[Deathpenalty] [POSSIBLE SPAM] death penalty news----TEXAS, CONN., FLA., S.DAK., ORE., CALIF.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Tue Oct 25 11:18:15 CDT 2011
Texas death row inmate hoping for new DNA tests asks court not to dismiss civil
A Texas death row inmate just weeks from execution asked a federal court Monday
to keep his civil rights lawsuit alive while his attorneys try to get knives
and other evidence turned over for new DNA tests they claim will show he didn’t
kill his girlfriend and her sons nearly two decades ago.
But prosecutors who say Henry Watkins Skinner is just trying to delay his death
with a merit-less request asked the court to rule in their favor and dismiss
Skinner, 49, came within an hour of lethal injection last year before the U.S.
Supreme Court stepped in and now has a Nov. 9 execution date. His lawsuit
claims the state violated his civil rights by withholding access to the
evidence he wants tested. Monday’s hearing came after the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled in March that Skinner could ask for the untested evidence, but left
unresolved whether the district attorney had to surrender those items. A state
court will make that decision.
Skinner’s attorneys asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Clinton E. Averitte to
recommend the civil rights suit not be dismissed until the state court acts. A
final ruling on the lawsuit will be issued by U.S. District Judge Mary Lou
Robinson in Amarillo.
The request for DNA testing is the third from Skinner but the first since a
state law about evidence testing took effect Sept. 1. The new law allows DNA
testing of evidence even if the offender chose not to seek testing before
Rob Owen, one of Skinner’s attorneys, said in an emailed statement that
lawmakers intended the new law “to reach” Skinner.
“The state should stop wasting taxpayer money fighting the DNA testing in Mr.
Skinner’s case,” Owen wrote. “At a minimum they should drop their insistence on
executing Mr. Skinner on November 9 so that the courts have adequate time to
settle this issue.”
Prosecutors maintain the new law doesn’t apply to Skinner, his claims about the
evidence aren’t new and other courts have already decided the issue. Skinner
“still has not demonstrated” how additional DNA testing will prove his
innocence, attorney general’s spokeswoman Lauren Bean said in an email. She
accused him of “resorting to gamesmanship.”
“Because Skinner has not met the standards required by law and does not seek to
test newly discovered evidence, the Court should deny his claims and prevent
Skinner from further delaying justice for the victims’ families,” Bean wrote.
Skinner was sentenced to death for the 1993 deaths of his girlfriend,
40-year-old Twila Busby, and her sons Elwin “Scooter” Caler, 22, and Randy
Busby, 20. The victims were strangled, beaten or stabbed on New Year’s Eve at
their home in Pampa in the Texas Panhandle.
About three hours after their bodies were discovered, police found Skinner
hiding in a closet in the home of a woman he knew. Tests showed that blood of
at least two victims was on him, and authorities said a trail of blood led
police from the bodies to his hiding place a few blocks away.
Skinner has acknowledged being inside the house where the killings took place
but has insisted he couldn’t be the murderer because he was passed out on a
couch from a mix of vodka and codeine. In a hand-written Aug. 31 affidavit,
Skinner told the court: “I am actually, factually and totally, legally and any
other definition, innocent of this crime.”
However, documents the attorney general’s office filed in court Monday said
Skinner offered to plead guilty to first-degree murder before his 1995 trial in
exchange for a life sentence. Plea negotiations often are kept confidential,
but Skinner’s federal appeal on ineffective counsel claims waived that
privilege, the new document said.
The evidence now being sought was not tested at the time of Skinner’s trial
because his lawyer feared the results would hurt his case. But his attorneys
now argue that forensic DNA testing “has a strong likelihood of confirming Mr.
The untested evidence includes vaginal swabs taken from Busby during an
autopsy, fingernail clippings, a knife found on the porch of Busby’s house, a
second knife found in a plastic bag in the house, a towel with the second knife
and a jacket next to Busby’s body.
Skinner contends that Caler, who had several stab wounds, likely bled on him
while trying to roust him from his stupor. Skinner has said the woman’s blood
likely got on his clothes because they were nearby as she was being bludgeoned
with a pickax handle. He and his attorneys point to the woman’s now-deceased
uncle, Robert Donnell, as the possible killer.
