[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----FLA., OHIO, IND.

Rick Halperin rhalperi at smu.edu
Wed Mar 6 00:11:24 CST 2013

March 5


Dontae Morris jury selection continues in Orlando

Round 2 of jury selection began Tuesday in the 1st murder trial of Dontae 
Morris, accused of killing 5 men, including 2 Tampa police officers in June 

In some ways it will be no different than any Tampa murder trial.

Except it will happen in the 2-story Orange County penthouse courtroom where 
the world converged to watch Casey Anthony.

And the judge was escorted by deputies with machine guns that looked straight 
out of a video game.

And every spectator was patted down twice and required to drink from their 
water bottles to prove they did not contain poison.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente decided to look for jurors in Orange 
County after a Hillsborough pool was tainted last year by publicity and gossip.

On Monday, a pool of 150 potential jurors was narrowed to 64. Three recognized 
the defendant. The rest said it would have been impossible for them to spend 
the better part of next week in Tampa, sleeping in a hotel and serving in the 
4-day trial.

On Monday, Fuente gave each potential juror a written order to stay away from 
outside information about the case or the defendant.

Morris faces the death penalty if convicted of murder in the deaths of Officers 
Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis.

But for this month's case, the shooting death of 42-year-old Rodney Jones 
outside the Cotton Club in West Tampa, Morris faces life in prison.

(source: tampabay.com)


Judge: Jurors can hear about confession in killing of Miami officer

After weeks of intense legal drama triggered by the discovery of a long-lost 
police audio tape, jurors will get to hear how a Miami man allegedly confessed 
to murdering a police officer in 1988.

A judge on Monday ruled that Dennis Escobar's confession was not illegal.

The decision came 2 weeks after the unmarked cassette tape surfaced showing 
that Escobar, 3 days before giving a detailed confession, invoked his 
constitutional right to remain silent.

But Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Leon Firtel ruled that while Escobar repeatedly 
told a detective to speak to his lawyer, the suspect then backtracked with a 
"re-invitation to officers" to return 3 days later.

The decision was a significant victory for prosecutors, whose high-profile case 
had threatened to unravel in a most unexpected twist.

"I'm happy," said Delia Estefan, the widow of slain Miami Officer Victor 
Estefan. "I can see that there will be a conclusion. When all this done, my 
husband can rest in peace and so can I."

Escobar, who faces possible execution, was originally convicted and sent to 
death row in 1991, an outcome later overturned by the Florida Supreme Court.

His re-trial began last month. Trial is now expected to resume Wednesday.

Both sides had earlier asked for a mistrial, but the judge refused, placing 
jurors on standby during 2 weeks of legal wrangling.

In that time, plea negotiations for Escobar, and his brother also charged in 
the crime, fell apart. The plea of 55 years in prison would have spared both 
the death penalty.

Escobar then withdrew his request for a mistrial, instead opting to face trial 
with this jury.

Monday's decision followed a lengthy hearing Friday in which Escobar's defense 
team asked to have the confession thrown out.

The chief witness on Friday: Retired Miami Detective Jorge Morin, who had 
always insisted that Escobar agreed to waive his "Miranda" rights before 
detailing how he fatally shot Estefan during a traffic stop in Little Havana.

But after Escobar's new trial for murder began, Morin himself discovered the 
audio tape while digging through one of scores of evidence boxes.

He immediately alerted prosecutors - a fact he pointed out Friday.

"It took 25 years for this tape to come to light, don't pat yourself on the 
back too much," defense attorney Phil Reizenstein told him.

2 former prosecutors in the case, Abe Laeser and Michael Band, also testified 
Friday that Morin never revealed to them before the 1991 trial that the suspect 
had talked about an attorney during an interview in California.

After the Estefan murder, Escobar and his brother had fled across country, 
where they were wounded in a confrontation with California Highway Patrol 
troopers north of Los Angeles.

Morin and another detective traveled to the prison hospital on April 29, 
1988,where the Escobars were detained. There, Morin attempted to speak to 
Escobar alongside California investigators.

No one disputes that Escobar agreed to speak about the attack on California 
troopers in that first meeting - that confession is captured on another lengthy 
audio cassette tape.

