[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, FLA., N.C., CALIF., CONN.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Fri Oct 14 17:03:57 CDT 2011
Court upholds death penalty for San Antonio killer
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld the death sentence of man
convicted of fatally stabbing a disabled woman at her San Antonio home after
she refused to give him and his girlfriend money to support their $1,000-a-day
Armando Leza was condemned for the 2007 slaying of a neighbor, 57-year-old
Caryl Jean Allen, who had helped them in the past. Evidence showed Leza and
girlfriend Dolores Trevino sold items taken from the woman's apartment for
Leza's lawyers, in the appeal rejected Wednesday, raised 14 issues from his
Bexar County trial, including an argument that his waiver of Miranda rights
wasn't voluntary or intelligent because he was on heroin at the time.
Trevino testified against her boyfriend in a plea deal.
(source: Associated Press)
Exonerated Death Row Survivors Speak in Houston
8 death row exonerees, from across the US, spoke about the injustice of the
death penalty Thursday.
The “Witness to Innocence Freedom Ride” group is hoping to abolish the option
The group says Harris County is a natural starting point for the tour because
it leads the nation in imposing the death penalty.
>From Houston, the group will travel to Dallas, Austin, Corpus Christi and
DNA exoneration raises tough questions in Tex.
Caitlin Baker was 3 when her mother, Debra, was beaten to death and left naked
in bed in her Austin home. Although the pain of the loss has faded in the 23
years since, her anger that her mother's killer was never caught has not.
Less than two years before that January 1988 slaying, unbeknownst to all but a
few people until recently, the mother of another woman bludgeoned to death in
bed during an attack at her home about 15 miles away told an investigator that
her 3-year-old grandson watched a "monster" do the killing, not his father, as
police suspected. She urged him to pursue other leads, but her daughter's
husband, Michael Morton, was instead convicted of murder and sentenced to life.
New DNA testing linked the killings of Debra Baker and Christine Morton to
another man with a prison record in several states. Police have not publicly
identified the suspect, whom they are trying to locate, but his genetic links
to both slayings led to Morton's release from prison last week after nearly 25
years behind bars, and his formal exoneration by an appeals court on Wednesday.
But lawyers for the Innocence Project, a New York-based group that spent years
fighting for DNA testing in Morton's case and the release of his police case
files, say he likely never would have been convicted if the prosecutor in
charge of the case hadn't withheld key evidence from the defense, including his
And if, as the lawyers contend, investigators disregarded and hid evidence that
cast doubt on Morton's guilt, could they have more doggedly pursued leads that
might have helped them prevent Baker's killing?
In filings before state District Judge Sid Harle, the Innocence Project has
alleged misconduct by Ken Anderson, now a sitting judge in Williamson County
just north of Austin, who was the county's district attorney at the time, and
prosecuted Morton's case. The charges could lead to the state bar taking
disciplinary action against Anderson, or Harle himself possibly urging state
and federal prosecutors to investigate, said Barry Scheck, the Innocence
"I think everybody can see how offensive this conduct is, if true," Scheck
said. "I am profoundly troubled by this. Profoundly troubled, and determined to
Baker called the allegations "unthinkable."
"I would certainly hope that if it's true, there's some sort of consequence.
But I don't think that would happen," she said. "I don't have a lot of faith in
the Williamson County justice system. They couldn't do it 25 years ago. Why
would they do it now?"
Ken Anderson, who was appointed to the bench in 2002 by Gov. Rick Perry, did
not respond to several requests made through his court administrator to discuss
the Morton case and address the allegations. Police Sgt. Don Wood, who led the
investigation, has since retired and could not be located for comment.
John Bradley, the current district attorney for Williamson County, said the
Innocence Project's charges "are just allegations. No one has offered any
He added, "these are matters that will likely be investigated, but let's not
get ahead of ourselves."
Morton, who has declined to be interviewed until Wednesday's ruling exonerating
him officially takes effect next month, told investigators that his wife and
son were fine when he left for work at an Austin Safeway on August 13, 1986,
and that an intruder must have later forced his way in and killed her. He was
convicted on circumstantial evidence.
Morton steadfastly maintained his innocence, and he enlisted the support of the
Innocence Project, which specializes in helping prisoners overturn wrongful
convictions through DNA testing.
In 2006, Morton's lawyers sought DNA testing on a bloody bandanna found near
the family's home on the day of the killing. The bandanna wasn't submitted as
evidence during the trial and it hadn't been tested for DNA because the
necessary technology wasn't available in 1986. Bradley fought their request for
years, arguing that the bandanna wasn't relevant to the case.
"Let's face it, I was wrong. But it was a legal argument," he said. "Let's not
try to paint this as some sort of personal decision."