(source: Associated press)
Jury to decide if Komisarjevsky gets death penalty
The penalty phase for Joshua Komisarjevsky -- convicted of raping and murdering
Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters during a July 2007 home invasion in
Cheshire -- is set to begin Tuesday. The same jury that convicted Komisarjevsky
will decide whether he will be sentenced to death.
When the jury returns to the courthouse it will mark the start of what will
likely be weeks of testimony, as the defense tries to use Komisarjevsky's
troubled childhood to keep him alive.
While the case will be made in court, those living around Cheshire seem to have
their minds made up already.
"Death penalty right off the bat," said Nick Casella of Hamden, "before all
this even began I would put him to death."
However, deciding Komisarjevsky's punishment isn't that easy for the seven
women and six men that already convicted him of the July 2007 killings.
Prosecutors need to convince the panel the crime meets the legal standard of
being especially cruel, heinous and depraved.
During the home invasion, Hawke-Petit was raped and strangled, her daughters
Hayley and Michaela tied to their beds, gasoline poured on them, and the house
set on fire. Additionally, Komisarjevsky admitted to sexually assaulting
"It's very clear even if you are against the death penalty there are certain
circumstances where there should be no question," said Jill Helton of
The defense plans to call witnesses testifying to Komisarjvesky's troubled
childhood and explaining why that meets the legal mitigating favor;
essentially, a reason the jury should choose life in prison as his punishment.
A similar strategy was used by the defense team of Komisarjevsky's
partner-in-crime, Steven Hayes, but that jury sentenced Hayes to death by
Komisarjevsky's punishment will serve as an end to the case that shattered
Connecticut's sense of safety.
"It changed everything," said Helton, "it changed the way I raise my
"This guy should be served justice for the harm he caused to this family," said
It is unclear whether Komisarjevsky will make a personal plea to the jury in an
attempt to save his own life.
(source: Connecticut Post)
Oba Chandler's death penalty stay denied
In a court hearing Friday, death row inmate Oba Chandler made a last-ditch
effort to have his death sentence thrown out. On Monday, Circuit Judge Fhilip
J. Federico denied that motion.
Chandler was found guilty of the 1989 murders of Joan Rogers and her teenager
daughters. The family was from Ohio. Rogers lured them to his boat, sexually
assaulted them and tied concrete blocks to their bodies and tossed them into
Chandler is scheduled to be executed on November 15.
(source: ABC News)
Death sentence debate starts today in guard slaying----It's Sioux Falls' first
capital case to reach a penalty phase since '07
This morning, a Sioux Falls judge will begin the process of deciding whether
admitted murderer Eric Robert should die for his crime.
Much of the sentencing phase of the 49-year-old penitentiary inmate's trial
will be broadcast live on the Internet as Judge Bradley Zell considers
arguments for and against a death sentence.
Central to the weeklong affair will be the question of whether the man who used
a metal pipe to beat 63-year-old corrections officer Ronald Johnson to death on
his birthday this spring will continue to pose a grave threat to the safety of
others if he's left to live out his years within the institution where the
murder took place.
Robert's co-defendants, 49-year-old Rodney Berget and 47-year-old Michael
Nordman, each have pleaded not guilty and await trial.
The capital case is the first in Sioux Falls to reach a penalty phase since the
trial of Daphne Wright in 2007. A jury convicted her of killing and
dismembering Darlene VanderGiesen. A separate jury gave her a sentence of life
in prison without parole.
"The consequences of any decision made by either of the lawyers and by the
judge could literally be matters of life or death," said Dave Nelson, the
former Minnehaha County State's Attorney who prosecuted the Wright case.
Robert's capital case is unique in several respects, however. First, Robert
pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Sept. 16, waiving his right to a
That same day, he asked Zell - not a jury - to decide whether he deserves death
or life in prison. With a jury, only one vote would have been needed to avoid
Finally, during a motions hearing this month, Robert's lawyers told Zell that
they'd been instructed not to present certain types of "mitigating evidence"
that could work in his favor.
One of his lawyers, Mark Kadi of the Minnehaha County Public Advocate's Office,
told Zell that day that his client made a voluntary choice.
"My client knows that a death penalty could be given by this court if that
information is not provided," Kadi said.
Past crimes to figure in prosecution's case
To make their case, prosecutors plan to present evidence of his past crimes,
statements he's made to guards at the Minnehaha County Jail since the April 12
slaying and rely on Robert's previous admissions of guilt.
