2017-10-22 15:05:01 UTC
OCTOBER 22, 2017:
Texas death row plot triggers call for more prison guards
The gurney in Huntsville is where Texas' condemned are strapped down to receive
lethal doses of drugs.
After a bizarre death row confession plot between 2 prisoners slated for
execution, the correctional officers' union is calling for more staffing they
say could have prevented the scheme that ultimately derailed the state's effort
to put to death a Houston-area serial killer.
"This was definitely a security breakdown," said Lance Lowry, who heads the
Texas Correctional Employees union based in Huntsville. "You're playing Russian
roulette when you don't have enough security."
Texas prisons have more inmates per officer than other large states like New
York and California, he said, adding that death row in particular needs "a lot
But the Texas Department of Criminal Justice begged to differ.
"Death row is appropriately staffed and all critical positions are filled,"
spokesman Jason Clark said Friday. "Staffing played no role in this confession
scheme between death row offenders."
The hand-wringing over staffing questions stems from an alleged plot hatched
between condemned inmates Anthony Shore and Larry Swearingen, which came to
light this week (Oct. 18) only hours before Shore was set to die by lethal
A judge late Wednesday stayed Shore's execution for 90 days after prosecutors
said the four-time killer had admitted to an abandoned plan to confess to
Swearingen's crime, the 1998 killing in Montgomery County of college student
Swearingen has long professed his innocence, though the Willis man is still
slated for execution in November.
Shore, on the other hand, has consistently admitted to the 1992 killing of
Maria del Carmen Estrada - for which he was convicted - as well as the gruesome
strangulations of 14-year-old Laurie Tremblay, 9-year-old Diana Rebollar and
16-year-old Dana Sanchez.
But sometime in July, he allegedly agreed to take responsibility for Trotter's
murder as well, even stashing material from the Montgomery County murder -
including a hand-drawn map marking the supposed location of more evidence - in
his death row cell at the Polunsky Unit near Livingston.
When prosecutors discovered the suspicious items in Shore's cell, it threatened
to muddy the waters in the already troubled Swearingen case.
Then on Tuesday - about 24 hours before Shore's scheduled execution - Shore
told investigators he'd only considered confessing to get his friend off, and
not because he'd actually committed the crime. The multiple murderer also
agreed to answer questions about other cases, and a judge greenlit pushing back
his execution till January.
It's still not entirely clear how the two prisoners became friends, or how
Shore managed to acquire materials relating to Swearingen's case. TDCJ
officials declined to offer specifics citing an ongoing investigation, but were
willing to speak in generalities.
It's not difficult for men to talk to each other on death row, even though they
spend most of their day alone in a cell, according to Clark.
"It's something you really can't prevent," he said.
When prisoners are let out for recreation, they may be able to talk to other
death row inmates in neighboring caged recreation areas. And even when they're
in their cells, they're able to talk by shouting out the door slot, through the
vents, or sometimes through toilets, Lowry said.
But passing letters, legal materials or other items is not allowed - and a
little trickier to pull off.
Instead of old-fashioned cell bars, death row cells have a solid door, but the
crack underneath offers a way to push out small notes or "kites." To reel in
illicit missives from neighbors, prisoners will go "fishing" with hand-made
contraptions fashioned from bedsheets, paper and other readily available
materials. But sometimes, locked-in prisoners get help from inmate workers
known as porters.
"Porters passing notes is something we've dealt with with all inmates," Clark
said. "They have a lot of time on their hands so they try to come up with new
and inventive ways to beat our security measures."
Clark declined to say whether Shore and Swearingen had been housed near each
other leading up to the plot, though Lowry said death row inmates are moved to
different cells on a weekly basis for security.
"We need a lot more officers on those cell blocks," the union chief said. "A
lot of people think those inmates are locked in a cell so they can't do
anything, but that's not always the case."
But even more officers probably wouldn't have been enough to stop the supposed
friendship between Shore and Swearingen, Lowry admitted, though it may have
prevented any potential transfer of case materials.
"With the current staffing levels and security levels, they can't stop it," he
said. "I think people need to take a more ethical look at the amount of work
these guys do - and they're incredibly understaffed."
