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death penalty news----S.C., GA., FLA., ALA., MISS., MO., KAN., OKLA.
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Rick Halperin
2017-05-27 14:04:02 UTC
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May 27



SOUTH CAROLINA:

Why SC's death row inmates continue to avoid execution


Serial killer Todd Kohlhepp avoided a death penalty by pleading guilty Friday,
but even if he had gone to trial and had been given a death sentence, he likely
would not have been executed.

Solicitor Barry Barnette said, "Kohlhepp deserves the death penalty, but the
reality of the situation is that our state doesn't have a functioning death
penalty. The last execution occurred in 2011 and the state's supply of lethal
injection drugs expired shortly thereafter.

"The victims' families as well as Kala Brown wanted closure instead of the
uncertainty of a death sentence," Barnette said.

The State of South Carolina currently has 38 inmates serving sentences on death
row. Half of the death row population has served at least 15 years awaiting
their fate. The oldest case dates back to 1983.

Barnette cited the Spartanburg County case of Richard Bernard Moore as an
illustration of the problem with the current law. Moore was sentenced to death
in 2001 for fatally shooting convenience store clerk James Mahoney. He is still
on death row, with additional appeal matters that need to be addressed.

"The family of James Mahoney has endured what appears to be an endless wait for
justice," Barnette said. "I don't want anyone else go through something like
this. I hope the families involved in the Kohlhepp case can rest easier knowing
he will leave prison in a casket."

Use of the death penalty has steadily decreased in South Carolina, partially
due to the uncertainty of the process, but also because of the high costs
associated with it.

The Death Penalty Information Center reported that Prosecutor David Pascoe
initially planned to seek the death penalty for a mother who killed her two
children, but changed his mind, with cost being one factor: "Once you file for
the death penalty, the clock gets moving and the money, the taxpayers start
paying for that trial."

Rep. Tommy Pope, a state legislator and former prosecutor who sought the death
penalty for Susan Smith in a similar murder, now would tell victims' families
to consider agreeing to a life-without-parole sentence instead of the death
penalty. Life without parole was adopted by the state in 1995.

"(Life without parole) offers a measure of closure that 3 retrials in a death
penalty case never would," Pope said.

The death penalty in South Carolina:

The youngest person executed was a 14-year-old black male.

The oldest was a 66-year-old black man.

Since Aug. 6, 1912, 282 executions were carried out by the State of South
Carolina. Prior to 1912, executions were by hanging in the individual counties.
Of the 282, 74 were white and 208 were black.

Of those executed, 280 were men and 2 were women.

In 1988, the new Capital Punishment Facility was relocated to the Broad River
Correctional Institution.

An execution held in 1990 was the 1st in the new CPF.

The 1st execution in South Carolina by lethal injection was carried out on Aug.
18, 1995.

Since 1985, there have been 43 executions in South Carolina.

All South Carolina death penalties have been for murder.

6 people were executed in the electric chair. The rest were executed by lethal
injection.

Dylann Roof was sentenced in January to death by lethal injection for the
Charleston church killings.

(source: WYFF news)






GEORGIA:

Judge Closes His Oldest Case by Vacating a Death Sentence - Again


Lawrence Joseph Jefferson's 1985 death penalty sentence for years has troubled
federal judges who have reviewed the case.

Filed on April 23, 1996, it is the oldest case on U.S. District Senior Judge
Clarence Cooper's docket - one he kept long after he became a senior judge in
February 2009.

Ten years ago, Cooper vacated Jefferson's death sentence for the first time. On
April 10, 2017, Cooper vacated Jefferson's death sentence once again. In a
71-page opinion, Cooper reaffirmed the position he took a decade ago that
Jefferson's trial counsel???one of whom is now a Cobb County Superior Court
judge - had been constitutionally ineffective.

In the intervening decade, Cooper's original ruling was reversed by a split
panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The ruling
included a strong dissent on Jefferson's behalf by U.S. Circuit Judge Edward
Carnes, who as an assistant attorney general in Alabama had built a reputation
repeatedly and successfully defending that state's death penalty.