The threat of future danger is one of several "aggravating factors" within
South Dakota law that potentially could lead to a death sentence.
The other aggravating factors alleged in the case include the murder of a
corrections officer on duty, a killing committed while attempting to escape
from lawful confinement and an offense considered to be "outrageously and
wantonly vile," court documents show.
Attorney General Marty Jackley and his prosecution team will try to prove each
factor to Zell this week beyond a reasonable doubt.
Robert is not scheduled to take the stand.
His criminal history and behavior at 2 South Dakota correctional institutions
have given prosecutors plenty to work with in making their case, however.
Robert said during his Sept. 16 hearing he had planned to kill, then carried
out the slaying of a correctional officer on duty as part of his escape.
That amounts to an admission of one of the aggravating factors.
"I incapacitated him by hitting him in the head with a lead iron pipe, then I
put Saran Wrap over his mouth and nose to stop him from breathing," Robert
The questions of gruesomeness of the crime and future dangerousness of the
perpetrator are open for argument. Jackley plans to call coroner Kenneth Snell
on the first issue, and he'll show photos from the autopsy to highlight the
brutality of the crime.
Court documents outline several potential arguments on the issue of
dangerousness. Prosecutors plan to point to a 2007 escape attempt from the
penitentiary as evidence of a lack of respect for authority.
The state also will introduce damaging statements Robert made to Deputy Cory
Winter at the Minnehaha County Jail on Sept. 24 - the day he was transferred
back to the penitentiary from the jail. Robert told Winter it would "only take
a moment" to hurt a corrections officer.
"Inmate Roberts (sic) stated that he already did it to one guard and it could
happen again if people get him upset, and it wasn't a threat it would happen,"
Winter said in court papers.
Prosecutors also plan to call three women to testify about Robert's past
behavior - a former girlfriend from Wisconsin; another former romantic interest
who took out a protection order against him after a prolonged kidnapping and
rape in 2002; and the victim of the 2005 kidnapping in Sturgis that landed
Robert in the South Dakota penitentiary.
Judge Zell told Kadi at a motions hearing earlier this month that South Dakota
law requires him to consider any potential mitigating evidence regardless of
Robert's desire to shield them from view.
Kadi wrote Zell a letter in September directing the judge to the pre-sentence
report prepared after his 2005 conviction for a clearer picture of his client's
life and his potential for rehabilitation. His friends and family spoke on his
behalf in that report.
"Expert testimony concerning the defendant's psychological condition at that
time also was presented," the letter says.
To seek death penalty in case of Berget
Regardless of the result of Robert's sentencing, the state plans to seek the
death penalty for Berget, who was apprehended at the prison's west gate during
the pair's failed escape attempt April 12.
No death penalty decision has been made yet for Nordman, who was indicted on
aiding and abetting murder charges Sept. 29 for allegedly providing Berget and
Robert with the pipe used to kill Johnson.
(source: Argus Leader)
OREGON----death sentence overturned
Judge overturns man’s death sentence
A Portland judge has overturned Jeffrey Dale Tiner’s May 2000 death sentence
for the 1993 murder of Springfield resident James Salmu, saying Tiner wasn’t
given a proper defense.
Tiner’s conviction for aggravated murder in the case still stands. But
Multnomah County Circuit Senior Judge Frank Bearden has remanded the case back
to Lane County Circuit Court for resentencing.
That will mean empaneling a new jury to rehear the sentencing phase of Tiner’s
case, Lane County Chief Deputy District Attorney Patty Perlow said Monday.
“It’s discouraging that we have to try these cases again and again and again,
but that’s what we do in Oregon,” Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner
said. “It’s very time-consuming, and it’s very expensive.”
Verdicts and sentences are often overturned over “what the public at large sees
as legal technicalities,” he said.
Bearden noted in his ruling, however, that “the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
has stated that there is no more important hearing in law or equity than the
penalty phase of a capital trial.”
In a seven-page opinion, Bearden wrote that Tiner’s due process rights were
violated when his defense lawyers failed to call 2 witnesses at sentencing who
were available to “portray a more human and less dangerous side” of the
Defense attorneys Marc Friedman and Clayton Lance also failed to properly
counsel Tiner about his allocution, a statement defendants make directly to a
jury without subjecting themselves to cross-examination, Bearden found.
