Appeals court rejects claims in Houston carjacking case
A federal appellate court has rejected an appeal from an inmate condemned
in a notorious Houston carjacking case for shooting a young woman in the
head as she waited at a stop light, pulling her from her car and dumping
her in the street as he drove away and ran over her.
Lionell Rodriguez had asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a
rehearing before the full court after a 3-judge panel refused to let him
appeal his conviction because of what he argued was poor legal help during
the punishment phase of his 1994 trial.
The decision means Rodriguez likely will receive an execution date for
early next year, Roe Wilson, who handles death penalty appeals for the
Harris County district attorney's office, said Thursday.
The appeals court agreed in its ruling Wednesday with a federal judge who
rejected claims from Rodriguez that questioned admission of his jail
disciplinary records at his trial, a statement from a cousin who
implicated him in the slaying and the selection of one of the jurors at
The slaying of Tracy Gee, 22, was highly publicized in Houston and its
random nature prompted worries about the safety of residents.
Rodriguez, 35, has been tried twice for killing Gee, who was gunned down
Sept. 5, 1990, only a few blocks from her home as she was returning from
Rodriguez was 19 at the time of the shooting and had been out on parole
only 3 weeks after serving 3 months of a 7-year sentence for burglary. He
also had a long criminal history, including revocation of juvenile
probation, and witnesses testified about violent behavior while he was
being held in the Harris County Jail before his 1st trial.
Police initially thought the woman was the victim of a hit-and-run
accident but the investigation changed when doctors found a .30-caliber
M-1 carbine bullet wound in her temple.
Rodriguez drove around for about 2 hours in Gee's car, which was
splattered with bone fragments and brain matter, and was sitting in the
car and in a pool of her blood when he was arrested near his home in
Rosenberg in Fort Bend County.
At his trial, evidence included his confession in which he said he wanted
her car because the one he riding in was almost out of gas.
His cousin, James Gonzales, implicated Rodriguez in the shooting and is
serving a 40-year sentence for aggravated robbery.
Rodriguez was convicted first in 1991 and sentenced to die but the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals 2 years later threw out the conviction and
ordered a new trial because a list of potential jurors for his trial had
been shuffled twice when the law said it could be shuffled only once.
He was retried in 1994, convicted again and sentenced to death again.
Rodriguez said from death row after his 1st trial that he had found
Christianity in prison and was sorry about the shooting.
(source: Associated Press)
Ken Rodriguez: Molesters who never kill but keep attacking skirt law for
The law has been slow to catch up with Charles Edwin Williams. It has been
criminally slow to catch up with every pervert like him.
Williams' history of child sex crimes dates to 1984. His first offense,
indecent exposure with a child, was a misdemeanor. Today it's a felony.
Over the years, the courts have been kind to Williams. Five convictions
have yielded small fines, two years of probation and just six years in
If current laws had been on the books 22 years ago, Williams would be
serving a life sentence.
Instead, Williams has recorded a string of misdemeanor offenses and left
behind an unknown number of victims.
2 years after completing a prison term for sexual performance by a child,
he awaits trial on a charge of possessing child pornography.
Just last week, he was charged with failing to register a vehicle. Deputy
sheriffs say Williams solicited a South Side prostitute with a 15-year-old
girl in his car. That's when authorities discovered Williams had failed to
register his vehicle as required by a sex offender.
How many chances should a predator get? Not many under proposed
State Sen. Florence Shapiro wants those who sexually abuse the same child
more than once to serve a minimum of 25 years.
State Rep. Debbie Riddle wants to eliminate parole for first-time sex
offenders. She also wants repeat sex offenders to be eligible for a life
sentence without parole and the death penalty.
In some cases that means two strikes and you're dead.
This is probably a good time to mention the average age of a child
molester: one researcher says 13 to 15. I suppose it's also a good time to
mention how many victims these predators abuse before getting caught: 80
In short, 2 convictions could mean a death penalty candidate has abused
more than 200 children.
Now consider Williams, 43. With five convictions and more charges pending,
the possible abuse is staggering.
The justice system is slow, reactive and backward. Just look at the
history of sex crime legislation. Laws only get passed and toughened after
a little one dies.
States have sex offender registries because an 11-year-old boy was
abducted from his neighborhood in St. Joseph, Minn., in 1989.
Sex offenders lived nearby. The boys' mother, furious no one had told her
about them, became a crusader. 5 years later, the boy still missing,
lawmakers passed the Jacob Wetterling Act.
Tragically, the death of a 7-year-old girl revealed a gaping hole in the
law. In 1994, a registered sex offender raped and strangled Megan Kanka.
