[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, MD., NEB., OKLA., ARIZ., ALA.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Thu Feb 23 18:48:44 CST 2012
AP Interview: Texas DA seeks death penalty review
The Texas prosecutor leading an aggressive push to free wrongly imprisoned
inmates, in a county where more than two dozen wrongful convictions have been
overturned, is calling for a review of the capital punishment system in the
nation's busiest death penalty state.
Craig Watkins' tenure as Dallas County's top prosecutor has earned him a
national reputation. Now, as Watkins publicly acknowledges that his
great-grandfather was executed in Texas almost 80 years ago, he called on state
lawmakers to review death penalty procedures to ensure the punishment is fairly
"I think it's a legitimate question to have, to ask: `Have we executed someone
that didn't commit the crime?'" Watkins said in an interview with The
After becoming district attorney in 2007, Watkins started a conviction
integrity unit that has examined convictions and, in some cases, pushed for
them to be overturned. Dallas County has exonerated 22 people through DNA
evidence since 2001 – by far the most of any Texas county and more than all but
two states. An additional five people have been exonerated outside of DNA
testing. Most of those exonerations occurred during Watkins' tenure.
Texas has executed 55 inmates since 2009, including 13 last year, a 15-year
low. 12 former death row inmates have been freed since 1973.
"I think the reforms we've made in our criminal justice system are better than
any other state in this country," Watkins said. "But we still need reforms. And
so, I don't know if I'm the voice for that. I just know, here I am, and I have
Among those experiences was hearing about the execution of his
great-grandfather, Richard Johnson. According to state criminal records and
news accounts, Johnson escaped from prison three times while serving a 35-year
sentence for burglary, and he was charged with killing a man after his third
escape. He was convicted of murder in October 1931 and executed in the electric
chair in August 1932.
Watkins said he did not get a full explanation of what happened until he became
district attorney. His grandmother, who was a young girl when her father was
executed, still struggles with the story, according to Watkins and his mother,
Watkins says he opposes the death penalty on moral grounds but doesn't want
those beliefs "pushed upon someone else." He has sought the death penalty at
trial in nine cases, with eight death sentences received. An additional four
death penalty cases are pending, according to his office. A panel within his
office reviews possible death penalty cases and votes on whether to pursue it.
While Watkins doesn't take a position on his great-grandfather's guilt, he said
hearing about the incident made him think harder about whether defendants,
particularly African-Americans, are being treated fairly by the courts.
Watkins, the first African-American district attorney in Texas, said he remains
troubled by allegations that faulty evidence and prosecutorial misconduct were
used to secure convictions. Watkins did not offer specific proposals for
changes or suggest halting executions, but he said he wanted state lawmakers to
take a look at how the death penalty is handled in counties.
"I think in Dallas County, we're getting it right," he said. "But I think the
larger responsibility is for other places to get it right."
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat, is a key supporter of legislation
to expand DNA testing and provide compensation for wrongful imprisonment. He
said more people are "taking another look" at the death penalty, but doubted
that immediate changes were on the horizon.
"I don't foresee a time when major changes will occur, but the discussion has
at least begun on how we make it more just and how we make it more certain that
we actually have the right guy," Ellis said in an email.
The latest wrongfully convicted man to be exonerated in Dallas County, Richard
Miles, was formally declared innocent Wednesday by a judge. Miles was released
from prison in 2009, 15 years after a jury convicted him of murder and
sentenced him to 40 years in prison. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals last
week declared that his case was one of actual innocence.
With a handful of other exonerees watching, Watkins told the courtroom that it
was a "fair question" to ask whether Texas had executed an innocent person.
"I think anyone that does not – that sits in a DA's seat – have doubts, they
shouldn't be DAs," he said.
Watkins told the AP later that he didn't want to lecture other prosecutors, but
thought that Dallas County could be "a part of the debate."
He pointed to the exoneration of Michael Morton, who served 24 years in prison
before new DNA testing showed he didn't kill his wife. Attorneys for Morton
accuse Ken Anderson, who prosecuted the case in Williamson County, north of
Austin, of keeping key facts from the defense at his trial. Morton was
convicted in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison.
