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death penalty news----TEXAS, DEL., S.C., FLA., ALA.
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Rick Halperin
2017-05-05 14:13:46 UTC
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May 5



TEXAS:

College football stars could face death penalty after grand jury indicts them
on capital murder charges over the fatal shooting of a man, 29, during a
botched marijuana robbery


2 college football stars are facing a murder trial over the fatal shooting of a
29-year-old man.

Dontrell Dock, 20 and Brodrick Ross, 18, were indicted by a grand jury in
Tarrant County over the January 11 murder of Chris-Dion Russell in Fort Worth,
Texas.

Prosecutors claim Dock and Ross broke into Russell's apartment to steal
marijuana and shot him in the chest.

Russell was rushed to hospital but died within an hour.

According to the Star Telegram, the grand jury decided against recommending
charges against a 3rd player, Ryan McBeth, who had also been arrested in
connection with the investigation.

Both Dock and Ross were playing with the McMurry University football team.

Police investigating the shooting saw on CCTV covering the area a Chrysler 300
leave the scene.

The car is understood to belong to Ross' brother.

Dock is due to appear in court in Fort Worth this morning at 9am.

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

Man on death row gets life sentence instead


A man on death row for abducting a sheriff's deputy, keeping him handcuffed
inside a patrol car trunk while demanding money from a bank officer will serve
life in prison instead after Texas' highest criinal court reduced his sentence
Wednesday.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said executing 55-year-old Pedro Solis Sosa
for the 1983 slaying could carry "an uncacceptable risk" that his punishment
would be unconstitutionally cruel because of his intellectual disabilities.

A life sentence for a 1983 capital murder means that the defendant is eligible
for parole after 20 years. Sosa has been in prison more than 30 years. It will
be up to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to decide whether Sosa ever is
paroled.

The appeals court in its decision Wednesday cited a March ruling from the U.S.
Supreme Court in another Texas death row mental disability case.

(source: Dallas Morning News)

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

Deputy's son 'dejected' after his father's killer gets off death row


Roger Childress, whose father Ollie "Sammy" Childress Jr. a Wilson County
deputy sheriff was murdered in 1983 by Pedro Sosa, speaks about his father on
Thursday, May 4, 2017. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reduced Sosa's death
penalty sentence on Wednesday to life in prison, making Sosa eligible for
parole.

On November 4, 1983, Roger Childress was working in San Antonio when he got a
call from his uncle telling him that his father - Ollie "Sammy" Childress Jr.,
a Wilson County sheriff's deputy - had been kidnapped and killed in the line of
duty.

Over the past 33 years, Childress has waited for his father's convicted killer,
Pedro Solis Sosa, to be executed. Twice the younger Childress prepared to make
the drive to Huntsville to witness the execution, only to get a call hours
before telling him there was a last-minute stay. A 3rd time, Sosa's execution
was delayed 3 days before his scheduled death.

"You feel dejected every time," Childress, now 63, said Thursday. "The time
never came."

On Wednesday, Childress got a similar call from his niece, who tearfully told
him that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had reduced Sosa's sentence to
life in prison. The court ruled that executing Sosa, 55, would carry "an
unacceptable risk" that his punishment would be unconstitutionally cruel
because of his intellectual disabilities.

Sosa, who grew up in San Antonio, has been in prison for more than 30 years,
making him eligible for parole now.

"I wish they would execute him, but since they won't, I'd like him to be in
prison the rest of his life," Childress said in an interview in Stockdale.

Sammy Childress was off duty when he was flagged down by 2 men, Sosa and his
nephew Leroy Sosa. The men handcuffed the deputy and placed him in the trunk of
his patrol car before driving to La Vernia State Bank. Pedro Sosa wore
Childress' shirt and badge into the bank and told tellers, "I'm the damn
sheriff now. I've got the sheriff in the trunk of my car." The 2 robbed the
bank of $51,038.

After the robbery, Sosa shot Childress once in the neck with the deputy's
.44-caliber service revolver. The 2 men left the scene but returned so Pedro
Sosa could wipe his fingerprints off the car. They realized Childress was still
alive and shot him once more in the neck, killing him.

Leroy Sosa, who was 17 at the time of the robbery, told police his uncle was
the one who shot Childress. The younger Sosa got life in prison in exchange for
his testimony.

Pedro Sosa also confessed but later retracted his statement. He said law
enforcement officials forced a confession by threatening him and his wife.