But on the 7-minute tape, as he is being pressed on the Estefan murder, Escobar 
tells investigators: "Let's stop talking then ... anything [Morin] can talk to 
my attorney."

Reizenstein said he believed that the tape depicted Morin badgering Escobar 
well after he had confessed to California detectives.

But Morin, in testy exchanges with Reizenstein, insisted that the excerpt was 
actually pulled from the middle of a lengthier interview with California 

At the end of the longer tape, Escobar clearly tells California detectives that 
Morin can return to talk about the Miami case, prosecutor Penny Brill told the 
judge Monday.

"He thinks he can manipulate him," said Brill, the head of the State Attorney's 
legal unit. "He thinks he can talk his way out of it."

3 days later, Morin returned to the hospital, where Escobar waived his right to 
remain silent and - after fits and starts - confessed to shooting the Miami 

(source: Miami Herald)


Orlando jury picked to hear Dontae Morris murder trial

After 2 days in Orange County, a Hillsborough County judge was able to 
accomplish what he could not back home:

Seat a jury that could be fair to one of Tampa's most notorious defendants, 
Dontae Morris.

Tuesday evening, prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed on 12 jurors and 3 
alternates to transport to Tampa on Sunday, where they will be housed in a 
hotel for an expected 4 days of testimony, which starts Monday.

The group is made up of 8 men and 7 women. Among them are a U.S. Postal Service 
supervisor, a women's health coordinator and a project manager for NASA. They 
do not know which of them are alternates.

Several have served as jurors before, including one man who served on 4 trials, 
including 2 murder cases.

They all swore they could presume Morris innocent until he is proven guilty.

Morris, 27, is best known in Hillsborough as the target of a massive manhunt 
sparked after the 2010 shooting deaths of Tampa police Officers Jeffrey Kocab 
and David Curtis. If convicted of those murders, he could face the death 

But this murder trial will not deal with that case, and in this one Morris can 
receive a maximum of life in prison.

While Morris is accused of killing a total of 5 men, these jurors know only of 
42-year-old Rodney Jones, shot dead outside the Cotton Club in West Tampa.

Attorneys spent Tuesday questioning the panelists about their ability to be 
fair during a trial.

Morris, clad in a shirt and tie, took notes.

His attorneys got rid of a man with a law enforcement background, concerned he 
would be biased toward the prosecution.

Prosecutors cut an African-American pastor who had ministered to juveniles in a 
detention center, concerned he would be sympathetic to Morris.

The selection Tuesday was no different from that of any Tampa murder case - 
except it happened in the 2-story penthouse courtroom where the world had 
watched the trial of Casey Anthony.

And the judge was escorted in by deputies with semiautomatic rifles that looked 
straight out of a video game.

And spectators were patted down twice and made to drink from their water 
bottles to prove it didn't contain poison.

For most of the day, "spectators" meant only 4 people - 2 supporters of Morris, 
and 2 Tampa-based journalists.

In Orlando, it turned out, Morris was just a stranger.

(source: Orlando Sentinel)


Fla. House looks to speed up death penalty

With more than 400 people on Florida's death row, a House subcommittee Tuesday 
approved a proposed constitutional amendment that is part of a plan to try to 
reduce delays in carrying out the death penalty.

The proposed constitutional amendment would shift power from the courts system 
to lawmakers to set rules about what are known as "post-conviction" appeals in 
death-penalty cases. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee also approved an 
accompanying bill that spelled out several steps for trying to speed up the 

Subcommittee Chairman Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who is 
sponsoring the measures, said he hopes the plan will spur changes that will 
prevent the need for going to the ballot in 2014 with the proposed 
constitutional amendment. He said, in part, he is trying to end "gamesmanship" 
that has contributed to lengthy appeals.

"If there is no other way, this Legislature has to act and has to step 
forward," Gaetz said.

But some lawmakers, the Florida Bar and a central Florida judge raised concerns 
about trying to take authority away from the courts. Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake 
Mary, said he couldn't support what he described as an "encroachment."

