2017-10-05 11:13:14 UTC
Hearing to dismiss murder case urged for former Arkansas death row inmate
The attorney for former death row inmate Rickey Dale Newman has asked a judge
for an Oct. 11 hearing to dismiss the 16-year-old murder case against her
Julie Brain of Philadelphia made the request Monday to Crawford County Circuit
Judge Gary Cottrell after special prosecutor Ron Fields wrote Cottrell that he
would be prepared to file statements and motions in Newman's case by the end of
Brain's letter to Cottrell said she expected the Arkansas Supreme Court to
issue a mandate Oct. 10 on its ruling Sept. 21 rejecting Fields' appeal of
Cottrell's order that barred Fields from using at Newman's first-degree murder
trial confessions he made after his arrest in 2001.
Cottrell ruled the confessions were inadmissible because the state Supreme
Court ruled in 2014 that Newman was mentally incompetent at the time and could
not knowingly waive his Miranda rights.
Also on Sept. 21 Cottrell wrote a letter to Fields instructing him to advise
him within 10 days whether he planned to continue prosecuting the murder charge
against Newman, given the state Supreme Court's ruling.
Fields responded Monday that he was preparing "written statements and motions"
to file by Oct. 13 barring revisions to the opinion before the mandate is
issued or other actions by the Arkansas attorney general's office, which
handled the appeal.
Brain wrote to Cottrell that Fields' response ignored Cottrell's instructions
and "is the latest in a long line of attempts by the state to delay the
resolution of the case by any means necessary."
Newman, 60, was convicted of capital murder and condemned to death in a 1-day
trial in June 2002 in the mutilation slaying of 46-year-old fellow transient
Marie Cholette at a transient camp on the west end of Van Buren.
Brain told Cottrell in her letter Monday that the confessions were "the only
meaningful evidence" against Newman. Brain had argued in earlier motions there
was no other evidence linking Newman to Cholette's death.
The only evidence that put Newman and Cholette together was a surveillance
video of the two at a Fort Smith liquor store on the last day Cholette was seen
"It would be grossly unjust to require Mr. Newman to remain incarcerated for
even one single day beyond the issuance of the mandate so that the state can
file unspecified 'written statements and motions,'" she wrote.
In the state Supreme Court's 2014 opinion, the court threw out Newman's
conviction and death sentence and ordered him back to circuit court in Crawford
County to be restored to competence and retried.
Acting as his own attorney, Newman told jurors he killed Cholette and wanted
the death penalty. He successfully waived his appeals and was scheduled to be
executed July 26, 2005. Brain and another attorney persuaded Newman to seek a
stay, which Newman agreed to four days before his execution date.
A federal judge granted the stay after evidence was presented questioning
Newman's mental competence and he, through Brain, took up his appeals.
High Court upholds Gleason death penalty
The United States Supreme Court Monday rejected convicted killer Sidney
Gleason's appeal of his death penalty sentence, Barton County Attorney Amy
Mellor announced Tuesday afternoon.
Gleason, 38, was convicted in 2006 of capital murder in the 2004 deaths of
Mikiala "Miki" Martinez and Darren Wornkey in Barton County. Mellor said was
charged with capital murder for killing Martinez and Wornkey, the aggravating
kidnapping of Martinez, attempted 1st-degree murder and aggravated robbery of a
3rd person, and criminal possession of a firearm.
Gleason was convicted in Barton County District Court on all counts except the
attempted 1st-degree murder charge, Mellor said. The jury also determined that
a sentence of death should be imposed.
However, 2014, the Kansas Supreme Court approved the convictions but reversed
Gleason's death sentence, finding error in the jury instructions. The Kansas
Attorney General appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in February of 2016
that court reversed the decision of the Kansas Supreme Court regarding the
When the case was returned to the Kansas Supreme Court, the justices affirmed
the death penalty and Gleason appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a brief, 1-line sentence, the United States Supreme Court denied Gleason's
appeal of the death sentence. As is traditional, the 9 justices did not give a
reason for their decision.
