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death penalty news----TEXAS, FLA., ALA., LA.
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Rick Halperin
2017-05-19 13:47:37 UTC
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May 19



TEXAS:

Court lifts reprieve for Nicaraguan man on Texas death row


The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday lifted a reprieve it gave a
Nicaraguan man a day before he was to be executed 2 years ago for killing a
Houston high school teacher during a 1997 robbery.

The state's highest criminal appeals court had halted the scheduled August 2015
lethal injection of Bernardo Tercero, 40, after his attorneys contended Harris
County prosecutors unknowingly presented false testimony at his trial in 2000
for the death of Robert Berger, 38.

Wednesday's ruling affirms the findings of Tercero's trial court that last year
held a hearing on the claim and determined the testimony was proper.

Berger was at a Houston dry cleaners in March 1997 with his 3-year-old daughter
when Tercero came in to rob the store, records show. Berger was fatally shot
and the store was robbed of about $400. Prosecutors said Tercero was in the
U.S. illegally at the time.

Tercero, now 40, argued the shooting was acciental. He testified Berger
confronted him and tried to thwart the robbery, and the gun went off as they
struggled. He was arrested in Hidalgo County near the Texas-Mexico border more
than 2 years after the slaying. A 2nd man sought in the case never has been
found.

In another case, the appeals court Wednesday denied an appeal from Bartholomew
Granger, condemned for the slaying of a 79-year-old woman during a 2012
shooting rampage outside the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Attorneys for Granger, 46, raised 10 challenges to his 2013 conviction and
death sentence. 5 issues foused on claims his trial attorneys were deficient, 4
raised questions about the constitutionaltiy of the death penalty in Texas and
the last contended he was denied his right to an impartial jury.

He was convicted of fatally shooting Minnie Ray Sebolt, a bystander walking
outside the courthouse in downtown Beaumont. Granger admitted he opend fire on
his daughter outside the courthouse after she testified against him a sexual
assault case.

His daughter and her mother were among 3 people wounded.

In a 3rd case, the appeals court refused an appeal from Charles Raby, 47, who
was sent to death row in 1994 for killing 72-year-old Edna Mae Franklin. The
court said the appeal focusing on DNA testing was improperly filed and did not
rule on the merits of the argument. In 2015, the court upheld a lower court
finding that results of new DNA tests didn't cast doubt on Raby's conviction
for Frankling's stabbing death.

The appeals court also sent back to trial in Bastrop County the case of Rodney
Reed to review claims that new evidence was improperly withheld and to show
prosecutors presented false and misleading testimony at his trial, where he was
convicted and sentenced to die for the 1996 rape and strangling of 19-year-old
Stacy Stites. Her body was found off the side of a road about 35 miles
southeast of Austin.

Last month, the appeals court refused to allow additional DNA testing of
evidence in the case, saying the request was meant to "to unreasonably delay
the execution of his sentence or the administration of justice."

(source: Associated Press)






FLORIDA:

Matthew Caylor granted new sentencing hearing


Matthew Caylor, the man convicted of strangling a 13-year-old then hiding her
body under the bed of a Panama City motel, has been granted a new sentencing
hearing after the Supreme Court of Florida threw out his original death
sentence. In a move that was expected, the Supreme Court of Florida has ruled
that Matthew Caylor is eligible for a new penalty phase. Caylor killed Melinda
Hinson, 13, in a Panama City Motel in July of 2008 after raping her.

In an opinion released Thursday, Justices ruled 6-0 that because Caylor's death
sentence in 2009 wasn't unanimous (it was 8-4) that he was entitled to a new
penalty phase.

Caylor, who is now 41, is the man who murdered Melinda Hinson, 13, at the
Valu-Lodge Motel in Panama City on July 8, 2008. Caylor used a telephone cord
in the motel room to strangle Hinson after he raped her. He hid her body
underneath the bed in the motel room then took off. Hinson's body was
discovered 2 days later.

