[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----CALIF., MONT., NEB., OHIO, LA., MO., S.DAK.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Fri Feb 3 18:37:28 CST 2012
California Supreme Court overturns O.C. killer's death sentence
The California Supreme Court on Thursday voted unanimously to overturn the
death penalty for an Orange County man convicted of burning a woman to death
over $100 of methamphetamine.
The high court ruled that Orange County Superior Court Judge John J. Ryan
failed to properly instruct the jury that recommended the death sentence for
Gary Galen Brents, who was convicted of the 1995 murder of Kelly Gordon.
Gordon was a prostitute who worked for Brents and had agreed to sell $100 in
methamphetamine for him. When he tried to collect, she had neither the drugs
nor the money.
Brents then tried to suffocate her, choked her and finally put her in the trunk
of a car he doused with gasoline and ignited.
Attorneys in the case were not immediately available for comment. Brents could
be sentenced to life in prison or prosecutors may seek to retry the penalty
phase of his case.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Family of Cgy. man on U.S. death row pleads for his life
After 30 years of silence while Ronald Smith sat on death row in Montana, his
family is finally speaking out with an impassioned plea that his life be
Smith, who was from Red Deer, Alta., was convicted and sentenced to death for
the 1982 murders of Thomas Running Rabbit and Harvey Mad Man near East Glacier,
Smith and an accomplice were hitchhiking when the victims offered them a ride.
The group partied for a while and then Smith and the other man, both high on
drugs and alcohol, marched Running Rabbit and Mad Man into the woods and shot
them in the head so they could steal the car.
Smith originally requested the death penalty but later changed his mind and has
been fighting a battle ever since to simply live out his days at Montana State
Prison in Deer Lodge.
But an application for clemency has now been filed with the final decision on
whether he lives or dies ending up in the hands of Montana Gov. Brian
"I had said to my father that I thought it was time to maybe step forward and I
haven't seen that much protection come out of my father in a very long time. He
told me no," his daughter Joan told The Canadian Press in a tearful interview.
"I told him that he was my family and I was willing to do anything to help save
him. I don't want to lose him. That's why I made the decision," she said
Joan was 5 years old when her father went to prison. She had been living with
her mother and remembers a loving father who would flip her up in the air. Now
35 with 2 children of her own, she has come to know a man who is gentle and
She said she wasn't even a teenager when she learned what Smith had been
convicted of, and it created a lot of emotional trauma.
"For a long time I blamed myself because I wasn't a bigger part of his life,"
she said, weeping. "I used to think if my mom had let me have contact with him
more that maybe it wouldn't have happened. I was angry with him for a while
because I thought, `how dare you - you have me.' "
Smith's sister Sandy had just finished high school when he was convicted.
She said the entire family was ostracized because of what had happened. She
moved away from Red Deer soon after and said anger and the shame of what Ron
had done kept her from contacting him for 16 years.
She said he had always been their protector from an abusive father and someone
she could always count on.
"It was very hard on me to fathom what he had done and I felt I just had to
take myself away from the situation for a while, which wasn't fair to him,"
Sandy said from her home in northern Alberta.
"I decided I would never step away from him again but he understood," she
A clemency hearing will likely be held this spring. The board of pardons and
paroles will make a recommendation but it will be the governor that has to make
the tough decision.
"I want people to know that he is not that monster - that piece of scum that
people call him. He has taken responsibility. He has to live with what he has
done every single day and that is part of the punishment," Sandy said.
"This could happen in any family and I want people to know he is real. He is
loved and he is so remorseful. I think the governor is in quite the position. I
would just hope that he could see Ronald is a changed man and the devastation
of Ron's death to so many people will be so hard."
Sandy still has the last gift Ron ever gave her -- a pair of heart shaped
earrings that she received on Christmas Day 1978.
She would like to give him one special gift of her own.
"When I visit we are always behind glass. Touching isn't allowed but more than
anything I wish I could give him a hug."