Mellor said Gleason's direct appeals are over but he will probably attempt to
exhaust other avenues in the courts before an execution date is set.
According to the Kansas Department of Corrections, Gleason remains incarcerated
at Eldorado Correctional Facility.
An accomplice in the killings, Damien Thompson, agreed to plead guilty to the
1st-degree murder of Martinez and testify against Gleason in exchange for a
life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years.
(source: Great Bend Tribune)
My Voice: Executions of intellectually disabled continue
In the United States, it's believed those with intellectual abilities far below
average aren't executed. In 2002, the Atkins v. Virginia decision, ruled it
unconstitutional to carry out death sentences against the intellectually
disabled. However, the practice continues, revealing a pattern characterizing
many cases in the justice system.
How can an unconstitutional practice continue? Just as it happened in a pivotal
case in 1986, by treating a psychologist's evaluation of the prisoner as though
it were free from bias, totally objective, when that was simply not the case.
In that instance, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, which heard the
final appeal to reverse the death sentence of Jerome Bowden, the Board ignored
the perfectly valid intelligence test showing Bowden at age 14 to had an I.Q.
of only 59. They brought in a psychologist of their choice, Dr. Irwin Knopf,
had him evaluate the I.Q. of Bowden, who was poor, African American, and a
gentle soul with no history of violence.
The board heard Knopf's report in closed session, after which the board's chair
and other members spoke freely to the press about what Knopf had said, which
amounted to the claim that Bowden's I.Q. was not low enough to warrant removing
his death sentence. Their comments revealed serious problems with Knopf's
conclusion. Bowden's attorneys immediately asked for a copy of the evaluation
results, the Board said they would put them in the mail, and the lawyers
replied that Bowden would be dead by the time they received them. Indeed,
Bowden was killed the next morning, even before his beloved sisters had been
notified. They heard about it from strangers.
There are at least 2 major limitations of the Atkins decision. The Bowden case
reflects that administering and scoring of I.Q. tests is far from objective.
Rules about how many correct answers yield a particular I.Q. score are based on
tests of thousands of people throughout, but those have not included inmates of
maximum security prisons where they eat terrible food, rarely see the sun, and
have every reason to believe they will die there. To assign an inmate a number
representing their intelligence with formulae derived from people in vastly
different circumstances makes neither scientific nor moral sense.
The scoring booklet specifies which answers warrant 2 points, which only one,
and which zero; but giving an I.Q. test requires judgment calls about responses
that fail to fall clearly into any point-category. And instruction booklets
prescribe test administration using specific words in a standardized way, but
variations in a psychologist's voice, facial expressions, or tension can
enhance or impede the prisoner's performance.
A psychologist's feelings about the death penalty can introduce distortions, as
can whether the psychologist is an advocate or opponent of the death penalty,
is racist or not (people condemned to death come disproportionately from
racialized groups), is biased against poor people (the condemned are likely to
be poor), is skilled at test procedure and interpretation, and likes or
dislikes the prisoner. Psychologists favoring the death penalty can conceivably
be so warm, supportive, and patient when administering the test and generous in
their scoring that prisoners' scores will be overestimates of their pre-prison
functioning, when few on death row had people treat them that way.
Psychologists opposed to the death penalty might make prisoners uncomfortable
to ensure they score low, but those whose reports always read, "The prisoner's
I.Q. is below 70" won't keep their jobs for long and could lose their licenses.
Another life-or-death limitation of the Atkins decision is that different
states set different criteria for classifying people "intellectually disabled,"
so there is a significant lack of equal protection under the law. A condemned
person with a 67 I.Q. score qualifies for execution in a state with a cutoff
point of 65 but not in a state with a cutoff of 70. For other criteria that may
be taken into account - such as areas of difficulty in "adaptive functioning" -
the room for subjective conclusions is even greater. Furthermore, many factors
can lead to an individual's scoring 73, whereas taking the same test one day
later or while hungry, they might have scored 68.
