has been
in prison for 20 years or more. 6 have been awaiting execution for at least 25
years. One has been there for 31 years.
Nor is there anything this state -- which has a relatively small death row
population of 128 -- can do about the guarantees to appeals.
Phoenix lawyer Steve Twist is a longtime advocate for victims' rights
nationwide. He takes care to point out that advocates like himself don't want
to just speed up executions; legitimate cases of innocence should always be
given consideration. What he wants is to eliminate unnecessary delays.
"The effect may be the same but that's really what we're trying to do," he
said. "It's not a matter of getting people into the death chamber faster. It's
a matter of doing it in a way that protects everyone's rights, including the
AN ANGRY YOUNG SON
Anthony Chaney attempted more than a dozen appeals and other maneuvers over the
years he sat on death row for killing John Jamison.
His victim was a family man and the chief of radiology at what later became
Flagstaff Medical Center. He enrolled in the police academy in his mid-30s to
be an unpaid reserve deputy.
He was called in on busy days like Sept. 6, 1982 -- Labor Day -- to keep more
eyes and ears on Flagstaff. His death in the line of duty was the sheriff's
office's first since 1919, and only one other has followed, in 1983.
While other deputies were working the county fair, Jamison was on regular
patrol. He drove toward Chaney's campground near the Turkey Hills east of town
to back up a deputy who wasn't responding to radio calls -- as it turned out,
because Chaney, an ex-con on the run from some recent burglaries, and his
accomplice girlfriend had disarmed him and handcuffed him to a tree at
gunpoint. Jamison apparently had no idea what he was approaching and had no
time to react to what has been called an ambush: a hail of gunfire from an
AR-15 rifle, fired by Chaney when he came upon Jamison after cresting a hill on
a rural dirt road.
John Milton Jamison II -- "John" is a family name, and he was named for his
grandfather -- was 13 when his father died. By the time Chaney was executed in
2000, the younger Jamison was, like his father, a police officer. He is
currently a sergeant with the Coconino County Sheriff's Office, the same agency
his father joined as a reservist.
The younger John was deeply angry about his father's death at Chaney's hands.
The first and last time John saw the man that he called an "animal" was on the
day of his execution. He looked at him through the glass partition in the death
chamber, and he felt like Chaney stared back. And he rued that he did not stop
by his father's medical office, like he often did, in the days before his
death. Grieved, he rode his bike to the mortuary while his father was being
prepared for burial and asked to see his remains. He didn't until the funeral.
But when Chaney was sentenced to death in 1983, it sounded good to the young
man. He hated Chaney, and frankly, his feelings didn't change much over time.
He reflects now with sadness for his father and a more matter-of-fact tone
"I'm just glad I don't have to deal with it anymore," he said. "It's a load
off, to say the least."
There was a roller coaster of emotions: He'd get excited that the execution was
around the corner, then deflate when it wasn't. He worried that Chaney would
get out, or that his appeals for mercy would be granted, or that the death
penalty would be abolished before he was executed. And as a police officer of
nearly 20 years now, he understands how the system works.
JENNIFER'S PINK RIBBON
So does Billy Trimble.
Trimble was one of the lead investigators on the Jennifer Wilson case. The
now-retired Flagstaff Police Department detective said he knew from the very
start that Richard Bible's case would take a long time.
It was frustrating. He knew it involved a life, Bible's. But it also involved
Jennifer's, a 9-year-old Yuma girl vacationing in Flagstaff in summer 1988.
Bible kidnapped the girl as she rode her bike on Old Walnut Canyon Road,
molested and bludgeoned her.
Bible, who claimed to the end that he was not guilty, attempted at least 15
appeals and other delays. The U.S. Supreme Court denied his stay request the
day before his execution.
Bible's execution was the first and only one for Trimble, a veteran cop.
"It's done now for me," he said. "A calm came over me when we walked out of
that room that day, something I hadn't felt for a long time. Michael (Rice, the
case's lead detective from the sheriff's office) and I turned to each other and
almost at the same time said, 'We can retire now.'"
They already had, years before, but in their minds, Bible needed to die before
they could find closure.
Then Trimble took the pink ribbon off his shirt and found Jennifer's mother.
He'd had the ribbon since Bible's trial, and pinned it to the visor of every
truck he'd owned since.
"I gave the ribbon back that day," he said.
ADVOCATE: OBSTRUCTIONISTS INFLUENCE SYSTEM
The work continues for Twist, who became close with Wilson's parents when they
joined him in the quest to further crime victims' rights. He said nobody wants
a rush to judgment with human life.