The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently took up the case, filed one day before the
enactment of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which
greatly narrowed federal judges' authority to grant habeas petitions. In 2010,
the high court vacated the Eleventh Circuit ruling and remanded the case for a
determination as to whether the state court's habeas findings deserved the
presumption that they were full and fair.

In his recent ruling, Cooper noted that the judge who denied Jefferson's state
habeas petition, Waycross Circuit Superior Court Judge Joseph B. Newton, had
never handled a habeas corpus petition in a capital case. Newton died in 2000
while Jefferson's federal appeal was still pending.

Cobb County Superior Court Judge Stephen Schuster, who defended Jefferson, said
the death penalty shouldn't have been sought."Whether I am at fault or not, I
am very comfortable with being the pretext for getting Lawrence Jefferson off
death row," he said.

In his new order, Cooper said that additional evidence presented at a 2014
evidentiary hearing he convened after the case was remanded by the Supreme
Court bolstered his earlier finding of ineffective counsel. He said the two
lawyers, Schuster and Marietta attorney Marc Cella, failed to properly
investigate evidence that Jefferson had suffered from long-term brain damage
after he was run over by a car as a toddler, which could have affected his
impulse control. Such evidence, he said, could have been presented to the jury
as a mitigating circumstance that might have warranted a life sentence rather
than death. A psychologist who examined him at the behest of Jefferson's
defense team also stated that a neuropsychological evaluation to rule out brain
damage would be worthwhile, but the attorneys never followed up.

A Cobb County jury convicted Jefferson in 1986 of robbing Edward Taulbee, his
supervisor and close friend, and bludgeoning him to death with a log. The jury
sentenced him to death. Schuster said that Jefferson "always denied his
involvement. He has vehemently insisted on his innocence." He and his
co-counsel, he said, "developed our trial strategy accordingly and focused on
alternative perpetrators."

Cooper's order also included a list of other problems stemming from Newton's
review of Jefferson's case. Newton, he said, had denied Jefferson's petition
after having his law clerk solicit a proposed order ex-parte from the assistant
state attorney general. He did so without notifying Jefferson's appellate
counsel or giving them an opportunity to submit their own proposed order, and
he apparently gave no guidance to the assistant state attorney other than that
Jefferson's petition should be denied.

Cooper said that Newton appeared to have adopted the assistant state attorney
general's order verbatim - including 21 misspellings, grammatical errors and
other inaccuracies as well as a reference to an affidavit that was never
submitted in the case. Cooper concluded that Newton may never have read the
order his law clerk had solicited.

Cooper summarized subsequent neurological testing by several physicians,
including significant evidence that Jefferson may have sustained permanent
brain damage that could have caused significant impairment, including problems
with self-control, impulsivity and poor judgement.

"Admittedly not mental health experts themselves, [Jefferson's] trial counsel
unfathomably failed to act upon the recommendation of the individual they hired
to provide opinions and recommendations based on his mental health expertise,"
Cooper wrote. "By not pursuing neuropsychological testing, [Jefferson's] trial
counsel essentially decided to ignore information about which they were aware
that suggested a possible brain injury or some other mental impairment....
Simply put, trial counsel in this case had no idea of, and did nothing to learn
about, the significance of developing mental health testimony and evidence for
the penalty phase of a capital trial, even if such testimony and evidence would
not have assisted mental-health-based claims at the guilt-innocence phase of
the trial."

Cooper also cited liberally from Carnes' dissent, in which Carnes' repeatedly
rebuked Jefferson's trial counsel .

(source: dailyreport.com)






FLORIDA:

Death Penalty Phase Repeated in an Escambia County Double Murder Case


Byrd and Melanie Billings, a married couple and the parents to 16 children, 9
of whom were adopted, found brutally murdered in their Escambia county home on
a July evening back in 2009.

Now the man convicted of killing them, Leonard Gonzalez, Jr. is expected to go
back through the penalty phase.

"The new trial and penalty phases will bring all those old emotions up, all of
the old horrors, and all of the anguish that they suffered, and those old
wounds will be open again," says Assistant State Attorney Molchan.

Back in October of 2010, a jury recommended the death penalty by a 10-2 vote in
both murders, now a recent ruling from the Hurst case says the jury must vote
unanimously.

