Discussion:
death penalty news----OKLA., COLO., UTAH, NEV., CALIF.
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Rick Halperin
2017-09-15 11:22:31 UTC
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Sept. 15




OKLAHOMA:

Jury Selection Continues For Moore Beheading Case



After several days of jury selection, opening statements are expected to begin
Thursday in the trial against a man accused of beheading a former coworker
nearly 3 years ago in Moore.

During pretrial proceedings, murder suspect Alton Nolen has become well-known
for his outbursts but more recently for his inattentiveness.

News 9's crew in the courtroom noted he spent much of his time before the judge
with eyes closed and hands covering his ears.

The district attorney told News 9 he will be seeking the death penalty, so
picking the jury involves some very heavy questions.

The jurors were asked if they could consider all 3 punishment options of death,
life with the possibility of parole and life without the possibility of parole.
Anyone who was firm one way or another was dismissed.

Nolen previously admitted in court that he beheaded his coworker Colleen
Hufford and injured another coworker in September 2014.

The state has asked for the death penalty and Nolen has told the judge he wants
to die

A judge denied Nolen's request after he failed to comply during a competency
hearing.

(source: news9.com)








COLORADO:

3 men still on Colorado's death row after judge denies capital appeal----18th
Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler's office is the subject of
prosecutorial misconduct allegations.



A judge today denied a 5-year appeal by Sir Mario Owens, a man convicted for
the 2005 witness killing of a state lawmaker's son and his fiancee.

Today's order leaves Owens, 32, on death row along with 2 other men: his
co-defendant, Robert Ray, and Nathan Dunlap, the convicted Chuck E. Cheese's
shooter to whom Gov. John Hickenlooper granted a temporary reprieve in 2013.

Owens, 32, appealed his conviction and sentence largely on a long list of
claims that prosecutors - who paid informant witnesses to testify against him -
failed to turn over to the defense team key evidence that, if heard at trial,
his lawyers argued may have changed the jury's verdict. The appeal accused the
DA's office of "cumulative error" and "outrageous governmental conduct" in the
case.

In today's order denying Owens' appeal, District Judge Christopher Munch wrote,
"The court concludes that Owens received a fair trial - one whose result is
reliable. He also received a fair sentencing hearing - one whose result was
constitutionally obtained, justified in law, and is rationally based upon the
evidence."

As of this posting, The Independent is awaiting comments from 18th Judicial
District Attorney George Brauchler and from state Sen. Rhonda Fields, whose
son, Javad Marshall-Fields and his fiancee, Vivian Wolfe, were fatally gunned
down soon before Marshall-Fields was expected to testify against Robert Ray in
the investigation of another murder a year earlier.

Owens' lead defense attorney, Jim Castle, disagrees with the court's conclusion
that none of the misconduct claims made in the case matter and that they "can
be tolerated in Colorado in any case, never mind a capital one."

"This is a sad day for Owens, his family and the Colorado criminal justice
system," he said.

The case was prosecuted for 6 years under former 18th Judicial District
Attorney Carol Chambers. Brauchler, her elected successor, has led the office
for the last 5 years as it has continued rallying to preserve Owens' and other
death sentences against a long list of appeals claims. Brauchler, a Republican
who has made a name for himself as a death penalty prosecutor, is running for
governor.

There is no definitive physical evidence, no confession, and no eyewitnesses
who identified Owens in a case prosecutors built almost entirely on the
testimony of informant witnesses to whom the DA's office gave plea bargains,
funds, or both in return for their cooperation against Owens.

Among the charges upon which the appeal was based is the office's failure to
disclose thousands of dollars in payments it made to informant witnesses. One
of those witnesses was promised and later given a district attorney's office
car. Some were given gift cards for local businesses. One received $3,400 in
benefits, including cash for Christmas presents in the months prior to
testifying on behalf of the prosecution.

The defense cited the prosecution's failure to disclose other incentives given
to witnesses in exchange for their testimony. If he didn't cooperate, court
records show, 1 of the main witnesses was threatened with being charged for the
murders Owens was accused of and with receiving 2 life sentences. Another
witness, according to the records, received a suspension of his jail sentence
on the condition that he help prosecutors in Owens' case. People working for
the prosecution would appear at informant witnesses' court hearings and ask for
lesser sentences on the condition that they testify against Owens, the records
indicate. Records also show that informants who had been convicted of crimes
were allowed to violate probation and commit future crimes without consequences
as long as they cooperated.

