2017-05-25 15:40:50 UTC
Was a convicted murderer incompetent to stand trial - 6 years ago?----Fort Bend
County jurors wrestle with a rare retrospective question
Albert James Turner was convicted in 2011 of murder in the deaths of his
mother-in-law and wife. The jury sentenced him to death - a choice made only
every few years in Fort Bend.
The case returned last week to the same courtroom with the same judge, the
268th District Court with Judge Brady Elliott, to take on an issue Turner's
defense argued should have been addressed in the first place.
The question before the jury was not whether he committed the crimes, cutting
the throats of his relatives. Rather, the issue at hand was dubbed
"retrospective competency," meaning jurors had to decide whether evidence
showed Turner had not been mentally fit for trial.
It was "a case that's not normally one we take up," the judge told the jurors.
Judge Elliott had denied a request for a competency trial 6 years ago. A state
appellate court had now granted it to Turner, allowing a chance at a totally
new trial if jurors found him incompetent.
Stakes were high. Turner's appellate defense attorney, Amy Martin, believed
Turner was delusional. Turner felt convinced his attorneys had conspired
against him, Martin said. And this illness might have affected his decision to
testify originally, a fateful choice that perhaps influenced the jury to
sentence him to death, rather than life in prison.
That possibility, Martin said, was "not something we could stomach."
Competency refers to one's ability rationally to understand proceedings in
court. It is a different question altogether from whether someone was insane at
the time of the crime. It deals instead with whether defendants can reasonably
consult with their attorneys and understand the charges being brought against
Evaluating a defendant for competency before a trial begins is fairly standard
procedure. Doing so retrospectively is not.
Several mental health professionals evaluated Turner before his trial began,
court records show. One conducted an evaluation in May 2010, and the other in
June. Both found him competent. If they had not, he could have been sent to a
hospital for rehabilitation.
Still, the question of his mental faculties didn't stop there. Turner became a
detriment to his own defense, said Patrick McCann, his attorney at the time.
"Time dragged on," McCann said. "He got worse."
On April 15, 2011, defense attorneys filed a request for a trial on Turner's
competency. 3 days later, on the 1st day of jury selection, the judge denied
But the defense persisted, and on May 6, the judge ordered 1 more evaluation,
this time by the county's director of behavioral health services. After a
30-minute conversation during which Turner remained standing, she concluded his
functioning had not significantly changed.
The case went to trial. Turner testified. The jury sentenced him. An appeal
followed, and the higher court decided he deserved the competency trial after
all - leading to last weeks' proceedings.
Testimony continued to midday Thursday, when the 12-person jury heard closing
Proesecutor Fred Felcman painted the case as woefully lacking in the expected
indicators, such as family speaking of his illness or physicians having treated
him. He said a defendant didn't have to help his attorneys.
"This is not what you thought it was going to be, was it?," Felcman said.
Martin argued that even though Turner wasn't curled up in a corner or foaming
at the mouth, he still had a mental illness. She insisted he had a delusional
disorder, which could be hard to detect.
"He didn't have a disagreement with his attorneys," she said. "He had a break
Turner refused to be in the courtroom. A video camera allowed him to watch
proceedings from jail.
The jurors made a decision in 2 hours. Members of the Fort Bend County District
Attorney's Office sat in the room, as did Darren Frank, whose sister and mother
were the people Turner killed.
Frank had cared for his sister's 4 children since the murders. He said he felt
a little surprised to see Turner's case return to Fort Bend and had prepared
for whatever the outcome would be. His main priority, he said, was supporting
"Even one day, if [Turner] dies, it can't bring back what we've lost," Frank
said. "I have to remove myself from the situation and just really focus on them
and how I can help them."
Cases like these didn't come around every day. Martin, who wrote the appellate
brief, said she knew of only one other, from 2012 in Harris County.
The judge read Turner's verdict. They jury said Turner had been competent.
His appeal will continue.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Prosecutor seeking death penalty against man accused in 4-year-old's death
A Butler County man accused in the death of his girlfriend's young son was in
court Thursday for a preliminary hearing.
Jordan Lambing was charged with the sexual assault and death of 4-year-old
Bentley Miller. Lambing was watching the boy while his mother was at work.