"In essence the Hurst case has required a unanimous jury verdict along with
unanimous aggravating factors and Gonzalez fit into the category," says
Molchan.

Gonzalez pulling the trigger and shooting the couple a total of 9 times, but he
had an entourage with him, several masked men entered the home, looking a safe
believed to be filled with millions of dollars.

"Mr. Gonzalez was identified as the trigger man who basically executed both
Byrd and Melanie billings in their own home, and then left with a safe that had
very little money in it," says Molchan.

Now attorney Molchan has to go back through files and file or paperwork and
witnesses before presenting to a jury for the penalty phase.

"We will be doing our best to seek what we think is the appropriate penalty in
this case for a double murder of the nature in the case," says Molchan.

(source: WKRG news)

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

Gov. Scott cleared to sign death warrants again, experts say


Florida can start executing condemned killers again now that the U.S. Supreme
Court has let stand changes to the state's death-penalty law, experts say.

But so far, Gov. Rick Scott hasn't signed a warrant for any of the 366
prisoners on death row.

"Other than the typical motions that defendants file and exhaust prior to a
death warrant being signed, both federal and state, I don't think there's
another barrier out there to stop the governor from moving forward," said Rep.
Chris Sprowls, Palm Harbor, a former Pinellas County prosecutor and legislative
leader on death penalty issues.

Scott could be ready to begin executions again soon. A spokeswoman for the
governor said he had been waiting on the high court's decision.

"Our office is currently reviewing the next steps in the process" of selecting
a case and signing a death warrant, Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said.
Scott has signed death warrants for 23 prisoners, more than any other Florida
governor since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a state Supreme Court
ruling from October requiring juries to be unanimous in issuing a death
sentence, a move that essentially upheld the state court's decision. A U.S.
Supreme Court ruling in January 2016 struck down Florida's capital punishment
law, which had allowed prisoners to be sentenced by a simple majority vote of a
jury.

In March, Scott signed a new law quickly passed by the Legislature that
requires unanimous juries.

"The issues that were causing the most pronounced constitutional concern ...
have been remedied," said FSU Law School professor Wayne Logan.

Scott has often stated he takes signing death warrants seriously as a "solemn
duty" but hasn't explained in detail his process for choosing which warrants to
sign.

The death penalty debate became a hot-button political issue when
Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced in March she wouldn't seek
capital punishment under any circumstances, citing racial disparities, delays,
costs and frequent instances of exoneration. She never stated her stance on the
death penalty during her 2016 election campaign and would later say she didn't
do so because the death penalty wasn't in force during that time.

In response, Scott removed 23 potential capital murder cases from Ayala and
gave them to 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King. Ayala has sued over
that decision, and the case remains before the state Supreme Court.

Sprowls, who along with several other House Republicans called on Scott to
suspend Ayala from office, said it is important to show the death penalty is
back in force in Florida.

"When you're talking about victims of heinous crimes and their families who are
awaiting trial, or awaiting sentencing or awaiting resentencing - certainly
bringing a level of closure to them and allowing those cases to move forward is
a paramount concern of government," Sprowls said.

Florida's last execution was on Jan. 7, 2016. The condemned man was Oscar Ray
Bolin, convicted of murdering 3 young women in the Tampa area in 1986.

5 days later, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 8-1 decision striking down the
state's death penalty.

The lengthy limbo of capital punishment in the state held up several murder
trials, and the effects are still rippling through the judicial system.

It also led to numerous appeals from death row inmates, several of whom were
sentenced by split juries and have since had their sentences reduced to life in
prison.

The Florida Supreme Court's October decision stated that prisoners sentenced to
death by split juries after 2002 should be resentenced. Before that ruling,
there were more than 380 prisoners on death row. Now there are 366, and appeals
continue to work through the courts.

Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, sponsored the Senate version of the bill
requiring unanimous juries. He said he did so to make sentencing fairer.

Even so, he said he would like to see capital punishment abolished altogether.

"Regardless of the outcome of State Attorney Ayala's case to get those death
penalty cases back, I don't think it'll change the minds of legislators, but I
do think that it's sparking a conversation among people in general as to their
beliefs on the death penalty," Bracy said.

