Discussion:
death penalty news----VA., FLA., LA., NEV., CALIF.
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Rick Halperin
2017-07-04 14:41:21 UTC
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July 4




VIRGINIA----impending execution

Democratic lawmakers ask McAuliffe to commute sentence of convicted killer


Several Democratic members of the Virginia General Assembly have joined
thousands of petitioners in asking Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to block the
execution of convicted murderer William C. Morva, scheduled for Thursday.

Morva, 35, faces the death penalty for shooting to death a guard and a
sheriff's deputy while escaping from jail in 2006. Supporters say the jury that
sentenced him was not made aware of the severity of his mental illness.

"The system failed Mr. Morva," Del. Mark H. Levine (D-Alexandria) wrote on
Monday. "I do not believe he should die because of a lack of due process."

Levine was adding his name to a group of legislators who wrote McAuliffe on
Friday seeking clemency for Morva. The 7 delegates and 5 state senators, all
Democrats, said the case intersects with a rising effort by the General
Assembly to take steps to "address the overlapping areas of public safety,
criminal justice and mental health."

That letter asks McAuliffe to commute Morva's death sentence to a term of life
without parole. It was signed by Dels. Jennifer B. Boysko (Fairfax), Patrick A.
Hope (Arlington), Sam Rasoul (Roanoke), Marcus B. Simon (Fairfax), Charniele
Herring (Alexandria), Alfonso Lopez (Arlington) and Eileen Filler-Corn
(Fairfax), as well as Sens. Adam P. Ebbin (Alexandria), Barbara A. Favola
(Arlington), Lionell Spruill Sr. (Northern Chesapeake), Mamie E. Locke
(Hampton) and Scott Surovell (Eastern Fairfax).

Morva's lawyer argues that he was suffering from severe delusional disorder
while being held in jail in the Blacksburg area awaiting trial for several
botched robberies and burglaries. Believing that he was going to die, Morva
tried to escape and killed the deputy and guard.

During sentencing, supporters say, jurors were told incorrectly that Morva was
not delusional. His pending execution, set for 9 p.m. Thursday, highlights a
growing national movement to eliminate capital punishment for people with
severe mental illness.

Morva ran out of appeals when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up his
case in February, leaving the governor as his last hope. McAuliffe has said he
is studying the case, and a spokesman said Monday that the governor would make
a statement when the review is complete.

(source: Washington Post)






FLORIDA----new execution date

Florida schedules its 1st execution in more than 18 months


Florida is planning to execute its next death row inmate in August - which will
be the 1st execution in more than a year and a half amid months of legal limbo
over the state's death penalty law.

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday issued a death warrant that reschedules Mark James
Asay's execution for 6 p.m. Aug. 24.

Asay was convicted in 1988 of killing 2 men in Jacksonville. If his execution
happens as scheduled, Asay will become the 1st white person put to death for
murdering a black person in Florida, now-retired Justice James E.C. Perry
previously said.

Asay was originally scheduled to be put to death in March 2016, but his
execution was halted that month in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling
known as Hurst v. Florida that upended Florida's death penalty law by deeming
unconstitutional the state's procedures for sentencing prisoners to death.

As part of addressing that decision, the Florida Supreme Court last December
cemented death sentences for nearly 200 prisoners - including Asay - whose
sentences were finalized before a June 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling
referenced in the Hurst decision.

State justices in December also lifted a stay on the execution of Asay, in
particular, paving the way for executions to resume in the state.

When asked why Scott waited more than six months to issue the new warrant, his
spokesman John Tupps said in a statement: "After consideration of the facts,
including the Legislature passing and the governor signing SB 280 earlier this
year, our office worked with the Attorney General's office to proceed today."

SB 280 was the Legislature's solution to fix the state's death penalty
procedures following the Hurst decision. It requires a unanimous decision by a
jury to sentence a defendant to death. The bill was among the first actions
lawmakers took in the 2017 session. Scott signed the new procedures into law
shortly thereafter in mid-March.

Tupps added: "This is one of the governor's most solemn duties involving
decisions that are made only after a full and thorough review. His foremost
concerns are the families of the victims and the finality of judgments."

