Discussion:
death penalty news----TEXAS, VA., N.C., GA., FLA., OKLA., CALIF.
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Rick Halperin
2017-10-08 19:02:33 UTC
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Oct. 8




TEXAS----impending executions

Death Watch: Where's Your Evidence?----Exculpatory testimony, DNA at issue for
Rodney Reed, Robert Pruett



Rodney Reed, the Bastrop man who's spent nearly 20 years on death row for the
1996 murder of Stacey Stites - a crime he has steadfastly maintained he did not
commit - could move 1 step closer to a new trial next week. On Tuesday, Oct.
10, he'll step into Bastrop County's 21st District Court for a 4-day hearing
set to address an interview CNN's Death Row Stories conducted in 2016 with
Curtis Davis, the Bastrop County Sheriff's investigator and former best friend
of Jimmy Fennell Jr., Stites' fiancee, then a Giddings police officer, and the
person Reed and his supporters believe to be responsible for her death. The
interview, according to Reed's attorney Bryce Benjet, validates longstanding
questions concerning whether Fennell provided false testimony at Reed's trial
about his whereabouts on the night of Stites' murder.

Most relevant to Reed's effort is the portion of the interview in which Davis
admits that on the morning of April 23, 1996, after Stites was reported
missing, Fennell confided to Davis that he'd been out drinking by his truck the
night before with several other police officers after a Little League practice.
Davis said he doesn't know the exact time Fennell returned home, but told CNN:
"definitely 10ish, 11 maybe at night." That unassuming nugget stands in direct
contrast to Fennell's statement to police and testimony at Reed's trial: that
he'd spent the night of April 22 at home with Stites, and was asleep when she
allegedly left for work with his truck at 3am.

Davis' reveal is remarkable on its own, but even more striking when stacked
next to affidavits filed in 2015 by Werner Spitz, Michael Baden, and LeRoy
Riddick - 3 of the country's leading forensic experts - each of which raises
questions about the time of Stites' death; essentially, that her condition when
investigators found her indicates that Stites must have died at least 4 hours
before her official time of death, 3:30am. That time played an outsized role in
the state's case against Reed: Prosecutors hung their argument around the
assumption that Reed abducted, raped, and murdered her on her way to work, then
abandoned Fennell's truck at a nearby high school.

Fennell is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for the in-custody rape
and kidnapping of a woman while he was an officer with the Georgetown Police
Department in 2007.

Visiting Judge Doug Shaver will preside over the hearing, a recent development.
The county docket listed that court's usual judge Carson Campbell as the
hearing's judge as recently as July, but District Clerk Sarah Loucks told the
Chronicle that Campbell "never was going to hear" Reed's case. It has been
Shaver's case since 2014, Loucks said on Sept. 29, and she had "no idea" how it
got reported that Campbell was presiding over the hearing. (We reported it in
July after seeing Campbell's name listed as the presiding judge on the Bastrop
County district clerk's website. See "Rodney Reed Hearing Set for October,"
July 14. Loucks did not respond to additional requests for clarification.)

Some might recall that Shaver has made a few headlines of his own over the
years, including last September, when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
instructed him to further investigate Reed's request for additional DNA
testing. Once the prosecution and defense submitted their findings - in
opposition to one another - Shaver approved both arguments and shipped them off
to the CCA. Shortly after, Shaver wrote the court to apologize for what he
called an "inadvertent mistake." Curiously, during our interview with Loucks on
Friday, someone listening in on the call from Loucks' office interjected to say
that Shaver's approval of both sides' findings "wasn't an accident." Asked to
clarify, all that person (who declined to identify herself) could say was that
Shaver "wanted the Court of Criminal Appeals to make that decision" - another
odd development, since Shaver's letter to the CCA stated that he meant to
approve only the prosecution's findings. The appeals court affirmed Shaver's
decision to deny additional DNA testing, less than 1 month before mandating
that the county court hold this upcoming hearing.

After that incident, Benjet told the Statesman that he planned to request a new
judge preside over Reed's case. Neither Benjet nor the Bastrop County District
Attorney's Office returned requests for comment concerning whether or not a new
judge had indeed been requested and ??? if so ??? if that request had been
denied.

Pruett's Last Stand

While Reed's hearing is going on, another longtime inmate of Texas' death row
is slated for execution. Robert Pruett, convicted for the 1999 in-custody
murder of Beeville prison guard Daniel Nagle, has a death date of Oct. 12. It's
his 5th such date, as questions continue to come up about the murder, and
whether Pruett was actually responsible.