It is likely that “at least 1 juror would not have voted to impose the death
penalty,” the judge wrote, if Tiner’s sister had testified about his childhood
abuse, if a Nevada prison warden had testified that Tiner was trusted to use
knives in a prison kitchen, and if Tiner had made a different allocution.”
Tiner will remain on Oregon’s death row pending results of the resentencing,
according to Jacob Humphries of the state Department of Corrections.
Tiner, now 53, was convicted of killing Salmu in March of 1993, then burying
his body in the woods 52 miles east of Springfield. Salmu, who died at 34, was
missing for more than a year and a half before a mushroom hunter found his
skeletal remains. He had been beaten, stabbed and shot, according to evidence
in the case.
Karlyn Eklof was also convicted of aggravated murder in the case. She is
serving 2 life prison terms.
Trial evidence indicated that Salmu, a mild-mannered boat builder, had taken
Eklof and her 3 children into his home 3 months before the murder because they
had no place to live. In mid-March, Eklof met Tiner, then newly paroled from a
California prison, and invited him to Salmu’s Springfield home for “a
vacation,” Tiner told police.
Prosecutors alleged that Eklof and Tiner attacked Salmu a week later during an
argument over their request that he leave his own home so they could be alone.
After Tiner killed the 34-year-old Salmu, witnesses testified, he and Eklof
replaced carpeting in Salmu’s living room and repainted a bathroom. But police
found blood on a bathroom door and molding that was later matched to Salmu.
Though Tiner was indicted for the murder in 1995, his trial was delayed for
nearly 5 years while the Oregon Court of Appeals considered his pretrial legal
Bearden, who retired in 2008 after 30 years on the bench, was assigned by the
Marion County Circuit Court to rule on Tiner’s motion for post-conviction
relief based on his claim of incompetent counsel. That case was filed in Marion
County because that court encompasses the Oregon State Penitentiary, where
Tiner is being held.
Salmu’s mother and brother, Theresa Trudo and David Salmu, both of Fresno, said
they were surprised Monday to learn of Bearden’s ruling. They declined further
In his ruling, Bearden noted that Tiner went through three defense lawyers
before Lance and Friedman were appointed to handle his case, and that all the
attorneys appeared to have trouble working with Tiner.
Bearden rejected Tiner’s assertion that his conviction should also be
overturned, ruling that Lance and Friedman conducted that portion of the trail
within “the standard of professional skill and judgment required, given the
barriers put up by” Tiner.
Neither Lance nor Friedman responded Monday to an invitation to comment on
(source: The Register-Guard)
The Numbers Are in, the Death Penalty Is Out
Over the last few weeks, polls were released by several independent
organizations that all point to one conclusion: Californians are ready to dump
the death penalty.
The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and the Field Poll both show
California voters' strong preference for life without the possibility of parole
over the death penalty.
In the Field Poll released September 29, 48% of California voters opted for a
sentence of life without the possibility of parole while only 40% chose the
And Gallup Polling shows that American support for capital punishment has
dropped dramatically over the past 20 years.
Jeanne Woodford, former death row warden and current spokesperson for the SAFE
California Campaign, said, "We see [these poll results] as a historic shift
that will carry us through to the elections."
SAFE CA is the new initiative to end California's death penalty on the November
2012 ballot. It's about replacing the death penalty with a safe and affordable
public safety solution: life without the possibility of parole plus work and
More Californians chose that over the death penalty because they know it saves
$184 million state tax dollars every year. A single execution is exorbitantly
expensive -- $308 million - and most Californians can probably think of better
ways to spend their money.
For the same cost, we could hire about 6,000 new police officers, or about
5,000 new fire fighters. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that
hiring thousands more public employees would make a bigger positive impact on a
community than would executing a single individual. And it's also worth
pointing out that for the cost of a single execution, we could provide 2,865
children with a free k-12 education.
Californians care about their communities, and they care about education and
public safety. They know that cash-strapped California has to invest its
resources wisely, and they know that protecting and educating their families
will always bring more bang for their buck than wasting hundreds of millions of
dollars on one execution.
These polls show that California is on the verge of a major shift in public
priorities. When the SAFE CA Act lands on the ballot in November 2012, voters
will have a chance to put their taxpayer money where their mouths are and fund
real solutions over empty "tough on crime" rhetoric.
(source: James Clark.So Cal Coordinator, SAFE California Campaign, Huffington
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