2017-10-03 13:15:00 UTC
2 Texas inmates set to die this month lose at Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused appeals from 2 convicted killers
facing execution in Texas this month, including 1 inmate set to die next week.
The high court, without comment, declined to review appeals from death row
inmates Robert Pruett and Anthony Shore.
Pruett, 38, is set to die Oct. 12 for the fatal 1999 stabbing of a corrections
officer at a South Texas prison where he already was serving a 99-year sentence
for his involvement in another killing. Shore, 55, is scheduled for lethal
injection Oct. 18 for the 1992 slaying of a 21-year-old woman in Houston.
Pruett's attorneys have long questioned the evidence in his case. They have
sought additional DNA testing of evidence used to convict him of the December
1999 killing of Daniel Nagle, a 37-year-old officer at the Texas Department of
Criminal Justice's McConnell Unit near Beeville, about 85 miles southeast of
Pruett was serving 99 years for murder at the prison for participating with his
father and a brother in a neighbor's slaying. Evidence showed the killing of
the corrections officer stemmed from a dispute over a peanut butter sandwich
that Pruett wanted to take into a prison recreation yard in violation of rules.
Pruett testified at his 2002 trial in Corpus Christi that he was innocent in
His attorney, David Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston, did not
immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment Monday.
In 2015, Pruett came within hours of execution before his punishment was
stopped by a state judge.
Shore, who confessed to killing the 21-year-old woman, 2 teenage girls and a
9-year-old girl, is known in Houston as the "Tourniquet Killer" because his
victims were tortured and strangled with handmade tourniquets.
The slayings connected to Shore went unsolved for years until DNA evidence
linked him to the sexual assault of 2 relatives who were juveniles. He
subsequently confessed to the killings and was convicted in 2004 in the slaying
of 21-year-old Maria del Carmen Estrada. Her body was found in 1992 in the
drive-thru lane of a Dairy Queen.
Shore's lawyer, Knox Nunnally, had hoped his client's death sentence could be
reduced to life in prison. He has said Shore suffered from traumatic brain
Nunnally didn't immediately respond to a call for comment on the Supreme Court
The justices on Monday also refused the appeals of 3 other Texas death row
inmates: Kwame Rockwell of Fort Worth; Jaime Cole, from Ecuador and convicted
in Houston; and Garcia White of Houston. None of them has an execution date.
Rockwell, 41, received a death sentence for the 2010 killing of 22-year-old
Fort Worth convenience store clerk Daniel Rojas during a robbery. A bread
deliveryman also was killed in the holdup.
Cole, 47, was sent to death row for the fatal 2010 shootings of his estranged
wife, Melissa Cole, 31, and her 15-year-old daughter, Alecia Castillo, at their
apartment in Houston.
White, 54, was convicted in the fatal stabbings of twin 16-year-old sisters,
Annette and Bernette Edwards, in 1989 in Houston. He was charged but not tried
for killing their mother, and was linked to 2 other slayings.
(source: Associated Press)
U.S. Supreme Court denies Houston serial killer's appeal, execution date set
The U.S. Supreme Court slapped down a Houston serial killer's bid for life
Monday, propelling "Tourniquet Killer" Anthony Shore 1 step closer to his Oct.
18 date with death.
Now, the 55-year-old murderer's hope hangs on last-ditch efforts in the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals.
"We are disappointed," said Knox Nunnally, the Houston attorney representing
Shore through the federal appeals process.
Currently the only Houston killer with a scheduled execution date, Shore was
convicted of 1 count of capital murder in 2004 - even after he confessed to 3
His brutal killing streak started at least as far back as 1986, when he
slaughtered 14-year-old Laurie Tremblay. 6 years later, he raped and murdered
21-year-old Maria del Carmen Estrada then ditched her naked body outside a
Spring Branch Dairy Queen.
In 1994, he killed his youngest victim, 9-year-old Diana Rebollar. A year
later, he murdered 16-year-old Dana Sanchez, who disappeared while hitchhiking
to her boyfriend's house in north Houston.
But the cases turned cold and the crimes went unsolved for nearly 2 decades,
until Shore was arrested for molesting family members.
