2017-10-01 12:26:47 UTC
5 things to know about high court's stunning stay of execution
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday evening issued an extraordinary stay of
execution more than 3 hours after condemned killer Keith Tharpe had been
scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection.
Tharpe, 59, had already eaten what was supposed to be his last meal and had
recorded a final statement. Here are 5 things you should know about this
1. The crime: After his wife left him in 1990, Tharpe made repeated threats of
violence. This led to Tharpe's being ordered not to have any contact with his
wife or her family.
On the morning of Sept. 25, 1990, Tharpe intercepted his wife and her sister,
Jacquelyn Freeman, as they headed to work in Macon. Tharpe, driving a pickup
truck, blocked their car on a roadway in Jones County.
Apparently on drugs and armed with a shotgun, Tharpe ordered Freeman out of the
car and shot her multiple times, killing her. He drove off with his wife,
parked on the side of a road and raped her, court records say. He then drove
her to Macon and told her to take money out of her credit union account.
Instead, she called police.
2. The trial and a juror: Tharpe went to trial a little more than 3 months
after his arrest - a short span of time unheard of today for a defendant facing
a capital prosecution. After finding Tharpe guilty of murder and kidnapping,
the jury sentenced him to death on Jan. 10, 1991.
7 years later, Tharpe's lawyers interviewed Barney Gattie, 1 of the jurors.
Gattie soon signed a sworn statement, in which he said, "After studying the
Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls."
Freeman, the murder victim, came from a family of "nice black folks, " Gattie
said. "If they had been the type Tharpe is, then picking between life and death
for Tharpe wouldn't have mattered so much. My feeling is, what would be the
Gattie, who is now deceased, also used a racial slur referring to Tharpe, the
Soon after Gattie made those incendiary statements, he recanted them.
"I believe Keith Tharpe was a cold, calculated murderer," Gattie said in a
newly signed, second affidavit prepared by state attorneys. "I did not vote to
impose the death penalty because he was a black man."
Gattie said he had been drinking beer and whiskey the day he signed his first
affidavit, and many statements "were taken out of context and simply not
But members of Tharpe's legal team who obtained Gattie's initial statement
countered with their own sworn affidavits. Gattie did not appear to be impaired
and was alert and animated, attorney Laura Berg wrote. And, Berg said, as they
slowly read Gattie's back statement to him, he said, "That's right" and "I'm
sticking to my story."
3. Judges begin to take notice: As Tharpe's latest appeals made their way
through the state and federal courts this year, a number of jurists expressed
alarm at the juror bias claim.
When a 3-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Atlanta recently said it
would not consider Tharpe's appeal, Judge Charles Wilson wrote, however, that
Tharpe had "made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional
Days later, the Georgia Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, also declined to hear
It was not surprising that Justices Carol Hunstein and Robert Benham, 2 of the
court's more liberal members, were among those who disagreed with the
majority's vote to allow Tharpe's execution to proceed. But it was noteworthy
that Hunstein and Benham were joined in dissent by Harold Melton, 1 of the
court's more conservative justices.
4. The Supreme Court halts the execution: Chief Justice John Roberts, a
reliably conservative vote, joined justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in granting Tharpe a
temporary stay of execution. Their decision said the stay "shall terminate
automatically" if the court decides not to hear Tharpe's appeal. Justices
Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented.
5. What happens next: The high court has 3 options: the justices can decide not
to hear the appeal, meaning the execution would be rescheduled; they can agree
to hear the case, which would likely require legal briefs to be filed and oral
arguments; or they could send the case back to the lower courts with
instructions on how to proceed next.
Federal judge denies requests to halt 2 Ohio executions
A federal judge has rejected requests from 2 condemned Ohio inmates to put a
temporary stop to their upcoming executions.
Lawyers for both inmates argue the 1st drug in Ohio's lethal injection process
creates the risk that prisoners being put to death will suffer serious pain.
Federal judge Michael Merz ruled in August that current court decisions have
upheld the use of the drug, the sedative midazolam, in executions.
Merz on Thursday cited that same ruling in denying the 2 inmates' requests.
Death row inmate Alva Campbell is scheduled to die Nov. 15 for the death of
18-year-old Charles Dials 20 years ago after Campbell escaped from a court
Raymond Tibbetts is scheduled to die Feb. 13 in the fatal stabbing of a man in
Cincinnati in 1997.