Joan isn't sure she will go to the clemency hearing but hopes Schweitzer will
hear her plea.
"I want to let people know that the man I know is not the man that everybody
thinks he is. I would like him to look at my Dad and see how much he's changed
and how remorseful. I go to him for everything -- good and bad. He's the one I
go to for advice."
(source: Canadian Press)
Ronald Smith's family say death-row inmate is a changed man
The daughter and sister of Alberta-born killer Ronald Smith, the only Canadian
on death row in the United States, have spoken for the first time publicly to
insist the 54-year-old convict is "a different person" from the young man who
committed a horrific double-murder nearly 30 years ago in Montana, and to
appeal to Canadians to support Smith's newly filed bid for clemency from
The 2 women, both of whom live in Alberta and asked not to have their names
published, also expressed dismay at comments this week from Conservative
Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu — for which he later apologized — that some
jailed killers should be offered a rope to allow them to commit suicide in
"I think that's very sad," Smith's 36-year-old daughter told Postmedia News. "I
know everybody's entitled to their own opinion. But it's hard to believe
somebody from Parliament would say that."
Smith's sister, 48, said her brother remains the "pillar" of her family — "he
was always very kind and compassionate and caring" — even though he's been
incarcerated at Montana State Prison, near the state capital of Helena, for
more than a quarter of a century.
Both women say they visit Smith once a year or more and maintain regular
contact by phone, seeking his advice about family matters and his comfort in
difficult times, such as the recent death of Smith's mother.
The killer's closest female relatives acknowledged they were encouraged by
Smith and his lawyers to publicly convey their support for the clemency
request, expected to be reviewed by the state's parole board in the coming
weeks and ultimately decided upon by Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Smith's sister, who plans to address the parole board personally, said she
talked to him years ago about speaking to the news media "to show the changes
that he's made over the last number of years, to humanize him."
She added: "A few weeks ago, he said: 'Maybe the time is now.' "
Smith's daughter — the mother of his 2 teenage grandchildren — said, "being at
school has been hard on them. My dad does come up in current events. It's a
But she said she and the children talk frequently by phone with Smith.
"My dad is my sounding board," she said. "We talk about everything. He helps me
Her children "love their granddad," she said, adding that her son often "talks
about when granddad's going to be home one day."
Smith has confessed to the August 1982 shooting deaths of Thomas Running Rabbit
and Harvey Mad Man, 2 young cousins from Montana's Blackfoot Indian nation.
At the time of the murders, Smith acknowledged that he killed the 2 men — who
had offered a ride to Smith and two hitchhiking friends from Canada — simply to
steal their car. Smith initially requested the death penalty for the crime and
a judge promptly granted that wish, but the Canadian later launched a series of
appeals that has delayed his execution for almost 3 decades.
With his appeal options now exhausted, Smith recently filed an official request
for clemency with the Montana parole board, essentially placing his fate in
Canada's Conservative government — after attempting in 2007 to halt all
lobbying on Smith's behalf by Canadian diplomats — was ordered by the Federal
Court in 2009 to back the clemency bid. In December, Foreign Affairs Minister
John Baird sent a letter to Montana's parole board confirming that Canada wants
Smith's death sentence commuted, but pointed out that the government "does not
sympathize with violent crime," and that the country's formal request for
clemency "should not be construed as reflecting a judgment on Smith's conduct."
Both Smith's sister and daughter expressed hope that the Canadian government's
support — court-ordered or not — might ultimately save his life.
"We're very grateful that they're helping us," said the daughter, adding that
she believes most Canadians oppose capital punishment but hopes they would also
back the push for clemency because of what she describes as the
"transformation" her father has made in his life since 1982.
"I hope they would look at all aspects of it and judge him on who he is, not on
who he was," she said. "He is a different person."
Smith's daughter, when asked what she would say to the families of his two
victims, said: "I would hope they would see it in their hearts to have
forgiveness for him. I would hope they would see he has changed and he's very,
The women's comments about Smith echoed the themes contained in his lawyers'
19-page application for clemency, delivered last month to state parole
officials and setting the stage for Schweitzer's life-or-death decision, likely
to come later this year.
