2017-10-07 13:03:29 UTC
Family of slain priest says Georgia prosecutors have reached a deal with his
The family of slain St. Augustine priest, the Rev. Rene Robert, says Georgia
prosecutors have reached a deal in the accused killer's case and he will soon
be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The move, which has not been confirmed by the Augusta (Georgia) District
Attorney's Office, spares Steven James Murray the death penalty, which
prosecutors had initially said they would seek.
"We are very happy because this is what my brother would want," Robert's sister
Deborah Bedard told The Record on Thursday.
She said a representative from the district attorney's office had informed her
of the deal earlier this week.
Murray was arrested in South Carolina in April 2016 - days after Robert was
reported missing by friends and family in St. Augustine.
Authorities, with Murray's help, later found Robert's body in a remote part of
Burke County, Georgia, just south of Augusta, where Murray is said to have shot
It is believed that Murray, who was 28 at the time of Robert's death and had
been in and out jail and prison, came to know the priest through his active
After Murray's arrest, the case drew the attention of many here when officials
with the Diocese of St. Augustine found a document called a "Declaration of
Life" signed by Robert that stated his opposition to the death penalty and said
that he would not want the death penalty sought against anyone who was ever
convicted of killing him.
In response, the Most Rev. Felipe J. Estevez, bishop of St. Augustine,
published a letter in The Record stating opposition to the district attorney's
decision to seek a death sentence.
A group of priests, along with Estevez, later organized a demonstration on the
courthouse steps in Richmond County, Georgia, and delivered a petition with
more 7,400 signatures from parishioners asking that Robert's declaration be
In a statement from the diocese on Thursday, Estevez praised news of the deal.
"I am pleased an agreement has been reached between the state of Georgia and
Steven Murray," he said. "This decision is just and will help Father Robert's
loved ones find closure without the anguish of enduring years of court
District Attorney Natalie Paine, who was not in office when the initial
decision to seek the death penalty was made, did not return calls on Thursday
But one Georgia TV station said that Paine's office had not confirmed a deal
had been reached.
In a statement, Paine told WRDW News that Bedard, or the diocese, are "not
parties to this action and as such, they are not privy to information regarding
the case while it is pending."
Murray has not yet pleaded guilty, that story said, but is due in court on Oct.
(source: The St. Augustine Record)
FLORIDA----new and impending execution date
Man convicted in 1991 North Tampa double murder set to die next month
Patrick Charles Hannon, convicted in the grisly 1991 killings of 2 men in a
North Tampa apartment, is scheduled to die next month by lethal injection.
Gov. Rick Scott signed Hannon's death warrant Friday. The execution is
scheduled for 6 p.m. Nov. 8.
Hannon, 52, has been on death row for 26 years since a jury voted unanimously
that he should die. Appeals and pleas for post-conviction relief have all been
denied, according to information contained in the warrant.
Hannon was a 26-year-old mason before the Jan. 10, 1991, murders of friends and
roommates Brandon Snider and Robert Carter. The 2 men were found dead in their
townhome in the Cambridge Woods apartments near the University of South
Snider, 27, had been stabbed in the chest and had his throat slashed. Carter,
28, was shot 6 times while he hid under a bed in an upstairs bedroom. Relatives
said they had grown up together in Indiana and moved to Florida 4 years before
2 other men were involved in the murders, Ronald I. Richardson and James C.
Acker. Richardson, a 47-year-old Brooksville slaughterhouse worker in 1991,
accepted a charge of accessory after the fact and a 5-year prison sentence in
exchange for testifying against Hannon and Acker, who had been a billiards
Acker, now 53, remains in state custody. He was convicted of the killings and
sentenced to 2 life sentences in prison before winning a new trial. He was
convicted again in 2001 and sentenced to 1 life sentence plus 22 years in
Revenge may have played a role in the killing, authorities have said.
Investigators said Snider returned to Indiana a few days before the murders and
threatened his ex-girlfriend, Toni Acker, James Acker's sister. He reportedly
fired a gun into her home and left a threatening note.
