[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, ALA., MD., MONT., OHIO
rhalperi at smu.edu
Wed Jan 18 14:02:03 CST 2012
Chelsea Richardson's sentence officially reduced
If Chelsea Richardson felt relief when her death sentence officially became a
life sentence, she did not show it.
Richardson was back in a Tarrant County courtroom Tuesday, this time to hear
visiting Judge Steve Herod accept a sentencing agreement reached by prosecutors
and her attorneys for the 2003 murders of Rick and Suzanna Wamsley of
Wearing a baggy yellow jail jumpsuit and dark-rimmed glasses, Richardson, 27,
spoke only to acknowledge that she waived her right to appeal.
The hearing was mostly a formality. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
overturned Richardson's death sentence in November.
The judges ruled that the punishment phase of Richardson's trial in 2005 was
affected by misconduct by then-prosecutor Mike Parrish, who withheld evidence
from the defense. Parrish retired in 2008.
Richardson and her boyfriend, Andrew Wamsley, were convicted of capital murder
in separate trials for the deaths of his parents. Authorities said Andrew
Wamsley, Richardson and a friend, Susana Toledano, killed the couple so that
Andrew Wamsley could inherit his parents' $1.56 million estate.
Richardson was the only one to receive the death penalty.
Under the new sentence, she must serve 40 years before she is eligible for
parole. She will get credit for time served.
Richardson's attorney, Robert Ford, who led efforts to get her conviction
overturned, died last year. Attorney Bill Ray represented her at the hearing.
Relatives of Richardson and the Wamsleys attended Tuesday's hearing.
Richardson's mother, Celia Richardson, said afterward that she still believes
that her daughter is innocent. She said she felt that her daughter was being
"swept under the carpet" after an error-filled trial.
Celia Richardson described her daughter's case as "totally screwed up."
Rick and Suzanna Wamsley's relatives released a statement through a spokeswoman
for the Tarrant County district attorney's office. They said they supported the
plea bargain because the alternative would have meant returning to court for a
new penalty phase and reliving the painful details of the crime once again.
They said they plan to "fight paroles" for all involved.
"There is no such thing as closure for such a tragedy," the statement said.
"Our family will be reminded of this horror each anniversary of Rick and Suzy's
death, each holiday without them, all of the family celebrations without them."
The hearing lasted for about five minutes. After Herod pronounced the sentence,
Richardson whispered something to her attorney, ran a hand through her long
brown hair, adjusted her glasses and walked with a courtroom officer out the
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Justices rule for death row inmate after legal mistakes
An "uncommon combination of mishaps" justifies allowing an appeal, the court
Cory Maples was unable to pursue appeals after a series of mistakes
Justice Scalia, in dissent, says the ruling imperils the "orderly system of
The Supreme Court gave an Alabama death row prisoner another chance Wednesday
to appeal his conviction after a mailroom mistake and other circumstances
initially left him unable to pursue further claims in court.
At issue was whether a missed deadline to file a key appeal provided
justification to grant Cory Maples a second chance, when the error was not the
inmate's fault and the result would mean a punishment as serious as lethal
The justices' 7-2 ruling was a setback for the state, and the inmate's case now
goes back to lower courts.
"The uncommon combination of mishaps in Maples' case, we hold, provide just
cause to excuse the procedural lapse in state court," Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg wrote for the majority.
The compounding series of errors and negligence involved both state officials
and the private attorneys once representing him.
The prisoner's new legal team, supported by some civil rights groups, argued
the criminal justice system was being turned on its head by potentially
allowing prisoners to suffer the consequences of their lawyers' mistakes or
But state attorneys countered that long-established rules on filing often
complex paperwork must be strictly enforced to ensure that all parties --
including the courts -- get a proper chance to hear the claims in an orderly
fashion. And the state says that in this case, Maples' initial appellate
attorneys were from a blue-chip law firm in New York.
Maples was convicted in the 1995 murder of two companions, Stacy Alan Terry and
Barry Dewayne Robinson II, with whom he had been drinking heavily. Court
records showed that Maples took a .22-caliber rifle in his Decatur, Alabama,
home and shot both men twice in the head, execution-style. He later confessed
to police but offered no explanation for the crimes.