Few, if any, judges enjoy making life-altering decisions - whether in capital
cases or child custody disputes in which young people's emotional, physical,
and sexual welfare can be jeopardized by the biases of psychiatrists,
psychologists, and social workers who do the "psych evals." What is alarming is
the increasing trend for judges, traditionally and rightly skeptical people, to
transfer the weighty burdens of making decisions from their own shoulders onto
to those of mental health researchers and practitioners, whom they mistakenly
treat as objective individuals who use behavioral sciences and psychological
assessment to arrive at the Truth.
(source: Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., a clinical and research psychologist, expert
on psychological assessment and methodology, author of 11 nonfiction books,
winner of 3 top awards for nonfiction writing, and filmmaker, is an associate
at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard
University. She is a keynote speaker for this Saturday's conference, sponsored
by South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penlaty, about the death
penalty and mental illness, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Room 120, Salisbury Science
Building, University of Sioux Falls----Argus Leader)
Jury calls for death in slayings of 5 at Long Beach homeless encampment
A Los Angeles County jury has called for the death penalty for a gang member
who was convicted last month of the 2008 murder of 5 people at a Long Beach
The jury deliberated for about 2 hours before deciding late Monday that David
Cruz Ponce, 37, should be sentenced to death, Deputy Dist. Atty. Cynthia Barnes
Ponce was scheduled to return to court on Nov. 27 for sentencing.
Ponce and co-defendant Max Eliseo Rafael, 31, were found guilty in September of
5 counts of murder and 1 count of kidnapping. The jury also found true special
circumstance allegations of multiple murders, murder during a kidnapping and
murder by an active member of a criminal street gang.
The Long Beach Police and Los Angeles County Sheriff's departments pieced the
case together in a 3-year investigation.
In November 2008, police say, the 2 gang members were looking for a man who
apparently owed them money for drugs. They located him in the encampment near
the intersection of the 405 and 710 freeways and opened fire, killing him.
The gunmen then turned to 2 men and 2 women at the encampment, authorities say,
killing them because they saw the 1st slaying.
They "were executed ... to ensure there were no witnesses to the crimes," Long
Beach Police Lt. Lloyd Cox said.
The victims were Vanessa Malaepule, 34; her boyfriend Lorenzo Perez Villacana,
44; Katherine Verdun, 24; Hamid "Sammy" Shraifat, 41; and Frederick Neumeier,
The 2 defendants talked about the murders in jailhouse conversations that were
recorded, the prosecutor said.
Ponce also was convicted of the kidnapping and murder of Tony Bledsoe on March
Rafael faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is
scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 16.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Death penalty still debatable
The state of Washington proposed to eliminate the death penalty this past year.
Politicians did not move forward on the issue, apparently not sensing a clear
mandate from their constituents. In this case, it means that criminal
proceedings continue as part of a deeply flawed system that does not insure
The death penalty is a long and expensive process and can involve many factors
and outright mistakes when determining guilt and decision to execute. Race of
the victim or the accused, social economic status of the victim, news media
surrounding the crime, poor police work, an inexperienced defense lawyer,
aggressive prosecutors determined to get a guilty verdict, a case of mistaken
identification by the witness, inadequate jury instruction and information,
even the appearance of the defendant can be an influence.
These considerations make guilt uncertain and innocent people are wrongly
executed. To avoid this injustice, many of us favor a system of life
imprisonment and restorative justice program. The idea that killing someone
will somehow satisfy a need for justice and retribution has to be examined.
Let's encourage our politicians to abolish a dangerously imperfect way of
dealing with capital crimes.