Anderson, now a judge, faces a special investigation ordered last week by the
Texas Supreme Court's chief justice.
"I think the Williamson County case is a perfect example of how there may be
innocent individuals languishing on death row waiting for their execution,"
John Bradley, the current Williamson County district attorney, said that
"extraordinary changes" had already been made in the quarter-century since
Morton was convicted. He said Watkins and others should wait for the inquiry
against Anderson to be completed.
"It's a little premature for finger-pointing," Bradley said. "My preference is
to let the process work through and evaluate what's there."
Watkins said he had already started talking to other elected officials about
the death penalty. "The conversation needs to be had about if we pursue (the
death penalty) and when we pursue it, are we pursuing it against someone who
actually committed the crime," he said.
(source: Associated Press)
Death row inmate loses appeal----Carlos Ayestas killed Santiaga Pareque in 1995
A federal appeals court has rejected an appeal from a Honduran man sent to
Texas death row for killing a woman during a robbery of her Houston home more
than 16 years ago.
Carlos Ayestas argued unsuccessfully to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
that his lawyers were deficient, he was unaware he could have contacted the
Honduran consulate for legal help under an international treaty, evidence was
insufficient and jury instructions improper.
A Harris County jury in 1997 took 12 minutes to decide Ayestas should die for
murdering 67-year-old Santiaga Pareque. He and 2 other men showed up at her
apartment in September 1995 under the guise of answering a newspaper ad about a
bed for sale.
The 42-year-old Ayestas does not have an execution date.
Jury weighs death penalty for inmate in killing of prison
officer----Prosecutors urge death for slaying of Cpl. David McGuinn
Anne Arundel County jurors began weighing the possibility of a death sentence
Wednesday for the inmate they convicted of murdering a correctional officer at
a now-closed state prison in Jessup.
"He brutally murdered, stabbing and ending the life of David McGuinn,"
prosecutor Sandra F. Howell told the jury, as convicted killer Lee Edward "Shy"
Stephens, 32, looked on. "For that, ladies and gentlemen, the law provides the
If the jury, scheduled to resume deliberations Thursday morning, agrees with
her, Stephens would become the first person to receive a death sentence under
Maryland's new and more restrictive capital punishment law.
The jury's sentencing choices are death, life without parole and life with the
possibility of parole.
Howell said Stephens, in trouble as a youth, was imprisoned for life plus 15
years because he posed a threat to the public after he was convicted of
murdering a man outside a nightclub when he was 17. But now, she said, he has
shown he is a danger to people inside prison as well.
In 2006, he slipped out of a cell whose lock was jimmied and fatally ambushed
McGuinn as the officer was making evening rounds. Stephens' record shows prison
infractions that include punching a correctional officer in the face last year.
Defense lawyer Gary E. Proctor asked jurors for mercy, telling them to consider
Stephens' impoverished home life of "chaos and cruelty" and his learning
disability. He was surrounded by violence all his life, Proctor said.
In addition, he said, because a second prisoner has been charged in the fatal
stabbing of McGuinn, Stephens cannot be held entirely to blame for the death of
the 42-year-old correctional officer.
Not being the sole cause of someone's murder is one of the factors jurors can
weigh as they determine a sentence.
(source: Baltimore Sun)
Scheduled execution brings flurry of activity
Michael Ryan is scheduled to die by lethal injection early next month. It would
be a historic 1st use of the method in the state.
The state has been prepared and willing to resume the use of capital punishment
since the fall of 2010. A series of legal challenges and missteps in the
acquisition of the needed drugs to carry out the procedure have kept prison
officials from proceeding.
3 men currently on death row have been actively attempting to delay or stop
their execution, including Ryan.
Carey Dean Moore was to have been the 1st to die by lethal injection last
summer. He has successfully used a variety of appeals to delay his execution.
He has spent more time on death row than any of the current residents. The
Nebraska Supreme Court heard the 1st appeal of Marco Enrique Torres, Jr. late
last year; he’s the newest of those facing a death sentence in Nebraska. The
Court upheld his sentence.