The predator, Jesse Timmendequas, lived across the street from Megan in
Hamilton Township, N.J. But existing laws prevented police from notifying
residents that a man twice convicted of sexually abusing a child had moved
Two years later, Megan's Law was born. It required states to make personal
information about sex offenders public information like age, height,
weight, address and sex convictions.
Regrettably, Megan's Law did not toughen sentences for repeat sex
offenders. In Texas, the death of 7-year-old Ashley Estell did. Ashley was
abducted from a Dallas area park. Her killer had been released from prison
after serving 18 months of a 10-year sentence for indecency with a child.
Enter Shapiro. In 1995, the senator authored a series of bills known as
Ashley's Laws. Sex offenders convicted again of certain crimes became
eligible for automatic life terms.
Last year, the death of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford prompted Florida to
toughen its child sex laws. Why? The man accused of killing her was a
registered sex offender.
In Florida, Jessica's Law mandates a minimum sentence of 25 years for
those convicted of certain sex crimes against children 11 or younger. The
law also requires molesters released from prison to wear satellite
tracking devices for life.
Note the pattern. Child predator kills. Law gets passed. Next predator
kills. Law gets toughened.
But what about molesters who attack but never kill? They don't inspire new
laws. They only slither around them. Ask Charles Edwin Williams. 22 years
of sex crimes, and he's crawled by every statute in the book.
(source: San Antonio Express-News)
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals made no bones about rejecting
President Bush's attempt to give a death row inmate's appeal another
review in light of international law.
"We hold that the President has exceeded his constitutional authority by
intruding into the independent powers of the judiciary," Judge Michael
Keasler wrote for the court in a decision released Wednesday.
The breadth of the ruling makes it likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will
have the final word.
The immediate result was to again uphold the capital sentence of Jose
Ernesto Medellin, 1 of 6 gang members convicted in the gruesome 1993 rape
and slaying of Houston teenagers Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena.
Medellin was among 51 Mexican nationals on Death Row in the United States
who challenged their sentences in the International Court of Justice on
grounds that they weren't notified immediately after their arrests that
they had the right, under an international treaty, to seek help from the
In 2004, the ICJ, which sits in The Hague, ruled that the United States
must comply with its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular
Bush then sent a memo to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales saying that
state courts should follow the ICJ decision and reconsider whether any of
the defendants were harmed by not being told about contacting consul
officials. But Texas officials argued that the ICJ ruling didn't trump
Texas criminal law and that Bush couldn't force the courts to follow the
Relying on a June Supreme Court ruling, the Court of Criminal Appeals said
that the ICJ decision wasn't binding law and that Bush didn't have
congressional authority or constitutional power, express or implied, to
force compliance. Because Medellin didn't raise the treaty issue until far
into the appeals process, state law prevented the courts from considering
Though all 9 members of the court agreed with the outcome, 4 felt
compelled to write separately.
Judge Cathy Cochran, in a concurrence joined by Judges Cheryl Johnson and
Charles Holcomb, said the court didn't need to get into separation of
powers because Bush's memo was so informal that it didn't legally bind the
Presiding Judge Sharon Keller was less subtle: "The President has made an
admirable attempt to resolve a complicated issue involving the United
States' international obligations. But this unprecedented, unnecessary,
and intrusive exercise of power over the Texas court system cannot be
supported by the foreign policy authority conferred on him by the United
And Judge Barbara Hervey sounded simply injudicious.
"This international cause clbre centers around this applicant who makes no
claim that he did not brutally rape and murder 2 teenage girls (ages 14
and 16) with fellow gang members over 13 years ago in the summer of 1993,"
she wrote, offering explicit trial details.
"This case has dragged on for an amount of time equal to almost the
entirety of the lives of these 2 girls," with Medellin receiving "almost
unparalleled due process protections," she said.
"Now, from half-way around the world, the International Court of Justice
... has ordered our state courts to review applicant's Article 36 Vienna
Convention claim. ... The President of the United States has made a
similar request," she said. "But, all of this is really much ado about
nothing because applicant received essentially the review mandated" by the
ICJ and the president.
She noted that, according to the trial record, Medellin has lived in the
United States since he was 3, appears to speak fluent English and didn't
tell police he wasn't a citizen.
"The Court's 60-plus page opinion disposing of applicant's current ...
application provides applicant with much more than he deserves," she
It might be difficult to find sympathy for a convicted killer whose crime
shocks the conscience. But that wasn't what the court was asked to
It undermines the notion of fair and impartial judicial review when a
judge sounds as if she's ready to complete the execution herself.