As a convicted sex offender, the former telephone technician's DNA went on file
and eventually investigators matched it to the Estrada case.
When police confronted him, he calmly confessed to Estrada's brutal murder
along with the 3 others.
After he was convicted the following year, he stunned onlookers in court by
asking for the death penalty. But ever since then, his lawyers have filed
appeal after appeal, hoping a deluge of paperwork can save their condemned
Court denies petitions
When state District Judge Maria T. Jackson in July gave a green light to
prosecutors' request for an execution date, Nunnally had already filed a
petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. The filing,
which rested on a claim that Shore suffered brain damage before the slayings,
would have required a lower court to reconsider a request for appeal.
It was always a long shot.
"I would certainly say that the odds are not in our favor," Nunnally said at
the time. The court refused the petition without comment.
The Court also denied without comment a petition for Robert Pruett, who is set
for execution on Oct. 12. The 38-year-old has spent 15 years on death row for
the 1999 slaying of a prison guard in Bee County, where he was already serving
a 99-year sentence for a murder in Harris County.
'It's a long shot'
2 other prisoners with Houston ties lost out in their legal battles Monday as
well. The Supreme Court denied petitions from Jaime Cole - an Ecuadorian
immigrant who killed his estranged wife and her teenage daughter in 2010 - and
Garcia White, a fry cook who fatally stabbed twin girls in 1989.
Meanwhile, Shore's counsel continues fighting his case.
There's a request for clemency pending with the Texas Board of Pardons and
Paroles, which Nunnally described as "highly unlikely," as well as a final
trial court appeal. As in previous filings, the September appeal in Harris
County court hinges on a previously unrecognized brain injury that trial
lawyers failed to identify.
"I think it's a long shot," Nunnally said. "However, we always try to keep a
(source: Houston Chronicle)
DA Heap discloses trial plans for each of 4 alleged gang members in Tatemville
Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap wants to try the alleged gunman 1st
in the gang-related slaying of Dominique Powell in Tatemville, followed by the
alleged mastermind once all pre-trial defense issues are resolved.
Heap's intent to try Timothy Coleman Jr. first and then Arthur Newton would
remove the 2 main defendants in the state's intent to seek the death penalty
for all 4 men charged.
Trials for remaining defendants Artez Strain and Tyriek Walker would follow
under Heap's roadmap disclosed Friday during pre-trial motions for Walker
before Chatham County Superior Court Judge John E. Morse Jr.
But, Morse ruled, Heap's plan was "completely aspirational because it will
depend on what case is ready. ... It all depends on where each of these cases
will be at any point in time and then we'll go from there."
And the court process is not even close to setting trial dates. Morse is
working with prosecutors and defense lawyers from the Georgia Capital
Defender's office who specialize in death penalty defenses to get to that
Since all 4 defendants face the death penalty, Morse must try each defendant
separately. Each has pleaded not guilty. All 4 remain in the Chatham County
jail without bond.
Morse is hearing motions from each defense team. Hearings will resume Tuesday
for Strain, 23, followed by Newton, 22.
Defendants Coleman, 22, and Walker, 22, were heard last week. And those
involved only the 1st group of motions for each defendant. Defense lawyers for
each defendant are expected to file voluminous motions in bids to either reduce
the state's case or provide arguments for any appeals that may be necessary.
Newton is the lead defendant in the state's efforts to seek the death penalty
for 4 alleged members of the Bloods, a criminal street gang, who are accused of
murder and related offenses in the shooting death of Powell just 5 days after
defending himself during an armed robbery.
Prosecutors contend that Coleman was the gunman and that Strain drove him to
the slaying scene.
Each is charged with murder and related charges including multiple violations
of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.
Police responded to a shooting Sept. 12, 2016, in the 900 block of Garey Avenue
in Tatemville, where they found Powell suffering from a fatal gunshot wound
outside a residence.
Powell was the victim of an armed robbery on Sept. 8 in the neighborhood.
During the robbery, Powell exchanged gunfire with would-be robbers Antwan
Drayton and Newton, police said.
Investigators concluded that Powell shot Drayton and Newton in self-defense
during the robbery. After being arrested, Newton ordered the death of Powell,
Savannah-Chatham police Chief Joseph Lumpkin said.