The appeal argued that by failing to disclose these deals before trial, the
prosecution rendered Owens' defense lawyers unable to cast doubt on those
witnesses' testimonies and put their credibility in dispute. In doing so, the
argument goes, Owens was denied a fair trial.

The rules of criminal conduct say that withholding evidence that could have
swayed a jury against a guilty verdict amounts to prosecutorial misconduct.
Under Colorado's death penalty law, it's one of several reasons to disqualify a
case for death penalty eligibility.

Brauchler's office didn't dispute that it withheld much of the evidence Owens'
lawyers listed in their appeal. Nor did the judge. Instead, both asserted that
the evidence that was withheld wouldn't have changed jurors' guilty verdict or
death penalty decision.

Owens' lawyers long have countered that the ends don't justify the means.
Prosecutors' hands need to be clean, the say, especially when a life is at
stake.

The case has made headlines because of a string of court orders shrouding much
of the documentation and evidence in secrecy. The court file remained sealed
and all parties gagged from speaking about it until 2013, 7 years after it was
filed. Exhibits in the case remain sealed to this day, fueling continued
concerns about a lack of transparency.

Most of the claims in Owens' appeal applied to decisions made before Brauchler
won office in 2012 when Chambers was being term-limited out. Brauchler decided
to keep the same lead prosecutors on the case, and, under his watch, the office
continued a pattern of not disclosing evidence. In February 2015, more than 2
years after he took over, one of his prosecutors disclosed that there was a set
of secret "witness protection files" that, even at that point, hadn't been
given to the defense. The judge at that time, Gerald Rafferty, ordered the DAs
to turn over hundreds of pages of documents, which revealed even more payments
the prosecutors Brauchler kept on the case made to prosecution witnesses.

In court last year, Brauchler's team strained to justify having knowingly sat
on the secret evidence by saying they were trying to protect witnesses.

"Well, I will make the record that this is in regards to witness protection and
the witness protection statute and more is not better under the witness
protection statute, in fact, it's confidential and -," argued 1 of Brauchler's
prosecutors, David Jones, before Judge Rafferty interrupted him.

"I would strongly disagree with that, Mr. Jones, strongly disagree in a capital
case," the judge said. "You can expect that in my order, sir. Let's move on."

Jones since has left the DA's office but Brauchler continues keeping the 2
lawyers who handled the case when the materials were kept hidden as the lead
prosecutors.

After reading an earlier version of this story this morning, Brauchler texted
to say, "It's not my office being accused. It's (t)he DA's office prior to me
being DA." The Independent responded by writing, "The claims include the
'secret witness files' revealed last year, George. ... They were revealed 3
years after you took office. And your folks seemed to have known they hadn't
been turned over."

To that, Brauchler responded this morning: "Good grief. I now own everything
that happened or didn't happen under my predecessor?"

In one of the Owens cases's oddest twists, Judge Rafferty - who presided for 11
years over both the trial and appeal - was preparing to issue his ruling when
he was fired last year for what Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Rice
called a breach of contract on a personnel matter. Her office made the unusual
move of sending out a news release about Rafferty's removal. Rafferty argued
that he did not breach his contract and emails provided by the state back up
his assertion.

For years, Rafferty had shown an interest in what he once ruled was
prosecutors' "deliberate choice" not to disclose evidence favorable to Owens.
He granted 37 weeks of hearings on most of the claims the defense made in its
appeal. He held hearings on evidence exhibits and heard dozens of witnesses
testify over 2 1/2 years. He reviewed the 22,700-page court file, the
28,288-page trial transcript and the 27,836-page post-conviction record, plus
1,889 exhibits from trial and 880 exhibits from the appeals phase. And he spent
11 months working on his written decision.

The timing and manner of Rafferty's abrupt removal raised questions in
Colorado's criminal defense and civil rights communities about whether state
officials used the contract dispute as a pretense to fire the judge in order to
keep the Owens case from being retried.

Defense efforts to uncover what led to Rafferty's ouster have been rebuffed by
the judicial branch and by Judge Munch, who was appointed to take over the
case. Munch handed down his order today without having seen or heard from a
single witness about errors in the capital proceedings.

As she waiting this morning to hear if Owens' death sentence will hold, Sen.
Fields said that she has never seen any wrongdoing by either the prosecution or
defense: "I saw both sides working very diligently to seek justice on behalf of
my son and his fiancee."