(source: Opinion, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Juvenile crime on an upswing in county----Recent rise still leaves numbers
far below the rates seen in the 1990s
Youths and crime Violent crime by juveniles has slowly crept up in Harris
County, with rates here in recent years surpassing statewide rates for the
2st time since 1995, according to data being released today by an
Austin-based research group.
This trend doesn't surprise those on the front line of juvenile crime.
Harvey Hetzel, executive director for the Harris County Juvenile Probation
Department, cites a rise in gang activity, increased violence among young
girls, and teen mental health problems as possible causes.
"A kid hauls off and gets mad and beats up his mother," he said. "It seems
like we are seeing a lot more of that."
But Hetzel, a veteran of the juvenile justice system, said today's numbers
are nowhere near the high juvenile crime rates seen in the early and
According to data compiled by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, 191
out of 100,000 juveniles were arrested for violent crimes in 2004 in
Harris County, compared with 177 in 2000. In 1993 the figure was 453.
The research group compiles an annual Kids Count report, which looks at a
variety of trends among children and teenagers including juvenile crime.
The report, released today, shows a steady increase in child poverty and
child abuse rates in both Harris County and Texas.
The report compiles the most recent comparable data on everything from
juvenile crime to infant mortality rates.
Hetzel said his staff has seen arrests continue to rise since 2004, the
most recent year cited in the report.
The department is initiating new mental health programs to help treat the
offenders committing some of these violent crimes.
Harris County's plan also includes new facilities at Youth Village in
Seabrook to house female offenders. The county currently sends girls to
halfway houses and treatment programs in other communities.
In a fluorescent-lit room at Youth Village on Thursday, seven juvenile
offenders in green hooded sweat shirts discussed anger management and
Later that afternoon they playacted a scene, in which one boy tried to
help a drug addict and his drug dealers avoid becoming violent.
These are juvenile offenders, locked up at the 520-unit detention facility
for a variety of crimes, including assaults and burglaries.
Group leader Alison Lootens has been teaching offenders such as these, as
well as area students, about anger management through her program "Resolve
It" since 1999.
Lootens said she has seen more violence among teens in the past 5 years
and blames what she sees as weakening anti-gang efforts on the local
But, she said, it is also getting harder to rehabilitate offenders because
many aren't required to stay long enough in the facility to complete her
"What does pacify mean?" she asked the group.
A 17-year-old raised his hand. The teen, in for aggravated assault, has a
"It means you are being sensitive," he said.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
A loophole for the rich, a noose for the poor
This article was written before Willie Shannon was executed on Nov. 8. A
lively and angry protest was held outside the death house in Huntsville,
Texas, as Shannons special friend Regina Schmall and three others
witnessed the execution. Shannon' funeral was held Nov. 11 in Columbus,
Texas, where Shannon grew up. The church was packed with family, friends
and the community.
Shannon had been a member of PURE Panthers United for Revolutionary
Educationand as requested, was buried with a black beret, a black jacket
and boots. His coffin was covered with a red, green, and black African
Liberation flag. In his hand was a beautiful, simple light blue origami
flower, made by Shannon' comrade and the author of this article. Muenda, a
founder and leader, of PURE Muenda has spent the last 30 years on death
row and continues to be a political influence there.
On Nov. 8, Willie Shannon, a Texas death row prisoner, is slated to die.
And if no authoritative hand intervenesjudge, governor or Godhe will be
put down by a law designed specifically to bring finality to death penalty
To keep cases moving through the different layers of appeal, the state
legislators designed a time limitation rule, commonly called procedural
bar. It requires that all legal motions be filed in a timely fashion.
Failure to meet a single deadline bars the defendant from filing anything
further. All rights to appeal are instantly waivedthus the name procedural
bar. The defendant is then executed by default.
To say this rule was put into effect without genuine sentiments, that it
was devised expressly to hang the poor and let loose the rich, is indeed
grave and extreme. It can neither be proven nor disproved. But genuine
sentiments or not, the class thats exclusively affected by this rule is
In nearly 30 years of reading case law, never once have I come across a
case involving a rich person who had been procedurally barred. Well-paid
lawyers hired by the affluent never, for any reason, miss filing
So why is it that the poor and the poor alone, represented by
court-appointed counselors, are consistently hit with the bar?
The answer to this single truth can only be conjectural. But being that it
adversely affects the poor unilaterally and people of color
disproportionately, race and class bias must be considered.
The great American pretense is that we'e all one people, representing a
single national interest, with the fairness of democracy extended to all.
But the truth is that democracy is not extended to all, and we do not
share and can never share the same national interest.