Caylor's case is just the latest death penalty case to get a new sentencing
phase. Last year the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that all death
sentences from juries must be unanimous and that a judge can't impose a death
penalty without it. So all of the convicts on death row are filing appeals of
their sentences if the jury recommendation for death wasn't unanimous.

So far, no new sentencing hearings in any of the cases have occurred. They're
scheduled to happen within the next few months. If the recommendation for death
isn't unanimous, all of the killers will more than likely be sentenced to life
in prison without parole. But that determination won't be made until the new
sentencing phases take place.

(source: WJHG news)






ALABAMA:

Bill to shorten death penalty appeals goes to governor


The Alabama Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a bill that would shorten
the state's death penalty appeals process.

The Legislature's upper chamber voted 26 to 3 to approve a House amendment to
the bill, which increased money available for indigent defense. The bill - long
sought by the Alabama attorney general's office but criticized by death penalty
opponents and some legal organizations - goes to Gov. Kay Ivey.

Those convicted of capital crimes have 2 appeals processes: A direct appeal on
the facts of the case, followed by a post-conviction appeal known as Rule 32
where the defendant can raise issues, such as whether their attorney provided
an adequate defense. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, would
make the 2 processes run concurrently. It would not affect federal appeals
processes.

"You don't deny anybody an appeal they're due under the law," Ward said during
the debate.

Both Ward and the Alabama attorney general's office say cutting the appeals
time will ease the trauma for victims of crimes and their families. Ward said
"every year" the appeals process for a guilty individual dragged out extended
the pain the victims felt.

"I do agree we need adequate protections for those appealing, but let my
colleagues be reminded victims of crime deserve their day," Ward said.

Critics of the bill, including the American Bar Association, say running the 2
processes on parallel tracks would make it more likely the state would execute
an innocent person.

Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said defending a death penalty case requires a high
level of expertise that makes such attorneys rare or expensive, and questioned
how an inmate could reasonably question an attorney's competence while the
attorney is defending them on appeal.

"One of the reasons death penalty cases have (taken) so long has been for lack
of adequate counsel," Sanders said.

The state's death penalty process has slowed due to legal challenges and
challenges in obtaining the drugs used in the state's lethal injection
procedures. But Alabama executed 2 people in 2016 and has executions scheduled
later this month and in June.

Death sentences have declined in the United States over the last three decades.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a group opposed to capital
punishment, the number of death sentences in Alabama fell from about 25 in 1998
to 6 in 2015.

(source: Montgomery Advertiser)

*********************************

Nothing fair about speeding up Alabama death penalty appeals


Alabama legislators this past week wrongly approved a bill that shortens the
appeal process for people convicted of a capital crime and facing an execution.

Too much is at stake to take decisions of execution lightly. Mainly, it's
someone's life and when the state makes the choice to kill a person, we are all
responsible for that death.

Nationwide, 159 people have been exonerated from death rows since 1973,
according to the Death Penalty Information Center, including 6 in Alabama. For
every 9 people executed nationally, there has been 1 person on death row
exonerated, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. That's quite the risk.
Someone's death is nothing to be cavalier with.

Currently, someone convicted of a capital crime can appeal the decision and
also file a separate post-conviction appeal that challenges parts of the
ruling. Under the proposed legislation approved, both appeals processes would
run concurrently, compressing the opportunity for someone to appeal against
being killed.

Advocates of the law change, known as the Fair Justice Act, argue that
streamlining the appeals process spares crime victims' families from reliving
the pains of the ordeal over and over. The Attorney General's Office noted in a
release that death row inmates' appeals average more than 15 years.

"This legislation is about justice, and justice should be fair and swift,"
Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a news release. "The Fair Justice Act
takes nothing away from a death row inmate in terms of the courts reviewing his
case."

Opponents, including us, fear the lawmakers' decision increases the chance we
could execute an innocent person. When a life is at risk, quickening the pace
of the appeal against death is unjust. The desire for swift justice when the
guilt is seemingly obvious is understandable, but getting it wrong just once is
once too much.