Strain, Coleman and Walker carried out those orders and participated in
Powell's death, Lumpkin said.
Death penalty sought for Polk officer's alleged killer, accomplice
Seth Spangler, 31, faces the death penalty if convicted of killing Polk County
Police Det. Kristen Hearne.
On Monday, Trish Brewer was in the courtroom watching as her daughter's alleged
killer and a female accomplice learned they could face the death penalty if
While Brewer applauded the decision, there would be little time for reflection.
After court she headed to Victory Baptist Church in Rockmart to greet visitors
mourning the death of her only daughter, a 29-year-old Polk County police
detective, wife and mother.
On Tuesday, Kristen Hearne will be laid to rest, leaving behind a devastated
family and a community struggling for answers.
"She was our hero," Brewer said.
According to the GBI, Seth Spangler, 31, pulled out a gun and shot Hearne and
another officer at close range late Friday morning on a dirt road off Ga. 100,
roughly 70 miles northwest of Atlanta.
Hearne died shortly thereafter; the other officer, David Goodrich, was wearing
a bulletproof vest and survived unscathed.
The officers were questioning Spangler and 22-year-old Samantha Roof about a
stolen vehicle out of Tennessee. The 2 suspects took off running - Roof was
apprehended soon after while Spangler emerged from some nearby woods about 3
hours later, naked and caked in mud.
Detective Kristen Hearne died Friday after investigators say she was acting as
backup when she and a fellow officer were checking out a suspicious vehicle
They made their 1st court appearance Monday, when Jack Browning, District
Attorney for the Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit, announced his intention to seek
the death penalty if indictments are secured next month.
Spangler - charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault,
felony obstruction, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and theft by
receiving - avoided eye contact and spoke softly. He told the judge he had a
He also has a long rap sheet, mostly for drugs, including a methamphetamine
possession charge in 2015 in Georgia. At the time of his arrest Friday,
Spangler had an outstanding warrant from Walker County for violating his
Roof faces the same charges as Spangler, with the exception of the weapons
A 3rd man, Michael Anthony Fossett Jr., 28, was also in court Monday, charged
with hindering the apprehension of a criminal and methamphetamine possession.
Browning said Fossett was tied to the case involving Hearne's alleged killers
but did not elaborate.
Hearne's funeral is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Victory Baptist.
As he tries to get off of death row, convicted murderer Delmer Smith's abusive
childhood detailed in court
For more than 2 hours, a neuropsychologist detailed convicted murderer Delmer
Smith's abusive childhood and low intellectual level as his attorneys attempt
to get him off Florida's death row.
Smith, 45, was found guilty on Aug. 9, 2012 of the 1st-degree murder of
Smith bludgeoned Briles with her own cast iron antiques sewing machine inside
her Terra Ceia home. Her husband, Dr. James Briles, found her bound and gagged
in their living room.
It took the same jury that found Smith guilty in less than 2 hours, only 30
minutes to recommend he be put to death. On May 28, 2013, Circuit Judge Peter
Dubensky sentenced Smith to death.
Florida's law governing the imposition of the death penalty has since change
after the Jan. 12, 2016, U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Hurst vs. Florida.
The high court ruled it was unconstitutional that in Florida a judge, not a
jury, had the ultimate say in whether to sentence someone to death.
Smith appeared in a Bradenton courtroom Monday morning, as his new defense team
tries to win him a new punishment trial. Circuit Judge Diana Moreland granted
the hearing after Smith made 7 claims for post-conviction relief, including
that he had ineffective counsel during his trial.
Members of Briles' family, including her husband ,were in the courtroom.
Dr. Hyman Eisenstein, who also testified during the penalty phase of Smith's
trial, summarized his initial findings about Smith, who he said had suffered
academic failure, physical and mental abuse by both his parents and sexual
abuse by his father.