Here’s a summary of where each of the current cases stand.
Convicted: 1986 in Richardson County.
The Crime: 1 count 1st-degree murder; 1 count of 2nd-degree murder of a child.
In the mid-1980s, Michael Ryan, an unemployed truck driver, believed he had a
direct connection with his god, Yahweh. He convinced a small group of followers
to move onto a farm near Rulo, Neb. to prepare for what they believed to be the
imminent start of the battle of Armageddon. Cult members who fell out of favor
were subjected to beatings and sexual abuse. At one point, Ryan struck a
5-year-old boy, Luke Stice, knocking him unconscious. No one sought medical
help and the boy died. A few weeks later, one of the adults, James Thimm, was
tortured for 4 days by Ryan and 3 other men. The details are horrendous. After
his arrest, Ryan pled no contest in the death of the boy and was convicted of
1st-degree murder for killing Thimm.
The Appeal: A number of appeals on Ryan’s behalf in both state and federal
courts have been rejected. The last legal filings are in response to Nebraska’s
switch from the electric chair to the use of lethal injection to carry out the
Ryan’s attorney raised questions about the source of Nebraska’s supply of the
anesthetic drug sodium thiopental, which prison officials obtained from an
The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services was forced to get rid of one
batch of the drug they purchased from India, apparently because they didn’t
follow federal prescription drug regulations. NDCS obtained a second shipment
through an intermediary based in India.
Ryan’s attorney, Jerry Soucie of the Commission on Public Advocacy, argues
Nebraska obtained the drug illegally on both occasions, which justifies
delaying the execution while reviewing whether the Department of Corrections
broke any laws. (No federal or state agency seems poised to proceed with that
The Nebraska Attorney General dismisses the entire line of appeal as “a
sideshow” and insists there are no grounds for a delay based on the drugs’
point of origin or how they were acquired.
The Status: The Attorney General’s arguments prevailed at every stage of the
process. So far.
In January, the Nebraska Supreme Court rejected Ryan’s arguments without
comment, allowing the execution to proceed as planned on March 6. His attorney
responded by filing a new appeal in the Richardson County District Court (where
the crimes originally occurred) in an effort to get a judge to reconsider
sentencing based on the allegations about the drug’s origins. The judge’s
ruling is expected any time.
CAREY DEAN MOORE:
Convicted: 1980 in Douglas County
The Crime: 2 counts of 1st-degree murder During 2 separate robberies in 1979,
Moore murdered a pair of Omaha cab drivers, Reuel Van Ness and Maynard
Helgeland. Because Moore admitted he targeted the men because they were older
and would be unlikely to defend themselves, the killings were considered
The Appeal: The Supreme Court set an execution date last year, but later
delayed it while the justices reviewed the issues raised about the use of
lethal injection. They have since rejected all pleas for a stay of execution.
His attorney requested Douglas County District Judge Thomas Otepka reconsider
the death sentence. In denying the request, Otepka stated the court’s duty was
to determine only whether Moore had received a fair trial before he was
sentenced. Otepka ruled Moore had been treated fairly.
The Status: As of now, the State has not set a new date for Moore’s execution,
but nothing currently stands in the way..
MARCO ENRIQUE TORRES, JR.:
Convicted: 2009 in Hall County
The Crime: 2 counts of 1st-degree murder
In 2007, Torres murdered 2 men, Edward Hall and Timothy Donohue, in a home in
Grand Island, Neb., apparently as part of a robbery, and fled to Texas. The
sentencing judges found both the murderers’ attempt to conceal the crime,
combined with the brutal nature of the homicide, to warranted the death
The Appeal: In Torres’ 1st appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court, he argued 11
separate issues that entitled him to a new trial or a reduced sentence. These
included the judges’ failure to consider methamphetamine use as a reason Torres
was not in control of himself at the time of the crimes.
The Status: While finding some “harmless” errors in the manner in which
evidence was allowed into the trial, the Nebraska Supreme Court found all 11 of
Torres’ claims to be “without merit.”
