2017-10-30 13:59:50 UTC
Jurors to begin deliberating Nasser Hamad verdict today
After hearing from more than 30 witnesses last week, jurors will hear closing
arguments today and begin to deliberate whether Nasser Hamad is guilty of 2
counts of aggravated murder and several counts of attempted murder.
Hamad, 48, is accused of killing Josh Haber, 19, and Joshua Williams, 20, and
injuring April Trent-Vokes, 42, Bryce Hendrickson, 19, and John Shively, 17, by
firing a handgun at them Feb. 25.
They were shot after Trent-Vokes drove them to Hamad's house on state Route 46
in Howland in an ongoing feud involving Hamad's girlfriend, Tracy Hendrickson,
Jurors were selected over 9 days starting Oct. 11 and started hearing testimony
Testimony consisted of more than a dozen witnesses who passed through the busy
Route 46 corridor near the Eastwood Mall complex that day and saw some part of
the confrontation that began near Hamad's house with a fistfight and ended near
the road with gunfire.
Also testifying were the first police officers to the scene, one officer
collected physical evidence, state crime-lab agents who processed physical
evidence, Howland police detectives, 2 survivors, Hamad's girlfriend and Hamad.
Through their questioning of witnesses, prosecutors have tried to show that
Hamad had numerous options short of using lethal force after 5 people arrived
at his house to confront him over vulgar Facebook messages.
Hamad and his girlfriend described in great detail the harassment they say they
received in the months leading up to the shootings from Tracy Hendrickson's
family and others. Hamad told jurors during 2 hours of testimony that he
defended himself from the 5 during a fistfight and then with his gun because he
feared they were going to kill him.
The evidence indicated that only Hamad's gun was fired that afternoon, that no
other gun was found at the scene, and that the 5 did have 1 knife.
Hamad told jurors he heard repeated comments from the 5 suggesting that they
had a gun and that Bryce Hendrickson "lunged" at him with a knife while Hamad
stood near the van with his handgun. Hamad also testified that he feared that
someone else with a firearm not in the van might be nearby waiting to shoot
him. Hamad suffered no gunshot wounds.
Bryce Hendrickson did not testify at the trial because he was found dead Sept.
30 at a home in McDonald of an apparent drug overdose.
If Hamad is found guilty of certain charges, he would be eligible for the death
If he is found eligible, a 2nd phase of the trial would begin this week to
determine whether the aggravating circumstances of killing 2 or more people
outweigh mitigating evidence Hamad would present. The jury would then decide
whether to give the death penalty.
Arkansas poised to execute man amid fight over mental health
Jack Greene's lawyers say he's severely mentally ill. The Arkansas death row
inmate says they're lying.
As Greene approaches a Nov. 9 execution date, his lawyers are raising questions
about who should determine his mental competency. Arkansas gives considerable
weight to its prison director's opinion in deciding whether a condemned inmate
has the mental capacity to understand his execution; Greene's lawyers want
doctors to have a greater say.
"The system is really quite antiquated," John Williams, an attorney for Greene,
said in an interview." (Prison director) Wendy Kelley is an arm of the state.
She doesn't have the expertise to make that determination."
Greene was convicted for the 1991 killing Sidney Jethro Burnett after Burnett
and his wife accused Greene of arson. At least 1 court this week will take up
The inmate hasn't always made it easy for his attorneys. While pleading for
clemency, he told the Arkansas Parole Board this month that his lawyers are
wrong to call him "delusional" and that courts have routinely found him
competent. He also told the board, "I knew what I was doing to him," when he
tortured Burnett for an hour before shooting him. When a doctor testified that
Greene has done headstands during examinations and even in courtrooms, Greene
told the panel that he does yoga to remain ???functional."
Williams says the seemingly lucid moments mask severe mental illness.
"A lot of people who are mentally ill don't think they're mentally ill," the
The case has drawn the attention of both the American Bar Association and a
collection of 28 mental health professionals, who wrote to Gov. Asa Hutchinson
saying it would be "morally and ethically wrong" to execute Greene.
"Mr. Greene's illness manifests itself in extreme physical contortions, in
self-mutilation, and in delusional beliefs he holds about a conspiracy against
him between his attorneys and prison officials," the mental health
Greene stood throughout his Oct. 4 appearance before the Parole Board,
fidgeting and fumbling through documents that, he says, promised him a transfer
to his home state North Carolina, where authorities say he killed a brother
days before killing Burnett. Bloodied, rolled up strands of tissue stuck out of
both ears and his left nostril; his lawyers say that is a symptom of Greene's
"If I could go back to North Carolina and get medical treatment, that would be
great, but if not, let's come on with this execution," he told the panel.