"What I want to do is avoid a constitutional battle across the street...and I 
fear that that's where it's going to end up, and I just can't support that in 
good conscience," Clelland said, referring to the Florida Supreme Court, which 
is across the street from the Capitol.

The subcommittee voted 8-5 to approve the proposed constitutional amendment 
(PCB CRJS 13-04) and 9-4 to approve the accompanying bill (PCB CRJS 13-05).

The state constitution gives the Supreme Court the power to set rules for how 
the legal system works, limiting the ability of the Legislature to force 
changes. In 2000, the Legislature approved a law to try to shorten 
death-penalty appeals, but the Supreme Court found that the law was an 
unconstitutional encroachment on its powers.

As of Sunday, the state had 404 death row inmates, more than any other state 
except California, according to a House staff analysis. Inmates spend an 
average of 13 years on Florida's death row, and 10 have been there for more 
than 35 years.

Gaetz said the bill accompanying the proposed constitutional amendment includes 
a series of changes that would try to shorten timeframes in death-penalty 
appeals. Many of those changes are procedural --- such as shortening the amount 
of time in which motions can be filed and hearings held --- but others would 
take steps to rein in such issues as allegations that post-conviction attorneys 
have conflicts of interest. Those allegations can delay cases.

But Belvin Perry, the chief judge in the 9th Judicial Circuit in Orange and 
Osceola counties, said the delays in carrying out the death penalty are broader 
than procedural issues. He said 94 death row inmates have exhausted their 
appeals but have not faced execution, an issue that he attributed, at least in 
part, to a need for more resources in the governor's office, the attorney 
general's office, the court system and in the offices of attorneys who handle 
inmates' appeals.

Perry, who said he sentenced three of the 94 death row inmates who have 
exhausted their appeals, also warned that changes in the death-penalty appeal 
process could lead to disputes in federal courts.

"Before we tinker with this too much, we need to think carefully because once 
you get the feds involved, you never know what will happen," Perry said.

But Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, questioned whether the process would change 
if the Legislature does not get involved.

"Without action by the Legislature, we are not going to see the necessary 
changes made," Harrell said.

(source: Naples Daily News)

OHIO----impending execution

Ohio ready to execute killer from northeast Indiana

Only days after his arrest in 1994 for killing a security guard at the end of a 
multi-state crime spree, Frederick Treesh said in a jailhouse interview that he 
regretted what happened.

"We never intended to kill," said Treesh, who is from the town of Waterloo in 
DeKalb County. "It was the drugs. You have to understand, we were on cocaine."

In the nearly 2 decades since, Treesh hasn't changed his story: As recently as 
last month his attorneys argued for clemency on the grounds that his cocaine 
addiction drove his crimes.

Both the state parole board and Gov. John Kasich have rejected the argument, 
and the state prepared to put the inmate to death on Wednesday. Treesh was 
convicted of killing Henry Dupree during the robbery of an adult bookstore in 
Eastlake, near Cleveland, on Aug. 27, 1994.

Treesh, 48, was moved to the state death house at the Southern Ohio 
Correctional Facility in Lucasville on Tuesday morning. His scheduled visitors 
were a friend, a spiritual adviser and his attorneys.

The inmate had no appeals pending Tuesday that could affect his execution.

Prosecutors say Treesh and a co-defendant committed bank robberies, 
carjackings, rape, sexual assault and another killing in a crime spree that 
crossed Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin before ending in Ohio.

After robbing Vine Street News in Eastlake, Treesh shot Dupree after the guard 
complied with Treesh's order to stand up, prosecutors say.

As Treesh headed out of the store, he also shot the store's clerk as he stood 
with arms raised, prosecutors say. The part-time clerk, Louis Lauver, survived.

As Treesh and co-defendant Benjamin Brooks fled with police in pursuit, Treesh 
shot out the rear window of his car and fired at officers, prosecutors say. He 
also fired at officers at least 3 times after getting out of the car, they 

Treesh said at trial he was aiming above the officers, but police say when he 
was finally apprehended he told police he should have killed them all.

Brooks, 45, is serving 40 years to life.