Scott wrote in the warrant that he had received formal guidance on Monday from
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi that the stay on Asay's execution had been
lifted and could legally proceed. He added that state law "requires I set a new
date for execution of the death sentence within 10 days after such
certification."

A spokeswoman for Bondi said her office certifies "upon request from the
governor's office."

The last inmate executed in Florida - and the only one of 2016 - was Oscar Ray
Bolin Jr., who was put to death Jan. 7 of that year.

Despite the absence of executions, the population on Florida's death row has
declined as the Florida Supreme Court vacates some death sentences because they
were set using procedures deemed illegal by Hurst.

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Hurst 5 days after Bolin was
executed, prompting a need for the Legislature to rewrite the sentencing laws
this year.

Last October, the Florida Supreme Court decided that the Hurst ruling required
unanimous votes by juries to make a death sentence - which lawmakers codified
into state law this spring.

(source: miamiherald.com)

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

Man who killed 2 in Jacksonville in 1987 set for execution next month----Mark
Asay would be 1st put to death in Florida in 18 months


Gov. Rick Scott on Monday ordered Mark James Asay to be executed on August 24
on his conviction for the shooting deaths of 2 men nearly 30 years ago.

His death would end an 18-month hiatus for the state's embattled death penalty.

"I think the execution machine is going to get started again immediately," said
Pete Mills, an assistant public defender in the 10th Judicial Circuit who also
serves as chairman of the Florida Public Defenders Association Death Penalty
Steering Committee.

Early this year, lawyers for Asay asked the Florida Supreme Court for a
rehearing after a majority of justices ruled last year that a major U.S.
Supreme Court decision that struck down Florida's death-penalty sentencing
system.

Asay was convicted in 1988 of the murders of Robert Lee Booker and Robert
McDowell in downtown Jacksonville. Asay allegedly shot Booker, who was black,
after calling him a racial epithet. He then killed McDowell, who was dressed as
a woman, after agreeing to pay him for oral sex. According to court documents,
Asay later told a friend that McDowell had previously cheated him out of money
in a drug deal.

Asay was granted a last year stay after the Florida Supreme Court found that
Florida's death penalty was unconstitutional because it did not require
unanimous jury recommendations for execution. In 2016, Florida lawmakers
rewrote the death sentencing law, requiring jurors to unanimously find that at
least one aggravating factor existed before a defendant could be eligible for a
death sentence and requiring at least 10 jurors in order for the death sentence
can be imposed.

In October, the Florida Supreme Court struck down part of the new law, finding
that it was unconstitutional because it did not require unanimous jury
recommendations for death sentences, but in December it modified the unanimous
rule to only apply to convictions made before 2002. It also lifted the stay on
Asay's execution.

Asay's case has also involved a legal tangle over destroyed records and a
lawyer who was the subject of an investigation ordered by Florida Supreme Court
Chief Justice Jorge Labarga.

The high court dropped the inquiry after Mary Catherine Bonner, who repeatedly
missed critical deadlines in death penalty cases, resigned from a statewide
registry that made her eligible to represent defendants in capital cases.

Marty McClain, a lawyer appointed to represent Asay after Scott signed a death
warrant early last year, found that the death row inmate had gone for nearly a
decade without representation. Many of the records related to Asay's case
provided by Bonner were destroyed by insects or exposure to the elements,
according to court records filed by McClain.

(source: news4jax.com)

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

Governor Rick Scott: STOPPING THE DEATH OF MARK JAMES ASAY

https://www.change.org/p/governor-rick-scott-stopping-the-death-of-mark-james-asay

(source: change.org)

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

Howard pleads 'not guilty'----East Brewton man faces death penalty in FL girl's
murder


The East Brewton man charged with killing a 12-year-old Pensacola, Fla., girl
in May has pleaded not guilty - after confessing to causing her death.

The Florida State Attorney's Office is seeking the death penalty against Robert
"Skip" Letroy Howard, 38, who was arrested June 7 in connection with Naomi
Jones' death.