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Death penalty repeal may be back on the table
It might not have the dazzle of paid family leave, nor the timeliness of
Medicaid expansion reauthorization, but Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn is
predicting one legislative effort will take center stage next year: death
The Whitefield Democrat said the latest push by Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton,
will have his personal support next session. And amid the usual partisan
rancor, Woodburn said, the topic is one whose positions cross party lines,
making its success or failure particularly inscrutable.
Still, Woodburn said he thinks 2018 is the year for it to happen. Cushing, who
has submitted a legislative service request for repeal, was unavailable for
It's an oft-traveled road for the New Hampshire Legislature, ever since 2000,
when a repeal bill comfortably passed the House and Senate. That effort was
vetoed by then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, but similar attempts have been made by
members of both parties in the intervening years.
Most recently, while efforts have passed the House, the Senate has deadlocked
in 2014 and 2016 on efforts to repeal.
The latest was co-led by Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Concord, who said at the time that
he had dropped his long-held support for the death penalty out of concern for
the potential innocence of prisoners. Avard did not reply to a request for
New Hampshire's capital punishment laws are relatively narrow, applicable to
murders of police officers, judges and prosecutors, or in killings during
kidnappings, robberies and sexual assault. And the law is rarely invoked; no
execution has taken place in the state since 1939.
But the topic has been an emotional minefield since 2008, when Michael Addison
was sentenced to death for the murder of Manchester police Officer Michael
Opponents of repeal say Addison, the only person on death row in New Hampshire,
exemplifies the need for a strong deterrent against police violence.
Off the heels of last year's deadlock, and with nine new senators in the
chamber, Woodburn said he thinks the winds will shift. But he said conviction
in this area comes down to personal conscience, and he's not going to wrangle
any votes beyond his own.
"This is not a party line vote - we do not whip anyone, we do not bring it up.
It is not a caucus decision, and I believe the Republicans have the same view,"
he said. "They're all over the map on this issue."
(source: Concord Monitor)
Four charged with 1st-degree murder after escape attempt
4 former inmates of Pasquotank Correctional Institution have been charged with
2 counts each of 1st-degree murder following a fire and botched escape attempt
that resulted in the deaths of 2 prison officers.
Wisezah Buckman, 29, Seth J. Frasier, 33, Mikel Brady, 28 and Johnathan M.
Monk, 30, will likely face additional charges, Pasquotank County Sheriff Randy
Cartwright said during a press conference Thursday.
One of the defendants has been sent to Central Prison in Raleigh for
safekeeping, while the other 3 are incarcerated at Polk Correctional
Institution in Butner.
The case will go before a grand jury Oct. 30, Cartwright said, where the
evidence and testimony will be reviewed and used to obtain further charges.
"There's certainly more charges to come, but we will process that through the
grand jury," District Attorney Andrew Womble said during the press conference.
Womble said the case is the most serious matter he's prosecuted during his 5
years as chief prosecutor for North Carolina's First Judicial District. The
multiple defendants will make the case especially challenging, he added.
The case has taken an emotional toll on his office, he said, but that won't
impede progress on the case.
"I can assure you that my office intends to prosecute this at the highest
degree possible," Womble said.
Depending on the outcome of the trial, the defendants could be sentenced to
life without parole or the death penalty.
Neither Cartwright or Womble disclosed much new information during the press
conference, both stating that the investigation is continuing. Cartwright also
said they didn't want information out in the community that might compromise a
Cartwright said he credits the quick action of prison staff, the immediate
response of local law enforcement and steady information coming in from the
county's telecommunications department with helping to end the escape attempt
and preventing more injuries.
"It wasn't long at all before we had all 4 of them in custody," Cartwright
"It's still very, very bad, but it could have been much worse," he added. "It
started in the sewing shop, but it led all the way out into the yard." None of
the inmates were able to scale the razor-wire topped fence around the prison,
The escape attempt occurred in the prison???s Specialty Sewing shop, where a
fire was started to provide a distraction while the 4 attempted to escape. In
the ensuing chaos, Correctional Officer Justin Smith and Correction Enterprises
Manager Veronica Darden were killed, and 10 other prison employees were
2 prison employees, Correctional Officer Wendy Shannon and maintenance worker
Geoffrey Howe, remain hospitalized in critical condition, Cartwright said.