(source: Orlando Sentinel)

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

Opening the back door to abolishing the death penalty


The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday seemingly delivered a fatal body blow to any
desires held by state lawmakers, prosecutors, or the families of murder victims
for reversing the quick and radical judicial overhaul of Florida's death
penalty.

The nation's high court refused to consider Attorney General Pam Bondi's appeal
of a new state law, engineered earlier this year to appease a past ruling of
the Florida Supreme Court, that mandated juries to issue death sentences by
unanimous verdict.

Thus, the federal court's decision completes the Florida Supreme Court's
usurpation of the Legislature's authority over the ultimate sentence, as well
as the creation of a backdoor method for blocking capital punishment in the
future.

Bondi argued on appeal that the Florida Supreme Court had misinterpreted a U.S.
Supreme Court ruling that declared Florida's system unconstitutional because
judges, and not juries, issued death sentences. That finding was based on an
appeal by Timothy Hurst, convicted in 1998 in the brutal slaying of a Pensacola
Popeye's Fried Chicken restaurant employee, who had been bound, gagged and
stabbed more than 60 times and dumped into a freezer.

Hurst was sentenced 11-1 death, but was sentence by a judge. In an appeal the
U.S. Supreme Court. the U.S. Supreme Court, after reviewing Hurst's case,
determined that the jury, and not the judge, must hand down the sentence. This
has led to a series of baffling decisions by the Florida Supreme Court.

The most baffling was the Florida Supreme Court majority's fanciful thinking
that capital punishment should not be hindered by a single juror's conscience,
calling for unanimous sentencing by the jury.

One does not have to be a proponent of the death penalty to be concerned about
how this ruling was reached or its effects. The state court's majority
trespassed into the Legislature's realm and grabbed a political tool to resolve
a legal question, and disrupted the administration of the death penalty in the
process.

And if people doubt how potent a well-motivated holdout can be in a jury room
during death penalty deliberations, we would urge them watch "12 Angry Men."

After all, despite his horrific crime, the jury vote for death in Hurst's case
was 11-1. Last year, meanwhile, a Florida House staff analysis found that only
20 % of the 296 defendants sent to death row between 2000 and 2012 landed there
via a unanimous jury vote.

A system in place for 45 years has been utterly upended within 16 months, and
the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the Florida justices to legislate from the
bench, which is a setback for all the families who seek justice for the loved
ones taken violently from them - as well as those who may face that in the
future.

(source: Editorial, Lakeland Ledger)






ALABAMA:

Death-row inmate Thomas Arthur executed after 7 previous attempts


He escaped death seven times, but he didn't escape the 8th. The Alabama
Department of Corrections executed death-row inmate Thomas "Tommy" Arthur late
Thursday night after several hours of delays.

Arthur was put to death by lethal injection at Holman Correctional Facility in
Atmore, Alabama, using a controversial 3-drug cocktail. He had been convicted
for the 1982 murder-for-hire of North Alabama businessman Troy Wicker.

According to reports from selected reporters who were in the room,
superficially appeared to go peacefully. Unlike some facing execution recently,
including Ronald Smith who was executed in December, Arthur did not heave or
gasp for air.

He was administered the sedative drug Midazolam at about 11:50 p.m. - only 10
minutes before his death warrant - then began drifting into unconsciousness,
according to reporters at the scene. He died at about 12:15 a.m. on May 26.

The US Supreme Court, which intervened in Arthur's previously scheduled
execution date in November, denied an emergency request for a stay of
execution. The order denying that stay came late at about 10:45 p.m.

Arthur had previously gone to the US Supreme Court in hopes that they would
strike down the state's use of the controversial sedative Midazolam, which
Arthur's attorneys argued could not properly perform the job sedating him so
his execution would be painless. They also asked the Court to intervene
allowing his attorneys to have access to a phone in case the execution went
wrong.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonya Sotomayor, a longtime opponent of the
death penalty, dissented from the court's majority opinion writing, "I continue
to doubt whether midazolam is capable of rendering prisoners insensate to the
excruciating pain of lethal injection and thus whether midazolam may be
constitutionally used in lethal injection protocols."

