[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, CONN., MD., MISS., MINN., COLO., CALIF.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Wed Mar 21 09:59:39 CDT 2012
Court Ruling Could Affect Texas Death Row Cases
Death row inmate Jesse Joe Hernandez, set to be executed next week for the 2001
death of a 10-month-old boy in Dallas, is hoping that a ruling Tuesday from the
U.S. Supreme Court could give him another chance to prove that the tragedy was
not entirely his fault.
The nation’s highest court ruled that the failure of initial state habeas
lawyers to argue that their client’s trial counsel was ineffective should not
prevent the defendant from making that argument later on. Lawyers across the
country, including those for at least 2 Texas death row inmates, were eagerly
awaiting the court’s ruling in the Martinez v. Ryan case out of Arizona, which
could expand appeals access for inmates.
“A procedural default will not bar a federal habeas court from hearing those
claims if, in the initial-review collateral proceeding, there was no counsel or
counsel in the proceeding was ineffective,” the court majority held.
Habeas lawyers investigate issues that could or should have been raised during
a defendant’s original trial.
Brad Levenson, director of the Texas Office of Capital Writs, filed a petition
with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday afternoon on behalf of
Hernandez, arguing that his March 28 execution should be stayed, in part,
because of the court’s ruling.
Although the ruling applies to federal courts, Levenson said, Texas’ highest
criminal court should take its cue from the nation’s highest court and hear
Hernandez was convicted in 2002 for the death of a child who lived in the home
where he lived at the time. Hernandez admitted he hit the child, who was rushed
to the hospital, where he was put into a medically induced coma and then died
after he was removed from life support.
In a writ filed Tuesday with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Hernandez
argues that his actions did not directly cause the child’s death. Instead, an
expert who recently reviewed the medical records concluded that the hospital
gave the child a lethal dose of the drug pentobarbital and that he was pulled
from life support too soon.
“There’s no way to tell at end of day whether he would have survived,” Levenson
said. “Our expert said there’s a very real probability the child could have
Levenson said Hernandez’s trial lawyers and his initial appeals lawyers were
ineffective because they failed to do further investigation and hire their own
experts to find out why the child died. Levenson, who took the case only three
weeks ago, hired a doctor who reviewed the medical records and determined that
the little boy had not been diagnosed as brain-dead before he was removed from
life support and that he was given toxic doses of pentobarbital.
“It’s not to say that Mr. Hernandez is not guilty of a crime, but he’s not
guilty of capital murder,” Levenson said.
Current law, though, could prohibit Hernandez from arguing that because his
original trial lawyers were ineffective by not further investigating the cause
of death that he should get a new trial. Those kinds of claims must be raised
from the beginning of the appeals process to be valid later on. And Hernandez’s
previous habeas lawyers did not argue that he was inadequately represented.
Levenson said that even though Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling applies to claims
made in federal court — not state writs like the one he filed — the same
principle ought to apply.
“We’re saying the state courts should also take a look at these claims for the
same reason the Supreme Court would take a look at them,” he said.
The ruling could also be a boon for death row inmate Rob Will, who was
convicted in 2002 of fatally shooting a Harris County sheriff’s deputy. Will
says that the man he was with that night was the real shooter and that he is
In January, U.S. District Court Judge Keith Ellison denied Will’s pleas for a
new trial but wrote that he lamented doing so because of “disturbing
uncertainties” raised about his guilt.
Will is hoping the court’s ruling in Martinez will allow him to argue that he
should get a new trial because both his trial lawyer and his state-appointed
habeas lawyer were ineffective when they failed to track down several witnesses
who have testified that the other man confessed to the killing.
(source: Texas Tribune)
Death penalty repeal effort faces 1st vote
A high-profile bill looking to abolish Connecticut's death penalty for all
future cases and replace it with life imprisonment will face its 1st round of
votes in the state legislature.
Members of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee will vote on the bill
Wednesday morning at the Legislative Office Building.
Democratic Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, of New Haven, who is a Vice Chair of the
committee, said he is confident the bill will pass this hurdle.
The proposed bill would not directly affect inmates currently on death row, but
the state's Chief Public Defender's Office has said it would likely pursue
appeals to change the sentences.
Last year, a similar effort failed in the Senate due largely to the on-going
death penalty trial in the fatal Cheshire home invasion case.
(source: Associated Press)
Stallworth testifies in favor of abolishing death penalty
State Rep. Charlie Stallworth testified in front of the legislature’s Judiciary
Committee in favor of Senate Bill #280 that seeks to replace the death penalty
for capital crimes with life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“There have been many cases where inmates put to death have been exonerated
after the fact, and across the country 140 innocent persons have been freed
from death row,” Stallworth said. “Studies show the manner in which the death
penalty is applied is racially biased with a minority being 6 times more likely
to receive the death penalty for crimes committed against whites.”