The 38-year-old was 20 and serving a 99-year sentence for acting as an
accomplice to a murder committed by his father when Nagle was found dead in the
prison's multipurpose room. No officers witnessed the killing, and no inmates
immediately spoke up. Investigators later found a homemade shank and a torn-up
disciplinary note Nagle had issued Pruett earlier that day. They noticed a cut
on Pruett's finger during their questioning of him, and splotches of blood on
his shirt. Pruett denied any involvement, saying that he cut himself while
lifting weights and used his shirt to wipe off the blood. Efforts to get the
shank tested for DNA have been repeatedly denied at various levels - most
recently on Oct. 2 by the U.S. Supreme Court. Pruett has an outstanding appeal
for a stay with Houston District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos; should that be
denied, he'll become the sixth Texan executed this year.

But that's just the start: With 5 more executions scheduled for 2017, including
2 more this month (Anthony Shore on Oct. 18 and Clinton Young on Oct. 26),
trouble in Huntsville is only heating up.

(source: The Austin Chronicle)








VIRGINIA:

Danville capital murder trial will be delayed----Pierre Dixon originally
scheduled to go to trial in December



A capital murder case in Danville will now take longer to get underway.

Pierre Dixon was originally scheduled to go to trial in December, but this week
his attorney requested that a neuropsychologist be allowed to testify in the
case.

The Commonwealth Attorney's Office objected, but a judge granted the request.

Because this comes so close to the original trial date, the trial will have to
be pushed back in order to give both sides enough time to prepare.

Dixon is facing 5 charges related to the 2013 shooting death of Antwan Rucker.

The Commonwealth intends to seek the death penalty.

A woman, Shakira Murphy, is also facing multiple charges related to the death.

She is set to be in court in January to have a trial date set.

(source: WSLS news)








NORTH CAROLINA:

NC high court reviews death penalty of man who beheaded wife



North Carolina's highest court is reviewing whether justice means the death
penalty for a survivor of El Salvador's blood-soaked civil war of the 1980s who
strangled and then decapitated his estranged wife.

The state's Supreme Court hears oral arguments Monday on whether the state can
execute 41-year-old Juan Carlos Rodriguez of Winston-Salem for the 2010 murder
of his wife, Maria. The high court automatically reviews death cases.

North Carolina is rare among southern states in that it hasn't had an execution
in more than a decade because of various legal challenges. While the state has
continued to suffer 500 to 600 murders a year, prosecutors have sought the
death penalty only a handful of times each year and juries have condemned
killers in only a fraction of those cases.

Rodriguez's children told investigators their father beat and bloodied Maria
Rodriguez after she told them she was leaving in November 2010. He tossed the
woman's still-breathing body over his shoulder, placed her in his vehicle, and
said he was taking her to a hospital. Maria's body and severed head were found
at different locations three weeks later, after Juan was already jailed for her
kidnapping.

Justices are holding hearings in the case for the 2nd time in almost exactly a
year. Monday's hearing comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this spring
that states needed to use current medical standards in deciding whether a
killer is so mentally disabled he can???t be executed. The U.S. constitution
bans "cruel and unusual punishments," and that has been interpreted to prohibit
executing people with severe mental shortcomings.

Rodriguez's IQ was estimated several times at below 70, a threshold for
significantly impaired intellectual functioning. But accused killers in North
Carolina also must show significant inability to adapt to daily life and that
their mental handicaps were evident before adulthood.

Prosecutors introduced testimony showing Rodriguez worked as a brick mason
meant he competed in the job market and earned a decent salary, was able to
fill out forms, sign a lease, and pay bills. But a forensic psychiatrist
testifying for Rodriguez said he compensated at work for his inability to learn
addition or subtraction by marking a yardstick with common measurements.

Attorneys trying to prevent his execution argue that growing up in rural El
Salvador meant Rodriguez was scarred by extreme poverty, malnutrition so severe
his mother once told him to eat grass, exposure to neurotoxins in pesticides,
and education that ended with seventh grade at age 16. Rodriguez also suffered
post-traumatic stress disorder from the war, his attorneys said.

"In addition to the torture and murder of his brother, young Juan Carlos was
regularly exposed to heavy combat, air raids, and the possibility of stepping
on land mines," defense attorney John Carella wrote in one court filing.

Prosecutors countered that while psychologists agree that traumatic experiences
could contribute to intellectual disability, Rodriguez's "experience of growing
up during a particular civil war was collective and not individualized to him."
In other words, thousands of other rural Salvadorans survived the ghastly
violence without turning into killers themselves.

Despite having one of the world's highest homicide rates, El Salvador allows
the death penalty only for exceptional crimes.

There are 144 killers on North Carolina's death row, including Rodriguez and 3
women. He's been one of the most recent additions to the line waiting for their
execution day. The longest has been on death row for 32 years. The latest was
added in April 2016.

(source: Associated Press)








GEORGIA:

Lowndes juries to hear 4 murder cases in November



Lowndes County juries will hear 4 murder cases in November, according to court
records.