Correctional Officer George Midgett was released from the hospital earlier this
Funeral services for Darden and Smith will be held Saturday and Sunday in the
auditorium at Elizabeth City State University's Fine Arts Center. For more
information about arrangements, visit Mitchell Funeral Home.
(source: The Outer Banks Voice)
Lawson pleads not guilty in Ohio quadruple killing
A week after the suspect in the slaying of 4 Ohio residents gave himself up to
capture, and days after the victims were laid to rest, family members still
find themselves wondering what provoked the attack.
Arron L. Lawson pleaded not guilty Friday to a 13-count capital murder
indictment that carries a possible death penalty sentence by lethal injection
Lawson, 23, of Township Road 1051, Ironton, is charged with four counts of
aggravated murder, along with charges of rape, kidnapping, aggravated burglary,
felonious assault, attempted murder, abuse of a corpse, tampering with
evidence, theft of a motor vehicle and failure to comply with the order or
signal of a police officer.
He is charged with fatally shooting Donald McGuire, 50, and Tammie L. McGuire,
43, Tammie's daughter, Stacey Holston, 24, and her son, Devin Holston, 8, at
Holston's residence in Pedro on the evening of Oct. 11. A fifth victim, Todd
Holston, was stabbed but survived and was treated for his injuries.
Lawson is Tammie McGuire's nephew, according to relatives.
"He used to baby-sit Devin and Braxton all the time," Desiree McClain, Tammie's
daughter, said Friday. "He was over there all the time. He wanted to be there
all the time."
Braxton, the 2-year-old son of Todd and Stacey Holston, wasn't harmed during
the Oct. 11 shooting.
"This came out of nowhere," McClain said Friday.
All 4 of the dead were buried Thursday.
"It was the worst day of my life," said Lisa Jackson, another daughter of
Jackson is a cousin of the defendant. She said she is OK with a potential death
penalty in the case.
The McGuires and the Holstons lived about a quarter-mile apart in Pedro,
according to relatives.
"We wanted to tell them we appreciate all their efforts and their work and
giving us justice" in apprehending Lawson, Brooke McClain, another daughter of
Tammie McGuire, said of the efforts last week of Tri-State law enforcement.
During the hearing Friday, Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Andy Ballard
appointed Kirk A. McVay, assistant state public defender, to represent Lawson,
also known as Aaron Lee Lawson.
Under Ohio law, anyone charged in a capital murder case is appointed 2 lawyers.
During Friday's hearing, he had three: McKay, Warren "Butch" Morford, a South
Point attorney, and Gene Meadows, a Scioto County lawyer.
McKay will serve as first chair in Lawson's defense, and Morford or Meadows or
both will serve as second chair. Only lawyers approved by the Ohio Supreme
Court can serve as defense counsel in death penalty cases.
County Prosecuting Attorney Brigham Anderson is being assisted by Angela
Canepa, an assistant Ohio attorney general in the special prosecutions
Anderson recommended Lawson continue to be held without bond, and Ballard
agreed. The judge also told McVay he could bring up the matter of bond in
Ballard set a pretrial in the case for 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3.
Lawson also waived his right to a speedy trial in the case.
(source: The Herald-Dispatch)
Group Plans Push to End the Death Penalty in Utah Next Year
A group advocating for the end of Utah's death penalty intends to make another
push next year following the failure of a similar effort in 2016.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Utah Justice Coalition Executive Director
Darcy Van Orden says they already have a sponsor in the state Senate to back a
bill on abolishing the death penalty, and they're seeking a backer in the
Van Orden discussed the matter with other criminal justice reform advocates
during a Tuesday panel session at the University of Utah.
While lawmakers had considered studying the costs of the death penalty in 2016,
a bill never reached the House floor.