He was convicted, and the jury recommended the death sentence by a vote of
After the conviction, two attorneys from the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell,
working on behalf of Maples for free, filed a motion in an Alabama court
claiming ineffective assistance by the trial defense. The chain of errors may
have begun when the appellate lawyers did not list the name of their firm in
the papers filed in Alabama.
When that court later sent two copies of its ruling denying the motion to the
New York-based attorneys, the mailroom inexplicably sent them back unopened.
The envelopes were labeled "Return to Sender -- Left Firm" and "Return to
Sender -- Attempted Not Known."
Both lawyers had, in fact, left the firm, but no notice of new legal
representation at the same firm was given to either the court or to Maples
himself. A local lawyer in Alabama not heavily involved in the appeals also
received the initial ruling, but he, too, did not follow up to ensure that the
New York lawyers continued the necessary filings.
By the time the mix-up was discovered, apparently thanks to inquiries by the
inmate's mother, Maples' window for appeals had run out.
The local judge was not sympathetic, saying the county clerk was not required
to follow up or investigate why the key documents were sent back without
"How can a circuit court clerk in Decatur, Ala., know what is going on in a law
firm in New York, N.Y.?" Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson asked in
Subsequent state and federal courts also refused to grant Maples another chance
to file his appeals, saying the 42-day deadline was standard and
But the high court's majority spread the blame on both the state and,
especially, Maples' attorneys.
Ginsburg noted attorney "negligence" alone rarely gives inmates a second chance
in court to contest their convictions. But the court majority said this case
presented an "extraordinary" set of facts, including that Maples was
"abandoned" by his lawyers.
"They did not inform Maples or the Alabama court of that reality," Ginsburg
wrote. "Through no fault of his own, Maples, an inmate on death row, was left
unrepresented at a critical time for his state habeas petition. Moreover, he
lacked any clue that he had better fend for himself."
The majority was also tough on the state's refusal to give Maples a break in
light of these circumstances.
Justice Antonin Scalia disagreed. "If the interest of fairness justifies our
excusing Maples' procedural default here, it does so whenever a defendant's
procedural default is caused by his attorney," not the state, he said. "That is
simply not the law -- and cannot be, if the states are to have an orderly
system of criminal litigation conducted by counsel."
Justice Clarence Thomas joined in the dissent.
This high court victory for Maples does not mean he will eventually receive the
new trial he is seeking. Because so much of the facts and testimony of the
various parties remains in question -- particularly the actions of the county
clerk and the in-state attorney for Maples -- lower state and federal courts
could be wrestling with this case for years.
Sullivan & Cromwell employs about 800 lawyers, charges premium client rates,
and does significant pro bono work on behalf of a variety of indigent
prisoners. The firm is more than 130 years old.
Among the 34 states with the death penalty, Alabama alone does not
automatically give all its 200 or so current capital inmates taxpayer-funded
legal assistance to file papers challenging their convictions, sentences and
lethal punishment. Big out-of-state firms like Sullivan & Cromwell often step
in and tackle the usually long and expensive appeals process.
Lawyers for Maples say that missed deadlines, whatever the reasons, have
occurred before and that some flexibility should be built into the system,
especially when it involves crucial issues like habeas corpus and the death
"It's really an almost unthinkable situation, and anyone, even the most ardent
supporters of capital punishment, ought to be concerned about the result in
this case and should not want a decision allowing a man to be executed in these
circumstances, because that can only erode public confidence in the system of
capital punishment," attorney Gregory Garre told CNN in a recent interview.
The case is Maples v. Thomas (10-63).
Witness in death penalty trial demonstrates cell-door tampering----2 inmates
left cells to attack officer, another witness testifies
A prosecution witness in a prisoner's death penalty trial demonstrated Tuesday
how a cell door from the now-closed Maryland House of Correction could be
tampered with, and a fellow inmate called by the state said he watched a fatal
attack on a correctional officer by a pair of prisoners who left their cells.