Lambing's attorney said his client loved Miller like he was his own son.
"They had a nice family," Frank Walker said. "This is a sad situation."
In court, a forensic pathologist testified about the boy's final hours. He
described bruises on his hips, cuts and bruises on his forehead. Some of the
injuries were so severe, the district attorney is seeking the ultimate
"Tomorrow morning we plan to file aggravating circumstances and seek the death
penalty," said Terri Schultz, the prosecutor on the case.
The pathologist said Miller's injuries were caused within 72 hours of his
"We need to know who else was in the room, who else had access to the child
within the 72 hours," Walker said.
(source: WXPI news)
Only unanimous jury vote justifies extreme act of execution
While the public's attention likely was diverted by the terror strike in
Manchester and ongoing presidential drama, the verdict from the nation's
highest court was literally a life or death moment for many Florida inmates
The court turned down an appeal by the state that would have allowed capital
punishment cases in some cases to be applied without a unanimous jury verdict.
Many of those sent to Florida's death row on a simple majority vote already are
having their sentences reviewed.
Many more are likely to follow.
In March, Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation requiring a unanimous vote by
juries before the death penalty could be applied. That was after a series of
court setbacks to previous state laws that said a simple majority vote was good
enough. When that was struck down as unconstitutional, Florida rushed through a
revision that said capital punishment could be applied if 10 of 12 jurors vote
Nope. The court said that didn't work either.
It is estimated that as many as 200 death-penalty sentences handed out under
old rules could be sent back to prosecutors. They will have to choose whether
to try again to put the guilty person to death, or whether life imprisonment is
Take the case of Adam "Rattlesnake" Davis.
He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1999 for murdering Tampa real estate
agent Vicki Robinson. It was a sensational trial. His girlfriend at the time
was Robinson's 15-year-old daughter Valessa.
She got off with a lengthy prison term for her part in the crime and has since
been released, but a jury voted 7-5 that Davis should be executed. A judge
agreed. Davis is still waiting on death row.
That crime was an act of evil that stunned the city and the sentencing judge
noted the murder wasn't a spur-of-the-moment thing. It was well planned. Even
with that, the jury obviously was conflicted about what just punishment should
The ruling also could affect 1 of the 3 death sentences for Dontae Morris.
There was unanimous agreement by the jury that he should die for murdering 2
Tampa police officers, but a 3rd conviction for killing Derek Anderson brought
only a 10-2 recommendation for the death penalty.
I guess if Morris is executed for one of those crimes, it will be for all of
Capital punishment is still favored by 49 % of Americans while 42 % disapprove,
according to a survey last September by the Pew Research Center. That's the
lowest level of support in more than 40 years and a dramatic drop from the 80 %
approval rating in 1994.
According to the web site deathpenaltyinfo.org, juries across the country
handed out 295 death sentences in 1998. In 2016, that number fell to 30. A big
reason could be that people understand it is not the effective deterrent
supporters advertise it to be.
The web site also said that enforcing the death penalty costs Florida $51
million per year over what it would cost to send the convicted to prison for
life without parole.
I admit I'm conflicted.
There are some crimes so vile - the ones Morris committed come to mind - where
it's reasonable to argue the killer has forfeited the right to live. However,
who's to say one murder is worse than another?
I guess that's where we came in. That's why we have juries. After hearing the
evidence, if 12 people agree the murderer should die, so be it. As the courts
have rightly ruled, though, this is no place for a split decision.
(source: Joe Henderson, Tampa Bay Times)
Niece of victim: Tommy Arthur execution delays have put family through 'living
Troy Wicker Jr. was a big bear of a man who was the life of a party, a niece
recalled this week.
Known as "Junior," Wicker served in the Army, once worked for a Tennessee
sheriff's office, and had just gotten off from a shift on a tug boat in Muscle
Shoals when he was shot to death while asleep in his bed on Feb 1, 1982, Vicki
Wilkerson wrote in an email to Al.com.
Wilkerson is the daughter of Peggy Newland Rosier, 1 of Wicker's sisters and
the person who had most followed the case of Tommy Arthur, the man convicted
three times in Wicker's death.