The bill seeks to replace the death penalty with a penalty of life imprisonment
without the possibility of release for certain murders committed on or after
the effective date passage. The bill is currently awaiting a vote in the
“I have no doubt that generations to come will look back at us and question how
we could condone a punishment so unfairly handed out,” Stallworth added.
(source: The Bridgeport News)
Lawmakers, Advocates Want End To Death Penalty In Md.
The end of the death penalty in Maryland. That’s what some lawmakers and
advocates are hoping to accomplish by the end of this legislative session.
Derek Valcourt explains they’ve got some hurdles to clear first.
They made their case to a House committee Tuesday but it’s a Senate committee
that could give them the most resistance. Supporters say they are 1 vote shy of
getting out of a Senate committee to the full floor, where they say they have
enough votes in both chambers to pass it.
Erricka Bridgeford says justice for the 2007 murder of her brother won’t come
by lethal injection.
“It’s not justice to me to have another dead body in place of my brother’s dead
body,” Bridgeford said.
She’s one of several advocates calling on lawmakers to repeal Maryland’s death
penalty. She’s joined by the NAACP, which points to the outrage over the
September execution of Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis as proof that
attitudes toward the death penalty are changing.
“It’s a known fact that racism exists. We know that our system is not
foolproof, so in that sense of the word, we need to move forward at this time
not to have another Troy Davis,” said Gerald Stansbury, NAACP.
“It can happen like that,” said Kirk Bloodsworth.
Bloodsworth knows about wrongful convictions; he was released from Maryland’s
death row after he was exonerated by DNA.
“I don’t want to see anybody executed,” Bloodsworth said.
“My daughter was murdered in 1998,” said Vicki Schieber.
Schieber argues the lengthy appeals in the death penalty process can be cruel
to crime victims.
“It puts them through hell. There’s no better word. They can go on for years
and years and years,” Schieber said.
“Just because it takes a long time doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to
do,” said Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger.
Shellenberger is among those trying to keep the death penalty which, for now,
is suspended in Maryland until a legislative committee approves new lethal
“Prosecutors need that one final ultimate option of seeking death in the most
heinous of cases,” said Shellenberger.
In the past, Governor Martin O’Malley has publicly supported repealing the
death penalty. A spokesperson in his office said if the bill comes to his desk,
he will consider signing it.
New Jersey, New Mexico and Illinois have all abolished the death penalty in
recent years. NAACP says they are also pushing efforts to ban the death penalty
in Connecticut and California this year.
(source: CBS News)
U.S. Supreme Court yet to rule on 2nd inmate scheduled for execution
William Mitchell has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop his execution now
scheduled for Thursday at the state prison in Parchman.
In documents filed Tuesday, the death row inmate said his previous attorneys
didn't do a good job and the Mississippi courts have refused to give him a
hearing and an expert to prove his "intellectual disability."
The Supreme Court had not ruled on his motion Tuesday.
Mitchell, now 61, had been out of prison on parole for less than a year for a
1975 murder when he was charged with raping and killing 38-year-old Patty
Milliken disappeared on Nov. 21, 1995, after walking out of the Majik Mart
convenience store where she worked in Biloxi to have a cigarette with Mitchell.
Her body was found the next day under a bridge. She had been "strangled,
beaten, sexually assaulted, and repeatedly run over by a vehicle," according to
Mitchell was convicted of capital murder in Harrison County in 1998.
Mitchell argues the Mississippi Supreme Court twice refused to consider his
ineffective counsel claims stemming from actions by his lawyers during the
penalty phase of his trial and during his post-conviction petitions.
He said at no time did his attorneys try to develop evidence of his
"intellectual disability" when evidence was available or could be available if
he was given a psychological evaluation.
In a post-conviction petition, an inmate argues he has found new evidence --
or a possible constitutional issue -- that could persuade a court to order a
Similar arguments from Mitchell were turned down in the federal courts last
(source: Associated press)
Push begins for memorial to those hanged in Dakota-US War
To Vernell Wabasha, there's something missing in the markers and memorials that
recall the Dakota-U.S. War.
Battles are noted and soldiers who "gallantly resisted two formidable and
protracted assaults" are named at the Fort Ridgely monument. More recently, a
buffalo symbolizing reconciliation sits at the spot of the Mankato executions
that ended the conflict.
"They have markers all along the road about our savage Indians attacking white
people," said Wabasha, who has been married to Ernest Wabasha, a hereditary
Dakota chief, for 56 years.
What's missing, in the eyes of Vernell Wabasha and others, is a memorial
remembering the 38 men who died together at 10 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 26, 1862.
So they've set about designing one.
"These men fought for the Dakota way of life, trying to hang onto something, to
hang onto this land for the future generations of their children and
grandchildren," she told The Free Press.
The planned monument, designed by Martin and Linda Bernard of Winona, lists the
38 names on a 10-by-4-foot scroll.