Rep. Thomas Jackson, a Democrat from Thomasville who opposed the bill, said
Alabama is trying to "speed up the process of killing people."

Executions are more readily accepted and more readily performed in the South.
The region accounts for 56 % of the nation's executions since 1976, according
to the Death Penalty Information Center, but it hasn't impacted the South's
homicide rate, which is the nation's highest, according to the Equal Justice
Initiative.

7 states have abolished the death penalty since 2007, and death sentencing has
dropped to 10 % of what it was in 1998. Last year, 30 sentences were handed out
compared to the 298 rulings 19 years ago.

(source: Editorial Board, Montgomery Advertiser)






LOUISIANA:

How 1 Louisiana legislator's surprising vote saved capital punishment


Death penalty opponents were gaining some traction in the Louisiana Legislature
this year. One bill to abolish capital punishment, sponsored by a former
prosecutor, won strong backing in a Senate committee, sending it to the Senate
floor for what was sure to be passionate debate. Another bill, sponsored by a
former State Police superintendent and a former sheriff, was coming up for
hearing in a House committee.

Then came Steve Pylant, a 2nd-term Republican representative from Winnsboro. He
had attached his name to the House bill to eliminate the death penalty. But he
voted against his own measure -- dooming both bills and preserving execution as
an option for perpetrators of Louisiana's most heinous crimes.

Pylant's surprising move came during a House committee hearing Wednesday (May
17). His was the swing vote in the 8-9 decision. Had he voted for it, as others
expected, the bill would have been approved 9-8 and sent to the House floor for
debate, and the Senate bill's sponsor would not have abandoned the other
measure.

Here's a look at how Pylant's statements over the past 13 months:

April 7, 2016 - During a House committee meeting on funding for public
defenders, Pylant says he was always been supportive of the death penalty but
wonders aloud whether it is worth the expense considering how many convictions
are overturned. He says he is considering switching sides to eliminate the
death penalty.

The Louisiana House will take up legislation that seeks to get more money into
the hands of local public defender offices -- primarily by taking it from the
defense teams representing people facing the death penalty.

March 23, 2017 - Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, a former State Police
superintendent, files House Bill 101 to eliminate to abolish capital punishment
after July 31. Pylant, a former Franklin Parish sheriff, signs on as
co-sponsor.

March 30, 2017 - Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, a former assistant Orleans
Parish district attorney, files Senate Bill 142 to abolish capital punishment
after July 31.

Bills sponsored by 3 legislators with backgrounds in law enforcement

April - Pylant tells The Associated Press: "I think certain crimes should be
punishable by death, but the fact is we're not enforcing it. We spend millions
of dollars on death penalty appeals, and we claim we can't get the medicines to
do it. ... Whether you're for capital punishment or not, it seems like at some
point common sense ought to take hold."

April 25, 2017 - Testifying in favor of the Senate bill, Pylant tells the
Senate Judiciary C Committee: "It seems that we've lost the will to carry out
executions." The committee votes 6-1 to send the bill to the Senate.

It's a rare proposal in Republican-controlled region that tends to favor
capital punishment

May 17, 2016 - In the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice
meeting, Pylant votes against the House bill.

Afterward, he says he co-sponsored the bill only to bring attention to the fact
that Louisiana isn't executing people quickly enough. "If I hadn't put my name
on it, you wouldn't be out here talking to me."

Pylant said Louisiana could be executing more people if officials prioritized
it. He pointed out that Arkansas executed four people in eight days in April.
Arkansas' lethal injection drugs were about to expire, and drug companies have
been reluctant to sell more to Arkansas, Louisiana and other states for capital
punishment.

"We say we can't get the drugs to execute with. Arkansas has executed 4 or 5
people in the last month," Pylant said. "So something's not right. The powers
that be apparently don't have the will to carry out the executions."

"We need to start executing people," he said. "They said we can't get the
pharmaceuticals. Well, why can other people get them when we can't?"

"We don't want to give the lethal injection? Well, we've got firing squads.
We've got the electric chair. We've got other things," he said.

(source: nola.com)


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