Ms. Rosier died in February and Wilkerson wrote that she and her sister, Kim,
wanted to carry on being the voice for their mother and family.
Arthur is set to be executed Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Holman Correctional
Facility in Atmore. Seven previous times, including last November, his
executions were stayed by courts. A victims' rights advocate has nicknamed
Arthur the "Houdini" of death row for the times he has escaped execution at the
"There are no words to describe the living hell that this has been for the
Wicker family. We are hoping and praying that the execution is not delayed any
further," Vicky Wilkerson, a niece to Troy Wicker told AL.com in an email.
"Although this statement may be perceived by others as not a very Christian
statement, please do not judge because you haven't lived through this tragedy."
"Our family deserves closure and justice for the loss of Junior and the
nightmare that we have lived through," Wilkerson wrote. "Tommy Arthur placed
our family through a living hell for a pathetic $10,000 payout."
"My mother, grandmother (Junior's mom), and both his brothers have all (died)
since that dark day in February 1982, unsure whether Tommy Arthur would EVER
pay the price for what he did to Junior and his family. However, there are
still those of us remaining who long to have peace and know that it is FINALLY
Wilkerson said that Troy Wicker was the second of six kids - her mom was the
oldest. "He was a big, caring, handsome, bear of a man. The comedian of the
family. My other 2 uncles were quiet and kinda shy but not Junior. He was the
life of the party," she stated.
Wilkerson stated that she and her sister wanted to be present for Arthur's
execution "to say that we witnessed the completion of her mission for justice."
However, since they are not immediate family she and her sister will not be
allowed to attend. But Wicker's two sons will attend, Wilkerson state. Wicker's
2 surviving sisters will not attend, she stated.
"I regret (Rosier) fought so long for justice but died before she got legal
closure," Janette Grantham, state director of the Victims of Crime and Leniency
(VOCAL), stated in an email to AL.com.
"So sad ... Enough is Enough. Justice is long past due. Arthur chose his fate,"
said Grantham, who is the one last year who called Arthur the "Houdini" of
Arthur continued to deny in a May 15 letter to AL.com that he killed Wicker. "I
am not guilty," he wrote. He claimed the state will be "murdering" him if they
go through with the execution.
Arthur also denied killing Wicker in a recent letter to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.
This is the 1st execution since Ivey became governor. Ivey told a reporter for
Al.com on Tuesday that clemency of a death row inmate is one of the most
difficult issues a governor faces.
The Innocence Project on Wednesday urged people to call Ivey and ask that she
stay his execution. The group says that no physical evidence links Arthur to
the killing of Wicker.
Arthur now has simultaneous appeals in state and federal courts seeking a stay
He won a legal victory in court on Tuesday when the Alabama Court of Criminal
Appeals reversed a judge's ruling that rejected Arthur's claim that the
Legislature, not the prison system, should decide on the method and drugs used
But the Alabama Attorney General's Office quickly said the ruling won't stop
plans for Arthur's execution on Thursday.
Arthur's attorneys on Tuesday night then filed an emergency request for a stay
of execution to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, stating that his
execution should wait until litigation over their claims that the legislature
should select the lethal injection drugs is completed.
"A stay of execution is necessary so that this Court and the Jefferson Circuit
Court have the opportunity to adjudicate these issues on the merits and to
ensure that the most significant power wielded by the State - the power to
execute its citizens - is exercised in a constitutional manner," the appeals
states. "To execute Mr. Arthur before his claims raising important
constitutional issues have been heard on the merits would be patently unjust
and would violate Alabama's constitutional responsibility to be 'a government
of laws and not of individuals.'"
It is the 8th time since 2001 that the state has set an execution for Arthur
for his conviction in the 1982 shooting death of Troy Wicker.
Arthur's attorneys also have filed appeals and an emergency request to stay the
execution to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Those appeals are based on
Arthur's challenge to Alabama's method of execution that includes the drug
midazolam as 1 of the 3 drugs.
Death penalty opponents, and other inmates and their attorneys will be closely
monitoring the legal actions because of the controversial sedative midazolam
used by Alabama and several other states in their lethal injection drug
combinations. Lawyers have argued midazolam does not sedate the inmate enough
to not feel the pain of the other drugs administered to stop the heart and
The 11th Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court have previously denied Arthur's and
other inmates' challenges to Alabama's lethal injection method, citing problems
with executions in other states using midazolam.