She said the state had "no legitimate reason" to prevent his attorneys from
possessing a phone during the execution "particularly in light of the
demonstrated risk that midazolam will fail."

According to the selected reporters on the scene, Arthur apologized to his
family before being put to death. "I am sorry I failed you as a father," he
said. "I love you more than anything on earth."

Arthur seemed to have accepted his fate in a recent interview with the
Associated Press, saying "they're going to kill me this time," but he
nevertheless maintained his innocence.

"I did not commit that crime," Arthur told the AP???s Kim Chandler. ???I
won???t give up 'til I draw my last breath. I won't give up."

Arthur had a strong legal team behind him, preventing seven previous execution
dates. A man confessed to the murder Arthur was convicted of, but a court ruled
the confession unfounded. Arthur's attorneys asked for a new DNA test to prove
he did not commit the crime, but Gov. Kay Ivey last month denied that request.

Shortly after Arthur's execution at Holman, Ivey issued a statement on his
execution.

"No governor covets the responsibility of weighing the merits of life or death,
but it is a burden I accept as part of my pledge to uphold the laws of this
state," Ivey said. "Mr. Arthur was rightfully convicted and sentenced, and
tonight, that sentence was rightfully and justly carried out."

Arthur, who is now 75, was first convicted of capital murder in 1982 but faced
2 subsequent trials after the first 2 were overturned. His death sentence came
in 1991 during the 3rd trial.

He has been given now 8 execution dates since 2001. A jury found him guilty of
the murder of Wicker, the wife of whom Arthur was accused of having an affair
with. The wife, Judy, said she hired Arthur, her lover, to kill her husband
Troy.

In November, US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts issued a stay from the
Court delaying Arthur's scheduled Nov. 3 execution. The stay was to give the
other justices time to decide whether to take up Arthur's case challenging
Alabama's 3-drug cocktail.

They ultimately denied that request for a writ of certiorari.

Arthur's attorneys argued that Midazolam, the 1st of 3 drugs in Alabama's
cocktail, would fail to do its job of sedating the inmate to prevent pain
during the induction of the 2 other live-taking drugs, violating the Eight
Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

In Glossip v. Gross, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the use of Midazolam
as a sedative was not unconstitutional, allowing its use to continue, but
Arthur argues that his preexisting heart condition would render Midazolam
ineffective.

In December, death-row inmate Ronald Smith reportedly heaved and coughed for
nearly 15 minutes while being executed at Holman. His attorneys called the
execution botched. ADOC officials said it went as planned. Arthur's attorneys
feared the same thing would happen with him.

It didn't, reporters and ADOC officials on the scene said.

Arthur had previously asked for alternative excution methods including firing
squad and different drug cocktails. Courts had denied those requests citing
Alabama statues that now limit execution to lethal injection. The Courts said
Arthur's attorneys offered no other legal alternatives for their consideration.

Arthur's execution is the 3rd since the state had a 2-year hiatus in
executions. In January 2016, Christopher Brooks, a 43-year-old convicted
murderer and rapist, became the 1st inmate executed in Alabama after the hiatus
thanks to the rising scarcity of Midazolam and court litigation. Smith became
the 2nd in December 2016.

Though he had success in preventing his execution, Arthur wasn't exactly a
perfect plaintiff. He escaped prison in 1986 before his second trial by
shooting a prison correctional officer who later died. And Wicker's death
wasn't his 1st murder. In 1977, Arthur was convicted of killing Eloise Bray
West but was released from prison on a work release program before committing
Wicker's murder.

Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall said Arthur's execution would begin
the long-delayed process of recover for Wicker's family.

"34 years after he was first sentenced to death for the murder of a Colbert
County man, Thomas Arthur's protracted attempt to escape justice is finally at
an end," Marshall said.

(source: alreporter.com)

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

Gov. Kay Ivey signs bill intended to shorten death penalty appeals


Gov. Kay Ivey Friday signed into law a bill that supporters say will shorten
the duration of appeals in death penalty cases in Alabama.