Treesh's attorneys don't dispute that Treesh shot Dupree but say the gun went 
off in a struggle for the weapon.

"Hindsight, regret and remorse cannot turn back the clock and cannot return Mr. 
Dupree's life," they said in a petition for clemency. "What Fred can do and has 
tried to do is to help prevent others from making the same mistakes he did" by 
teaching them to avoid drugs.

His lawyers also alleged Treesh's rights were violated during a prolonged 
interrogation as he was coming down from a drug high, which contributed to his 
death sentence. They also say Treesh suffers from health problems, including a 
seizure disorder, that raise concerns Ohio's lethal injection process would 
cause him suffering amounting to cruel and unusual punishment.

Prosecutors contend Treesh intentionally murdered Dupree and tried to kill the 
pursuing police officers.

"Treesh has never taken responsibility for his actions," Lake County prosecutor 
Charles Coulson wrote to the parole board. "Treesh still claims 'the cocaine 
made him do it.'"

Coulson also noted that courts previously determined Treesh's constitutional 
rights weren't violated.

2 days before the Ohio shooting, Brooks and Treesh robbed a video store in 
Livonia, Mich., and shot 2 people, authorities said. Store co-owner, Frank 
Danno, survived but his brother, Ghassan Danno, succumbed to his wounds.

Frank Danno said he believed he was shot by Treesh and his brother, who went by 
Gus, was shot by Brooks. Neither defendant was ever prosecuted in the Michigan 

Ghassan Danno, a married father of 2 young children, was called the backbone of 
the family in a statement his family provided the parole board.

"Words cannot explain the torment that was created by two heartless, selfish 
criminals," the statement said.

Deanne Danno, Ghassan Danno's sister-in-law, and his cousin Norton Danno 
planned to witness Treesh's execution Wednesday.

(source: News-Sentinel)


Ohio moves guard's killer Frederick Treesh to state death house

Prison officials have moved a condemned killer from death row in Chillicothe to 
the state death house in southern Ohio ahead of Wednesday's execution.

Inmate Frederick Treesh was sentenced to die for the 1994 shooting death of a 
security guard following a multistate crime spree. Authorities say he shot 
58-year-old Henry Dupree during a robbery of an adult book store in Eastlake on 
Aug. 27, 1994.

The state parole board voted unanimously against sparing Treesh, and Gov. John 
Kasich denied his request for mercy.

Treesh blames his actions on his cocaine addiction. Prosecutors say the crimes 
were intentional.

Treesh arrived at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility shortly after 10 a.m. 

(source: Associated Press)


Jury begins deliberations in toddler slaying case; Closing arguments begin in 
father's trial

Jurors have began deliberations in the trial of a father accused of killing his 

Prosecutors: Dad caused son's 'long, slow, painful death'

A jury has been selected and opening statements are completed in the trial of a 
Tri-State father accused of killing his 2-year-old son.

The fate of 2-year-old Demarcus Jackson was completely in the hands of other 
people, but after he was beaten to death, social workers, child advocates and 
others are under examination.

Antrone Smith is charged with murder after investigators say he punched his 
2-year-old boy, Demarcus Jackson, to death just months after regaining custody 
of him. Smith admitted to punching the boy, prosecutors said.

In closing arguments, defense attorney Perry Ancona called it a "stupid" blow.

He told the jury this was "a terrible, horrible, gut-wrenching case," and said 
he expected the jury to convict Smith of murder and assault.

But he urged them to find him not guilty of aggravated assault -- the charge 
that would make Smith eligible for the death penalty. Assistant prosecutor Rick 
Gibson said smith hit Demarcus Jackson "like he wanted to put his fist right 
through him," and said there is no doubt that he wanted to kill Demarcus 
because he doubted Demarcus was actually his son.

Gibson said this is not just about the deadly blow, but about what he called "a 
culmination of 2 months of abuse."

The boy's mother, Latricia Jackson, also faces charges in his death.

(source: WLWT News)


Psychologists: Steven Cepec had a depressive disorder

Convicted murderer Steven Cepec's attorneys marshaled several psychologists and 
family members to urge the jury not to send him to death row Monday, the 1st 
day of his trial's penalty phase.