Owens lives in solitary confinement at Colorado State Penitentiary, the
supermax in Canon City. He learned of his defeat today from the lawyers who've
been appealing his death sentence for more than 9 years. They wanted to break
the news to him in person.

Many of the issues around which Owens' appeal pivot also are at the root of an
ongoing appeal by Ray, his co-defendant. Unlike Munch, the judge in Ray's
appeal has conducted evidentiary hearings into his claims, the majority of
which complain of the same errors listed by Owens' lawyers.

In a previous capital prosecution of 2 defendants in another murder case, there
were similar claims of misconduct by the 18th Judicial District Attorney's
office, including the suppression of key evidence. Armed with that previously
hidden evidence, 1 of those defendants, Alejandro Perez, was quickly acquitted
by a jury. The judge presiding over the case against Perez's codefendant, David
Bueno, vacated his murder conviction. That ruling is now on appeal by the
Colorado Supreme Court.

Earlier this summer, Jack Roth, one of state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman's
top lawyers on death penalty cases, lost his job after having made public
comments that overstepped his authority to seek death in a Crowley County
murder prosecution.

The similarities between Colorado???s three death row inmates are striking. In
a state with a 4 % African-American population, each is black. Each grew up
poor. Each attended the same school, Overland High in Aurora. And each was
prosecuted in the 18th Judicial District, which has pursued death in far more
cases than any other district in Colorado. Under Chambers' control, the office
handed out Christmas bonuses to prosecutors who took on capital cases - a
practice Owens' lawyers have claimed amounted to an improper bounty system.

Several groups, including the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union of
Colorado, have taken issue with how the death penalty is sought in the state.
They've cited a study showing strong biases against ethnic minorities.
Nationally, groups working to abolish the death penalty and end wrongful
convictions are starting to focus on the kinds of prosecutorial misconduct
claimed in Owens' appeal.

Gov. Hickenlooper won office in 2010 as a professed death penalty proponent.
When announcing in 2013 that Dunlap wouldn't die under his watch, he said he
was reconsidering his position. The governor cited racial disparities
explicitly and alluded more subtly to prosecutorial integrity in expressing
concerns that current death penalty practices could undermine trust in state
institutions. Hickenlooper gave Dunlap a reprieve while indicating that if the
state were to carry out executions, it should do so when the system operates
flawlessly. Hickenlooper called for a "statewide discussion" about Colorado???s
death penalty practices, given concerns about how the death penalty is meted
out in the state.

4 years later, that conversation has not taken place even - as the Owens case
shows - questions keep surfacing about capital prosecutions. The governor's
office hasn't said why the policy discussion hasn't started. Colorado's
moderate Democratic governor is eyeing a presidential bid in 2020 after he's
term-limited out of office.

Brauchler, in the meantime, is one of several Republicans who've launched
campaigns to fill Hickenlooper's seat in the 2018 gubernatorial election. The
DA built his public profile personally prosecuting Aurora theater shooter James
Holmes, against whom he won a conviction but not the death sentence he sought.
Brauchler has gone on to become the state's loudest death penalty proponent.

(source: coloradoindependent.com)

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

Judge denies major appeal in Sir Mario Owens death penalty case----Owens
convicted of killing Javad Marshall-Fields and Vivian Wolfe



Sir Mario Owens sits, Monday March. 13, 2006, in Arapahoe County Court during
the 1st hearing after being indicted in the June 20 double homicide that killed
a witness and his girlfriend.

In a massive and long-awaited order, an Arapahoe County District Court judge
has denied the death penalty appeal of Sir Mario Owens - even though he found
that prosecutors withheld some evidence that could have been favorable to
Owens' side.

Senior Judge Christopher Munch ruled on Thursday that Owens, who was convicted
of killing 3 people in 2 separate incidents, ultimately received a fair trial
and was represented well enough by his attorneys. The ruling took nearly a
decade to reach, and it means that Owens' death sentence now likely moves to
the next step of the appeals process. It could still be years more before
Owens' state and federal appeals are exhausted and a possible execution is
scheduled.

"The court concludes that Owens received a fair trial - one whose result is
reliable," Munch wrote on the last of his order's 1,343 pages. "He also
received a fair sentencing hearing - one whose result was constitutionally
obtained, justified in law, and is rationally based upon the evidence."