Bradley, who was not involved in prosecuting Morton's original case, also
opposed a 2008 Public Records Act request by the Innocence Project, through
which it was eventually able to obtain the police records that it says show
Anderson concealed information to ensure Morton's conviction. Bradley argued
that releasing the documents could hinder ongoing investigations, but he was
overruled by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Among the records that hadn't been turned over to Morton's trial attorneys was
Woods' interview with Christine Morton's mother in which she said her grandson
described watching a "monster" — a man who was not his father — beat his mother
to death with a wooden object.
Morton had testified at his trial that the assailant made off with his wife's
purse. Unbeknownst to him and his attorneys, the police records show that Wood
knew Christine Morton's credit card was used in San Antonio two days after her
death and a forged check in her name was cashed a week after that.
None of that came up at trial because prosecutors didn't call Wood to testify,
and, according to the Innocence Project, at that time police investigator files
could only be brought up in court if the prosecution called the investigator to
Unable to question Wood or see his records, the defense asked presiding trial
Judge William Lott to review all case materials. The Innocence Project contends
that Anderson told Lott he'd confer with Wood to ensure the court got all of
the investigation records — but that Lott only received a fraction of them and
never knew about the allegations by the couple's son, or the use of Christine
Morton's credit card or check. After reviewing the records he did receive, Lott
determined that they weren't relevant to the trial.
All these years later, Morton has been declared innocent, and Austin police
have told Baker they've reopened her mother's case — though they won't divulge
the suspect's identity, or say how close they are to catching him.
"It hasn't changed anything yet," she said. "Unless something actually happens,
I can't think about it."
(source: CBS News)
Florida Politician: Bring Back Firing Squads for Death Penalty
Sick of the “sensitivity movement for criminals” a Florida state representative
has introduced legislation to limit executions in his state to either firing
squad or electric chair.
State Rep. Brad Drake said in a statement posted on his website that every time
a “warranted execution” is about to take place, “some man or woman is standing
on a corner holding a sign, yelling and screaming for humane treatment.”
“We still have Old Sparky,” Rep. Brad Drake warned in the statement referring
to electrocution. Currently , Florida allows either lethal injection or
Drake’s legislation comes at a time when Florida is reviewing its current 3
drug protocol for lethal injection. Some critics have said the method causes
too much pain and suffering.
Only 2 states still allow death by firing squad in very limited circumstances.
Oklahoma allows it if lethal injection or electrocution is ever found
unconstitutional and Utah allows it only if an inmate chose it as a preferred
method before 2004 when the state removed it from the options.
Mark Elliott, who runs Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, says
he’s more troubled by the death penalty itself than by the method of execution.
He says every few years a politician brings up the return of the firing squad.
“If this legislator wants to talk about the over 10,000 unsolved homicides in
Florida, how we can better spend the $50 million we have a year to have the
death penalty, or how we can better prevent innocent people from being
executed, then he is saying something worth listening to.”
According to Elliott, 8 states currently allow electrocution, including
Florida. There have been 70 executions, and 23 exonerations, in Florida since
1976 and there are currently 398 prisoners on death row.
“It’s not surprising that this kind of talk resurfaces. The killing of a
captive prisoner is inhumane no matter how it is carried out. There’s no humane
way to commit an inhumane act,” Elliott argues.
(source: ABC News)
Appeal denied, father of murdered girl ready to see man executed
A convicted child killer won't get his death sentence overturned.
The man who killed Amanda Brown lost his appeal before the Florida Supreme
Court on Thursday. Willie Crain was convicted of taking the 7-year-old girl
from her bed and killing her in 1998.
Now, Roy Brown is anxious to see his daughter's killer put to death.
Crain was eventually sentenced to death, but tried to appeal the conviction.
In his latest appeal, Cain argued his attorneys failed to challenge a state
witness and DNA samples.
Brown's father said it's been 14 long years and he just wants to live to see
Crain put to death.
"I've got to see him die," Roy Brown said. "The day we left the courtroom, he
looked at me and told me, 'I wont die for this,' and just smiled. I told him,
'You see this, old man? This will be the last thing you see when they turn the
Roy Brown is now an advocate for finding missing children.
His daughter's body is believed to have been dumped in Tampa Bay and never
Brown said he speaks about missing children and asks people to call their
legislators in hopes they'll speed up the death penalty process for child
killers -- like Willie Crain.
NC judge: 2 Racial Justice Act claims to be heard
2 death row inmates who filed legal challenges under the Racial Justice Act
will be allowed to present their cases in court, a Forsyth County judge has
The Winston-Salem Journal reported (http://bit.ly/napYcv) that Judge William Z.