(source: Daily Journal)
Judge Again Asks Complaint Over Death Penalty Demonstration Be Dropped
An Arkansas judge is again asking a disciplinary panel to dismiss a complaint
concerning his participation in an anti-death penalty demonstration the same
day he blocked the state from using an execution drug.
An attorney for Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen on Friday renewed
a request that the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission drop the
complaint. Griffen was photographed in April lying down on a cot outside the
governor's mansion after he blocked Arkansas from using a lethal injection drug
over claims that the state misled a medical supply company.
The state Supreme Court later lifted that order and barred Griffen from hearing
any execution related cases.
Griffen has said he was portraying Jesus and participating in a prayer vigil,
and has said the complaint violates his constitutional rights.
(source: Associated Press)
Prosecutors focus on Renfro clothing
The plastic case containing the defendant's clothing is more than 5 feet high
and looks like a museum piece.
It is plaintiff's exhibit No. 29 in the 1st-degree murder trial of Jonathan D.
Renfro, a slightly unwieldy piece deputy prosecutor David Robins carries Friday
across the well of the Coeur d'Alene courtroom like a piece of panelboard, so
jurors can have a look.
Behind the cellophane and against a white background is displayed a black
jacket, flattened, with sleeves splayed. Below it, a black pair of trousers,
each pant leg pressed and angled toward the bottom of the panel.
The display appears antique, a sinister set of clothes forever relegated as
The clothes were last worn by a gunman walking west on a dark sidewalk May 5,
2015, the night Sgt. Greg Moore was on patrol during the graveyard shift in a
quiet Coeur d'Alene neighborhood.
Renfro, 29, faces the death penalty for shooting Moore once in the face with a
9 mm pistol, killing him.
A day earlier, deputy public defender Linda Payne objected when the clothing
was first carried into the well.
"It makes (Renfro) look big," she said.
The defendant stands about 5-foot-9, she said.
Standing more than 6-foot-1, Moore was taller than Renfro and weighed more than
275 pounds, according to testimony.
The clothes on display are seen in several police videos including footage from
Moore's body camera recorded moments before he died as he spoke with Renfro
prior to a bang and then darkness. The clothing items appear in surveillance
videos taken at the Hayden Walmart where Renfro was seen a couple hours before
the homicide occurred 1 1/2 miles away in a Sunshine Meadows neighborhood.
Renfro was dropped off there, and was reportedly seen leaving a pickup truck
and walking into Walmart after using a large dose of methamphetamine, according
Renfro told detectives after his arrest that he took meth the night of the
"He took it like Alka-Seltzer," Robins said.
Renfro is seen wearing the clothing in a Stateline Walmart surveillance-camera
video after stealing Moore's car and ditching it near the store's entrance on
West Pointe Parkway. He wears the clothing following his arrest around 3 a.m.,
seated in the back seat of Deputy Eric Silva's sheriff's office SUV, when Silva
asks, "Where did you hide the guns?"
He didn't have them, he tells the deputy. A person named Davis, who Renfro
claimed was part of the Aryan Brotherhood, a man he knew from prison, has the
guns. It is the same story Renfro will tell detectives during his
interrogation, later that night.
He was hanging out with Davis, and Davis killed Moore, he will tell them.
On Friday, the 4th day of Renfro's trial, the large, plastic display case was
again carried into the well and placed before jurors, its clothing nefarious
The left jacket pocket contains a hole, a detail pointed out by prosecutors.
The star-shaped hole was pierced by a hollowpoint bullet shot from a firearm
inside the pocket leaving a spray of burned and unburned gunpowder embedded in
the fabric like dust.
"It is consistent with a gunshot from the pocket," Stewart Jacobson, an Idaho
State Police forensic scientist, told the court Friday. "When a handgun in an
enclosed area is pressed against a piece of fabric ... it will get stellate
Chemical tests of the hole showed lead and powder residue.
"The damage of the suspect's jacket is concurrent with a firearm being fired in
the pocket," Jacobson said.
On the night of the shooting, Renfro wore a pair of black, block-heel, logging
boots. The leather boots, bulky, but almost petite in shoe size, were held
before jurors during testimony this week, before being packed away for another
time and another witness.