Owens was first convicted of murder in 2007, in connection with the 2004
shooting death of 20-year-old Gregory Vann at a party in Aurora's Lowry Park.
The following year, in 2008, a different jury convicted Owens in the 2005
killings of Javad Marshall-Fields and Vivian Wolfe, both 22. He was sentenced
to death.

At the time of his murder, Marshall-Fields had been scheduled to testify
against another suspect in Vann's death, and prosecutors argued that
Marshall-Fields and Wolfe, his fiancee, were killed to silence them. That other
suspect, Robert Ray, was also convicted of killing Marshall-Fields and Wolfe
and was also sentenced to death. As with Owens, his appeals are still pending.

Defense attorneys raised numerous concerns about Owens' convictions, including
an allegation of juror misconduct during the Lowry Park trial that Munch denied
earlier this year. Munch ruled in his Thursday order, though, that prosecutors
improperly withheld evidence during the case - by not disclosing numerous
instances in which they provided witnesses money or other benefits.

For instance, prosecutors did not tell Owens' attorneys that they had promised
and later given a car to 1 key witness. Other witnesses received undisclosed
lenience in separate criminal cases facing them. In at least 1 instance,
prosecutors did not reveal that a witness had been present at another shooting
while in the witness protection program and preparing to testify in Owens'
case. Prosecutors also withheld information about money that witnesses were
paid as informants or in the witness protection program.

Defense attorneys said the evidence could have been used at trial to question
the credibility of the witnesses. But, in each instance, Munch concluded that
the evidence wasn't significant enough to overturn the trial. At best, Munch
said, the evidence would have been considered "helpful" but not
outcome-changing.

"He must establish more than helpfulness to sustain a claim of constitutional
error," Munch wrote.

Chief Deputy District Attorney John Hower, one of the prosecutors on the case,
said some of the evidence was not disclosed due to oversight. In other
instances, Hower said prosecutors believed it wasn't the kind of information
that was required to be shared. There was no deliberate attempt to hide
evidence, Hower said.

"We certainly are very pleased with his ruling," Hower said of Munch's order.
"It is clear he gave great consideration to all the evidence and the claims
presented, and we believe he came up with the correct ruling."

In a written statement, Jonathan Reppucci, one of Owens' appellate attorneys,
said: "We disagree with the court's conclusion that none of this matters and
can be tolerated in Colorado in any case, never mind a capital one. This is a
sad day for Mr. Owens, his family and the Colorado criminal justice system."

Defense attorneys have 7 days to decide whether to appeal Munch's order. The
next step would be directly to the Colorado Supreme Court, a relatively faster
track created by a state law designed to speed up death penalty appeals. Owens'
case would be the 1st test of the new track at the state's highest court.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors would have to file their respective briefs in
the appeal by next summer.

"This is new ground," said Ann Tomsic, a chief deputy district attorney in
Arapahoe County who was a prosecutor on Owens' case.

Timeline in the Sir Mario Owens murder cases

July 4, 2004: Gregory Vann, 20, is shot and killed in Aurora's Lowry Park.
Vann's friend Javad Marshall-Fields is wounded in the shooting.

July 13, 2004: Robert Ray is arrested and charged as an accessory in the Lowry
Park shooting. He later posts bond.

June 19, 2005: Marshall-Fields is threatened and warned not to testify against
Ray.

June 20, 2005: Marshall-Fields, 22, and his fiancee, 22-year-old Vivian Wolfe,
are shot to death while driving on Dayton Street in Aurora. An intensive police
investigation follows.

Aug. 12, 2005: Ray's charges in Vann's killing are upgraded to 1st-degree
murder.

Sept. 29, 2005: An arrest warrant is issued for Sir Mario Owens on charges of
1st-degree murder in connection with Vann's killing.

March 8, 2006: A grand jury indicts Ray and Owens on charges of 1st-degree
murder in Marshall-Fields' and Wolfe's killings.

Nov. 3, 2006: A jury finds Ray guilty of attempted murder and of being an
accessory to murder in the Lowry Park shooting. It does not find him guilty of
1st-degree murder.

Jan 30, 2007: A separate jury convicts Owens of 1st-degree murder in Vann's
killing.

June 16, 2008: Owens is convicted of 1st-degree murder in Marshall-Fields' and
Wolfe's killings. He is sentenced to death. Prosecutors used Owens' conviction
in the Lowry Park shooting as evidence in arguing for the death penalty.

