[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----S.DAK., GA., N.C., ARIZ.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Sun Feb 19 13:06:46 CST 2012
Murderer's request for execution presents challenge to South Dakota Supreme
5 convicted murderers sit on South Dakota's death row, but one of the last
added to the state's list of doomed defendants hopes to be the next in line for
Eric Robert, 49, pleaded guilty to killing prison guard Ronald Johnson in an
escape attempt from the South Dakota State Penitentiary, and a circuit judge
sentenced him to death. Robert asked to be executed, but state law still
requires the South Dakota Supreme Court to review the case and determine if the
death sentence is proper.
In most cases, those sentenced to die argue for mercy in appeals that can take
a decade or more as they wind through the state and federal appeals systems.
Those convicted typically request new trials or, at minimum, ask that their
death sentences be commuted to life imprisonment. Robert's is the 1st time the
Supreme Court has dealt with a case in which the convict asked from the start
to be executed.
A lawyer who represented Robert in circuit court has sent the Supreme Court a
letter saying Robert has given up his right to appeal his conviction and
sentence. Robert's execution had been set for some time during the week of May
13, but the Supreme Court has delayed that until it finishes the review
required by state law.
The Supreme Court gave Robert's defense lawyer until April 3 to file a "brief
(or other submission)," but it's unclear what will be filed because Robert is
not contesting his death sentence. The state then has 45 days to file its
initial written arguments in the case, and 45 days after that a written brief
is due from a lawyer appointed as a friend of the court to take an independent
look at the sentence.
Attorney General Marty Jackley said he will file his brief before the deadline
because he wants it filed before the 1-year anniversary of 63-year-old
Johnson's death on April 12.
"The state is going to continue to do everything within its legal power to move
this forward in a timely and responsible fashion," Jackley said. "However, I
respect the legal process must run its course, and I remain confident that the
sentence and ultimate justice will be carried out."
Even though Robert asked the trial judge for the death penalty, South Dakota
law requires the Supreme Court to review that sentence. Jackley said the high
court will examine 3 issues: whether the sentenced was imposed under passion,
prejudice or another improper factor; whether evidence supports the judge's
findings of aggravating circumstances that permit the death penalty, and
whether the sentence is excessive or disproportionate compared to similar
Because Robert is not allowing his defense lawyer to argue against the death
penalty, the high court also appointed Randal Connelly of Rapid City to submit
friend-of-the-court briefs and oral arguments on whether the death penalty is
proper in the case. Connelly said the Supreme Court wants his independent input
on whether the death sentence is appropriate.
Robert was serving an 80-year sentence on a kidnapping conviction when he
attempted to escape with fellow inmate Rodney Berget, 49, and killed Johnson.
The 2 inmates were captured before leaving the prison grounds.
Berget also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death. He may follow a
traditional appeal that seeks to overturn his sentence.
A 3rd inmate, Michael Nordman, 47, was given a life sentence for providing the
plastic wrap and pipe that Robert and Berget used to kill Johnson.
Jackley is promoting a bill in the Legislature that seeks to limit the number
of appeals death-row inmates can file after their initial appeals are decided.
He noted that 2 of the men on South Dakota's death row are still appealing
their sentences nearly 2 decades after they committed murder.
Donald Moeller, who was sentenced to death for the 1990 rape and killing of
9-year-old Becky O'Connell of Sioux Falls, still has an appeal pending in
federal court. His conviction and sentence have been upheld, but he is arguing
that South Dakota's procedure for lethal injection is unconstitutional.
Charles Russell Rhines has appeals pending in both state and federal courts for
his conviction and death sentence for the 1992 slaying of Donnivan Schaeffer
during the burglary of a Rapid City doughnut shop.
Briley Piper of Anchorage, Alaska, is facing the death penalty for the March
2000 murder of Chester Allan Poage near Spearfish.
(source: Associated Press)
Roman who was on death row to speak at Berry College
Billy Mooreslideshow Billy Moore, the only self-confessed and convicted
murderer ever released from death row, will speak at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 in Berry
College’s Science Auditorium.
Moore, who lives in Rome, is speaking in conjunction with the Berry College
Honors Program course as part of its Perennial Questions series, “Law, Justice,
Mercy, and Grace,” taught by Brian Carroll, associate professor and director of
the Honors Program.
The Berry College Chaplain’s Office is co-sponsoring the evening lecture.
Moore’s story began in 1974 upon returning from military deployment in Germany.
Struggling to make ends meet and dealing with a host of problems at home, Moore
tried to change his luck by robbing the uncle of an acquaintance, who swore no
one would have to get hurt in the robbery. The acquaintance was wrong, and
during the robbery Moore shot and killed 77-year-old Fred Stapleton. Moore
pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to death by
After having his execution postponed 13 times during a 10-year period his death
was set for May 24, 1984. Seven hours from execution he was granted a stay of
execution from the U.S. Eleventh Circuit court of appeals.
Among those petitioning for the commuting of his sentence to life were five
members of Stapleton’s family, as well as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Mother
Since his release from prison in November 1991 Moore has traveled the globe
telling his story, one centered on the power of forgiveness and grace. Moore is
an ordained minister through Christ Assembly Evangelistic Ministries. He and
his wife live in Rome and are active members of the community.
Admission is free and open to the public.
(source: Rome News-Tribune)
Death row inmate returns to Gaston with questions for judge
An under-the-weather Danny Robbie Hembree arrived in court Friday morning.
The 50-year-old convicted killer wanted to address several matters with
Superior Court Judge Beverly Beal before his next murder trial in March.