Howard, a convicted sex offender, is charged with 1st-degree murder and failure
to register as a sex offender. His arraignment was scheduled for Friday
morning, but his attorney entered a written plea of not guilty and a notice
waiving Howard's appearance in court.

Jones was reported missing May 31, and her remains were recovered from a
Pensacola creek bed off on June 5. Howard was identified as a person of
interest after giving investigators inconsistent statements about his
whereabouts during the time of the child's disappearance. Additionally,
surveillance cameras recorded Howard's vehicle in the area where Jones was
found in the hours after she went missing, law enforcement said.

According to an affidavit, Howard told investigators Jones had been in his
girlfriend's Ferry Pass apartment with him the day she was reported missing.
The affidavit said he became angry at Jones and committed "a violent act
against her" that caused her death. A preliminary death investigation indicated
Jones died of asphyxiation.

An Escambia County, Ala., court convicted Howard previously of sexually
assaulting 2 juvenile females, ages 14 and 16, and he served 15 years in prison
- a fact that prompted the state to seek the death penalty in his current case.

During Howard's arraignment, Judge Joel Boles set the next court date as Aug.
29.

The case is expected to take 18-24 months before going to trial.

(source: brewtonstandard.com)

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

Murderers leave Florida's death row after Hurst ruling; system 'a mess,' expert
says


The full impact of a historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Florida's death
penalty system is finally emerging as the state's death row population is
smaller than it was more than a decade ago, and will keep shrinking for a long
time.

Florida has not executed a death row inmate in 18 months. No inmates haves been
sent to death row in more than a year, a sign that prosecutors are not trying
as many 1st-degree murder cases because of uncertainties in the sentencing
system.

"There is no reason to sign a death warrant if you know it's going to get
delayed," said State Attorney Bernie McCabe, the top prosecutor in Pinellas and
Pasco counties. "I think judges are reluctant to if they don't know what the
rules are."

Florida's death row population now stands at 362, according to the Department
of Corrections' website. That's the lowest number since 2004; only a year ago,
the population was 389.

Many more cells on death row are certain to be emptied as the Florida Supreme
Court continues to vacate death sentences because they violate a 2016 U.S.
Supreme Court decision known as Hurst vs. Florida.

The case struck down the state's death penalty sentencing system because it
limited jurors to an advisory role, a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to
a trial by jury.

In 4 new cases, the state's high court upheld 1st-degree murder convictions
Thursday but ordered that all 4 defendants must be resentenced because of the
Hurst decision, a step that could spare any or all of them a trip to the
execution chamber.

1 of the 4, John Sexton, was convicted of the brutal 2010 Pasco County slaying
of Ann Parlato, a 94-year-old woman who lived alone.

The jury that convicted Sexton recommend his execution by a vote of 10 to 2, a
split decision that justices said Thursday is a violation of the Hurst case.

Justices also lifted the death sentence of Tiffany Ann Cole, convicted of
burying a couple alive in Jacksonville. She's 1 of 3 women on Florida's death
row.

Legal experts say that in all, up to 150 death sentences could be either
reversed or be sent back to trial courts for resentencing hearings in other
cases in which the jury's recommendation of a death sentence was not unanimous.

Those penalty phase hearings will strain the limited resources of prosecutors
and public defenders, who must scramble to find old trial transcripts and
witnesses and must empanel new juries.

"I'll use one word: chaos," said retired Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan of
Miami. "It's just a mess."

Scott Sundby, a law professor at the University of Miami, said the impact on
the criminal justice system will be significant.

"It essentially means that every new penalty phase is going to have to be
re-investigated and presented in full," he said. "There will not be an ability
to simply rely on the prior penalty phase."

For years before the precedent-setting Hurst ruling in January 2016, legal
experts warned that Florida would face severe legal difficulties because of its
"outlier" status as a state that did not require 12-member juries to be
unanimous in recommending a death sentence.

The old law required a simple majority of jurors to recommend death.

The Legislature, with the support of prosecutors and Attorney General Pam
Bondi, the state's chief legal officer, initially passed a law requiring at
least 10 jurors to vote for death. The law was changed again in the 2017
session to require unanimity.