"We think Brandon was the intended victim," said sheriff's Capt. Gary Terry in
(source: Tampa Bay Times)
Condemned killer challenges state's execution process
A death row inmate is challenging the state's current method of execution on
the grounds that the public should have had a chance to comment on the process
put in place 3 years ago.
The Indiana Supreme Court considered the fate of the state's death penalty
protocol Thursday after hearing oral arguments in the case of Roy Ward. The
case comes after Ward broke into a Spencer County home in 2001 and raped and
murdered a 15-year-old girl. He was sentenced to death in 2007.
Ward's attorney, David Frank of Fort Wayne, argued the state didn't properly
follow administrative procedures when it chose the new lethal injection drug
cocktail in 2014.
"The General Assembly dictates by law this combination of drugs use," Justice
Mark Massa said.
"If a state agency or unelected state agency adopts new protocols, they should
do it in front of the public," Frank argued, noting current statute says public
comment must be allowed. He says because there was no public hearing, the death
penalty protocol adopted in May 2014 is legally void.
The 3rd drug added to the state's cocktail p methohexital - has never been used
in the U.S., which makes some wary about how it would affect inmates as they
Often, death penalty appeals revolve around whether the drug mixture amounts to
a violation of the 8th Amendment's provisions against cruel and unusual
punishment. Ward isn't arguing that point, focusing instead on the drug not
being chosen in front of the public.
But some justices wanted to know why this is being brought up now.
"This issue has never been raised before," Justice Steven David said. "It's not
like the Department of Correction changed this in the last 25 years. There has
never been a rule making application with what the ingredients of the injection
This issue, however, has been raised in other states. In 2010, a Kentucky judge
halted executions over concerns about the 3-cocktail injection. In 2012, the
state said it would switch to a 2-cocktail injection, which uses a sedative and
Indiana State Attorney Stephen Creason argued the statute gives the Department
of Correction authority to choose lethal injection drugs like it did 3 years
"Choice of drug only matters as to whether it constitutes cruel and unusual
punishment under the federal Constitution. If constitutionally valid the
opinions of the public, the state agency and the state courts don't matter in
choosing a new drug," Creason said.
(source: WTHR news)
MISSOURI----new death sentence
Judge in St. Charles County sentences former Dent County deputy to death for
A judge here Friday sentenced a former Dent County sheriff's deputy and state
correctional officer to death for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Annette
Durham, in 2011.
Judge Kelly Wayne Parker also sentenced Marvin Rice to life in prison for the
murder of Dunham's boyfriend, Steven Strotkamp, 39.
A jury in August found Marvin Rice guilty of 1st-degree murder for Durham's
death and and 2nd-degree murder for Strotkamp's. But jurors deadlocked on
whether Rice should die for Durham's death, meaning the decision was left to
The trial was moved to St. Charles County from Dent County because of the
publicity attached to the case, and because of Rice's former job there.
The fatal shootings sprang from a custody dispute between Rice and Durham over
their son, who was conceived during an affair Rice had while he was a Dent
County sheriff's deputy and born while she was serving a prison sentence.
Durham, who struggled with drug addiction, was trying to turn her life around,
and was seeking greater time with their son. No custody agreement was in place,
and Rice initially allowed her only brief supervised visits.
On Dec. 10, 2011, she was allowed an unsupervised visit and decided that she
wanted to keep her son overnight, Dent County Prosecuting Attorney Andrew
Curley told jurors in his opening statement during the trial.
Rice found out and went to the house outside of Salem that Durham shared with
Strotkamp. He argued with Durham, then shot her on the doorstep and shot
Strotkamp inside the home. Durham's daughter was in a bedroom with her
half-brother, and told jurors that she heard loud noises before Rice entered
with a pistol and took the boy.
The shooting sparked a high-speed police chase that ended in a shootout in a
Jefferson City hotel during a Christmas party.
Curley had argued for a 1st-degree murder conviction for both shootings. But
public defender Charles Hoskins said that Rice "snapped" when Durham told him
she was taking their son for good. Rice had a pituitary tumor at the time and
the 17 medications he was taking affected his impulse control and made him
paranoid, Hoskins told jurors.