(source: Bob Delastrada; Letter to the Editor, The Olympain)
Suspect in kidnapping of U. of I. scholar from China facing potential death
Former University of Illinois graduate student Brendt Christensen could be
eligible for the death penalty if convicted on new charges filed Tuesday
alleging he kidnapped and killed a visiting scholar from China in June.
Christensen, 28, of Champaign, was charged in a superseding indictment with 1
count of kidnapping resulting in a death stemming from the disappearance of
26-year-old Yingying Zhang, whose body has not been found.
The federal grand jury returned the 4-page indictment with the special finding
that Christensen committed the offense "in an especially heinous, cruel or
depraved manner, in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse to the
victim," and that the crime occurred after "substantial planning and
The indictment also charged Christensen with two new counts of making false
statements to FBI agents.
Christensen could face the death penalty if convicted on the new kidnapping
charge, although the decision whether to seek it will be made at a later date
by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to a news release from the
U.S. attorney's office in Urbana. If the death penalty is not sought, a
conviction on the kidnapping count would call for mandatory life without
Christensen, who is being held without bond, is tentatively set to go to trial
Feb. 27 before U.S. District Court Judge Colin Bruce. Reached by telephone
Tuesday, his lawyer, Robert Tucker, said he had not seen the superseding
indictment and had no comment.
The new charges were the latest twist to a case that rattled the University of
Illinois campus and sent shock waves throughout China.
Prosecutors allege Zhang, who began her research appointment in April was on
her way to sign a lease at an apartment building the afternoon of June 9 and
unsuccessfully tried to flag down a bus before walking to another stop. Shortly
after, federal authorities allege that Christensen approached Zhang in his car
and lured her inside.
Surveillance video from a nearby parking garage captured the exchange in which
Zhang could be seen speaking to the driver for several moments before getting
into the front passenger seat. One of Zhang's professors reported her missing
by that evening, after several calls and texts went unanswered.
The investigation homed in on Christensen after police concluded his Saturn
Astra was the car seen in the footage. He initially told the FBI he was home
all day playing video games on the day Zhang disappeared. When he was
questioned a 2nd time 3 days later, Christensen changed his story, telling
agents he was driving on campus, came across an Asian woman looking distressed
and offered her a ride because she said she was late to an appointment.
Christensen said the woman panicked after he made a wrong turn, and he let her
out of his car a few blocks from where they met. Meanwhile, police also
searched his car and determined that the area where Zhang would have been
sitting had been cleaned in a way to conceal evidence, FBI agents alleged in
Police also searched his phone and found visits to a sadomasochism fetish
website with discussion threads on kidnapping fantasies.
The FBI also conducted audio surveillance on Christensen for several days,
including when he attended a campus walk and vigil in Zhang's honor on June 29.
There, Christensen was caught on tape pointing out people in the crowd and
describing his "ideal victim."
Other surveillance tapes recorded Christensen allegedly admitting to having
kidnapped Zhang, and describing how she fought back as he held her against her
will, prosecutors said.
Police and prosecutors have not revealed the source of the recordings.
(source: Chicago Tribune)
Denouncing United States Vote Against Death Penalty Ban at the United Nations
On Friday, September 29, the Human Rights Council voted in favor of a
resolution which condemned the "imposition of the death penalty as a sanction
for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and
consensual same-sex relations."
The Independent reported that the resolution, proposed by Belgium, Benin, Costa
Rica, France, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia and Switzerland, denounced the use of
the death penalty against persons with "mental or intellectual disabilities,
persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime, and
pregnant women," expressing "serious concern that the application of the death
penalty for adultery is disproportionately imposed on women."
The United States cast its support behind 2 amendments proposed by Russia which
both ultimately failed, but claimed that the death penalty was "not necessarily
'a human rights violation' and that it is not a form of torture, but can lead
to it 'in some cases.'"
Despite this opposition from the United States, 27 members of the 47 in the
Human Rights Council voted in favor of the resolution, and it passed.