In applying the Hurst decision to Florida, the state Supreme Court requires
that juries must be unanimous in declaring all aggravating factors that were
proven beyond a reasonable doubt; unanimously find that aggravating factors are
sufficient to impose death; and unanimously find that aggravating factors
outweigh factors in the defendant's favor, known as mitigators.

Since Jan. 1, at least 15 condemned Florida inmates have left death row and a
16th has died. They include:

-- Victor Caraballo, one of five men convicted of killing Ana Maria Angel, 18,
a recent graduate of South Miami High School in 2002 who was abducted from
South Beach, gang-raped and murdered.

-- Emilia Carr, at 32 the youngest woman on death row in America when she was
sentenced to die 2 years ago for killing a woman in rural Marion County in what
a court described as a "love triangle."

-- Zachary Taylor Wood, sentenced in Chipley in 2015 for the killing of a
retired game warden - the 1st person in Florida's modern history to be
sentenced to death in rural Washington County in the Panhandle.

Every capital murder case has unique characteristics.

In Wood's case, the Florida Supreme Court, in a 6-1 decision, ordered that his
death sentence be reduced to life without parole because "there was a lack of
competent, substantial evidence to support the trial court's findings of the
CCP and avoid arrest aggravating factors, and his death sentence is
disproportionate when these aggravating factors are struck." CCP is judicial
jargon for "cold, calculated and premeditated," one of many aggravating factors
necessary to warrant a sentence of death.

Justice Ricky Polston, in a stinging dissent in the Wood case, wrote: "Beating
the victim senseless with a garden hose, tying him up, and trying to set him on
fire after dousing him with a petroleum product constitutes cold, calculated
and premeditated (CCP). A unanimous jury recommendation for death is not
surprising."

As the Supreme Court continues to review post-Hurst death sentence appeals,
Gov. Rick Scott has not indicated when the state will resume executions.

"We're still working with the attorney general on that," Scott told the
Times/Herald. "Look, that's a solemn duty, but we're still working with the
attorney general's office."

The last person executed in Florida was Oscar Ray Bolin on Jan. 7, 2016, making
him the 92nd person to be executed since Florida resumed capital punishment in
1979.

The last inmate to join death row , convicted double-murderer Craig Wall of
Pinellas County, arrived more than a year ago, on June 6, 2016.

(source: Tampa Bay Times)






LOUISIANA:

Former death row inmate Gary Tyler starts a new life in Pasadena


Soft-spoken 58-year-old ex-prisoner Gary Tyler is finally at peace. The social
activist has adopted the pastoral city of Pasadena as his home - a far cry from
the grim, gray walls of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, infamously known as
Angola, the worst and bloodiest prison in the nation. When Tyler was first
incarcerated there 41 1/2years ago for a crime that he maintains he did not
commit, he was the youngest person on death row.

"I feel free here," declares Tyler, who resides in a small, picturesque
guesthouse where he frequently invites local doctors, lawyers and other
activists - several of his longtime supporters.

"I can wake up in the morning and hear the birds chirping, smell the fresh air
and feel the fresh breeze," Tyler says. "People here in Pasadena are really
social and friendly. Everyone I encounter is very nice."

SENTENCED TO DEATH

Tyler's legal nightmare began at the age of 16, when he was charged with a
murder and sentenced to the notorious Angola maximum-security prison in
Louisiana, at 17 the youngest inmate to be incarcerated on death row.

It was 1974, when public schools across America were undergoing integration.
Racial tensions flared at Destrehan High School in St. Charles Parish,
Louisiana - even though the Brown v. Board of Education case desegregating
public schools had been decided by the US Supreme Court 20 years earlier.

Tyler was sitting on a bus filled with African-American students when a crowd
of approximately 200 white students began yelling racial slurs and throwing
rocks and bottles. A shot rang out that wounded 13-year-old white classmate
Timothy Weber, who later died at the local hospital.