The last Utah death penalty was carried out in 2010. 9 men are currently on
death row in the state.
(source: Associated Press)
Mother could face death penalty for alleged murder of her 20-month-old baby
A Twin Falls mother has been arrested in Boise for allegedly murdering her
Police issued a statement saying 22-year-old Amanda Dunlap was apprehended
without incident Friday night in Boise and booked into the Ada County jail
early Saturday morning. She's facing 1 charge of 1st-degree murder and 9 counts
of injury to a child.
Prosecutors have not yet said whether they will seek the death penalty against
Dunlap - a possible punishment if she's convicted of 1st-degree murder.
The investigation began Oct. 8 when Twin Falls police were called to St. Luke's
Magic Valley Medical Center about a baby in distress. The child was flown by
emergency helicopter to Boise and died on Oct. 14.
In their statement, police said they'd release no more information at this time
because they're continuing to investigate.
Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs said it's too early in the
investigation to confirm many details to the media. "It's very early," Loebs
said Saturday. "She was just arrested this morning."
Asked about the baby's cause of death, the prosecutor said "I wouldn't know how
to answer that."
Loebs said authorities may make more information available this week, depending
on the progress of the investigation.
Here is the Twin Falls Police Department's statement in full:
"October 8, 2017, the Twin Falls Police Department responded to St. Luke's
Magic Valley in regards to a 20-month-old child in distress. The child was
life-flighted to Boise. The Twin Falls Police Department, with assistance from
the Boise Police Department, immediately started an investigation. On October
14, 2017, the child subsequently succumbed to the injuries. On October 20,
2017, 22-year-old Amanda Dunlap, from Twin Falls, Idaho, was arrested on a
warrant for murder and felony injury to a child. Dunlap was booked into the Ada
County Jail early Saturday morning. No further information will be released by
our Department at this time as this remains an active investigation. Any
further media inquiries should be directed to the Twin Falls County
(source: Idaho State Journal)
Father of 2, 36, is found guilty of hiring a hitman to kill his pregnant
girlfriend and unborn baby
A Los Angeles man on Saturday was convicted of double homicide in the 2001
contract killing of his girlfriend and unborn child.
Prosecutors said 36-year-old Derek Paul Smyer hired a hit-man to kill his then
pregnant girlfriend Crystal Taylor, 27, because she refused to have an
abortion, according to NBC4 News.
Smyer was found guilty of 2nd-degree murder for Taylor's killing; 1st-degree
murder of the fetus; 2 counts of solicitation of murder and one 1 count of
conspiracy to commit a crime by a 6-man, 6-woman jury.
Smyer is scheduled to have his sentencing hearing on June 1. He faces life
imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
The man Smyer hired to kill Taylor, Skyler Jefferson Moore, 35, is expected to
have his verdict handed down on Monday afternoon. Moore, who has already been
convicted of murder in a different case stemming from 2001, faces a possible
death penalty sentence.
Calvin Schneider III, Smyer's attorney, said he plans to appeal the verdict,
telling NBC4 that his client is innocent of the charges.
'I think it's clear that somebody else committed the crime,'' Schneider said.
'I'm disappointed that the jurors didn't find that there was reasonable doubt.'
The conviction took more than 15 years to secure, after a 2011 mistrial set the
state back over 6 years.
Prosecutors said that Smyer and Moore met in Redondo Beach while playing
The state contends that Smyer hired Moore to carry out the shooting, with the
latter eager to participate in order to his build his reputation as a ruthless
Taylor was later found dead inside her apartment complex. She was an estimated
22 weeks pregnant.
Moore, who was already serving a life sentence for a separate crime shortly
after Taylor's murder, was approached by cold case detectives nearly a decade
after her death.
The investigators promised to improve his conditions if he offered them
That's when he admitted to killing Taylor on Smyer's behalf. Police always
believed Smyer's was a suspect, now they had a witness.
Moore, however, later withdrew his testimony, saying he was concerned he was
helping 'convict an innocent person.'
Deputy District Attorney Rosa Zavala also told jurors that 'Crystal is not the
first girlfriend that defendant Smyer has hurt.'