He entered the courtroom with a surgical mask over his mouth, coughing often
during the hearing. Beal told the court that the mask would help prevent anyone
else from getting ill.
Hembree was convicted of capital murder in November and sentenced to death for
suffocating to death Heather Marie Catterton, a 17-year-old Gastonia woman.
Hembree is also accused of strangling to death 30-year-old Randi Dean Saldana.
Both women were killed in 2009. Their bodies were dumped along side roads in
South Carolina. Saldana’s body was also set on fire.
During Hembree’s 1st trial, prosecutors showed jurors three videos of police
interrogations where Hembree confessed to killing the 2 women in 2009 and
Deborah Ratchford in 1992.
Hembree’s attorneys, Rick Beam and Brent Ratchford, entered a motion to include
evidence in Ratchford’s death in the upcoming trial. In the previous trial,
evidence in the Ratchford killing was not introduced.
Beam told Beal that the defense wants to introduce the evidence to prove
inconsistencies in evidence, investigation and in Hembree’s confessions.
Hembree testified in his own defense during Catterton’s trial. He told the
court that he lied in the taped police interviews where he confessed to killing
several women. Hembree said he made up the stories he told police to deflect
attention from multiple armed robbery charges he faced in Mecklenburg County at
Hembree was convicted in the Mecklenburg County armed robbery cases.
Hearing details of her niece’s death will be tough, but Mary Fleming said she
wants to see Hembree brought to justice.
Ratchford was Fleming’s niece. Tears still fall from her eyes though it’s been
20 years since the Gaston County woman has seen Ratchford.
“She was a good person. She was real friendly to everybody,” said Fleming. “I
miss my niece. I loved her.”
Fleming said she hasn’t heard from the District Attorney’s office about
prosecuting Hembree in Ratchford’s death, but she has kept up with the details
of the 1st trial.
Fleming said she would like to see Hembree stand trial for each of the murders,
and that she hopes he gets what he deserves.
Judge Beal did not rule on the request to include the evidence from Ratchford’s
death in the Saldana trial.
Hembree wrote letters to his attorneys, Judge Beal and Gaston County Assistant
District Attorney Stephanie Hamlin.
In the documents he told each that he was dissatisfied with his legal
representation during his first trial. He made a motion to dismiss Beam and
The motion was discussed Friday morning, though Hembree said he had a slight
change of heart over the past week. Having been locked up at Central Prison in
Raleigh since being sentenced, Hembree has not had constant contact with his
After some conversations this week, he told Beal he was rethinking his idea to
dismiss the attorneys, but he did not back down from saying he didn’t think he
got the best defense in the 1st trial.
“They were unprepared for trial, and they were unprepared for the sentencing
phase,” Hembree said. “They were hamstrung by the court’s ruling.”
Beal said that Ratchford and Beam were competent attorneys, and he denied the
motion to withdraw them from the case.
In a decision last month Beal decided Hembree would be best served with a jury
outside of Gaston County.
Jury selection will begin March 12 in Rutherford County. Once selected, the
jury will be bused to and from Gaston County each day of the trial.
Hembree told the judge Friday that a jury from Rutherford County would also be
Hembree said that Hamlin’s husband was from Rutherfordton and that her
connections to the community would make finding an unbiased jury impossible.
He also suggested that Beal was from Rutherford County.
Beal gave both sides an opportunity to argue the matter before telling Hembree
the plans for jury selection would remain the same.
Hembree has spent his days and nights on death row since his sentence was
handed down — brought back to Gaston County sporadically for pre-trial
He was transported to Gaston County Jail for the recent proceedings. Hembree
requested that he be allowed to remain in the local jail until his trial –
making access to his attorneys much easier.
A Gaston County Sheriff’s deputy in the courtroom suggested that a death row
inmate may be a security risk.
Beal pointed out Hembree’s illness and access to his attorneys was reason
enough to house him locally through the duration of the trial.
Hembree made 1 last motion, verbally, to the judge. He requested that the
1st-degree murder charge in the Saldana case be dropped because of double
With so many motions on the table and a short court day scheduled, Beal said he
would address that motion, along with the question of introducing evidence from
Ratchford’s killing, at a later date.
Court was dismissed before lunch.
Other pre-trial hearings will be held to work through motions prior to the
start of the trial in March.
(source: Gaston Gazette)
Arizona inmate facing execution hospitalized over illness
Arizona death-row inmate Robert Moormann, who is scheduled to be executed
Feb.29, was transported to an unnamed hospital Thursday after falling ill at
the state prison in Florence, his attorney confirmed.
The Arizona Department of Corrections would not provide information -- even to
Moormann's attorneys -- about Moormann's condition, but a department spokesman
said Thursday afternoon that Moormann was still alive.
Moormann, 63, was sentenced to death for the 1984 murder of his adoptive
He has a history of health problems and was hospitalized twice last fall, first
for an appendectomy and later for a quintuple heart bypass.
Arizona prison policy requires death-row inmates facing execution to be kept
alive until the last minute before execution by lethal injection.
The execution protocol requires that a cardiac defibrillator "be readily
available on site in the event that the inmate goes into cardiac arrest at any
time prior to dispensing the chemicals; trained medical staff shall make every
effort to revive the inmate should this occur."
In 1984, Moormann was already imprisoned in Florence when he was granted a
"compassionate furlough" to visit with his adoptive mother at a motel near the
prison. During the visit, he killed her and dismembered her, dumping her body
in garbage cans.
In January, his attorneys argued that Moormann's deteriorating health had
lessened his intellectual functioning to the point where he could not be
(source: Arizona Republic)
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