But Arthur's attorneys argue there have been problems with more recent
executions in Alabama and other states since Arthur's previous challenges to
the state's lethal injection method were rejected.
During the Dec. 8 execution of Alabama death row inmate Ronald Bert Smith,
Smith heaved and appeared to be gasping for breath for about 13 minutes after
being injected with midazolam. He was given 2 consciousness tests -- 1 is
routine -- before the final 2 drugs were administered.
Smith's lawyers called the execution "botched," but Alabama Department of
Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the prison system followed its
protocol. Prison officials, however, have refused to provide attorneys with
records of executions, according to the court documents.
Arthur's lawyers also cited a January execution in Virginia and 2 April
executions in Arkansas as examples of inmates who struggled on gurneys, either
gasping for air or convulsing. Those 2 states also use midazolam.
Arthur's lawyers argue in their latest appeal that Arthur faces "a nightmarish
death ... conscious but entirely paralyzed, unable to move or scream his
"Such an 'intentional infliction of gratuitous pain' is the very 'evil the
Eighth Amendment targets' with its prohibition on cruel and unusual
punishments," according to the appeals filed by Arthur's attorneys. "And
because the ADOC injected agonizingly painful execution drugs into Ronald Bert
Smith Jr. knowing that Mr. Smith was conscious and sensate, the ADOC ran afoul
of the Eighth Amendment's absolute prohibition on methods of execution that
'involve torture or a lingering death.' The ADOC plans to do the same to Mr.
Arthur in a matter of days."
Arthur's lawyers also are appealing to the 11th Circuit a decision by a federal
judge that denies them access to a phone during the execution.
2ND OLDEST ON DEATH ROW
Arthur is the 3rd-longest serving inmate on Alabama death row at more than 34
years. At 75, he's also the 2nd oldest on death row.
Timeline of Arthur's case:
On Feb. 1, 1982, police found Wicker, of Muscle Shoals, shot to death in his
bed -- a gunshot wound to his right eye.
At the time of the Wicker murder, Arthur was serving at a Decatur work release
center for a conviction in the 1977 murder of his sister-in-law, Eloise West,
in Marion County. Another woman was wounded. Having 2 murder convictions in
that short a span made him eligible for the death penalty. Arthur was convicted
of capital murder in 1983.
In 1985, Arthur's conviction in the Wicker case was overturned because details
of the earlier murder had been introduced at his trial.
On Jan. 27, 1986, while awaiting retrial, Arthur escaped from the Colbert
County jail by shooting a jailer in the neck with a .25 caliber pistol and
forcing another jailer to open his cell. He was caught a month later by FBI
agents in Knoxville, Tenn., after robbing a bank.
Arthur was retried for the Wicker murder in 1987, with the case moved to
Jefferson County because of publicity. He was convicted, but the conviction was
again overturned. Wicker's wife at first claimed she was raped by a burglar who
then killed her husband. But she was later convicted in the case and she
testified at a later trial for Arthur that she had sex with Arthur before the
shooting and then paid him $10,000 from her husband's life insurance policy
after the killing.
Arthur was tried again in Jefferson County and convicted in 1991. That verdict
Before he was sentenced, Arthur asked jurors to recommend the death penalty. He
said that he did not have a death wish, but that the sentence would provide
more access to appeals. A lawyer for the state at that time said Arthur "knows
how to work the system."
Tuscumbia attorney William Hovater, who was appointed to defend Arthur after he
fired his first 2 attorneys and later escaped from the Colbert County Jail,
told a reporter after one trial that he had worked a plea agreement for Arthur
to be sentenced to life without parole, if he pleaded guilty. Arthur declined.
"He never admitted that he did it," Hovater told a reporter.
Arthur's 7 execution stays may not be the most ever for Alabama.
A New York Times review of the book by S. Jonathan Bass, "He Calls Me by
Lightning - The Life of Caliph Washington and the Forgotten Saga of Jim Crow,
Southern Justice, and the Death Penalty," stated that then Gov. George Wallace
stayed Washington's execution 13 times for the 1957 shooting death of a
Bessemer police officer.
