2017-05-23 14:17:50 UTC
Supreme Court Won't Hear Nine Mile Road Popeye's Murder Case
Bolstering a state law requiring unanimous jury recommendations in death
penalty cases, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to consider an appeal
by Attorney General Pam Bondi on the issue.
The court's decision to deny what is known as a "writ of certiorari"
essentially cements a state law enacted this year in response to a seminal
Florida Supreme Court decision in a case involving convicted murderer Timothy
That Florida Supreme Court ruling and the subsequent law said juries need to
make unanimous recommendations before judges can sentence defendants to death.
As is common, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday did not give reasons for turning
down Bondi's appeal of the Florida Supreme Court ruling.
"It would be hard to read exactly what exactly the U.S. Supreme Court meant by
it, except that it will probably end most of the state's litigation with regard
to these issues," said Pete Mills, an assistant state attorney in the 10th
Judicial Circuit who also serves as chairman of the Florida Public Defenders
Association Death Penalty Steering Committee.
Hurst, who was sent to death row for a 1998 murder in Pensacola, has been at
the center of 2 major rulings that found Florida's death-penalty sentencing
In an appeal by Hurst, the U.S. Supreme Court early last year struck down the
state's system of allowing judges, instead of juries, to find the facts
necessary to impose the death penalty. The court found the state's system was
an unconstitutional violation of the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury,
and sent the case back to the Florida Supreme Court.
At the time of the January 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Florida's system
allowed jurors by a simple majority to recommend the death penalty. Judges
would then make findings of fact that "sufficient" aggravating factors, not
outweighed by mitigating circumstances, existed for the death sentence to be
imposed, a process known as "weighing."
Florida lawmakers in 2016 hurriedly rewrote the law to address the U.S. Supreme
Court decision, requiring jurors to unanimously find that at least one
aggravating factor exists before a defendant can be eligible for a death
sentence and requiring that at least 10 of 12 jurors recommend death for the
sentence to be imposed.
In October, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the statute was
unconstitutional because it did not require unanimous jury recommendations
about imposing the death penalty, something not addressed by the U.S. Supreme
Bondi's office in December asked the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit the Florida
In its request for discretionary review, the state argued that Florida court's
"expansive reading" of the U.S. court's decision in the Hurst case was
Hurst was sentenced to death for the 1998 killing of fast-food worker Cynthia
Harrison in Pensacola. Harrison, an assistant manager at a Nine Mile Road
Popeye's Fried Chicken restaurant where Hurst worked, was bound, gagged and
stabbed more than 60 times. Her body was found in a freezer.
A jury in 2000 recommended the death penalty for Hurst, now 38. After the state
Supreme Court ordered a new sentencing hearing, a jury recommended death by a
vote of 7-5 in 2012.
In its October ruling in the Hurst case deciding that death-penalty
recommendations must be unanimous, the Florida Supreme Court relied both on
state and federal constitutional guarantees to the right to a trial by jury.
The Florida court decision regarding unanimity will likely result in new
penalty-phase hearings for about 55 % of Florida's 386 death row inmates.
The state court has already ordered new sentencing hearings for numerous cases
involving non-unanimous jury recommendations, and Monday's decision by the
federal court takes the unanimity issue off the table, according to defense
"It's certainly good news for Mr. Hurst," said Dave Davis, a recently retired
assistant public defender in the 2nd Judicial Circuit who represented Hurst.
Davis and other public defenders, who warned lawmakers that the lack of
unanimity in the 2016 law would not withstand court scrutiny, were relieved but
not surprised by the U.S. court's refusal to take up the case Monday.
With more than 100 cases poised to be sent back to lower courts, prosecutors
are now faced with seeking capital punishment or life imprisonment. Some of the
cases are decades old, posing problems with witnesses and evidence for
"Prosecutors are going to have to decide is it worth the effort to try to get
death again. They're going to have to examine their evidence ... and decide
what the likelihood is that they're going to get 12 jurors to decide death,"
The new requirement is especially relevant in the Hurst case, where a jury has
never unanimously recommended the death penalty, Davis pointed out.
"Prosecutors have a tough problem here," he said. "Some cases just get old. Can
you find witnesses in a case that's 14 or 15 years old? ... Logistical and
practical problems that crop up with cases that are in some cases 20 years
Avalos is sentenced to life in prison
Convicted triple murderer Andres "Andy" Avalos Jr. will die in prison.