The clemency request, accompanied by two lengthy letters of support from a
Catholic priest and a retired prison educator, detailed Smith's record as a
model inmate, the abusive childhood Smith suffered growing up Alberta and his
"heartfelt remorse" over the killings of Mad Man and Running Rabbit.
(source: PostMemdia News)
Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence in GI Double Homicide
A man convicted of a violent double homicide in Grand Island should be put to
death, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday.
Marco Torres was convicted of killing Ed Hall and Tim Donohue. As a 1st degree
murder case, there was an automatic appeal.
The state's high court found no merit to most of Torres' arguments.
Attorneys for Torres argued the state changed its method of execution from the
electric chair to lethal injection during the time this case was progressing
through the courts, so they said there was no valid method of execution.
Justices disagreed, and affirmed the death penalty.
Hall County Attorney Mark Young thanked Attorney General Jon Bruning's staff
for their work on the case.
Torres was given the death penalty by a panel of 3 judges in 2010. In their
ruling, the judges called it a senseless crimes, without regard for human life.
A jury convicted Torres of torturing homeowner Ed Hall, binding him with an
electrical cord, and gagging him with a bathrobe belt. Hall was shot three
times, as was Donohue, who lived in a room upstairs in Hall's home.
The murders happened in 2007. Ed Hall owned the home where Jose Cross, Gina
Padilla, and Tim Donohue lived. Cross and Padilla were involved in a previous
incident with Torres when he was convicted of kidnapping Billy Packer, biding
him in duct tape until Torres got meth from him. That was a month prior to the
Donohue suffered 1 shot to the chest and 2 to the head. 2 different
pathologists who testified in the case said he died during the same time as
Hall, who was shot 3 times.
Torres used Hall's ATM card at a cash machine, and later at Walmart, where he
was seen on video. He was also seen leaving a white Ford, matching Hall's car.
Torres checked into a motel, where he stayed a few days. He told Jose Cross he
had "put Hall and Donohue to sleep" according to the judges.
Torres then drove to Houston, where he is from. He destroyed the car by fire,
and was arrested.
The judges found forensics did tie Torres to the crime scene. They pointed to
DNA found on a cigarette in Donohue's room, as well as DNA on the orange
extension cord and bathrobe belt that was in Hall's mouth. Torres apparently
told inmates he'd done it, and in the words of the judges "initiated schemes to
(source: Nebraska TV)
'Boys Don't Cry' inmate appeals to Supreme Court
A Nebraska death row inmate whose murder case inspired the 1999 film "Boys
Don't Cry" has filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
John Lotter and a co-defendant were convicted in the 1993 slaying of a
21-year-old woman who lived briefly as a man and two witnesses to the killing.
Lotter has maintained his innocence.
In August, a 3-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected
Lotter's attempt to appeal his conviction. His request for the full court to
consider his appeal was denied.
The Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/A4O5nN ) reports that in a letter filed
Thursday, the 8th Circuit informed the U.S. District Court in Nebraska about
the Supreme Court filing.
There's no word yet on whether the Supreme Court will hear the case.
(source: Associated Press)
Deters challenges Supreme Court justice on death penalty
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters called on Friday for Ohio Supreme Court
Justice Paul Pfeifer to stop deciding death penalty cases because of the
justice’s recent public criticism of capital punishment.
Deters, a staunch death penalty supporter, also blasted Pfeifer for suggesting
Hamilton County too often seeks the death penalty in murder cases.
“Justice Pfeifer’s continued participation in deciding death penalty cases is
inappropriate,” Deters said in a letter sent Friday to judges and fellow
prosecutors across the state. “It gives rise to a credible inference that he
cannot be fair to both sides.”
The letter is the latest volley in an intensifying debate between Pfeifer and
Deters over the future of capital punishment in Ohio.