Attorney General Steve Marshall, who supported the bill, announced the signing
in a press release. Marshall said the law, called the Fair Justice Act, "does
not diminish the thoroughness of appellate review of death penalty cases, but
simply streamlines the appellate process so that the direct appeal and the
state post-conviction stage occur simultaneously."

Ivey said in the press release: "The Fair Justice Act strikes an important
balance between protecting the rights of a defendant and the state's interest
in allowing justice to be achieved effectively and swiftly."

Opponents, including the American Bar Association, say the law will increase
the likelihood that the state will put an innocent person to death.

The bill, by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, requires defendants to pursue certain
types of appeals sooner, setting new deadlines for when certain appeals can be
filed and when courts must rule.

Ward said the bill will shorten the duration of state appeals in death penalty
cases from about 15-18 years generally to about 9 to 12 years. Ward said it
would not take away any steps in the process. It will not affect federal
appeals.

The bill cleared the Legislature last week with support from the Republican
majorities in the House and Senate and opposition from most Democrats.

American Bar Association President Linda Klein, in a May 12 letter to the
Legislature, said the law "will diminish the ability of counsel to provide
effective representation and the capacity of courts to deliberate in order to
make fair and responsible determinations, increasing the risk of executing an
innocent person."

The new law will apply to any defendant sentenced to death after it takes
effect. The effective date is August 1.

(source: al.com)






MISSISSIPPI:

Death row inmate wins hearing that could lead to new sentencing


Murderer Jason Lee Keller can have his trial judge hear a sentencing issue that
could help him avoid the death penalty.

The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday ruled Keller's case in the capital
murder of Hat Nguyen in Biloxi be sent back to the trial judge for questions on
the sentencing phase of his October 2009 trial.

Keller, 37, claims his trial attorneys failed to sufficiently investigate
mitigating evidence that could have swayed jurors to spare his life. In
criminal defense, mitigating circumstances are those that don't justify a
criminal act, but are considered a fair manner of influencing decisions on the
degree of punishment.

Hat Nguyen, 41 and a mother of 4, worked 7 days a week at Popp's Ferry Road
Food Mart in Biloxi. Keller robbed the store June 21, 2007, and shot Nguyen 4
times while her youngest child was asleep in the back of the store.

A sequestered Harrison County jury deliberated 30 minutes before finding him
guilty of capital murder. In the sentencing phase, it took the jury 5 hours to
sentence him to death.

Keller also is serving a life prison term for robbing a Hancock Bank branch in
Lyman 6 months before Nguyen was killed.

He has lost several appeals since his sentencing.

In this complaint, he claims he now has numerous affidavits from friends,
family, doctors and former teachers and classmates, and their statements should
have been presented during the sentencing trial.

Keller had other complaints about his sentencing trial but the high court
denied them.

A date for the hearing has not been set.

(source: sunherald.com)



MISSOURI:

Prosecutors to Seek Death Penalty in Quadruple Homicide----Prosecutors plan to
seek the death penalty if a northwest Missouri man is convicted of killing 4
member of his family.


Court records say prosecutors will seek the death penalty if a northwest
Missouri man is convicted of killing 4 members of his family.

The Kansas City Star reports (http://bit.ly/2qrsDY5 ) a June 1 hearing is
scheduled in Platte County Circuit Court in the case against 25-year-old
Grayden Lane Denham.

Denham is accused of fatally shooting his grandparents, his sister and her
3-month-old son in February. Their bodies were found outside a burning home
near Edgerton.

He has pleaded not guilty and is being held in Platte County Detention Center.
Bond is set at $4 million.

Denham was arrested in Seligman, Arizona, where police said he was walking
around naked. He is also charged with arson and animal abuse for shooting a
dog.

Details of events preceding the shooting and fire haven't been released.

(source: Associated Press)






KANSAS:

Kansas Supreme Court rejects overturning King Phillip Amman Reu-El's capital
murder plea in 2003 slayings----Reu-El, formerly known as Phillip Cheatham, was
convicted of killing 2 women, severely wounding 3rd


King Phillip Amman Reu-El's attempt to withdraw his no-contest pleas to the
2003 killings of 2 women and severe wounding of a 3rd woman was rejected Friday
by the Kansas Supreme Court.