June 8, 2009: Ray is convicted of 1st-degree murder and sentenced to death for
Marshall-Fields' and Wolfe's killings.

July 30, 2012: New attorneys for Owens file a major appeal, arguing that Owens
received an unfair trial because of withheld evidence and mistakes by his
attorneys.

April 13, 2016: Judge Gerald Rafferty, who presided over the case from the
beginning, is fired. Court administrators say Rafferty violated the conditions
of his short-term contract.

Sept. 14, 2017: Judge Christopher Munch, who took over the case after Rafferty,
finds that prosecutors withheld some evidence but denies Owens' appeal.

(source: Denver Post)








UTAH:

Child murder is death penalty eligible for Roy man----Matthew Graves given
death penalty attorney for defense



Matthew Graves knows he may be spending 25-years in prison. That's what the
22-year old Roy man allegedly told police after he was arrested for killing an
infant in his care.

But the Weber County Attorney's Office has different plans, one that could put
him to death if there's a conviction.

Graves was charged with aggravated murder which makes the case death penalty
eligible.

"What makes it an aggravated murder is the fact that it was a child," said
Letitia Toombs, deputy Weber County attorney. "The victim is an infant 41 days
old."

Graves was at home with the infant last week when paramedics were called after
a 911-call. They were told an infant wasn't breathing. Paramedics revived the
child but died later.

At the hospital, doctors told police about the possibility of a murder. In
court documents they found the infant had "huge fractures on the right side of
the head, massive brain swelling and hemorrhage ... separation of the vertebra
in the neck."

"Pretty brutal, but beyond that I'm not going to say anything," said Toombs
following a court hearing for Graves Thursday.

Graves was assigned an attorney that specializes in death penalty cases. But
attorney Mike Bouwhius told the judge the family is considering a private
attorney. He asked for more time to discuss the case with the family.

In court documents, Graves told police he is "a monster that he has lost all
hope in life and is going to lose everything." Police said Graves made
statements "about spending 25 years in prison" for what happened.

Graves also told police he became angry because the baby wouldn't stop crying
and doesn't remember how many times he punched the baby because he blacked out.

He remains in the Weber County jail where he is being held without bail."

(source: ABC news)








NEVADA:

Nevada law says chief medical officer must advise on executions despite ethical
clash



Nevada's Chief Medical Officer Dr. John DiMuro's role in helping choose the
lethal drugs for an upcoming execution could put him in an ethical quandary as
an anesthesiologist committed to preserving life.

Most states use lethal injection in executions and often seek help from
anesthesiologists, and Nevada law requires the Department of Corrections to
consult with the chief medical officer on an execution.

The American Osteopathic Association, the board that certifies DiMuro, recently
released a statement that it is unethical for physicians to deliver the lethal
injection.

DiMuro, who resides in Washoe County, would not be administering the lethal
injection but is consulting on the combination of drugs to be used in an
upcoming execution.

But consulting on the lethal drugs could still present an ethical problem
because it means participating in an execution, according to Johan Bester,
medical ethicist director of bioethics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas
School of Medicine.

Carson City caregiver could face the death penalty in toddler's homicide

"Saying that the Nevada chief medical officer is doing something wrong is
difficult to say because this is still a controversial issue," Bester said.

"You can imagine if you're a physician and you think your ethical obligation is
to not do this, but you've got a law telling you you have to do it," he said.
"You're in a difficult situation."

Asked for comment, DiMuro responded via email: "I can confirm that I am
consulting with the NDOC as required by Nevada statute. This consultation
process is ongoing and not complete at this time. Our expectation is that any
final decision is likely to be reviewed by the court."

It's unknown who will be delivering the lethal injection, but more than one
person is usually involved, according to Brooke Keast, spokeswoman for the
Nevada Department of Corrections.

Keast said the state Department of Corrections does not release information on
the people involved in the execution because of safety concerns.

(source: Reno Gazette-Journal)








CALIFORNIA:

3 children killed in West Sacramento; father arrested



The West Sacramento elementary school where Kelvin Hodges played tag at recess
and his sister Julie embraced her love of singing was a scene of grief and
community solidarity Thursday night as hundreds gathered for a candlelight
vigil in memory of the slain children.