Williams says Greene believes he's being executed because he uncovered a
purported (and to Greene, successful) conspiracy among guards and lawyers to
torture the inmate and dissolve his central nervous system and spinal column.
"He thinks that the Department of Correction cannot send him back to North
Carolina because he knows too much about what has happened to him in prison,"
Williams said. "They won't send him back to North Carolina, so they have to
Baloney, state lawyers say. North Carolina sent Greene to Arkansas for his
murder trial on the condition that he would be returned if he received any
sentence other than the death penalty. Greene knows a transfer is a lifeline,
Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Henry said.
The governor said Friday that he was still reviewing Greene's file after Parole
Board members recommended that he not spare the inmate's life.
Greene's execution would be Arkansas' 1st since it put 4 men to death in an
8-day period in April.
Missouri prosecutors are seeking death penalty in Craig Wood's murder trial
The murder trial of a southwest Missouri man accused of abducting and killing
Hailey Owens in 2014 is expected to take 2 weeks.
Craig Wood is charged in Greene County with 1st degree murder and 4 other
49-year-old Craig Michael Wood of Ash Grove is charged in Greene County Circuit
Court with 1st degree murder, child kidnapping, rape, sodomy and armed criminal
Wood is accused of killing 10-year-old Hailey Owens in Springfield in February
The jury was selected in Platte County, because of extensive news media
coverage in the Ozarks.
The jury has been transported to Springfield for the trial, and opening
statements are set to begin Monday morning.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Missourinet Springfield television partner KOLR-10 reports the trial is
expected to take at least 2 weeks.
KOLR-10 will be covering the trial, gavel-to-gavel.
KOLR-10 reporter Daniel Shedd and legal analyst Adam Woody will be in their
daily morning show, analyzing the day before and previewing the day.
Reporters Collin Lingo and Jenifer Abreu will also cover the Wood trial. Lingo
will have daily reports in the station's 5 and 6 pm newscasts, and Abreu will
have nightly updates at 9 and 10.
Conservatives' distaste for death penalty sends support to 45-year low
Support for capital punishment is waning, according to one survey.
Support for the death penalty plummeted this year to its lowest level in 4 1/2
decades, a change driven in part by a substantial drop in favor among
According to the latest Gallup poll, 55 % of U.S. adults support capital
punishment for convicted murderers, a low not seen since March 1972. Among
Republicans, support has tumbled 12 % since last year.
"The groups that were thought to be automatic death penalty supporters are no
longer automatic death penalty supporters," said Robert Dunham of the Death
Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that has been critical of the
administration of capital punishment. "The issue is becoming less partisan in
that now almost 1/3 of sponsors of death penalty abolition bills are
Republicans. And the states in which we are seeing more and more activity in
terms of abolition are red states."
A day before Gallup put out its latest findings, Conservatives Concerned About
the Death Penalty put out a report examining the growing Republican interest in
state-level bills to abolish the death penalty.
"The Republican momentum to end capital punishment is real," Mark Hyden, CCATDP
national advocacy coordinator, said during a Wednesday press conference. "It's
clearly gaining steam, and I believe this increased conservative opposition
signals that the death penalty's days are, in fact, numbered."
The report cites wrongful convictions, high costs and pro-life concerns as
reasons some conservative legislators have turned to abolition efforts. The
group looked at legislative efforts dating back to 2000 and found more than 210
Republicans sponsors of repeal legislation in that time frame, though none in
While CCATDP has been examining the death penalty since its founding in 2013,
Gallup has been asking Americans about their views on capital punishment since
1936. Support hit a peak in the early 1950s, when 68 % of respondents were
behind the practice.
But it fell out of public favor in the late 50s and into the 60s, with as
little as 42 % of the population supporting it in 1966.
The last time support was under 60 % was 1972, 4 months after the Supreme
Court's 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia halted executions. But polling
numbers climbed in the following years, even as states began bringing back
capital punishment toward the end of the decade.
The practice enjoyed its most widespread support during the tough-on-crime
1990s, peaking at 80 % favor in 1994. Since then, it's been a gradual
Pew Research surveys have shown similar numbers and trend lines, though last
year's data showed a slightly lower dip with just 49 percent of respondents
supporting the death penalty.