The trials are scheduled to start Nov. 6 in Superior Court.

Altogether, there are 6 defendants charged with murder in the 4 cases, court
records show.

Death on Toombs Street

In 1 case, 3 suspects face trial in connection with the death of Jalon Jackson,
20.

Jackson was found dead inside his North Toombs Street residence Oct. 19, 2016,
after police performed a welfare check at the request of relatives who had not
heard from him.

Austin Eugen Stephens was indicted on charges of felony murder, aggravated
assault, armed robbery and possession of a firearm during the commission of a
felony; Keyolivia Richardson and Anthony Dequnn Jordan were indicted on charges
of felony murder, aggravated assault and robbery, according to court documents.

They were arrested in March following information provided by a police tip.

A mother's death

Freddie Finnissee Jr., 40, of Valdosta faces trial in the 2015 death of his
mother, according to police and court documents.

At 7:37 a.m., Dec. 14, police officers and firefighters responded to the 100
block of Perry Lane in reference to a report of a residential fire, according
to a police department press release. While extinguishing the flames,
firefighters found the body of Diane Calhoun-Perry, 61. Her death was ruled a
homicide after an autopsy, according to police.

Finnissee was indicted by a grand jury for malice murder and arson in the 1st
degree, according to court records.

Police: Death was retribution

Justin Emanuel Brown, 28, was indicted on charges of malice murder, felony
murder, aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a
felony and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon during the grand jury's
March term, according to court documents.

Brown is accused of killing Emory Austin Carter Jr., said Southern District
Attorney Brad Shealy.

Police said on Nov. 14, Carter and another man were believed to have killed
Brian Keith Moore, 25, during a robbery. Reportedly, Moore family members
learned Carter was the shooter but did not inform the police department,
according to police reports. Brown was Moore's brother, said Lt. Adam Bembry of
the Valdosta Police Department.

Carter was shot to death Nov. 28 on East Ann Street, and police characterized
the shooting as retribution.

Death in prison

The remaining November murder trial involves a former Valdosta State Prison
inmate charged in the death of another inmate in December, according to the
district attorney.

Chris Lashan Harper, 46, is charged in the Dec. 9 strangling death of inmate
Robert Lee Hughes Jr., said Shealy.

Harper is charged with felony murder, malice murder and aggravated assault,
according to court documents.

Shealy said the 2 murder indictments could bring Harper life in prison without
parole.

"The case doesn't qualify for the death penalty," he said.

Harper is now in the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison near
Jackson, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections.

A search of prison records shows Harper has a long string of convictions in
Coweta County dating to 1989, mostly for terroristic threats and acts and
obstruction of a law-enforcement officer.

(source: The Valdosta Daily Times)








FLORIDA:

Grand jury to hear stabbing case



A grand jury this month will mull what murder charge, if any, should be sought
against a 24-year-old transgendered woman accused of stabbing a Key West
business man in the eyes and beating him to death in August.

Justin Tyler Calhoun, formerly of Tampa, is currently charged with 2nd-degree
murder in the death of Mark Brann, 67, owner of A&M Rentals Key West, died Aug.
15, at Ryder Trauma Center in Miami.

A charge of 1st-degree murder requires a grand jury's indictment by law.

The maximum penalty of 2nd-degree murder is life in state prison, but life is
not the mandatory sentence.

Should the grand jury come back with a 1st-degree murder indictment,
prosecutors will decide whether they will seek a death sentence at that time,
said Chief Assistant State Attorney Mark Wilson.

The decision to seek the death penalty is technically up to prosecutors. State
Attorney Dennis Ward said he will seek the grand jury's input in this case if
should they recommend a 1st-degree murder charge.

Such cases are rare in Monroe County. The last instance in which the state
sought death was in the matter of Jonathan Leo LeBaron, who was sentenced to
life in prison in 2013 in the 2009 stabbing death of part-time Stock Island
live-aboard boater Richard Gardner.

The trial jury recommended death, but circuit Judge Mark Jones spared his life
at sentencing.

Prior to LeBaron, prosecutors sought the death penalty in the 2006 case of
Christopher Bennett, who was convicted of beating his 5-year-old son, Zachary,
to death. Bennett was also sentenced to life in prison.

The last defendant to actually be sentenced to death in Monroe County was
Michael Tanzi, convicted in 2003 for the 2000 kidnapping, beating, robbery,
rape and murder of Janet Acosta, a Miami Herald employee.

Tanzi remains on death row at the Union Correctional Institution in Raiford.

Capital murder cases in Florida are broken down into 2 proceedings if the
defendant is found guilty.

The 1st part is the guilt phase; the 2nd part is the penalty phase, in which
jurors determine the sentence: life in prison or death.