Torres is the most recent addition to Nebraska’s death row.
There are currently 11 men on Nebraska’s death row at the State Correctional
Institution in Tecumseh.
Three of them were involved in the killing of five people during a 2002 bank
robbery in Norfolk.
1, John Lotter, murdered Brandon Teena, the transgendered subject of the film
“Boys Don’t Cry,” and 2 of his friends.
6 of them are accused of murdering children.
No one has been executed in Nebraska since 1997. If no stay of execution is
issued, Michael Ryan will become only the 24th person in the state and the 1st
by way of lethal injection.
(source: KVNO News)
Clemency hearing set Friday morning for death row inmate Stemple
Oklahoma State Penitentiary death row inmate Timothy Shaun Stemple, 46, is set
to appear in front of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board Friday morning for
his clemency hearing.
At 9 a.m. that day, Stemple will have the opportunity to speak to the -member
board regarding his case and request that they vote to spare his life and
commute his death sentence to life. Stemple will appear before the board via
live video feed from OSP, while the victim’s family will have the opportunity
to speak to the board as well.
Stemple, set to be executed on March 15 at 6 p.m. in the prison’s death
chamber, received his death sentence for the Oct. 24, 1996, murder of his
30-year-old wife Trisha J. Stemple.
According to a news release from the Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General,
“Evidence showed the victim had been hit multiple times with a baseball bat and
repeatedly run over with Stemple’s pickup. The victim died from blunt force
trauma to the head and also had fractures to her arms, ribs, pelvis, vertebrae
Stemple has been housed on death row inside OSP’s H-unit since Feb. 23, 1998.
The last death row inmate to be executed at OSP was Gary R. Welch, 49, who
received his death sentence for the 1994 slaying of 35-year-old Robert Dean
Hardcastle and was executed on Jan. 5, 2012. Welch’s execution was the first in
the United States in the year 2012.
Oklahoma death row inmate Garry Thomas Allen was scheduled to be executed on
Feb. 16 until Gov. Mary Fallin granted a 30-day stay so her legal team could
have more time to consider a 2005 recommendation by the Oklahoma State Pardon
and Parole Board to commute his sentence to life. Allen received his death
sentence for the 1986 murder of his wife, Lawanna Gail Titsworth. Allen was
convicted of gunning down Titsworth just days after she moved out of their home
with their two sons, who were ages 6 and 2 at the time.
Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt also recently requested that an
execution date be set for death row inmate Michael Bascum Selsor, 57. Selsor
received his death sentence for the 1995 murder of 55-year-old Clayton Chandler
during a robbery of a Tulsa convenience store.
(source: McAlester News-Capital)
Judge declines delaying executions for 2 Arizona inmates
A federal judge on Thursday declined to delay the upcoming executions of 2
Arizona death-row inmates over arguments that a new execution protocol violates
their constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Neil Wake ruled that the Arizona Department of Corrections'
new execution protocol, released last month, does not pose a substantial risk
of subjecting either inmate to cruel and unusual punishment, as their attorneys
argued it would.
Attorneys plan to appeal his ruling Thursday to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals in San Francisco.
Wake's ruling cleared one of several efforts to get the executions of Robert
Henry Moormann and Robert Charles Towery stopped or delayed. Both men still
have clemency hearings scheduled and other pending legal findings.
Moormann, 63, has been on death row for 27 years for the brutal killing and
dismemberment of his 74-year-old adoptive mother Roberta while on a 3-day
"compassionate" furlough from the same prison where he's set to be executed on
Wednesday. He had been serving a life sentence for kidnapping an 8-year-old
girl in 1972.
Towery, 46, is set for to be executed eight days after Moormann on March 8 for
killing a man while robbing his home in 1991.
The men's attorneys argued in a court filing seeking delays in their executions
that the corrections department's new protocol gives too much discretion to
corrections Director Charles Ryan and improperly loosens requirements for those
who inject the lethal drugs.