After deliberating for nearly four hours Monday, a Manatee County jury of 9
women and 3 men could not come to unanimous agreement to recommend the death
penalty for Avalos.
Circuit Court Judge Diane Moreland sentenced the 36-year-old to life
imprisonment without parole for the December 2014 1st-degree murders of Denise
Potter and James "Tripp" Battle III.
State Attorney Art Brown will interview Amber Avalos' sisters to see if they
want to pursue further punishment for the 2nd-degree count for the killing of
Avalos' wife. Punishment for Amber's murder could mean 25 years to life
Prosecutors sought the death penalty, telling jurors that the case had
aggravating factors that "demanded the death penalty." One factor is that
Andres Avalos "committed cold, calculated and premeditated murders without
pretense of moral or legal justification." The other is that he has been
convicted of prior felonies.
Avalos did not take the stand during Monday's hearing, telling the judge he
declined to testify in order to "speed the process."
Battle's widow, Joy, accepted the jury's decision.
"I'm at peace with the verdict," she said. "I'm not saying he didn't deserve
death, but I feel that a life sentence is justice."
Avalos' defense team was pleased by the verdict.
"The jury worked hard, and we respect that," said Andrew Crawford, a St.
Petersburg lawyer who led the team.
According to a new state law, prosecutors needed a unanimous decision by the
jury recommending death.
On Saturday, the same jurors found Avalos guilty of 2 counts of 1st-degree
murder. Jurors concluded that Avalos killed Potter, his neighbor; and Battle, a
local church pastor. Avalos was convicted of 2nd-degree murder for killing his
In court Monday, relatives of the victims read statements about the effects
their losses had on their families and communities.
Meg Potter, 1 of Potter's sisters-in-law, read three statements - her own, one
from another sister-in-law and one from an aunt of Denise.
"She was a fun-loving person with a heart as big as the world and a smile to
match," Meg Potter told the jury.
Denise left behind 3 sons - Brian, Michael and Matthew. Meg Potter noted that
her sister-in-law will never see them score goals and touchdowns, take their
prom pictures or see them become men.
Julie Konkol, Potter's aunt and godmother, wrote a statement saying that her
niece died months before the birth of her 1st granddaughter, Brian's daughter,
Ella. The baby was named in honor of her grandmother, Denise Ella Potter.
"Our hearts ache and our eyes well up with tears thinking of what might have
been," Konkol wrote.
Battle's younger sister, Ashley; his mother, Rhonda; and his widow, Joy, gave
statements as well.
Ashley said her brother's death affected her entire family. Holidays, birthday
celebrations and Friday night dinners were forever changed when he was
murdered, she said.
The Battle parents haven't been the same since they had to endure the mourning.
"I wish I could fix their broken hearts," Ashley said.
She was choked by tears on the stand when she read, "To me, he was bullet
proof." Some jurors wiped tears from their eyes while taking notes.
Rhonda Battle also spoke for her husband, who couldn't be in court. She said
the couple had days when they thought they wouldn't make it through their
"He was our 6-foot-7 baby boy," Rhonda told the jury.
Joy said her husband was a big personality and a man in love with Christ. She
said she's had to stand by her 2 children as they miss their father.
"She can never crawl into his big lap again and hear a Bible story or play with
him," Joy said about her 8-year-old daughter.
As the defense attorneys made their presentation, they called to the stand 5
witnesses - Avalos' parents, a friend, a doctor and the son of a pastor.
The defendant's father, Andy Avalos Sr., took the stand and told the jury how
he grew up in the streets.
He said he went through a "bad" period in his life around 1996, in which he
divorced his wife, Nora, for 4 months. Then they remarried. They both drank
alcohol a lot, he said.
The elder Avalos said his son, Andy, was neglected for some of his teenage
years because of that. He said he eventually found God and was "reborn." So was
his wife. The family started going to church and, sometimes, his son went with
them. During some of this time, however, his son was part of a gang.
The father also told the jury that Andy's little brother, Adam, was killed in a
car accident 2 days after the defendant married Amber. That's why Andy tattooed
a cross with the words "Rest in peace Carnalito" on his neck. Carnalito means
Andy Avalos Sr. also spoke about the period when his son came back to Bradenton
after moving to Tampa for a while to get away from bad influences.
"That one, we didn't recognize," he said, as he described his son's paranoia.