As long as we live in a nation where one culture dominates all others;
where there is racial favoritism; where a small few appropriate a
disproportionate amount of the nations wealth to itself; and where some
live inside the mainstream while others live on the margins, we have no
When this myth is exposed, we see clearly a country of antagonisms. So why
the myth? What is this supposed national interest, anyway? And, more
important, by whom and against whom is it defended?
A good place to start is with the Republicans and the Democrats. They are
the 2 controlling parties. When it comes to lawyers, judges, prosecutors
and politicians, 9 out of 10 belong to one or the other party. They
control, believe in, and defend the capitalist system. They will tell you
themselves that their values "are American values," that their interests
represent the national interest of the country.
In fact, they are literally offended by things and images perceived to be
uncouth or un-American: saggy pants, rap music, gays, lesbians, Muslims,
poor whites who are considered trash, Chicanos from the barrios, Blacks
from the ghettos, socialists, radicals, and people who protest against the
When it comes to officers of the court, a mistaken notion is that defense
lawyers are for you, prosecutors are against you, and judges are neutral.
They are all of the same class and support the system, whether they are
Republican or Democrat, and the greater number of them is conservative.
Therefore, they are unavoidably politically biased, but not necessarily
with malice. They are against crime, as they should be. They are also
against all images stereotyped as criminal, and they shouldn't be.
So when a youngster goes on trial and fits the stereotypical image of a
thug, then nobody in that courtroom wants to see him go free. Not even his
In the event that it's a capital murder case, the lawyer works to get a
life sentence rather than the death penalty. And sometimes they dont even
do that. They miss filing deadlines or fail to preserve their clients
right, which in effect amounts to killing the client themselves.
Again, this is something that could never happen to a person of clout and
station in this country. For this reason, this particular rule of law is a
loophole for the rich and a noose for the poor.
So, come November 8, barring a miracle, another poor man from the working
class will be hanged in Texas.
(source: Worker's World)
Prisons house too many illegals, alcoholics and potheads
The subject having to do with prisons and varying sentences for convicts
might need to be revisited. I received an unusually high response to my
critique of disparity in prison sentencing. Some readers agreed with my
conclusions that there was no consistency. Minor criminals sometimes
receive harsh sentences while major offenders receive a slap on the wrist.
Some of my readers took me to task, thinking that I advocated leniency for
criminals. That is far from true. Offenders should be punished and
rehabilitated where possible. The present system is long on punishment,
but rehabilitation is practically nonexistent.
Two high-ranking employees of the prison system called me to discuss some
of the points I'm making here. They have to speak off the record, of
There are dedicated, faith-based organizations and individuals that spend
a lot of time and money on changing inmates' lives. Most of them stress
the spiritual, the need for fundamental lifestyle changes. We are all
aware of inspiring stories of inmates who have "found Jesus in jail."
Death row inmates sometimes use this as a reason not to be executed,
saying that they are a changed and different person from the one who
committed the crime.
Judges recognize this need for an attitude change in probated convicts by
requiring them to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Most AA veterans
testify that they rely on a "higher power" to stay sober. Yet the American
Civil Liberties Union is exploring avenues of prohibiting the practice on
the grounds of separation of church and state.
There have been successful lawsuits against allowing these Christian
organizations to operate in our prisons. Yet an Islamic group is allowed
access, preaching jihad to a receptive audience. There is growing evidence
that this radicalized version of Islam is taking root in our prisons.
Political correctness dictates that their chaplains - with their message
of hate for our country - be given access.
In the early 1990s, we tripled the size of our prison system. Texas
Department of Criminal Justice budget proposals for the next two-year
budget cycle total $5.6 billion. One budget item includes $520 million for
3 new prisons with 11,000 additional beds.
Is this a trend that we can sustain? Is there an alternative? Staying the
course may be something we can't afford.
One item that helps the prison budget is a 10-percent deduction from money
sent by inmates' families for personal needs, such as stamps and
toothpaste. This has been added in the past year with no explanation.
Where will the staff to operate these new prisons come from? A friend who
works at the Clements Unit told me that they are more than 100 guards
short of a full staff.
Low wages and dangerous working conditions do not attract good, qualified
One way to make do with the present prison infrastructure might be to
deport illegal aliens who are incarcerated and begin to guard our borders
One statistic I read says that 29 % of inmates in federal custody are
illegal immigrants, mostly Mexican.
If the percentage of illegals was the same in Texas prisons, and we
deported them all, we might be able get by without any new construction.
And surely there are less expensive solutions for alcoholics and pot
smokers than a penitentiary. Exposure to killers and other hardened
criminals can't be a good thing.
(source: Column, Virgil Van Camp, Amarillo Globe)