"That having been said, there is no rush to judgment in our system," he said.
Courts need to be as attentive to victims as they are to defendants, which he
said is not the case, and has been a failed part of his reform efforts.
"Written into the Constitution of Arizona is the right to a speedy trial and
also the right to a prompt and final conclusion of the case after the
conviction and sentence. That right is similar to rights that are now
established in other states to create a system that for victims that will be
free from unreasonable delay," said Twist, a former chief assistant attorney
general for Arizona and a law professor at Arizona State University. "Everyone
understands that the constitutional right of the defendant to a lawyer that has
time to prepare is important and needs to be protected but these cases,
particularly Death Row cases, should not take decades to resolve, because those
decades are not simply matters of academic or legal dispute among lawyers and
judges and professionals. The delay is a deeply inflicted trauma on families
who can't understand how it is that a just society can take so long to come to
a final conclusion."
Coconino County Attorney David Rozema has a similar sympathy for survivors.
"The federal courts have created an appeals process that now typically lasts 20
years or more. This is excessive and wrong. The hardship that this delay causes
to victims is immeasurable," he said. "Every new delay tactic and appeal
creates new uncertainty and suffering for the victims. In the 2 capital cases I
have been involved in, both of the surviving families needed the finality that
only comes when the sentence is finally imposed. Until then, the black cloud of
uncertainty and fear colors their world and prevents them from being able to
truly move on."
THOUGHTS FROM THE MIDDLE
Twist attributed the delay in executions to anti-death penalty advocates, who
he said turn to judges rather than the polls or lawmakers and use the law in an
"Ultimately their hope is, through a manipulation of the legal process for so
long, that the public will grow weary of the length of time and the cost and
not see any alternative and simply throw up their hands and abolish the death
penalty," he said. "That's what they want."
JoBeth Jamison, Dr. John Jamison's daughter, has complex, layered thoughts
about the man that killed her father and the justice system that executed him.
She can't say with certainty if she is for or against the death penalty,
preferring to view it on a case-by-case basis.
She doesn't say, either, that Chaney should have been spared. She believes in
his guilt. She was 10 when her father died and she grew up with the specter.
Her father was her hero, but upon his death, she knew nothing else. She's had
Anthony Chaney in her life since she was a child, and still does as she writes
a memoir about her experience as a victim of a death row killer's crimes.
The wait itself didn't seem so bad for her, because it was installed in her
life at an early age and life continued as normally as possible. But when the
execution happened, it hit as hard as the murder.
She did not attend or testify at Chaney's trial. She had "feelings by osmosis"
-- she accepted how adults relayed things to her, and didn't form her own
opinions until she had graduated college, moved to Europe and expanded her
"What I was able to do in that time was develop my own perspective, get
information that that I didn't have before and just really look at it from a
knowledgeable perspective," said JoBeth, now working as a writer in Sedona, "as
opposed to having every decision about it handed to me or beat into my head
because it was just in my surroundings, and that's really what it was like
She said this without bitterness, and does not deny anybody else their feelings
about the murder. She admitted that she has felt conflicted about not taking a
strong stance either way about Chaney's fate, and she admitted there was a
certain mourning in putting to bed such a significant, yet painful, part of her
She did not attend the execution with her brother John. She was sitting on her
friend's porch in Tucson that day and felt an "angry wind" come from the
direction of Florence. A few minutes later, she got a confirmation that it was
For his part, John acknowledges Chaney's death was a long time coming -- "I
felt like the phone was off the hook for a few years" -- and that executions
could be done faster, but they have to be done right.
"I wouldn't be a proponent of the death penalty if it wasn't thorough," he
John has children of his own. His youngest is his only son, John Bryant II, not
quite 3 years old. He will never meet his granddad and eventually, he'll learn
how his grandfather died. But because John keeps his photo prominently
displayed, his children will know him and hear that he was a kind and generous
(source: Arizona Daily Sun)
Iuka Woman Appeals Death Penalty Sentence----Michelle Byrom Convicted In
Mississippi death row inmate Michelle Byrom wants a federal judge to hold a
court hearing related to her death sentence.
WTVA-TV reported that attorneys for Byrom filed court requests this month for
The 54-year-old Iuka woman is one of three people convicted in the murder of
her husband, Edward Byrom. He was killed at the couple's home in 1999.
During her 2000 trial, testimony focused on a plan with her son and another man
to kill her husband. Michelle Byrom was in an Iuka hospital when Edward Byrom
was shot and killed.
She was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.
(source: Associated Press)
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