Included in this week's testimony, Deputy Chardelle Ellis, a digital expert at
the Kootenai County Sheriff???s Office, told jurors she had collected the
cellphones Renfro carried May 5.
He allegedly tried contacting friends, asking for help as he raced from the
crime scene at 2820 W. Wilbur Ave. where officers and medics tried to revive
"He was texting friends, trying to get away," Robins told the jury.
Ellis said she turned the cellphones over to state police for forensic testing.
The messages and conversations will appear next week as evidence for the state.
Friday's last witness had interrogated Renfro a month before Sgt. Moore's
death. The Post Falls police detective asked Renfro about a stolen firearm that
people on the street said Renfro kept tucked in a holster on his belt.
It was a 9mm Glock stolen from a glovebox, and because Renfro is a convicted
felon, he is prohibited from carrying a gun, the detective reminded Renfro.
In footage from a Post Falls Police Department interrogation room, taken a
month before Sgt. Moore was shot, Renfro is seen sitting awkwardly in a chair
pressed between a table and wall.
"I don't want to bust your chops," Detective Bob McDonald tells Renfro, who is
dressed in jeans and a T-shirt.
Renfro told the Post Falls investigator he heard the stolen firearm was in
Spokane. He does not have it.
"If I find out where it is, I'll call you, man," Renfro says in the video. "One
thing I don't want to do is get near a firearm.
"Every bullet in that gun is worth 5 years," he said.
The murder trial in First District Court will resume Monday at 9 a.m. in the
old courthouse at 501 Government Way.
(source: Coeur d'Alene Press)
Convicted cop killer gets another hearing on death sentence
The man convicted of murdering University of Nevada, Reno Police Officer George
Sullivan will get one more day in court to review whether he should face the
Siaosi Vanisi was convicted of ambushing Sgt. Sullivan in his patrol car and
killing him with an axe. The jury sentenced him to die for the crime.
The Nevada Supreme Court has already upheld the conviction but this past week
sent the case back for an evidentiary hearing to decide whether Vanisi was
prejudiced by his appellate lawyer's failure to investigate and present
possible mitigating evidence that could have prevented jurors from imposing the
Instead, post-conviction lawyers decided to pursue a motion challenging
Vanisi's mental competency, which the high court unanimously agreed was
They directed the district court to address "whether trial counsel should have
discovered and presented the (mitigation) evidence as well as whether there was
a reasonable probability of a different outcome at the penalty hearing had this
additional mitigation evidence been presented."
But the Supreme Court rejected more than a dozen other challenges to Vanisi's
conviction and sentence, including the argument he should have been allowed to
"Vanisi was not in a delusional state such that he could not know or understand
the nature and capacity of his act," the court wrote. The court order points
out that Vanisi repeatedly told others he planned to murder a police officer
and steal his weapon and radio, that he ambushed the victim at night and fled
Nevada, before being arrested in Utah.
"These actions indicate that Vanisi appreciated the wrongfulness of his actions
and that post conviction counsel did not act unreasonably in not pursuing (an
insanity claim)," the court wrote.
Death row exonerees to speak at CWU on Tuesday
2 exonerated death row inmates will share their stories during a panel
discussion at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Student Union and Recreation Theatre on
Central Washington University's campus, according to a news release.
After Sabrina Butler-Smith and Randal Padgett share their experiences, the
speakers will be joined by Witness to Innocence director of communications
Stefanie Anderson. The Q and A will be moderated by CWU philosophy professor
"The United States as a whole, and Washington state in particular, are deeply
divided over the constitutionality, the usefulness, and the moral rightness of
the death penalty," Altman said in the release. "Exonerated death row inmates
have a unique perspective on this issue, and they have a lot to contribute to
the ongoing debate."
The event is organized through CWU's Department of Philosophy and Religious
The last execution in Washington state was September 2010, and a bill will go
before the state Legislature next year to abolish the death penalty.
WTI is a national organization composed of and led by exonerated death row
survivors and their family members, according to the release. One of the
mission's of WTI is to abolish the death penalty.
(source: Daily Record)
Federal death penalty trial underway for ailing man in Springfield
A death penalty trial began this week at the federal courthouse in Springfield.
But even if the defendant is found guilty, he will probably die before he's
executed, according to his lawyer.