"I was known for being outspoken," Tyler recalls. During the turmoil, Tyler
witnessed his cousin being harassed by sheriff's deputies and spoke up in his
defense. Tyler was subsequently arrested for allegedly disturbing the peace and
interfering with a police officer's duties.

The bus was searched for several hours, but no weapon was found. Sheriff's
investigators transported the students to the substation where they once again
searched the bus. This time, they allegedly found the gun - a government-issue
45-caliber Colt automatic.

Police produced the gun as evidence at Tyler's trial. Later, it was discovered
that the weapon was identified as having been stolen from the sheriff's firing
range in Jefferson Parish 10 miles away. The gun later disappeared from the
evidence room.

At the sheriff's substation, Tyler was cursed at and threatened by police.
"They kept asking me questions about what happened on the bus," Tyler recalls.
"When I said I didn't know anything, 6 or 7 police officers brutally beat me
for 2 to 3 hours in the booking room at the substation." Tyler's mother,
Juanita, arrived hoping to take her son home, but was horrified when she heard
his muffled screams.

Tyler was subsequently tried by an all-white jury. He was sentenced to death by
electric chair.

"When they accused me of murder, I told them that I was innocent, but no one
listened," Tyler sadly recalls. He was shipped to Angola, the largest maximum
security prison in the country.

LIFE IN PRISON

Tyler still remembers the sense of fear he felt as the steel gate on his prison
cell clanged shut. "When the prison gates shut behind me, I felt as if I was
shut off from the rest of the world," he remembers. "You knew you would not
exit those gates once they were closed."

Tyler languished on death row for nearly 2 years. While there, he constantly
wrote letters pleading for help and support. "I sent letters to every news and
media outlet I could think of," he recalls. "Eventually my case made its way to
the local and international news."

In the case Roberts v. Louisiana, the US Supreme Court in 1976 ruled that the
state's death penalty was unconstitutional. Tyler's sentence was commuted to
life in prison without parole until after 20 years.

Tyler says that day-to-day life in Angola prison was a test of sheer survival.
"Angola was the bloodiest, most infamous prison in the nation," he recalls. "It
was a place of turmoil where prisoners were killing each other and committing
suicide.

"I saw horrible things in Angola - inmates being set on fire or stabbed with
homemade spears. I saw inmates who were doused with acid by other inmates. Some
prisoners even got beaten to death by guards," he remembers.

Fortunately, a group of inmates formed a bond to protect the vulnerable,
frightened teen. "They saw a little kid who was all alone," Tyler recalls.
"Many of them were uncles and fathers - and they stepped up as responsible men
to make sure that nothing happened to me."

Despite his dire predicament, Tyler became a model prisoner.

"I got my GED, studied graphic arts and printing, and attended paralegal
school," he proudly recalls. He also mentored other inmates and spent 17 years
as a volunteer in the prison's hospice care facility.

But it was an invitation to join Angola prison's drama club that radically
changed his life. For the next 20 years, Tyler headed the club, which led to
him directing the Passion play "The Life of Jesus Christ." Impressed with the
production, directors Jonathan Stack and Nicholas Cuellar filmed a documentary
about the project titled "Cast the First Stone."

TROUBLING FROM THE BEGINNING

Tyler's case, which was widely publicized off and on for 4 decades, continued
to gather a groundswell of support from athletes, left-wing activists and
celebrities of the times, such as the British reggae band UB40 and the Neville
Brothers. Rallies eventually sprung up across the country and abroad to protest
Tyler's wrongful incarceration.

"I received cards and letters on a daily basis from people from all over the
world," recalls Tyler. "They told me to keep holding on and to continue to be
strong."

On the first appeal of Tyler's conviction in 1981, a federal appeals court
admitted that Tyler was "denied a fundamentally fair trial," but refused to
order a new one for him.

And despite the Louisiana Board of Pardons recommending that Tyler be released
three times based on his positive work in prison, several Louisiana governors
refused to act on his case.

When the board recommended a pardon for Tyler in 1989, Republican Gov. Charles
"Buddy" Roemer denied Tyler a pardon not once, but twice. Roemer was running
against Ku Klux Klansman David Duke for re-election and refused to consider
Tyler's case in a racially charged election, feeling that a decision to release
Tyler would not be favored by voters.