Rice's lawyers had argued for a life sentence in the weeks before Friday's
hearing, saying that 11 of 12 jurors had voted against the death penalty. They
also argued that giving Rice the death penalty would be unconstitutional.
Prosecutors said that jurors had found one aggravating factor in favor of the
death penalty, and did not unanimously decide that mitigating evidence
outweighed that aggravating circumstance.
(source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Rice sentenced to death for 2011 slayings
Marvin Rice was sentenced to death Friday morning as ruled by Judge Kelly
Parker. Rice was previously found guilty by a jury Aug. 10 for the 2011 killing
Annette M. Durham on a 1st degree murder charge, and her boyfriend Steven W.
Strotkamp on a 2nd degree murder charge. Parker made the ruling after the jury
deadlocked 11-1 on Aug. 12 over whether to sentence Rice to execution or life
imprisonment without parole for 1st degree murder. They unanimously chose life
imprisonment without parole on the 2nd degree charge.
Parker sat in silence with hands clasped tightly to his face prior to reading
the decision. Rice did not stoop as the judgment was read, but stood with his
head facing Parker while flanked by his attorneys. Rice later spoke with an
unbroken voice in answering procedural questions. He declined to make a
statement to the court.
Parker said he made his decision after considering the factual findings of the
jury, sentencing assessment, issues relating to the proportionality of the
punishment when weighed against the crime and other relevant evidence. He
succinctly concluded that based upon the totality of the evidence death was
justified and the most appropriate sentence.
Durham's sister Tammy Brown addressed the court for the prosecution. Brown said
she is still regularly traumatized on the yearly anniversary of her sister's
death. She further lamented she remembers helping raise Durham as a child, and
is burdened by the fact that following a long absence while serving with the
military, she'll never know her sister as an adult.
No one addressed the court for the defense, but a letter from Reverend Vernon
Covington was submitted.
Attorney Robert Lundt made 4 post-trial motions for the defense prior to the
ruling. They included declaring the trial unconstitutional, challenging the
proportionality of the sentence and asking for consideration of the fact the
jury deadlocked 11-1. Lundt also objected to the case being tried in St.
Charles and asked for retrial in another location. He claimed politics was
muddling the process in St. Charles. In dramatic moments, he rhetorically asked
Parker when he was next up for election, and further loudly complained of the
presence in the court room of Curtis Bohannon, the former Jefferson City police
officer who Rice had attempted to shoot during his run from justice following
the 2011murders. In rebuttal, Assistant Attorney General Kevin Zoellner said
Bohannon was a victim of Rice, just like the Durham and Strotkamp families in
Parker took the proportionality motion under advisement in his ruling but
overruled the others.
Rice is the 2nd Dent County resident to be sentenced to state execution. Earl
Forrest was previously sentenced to death in 2002 for killing Harriett Smith,
Michael Wells and Dent County Sheriff's Deputy JoAnn Barned in 2001. He was
executed May 11, 2016.
Court documents from the Rice document that he confronted Durham and Strotkamp
at a residence on Dent County Road 3300 on Dec. 11, 2011. An argument occurred
during which Rice shot the victims multiple times in their chests.
Durham's 6-year-old daughter was hiding in the bedroom with her brother and
heard 2 sets of gunshots, according to a highway patrol probable cause
Rice then began fleeing north on Highway 72 before merging onto Highway 63 in
Rolla. Police officials began pursuit near Westphalia after identifying his
white Subaru station wagon and using Rice's cell phone signal to determine his
location. During the chase speeds exceeded 80 miles-per-hour. Rice got as far
as Jefferson City. He exited the highway after his tires were ruptured by a
spike strip and fled into the downtown Capital Plaza Hotel. A holiday party
happened to be occurring in the hotel at the time.
A shootout broke out between Rice, a pursuing Jefferson City police officer and
an off-duty Cole County sheriff's deputy who was serving as security for the
holiday party. Rice fired several shots toward the officers with a .40 Glock.