Wood ruled Thursday that a court will hear the cases of Carl Stephen Moseley
and Errol Duke Moses. Forsyth County prosecutors had asked the judge to dismiss
the motions, arguing Moseley and Moses had failed to prove that racial bias
occurred in their cases. Wood denied prosecutors' motions.
Moseley is white and is on death row for killing two white women whose bodies
were found in 1991: Deborah Jane Henley in Forsyth County and Dorothy Woods
Johnson in Stokes County. Moses is black and was sentenced to death for killing
two black men: Ricky Griffin in 1995 and Jacinto Dunkley in 1996.
A date for the next step, an evidentiary hearing, has not been set.
The Racial Justice Act allows death-row inmates and defendants facing the death
penalty to use statistics and other evidence to show that racial bias played a
significant role in either their sentence or in the prosecutors' decision to
pursue the death penalty. An inmate's sentence is reduced to life in prison
without the possibility of parole if the claim is successful.
A test case for how the courts will handle other Racial Justice Act claims is
unfolding in Cumberland County, where an evidentiary hearing is scheduled on a
claim filed by Marcus Robinson. He was convicted in 1994 for the 1991 murder of
17-year-old Erik Tornblom. Robinson and another man kidnapped Tornblom, shot
him in the face and stole his car and $27.
Robinson's co-defendant, Roderick Williams, is serving a life sentence.
Robinson and Williams are black; Tornblom was white.
Prosecutors have challenged inmates' right to use statistics from a study by
two law professors at Michigan State University in their claims. The study
found a defendant in North Carolina is 2.6 times more likely to be sentenced to
death if at least one of the victims was white. The study also showed that of
the 159 people on death row in the state at the time of the study, 31 had
all-white juries and 38 had only 1 person of color on the jury.
Prosecutors have argued that using statistics is unfair because they are
essentially penalized for what another prosecutor did in another part of the
state. Supporters have argued that it would be impossible to prove that
prosecutors intentionally pursued the death penalty in an inmate's specific
case because of racial bias. Statewide statistics can be used to show a pattern
of racial discrimination, they say.
Assistant District Attorney David Hall argued Thursday that state law and legal
precedent required defendants to present facts proving racial bias in their own
"There's no allegation in decision-making, jury selection or trial of any
racial discrimination against Carl Stephen Moseley," Hall said.
Paul Green, Moseley's attorney, said the act doesn't preclude defendants from
using statistical evidence. And the law doesn't require defendants to prove
racial discrimination in their specific case, he said.
Moseley's case was heard first. The judge's ruling applied also to Moses' case.
Republican legislators filed a bill that would have essentially repealed the
law by requiring defendants and inmates to prove prosecutors intentionally used
race to pursue or impose the death penalty. The bill stalled in the state
Senate, and legislators have said they will take it up in the next session.
(source: Associated Press)
Death penalty possible in Santa Rosa killing
The stakes were raised Thursday against 4 men accused in last week's shooting
death of a Santa Rosa man with the filing of special circumstance charges that
turn their prosecution into a potential death-penalty case.
The 4 men would face death or life imprisonment without the possibility of
parole if convicted of murder in the course of a robbery, as the case is
currently charged, attorneys said.
The revision filed in court Thursday corrects an earlier clerical error, Deputy
Sonoma County District Attorney Juliette Olson said. But it also makes the case
more serious and gives leverage to authorities in turning any of the suspects
against his co-defendants.
Assistant District Attorney Christine Cook said no decision had been made about
which penalty prosecutors would seek.
“As you know this is still a continuing, rapidly evolving investigation,” she
said. “We follow a death penalty protocol in the office on each case where
capital charges are filed, so that takes some time to review the case and come
up with a recommendation.”
Sonoma County Sheriff's Sgt. Carlos Basurto, who oversees violent crimes
investigations, said the gunman in the case is believed to have been Fernando
Lopez-Castillo, 25. He was arrested Wednesday at a Hayward motel where he and
his girlfriend had stayed for several days.
Unlike the others, he is charged with use of a handgun in the case. He also was
arrested on a weapons charge in 2008, Basurto said.
But the 4 men “were all equally culpable,” and arranged to buy marijuana from
their victim knowing they intended to take it without paying, Basurto said.
(source: Press Democrat)
Conn. man convicted in deadly '07 home invasion
A man was convicted Thursday of murdering a woman and her 2 daughters in a
gruesome 2007 home invasion in which family members were tied up, molested,
doused in gas and left to die in a fire. He now faces a possible death
Joshua Komisarjevsky, whose accomplice is already on Connecticut's death row,
stood and faced the jury as they declared him guilty of all 17 charges he
faced, including capital felony killing, kidnapping and sexual assault. After
the verdict was read he sat back in his chair, rocked slightly back and forth
and glanced briefly at the jury.