Since then, Sosa has maintained that he is innocent. His attorneys also say he
suffers from a mental illness that alters his sense of reality and makes him
believe he is in direct communication with God.

Childress said he doesn't believe the lawyers.

"He knew what he was doing," Childress said. "He had nothing to lose to claim
he was incompetent and innocent his whole life. I guess it worked."

(source: mysanantonio.com)






DELAWARE:

Delaware House delays vote on death penalty


House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf has postponed the Legislature's vote on a bill
reinstating Delaware's death penalty because of a scheduling issue.

Schwartzkopf said in a statement that a lawmaker wanted to a call a witness who
wasn't available Thursday, when Schwartzkopf had scheduled the vote.

He says he learned of the issue and plans to put the vote on the House agenda
for Tuesday.

Consideration of the legislation comes amid a public outcry to the killing of a
correctional officer during a prison riot and hostage taking in February, and
the fatal shooting of a state trooper last week.

(source: Associated Press)






SOUTH CAROLINA:

The business of securing death sentences: 40 years and 28 men----In his 4
decade career, district attorney Donnie Myers was a powerhouse of the death
penalty in the US - here is his exit interview after retiring earlier this
year; 'I am happy to be retired,' Donnie Myers says.


In September of 1996, Donnie Myers received a letter from 1 of the many men he
had put on death row.

It came from a multiple murderer named Michael Torrence who was soon to be
executed and before he died had an unusual final request: let me talk
face-to-face, he asked, with the man who secured my death sentence.

Myers, a district attorney in Lexington County, South Carolina, thought about
it for a while, then made the similarly unorthodox decision to accept the
invitation. He made his way over to the state's death row and sat down with the
condemned man for several hours, as Torrence recounted his killings and the
motivation behind them.

"He told me that when he went about killing a person, he didn't think about the
consequences, he didn't care," Myers recalled. "He said he had a job to do,
killing someone, and that was all he concentrated on."

The chilling conversation made a deep impression on Myers, and got him thinking
about all the other killers he had dealt with. "I kind of got the feeling that
the other ones I prosecuted felt the same way. I really believe that when
someone sets about taking another human being's life, like he told me, they
don't care about anything else. That was his job, and he had to carry it out."

It was an extraordinary conversation on several levels. The strangest and most
poignant aspect of it was that Torrence's insights into the psychology of
killing, might also be applicable to the cold machinery of the death penalty.

For the past 40 years, Donnie Myers has been oiling the wheels of that machine
in his corner of the American South, achieving capital convictions on a scale
almost unparalleled in the modern era. He was determined, laser-like and
fearsomely effective. Securing death sentences was his job, and he had to carry
it out.

When the Guardian suggested to Myers that his approach to putting defendants on
death row bore similarities to the cold precision expressed by Torrence, he
replied: "I believe in enforcing the law and, based on the crime, that justice
be served."

From 1977, when he took up his post as chief prosecutor (or solicitor as it is
known locally) in Lexington County, until his retirement earlier this year,
Myers put no fewer than 28 men onto death row, 6 of whom have been executed in
the electric chair or by lethal injection. In all, he presided over more than
40 capital trials, and secured 39 death sentences (some of the men were tried
twice).

That breathtaking output puts Myers in an elite class of prosecutors who have
been the powerhouse of the death penalty in the US. He was profiled last year
in the Fair Punishment Project's report, America's Top 5 Deadliest Prosecutors,
which noted that the members of this "notorious group" had collectively wielded
an outsized influence.

His prolific dedication to capital cases also earned him exotic nicknames, such
as Doctor Death and Death Penalty Donnie. He resents the tags. "The media has
to come up with nicknames as publicity, but I would not give myself those
labels," he said.

Despite the controversy that has dogged Myers, he agreed to give the Guardian
an exit interview, looking back over his career that ended with retirement in
January. Over 2 hours, the former prosecutor opened a door onto the thinking of
an individual whose business was to arrange, judicially speaking, the killing
of prisoners, reflecting on what it takes to send 28 men to death row.

The interview took place over lunch in the Broadway theatre district of
Manhattan where Myers was enjoying a post-retirement vacation. It was a fitting
location, given his legendary theatricality in the courtroom.

"I'm known for getting really emotional in closing arguments," Myers said.
"They are emotional cases. I put myself in the victim's shoes - I'm their
mouthpiece. I'm speaking for a person that I didn't know, someone in the
grave."