Eisenstein said Smith had failed the 2nd and 3rd grades and had failed the 4th
grade, twice. His IQ was later test at 75 and at age 14 he was placed in
"The fact that someone would have to repeat so many grades, especially at such
a young age, was certainly a serious indication of their compromised ability,"
At trial, he testified Smith murdered Briles under extreme emotional and mental
duress, and his ability to understand the criminality of his actions was
Smith's new defense attorney, Eric Pinkard, asked Eisenstein why he had never
interviewed any of Smith's 4 siblings, and he said he had never been provided
the opportunity by Smith's prior defense team, Daniel Hernandez and Bjorn
Brunvand. On Monday morning, he detailed his findings and conclusions after
meeting with 2 of Smith's siblings and visiting the family's home in Detroit.
"The trauma is severe ... the psychological effects are profound," Eisennstein
According to Smith's older half-sister, and younger sister, his father whipped
Smith with sticks, cords and other items at the age of 5, Eisenstein said. His
mother also would abuse him.
"It occurred until he was about 12 or 13 when he was able to stand up and say
that's it," Eisenstein said.
His sisters said they were all abused, but that Smith received the worst of it.
He would sleepwalk at night, and often punch the refrigerator.
"There was a code of secrecy ... that's why the authorities were never called,"
Assistant State Attorney Suzanne O'Donnell questioned Eisenstein about his
conversations with family prior to the trial, and he said he admitted to having
spoken to Smith's other sister on the phone. He didn't attempt to speak to any
other sibling on the phone because he wasn't provided their information, he
"Typically in an evaluation, I rely on other people to give me the sources,"
O'Donnell asked if he was aware Smith had been refusing to have a
neuro-psychological exam. He answered, no.
Jury selection starts in trial of former gang member from Deltona accused of
killing wife, 2 kids
Luis Toledo, the Deltona man accused of killing his wife and her 2 children, is
about to find out if his jailhouse Santeria-style shrine had any effect.
Nearly 4 years after Toledo was cuffed and charged in the murders, the former
Latin Kings gang-member will go on trial in St. Augustine. If convicted of
killing either of the children, he could face the death penalty.
Jury selection begins at 8:30 a.m. Monday at the Richard O. Watson Judicial
Center before Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano. The trial was moved to St. Augustine
because of the extensive publicity it has received in Volusia County.
Toledo, 35, is charged with 2nd-degree murder in the slaying of Yessenia
Suarez, 28, and 2 counts of 1st-degree murder in the killings of her children,
Michael Otto, 8, and Thalia Otto, 9. The 1st-degree murder counts are
punishable by death.
Their bodies have never been found.
A key witness in the case against Toledo will be his neighbor, Tyshawn Jackson.
Toledo asked Jackson to follow him when Toledo drove his wife's car to a
shopping center in Lake Mary after investigators said Toledo killed the woman
Toledo has admitted to killing his wife by striking her in the throat during a
confrontation in the house. But Toledo has blamed Jackson for the murders of
Assistant State Attorney Ryan Will, during a hearing Friday, opposed a defense
motion to exclude from the trial a statement by Toledo that he could have
killed Jackson with one hand. Will said the statement contrasts with Toledo's
claims that Jackson was in control of killing the children and disposing of
"He has these 2 contrasting statements, one where Ty is in complete control of
everything, where he is scared of Ty," Will said.
But Toledo told investigators that he could have killed Jackson and warned them
not to bring Jackson into the interview room.
"But this is the guy that Toledo was apparently under the direction of," Will
Jackson has not been charged with anything in the case.
Zambrano said Toledo's statement would be allowed.
Zambrano also rejected a defense request to exclude Toledo's nickname "Semi."
Toledo was known as King Semi when he was 3rd-highest ranking member of the
Latin Kings gang in Florida.
But everyone called Toledo "Semi" and the judge ruled that the nickname alone
was not prejudicial, although there would be no discussion of how Toledo got
the name, which is related to Toledo's boxing and martial arts training.
The trial had been delayed as Florida's death penalty underwent changes because
of decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court. The
most significant being that, when Toledo was arrested in 2013, only seven of
the 12 jurors had to recommend death for a judge to be able to impose the death
penalty. Now, all 12 jurors must recommend death.
Toledo's will be the 2nd death-penalty case since the law was changed earlier
this year for the 7th Circuit, which covers Volusia, Flagler, St. Johns and
Putnam counties. The 1st case was in St. Augustine, in which jurors in August
unanimously recommended death for a man convicted of killing his wife.