A doctor also took the stand and testified Andy suffered from mental disorders
- "delusional disorder," paranoia and jealousy delusions - and substance abuse
Israel Torres Jr., the son of a Israel Torres Sr., a pastor in Casa de
Alabanza, a Tampa church that the younger Avalos attended when he lived there,
also took the stand. He said his father became sick in October 2014, and Andres
Avalos Jr. helped to take care of him, but he was "extremely paranoid."
Michael Dunn, a fireman who worked at a contractor business with Avalos for a
time in Tampa, also took the stand. He said he's been visiting Avalos in jail
since he found out about the convictions.
"I just wanted to give Andy a big hug," said Dunn, adding that he talks about
fatherhood and how Avalos can still be a father figure for his 6 children while
Dunn said Avalos thought a helicopter flying over the house carried his
enemies, who were trying to kill him.
Nora Avalos, the defendant's mother, wore a black dress and black sunglasses as
she took the stand. She said everything changed after her son became paranoid.
"All our lives have changed."
Justices Rejects Florida Appeal Over Death Penalty----The Supreme Court has
left in place a lower court ruling that said imposing a death sentence in
Florida requires a unanimous jury.
The Supreme Court has left in place a lower court ruling that said imposing a
death sentence in Florida requires a unanimous jury.
The justices on Monday turned away an appeal from Florida officials seeking to
overturn the ruling last year from the state's highest court.
The Florida Supreme Court had struck down a newly enacted law allowing a
defendant to be sentenced to death as long as 10 out of 12 jurors recommend it.
That ruling concluded that Timothy Lee Hurst - convicted of a 1998 murder at a
Pensacola Popeye's restaurant - deserves a new sentencing hearing.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Florida's death penalty sentencing
law unconstitutional. State legislators responded by overhauling the law.
(source: Associated Press)
Death Penalty Sought for Suspect Accused of Killing 6-Year-Old
3 teenagers accused in the brutal shooting death of a 6-year-old who was
sleeping in the backseat of a car that was stolen last week were denied bond
Monday in Madison County Justice Court.
Dwan Wakefield and DeAllen Washington, both 17, and Byron McBride, 19, are all
charged as adults with capital murder in the death of Kingston Frazier, who
became the subject of an Amber alert after his mother's car was taken from a
Jackson, Miss., grocery store parking lot early Thursday.
The Madison County District Attorney's Office will pursue the death penalty
against McBride, who is accused of shooting Kingston multiple times, Assistant
District Attorney Pamela Hancock said.
"I think there is a great desire to see justice served in this case. And if at
the conclusion of all the evidence being gathered, it appears justice will be
served by seeking the death penalty then my office will definitely go forward
on that," she said
Kingston's mom, Ebony Archie, left the grocery store about 1:30 a.m. CT
Thursday and told a sheriff's deputy her car was stolen, but Hinds County
officials said she did not immediately mention that her son was in the car. 2
hours later at about 4:30 a.m., the Mississippi Department of Public Safety
sent out an Amber alert for the missing child.
About 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Kingston's body was discovered on a dead-end road in
Madison County, roughly 15 miles away from the store. His exact time of death
has not been determined.
The court hearing was held via closed-circuit video, and cameras were not
allowed in the courtroom for security reasons. The alleged killers have
received threats, officials said.
Wakefield is a senior at Ridgeland High School in Ridgeland, Miss. He was the
starting quarterback last season and has a 1-year-old son.
Washington is a senior at Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, Miss., in
neighboring Rankin County. He does not have any prior convictions but was
indicted in connection with an armed robbery in Madison County.
He was out of jail on bond when Kingston was killed and has a June court date
on his armed-robbery charge.
McBride told the court he has a conviction for burglary in Holmes County. He is
unemployed, has not married, does not own a car and has no bank account.
McBride's father, Byron McBride Sr., yelled at reporters after the hearing.
None of the 3 entered a plea Monday, and they are scheduled for a June 26
"My son did not kill that baby, but y'all gonna kill my son," he said. "My boy
didn't kill anybody."
Kingston was set to graduate from kindergarten Thursday, the day he was
kidnapped and ultimately killed.