Smyer's had 2 children prior to his relationship to Taylor, with the mother,
Traci Williamson, being attacked by an unknown assailant during each pregnancy.
'That relationship had domestic violence written all over it,' Deputy District
Attorney Danette Meyers said during the trial. 'He pleaded with her to have an
In the 1st attack, a man cut her throat with a knife, prosecutors said.
'The (2nd) attacker focused on kicking and punching her in the stomach,' Zavala
Schneider painted a different picture of his client, showing pictures of Smyer
smiling following the birth of each of his children.
The defense attorney also said that Smyer dropped out of school to support
Williamson while she finished high school.
Both of Smyer's children were living with him at the time of his arrest for the
murder of Crystal Taylor in 2010.
Smyer was previously convicted of bank fraud, serving 14 months in prison from
Oregon Judge Tosses Guard's Purported Murder Confession----A judge has thrown
out a former security guard's purported confession to killing a woman at the
central Oregon community college where he worked.
A judge has thrown out a former security guard's purported confession to
killing a woman at the central Oregon community college where he worked.
Deschutes County Judge A. Michael Adler on Friday ruled that it wasn't clear if
Edwin Lara invoked his constitutional right to an attorney.
But Adler allowed some evidence obtained from Lara's statements, including the
finding of the body of 23-year-old Kaylee Sawyer. Adler ruled detectives would
have found the body in the open off a highway west of Redmond without Lara's
The 32-year-old Lara is accused of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing
Sawyer in July 2016 while on duty as a Central Oregon Community College
security guard in Bend.
He then drove to Salem, the state capital, where authorities say he kidnapped
another woman and took her to California, then shot and wounded a man and
carjacked a vehicle carrying 3 people. After a high-speed chase on the main
freeway along the West Coast, the California Highway Patrol arrested Lara.
Sawyer's body was found later that day, t2 days after she was killed.
Lara's attorneys argued that Lara requested an attorney multiple times in the
California jail. Adler said California officers did not follow state law that
allows a defendant three calls within 3 hours of arrest.
Adler said Oregon detectives read Lara his Miranda rights but didn't know Lara
never had a chance to contact a lawyer. The Oregon detectives conducted the
interview with no attorney present.
"Clarifying questions were required to be asked, and they were not asked,"
The trial is scheduled to start in October 2018. Deschutes County District
Attorney John Hummel is seeking the death penalty.
(source: Associated Press)
The Cost of Mercy----Review: 'End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty
Can Revive Criminal Justice' by Brandon L. Garrett
Americans like capital punishment. Support for the practice has remained at or
above 60 % since 1972, sometimes reaching as high as 80 %. In 2016, a plurality
of those surveyed said the death penalty was imposed "not enough," while voters
in Nebraska, Oklahoma, and California voted yes on pro-death-penalty referenda.
The number of executions per year has fallen notably since the penalty was
reinstated in 1976 - down from 98 in 1999 to 20 last year. However, 2016's rate
is not meaningfully lower than that of the late '80s and early '90s, when there
were as few as 11 executions in 1988.
It is thus bizarre that death penalty abolitionists so frequently insist the
practice is on its way out. End of Its Rope, from UVA law professor Brandon L.
Garrett, is the latest text to sell this strange belief.
"We can abolish the death penalty. We must abolish the death penalty," Garrett
writes. "10 years ago, that declaration would have been laughable, just another
liberal fantasy. But no more."
What follows is 300-odd pages of the aforementioned liberal fantasy: a theory
of why the death penalty has dropped in recent years, how this evidences its
impending abeyance or abolition, and how "the death penalty???s demise will
allow us to focus on remedying" the whole list of ills the left attributes to
the justice system.
Garrett cites several causes of the recent decline in executions. One is the
precipitous decline of the crime rate - this makes sense, since if there are
fewer crimes, there are fewer criminals. He also points to better-funded and
more effective public defender programs. To the extent this is accurate, it is
to be lauded - a healthy adversarial justice system requires good defenders
along with prosecutors.