Pfeifer, a Republican who helped write Ohio’s death penalty law as a state
legislator in 1981, voiced his concerns during a House committee hearing in
December and has singled out Deters in subsequent remarks to the media.
Deters especially took issue with comments Pfeifer made last month to his
hometown newspaper, the Bucyrus Telegraph Forum. “I know that Joe Deters in
Hamilton County – his attitude is that they are all death penalty cases. It is
just the luck of the draw as to where it happens.”
Pfeifer said Friday his comments were not meant as a criticism of Deters, but
rather to point out the uneven use of the death penalty around the state.
Hamilton County leads the state with 28 inmates on death row – 19 percent of
Ohio’s 148 condemned prisoners. Franklin County, with a larger population, has
11 death row inmates.
Pfeifer said prosecutors’ different attitudes and approaches to the death
penalty mean convicted killers are more likely to get a death sentence in some
counties than in others.
“Joe misreads me if he thinks I’m attacking him. He’s made himself Exhibit A
for the hard-nosed approach on these,” Pfeifer said. “I’ve always thought of
Joe as a tough, hard-nosed prosecutor, and that’s not a criticism at all.”
When asked about Deters’ reaction, Pfeifer said, “Perhaps he’s got a little bit
of a glass jaw.”
Deters said Pfeifer is wrong to suggest his office seeks the death penalty more
often than others. Supreme Court records show that since 1999 Hamilton County
indicted 55 people on death penalty charges, compared to 182 in Franklin County
and 390 in Cuyahoga County.
Deters said Hamilton County sends more inmates to death row because he rarely
considers a plea bargain to a reduced charge, such as life without parole, in
cases deemed serious enough to seek the death penalty. In other counties, such
plea bargains are more common.
“Justice Pfeifer is making public pronouncements that we treat every case as a
death penalty case, and if you look at the statistics, that’s clearly not the
case,” Deters said.
He said Pfeifer should recuse himself from deciding future death penalty
appeals because of his public comments about its fairness and his
recommendation that the state consider abolishing it now that sentences of life
without parole are possible.
Pfeifer, however, said judges are permitted to suggest changes in state law as
long as they follow the law that’s currently on the books, which he said he
will continue to do.
“I know the difference between advocating for a change in the law and applying
the law as it exists,” he said.
Jury deadlocks over death penalty in Orleans Parish double murder
An Orleans Parish jury deadlocked over the death penalty for Kenneth Barnes
late Thursday in the 2009 execution of a 19-year-old couple following an early
morning robbery and kidnap-for-ransom attempt that ended in an abandoned Gert
Town house. Barnes, 25, will get two life prison sentences for killing Calyisse
Perkins and Fitzgerald Phillips.
The jury that convicted him Wednesday spent two hours deliberating before
returning deadlocked in the penalty phase at 10:40 p.m. after hearing tearful
testimony from family members of the victims, while those supporting Barnes
insisted he could be redeemed.
The couple's family members were subdued afterward, saying they were satisfied
that Barnes will spend the rest of his life behind bars following a sentencing
scheduled for March 1.
"I'm happy with the verdict, said Perkins' mother, Sheila Reneau, who had
favored the death penalty for Barnes.
Perkins was a literacy tutor and recent graduate of John Ehret High School in
Marrero. Phillips studied at Southern University of New Orleans.
Barnes was the last of three defendants convicted of kidnapping Perkins and
Phillips from the French Quarter, robbing them in Algiers and demanding $10,000
ransom before the teens were shot point-blank inside the empty house.
His co-defendants, Layman Foster and Gregory Vincent Jr., both testified
against him in exchange for leniency deals from Orleans Parish District
Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office.
Barnes was the only one of the three to face a capital trial in the killings.
Prosecutors claimed he was the triggerman and ringleader in a revenge killing.
Barnes and Phillips did marijuana deals together, and Barnes was steamed at
being overcharged in a deal, they argued.
His nickname, "Killa," was spray-painted on a wall inside the house where the
couple turned up dead in the 2900 block of Broadway, prosecutors said.