That emotionality led to some highly controversial performances in front of the
jury. One of the more thespian came at the trial of Robert Northcutt, who in
2001 murdered his 4-month-old daughter Breanna because she wouldn't stop
crying.

Myers said that he set himself the task of "putting the jurors in the place of
that victim. I wanted them to see what he had done to that baby. I wanted them
to relive the crime, to go through what the victim did. So, yeah, I got highly
emotional about that".

To achieve that goal, the prosecutor brought into the courtroom the actual crib
in which the baby's body had been found. He draped it with a large black shroud
and wheeled it around in front of the jury in simulation of a funeral
procession.

Then he produced a toy doll and bent its back over the rail of the crib to show
how the defendant had broken Breanna's back. "He had bent her around til the
back of her head touched the back of her feet, and that offended me," Myers
told the Guardian.

In his closing summary, the prosecutor scolded the 12 men and women of the
jury, telling them that if they gave Northcutt a life sentence rather than
death that would be to "kick the baby some more". He also opined that anything
less than a capital sentence would declare "open season on babies in Lexington
County".

As he spoke, the prosecutor cried 16 times. What he did not tell the court, but
did reveal to the Guardian, was that to supercharge his address to the jury he
had tucked into the crib a sheet belonging to his own son Chris, who had died
of a genetic condition 7 months previously.

"My son had just died, and I used his sheet on that crib, so that was part of
the emotion too. It was part of finding emotion in the moment."

Myers achieved his ambition: Northcutt was sent to death row. But it was a
Pyrrhic victory in that the supreme court of South Carolina later overturned
the sentence on grounds that he had been "overly zealous" in his closing
summary. The prisoner is now back on death row after he was given a fresh
resentencing trial.

David Bruck, a professor at Washington and Lee University school of law who
represented Northcutt at the trial, has followed Myers' career closely over
many years. He credits the prosecutor with being a very good lawyer who knew
exactly how to appeal to the typical juror from Lexington, an overwhelmingly
white county which the Daily Caller has ranked as the 37th most conservative in
the nation.

"He worked juries very hard, there was no trick too dirty," Bruck said. "It was
as though he had won a raffle that allowed him to hunt really big game; that's
what death penalty cases were for him - hunting really big human game."

There were plenty of tricks that Myers accumulated along the way. In the
capital trial of Joseph Ard, who was convicted in 1996 of killing his unborn
child after he shot his pregnant girlfriend, the prosecutor screened pictures
in the courtroom of a fetus dressed up for a funeral. (That sentence was later
overturned too, and Ard released, after the shooting was found to be
unintentional.)

When Johnny Brewer defended himself at trial for the 1994 strangling of his
sister-in-law, Myers devised a clever way to unsettle the defendant by leaving
a Photoshopped image of Brewer strapped to the electric chair in his line of
sight within the courtroom. "He got upset about that," Myers said.

And in the case of Ron Finklea, who was prosecuted in 2007 for shooting a
security guard in a robbery, then dousing him with petrol and setting him
ablaze, Myers ignited a fire-starter right in front of the jury benches. "I
talked to the women in the jury," he recalled. "I said, 'You know when you're
cooking and you touch that stove and oh man! it hurts. Just imagine your whole
hand is on fire.' I talked about burning flesh, the smell and the pain."

Finklea is on death row awaiting execution.

But the case that stands out for Myers' critics is that of Johnny Bennett, a
black man who was sentenced to death in 1995 by an all-white jury. In the
course of his summing up, Myers described Bennett as a "beast of burden",
"brutal monster", "mountain man" and "caveman".

He warned the jury that if they gave the defendant a life sentence rather than
death he would eventually find his way back into society, and "meeting him
again will be like meeting King Kong on a bad day".

For good measure he informed the court that he had discovered that Bennett was
having sex on death row with a female prison guard who the prosecutor described
as "the blonde-headed lady" (the guard was white). The raising of the old
Southern shibboleth of white women having sex with black men left a federal
judge and the US fourth circuit court of appeals with no doubt: Myers had
played to deep-rooted stereotypes and with his King Kong remark made a "poorly
disguised appeal to racial prejudice".

The court threw out Bennett's death sentence, and the prisoner is now facing a
retrial. This was just 1 of more than 20 reversals to Myers' convictions in the
higher courts, at least 4 of them for improper closing arguments.