The jury stood and watched an expert in jail cell locks manipulate the locking
system on a door brought into the Anne Arundel County courtroom to show how he
believes the locks on the cell doors of two state prisoners were jimmied, and
testifying that nearly half of the cell door locks he checked barely
The testimony came during the third day of the death penalty trial of Lee
Edward "Shy" Stephens, a 32-year-old prisoner serving a sentence of life plus
15 years. Stephens is charged with first-degree murder in the fatal stabbing
July 25, 2006, of Cpl. David McGuinn, and has maintained his innocence.
Also Tuesday, a prisoner on the House of Correction tier where McGuinn was
stabbed while conducting the 10 p.m. head count testified that a number of
prisoners knew the attack was coming and watched as Stephens and Lamarr (also
spelled Lamar) Cornelius "Junebug" Harris assaulted McGuinn.
Prisoner Edward Jason "Free" Freed told jurors that another prisoner alerted
him earlier on the day of the homicide to the coming event. So, he said, from
his bunk, he poked a mirror out between cell bars to watch at the appointed
hour and saw a lineup of mirrors similarly positioned on the 49-cell tier to
"Towards the end of the tier, after he's passed Junebug's cell, Junie lifted up
the door," said Freed, who was serving time for robbery with a deadly weapon.
"He started stabbing him from the back," he testified, later adding that "as
soon as Junie started stabbing him, Shy started stabbing, too." He said the men
had trapped McGuinn and appeared to stab him repeatedly before McGuinn ran off
The defense has maintained that Freed is testifying in exchange for leniency on
pending federal gun charges.
With jurors out of the courtroom, Stephens' defense team lambasted prosecutors
and unsuccessfully asked Judge Paul A. Hackner to declare a mistrial.
Prosecutors had McGuinn's sister, Crystal, talk to prisoner Rasiast McDonald,
last Thursday in their offices, and she testified that he told her he wouldn't
testify against Stephens out of fear. Hackner had previously barred witnesses
from speaking about their testimony.
While Hackner did not find that prosecutors had engaged in "undue influence,"
he chided them for telling him there was a transportation problem last week
with McDonald when the problem was that McDonald had to be pried out of his
cell to be brought to the courthouse. Prosecutors expect to try to call him
The prosecution is expected to continue into next week in a trial expected to
last 7 weeks.
(source: Baltimore Sun)
Application for clemency says death row Canadian Ronald Smith a ‘changed man’
Lawyers for the only Canadian on death row in the United States concede their
client committed a “terrible offence” when he murdered 2 young Montana men 30
years ago, but say he doesn’t deserve to die.
Ronald Smith’s clemency application says he is a changed man who suffered
through an abusive childhood.
Smith’s lawyers filed the necessary papers Wednesday with the Montana Board of
Pardons and Parole in Deer Lodge, Mont.
Smith, 54, has exhausted all other appeals.
“In the face of the harsh circumstances of being locked down in virtual
isolation for 28 years, he has nonetheless made a genuine attempt to live a
life that exhibits remorse, rehabilitation, a changed heart and mind and a
potential for good,” reads the document prepared by lawyers Greg Jackson and
“We request that you consider and grant this application and commute Mr.
Smith’s sentence from death to life without parole.”
The application is supported by a letter from the Canadian government.
“Mr. Smith is a Canadian citizen and is supported in his petition for executive
clemency by the government of Canada, who have shown their support through the
letter attached to this petition.”
The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper initially balked at supporting
Smith’s bid, saying he had been convicted in a democratic country. But the
federal court forced the government to act on Smith’s behalf.
Smith, originally from Red Deer, Alta., pleaded guilty to 2 charges of
deliberate homicide and 2 charges of aggravated kidnapping in February 1983 and
requested the death penalty. He rejected a plea deal offered by prosecutors
which would have given him life in prison.
He later changed his mind and asked the District Court to reconsider the death
penalty. That has led to 3 decades of legal wrangling.
Smith was 24 and taking LSD and drinking when he and 2 friends met up with
Thomas Running Rabbit and Harvey Mad Man Jr. near East Glacier, Mont. Smith and
Rodney Munro marched the 2 men into the woods where Munro stabbed one of the
victims and Smith shot both of them.