Amman Reu-El contended the judge in Shawnee County District Court misinformed
him of appellate rights that would be waived by making the pleas. The Supreme
Court affirmed the ruling by Judge Richard Anderson to deny allowing Amman
Reu-El to withdraw his pleas.

To withdraw a no-contest plea before sentencing, a defendant must establish
good cause to do so, Supreme Court Justice Marla Luckert wrote in the opinion.

Had the Supreme Court allowed Amman Reu-El to withdraw his pleas, it would have
set the stage for Amman Reu-El's 3rd capital murder trial. He also would have
faced the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.

As the case stands now, Amman Reu-El is sentenced for capital murder to a life
term without the possibility of parole for 25 years and a consecutive prison
term of 13 years and 9 months for an attempted murder count.

Amman Reu-El, formerly known as Phillip D. Cheatham Jr., was convicted of
killing Annette Roberson, 38, and Gloria Jones, 42, on Dec. 13, 2003. He also
was convicted of attempted 1st-degree murder of Annetta Thomas, who survived
multiple gunshot wounds in the same shooting at a residence in southeast
Topeka.

Following his 1st trial, Amman Reu-El was sentenced to death, but the Supreme
Court overturned those convictions based on ineffective defense by his first
attorney.

During the retrial of Amman Reu-El, a jury was being chosen when a plea
agreement was reached on Feb. 27, 2015.

A few days later, Amman Reu-El told a Topeka Capital-Journal editor he entered
the no-contest plea after listening to potential jurors express "extreme views"
and concluding he would receive the death penalty. He also said he had lost
confidence in his legal team.

Less than a week later, Amman Reu-el personally filed a motion to withdraw his
plea, asserting he was "under 'coercive control' and under duress when (he)
entered a no-contest plea."

During sentencing, prosecutors played a series of jailhouse phone calls by
Amman Reu-El, which showed he "told his friends and family that he took a plea
deal because he realized the case was not going in his favor and it was in his
best interest to accept a plea now and appeal later," the ruling said.

In this case, Amman Reu-El contended he met the good cause burden to withdraw
his plea by showing he was misinformed about how his no-contest plea impacted
his ability to pursue double jeopardy arguments on appeal.

In turn, Amman Reu-El said this meant his plea wasn't knowingly entered. In a
brief submitted to the Supreme Court, Amman Reu-El contended the trial judge
told him he could continue to pursue an appellate issue of significance to him
when in fact entering such a plea would block that consideration.

Anderson, the District Court judge, concluded the defendant hadn't established
good cause and denied Amman Reu-El's motion to withdraw his plea, Luckert said.
The judge then sentenced Amman Reu-El.

The Supreme Court noted that when Amman Reu-El made his no contest pleas, the
judge told him, "You would waive or give up your right to take any appeal of a
conviction." The defendant responded he understood his rights and had no
questions about his rights, adding he was "well informed about my rights,
that's for sure."

Another statement during the plea illustrated Amman Reu-El understood the
impact of his no-contest pleas, the Supreme Court ruling said.

"As I stated, like I said before and I say it again, it's my position that I
can help more people with a life sentence than I can help people with a death
sentence," the ruling quoted him as saying.

Amman Reu-El, 44, is housed in Hutchinson Correctional Facility.

(source: Topeka Capital Journal)






OKLAHOMA:

Oklahoma court upholds convicted killer's death penalty


The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld the death penalty of a man
convicted of killing his girlfriend and her 2 children in 2010.

The court ruled Thursday that testimony by the victims' relatives saying Shaun
Bosse should receive the death penalty shouldn't have been allowed, but was
harmless error.

The court said "overwhelming evidence" proves the crime was heinous, atrocious
or cruel.

Bosse was convicted of killing 25-year-old Katrina Griffin, 8-year-old
Christian Griffin and 6-year-old Chasity Hammer. Their bodies were found in
their burned mobile home in Dibble, 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of Oklahoma
City.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in October that the relatives' testimony shouldn't
have been allowed and sent the case back to the Oklahoma court.

Bosse's attorney didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

(source: Associated Press)

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