The Guardian asked Myers over lunch to explain his intentions in the Bennett
case. Had he been "infecting" the trial with racial animus as the federal
judges had concluded?

The prosecutor rejected the idea that his description of the "blonde-headed
lady" was racially loaded, insisting that the phrase could be applied equally
to African Americans as to white people. "Maybe the judges should have visited
downtown Columbia. Do you know how many black women have different colored
hairs in the South - I see almost as many blondes as I see anything else."

He also denied that describing a black man to an all-white jury as King Kong
was remotely problematic. "Bennett is 6ft 8in and weighs 300lbs, does one-armed
pushups. The guy he killed with 70 stabs of a Phillips-Head screwdriver was 5ft
6in and weighed 140. I was just showing the difference between them."

Can you see why somebody would see the portrayal as racist, the Guardian
inquired.

"No, I can't. I've never thought of King Kong as a black person."

But a running theme of racist literature over the years, especially in the Deep
South, has been to liken black people to primates.

"I've never heard in South Carolina or anywhere a black person described as
King Kong," he said.

John Blume, a professor at Cornell law school who represented Bennett in his
later appeals, begged to differ: "That's preposterous, it's ridiculous. This
was clearly an appeal - and none too subtle - to jurors in implicit and
explicit racial biases."

The enduring mystery about Donnie Myers is why he did it. Why did he go to such
extraordinary lengths to throw so many men to their judicial deaths? And how
did he cope with the moral burden of arguing for human beings to be killed?

It is at this point in the lunch that his answers grow eerily similar to those
of Michael Torrence, the multiple murderer he spoke to shortly before his
execution, in terms of their icy detachment. For someone who cried frequently
in closing statements, Myers is strikingly cool when discussing the moral
impact his work had on him.

"I never give defendants recognition," he said when asked how he summoned the
strength to call for the death of a man who at the time was sitting just a few
feet away from him in the courtroom. "I don't look at them. They don't need my
attention - the person who does is not in the courtroom, and that's the
victim."

Myers compared the personal stress of sending people to death row to the
vagaries of college football. "I played a lot of sports at the University of
South Carolina, I went there on a football scholarship. Capital cases are more
draining than the worst football practice I'd ever gone through."

He added that when a capital case was under way "there's not a moment when you
can relax, sleep is not very restful and you just keep going at it every day of
the week, including Saturdays and Sundays".

When you ask a prosecutor how they feel about putting 28 men on death row, you
don't expect the answer to be that the hours are terrible.

Myers insisted that he is not over zealous about the punishment. It was for
other people to think about whether judicially killing prisoners is a good or
bad idea, his job was just to carry out they decided. "If South Carolina didn't
have a death penalty law it wouldn't affect me," he said.

Did he ever have any doubts about what he was doing?

"No. There never was a doubt with any of these trials. If there was the
slightest hesitation I wouldn't go forward. I do what the law says you have to
do. I look at the type of crime that was committed and the person who committed
it, I put all that together, then think about the appropriate thing to do. It
has to fit within the law."

It was his job, and he had to carry it out.

Defense lawyers who went up against Myers in court find the argument that he
was just following the law hard to swallow. They point out that there is
nothing in state or federal law that requires prosecutors to seek death
penalties, as the decision is left entirely to their better judgment. "So for
Myers to say he was just applying the law is simply not true," Bruck said.

As a result of Myers' enthusiasm for the ultimate punishment, Lexington County
became a major supplier of the inhabitants of death row. Under his leadership,
the county achieved an astonishingly high ratio between death sentences and
murders.

Lexington recorded an average rate of 6.80 death sentences per 100 murders
compared with just 0.53 per 100 murders in neighboring Richland County, which
covers inner-city Columbia despite its much higher incidence of homicide. The
vast disparity makes a mockery of the death penalty as a uniform element of
justice.

The point was made most vividly in a study of South Carolina which highlighted
the case of Raymond Patterson. He was put on death row by Myers for a 1985
murder committed in a parking lot in Lexington County. Had the shooting
happened just 3 parking spots away, it would have fallen in Richland County,
and Patterson would in all probability have been spared a death sentence.

Stephen Breyer, the US supreme court justice, powerfully drew on these
fundamental inequalities in his famous abolitionist rallying cry in 2015. "The
imposition of the death penalty heavily depends on the county in which a
defendant is tried," he wrote, going on to conclude "that the death penalty is
imposed arbitrarily."