The only survivor of the attack, Dr. William Petit, bit his lip at times and
closed his eyes as the verdict was read.
The New Haven Superior Court jury deliberated for about 8 hours over 2 days
before delivering a verdict and will later decide whether Komisarjevsky should
be executed or sentenced to life in prison. The penalty phase, which is set for
Oct. 24, will conclude the 2nd and final trial in a case that unsettled suburb
dwellers across the country and bolstered efforts to retain the death penalty
Komisarjevsky's co-defendant, Steven Hayes, was sentenced to death last year
after he was convicted of raping and strangling Jennifer Hawke-Petit and
killing her daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley, who died of
The 2 paroled burglars spotted Hawke-Petit and her youngest daughter at a
grocery store on July 22, 2007, and followed them back to the house where they
beat Petit with a baseball bat and tied up his wife and daughters. The night of
terror drew comparisons to Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood," which documented
the brutal murders of a farmer and members of his family.
Hayes forced Hawke-Petit to withdraw money from a bank before he raped and
strangled her in the family's home.
The girls, who had pillowcases placed over their heads, died after the house
was doused with gas and set on fire.
During more than 2 weeks of testimony, prosecutors played an audiotaped
confession in which Komisarjevsky spoke matter-of-factly and laughed
occasionally. He admitted beating Petit and molesting his younger daughter and
taking photos of her, but insisted Hayes wanted to kill the family because he
was worried about his DNA at the scene.
Prosecutor Gary Nicholson said in his closing argument that Komisarjevsky was
motivated not just by money but by his interest in 11-year-old Michaela. He was
charged with sexually assaulting her.
"Michaela Petit, he was interested in her from the moment he saw her,"
Komisarjevsky, 31, said Hayes poured the gas and lit the fire, but test results
showed he had gas on his clothes. They also showed the girl he molested had
bleach on her clothes, undermining his claim that only Hayes was worried about
Jurors saw grim evidence, including charred beds, rope used to tie up the
family and autopsy photos. Gas was poured on Hayley's bed and on her sister,
according to testimony. Jurors also heard testimony that Hayley likely took up
to several minutes to die and it was unclear if burns found on her body
occurred before or after she died.
William Petit left the courtroom for some parts of the testimony but took the
stand to describe how he fell, crawled and rolled in his frantic escape to a
neighbor's house to get help.
Jeremiah Donovan, Komisarjevsky's attorney, said his client admitted to
molesting Michaela and assaulting her father, but he never intended to kill
anyone. He played a part of Komisarjevsky's confession in which he claims he
told Hayes, "No one is dying by my hand today."
Komisarjevsky was sexually abused as a child and suffered multiple concussions
and later turned to drugs, Donovan said. A psychologist hired by the defense
said that history increased his likelihood of criminal activity.
(source: Associated Press)
Death Penalty Is A Fraud----Capital Punishment Doesn't Work; It Only Keeps
Victims' Wounds Raw
On a summer night in 2007, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes broke into the
home of Dr. William Petit Jr. The doctor was beaten and his wife was raped and
strangled. His two daughters died in a fire started just before the accomplices
Dr. Petit, the lone survivor, wants both men executed, and who can blame him?
Mr. Komisarjevsky has now been convicted of triple murder, arson and 1st-degree
sexual assault and faces a possible death penalty. His accomplice is already on
death row. Their crimes are so heinous that they have led many death penalty
opponents to change their minds.
Because it's a hoax. Connecticut carries the ultimate punishment on its books,
but won't carry it out unless the perpetrator insists on dying. The result is
endless pain for the victims' families and huge court costs borne by the public
as appeals drag on for decades. The only execution in this state in the last
half-century was not a punishment, but an escape from punishment, closer to a
suicide: Michael Ross, who had been on death row for 18 years, had to fight the
courts to let him die in 2005. Half of the 10 men now on death row have been
there at least a dozen years, some of them for 2 decades. Democratic
legislators have tried repealing the death penalty, but the 2009 repeal bill
was vetoed by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell, and lawmakers haven't sent a bill to Gov.
Dannel P. Malloy, though he's said he would sign it. The status quo may be
convenient for the legislature because it placates those who support capital
punishment while keeping lawmakers' hands clean. The problem is that it keeps
victims' families in limbo. Relatives of murder victims told lawmakers this
past spring that the death penalty doesn't prevent violence but does inflict
pain — on them. There is no finality.
The legislature should repeal the death penalty and consign murderers like
Joshua Komisarjevsky to life in prison without parole. That would be the
greatest retribution. And it would allow families to heal.
(source: Editorial, Hartford Courant)
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