While the latest Gallup poll didn't include questions exploring the reason for
decreasing interest in the death penalty, a 2015 Pew poll found that questions
about its value as a deterrent, concerns about executing an innocent person and
issues surrounding racial disparities were all among reasons respondents cited
for opposing the practice.
Some experts say the growing media attention around a string of botched
executions in recent years could be diminishing support as well.
"Most people don't change their views about the death penalty because of
reason, they change their views because they feel like it," Dunham said. "The
botched executions bring home in a visceral way problems with the death penalty
that problems with arbitrariness or bad lawyering never do."
And a few years after support for the death penalty started dropping, so did
the number of executions carried out every year.
"As public support for the death penalty diminishes, juries return it less and
less frequently - and as it is used less and less, support for it drops,"
Although 2017 has seen a slight uptick in executions over the year before, the
general downward trend still holds. And at the same time, there's been a
decrease in the number of new death sentences imposed per year.
"One thing that's interesting in the Gallup poll, though, is that 39 % think it
isn't used enough and I think that suggests that there's a certain core support
for the death penalty," Dunham said. "Half of the public thinks it's imposed
fairly but you have to wonder how sustainable any public policy is that only
1/2 of the public thinks is done fairly."
(source: Houston Chronicle)
A Supreme Court case could give the poor a better chance to escape the death
No one should face execution because they're too poor to put on a defense.
That's the principle the Supreme Court will consider when it hears Ayestas vs.
Davis on Monday.
In states with a death penalty, after a jury convicts a defendant of 1st degree
murder, the jury hears evidence and decides whether to recommend a death
sentence. The jury is required to consider the aggravating and the mitigating
factors in coming to its conclusion.
Carlos Ayestas was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Houston in
1997. His court-appointed trial lawyers performed virtually no background or
mental health investigation before the penalty phase of his trial. Instead of
presenting days??? or weeks' worth of evidence explaining why their client
should not be sentenced to death, Ayestas' lawyers spoke for 2 minutes about
the progress Ayestas had made in prison language classes.
There was much more to tell. Evidence suggests that Ayestas has suffered
multiple head traumas, has a history of substance abuse and shows signs of
mental illness. He has received 1 diagnosis of schizophrenia by a jailhouse
medical professional, but he has never been seen by an independent expert. Each
of these avenues of investigation was capable of producing mitigating evidence
that might have prompted a jury to refuse a capital sentence.
The Supreme Court has held that when attorneys fail to investigate possible
mitigating evidence for the penalty phase of a trial, it constitutes
"ineffective assistance of counsel" and is a basis for overturning a conviction
or a sentence. Nonetheless, after Ayestas was sentenced to death, his case was
brought to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals without success. Then new
lawyers for Ayestas filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S.
district court. This federal court can grant the petition and order a new
proceeding if it finds that a defendant???s constitutional rights have been
To support the habeas corpus petition, Ayestas' lawyers requested a
court-funded investigator for their indigent client. In almost every federal
court, such investigations are routinely authorized. But Ayestas' request was
denied, and when the denial was appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals, the judges said Ayestas had to show what an investigation would
uncover before it would approve funding for an investigation. This type of
circular logic is indefensible and at odds with basic norms about the right to
legal representation. A poor defendant should not be forced to prove what an
investigation will uncover in order to undertake it.
Ayestas' federal appeals were doomed because of an accident of geography. The
courts in Texas are historically outliers when it comes to ensuring basic legal
representation in death penalty cases. Where most federal courts appoint
experts and investigators if they're "reasonably necessary," the 5th Circuit
uses a much stricter standard. And when Ayestas' case was taken up, the federal
public defenders office in Texas didn't have a Capital Habeas Unit - a group of
attorneys, including mitigation specialists, that concentrate on death-sentence
appeals. If a CHU had been assigned to his case (or if he'd been able to
finance his representation), the basic investigation Ayestas requested would
have been done as a matter of course. (The Texas courts have since established
In any other area of the country, the investigation Ayestas deserved almost
certainly would have been granted. The Supreme Court now has an opportunity to
ensure that everyone who faces the death penalty, no matter where they are in
the U.S., will have the chance to uncover the information that might make a
difference to a jury. No one should be put to death just because he or she is
too poor to conduct an investigation.
(source: Erwin Chemerinsky is dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law----Op-Ed,
Los Angeles Times)
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