While the focus of the memorial are the 38, there is also a distinct message of
The phrase "forgive everyone everything" circles the monument, planned to be 20
feet in diameter.
The effort to build the memorial has been led by Wabasha, whose husband is the
6th of his name. The 3rd Wabasha, Goodthunder, was chief at the time of the
Vernell Wabasha told the Bernards of her concept, and they created designs. The
project has been especially meaningful to Martin Bernard, who is a Dakota.
Because the rest of the Dakota were marched off to Fort Snelling after the
executions, and the bodies taken by doctors, there were no funerals, Bernard
"In actuality, I don't think there's ever been a ceremony to honor them, for
the Dakota people to grieve for them," he said.
"We want to give them a name ... They weren't savages like they've been
depicted for so long," Bernard said.
The names on the scroll, made of fiberglass crafted to look like leather, will
Dakota believe the spirits of the dead rise from their body on the 4th day, and
travel south, he said.
The design shows the scroll surrounded by multicolored tombstone-shaped
figures, though they symbolize the living, the people of the world looking at
the monument, and the names.
On the other scroll appears a poem about the hangings by the state's former
human rights commissioner, Conrad Balfour, who died in 2008. The 20-line poem
draws a parallel between the Dec. 26 hangings and Christmas:
"The day before the countryside had mourned the death of Christ the Jew
"Then went to bed to rise again to crucify the captured Sioux"
The memorial is estimated to cost between $55,000 and $75,000. It would be
placed near the buffalo statue in Reconciliation Park, probably to either the
north or south. The Mankato City Council has given its permission, informally,
to place the memorial on city land.
The next task is fundraising, and they plan to mail letters to 17 tribes, Linda
Bernard said. There is not as of now a place to donate but that should change
They hope to get it finished by September, in time for the Mankato wacipi
(source: Associated Press)
Colorado death row inmate gets mental health hearing
A man on Colorado's death row for killing 4 people at a Chuck E. Cheese
restaurant nearly 19 years ago asked a federal court Tuesday to overturn his
Attorneys for Nathan Dunlap told a 3-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals that Dunlap is mentally ill and that his trial lawyers failed to
adequately represent him.
Paul Koehler, of the state attorney general's office, told judges that Dunlap's
previous attorneys had experience in death penalty cases, KUSA-TV in Denver
Dunlap was sentenced to death after he was convicted of killing 3 teenagers and
a mother of 2 at the Aurora restaurant in 1993.
He's 1 of 3 men on death row in Colorado, which hasn't executed anyone in 15
years. The death sentences of 6 other death-row inmates have been thrown out
since Dunlap was sentenced.
"Nathan Dunlap is running out of time. This is his last, best chance," said
defense attorney David Lane, who isn't representing Dunlap. "If he loses here,
his odds of being executed skyrocket."
One of Dunlap's victims was 19-year-old Sylvia Crowell, who was shot from
behind as she helped close the restaurant for the night.
"The hurt is still going on," her father, Bob Crowell, told The Denver Post
before the hearing. "And we are somewhat anxious that somebody is going to
throw a monkey wrench in there and he is not going to be executed."
The 10th Circuit judges could take months to issue a ruling, and the losing
side could then ask for a hearing before all the court's judges. The court's
final decision could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
(source: The Colorado Springs Gazette)
Death penalty upheld for grinning killer
A death sentence handed down in 1997 to a robber who shot a merchant's son to
death during a $20,000 robbery in Tustin has been affirmed by the California
John Clyde Abel twiddled his thumbs and grinned as Judge Robert Fitzgerald
sentenced him to death for shooting Armando Miller to death Jan. 4, 1991, and
stealing $ 20,000 Miller had withdrawn from the bank.
Miller, 26, was shot once in the head in the parking lot of Sunwest Bank after
making a morning withdrawal for his family's check-cashing business, according
to an article in The Register. The money was never recovered.
The killing went unsolved until 1995, when an anonymous tip lead Tustin police
to Abel, who by then was serving a 45-year term for a series of robberies in
Los Angeles County.
Abel, who bragged to a girlfriend that he killed Miller, was convicted of
1st-degree murder during a robbery, a special circumstance that exposed him to
a death penalty. The same jury then decided that death was the appropriate
punishment for Abel, who admitted he had committed bank robberies in 1973 and
Miller's relatives and fiancé addressed Fitzgerald during sentencing and called
Abel, among other things, "a waste of human life."
Abel's appellate lawyers attacked those victim-impact testimonies and other
issues in their appeal.
But the state Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision released Monday, affirmed
the guilty verdict and the penalty verdict.
The decisions send the Abel case to the federal court system, where it could
take years to resolve.
Abel is one of 58 killers from Orange County on death row, and one of more than
700 inmates statewide. Nobody has been executed in California since 2006, and
there currently are no executions pending.
(source: Orange County Register)
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