[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----FLA., OHIO, IND.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Wed Mar 6 00:11:24 CST 2013
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
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.
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
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
"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,
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
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 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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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