(source: WLTX-TV news)
Dorsey wants death penalty removed
The Missouri Supreme Court should erase Brian Dorsey's death penalty, his
lawyer wrote last week, because the Boone County jury that recommended Dorsey's
execution "did not find beyond a reasonable doubt, that the mitigating
circumstances in his case were insufficient to outweigh the aggravating
Dorsey, now 45, has been on death row at the Potosi Correctional Center since
2008, sentenced for killing his cousin, Sarah Bonnie, and her husband, Benjamin
Bonnie, at their rural New Bloomfield home Dec. 24, 2006.
Dorsey, from Jefferson City, pleaded guilty to the murders in March 2008, and
the jury was empaneled to determine his sentence.
In August 2008, the jury determined Dorsey had planned the murders and, also,
had raped Sarah.
The Supreme Court twice has upheld Dorsey's conviction and sentences for the 2
murders - which occurred after the Bonnies had helped Dorsey, then 35, get drug
dealers out of his home earlier on the day they were killed.
Family members found the couple's bodies after they didn't show up, as
expected, for a family holiday gathering.
Investigators said their daughter, 4, was in the home at the time, but
Attorney Rebecca E. Woodman, of Lenexa, Kansas, argued in her motion for a writ
of habeas corpus that Missouri law requires a jury to find the circumstances
supporting a death penalty finding outweigh the favorable, or mitigating,
evidence that would support a sentence other than the death penalty.
Woodman noted a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling - 8 years after the jury heard
Dorsey's case - "requires that a jury must make these factual findings before
imposing a death sentence."
And, she reminded the Supreme Court that it "has already afforded retroactive
application of new law concerning the right to fact-finding by a jury."
On Feb. 24, Woodman wrote, Dorsey asked the state Supreme Court to withdraw its
execution mandate, "arguing that Missouri's capital sentencing scheme violates"
the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as Hurst v. Florida.
Woodman pointed to the state Supreme Court's 2010 decision upholding Dorsey's
conviction and death sentences.
"This Court rejected Mr. Dorsey's constitutional challenge to the statute," she
wrote in her 13-page motion. "In a holding that is contrary to 'Hurst,' this
Court found 'the jury's "weighing" of aggravating and mitigating evidence is
not subject to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, because it is not a factual
finding that increases the potential range of punishment."
Although the Supreme Court rejected Dorsey's motion in March, Woodman wrote, it
said Dorsey still could file a writ for habeas corpus.
And that's what her new motion does.
Because of the federal Supreme Court's ruling last year, Woodman said, the
state court's only alternative is to drop the death sentence and order Dorsey
to serve life in prison, instead.
Woodman's motion seeking elimination of Dorsey's death sentence was filed
The court gave no indication when it may decide to accept, or reject, the case.
(source: News Tribune)
Quintuple murder trial for Michael Bever pushed back as attorneys prepare for
insanity defense----Competing psychological reports are expected at the trial,
now scheduled for August
A judge on Monday pushed back the jury trial for the younger of 2 brothers
charged with murder in the stabbing deaths of 5 family members in their Broken
Arrow home so both sides can continue to gather evidence about his mental
Michael Bever, 18, appeared Monday before District Judge Sharon Holmes wearing
a black and white striped Tulsa Jail uniform, sitting apart from other
in-custody inmates with court appearances. Holmes had scheduled his trial last
year to begin June 5, but she told the state and defense to meet in her
chambers Monday afternoon after hearing brief discussions of a report obtained
by the defense about Bever's intent to pursue an insanity defense.
After those discussions, she scheduled Bever's trial to begin Aug. 28 and set a
discovery hearing 3 weeks beforehand.
Chief Public Defender Rob Nigh last fall announced that his client's mental
health would be the basis of the defense and since then has filed a series of
documents in his quest to have a jury determine whether Bever is not guilty by
reason of insanity. Among those are proposed verdict forms that include a check
box referencing insanity and motions filed under seal regarding the use of
funds to pay for experts.
Nigh said in court Monday that a report from Dr. Terese Hall supports his case,
to which District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said he would contest Hall's
assessment by having Bever undergo an evaluation by Dr. Shawn Roberson, a state
expert. Kunzweiler said he received word last week about Hall's evaluation and
told Holmes it was unlikely, if not impossible, to have Roberson's report
complete before June 5.
Bever was 16 when he and his brother Robert Bever, then 18, were charged with 5
counts of 1st-degree murder and 1 count of assault and battery with a deadly
weapon in the deaths of their parents, David and April Bever, and their
siblings Daniel, Christopher and Victoria. The assault charge relates to the
brothers' now-15-year-old sister, who survived the attack. Their
then-2-year-old sister was found unharmed in the family's Broken Arrow
residence, which was torn down last month.