"He was a really good friend. He brightens your day," Katelyn Lisenby, a 6th
grader at Southport Elementary School who had known Kelvin since
pre-kindergarten, said after adding a candle to a collection of balloons,
flowers, stuffed animals and other mementos around the campus' welcome sign.

Though she didn't know Julie as well, Katelyn described both classmates as
"extraordinary and fun."

Julie Hodges "was a pretty good singer," said teacher Scott McColl, who taught
music to both siblings in recent months. "They were both just wonderful
students."

Authorities say Kelvin, Julie and their infant brother Lucas died Wednesday
night at the hands of their father, 32-year-old Robert William Hodges, who now
faces multiple murder charges that make him eligible for the death penalty.

Hodges is scheduled to be arraigned at 1:30 p.m. Monday in Yolo Superior Court.
Formal charges had not yet been filed as of this morning.

Yolo County coroner's officials say Kelvin Hodges was 11 years old, while Julie
was 9 and Lucas just 7 months. Their causes of death have not been released
pending the completion of autopsies.

Sgt. Roger Kinney said the crime that stunned neighbors and first responders
alike occurred Wednesday night at the Timbers Apartments on Touchstone Place in
the city's Southport neighborhood. It began with a 9:20 p.m. report of domestic
violence from Hodges' wife, Mai Sheng Hodges.

"The call was that a male suspect was assaulting a female," Kinney said. But as
officers were en route to the apartment complex, they received additional
information that the suspect had fled, and that "there was possibly 3 deceased
children inside the apartment."

Police and firefighters who encountered the horrific scene attempted lifesaving
efforts, but the children were pronounced dead at the scene.

Meanwhile, police issued a be-on-the-lookout bulletin for Hodges, whose Honda
sedan was spotted by a CHP officer patrolling the area of Interstate 80 and
Reed Avenue. Hodges yielded to a traffic stop near the West El Camino Avenue
exit and was taken into custody without incident, Kinney said.

Hodges is the father of all 3 children, Kinney confirmed. He is being held
without bail at the Yolo County Jail, where he declined an interview request
from The Davis Enterprise.

Kinney said it was Mai Sheng Hodges who discovered the children's bodies inside
the 2nd-floor apartment.

The couple had been married since 2005, according to Mai Hodges' Facebook page,
photos on which document happier family times on holidays, at an amusement park
and, more recently, celebrating baby Lucas' birth.

One picture shows a beaming Kelvin Hodges cradling his swaddled newborn brother
while Julie Hodges grins next to him.

"I'm just assuming she's devastated," Kinney said of the children's mother. A
GoFundMe account has been established to offer Mai Hodges financial assistance:
https://www.gofundme.com/supporting-mother-of-3-in-tragedy.

As word of the tragedy spread through the Timbers Apartments, someone tied a
bouquet of star-shaped helium balloons and placed three flower windmills
outside the family's apartment Thursday morning in memory of the young victims.

"Those were some real happy kids," said a visibly shaken Betty Scott, a
neighbor who heard the mother's anguished screams when she found her lifeless
children.

"I see them every morning going to school" on their scooters, said Scott, who
lives in the apartment below the family. She said she never heard anything
amiss coming from the unit upstairs.

"No arguing, no fighting, no kids crying, no nothing," Scott said. "It was a
good family."

She described Hodges as "just a quiet man - he didn't do no talking. You
wouldn't think anything was wrong."

But something went terribly awry Wednesday night in apartment #44. Scott said
the children's mother came home from work and was assaulted by Hodges,
initiating the domestic violence call to police. As she waited for officers to
arrive, the woman sat outside the apartment crying.

"Then she went upstairs, and that's when she found her kids and started
screaming," said Scott, who heard the commotion from her own apartment. She
first learned of the children's deaths later that night when police knocked on
her door.

"I'm still messed up," said Scott, a grandmother of 12. "I was still waiting
for the kids to come out this morning and go to school."

Southport Elementary School administrators summoned grief counselors and an
emotional support dog to the campus to assist the children and staff, in
addition to organizing Thursday night's gathering.

Speakers at the vigil included school board members, several local pastors and
a relative of Mai Sheng Hodges, who expressed gratitude to the crowd on the
grieving mother's behalf.

"We need to rally around this family and give them the support they need," Mai
Menzies told the somber crowd, which included dozens of local police and
firefighters. "We need to unify the community as a tribe, because togetherness
is strength. ...I can't be any prouder right now to say that you are my
family."