Ulysses Jones Jr., 61, is accused of killing 38-year-old Timothy Baker with a
makeshift knife in January 2006 at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal
Prisoners in Springfield, where both men were prisoners.
Jones is standing trial this week, more than a decade after the homicide, but
the court is taking half-days on Tuesdays and Thursdays to accommodate his
twice-weekly dialysis treatments.
Jones' attorney Thomas Carver said Jones has bad kidneys and is slowly dying.
If Jones is convicted and sentenced to death, Carver said, he will likely die
at some point during the decade-long appeals process that accompanies most
"He suffers from end-stage renal disease," Carver said. "That is a terminal
disease. He will die from it."
Carver said Jones has been on dialysis for the last 30 years, a remarkable feat
since the average life expectancy for people in his situation is between 5 and
10 years, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
Carver said his client's illness helps explain why authorities took 4 years to
charge Jones with Baker's killing and another 7 years to bring the case to
"I am confident that he was not indicted until 2010 because the government was
hoping he would die," Carver said.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri
declined to discuss the specifics of the Jones case, saying it would be
inappropriate to do so while the case was going before a jury.
Jones is already serving a life sentence for 2 robberies and murders in 1979
and 1980 in Washington, D.C., according to his lawyer.
When Jones was sentenced for his 2nd murder conviction, the prosecutor
reportedly called Jones "a man marked by savagery, viciousness and brutality."
Carver acknowledged the 2006 homicide presents a dilemma for the U.S.
Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri:
If Jones gets another life sentence, which Carver said he offered, has he
really been punished?
And, at the same time, is it worth the government's time and money to go after
a death sentence that Jones probably won't live to face?
Both the prosecutors and defense attorneys in this case are being paid with
"We're talking millions of dollars here," Carver said, if the case were to go
on for several more years.
There are 2 separate proceedings in a death penalty case. In the 1st phase,
which began in earnest on Thursday, prosecutors try to convince the jury that
the defendant is guilty of murder. In the 2nd phase, prosecutors and defense
attorneys present their arguments for and against the death penalty.
The process is expected to take between 4 and 6 weeks in Jones' case.
If Jones is sentenced to death, Carver said, that would trigger a lengthy
appeals process that could reach the Supreme Court.
Baker, who is from Ohio, was at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners
on a cocaine-related conviction when he was killed. He had served about 1/2 of
his 6-year sentence.
Over the last 11 years, the case has moved through the court system with
basically no publicity in Springfield, other than a few articles when Baker
died and then again when Jones was indicted.
It's not uncommon for events involving the U.S. Medical Center for Federal
Prisoners (known around town as the Fed Med) to avoid the public spotlight.
Although the facility is located near the intersection of Sunshine Street and
Kansas Expressway, most of the roughly 1,000 prisoners are from out of state
and have no real connection to the Springfield community.
The News-Leader has reported in the past the majority of the prisoners there
receive some medical care, and the facility is home to the largest dialysis
center in the nation. A spokesman for the facility declined to answer several
general questions about the Fed Med this week.
Federal prison authorities and the FBI, which investigated this case, are
generally reluctant to release details of an open investigation to the public.
Neither agency would provide the News-Leader with a mug shot for Jones.
The only information that has been released about the 2006 homicide is that it
occurred at the Fed Med and Baker was asleep and on sleeping medication at the
time he was killed.
An indictment accuses Jones of killing Baker "after substantial planning and
Jones is also accused of attacking another inmate on the night of the homicide.
Court documents say Jones stabbed an inmate identified by the initials R.R.,
Jones has been charged with 1 count of murder, 1 count of murder by a federal
prisoner serving a life term and 1 count of assault.
Much of the recent pre-trial court proceedings in the case dealt with Jones'
intellectual capacity and ability to assist in his own defense.
The defense filed a motion asking the court to preclude the government from
seeking the death penalty, claiming Jones has significant cognitive
impairments. On Sept. 8, Judge Greg Kays denied the motion.
Executions are rare in federal cases. Only 3 federal inmates have been executed
since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, according to the death
penalty information center.
The last federal death penalty case in Springfield was in 2014. Wesley Paul
Coonce Jr. and Charles Michael Hall were sentenced to death for killing fellow
inmate Victor Castro-Rodriguez at the Fed Med.
(source: Springfield News-Leader)
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