Robert Bever was sentenced to life without parole after pleading guilty to all
6 counts in September. Although the older brother could have faced the death
penalty, Kunzweiler told reporters at the time that he agreed to a plea deal in
large part so the surviving sister wouldn't have to go through what likely
would be a death-penalty trial.
Because of his age at the time of the crimes, Michael Bever is ineligible to
receive capital punishment but could be sentenced to life without parole
because he is charged as an adult, which Nigh has previously argued is
unconstitutional because a life without parole sentence is in effect a death
sentence. He unsuccessfully challenged the prosecution of Michael Bever as an
adult before the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, which said Oklahoma law
mandates that a defendant who is 15 or older facing a 1st-degree murder charge
be treated as such.
(source: Tulsa World)
BSU gets grant to investigate wrongful convictions
Convicts who believe they were wrongfully convicted of murder or forcible rape
may benefit from a $630,000 federal grant to test DNA.
But none of the money can be used in Idaho cases.
Why? Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden will not sign a federally required
form certifying that the state???s DNA testing and collection practices comply
with federal requirements. He told Boise State University that those
requirements and Idaho law do not mesh, and that he has no jurisdiction over
Idaho law enforcement agencies.
The grant was originally intended for the nonprofit Idaho Innocence Project,
which sought it. The project, which focuses on Idaho convictions, is led by
criminal justice and biology professor Greg Hampikian.
Since Wasden will not sign the letter, the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to
award the grant to Hampikian and Boise State, not to the project. That allows
grant money to be used in other states.
Hampikian said he plans to use the grant to work on cases with similar
innocence projects in Montana, Georgia, Illinois and other states whose
officials agree to sign the form.
Hampikian was among many experts who worked to free convicted murderer
Christopher Tapp from prison. Tapp was released in a March deal with
prosecutors after serving 20 years in prison for the rape and murder of Angie
Dodge. His release came 10 years before his 1st scheduled parole hearing. None
of Tapp's DNA was found at the scene and Tapp and forensic and criminal
investigation experts say his confession to the crime was false and coerced.
Judge Alan Stephens reduced Tapp's sentence to time served, vacated his rape
conviction and ordered no probation.
No state law, no jurisdiction
The Idaho Innocence Project was one of just seven organizations in 2016 to
receive federal grants under the Justice for All Act enacted in 2004. The grant
program, the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program, is named for
the the 1st death-row inmate in the U.S. exonerated by DNA evidence.
For the money to be used for DNA testing in any state, the state's chief legal
officer must sign a 1-page form certifying that the state provides
post-conviction DNA testing in murder and forcible rape cases and that it
preserves biological evidence in those cases.
Wasden said limitations in Idaho law prevent it from meeting the requirements.
For example, Idaho law requires preservation of DNA evidence only in sexual
"There is no similar Idaho statute that applies to testing and preservation of
biological cases in the cases of murder," Wasden wrote in a Oct. 13, 2016,
letter to Boise State explaining why he would not sign the form.
Furthermore, the form Wasden is asked to sign states, "I am aware that a false
statement in this certification may be the subject of criminal prosecution."
But Wasden said he lacks jurisdiction over any police agencies in Idaho,
including the Idaho State Police, and over the state crime lab. He said he
cannot certify that all jurisdictions in Idaho take reasonable measures to
collect and preserve biological evidence in murder and forcible rape cases.
Some states do have post-conviction DNA collection and preservation laws, and
their attorneys general have jurisdiction over state crime labs. For example,
in Montana, the attorney general heads the Department of Justice, which
includes the state patrol and state crime lab.
Also, "Montana has a post-conviction DNA preservation statute," said Toby Cook,
an attorney with Montana Innocence Project.
Montana has already sent 2 DNA cases to Hampikian, one involving sex abuse and
one involving the slaying of a bartender.
"There was no physical evidence connecting our clients to any of the crimes in
either case," Cook said. "Instead, their convictions were based on shaky
eyewitness testimony and circumstantial evidence."
40 in the U.S. exonerated
Kirk Bloodsworth was convicted and sentenced to death in 1985 in the rape and
killing of a 9-year-old girl in Maryland.