Calhoun is accused of stabbing Brann in both eyes with a pen, jamming a piece
of wood down his throat, and beating him before fleeing with more than $10,000
in cash, an ounce of cocaine and more than 100 painkillers prescribed to Brann.

Calhoun, who is identified by the Monroe County Sheriff's Office as a
transgender female who worked as a stripper in Tampa before living on the
streets of Key West,was taken into custody after police found her hiding naked
on a roof at 2919 Fogarty Ave. Calhoun told police shortly thereafter that she
left 1206 12th St. with a backpack containing a dress and "some money," reports
say.

(source: keysnews.com)








OKLAHOMA:

Executions in Oklahoma still on hold



The number of death row inmates who have exhausted all their appeals has grown
to 16, with still no plan in place to begin executions again.

? The latest inmate to become eligible for an execution date is murderer
Richard Norman Rojem Jr., who kidnapped, raped and fatally stabbed a 7-year-old
girl in 1984.

Rojem, now 59, was first convicted and sentenced in 1985. He was resentenced -
twice - after successful appeals.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined, without comment, to review Rojem's
final appeal of his punishment.

"I think we need to move forward, because other states have had problems with
their execution protocols," said state Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow. "I
think we should probably get our act together."

Ritze is on the House Public Safety Committee and has been an author on a
number of pro-death penalty measures.

"Every day that goes by that we delay ... is an injustice to families of
victims," the legislator said.

Executions have been on hold since the wrong deadly drug was almost used on
Sept. 30, 2015. A doctor involved in the process discovered the mistake and the
execution was called off.

Officials later confirmed the same wrong deadly drug had been used
inadvertently during an execution on Jan. 15, 2015.

A state multicounty grand jury spent months investigating the mix-up. In a
report released in May 2016, the grand jury blamed a faulty execution protocol,
inexcusable failures by corrections officials and a pharmacist's negligence.

The grand jury recommended a series of changes, and corrections officials have
been developing new procedures ever since.

] "We're working on it," said Mark Myers, the Corrections Department
communications director. "It's a process. We're working closely with the
Attorney General's Office as we develop a protocol."

The task of setting execution dates falls to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal
Appeals. The Attorney General's Office has been updating the court monthly
since executions were put on hold.

"Although the investigation is complete, it is still not the appropriate time
to set an execution date," Attorney General Mike Hunter and Deputy Attorney
General Jennifer Miller wrote in the latest status report filed last week.

(source: The Oklahoman)








CALIFORNIA:

Funeral Held for 3 West Sacramento Children Allegedly Murdered by Their Father



River Cities Funeral Chapel in West Sacramento is preparing to host as many as
550 people for the funeral of Kelvin, Julie and Lucas Hodges, the 3 West
Sacramento children allegedly murdered by their father on Sept. 13.

West Sacramento police said Saturday they have been told to expect as many as
800 people at the service for the 3 young siblings.

Robert and Sheng Hodges' 3 children, 11-year-old Kelvin, 9-year-old Julie and
7-month-old Lucas, were found dead by West Sacramento officers in the family's
apartment Sept. 13.

The neighbor who called 911 initially believed the children had been
suffocated. Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig said their father
allegedly used a belt to kill Julie and Kelvin.

Robert Hodges pleaded not guilty to 3 charges of premeditated 1st-degree murder
and 1 charge of felony attempted murder against his wife. He could face the
death penalty if convicted.

(source: Fox News)

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

Vallejo murder suspects make court appearance ahead of hearing next month



2 men charged with murder in the 2015 death of a 21-year-old Vallejo woman were
back in court Friday, where 'IT' issues continue to hold up the case that is
set for a preliminary hearing in November.

If convicted, Richard E. Hill, 40, of Vallejo, and Isaiah D. McClain, 29, of
Richmond, could face the death penalty. The 2 men are suspects in the Aug. 3,
2015, shooting in Vallejo that killed 21-year-old A'Tierra Westbrook.

According to police, Westbrook was the unintended target of a dispute between
the co-defendants and other men. She was gunned down in her car around 7 a.m.
near Benicia Road as she drove to work at Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical
Center, police said.

McClain is the alleged gunman, while Hill reportedly drove the 2 men. Upon
arrival, officers located Westbrook's Toyota Camry crashed into a light pole
near Sperry Avenue. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

McClain was arrested Sept. 5 in Vacaville following a traffic stop. Hill turned
himself into authorities less than a month later. A substantial amount of
evidence that has yet to be opened continues to hold up the case, with both
men's defense councils set to file a motion to compel, court discussions
revealed Friday. The evidence in question is several hours worth of wiretaps on
blue ray disks. The motion to compel will be addressed Oct. 30.

Both men are ordered back in court Nov. 27 for a preliminary hearing. McClain
and Hill remain jailed without bail.

(source: Times-Herald)
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