Cepec, 43, was found guilty Feb. 22 of the aggravated murder of Frank Munz, 73, 
who was beaten with the claw-end of a hammer and strangled with a lamp cord 
during a home invasion June 3, 2010 - 6 days after Cepec was paroled from 

During this phase of the trial, jurors will decide whether to recommend Cepec 
for death, life in prison without parole or life with parole eligibility at 25 
or 30 years.

The jury's recommendation will serve as a maximum possible sentence. A 3-judge 
panel that includes Medina County Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler will make 
the final decision.

Most of Monday was spent hearing from psychologists.

1 of them was Bruce Maaser of the Orient Correctional Institute near Columbus, 
where Cepec was sent for violating parole after Munz's death.

Maaser said Cepec was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and major 
depressive disorder. He said Cepec was experiencing flashbacks and nightmares 
from killing Munz and was remorseful.

"It wasn't just because he was in prison," Maaser told the jury. "I think he 
definitely had empathy for his victim. I don't believe he presents any harm to 
anybody else."

County Prosecutor Dean Holman countered by pointing out that Cepec was involved 
in fights in prison and shanks made from pencils were found in his cell.

Cepec eventually was transferred to Warren Correctional Institution in 
southwest Ohio, where he saw psychiatrist Dr. Sagi Raju and clinical 
psychologist Mujgan Inciler.

Raju and Inciler told the jury Cepec also had antisocial and borderline 
personality disorders, meaning he was unstable, impulsive, manipulative and 

The defense attorneys said Cepec's mental disorders stem back to his childhood, 
when teachers found him problematic in the 3rd and 4th grades.

Terry Shuman, Cepec's elementary school psychiatrist, said Cepec appeared to 
suffer from attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity 

Shuman said the disorder was made worse by Cepec's drug use, which began when 
he was about 14 years old.

The defense also called Cepec's uncle, Rickey Cepec, 51, and his half-brother, 
Shaun Cepec, 33. Both testified that Cepec's grandfather regularly abused his 
grandmother, and that Cepec had a drug problem that started when he was in 
middle school.

Rickey Cepec said his nephew looked up to his grandparents more than his 

Under cross-examination, Rickey Cepec acknowledged that Cepec's half-brothers 
never got into trouble.

During opening arguments, defense attorney Russell Buzzelli said Cepec's 
unhappy childhood led to Munz's murder and that he shouldn't be punished with 
death for that.

"What you'll hear is that Steve Cepec never had a real chance," he said.

The prosecution declined to present additional evidence beyond what was 
provided in Cepec's 2 1/2-week trial in February.

During his opening arguments, Holman said he hoped the jury would decide 
Cepec's childhood and mental disorders didn't outweigh his actions.

Cepec's penalty phase is scheduled to continue today at 8:30 a.m.

(source: The Medina Gazette)


SA 'murderer' to face US jury

A South African, who reportedly confessed to 4 murders in the United States, 
will stand trial for 2 of those murders in July.

An official from the Quay County court house in the town of Tucumcari in the US 
state of New Mexico confirmed that Muziwokuthula "Muzi" Madondo would stand 
trial before a jury on 29 July.

The trial is scheduled to last 7 days.

Madondo has pleaded not guilty to the murders of father and son Bobby Gonzales 
and Gabriel Baca. Madondo allegedly shot the men in a motel in Tucumcari before 
fleeing to Texas, where he was arrested.

However, the scheduled trial could still be affected by a ruling on a motion to 
suppress evidence brought by Madondo's lawyer Roger Bargas last year.

On 17 September, the Quay County Court heard argument about why a jury should 
not hear the statements Madondo made to the police after his arrest.

The judge who heard the argument, has according to the Quay County court 
official, still to rule on Bargas's application.

Last year, Bargas told Sapa: "We are alleging statements made (by Madondo) were 
taken illegally and coerced (by the police). He talked to the police for 6 to 8 

Bargas said that the conversations took place even though Madondo had sought a 

He said at the time that police had failed to immediately contact South African 
consular officials, who would have advised Madondo about his rights and about 
how the US legal system worked.