The protocol says that Ryan can decide with which and how many drugs to execute
inmates, and has also loosened requirements for those who inject the lethal
Before, everyone on Arizona's execution team needed to have at least 1 year of
current experience with starting intravenous lines. Now, the protocol says that
those on the execution team need only have past experience starting IV lines,
and that Ryan can decide whether someone on the medical team is "appropriately
trained," rather than "medically trained."
Defense attorneys also say that the new protocol prevents them from meeting
with the inmates the day of their execution, a longtime practice.
Spokespeople for Ryan and Gov. Jan. Brewer, who is named in a lawsuit over the
new protocol, have said that the new protocol is in accordance with federal and
The lawsuit still is pending, but won't delay Moormann's or Towery's execution
unless Wake's ruling is overturned by the 9th Circuit Court or the U.S. Supreme
In his ruling, Wake said that Ryan has told the court that an execution team is
in place for Moormann and Towery, that background checks have been performed on
them and that they are qualified.
Baich had argued that the last time Ryan chose an execution team, one of its
members had an arrest record that didn't come to light until after he had
helped execute 5 inmates by inserting IV lines.
Court records show the team member, a Yuma-based corrections officer, had been
arrested for drunken driving and public intoxication, didn't have a medical
license, and last inserted IV lines on a regular basis in the mid-1990s when he
was in the military.
The corrections department has declined to say whether the officer is still on
the execution team or has been replaced. The identities of execution team
members are protected under Arizona law.
The last inmate to be executed in Arizona was Thomas Paul West, who was put to
death July 19 for the beating death of another man in a 1987 robbery.
(source: Associated Press)
Hitchhiker's brutal slaying set Birmingham area man on path to April execution
The Alabama Supreme Court has set execution dates for two death row inmates,
including Cary Dale Grayson, who will die for his role in the brutal 1994
kidnapping and slaying of a woman hitchhiking in Jefferson County.
Grayson was 1 of 4 men convicted of torturing and killing of Vicki Lynn
DeBlieux, and then throwing her body off of a cliff.
The court Wednesday set Grayson's execution date for April 12.
The court also set a March 29 execution date for Tommy Arthur, 69, was is
sentenced to die for the 1982 murder-for-hire killing of Muscle Shoals
businessman Troy Wicker.
Arthur is one of the longest serving inmates on Alabama's Death Row, said
Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett.
This is the 5th time an execution date has been set for Arthur.
Both men are to die by lethal injection at Holman Prison in Atmore.
DeBlieux was kidnapped while hitchhiking from Chattanooga, Tenn., to West
Monroe, La., when she accepted a ride from Grayson, Kenny Loggins, Trace Duncan
and Louis Mangione on the Trussville exit of Interstate 59 on Feb. 22, 1994.
She was beaten so badly that every bone in her head was broken at least once,
according to the autopsy, and she had to be identified by an old X-ray of her
spine. The teenagers, some of whom were later quoted as calling her the perfect
victim, tossed her body into a dump in St. Clair County.
According to testimony in the teens' 1996 trials, they took Mangione home and
the other 3 returned and mutilated the corpse, stabbing it more than 180 times,
severing the fingers and hacking open the chest. They gave a finger to Mangione
who showed it to other friends who tipped the police. Almost all of the wounds
happened after death, according to the coroner's report.
Testimony presented at sentencing for Grayson and the other three showed he
dropped out of school after his divorced mother was killed when he was 12.
His father didn't attend his trial, but relatives testified that the family had
a history of manic depression and two psychologists testified Grayson also
suffered from the disease.
Still, a jury took only 10 minutes to recommend he die for his crime.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Mike McCormick sentenced Grayson, Loggins and
Duncan to death, following the recommendation of electric chair by their 3
Citing a unanimous jury recommendation to spare Mangione, the judge sentenced
him to life without parole.
The death sentences for Loggins and Duncan later were vacated after a 2003 U.S.
Supreme Court decision that banned the death penalty for people who killed
before they turned 18. Both were 17 at the time of DeBlieux's slaying. They are
now serving life without parole.
(source: Birmingham News)
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