Washington was later ordered released but his conviction was not overturned.
Arthur has repeatedly tried to have evidence tested for DNA that he says was
never tested. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey denied the testing of a wig (allegedly worn
by the killer), which state officials say had been tested before in 2009 and
found not to contain any genetic material.
This is the 1st execution for Ivey, who could stay or commute his sentence. But
with less than 2 days to go Ivey has not said what she will do in Arthur's
Arthur in a May 15 letter to AL.com says he wants to apologize to his 4
children "for my failure to be the kind of father to them my father was to me."
"I concentrated on providing the best of material things I possibly could and
did not spend time with them, showing explaining things they would experience
in life. I am sorry and it's a very big reasons I've fought so long, so hard to
get a new trial and out of prison so I could at least try to be a good
grandfather," Arthur wrote.
Arthur continues to claim his innocence, but in a recent letter to AL.com he
apologizes to the family of his former sister-in-law, Ms. West, who he admits
he had killed 5 years earlier in a drunken rage.
"I was and am forever sorry for needlessly taking the innocent life of Mrs.
West and shooting Ms. Harbin. I pled no contest and accepted my punishment. I
can not blame my acute alcohol addiction. That's no excuse. I committed a
stupid act I can not take back. I am truly sorry," he wrote.
Arthur in another letter to AL.com stated the prison system wasn't going to
allow a chaplain to hold a photo of Arthur's children in the death chamber
while he is being executed. A prison spokesman didn't respond to a request for
Judge: Stephen Stone mentally incompetent to stand trial in strangling deaths
of wife, son
A Madison County Circuit Judge has committed Stephen Stone to the Alabama
Department of Mental Health to regain competency to stand trial for killing his
wife and young son.
Based on written reports by doctors, psychologists and a forensic examiner,
Judge Donna Pate ruled Stone, 37, of Huntsville, is mentally incompetent to
assist in his defense during his death penalty trial, court records show.
"The court ... hereby finds that the defendant is incompetent, and that there
is substantial probability that the defendant will become competent within a
reasonable period of time," Pate wrote in court records.
Stone is pursuing an insanity defense on 2 counts of capital murder. He is
charged in the slayings of 7-year-old Zachary and 32-year-old Krista Stone,
whose bodies were found Feb. 24, 2013 at their home on Chicamauga Trail in
south Huntsville. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Because of Stone's mental illness or defect, he "poses a real and present
threat of substantial harm to himself or others," Pate wrote in her order.
Pate is committing Stone to the Department of mental health for further
evaluation and treatment, court records show.
"If treatment is indicated to restore his competency, it should be able to be
accomplished within 90 days after his commitment and initiation of treatment,"
Pate wrote in the order.
Pate said she will schedule a hearing six months after Stone's commitment.
Stone was scheduled for trial this past March, but the proceedings were halted
pending completion of the mental evaluation, which was requested by the defense
team. It's not clear when the case may go to trial.
(source for both: al.com)
Capital murder case from death of 5-year-old begins jury selection
Jury selection has begun in the case of an Auburn man charged with capital
murder and possibly facing the death penalty for abusing his 5-year-old
stepdaughter to death in June 2015, according to prosecutors.
George William Barton faces charges for allegedly inflicting fatal injuries on
his 5-year-old stepdaughter Caley Presley at the Rosie Street home of Barton
and Presley's mother, Cyndi Barton, on June 7, 2015, in Auburn. Barton
previously pleaded not guilty.
Barton has stated that he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) from his time serving in the Air Force as a jet engine mechanic
and that he is prescribed medicine for the condition, according to previous
reports in the Opelika-Auburn News.
Testimony in a preliminary hearing in June 2015 revealed that Barton claims he
was disciplining his daughter with a belt when some of her injuries occurred.
Among injuries such as a broken clavicle, extensive external bruising and
numerous internal injuries, Caley also suffered a left skull fracture and brain
bleeding, according to earlier reports.
Admitting to striking Caley with a belt, Barton alleged that Caley struck her
head on a dresser in the home that Sunday morning, which caused her head
injury. Barton contended that he was not present for the head injury.
Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes said prosecutors are seeking the
death penalty in the case. Hughes said opening statements are expected to begin
Akron man arrested on charges relating to fire that killed 7 family members may
face death penalty----Investigators charge neighbor with murder and arson in
Akron fire that killed family of 7
An Akron man arrested for an arson that left 7 people dead could face the death
Assistant Akron Prosecutor Marissa Pappas said this is possible Tuesday morning
during Stanley Ford's initial court appearance via video conference in Akron
Ford, 58, is charged with 7 counts of aggravated murder and 1 count of
aggravated arson for a fire last week that killed a mother, father and5
children. Ford, who goes by Stan, lives close enough to the Fultz Street home
that he could have seen the flames.
Akron Municipal Court Judge Ann Marie O'Brien denied bond for Ford Tuesday.
The judge asked Pappas if this could turn into a capital case for the purpose
of choosing Ford's attorney. When Pappas said it could, O'Brien appointed
Joseph Gorman, who has experience in death penalty cases, to represent Ford.
"Ford adamantly denies involvement in this horrific incident," said Gorman, who
met with his new client Tuesday morning.
Ford will be arraigned at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in Akron Municipal Court. Gorman
said he plans to bring up the issue of bond. He said he expects a high bond,
considering the nature of the charges.
O'Brien said she denied Ford bond Tuesday because of the seriousness of the
charges and the potential danger he could pose if released.
"I can't remember so many victims losing their lives in Summit County," she
During Ford's initial court appearance via video conference from Summit County
Jail, O'Brien explained the potential penalties he faces for the current
charges. The aggravated murder charges each have a penalty of up to life in
prison without parole, while the arson charge carries a penalty of 3 to 11
The case meets the parameters for a death-penalty specification because it
involves multiple murders, including of juveniles, and was allegedly done
during the commission of a violent crime - arson.
The Summit County Prosecutor's Office is reviewing the case to present to the
Gorman said he is hoping the prosecutor will choose not to pursue the death
"They have that discretion," he said.
Gorman offered condolences to the family of the fire victims from both him and
The May 15 fire claimed the lives of Dennis Huggins, 35, and Angela Boggs, 38,
and their 5 children: Cameron Huggins, 1; Alivia Huggins, 3; Kyle Huggins, 5;
Daisia Huggins, 6 and Jared Boggs, 14.
Lexington judge frustrated with delays, costs of capital cases
Judge Pamela Goodwine is a circuit court judge for the 22nd Judicial Circuit of
Fayette County. Recently, Judge Goodwine says she is seeing more and more
capital cases being tried in Fayette County. It's a trend that she says is
using up more funds and resources.
"Because we share prosecutors, we share public defenders, and these cases are
beginning to overlap," Judge Goodwine said.
This year alone, Judge Goodwine says she has three capital cases on the docket,
one from 2013.
"This trial is set to start November 1st and yet there's a motion to continue
that's been filed and will be heard tomorrow. It is frustrating, and it is
aggravating," the judge remarked.
She says the request for that delay is likely because the public defender is
the same attorney on another capital case which is going to trial the month
"Once a victim's family has a trial date, they want to go to trial," Judge
She says the delays are not only frustrating for victims' families but also
costly for taxpayers.
"It takes far more taxpayer dollars to death qualify a jury. It takes far more
time to try a capital case," the judge said. "I agree, but it's not being
implemented. The death penalty is not being carried out."
"May 23, 1986, a jury handed down two death sentences for Victor Taylor who is
still alive and well on death row," Judge Goodwine said.
Judge Goodwine says the trial for one suspect facing the death penalty in her
courtroom cost $150,000 just for his defense. Meanwhile, a non-capital case she
heard, "was just as gruesome if you will. That deserved every bit of attention
in the Doneghy case. We are talking $22,000."
"If we weren't spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to death qualify all
these jurors in capital cases, then there would be extra money for attorneys."
While Judge Goodwine says she's unsure of a solution, she is hopeful one is out
there. She hopes to work together with prosecutors and the department of public
advocacy to find a way to manage the influx of capital cases better.
"In my opinion, seeing that justice is applied in an effective and efficient
manner is my job."
(source: WKYT news)
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