"In a news release, Roemer said that since I didn't have my GED yet, I wouldn't
be able to make it in society," Tyler recalls. "After I obtained my GED, Roemer
still denied me a pardon."

"They would not let Gary out," says longtime Los Angeles peace activist Bob
Zaugh, a supporter of Tyler for 28 years. "When Gov. Kathleen Blanco was
leaving office, we appealed to her, but she ultimately ignored his case."

Undeterred, a battery of impassioned attorneys - Mary Howell, Majeeda Sneed,
George Kendall, Pamela Bayer, Corinne Irish and Sam Dalton, among others -
worked for decades to prove Tyler's innocence.

"I worked on Gary's case for 39 years, starting in 1977 up until his release in
2016," Howell reflected. "The case itself was a clear miscarriage of justice.
The 5th Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled that Gary was denied the presumption
of innocence and had a fundamentally unfair trial, yet refused to give him a
new trial. The case was permeated with racial issues and was deeply troubling
from the beginning."

DAY BY DAY

After enduring over 4 decades of incarceration, the St. Charles Parish District
Attorney's Office in Louisiana finally agreed to overturn Tyler's conviction in
2016.

Tyler agreed to enter a guilty plea for manslaughter and received the maximum
sentence of 21 years. Since he had already served more than twice that time,
his sentence was overturned. Tyler was quietly released from Angola
penitentiary on April 29, 2016.

It is reported that Angola Prison Warden Darrell Vannoy wept as he escorted
Tyler to the prison gates, saddened to see a man released who had helped to
transform the prison and many of its inmates.

Zaugh said he was ecstatic after hearing of Tyler's release. He brought Tyler
to California to start a new life.

"I have no doubt that Gary will be a positive force and resource in the
Pasadena community," says Zaugh. "He is one of the kindest, most polite, most
engaging persons I've ever met."

Due to the plea bargain, Tyler received no monetary compensation after spending
four-decades behind bars. He does not qualify for Social Security since he has
never been active in the work force.

Fortunately, Tyler now works as an outreach and engagement support worker at
Safe Place for Youth in Venice, where three days a week he helps homeless youth
get off the streets.

Tyler's supporters have set up a re-entry fund to help Tyler adjust to life
after prison. Zaugh arranges speaking engagements for Tyler, who talks to
various organizations about his remarkable journey.

"I left prison rich in spirit and eager to embrace life," Tyler declares,
adding that despite his 4-decade ordeal he remains unbroken. Remarkably, he
harbors no trace of bitterness.

"I am happy to have an opportunity to live a life that had been denied me for 4
decades," he reflected. "I'm taking life day by day. I want to write a book,
travel and meet the people all over the world who have supported me for over 41
years."

Contributions for the Gary Tyler fund can be sent to
https://www.libertyhill.org/form/back-to-life-re-entry-fund

(source: Pasadena City Paper)






NEVADA:

Las Vegas man facing death penalty wears Tony Romo Cowboys jersey to court


A Las Vegas man convicted of not only hiring a hitman to murder his 6th wife
but also killing the hitman threw a Hail Mary in terms of courtroom fashion
decisions Friday, as Thomas Randolph entered dressed in a Dallas Cowboys
jersey.

"The Cowboy shirt is for me," said Randolph, tag still attached to the top
celebrating former quarterback Tony Romo. "It's given me comfort."

His choice to wear the all-too-casual apparel to his sentencing hearing was
quickly intercepted by prosecutors, who told jurors that it indicated a total
lack of remorse for his actions, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

"He doesn't care about that at all. It doesn't bother him a bit," said Chief
Deputy District Attorney David Stanton. "Any rational compassionate human being
would be appalled at themselves."

The 62-year-old said he was marking the occasion with his XXXL-sized jersey
since he'd be directly addressing the jury of 8 women and 4 men before they
decide if he should spend anywhere from 20 years to life behind bars or be put
to death.

Reflecting on the thought of getting executed versus living in prison among the
general population, Randolph suggested the latter scares him more.