Hodges does not have a criminal history in Yolo County, where online records
show his only brushes with the law were for traffic-related offenses in 2004,
2005 and 2007. A search of Sacramento County records came up blank.

"Nothing stood out. There's no knowing what was going through his mind," Kinney
said.

The sergeant said his agency's entire detectives' unit responded to the
homicide scene Wednesday night, as did some patrol officers and investigators
from the Yolo County District Attorney's Office.

Yolo County sheriff's deputies, meanwhile, stepped in to handle calls for
service during the crime-scene investigation, which ended at about 7 a.m.
Thursday.

Kinney said he could not recall another homicide case like it, either in West
Sacramento or other agencies where he's worked during his 30-year career.

"It certainly puts a lump in your throat. It rattled the cages of some of these
officers, and I'm certain it did the same thing with the firefighters," who
will be offered the services of crisis counselors to process the trauma, Kinney
said.

"But they had to perform and they did - not only what their training told them
to do, but what their hearts told them to do, and I'm very proud of all of
their efforts," he added.

(source: Davis Enterprise)

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

Death recommended for Moreno Valley woman who killed her husband for $1 million
in life insurance



A Riverside jury on Thursday recommended the death penalty for a Moreno Valley
woman who fatally shot her 56-year-old husband to collect more than $1 million
in life insurance proceeds.

Jurors deliberated 2 days before reaching a unanimous decision as to the fate
of Lorraine Alison Hunter, 61.

The same panel last month convicted her of 1st-degree murder and found true
special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and killing for financial
gain in the 2009 execution-style slaying of Albert Thomas.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Mac Fisher is expected to follow the
jury's recommendation when he sentences Hunter on Dec. 8 at the Riverside Hall
of Justice. She's being held without bail at the Robert Presley Detention
Center.

The penalty phase of the defendant's trial lasted roughly 2 weeks and was
preceded by the evidentiary phase, which culminated in guilty verdicts on Aug.
21.

The prosecution's key witness was Hunter's now-23-year-old daughter, Briuana
Lashanae Hunter, who confessed to plotting with her mother to kill Thomas.

Briauana Hunter pleaded guilty last year to 3 counts of attempted murder and 1
count of voluntary manslaughter. She's slated to be sentenced to 18 years in
state prison on Sept. 25.

The young woman, who's being held without bail at the Indio Jail, testified
that her stepfather was a "calm, quiet person," who was "never overly
aggressive" in the 7 years that she and her mother lived with him in Moreno
Valley.

Briauana Hunter stated that he held down 2 jobs - 1 as a short-haul trucker and
another as a clerk at a Moreno Valley Auto Zone.

The witness said her mother frequently argued with Thomas about not having
enough money to spend. According to Deputy District Attorney Will Robinson's
trial brief, the elder Hunter was "money hungry" and not interested in holding
down a job to contribute to the household.

Briauana Hunter said she aided her mother in filling out at least three life
insurance applications, naming her stepfather as the insured party and Lorraine
Hunter as the principal beneficiary. The woman forged Thomas' name on each
application.

Hunter took out a $750,000 policy, as well as a $10,000 policy, Robinson said.
Thomas additionally had a $450,000 policy through the trucking company for
which he worked, according to court papers.

In the two months before he was gunned down, Lorraine Hunter attempted to shoot
Thomas 3 times - twice on walks through their neighborhood in the area of Day
Street and Eucalyptus Avenue, and another time outside the victim's workplace.
Briuana Hunter admitted being present on each occasion.

On the evening of Nov. 3, 2009, Thomas and the defendants left their apartment
and strolled to his big rig, where he wanted to grab a sweatshirt that he had
bought for his then-15-year-old stepdaughter, according to trial testimony.

The 3 of them climbed into his truck, and Thomas ducked into the rear sleeper
compartment to find the shirt, while Hunter and her daughter sat in the front
seat.

Robinson said Lorraine Hunter pulled a small-caliber handgun she'd stolen from
a member of her church and shot the victim point-blank in the back of the head
twice, then shot him twice in the upper back as he knelt in the compartment. He
died in a kneeling position.

Hunter and her daughter fled the scene with the help of a relative, and the
case went cold for 2 years, until the same relative confessed everything she
knew to investigators after being arrested herself for an unrelated offense.

(source: The Press-Enterprise)
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