In 1992, Bloodsworth learned about new DNA testing. Prosecutors agreed to DNA
testing of the victim???s clothing and other evidence. The DNA did not match
Bloodsworth's. He was exonerated and released from prison in 1993. After his
release, he became an advocate for DNA testing and for abolishing the death
Idaho filmmaker Gregory Bayne released a documentary in 2015 about the case,
"Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man."
F40 men and women have been exonerated since the Bloodsworth program started in
Idaho project still open
The Idaho Innocence Project is funded by grants and donations. Even though the
new grant cannot be used on Idaho cases, Hampikian's team will keep working on
"We are still open for business," Hampikian said. "We are not turning away
The project typically handles about a half-dozen Idaho cases at a time.
An earlier grant that can be used on Idaho cases runs out in September.
Hampikian thinks additional help may be on the way.
"The university is considering earmarking some discretionary funds for support
of the Idaho Innocence Project for the next 2 years," he said.
Jury convicts former death row inmate in his 3rd trial for 1981 Newport Beach
A man once plucked from death row when a federal judge overturned his
conviction was found guilty again on Monday for the 1981 killing of a Newport
An Orange County Superior Court jury deliberated for about 2 days before
finding James Andrew Melton, 65, guilty of 1st-degree murder for robbing and
killing Anthony Lial DeSousa in his Newport Beach home more than 3 decades ago.
Melton originally was convicted and sentenced to death for the killing in 1982.
But he was pulled from death row in 2007 when a federal judge ruled that Melton
was over-medicated by jail staff and could not understand his trial.
He was tried again in 2014, but the case ended in a mistrial when the jury
deadlocked 10-2 in favor of conviction.
Prosecutors then chose not to pursue the death penalty, partly because of the
case's age. Now, after his 3rd trial, Melton faces life in prison without the
possibility of parole.
In the trial, Senior Deputy District Attorney Steve McGreevy said Melton and
his lover, Johnny Boyd, hatched a plan to meet rich, older men through ads in
gay magazines and then rob them in their homes.
Boyd was given immunity to testify in the 1st trial. He died of AIDS in 1992,
so the jury in this trial listened to transcripts of his testimony.
DeSousa, who lived in a Newport Beach condo, had come out as a gay man after
his wife died and began placing ads in magazines looking for partners. Boyd
said had met DeSousa through one of his ads and arranged a meeting between
Melton and DeSousa.
Days later on Oct. 13, 1981, DeSousa's nude body was found in his bedroom,
Boyd testified that Melton admitted to the killing and that he had seen Melton
wearing DeSousa's jewelry. Melton was arrested with DeSousa's belongings
including his car, a watch, a suitcase, a movie projector and pawn slips,
Denise Gragg, Melton's defense attorney, had argued that Boyd, a key witness,
lacked credibility and that lots of DNA was found at the crime scene, but none
of it matched Melton's. Gragg said the real killer was never found.
Melton has a history of violent crime, including convictions for 2 rapes,
robbery, and assault with a deadly weapon, according to court records.
In 1982, the California Supreme Court upheld his murder conviction. But in a
federal appeal, he successfully argued that the medical staff at Orange County
Jail gave him psychiatric drugs for mental-health issues that impaired his
ability to understand his trial.
(source: Orance County Register)
Sierra LaMar: Convicted killer's mother testifies about his
childhood----Defense testimony in the penalty portion of the trial aims to
spare Antolin Garcia-Torres from the death penalty.
The mother of Antolin Garcia-Torres, convicted this month of kidnapping and
killing 15-year-old Sierra LaMar, spoke for the 1st time in court on Monday,
calling him a "loving" and "responsible" son whom she regularly visits in jail,
his young daughters in tow.
Monday marked the start of the defense phase of the penalty portion of the
trial; prosecutors wrapped up their witnesses last week. Defense attorneys are
trying to shape a sympathetic image for jurors - not conceding guilt, but
maintaining that a troubled background should be taken into consideration.
"I'm not here to share this with you so you will save my son," said Laura
Torres, speaking softly and through an interpreter and often sobbing. "I'm here
to tell you what I know."
Garcia-Torres' attorney Brian Matthews presented a dismal family portrait - a
mom who married young and came to the United States from Mexico to live in a
ramshackle garage on the strawberry field where the couple worked. Parental
supervision was minimal, said witnesses, with Torres working 2 jobs and the
family patriarch, Genaro Garcia Fernandez, sometimes in jail and almost always
Armando Garcia, a 2nd cousin, testified that Torres would often have bruises on
her arms and neck.