At his retirement in January, several hundred people came to shout Donnie Myers
out. It was the end of an era, in more ways than one.

"I am happy to be retired," Myers said. "I will never have to try another death
penalty case."

He quits the profession with seven of the men he personally escorted to death
row still sitting where he put them, awaiting the death chamber. What does he
think should happen to them now that he has left his post and is a normal
citizen once again?

"Normal! Nobody's called me normal before," he laughed.

And then he said: "I think they should get on with it. The jury set the
sentence, I think it's time for it to be carried out."

(source: The Guardian)






FLORIDA:

Florida House sides with governor in death penalty lawsuit----Filing accuses
Ayala of 'abuse of her office'


The Florida House of Representatives has filed an amicus brief showing support
for Gov. Rick Scott in his legal battle with Orange-Osceola State Attorney
Aramis Ayala, which began after she announced that her office would no longer
seek the death penalty.

Representatives argued in the court filing that Ayala does not have the power
to act as a legislative policy maker.

"The Legislature - and no other - sets Florida's public policy regarding death
as punishment for capital murder. The jury - and no other - decides, as part of
a legislatively set capital sentencing scheme, whether death will be authorized
as a punishment in any particular case following a capital murder conviction,"
the document says.

The filing calls Ayala's decision "a dereliction of her duties" and "abuse of
her office." It asserts that Scott could have gone as far as to remove Ayala
from her elected position, but instead opted to issue a series of executive
orders stripping her from nearly 2 dozen 1st-degree murder cases and
reassigning them to a neighboring attorney.

The amicus brief was filed at 11:46 p.m. Wednesday, hours after Florida's top
prosecutors voiced their support for the governor.

Ayala announced in a March 16 news conference that pursuing the death penalty
against accused double murderer Markeith Loyd or in any other case would not be
in the best interest of the community.

Since then, Scott and Ayala have been entangled in an ongoing legal battle. Her
supporters, who have also filed an amicus brief, claim that Scott is
overstepping his authority by removing Ayala from capital cases.

(source: WKMG news)






ALABAMA:

Proposed bill would take 33 inmates off death row in Alabama


On Governor Kay Ivey's 1st day on the job, she signed the judicial override
bill which takes the power of judges to override a jury in capital murder
cases. Prior to this, judges had the the ability to override a jury's verdict
from life in prison without parole to the death penalty or vice versa.

State Senator Hank Sanders (D-Selma) hopes his bill, Senate Bill 375, passes
which would convert the sentences of 33 inmates on death as a result of a
judicial override into life in prison without parole.

"I know that it's a long shot, but I think it was Dr. King who said that the
arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice," Sen. Sanders
said. "So I'm trying to bend it a little bit."

Sanders said that nearly 1/4 of the inmates on death row are there as a result
of a judicial override, and he said his bill gives the state the chance to
corrects a longstanding issue of judicial override in the state.

"We can correct it by saying well those folks who were put on death row by a
judge instead of a jury," Sen. Sanders said. "The jury recommended life without
parole. And so, we ought to be able to go back to what the jury recommended.
That's only fair and reasonable."

Corinna Anderson, the widow of Lee County Sheriffs Deputy James Anderson is
against the proposed bill.

Back in 2009, Anderson was trying to pull Gregory Lance Henderson over for a
switched tag violation when Henderson was eluding him. Once Anderson got out of
his patrol vehicle to order Henderson to stop, he did not.

Anderson was crushed to death by Henderson's car. He was sentenced to life in
prison without parole by a jury in 2012, but Judge Jacob Walker overrode it and
sentenced him to death. Henderson is 1 of the 33 inmates who could avoid being
put to death if this bill passes.

His widow, Corinna said the past 8 years have been very different for her.

"James was my high school sweetheart," Anderson said. "I lost him. Well, I
didn't lose him; he was taken from me. Henderson took my kids' dad away. He
took his mom's son away. He took his dad's son away."

She added that there was an instance when she in court once on her birthday
where Henderson told her he was sorry James died. She added that he was not
sorry for taking her husband's life away, but that he was sorry he got caught.
Anderson feels that all those on death row were sent there for a reason and
that Henderson deserved the sentence that he received.

"His kids can at least know their dad is still alive," Anderson said. "My kids
get to visit a stone at a cemetery. We take his grandkids and introduce them
and say 'hey, this is your Papa James,' and it's a stone."

Sanders said the bill is currently in the senate judiciary committee.

(source: WRBL news)


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