He was apprehended after being struck by bullets in the abdomen and forearm.
Since the 2011 incident, Rice has been incarcerated in Cole County and St.
Charles County while awaiting trial. Proceedings were initially scheduled to
begin in November of 2012, but were delayed when the state informed Rice's
attorney's that they would be seeking the death penalty. The case was again
delayed in 2016 when a jury could not be formed in Wayne County. It was
subsequently moved to St. Charles.
Prior to the 2011 shooting, Rice was serving as a correctional officer at the
South Central Correctional Center in Licking. From 2004 to 2009 Rice served as
a deputy with the Dent County Sheriff's Office.
Penalty trial against man convicted of beheading coworker adjourned until next
The penalty trial against a man convicted of beheading his coworker is
adjourned until Tuesday.
Alton Nolen, 33, is facing the death penalty for beheading his coworker,
Colleen Hufford, inside Vaughan Foods in September 2014. He has already been
sentenced on assault crimes related to stabbing Traci Johnson during the same
incident. Jurors have been tasked with first determining whether or not Nolen
is intellectually disabled.
According to Cleveland County DA Greg Mashburn, information came up during
expert testimony that was new to both legal counsels which caused the delay in
"This morning [Friday] we even had some more information come up," explained
Mashburn. "Both sides wanted a chance to look at that, see how it may or not
affect our case, both sides' cases, before we really go in front of the jury."
The trial first hit a legal snag Thursday after Dr. Jarrod Steffan, a
neuropsychologist and expert witness for the state, testified he had concerns
over errors in testing conducted on Nolen by Dr. Anita Jeanne Russell. The
Tulsa-based psychologist testified for the defense.
Mashburn said delays in testimony are fairly common in death penalty cases.
"What you don't want to happen is rush this part especially because years down
the road, the court of appeals is looking at it, and they may say we were in a
rush to get it down and nobody wants to have to try this case again," he said.
The state plans to present its final two expert witnesses Tuesday before the
jury goes into deliberation on the intellectual disability portion. If he is
found to have an intellectual disability, he will not be eligible for the death
penalty. Mashburn says they hope to reach a complete verdict by Wednesday
afternoon or Thursday morning at the latest.
The 3 possible punishment options for Nolen as of Friday: life without parole,
life with parole, and the death penalty.
(source: KFOR news)
California death row inmate who was near top of execution list dies in prison
A condemned murderer who was 1 of just 16 inmates on California's death row to
have exhausted his appeals died of unknown causes, prison officials announced
San Quentin officials are investigating the death of Fernando Belmontes, 56,
but say there was no obvious cause. More details about his death have not been
Belmontes was 1 of 16 condemned inmates - out of California's nearly 750 - who
had exhausted his appeals. As such, he was considered a top priority for
Belmontes was sentenced to die at 20 years old, a year after he murdered
19-year-old Steacy McConnell during a 1981 burglary. It started when he and 2
others broke into McConnell's home in San Joaquin County, just east of Lodi.
Belmontes, who was living in a halfway house at the time, bludgeoned McConnel
15-20 times with an iron dumbell, crushing her skull. In 1979, he had been
convicted of being an accessory in a voluntary manslaughter, and he attacked
his pregnant girlfriend months before the murder.
California has executed only 13 death row inmates since 1978, including the
controversial 2005 execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, a Crips gang dropout
convicted of a double-murder who'd written books to steer youth away from gang
life. The most recent execution was in 2006, when Clarence Ray Allen was
executed for organizing 3 murders while serving a life sentence for another
murder conviction. Allen Spent 23 years on death row.
By contrast, 71 condemned inmates have died from natural causes, and 25 have
committed suicide since 1978. In November, voters rejected a measure to
overturn the death penalty, and passed a measure designed to streamline the
Belmontes' death sentence was overturned in 2003, then reinstated in 2006.
Belmontes lost his final attempt at a commuted sentence in 2010.
Prison officials say they are conducting an autopsy to determine how Belmontes
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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