Toledo appears to have appealed for help to someone other than his defense
attorneys during his long stay at the Volusia County Branch Jail. His jailers
discovered in March 2016 a shrine in his cell which included a newspaper
clipping of Suarez and her 2 children. On each was a red dot, apparently made
with blood, a correction's officer said in a deposition. The items were
arranged in a ritualistic way, "possibly 'Santeria,' " according to a jail
report. Another picture showed Toledo with a red dot on him. Still another had
a red slash through Judge Zambrano's name.
Jailers carted the shrine away and there have been no reports of another.
Toledo's defense will rest on his 3 attorneys, Jeff Deen, Michael Nielsen and
Toledo appears to have changed little in the nearly four years he has spent in
the jail. He appears in court in the jail-issue orange jumpsuit, his dark hair
a little longer at times than others and his beard narrows and widens. Toledo
was studying to be a barber sometime before his arrest and his attorneys Friday
said he wanted a haircut and grooming before the trial. The judge agreed to the
Prosecutors Mark Johnson and Will are facing one significant disadvantage in
the case. The bodies of the mother and children have never been found.
The 7th Circuit has had only 1 other case in Volusia County or Flagler County
in which the victim's body was not found. That was the case of Michael Joseph
Annicchiarico, who was charged with 1st-degree murder in the 2011 slaying of
his ex-girlfriend Mandy Ciehanoski.
Annicchiarico pleaded no contest to a charge of 2nd-degree murder 2014 and was
sentenced to life in prison. He pleaded to the lesser charge as part of a deal
in which he agreed to show investigators where he had disposed of his
Annicchiarico led investigators into the woods along the Volusia-Flagler line
on a search which did not turn up the body. While investigators never found her
body, they did find her blood and DNA on items in Annicchiarico's trash.
Thomas A. DiBiase, a former federal prosecutor who keeps track of no-body
cases, said in an interview with The News-Journal that the lack of a body gives
a defendant an edge in the case. The body gives investigators information about
the how, when and where of the murder, he said.
"When you don't have the body, you are missing out on all those critical facts,
therefore the case becomes much more difficult to prove," DiBiase said.
DiBiase said in an email Saturday that since the early 1800s, there have been
just under 500 no-body trials in the United States.
In the time leading up to the family's disappearance, Toledo had discovered
that Suarez was having an affair with Kevin Dredden, a co-worker at American
K-9 Detection Services in Lake Mary. On Oct. 22, 2013, Toledo stormed into
Suarez's workplace and slapped her, according to reports. Someone called 9-1-1
and Toledo drove away.
Dredden told investigators that he texted Suarez about 12:24 a.m. on Oct. 23
and she called back about 12:49 a.m. Suarez apologized to Dredden, who told her
nothing good would come of her being home that night with Toledo.
Suarez replied that "she thought being there would help smooth things out," a
Toledo's neighbor, Jackson, said Toledo tapped on his bedroom window about 6:10
a.m. Oct. 23, 2013, seeking his help. Jackson then followed in Toledo's Saturn
as Toledo drove Suarez's Honda to a Publix in Seminole County. Toledo wiped
down the car before getting behind the wheel of his Saturn and driving to an
apartment complex, where he dumped some items in a trash container, authorities
Investigators would later find the trunk mat from Suarez's car in a dumpster at
the Lake Jennie Apartments in Sanford. It was found along with a plastic bag
containing a pair of black Timberland boots, rags, a towel and a Mean Green
spray bottle. Investigators also found a garage door opener from Suarez's car.
Thalia Otto's blood was found on the trunk mat. And it was also found on the
size 7 left boot.
Toledo drove back to Deltona and dropped Jackson off.
Suarez's mother, Felicita Perez, called deputies because her daughter had not
called as customary and was not at her home at 317 Covent Gardens Place in
Deltona. Toledo drove up in his Saturn while a deputy was at the scene and
allowed him inside. He was arrested after that on a domestic violence charge
out of Lake Mary and subsequently charged with the murders.