Munro accepted a plea deal, was eventually transferred to a Canadian prison and
has completed his sentence.
Smith’s lawyers say his drug and alcohol use impaired his judgment. They also
say he received poor advice from his lawyer at the time.
“As a result of the combination of his guilt over the offences, his virtual
isolation in a foreign country without consular assistance, and the deplorable
actions of his trial attorney, he instead chose to plead guilty and requested
the death penalty,” argue Jackson and Vernay.
“Upon being placed in a less isolated environment, he immediately realized both
the foolishness and impulsiveness of his actions and sought ... the original
sentence offered by the state of Montana, but the state has adamantly refused
to consider his request.”
The document says Smith began drinking as early as age 11 and was the eldest of
four children who grew up in a violent and dysfunctional household. His father,
an oilfield worker, was gone for long periods of time, which left Smith as the
de facto man of the house. When his father would return, the violence would
“Dolores Smith (mother) relates entering the room after Ron was abused by his
father and seeing blood spatters on the walls from the beating Ron suffered at
the hands of his father,” says the application.
“Ron’s sisters kept their suitcases packed, underneath their beds. They both
relate that Ron was their ‘protector and confidant.’“
Smith’s lawyers also note that he had no prior history of violence before his
arrest in Montana, has expressed remorse and accepted responsibility and had a
long history of drug and alcohol abuse with no treatment.
The board of pardons and parole is likely to schedule a hearing on the
application sometime this spring. It will make a recommendation either for or
against clemency but the ultimate decision will fall into the hands of Montana
Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
(source: Canadian Press)
Death Penalty Death Watch: Ohio
Charles Lorraine, who was convicted of killing an elderly man and his bedridden
wife in 1986, was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection today in Ohio.
But the Sixth Circuit court isn’t going to let that happen, which is good news
for those of us who oppose capital punishment. (We also wrote on our editorial
page today about the Delaware governor’s decision to commute a prisoner’s death
sentence to life without parole, so there are really 2 bits of good news.)
No one disputes that Mr. Lorraine is guilty of murder. But the state of Ohio
has had some trouble carrying out its “execution protocol” of late, repeatedly
violating its own written rules, and now the courts are intervening.
In July, a federal district judge, Gregory Frost summed up Ohio’s problem as
follows: “It is the policy of the State of Ohio that the State follows its
written execution protocol, except when it does not.” (A Times editorial this
summer summarized a few irregularities: “The state has let into its execution
chamber someone who was not a member of the official execution team, a doctor
who tried unsuccessfully to insert an intravenous line into an inmate’s arm. It
has failed to document the appropriate preparation of the drug used. And it has
failed to have two medical-team members present at an execution, to ensure that
the injection was properly administered.”)
The state’s attorney general promised Ohio would address these problems. It has
not. In fact, Judge Frost noted, in Ohio’s endless attempts to seem like it’s
fixing errors and inconsistencies, sometimes “state agents lie to the courts.”
So on January 11 Judge Frost agreed to halt Mr. Lorraine’s execution, arguing
that Ohio “has unnecessarily and inexplicably created easily avoidable
problems.” The 6th circuit upheld Judge Frost’s decision on the 13th.
What’s notable in this case is that Judge Frost and the 6th circuit are basing
their decisions on the constitution’s equal protection clause—rather than on
cruel-and-unusual punishment grounds, as is often the case. On paper, Ohio’s
execution rules satisfy legal requirements; but in practice Ohio keeps taking a
“big picture, close enough” approach, as Judge Frost puts it.
This story is far from over. Already Ohio has requested a Supreme Court review
of the case, while Mr. Lorraine’s attorney has issued a statement calling for a
moratorium on executions in the state. But the real “big picture” is this:
There is no point to all this pretend tinkering, no way for governments to
execute prisoners in a way that is not cruel and unusual punishment or in
violation of other parts of the constitution. It is long past time for the
United States to join the community of civilized nations and stop this immoral
(source: Editorial, Andrew Rosenthal, New York Times)
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