On Thursday, defense attorney Donald Sauviac Jr. painted Barnes as a victim of
circumstance who grew up in the Calliope public housing project without a
father, suffered a head injury in a car accident as a child and never caught a
Witnesses testified that he helped people flee the Ninth Ward for the Superdome
in Hurricane Katrina and that he took care of a wheelchair-bound uncle.
"There is still something he's able to offer others: His kids, his brother, his
brothers' family," Sauviac argued. "If you make the decision of death, there's
no turning back from it. You can't undo it."
Prosecutor John Alford, however, described Barnes as a merciless thug who
idealized merciless thugs, an "unforgivable, beyond rehabilitation,
psycho-driven murderer and he deserves to die.
"For Kenneth Barnes, a life sentence is a family reunion," Alford said. "Angola
is filled to the brim with friends of Kenneth Barnes, with family of Kenneth
Barnes. That's where he always thought he'd end up."
Following Barnes' conviction Wednesday, Cannizzaro's office had offered him a
deal: 2 life sentences and another 40 years for the kidnapping, but no death,
He said Barnes accepted it, but that prosecutors reneged Thursday morning
before the jury began hearing evidence in the penalty phase.
Sauviac called the trial, which started with jury selection Jan. 9, "an
exercise in futility."
"We wasted a month of jury time. We financially broke the public defender
system," he said. "They could have tried 10 other murder trials in this section
for half the price."
Early in the trial, Sauviac asked to withdraw from the case because the Orleans
Parish public defender's office announced it was suspending payments to private
contract lawyers in a cost-cutting move. Judge Lynda Van Davis refused.
This week, Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton laid off nearly a third of his
attorney staff and a half-dozen investigators and other support staff.
Cannizzaro issued a statement after Davis declared a mistrial once the jury
said it couldn't agree.
"This was an extremely brutal crime," he said in the statement. "Unfortunately,
we have become to(sic) desensitized to violence in New Orleans, and the
ruthless kidnapping and execution of 2 college students does not shock the
conscious like it may in other communities. However, I will not hesitate to
seek the death penalty against remorseless murderers such as Barnes."
(source: The Times-Picayune)
MISSOURI----new death sentence
Jury recommends death for Franklin County man who killed girlfriend
A Franklin County jury on Thursday convicted a Pacific man of 1st-degree murder
in the stabbing death of his girlfriend and recommended that a judge sentence
him to death.
Defense attorneys for Vernell Loggins Jr., 39, had sought a 2nd-degree murder
verdict, but prosecutors successfully argued that he showed "cool reflection"
and deliberation when he stabbed Stephanie Fields 25 times.
Loggins, a trucker, did not take the stand.
Jurors deliberated nearly 6 hours on Wednesday and another hour on Thursday
before returning the verdict of 1st-degree murder.
After 5 hours of further deliberation, the jury recommended the death penalty
"The death penalty isn't quite as gruesome as the death my daughter went
through, but and least he's not going anywhere," said Harold Fields,
A judge will ultimately determine if Loggins gets life in prison or the death
penalty. Sentencing is set for March 12.
Maintenance workers found parts of Fields' body Nov. 3, 2009, under ice in a
trash can at the Monroe Woods Apartments in Pacific, where Loggins lived. Her
head and forearms had been cut off and the trash can had been glued shut. She
was 25 and had a daughter, who is now 13.
Jurors, who were sequestered in a hotel during the trial, saw graphic photos of
Fields' body. They also saw a video of Loggins buying a trash can, glue, carpet
cleaner and Tide detergent from the Walmart in Eureka a day before Fields' body
was found. Fields' blood was found in every room of Loggins' apartment, even on
the ceiling fan.
The jury heard testimony Thursday from families of Fields and Loggins.
Loggins' older sister Erica Tullison of Memphis, Tenn., told the jury of hiding
in a closet from their abusive father, who threatened their mother with a gun
and fired shots around their home. 2 other sisters told of their love for
Loggins, as did his mother.