But Garrett's evidence that public defense has been weak (leading to high rates
of execution) is thin, leaning for pages on a single anecdote about a sleeping
defense lawyer to prove his point. Anecdote is generally a key feature of
Garrett's argument, relying as abolitionists tend to on the worst examples of
procedural misconduct to indict all of capital punishment.
Conspicuously absent from Garrett's narrative are the deliberate efforts of
abolitionists to lobby and litigate the penalty out of existence, what Justice
Samuel Alito called a "guerilla war against the death penalty." Although
Garrett does allude to the enormous cost (millions) and time (decades) involved
in actually executing someone, he manages to omit how these numbers are driven
by anti-death-penalty attorneys, filing motion after motion to forestall
execution. This strategy, stretching back to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's
expanded death penalty litigation in the 1960s, has prompted legislation like
the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act - passed in the wake of
the Oklahoma City Bombings - and 2016's proposition 66, which California voters
passed by some 300,000 votes.
Garrett is quite certain that the death penalty not only is, but ought to be,
dying. This is for the standard reasons: people might be mistakenly executed
(though there is no conclusive evidence that anyone ever has been, a fact
Garrett cites Antonin Scalia to concede); the death penalty is applied in a
racially disparate fashion (true, though a reason for reform, not abolition);
lots of other countries have already abolished the death penalty (foreign
nations' laws do not apply to the United States, Justice Stephen Breyer's
wishes the contrary).
This is a lead-up to Garrett's real agenda: once we do away with the death
penalty, we must overhaul the whole justice system. We will replace execution,
life without parole (which Garrett condems for a whole chapter), and punitive
justice per se with what Garrett calls, in the grandiosely titled final
chapter, "the triumph of mercy."
Mercy is, by its nature, an exception rather than a rule. 18th century English
jurist William Blackstone considered the possibility of mercy one of the merits
of a monarchy, as the ruler is, in his particular judgement, able to "soften
the rigour of the general law, in such criminal cases as merit an exemption
from punishment." Mercy is granted not because it is earned, but precisely as
an unearned gift. It is the process by which we get what we do not deserve, the
secularized form of divine intervention in the juridical law of nature.
To Garrett, however, mercy must become the rule itself - to borrow a phrase, a
transvaluation of all values from the standpoint of mercy. The death of the
death penalty is "a process in which mercy has slowly but surely triumphed over
judgement," he writes.
"Mercy at its most fundamental [is] empathy for another person," Garrett says,
neatly discounting the way in which mercy for one is often a denial of justice
for another. The triumph of empathy - always for the criminal, never for the
victim - requires us to embrace a whole host of soft-on-crime "solutions." That
includes the new vogue in criminal justice "reform": moving beyond the largely
mythical "non-violent, low-risk drug offender" to releasing violent criminals.
"We have to embrace mercy for the most serious offenses," Garrett writes. "We
have to be willing to shorten prison terms and release convicts. In short, we
have to focus on rehabilitation and mercy."
All of this follows from the anthropology of the abolitionist: a Pinkerian
faith in the eventual end of violence, combined with a Rousseauian belief that
evil, the provenance of violence and crime, is incidental rather than essential
to the human condition. This is what causes Garrett to look approvingly on the
jury that spared the Aurora theater shooter the death penalty, somehow a
"triumph of mercy" as opposed to a perverse miscarriage of justice.
Sniveling pathos in the name of violent murderers performs neatly the death
penalty opponent's prestidigitation, transforming the hardened criminal into an
object of sympathy simply by hiding his victims up the abolitionist's sleeve.
It is a call for an abdication of justice per se, a replacement of the
justicial ideal of transgressions answered by the community with a secret
belief that deep down, the possibility of evil in every man's heart can be
corrected with a sufficiently well-funded prison library.
In the wake of heinous events - the Oklahoma City bombing, the Emmanuel AME
Church massacre, the Las Vegas mass shooting - it is inconceivable that society
should deprive itself of the ultimate retribution. If the polls are to be
believed, Americans want to retain that right. Policy makers would do far
better to listen to these constituents than to academics like Garrett who think
"mercy" an adequate answer for inconceivable crimes.
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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