There are currently 6 countries where the death penalty is used for people in
same-sex relationships: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia.
This number rises to 8 if the ISIS-occupied territories of Iraq and Syria are
A spokesperson for the State Department, Heather Nauert, told The Independent:
"The headlines, reporting and press releases on this issue are misleading. As
our representative to the Human Rights Council in Geneva said on Friday, the
United States is disappointed to have to vote against this resolution. We had
hoped for a balanced and inclusive resolution that would better reflect the
positions of states that continue to apply the death penalty lawfully, as the
United States does. The United States voted against this resolution because of
broader concerns with the resolution's approach in condemning the death penalty
in all circumstances and calling for its abolition. The United States
unequivocally condemns the application of the death penalty for conduct such as
homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery and apostasy. We do not consider such
conduct appropriate for criminalisation and certainly not crimes for which the
death penalty would be lawfully available as a matter of international law."
The 13 states to oppose the resolution were Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia,
Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the US, and the
United Arab Emirates.
The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office's analysis of this vote is
that it is deplorable that the United States again voted against friends and
allies who favor the strengthening of global human rights laws, and with some
of the world's worst human rights violators. US actions in supporting Russian
failed amendments to state that the death penalty is not necessarily a human
rights violation or a form of torture, again, puts the United States on the
wrong side of the divide which separates those nations working for human rights
and those working against them.
The ban clearly protects "specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy,
blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations." Even the State
Department's statement that it is "disappointed to have to vote against this
resolution," does not absolve the US for not working to protect these "specific
forms of conduct." It is true that the U.S. vote in Geneva is consistent with
past U.S. votes on the issue of abolishing the death penalty. Prior
administrations have voted in similar ways against the growing United Nations
consensus that the death penalty should be abolished. Despite U.S. Government
views to the contrary, the UU-UNO feels that the September 29 resolution was
not a global condemnation of the death penalty, but restricted to "imposition
of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as
apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations."
As the United States does not impose the death penalty for such forms of
conduct as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, consensual same-sex relations, it
should have been able to vote in favor of the resolution. The fact that the
United States joined human rights violators to vote against this important
resolution is, in our view, deplorable.
(source: Bruce Knotts is the Director of the Unitarian Universalist United
Nikki Haley says U.S. did not vote for gay death penalty
After siding with countries such as Saudi Arabia, Botswana and Qatar,
Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley is denying that the U.S. voted in favor of the
death penalty for gay people.
The United Nations' Human Rights Council voted 27-13 last week to condemn
capital punishment in a variety of cases including against those in same sex
relationships, though the U.S. was not in a majority.
While 7 countries also abstained from the vote, Haley's delegation voted
against the measure along with other death penalty countries such as China.
Beyond condemning the state killing of LGBTQ people, the resolution also stood
against the execution of those who were children at the time of the crime and
called for study about racial bias in the death penalty, a frequent criticism
of capital punishment in the U.S.
The vote gained renewed attention Tuesday after the Human Rights Campaign said
that the Trump administration had shown a "blatant disregard" for the lives of
gay people around the world.
"Ambassador Haley has failed the LGBTQ community by not standing up against the
barbaric use of the death penalty to punish individuals in same-sex
relationships," the organization's Ty Cobb said.
Susan Rice, ambassador to the UN under Barack Obama, said "shame on US!" in
reaction to the vote.
"I was proud to lead U.S. efforts at UN to protect LGBTQ people, back in the
day when America stood for human rights for all," she said.
The resolution was hailed as an international effort to protect LGBTQ people
from persecution. Above, a gay pride demonstrator in Mexico City.
Haley later took issue with her critics on Twitter, saying "Fact: There was NO
vote by USUN that supported the death penalty for gay people. We have always
fought for justice for the LGBT community."
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert had told reporters earlier in the
day saying that the U.S. condemns executions for and the criminalization of
homosexuality, and that suggestions to the contrary are "misleading."
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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