"With regard to the search warrant on the vehicle in Texas, we are alleging the 
search was illegal," said Bargas.

Should the motions succeed, a jury will not get to hear what Madondo told the 
police about the murders of Gonzales and Baca.

All forensic evidence obtained from Madondo's van will also not be presented to 
any potential jury.

Bargas is representing Madondo only in connection with the Gonzales and Baca 

He is not representing him in connection with murders he allegedly committed 
earlier in Ohio.

Madondo allegedly confessed to the murder of FirstMerit Bank executive 
Jacquelyn Hilder (60), who was shot dead in her home in Akron, Ohio, on 17 

2 days later, about 300km away, the bullet-riddled body of Maritzburg College 
old boy Zenzele Mdadane (25) was found in the woods in Butler Township, Ohio.

Madondo also allegedly confessed to this killing.

Madondo (34) was arrested on 28 March 2011 in Houston, Texas.

Originally from Richmond, near Pietermaritzburg, he emigrated to the US in 2008 
to study theology.

New Mexico does not have the death penalty, but if Madondo is convicted for the 
two murders in Ohio, he could face the death penalty.

In May last year, the Sunday Times quoted Akron police department spokesperson 
Michael Schaeffer as saying that he wanted to be tried in Ohio.

(source: iafrica.com)


Suspect in double homicide in Monticello ruled not competent; Monticello 
homicide trial delayed pending mental health review

A White County man accused of fatally stabbing his mother and half sister last 
month was declared not competent to stand trial.

David Scott Rodenbarger, 20, of Monticello, faces two counts of murder for the 
deaths of 41-year-old Michelle J. "Shelly" Haskins and 6-year-old Jillian E. 
"Jilly" Haskins.

At a hearing Monday in White Superior Court 1, Judge Robert B. Mrzlack ruled 
Rodenbarger is not competent to proceed with a trial. He will be sent to a 
mental health facility for 90 days; the case will then be reviewed in court.

During that time, Rodenbarger will be treated in attempts to rehabilitate his 
mental capacities to a point where he can competently aid in his own defense. 
At this time, the state has not released any details on Rodenbarger's mental 
health problems.

Both doctors who examined Rodenbarger determined he was not fit to stand trial, 
the judge said.

During his incarceration at White County Jail, Rodenbarger repeatedly smeared 
himself with feces and drank his own urine, according to court documents. He 
also harmed himself, appeared delusional in his actions and speech and spent 
prolonged periods staring into space. Rodenbarger was transfered to Marion 
County Jail on Feb. 19.

Rodenbarger is accused of stabbing his mother and half sister using a 2-pronged 
meat fork and knife at the family's home, 5642 E. Richey Park Drive, near Lake 
Freeman, sometime late Feb. 1 or early Feb. 2.

Shelly Haskins was able to call 911, but she had died from her wounds by the 
time emergency responders arrived.

Jilly Haskins died from multiple stab wounds and brain swelling caused by blunt 
force trauma to her head, according to court documents. Shelly Haskins died 
from a throat wound.

White County Prosecutor Bob Guy said Monday that he is still determining 
whether to pursue the death penalty in the case, should it proceed. Rodenbarger 
is eligible for the death penalty or life without parole because of his half 
sister's age and because it was a double homicide.

"We are still in the process of gathering information," Guy said. "No final 
decision has been made, and we don't want to make that decision hastily."

If the prosecutor chooses to pursue capital punishment for Rodenbarger, it 
could cost White County between $500,000 and $1 million. But Guy said money is 
not a factor in his decision.

"Justice needs to be served regardless of the cost involved," Guy said. "I will 
not make a determination of whether or not to seek a certain penalty in any 
case based on the cost."

Also at Monday's hearing, records about Rodenbarger's mental health treatment 
at River Bend Hospital and Alpine Health Clinic were released to the 
prosecuting attorney. His records from Twin Lakes School Corp. - he's a 2010 
Twin Lakes High School graduate - also were released.

However, it has not yet been determined whether Rodenbarger's records from 
Indiana University will be made available to the prosecutor.

(source: JConline.com)

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