Another sister had to be taken from the courthouse to a hospital by stretcher
after suffering heart problems after the verdict was announced.
His 5th-grade teacher, Charles Allen, also of Memphis, told the jury that
Loggins was an inquisitive child, and he kept a log of the questions Loggins
asked as a student in an inner-city school. Allen even visited Loggins in jail
following his arrest for Fields' murder.
"Vernell was one of the special ones," Allen told the jury.
Fields' mother, Faith Fields of House Springs, told of how her daughter sang to
her sister before they fell asleep as children, and how she'd exclaim, "Dad,
let's kick it," and dance with him to songs on the radio.
She misses her daughter's laugh.
"But sometimes I hear it though, in her daughter," she said.
(source: St. Louis Today)
Berget: 'I believe I deserve the death penalty'----Lawyer argues inmate sees
execution as means of escape
The man who killed a corrections officer with a metal pipe during an escape
attempt last April says he deserves to die for his crime, but his lawyer says
giving him the death sentence he wants would simply end his suffering.
Rodney Berget, 49, told Judge Brad Zell on Thursday that when he killed
63-year-old Ron Johnson, he knew what he was doing and that he took away a
father, a husband and a grandfather.
“I’m not gonna beg the court or ask the court to spare my life. I believe I
deserve the death penalty for what I’ve done,” Berget said.
Berget’s co-defendant, Eric Robert, also asked for the death penalty in October
for his role in the crime, admonishing Judge Brad Zell to “do the right thing”
and sentence him to death.
Berget did not apologize to Johnson’s family during his statement, but said his
actions ensured that they will never see him again.
His lawyer, Jeff Larson, later told Zell that Berget does feel remorse for the
killing and escape attempt, which he and Robert didn’t realize coincided with
the officer’s 63rd birthday.
Larson told Zell that the men could have tied Johnson up, but they each knew
that if they didn’t escape, they’d only go back to prison.
A murder would bring them the death penalty and free them from a life behind
bars, even send other inmates with life sentences the message that killing an
officer is a way to die in the spotlight.
“Johnson would be alive today if South Dakota didn’t have the death penalty,”
Larson said during closing arguments.
The defense lawyer said Berget’s criminal behavior does not define his life,
which included an upbringing with a violent, alcoholic father and the execution
of a brother for an Oklahoma murder in 2000.
“He did horrible acts on two different days of his life, and that life spanned
49 years today. But it didn’t happen in a vacuum, either,” Larson said. “There
were factors outside his control that pushed him in the direction of the poor
choices he made and is responsible for.”
Attorney General Marty Jackley, who is prosecuting the case, disputed the
characterization of the death penalty as a means to freedom for Berget.
Instead, Jackley said, the death penalty is the only way to ensure that an
inmate with more than 7 escapes and escape attempts on his record will not pose
a future threat. Berget has been incarcerated for most of his life, starting at
Berget is serving 2 life sentences for a rape, attempted murder and kidnapping
“Berget’s extreme violent actions and his escape history can be ended only with
the imposition of the death penalty,” Jackley said.
Beyond that, he said, South Dakotans demand a death sentence for certain
“Capital punishment is an expression of society’s outrage,” Jackley said.
Zell alone will decide if Berget should receive a death sentence, which he
issued for Robert in October. Berget pleaded guilty to 1st-degree murder in
Robert and Berget were apprehended after beating Johnson with a pipe, wrapping
his head in plastic then using his uniform, a wheeled cart and a large box to
try to walk out of the prison’s west gate.
A 3rd inmate, 47-year-old Michael Nordman, faces murder charges for allegedly
trading the pipe and plastic for a makeshift knife. Jackley has not said
whether the state will seek the death penalty in that case.
Berget’s pre-sentence hearing began Monday. Closing statements were made
Thursday. Zell has said he intends to issue a written ruling for Berget, as he
did for Robert.
The decision could come as early as today.
(source: Sioux Falls Argus Leader)
More information about the DeathPenalty