Explained the man convicted of having his wife shot in the head, "It's going to
be hard on my family more than anything."

(source: New York Daily News)






CALIFORNIA:

With Death Sentence in the Balance, OC Sheriff to Testify in Mass Killer
Hearing----Sandra Hutchens will testify in a hearing regarding the use of
jailhouse informants as part of the death penalty case against Scott Evans
Dekraai


Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens will begin testifying Wednesday in an
evidentiary hearing regarding the use of jailhouse informants as part of the
death penalty case against Scott Evans Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the
county's history.

Dekraai, who pleaded guilty in May 2014 to 8 murders and 1 attempted murder for
a 2011 massacre at a Seal Beach beauty salon, is awaiting the penalty phase of
the legal proceedings, with the state Attorney General's Office still pursuing
the death penalty.

The Orange County District Attorney's Office was kicked off the case for
outrageous governmental misconduct.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals, who booted Orange County
prosecutors from the case, is holding a third round of evidentiary hearings
into how the prosecution was handled to determine if it is possible for Dekraai
to receive a fair trial in the penalty phase. Before he started the latest
round of hearings, Goethals grew more impatient with county attorneys, saying
delays in turning over evidence on the use of informants in the jails have
spurred him to consider the "unthinkable," which is to remove the death penalty
as an option for Dekraai. If the judge makes such a ruling, Dekraai would be
sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison without any chance at parole.

In February, Goethals directed a lengthy tongue-lashing at the sheriff and her
office regarding the use of informants. Angered by remarks the sheriff made in
media interviews that denied any sort of a longstanding, organized informant
program in the jails, Goethals cited multiple examples from recently uncovered
evidence that he said indicated otherwise.

Particularly troubling to Goethals were remarks Hutchens made denying her
deputies would "work cases'' with informants in the jails.

"Those quotes frankly make me wonder," Goethals said at a February hearing. "I
respect elected officials and the sheriff has a tough job. ... But I have to
wonder whether or not she's aware of the evidence turned over to this court
over the years ... and I have to conclude she is not aware of the evidence
presented to this court because if she were it would be hard to imagine an
experienced law enforcement officer making such categorical statements."

Last month, Goethals, while discussing the sheriff's planned testimony, said he
was particularly interested in what she might say about testimony from
sheriff's Cmdr. Jon Briggs that the department was so short of deputies that
they were left largely unsupervised and fell into inappropriate techniques
regarding the cultivation and use of jailhouse snitches.

"I am curious about the sheriff's opinion as to the type of misconduct (Briggs)
described,'' Goethals said, adding he wondered if Hutchens' opinion on the
level of misconduct has changed given Briggs' testimony.

The legal trouble for prosecutors began when Dekraai's attorney alleged a
Massiah violation - which occurs when an inmate is questioned by a government
agent while already represented by an attorney. At issue in Dekraai's case was
whether prosecutors or sheriff's deputies intentionally placed prolific
informant Fernando Perez, a Mexican Mafia shotcaller, in a cell next to
Dekraai's.

Investigators denied the allegation, saying a nurse made the call to put Perez
and Dekraai next to each other. At some point, Dekraai allegedly made
insensitive remarks about the killings, sources say, prompting prosecutors to
have his jail cell wired, which elicited more incriminating comments.

Prosecutors said they were concerned about a possible insanity defense and
wanted to refute that with the jailhouse comments. They never intended to call
Perez as a witness so they fought to keep his identity secret.

Perez, it was later learned, proved helpful to federal prosecutors in taking
down Peter Ojeda, the head of the Orange County chapter of the Mexican Mafia.

Ultimately, Goethals punished county prosecutors by prohibiting them from using
Dekraai's jailhouse comments about the killings. Now jurors would only be able
to consider the actual crimes and the effects the murders had on the families
of the victims when determining whether to recommend capital punishment.

Last week, Hutchens announced she would retire and not seek another term next
year, but she said the informant scandal played no role in her decision.

The sheriff intends to finish out her term in office.

(source: nbclosangeles.com)





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