"There's no way it was the little strawberries that did that to her," he said.
Morning testimony centered on the abuse of his mom by his father, Fernandez,
going back to before Garcia-Torres was born.
Torres testified that Fernandez would beat her unexpectedly, once after she'd
asked for a massage because her back was sore and other times in the middle of
the night. And he would threaten to kill the whole family; the couple had 5
children, 3 older than Antolin Garcia-Torres, one younger.
"He would say, 'You know you are going to bed, but you don't know if you will
get up,'" Torres said. "At first I thought he was just saying crazy things. ...
But I was scared that he would carry it through, that he would kill all of us
in the night."
One time, she said, he strangled her with her long braids, which she had grown
to almost her ankles. So she cut her hair short. The abuse got so bad that she
left while pregnant with Garcia-Torres, moving in with her in-laws in Napa for
Last week, prosecutors urged the jury that convicted Garcia-Torres to recommend
the death penalty.
"This part of the trial is about justice," deputy district attorney David Boyd
told the jury in Santa Clara County Superior Court. "What is the one just
verdict that answers for the unspeakable things the defendant did to her? ...
Death is the only fair and just verdict."
The defense is expected to bring up Fernandez's history of sexual abuse in the
homes where he grew up. He was convicted of 17 counts of child molestation in
late September 2012, just 6 months after Sierra LaMar disappeared on March 16,
The defense did not ask Torres about the sexual assaults, but did make a point
to talk about the "thin walls" and lack of insulation in the San Martin homes
the family shared.
They also talked briefly about pesticides used on the strawberry fields where
the parents worked and the children played, as well as the family's use of tap
water. San Martin was in the middle of a high-profile pollution case in which
hundreds of drinking water wells were contaminated with a chemical used in
rocket fuel in 2003.
While Garcia-Torres showed little emotion in Monday's session, occasionally
looking down, his mother, cried numerous times. She talked about how her son's
daughters also love him and eagerly await talking to him on the phone or
visiting him in jail.
She seemed baffled that attorneys would even question the fate she would want
"What mother would be asked if they want their son to be killed or not?" she
(source: Mercury News)
Death penalty charges for accused Old Town killer----Michael Williams accused
of killing Jacob Shroyer
The man accused of killing a well-known DJ and barber in what officials believe
was a random stabbing could face the death penalty if convicted by a jury.
On Friday, a Multnomah County grand jury issued a 17-count indictment against
Michael Lee Williams for 3 separate crimes, including the death of Jacob
Williams appeared in court on Monday and was arraigned on the indictment. A
court appointed criminal defense, with death penalty case experience, will be
Police allege that Williams stabbed Shroyer on May 8 inside the Pacific Tower
Apartments. He died May 16.
Prior to attacking Shroyer, police say Williams approached an unknown person
near a parking lot at NW 4th and Glisan. The grand jury charged Williams with a
single count of menacing for that incident, which was caught on camera.
Almost immediately after approaching the unknown person Williams set his sights
on Shroyer, according to court documents.
The entry to Shroyer's apartment building has 2 sets of doors. The 1st leads
people into a small open space where they can use a keypad system to access the
Video shows Shroyer entering the 1st set of doors. He can be seen trying to
close the door that leads to the street but Williams was able to reach in and
The small foyer is where the attack happened.
Williams was arrested May 9 after 911 dispatchers took reports of an assault
and robbery onboard a TriMet bus near SW 5th and Pine. The grand jury decided
to charge Williams with 1 count of assault for punching the TriMet rider,
criminal mischief for damaging the bus, and robbery for stealing the man's
The indictment also reveals that on May 1, Williams had a physical
confrontation with a man at a retail store in Old Town. Police have not
released specific details to that incident. However, court documents show that
as a result of the incident, damage was done to the store.
Police said they were made aware of the May 1 incident after Williams' photo
was featured in local media broadcasts following his arrest.
According to Shroyer's obituary, he grew up in Albuquerque and had been living
in Portland since 2007.
"Jacob was an accomplished hair stylist at Bishop's barbershop and a talented
DJ at CC Slaughters Club in downtown Portland," according to the obituary.
"Jacob was a strong independent self-made man who loved to make people happy
and feel good about themselves."
A celebration of life for Shroyer was held on Saturday.
Williams remains in custody.
Under Oregon law, a person convicted of aggravated murder could face the death
(source: KOIN news)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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