Investigators would later find 14 different spots of blood from 9-year-old
Thalia around the master bathroom of her Deltona home, according to a DNA
No one else's blood was found.
(source: Orlando Sentinel)
Death row second thoughts
"When I was convicted of something I knew did not happen, I stopped and said a
quiet prayer," former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman told The Star last week for an
article on the death penalty. "I prayed that I had not made the same mistake
when I was governor."
Siegelman, who was recently released from federal prison after serving time on
corruption charges, isn't the first public official to express doubts about the
death penalty after leaving office. Or, in the case of John Paul Stevens,
someone on the verge of retiring from public service after a lengthy tenure.
In a 1976 death penalty case, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stevens voted with the
majority to reinstate the death penalty. At the time, Stevens wrote that under
the proper circumstances, he foresaw "evenhanded, rational and consistent
imposition of death sentences under law."
In a 2008 when he was 2 years away from retirement, Stevens described capital
punishment as "the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal
contributions to any discernible social or public purposes. A penalty with such
negligible returns to the state (is) patently excessive and cruel and unusual
punishment violative of the Eighth Amendment."
On the eve of retirement, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun expressed a
similar reversal on the death penalty. In a 1994 case, he wrote, "The
death-penalty experiment has failed. I no longer shall tinker with the
machinery of death."
Closer to home, Sam Monk upon his retirement as a Calhoun County circuit court
judge in 2006, said of capital punishment that over time he had come "to the
conclusion that the process probably dehumanizes everybody to some degree."
Former Texas Gov. Mark White wrote in 2014, "While I still believe that some
crimes are so heinous that society is morally justified in demanding the
perpetrator's life be forfeited, we now have incontrovertible evidence that
America's criminal justice system does a poor job of determining who deserves
the death penalty."
Second thoughts like these are a positive sign that these officeholders and
others didn't shut down their ability to reason on a controversial topic that's
loaded with nuance. After all, many death penalty cases involve brutal crimes
carried out by remorseless murderers. A suitable punishment short of death can
seem well short of justice.
In a state like Alabama, capital punishment remains popular. Politicians are
rarely punished for a pro-death penalty stance. Yet, the process that decides
which cases end up on death row and which ones don'tt is often flawed. A long
list of former death row inmates who were exonerated by new evidence speaks to
the holes in our criminal justice system. Mistakes made there can be fatal.
(source: Editorial Board, The Anniston Star)
Prosecutors Will Seek Death Penalty In Judy Malinowski Case
Franklin County's prosecutor says his office will pursue the death penalty
against a Gahanna man convicted of setting his ex-girlfriend on fire nearly two
years before she died.
Prosecutor Ron O'Brien says a grand jury on Monday indicted Michael Slager on
aggravated murder and murder charges in 33-year-old Judy Malinowski's death.
Slager previously was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges including
aggravated arson and felonious assault.
The aggravated murder indictment carries a death penalty specification.
Malinowski was doused in gasoline and set ablaze in August 2015. She died in
June of this year.
She inspired Ohio legislation requiring 6 additional years in prison for crimes
that permanently maim or disfigure victims. Her relatives were there as
Republican Gov. John Kasich signed "Judy's Law" last month.
(source: Associated Press)
U.S. Supreme Court will not hear Cleveland mass murderer Anthony Sowell's
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said it will not review Anthony Sowell's
appeal, after the state's top court upheld the Cleveland mass murderer's
convictions and death sentence.
The Supreme Court's denial of Sowell's case is just the latest in what will be
a litany of challenges and court decisions in the years to come.
Sowell, 58, is on death row for killing 11 women and burying their bodies at
his Imperial Avenue home on the city's southeast side.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled 5-2 in December and rejected Sowell's argument for
a new trial on the grounds that the judge who presided over Sowell's 2011 trial
had improperly closed a hearing. Ohio Justice Terrence O'Donnell wrote that
while the judge did not correctly document all of the findings necessary to
close the proceedings, that failure did not warrant a new hearing.
The Ohio Supreme Court also rejected arguments that said the jury should have
been able to hear about Sowell's offer to plead guilty if prosecutors took the
death penalty off the table.
Sowell is being held at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution. His execution
date has not been set.
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