2017-09-03 13:42:30 UTC
Prosecutors to Seek Death Penalty in Car Lot Slayings
Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against a man charged with killing a
couple at their used car lot in Cleveland.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley said Friday that Joseph McAlpin was
re-indicted on capital charges in the slayings of Trina Tomola and Michael
Kuznik. McAlpin was earlier indicted on aggravated murder, aggravated robbery
and other charges. The new indictment includes capital specifications to some
of the charges that could result in the death penalty if McAlpin is convicted.
Online court records don't show an attorney for the 30-year-old Cleveland man.
O'Malley said in his statement that McAlpin broke into the car lot owned by
Kuznik and his wife, Tomola, on April 14 and shot and killed the couple and
their dog. He says McAlpin also stole a vehicle.
(source: Associated Press)
Appellate attorney withdraws from Utah death penalty case, saying, 'I had to
choose' between financially supporting family or representing Douglas
Lovell----Payment issues caused a conflict of interest, attorney argued.
A judge last week granted a lawyer's request to withdraw from representing a
Utah death row inmate after the appellate attorney said payment issues were
causing a conflict of interest.
Attorney Samuel Newton asked for the withdrawal in June after lamenting a
financial cap that Weber County officials had put on him to represent Douglas
Anderson Lovell, who was sentenced in 2015 to be executed for killing
39-year-old Joyce Yost in 1985 to keep her from testifying that he had
previously raped her.
The funding dispute centered around an upcoming multiday evidentiary hearing,
where Newton was expected to question witnesses about what work Lovell's trial
attorney did on the case - and whether The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saint interfered with the trial by limiting what bishops who worked with Lovell
at the prison could say on the stand.
Newton argued in court papers that the hearing would require hundreds of hours
of investigation and preparation, which he estimated would cost more that
$37,000. The county, however, had authorized payment of only $15,000. The
attorney said concerns about inadequate pay on Lovell's case and another death
penalty appeal was causing him stress-related heart problems.
Second District Judge Michael DiReda, who is presiding over the evidentiary
hearing that was ordered by the Utah Supreme Court, ruled on Tuesday that
Newton could withdraw, finding there was a conflict of interest because of
Newton's health concerns. DiReda ordered Weber County to appoint a new attorney
for Lovell by Sept. 20.
Newton told The Tribune on Friday, "It is unfortunate that I was placed in a
position where I had to chose between supporting my family and representing Mr.
"I hope that the state of Utah and Weber County will commit in the future to
adequately and fully paying for these necessary appellate reviews in such
It is unlikely that the evidentiary hearing, currently scheduled to begin Sept.
25, will go forward.
Ahead of DiReda's decision, Lovell, himself, typed 2 letters to the judge,
pleading with him to keep Newton on the case and asking the judge to order
Weber County to renegotiate Newton's contract.
"For the first time, I got an attorney who represented me to the fullest,"
Lovell wrote, "who knows my case inside & out & now the county had pulled the
rug on funding him. I am left, in the middle of my appeal, with numerous delays
that are not my fault, but the state's fault. I do not feel I will get a better
attorney and, like before, I will be stuck with someone who won't work properly
on this case."
In another letter, Lovell listed many of the attorneys the county has appointed
to represent him during the past 2 decades.
There was a lawyer in 1992 who represented Lovell for $49, whom he met once or
There was another attorney who represented him sometime in the 1990s, according
to court records, but Lovell doesn't remember ever seeing him in the courtroom.
And after his case came back to the district court on appeal in 2011, he was
appointed 2 attorneys that Lovell said he liked, but who asked to be taken off
the case because they weren't qualified.
That's when he was appointed the attorneys who represented him in a 2015 trial,
Michael Bouwhuis and Sean Young. The work that Young did preparing witnesses in
the penalty phase is at the heart of the upcoming evidentiary hearing, as
Newton claims Young did not contact a number of character witnesses who wanted
to testify on Lovell's behalf.
"On appeal, we discovered that Mr. Lovell's trial attorney committed serious
errors when he failed to interview and call dozens of witnesses who would have
testified that Mr. Lovell has tried to change his life," Newton said, "that he
feels tremendous remorse, and that he has tried, to the best he is able, to
repay some of the the debt he owes to society and to the Yost family."
Bouwhuis, who oversees Weber County's contracts for public defenders, wrote in
an affidavit that Young's public defender contract was terminated after
A Utah judge ruled last month that Young violated attorney rules in Lovell's
case by failing to contact the witnesses and by refusing to provide Lovell's
case file to Newton until a judge ordered him to do so. Young also faces
discipline for an unrelated immigration case. A sanctions hearing has not yet
Weber County Attorney Christopher Allred did not respond to a request for
comment on Friday.
Lovell in April 1985 followed Yost home from a Clearfield restaurant, kidnapped
her from her apartment parking lot and sexually assaulted her in the parking
lot and at his home, according to trial testimony.
After she reported the crime, Lovell began to plot the woman's death to keep
her from testifying. He tried twice to hire men to kill the woman, then decided
to do it himself.
On Aug. 10, 1985, he kidnapped Yost again from her South Ogden apartment and
took her to the mountains east of Ogden, where he strangled her and left her
body under handfuls of dirt and leaves.
Her body was never found, despite an extensive search to the area by police in
1993, after Lovell struck a plea deal that spared him the death penalty if he
could lead authorities to her body.
After the fruitless search, an Ogden judge sentenced Lovell to death by lethal
injection. But he was allowed to withdraw his plea in 2011 after the Utah
Supreme Court ruled he should have been better informed of his rights during
court proceedings. A jury again convicted him to death after the 2015 trial.
(source: Salt Lake Tribune)
Here's why 5 convicted killers may benefit from the Dekraai ruling
For several convicted killers, the horrific case of Seal Beach mass murderer
Scott Evans Dekraai is a potential legal gift.
Last month, a Superior Court ruled that Dekraai - who admitted to killing 8
people at a hair salon in 2011 - should not receive the death penalty because
of misconduct on the part of local prosecutors and the sheriff's department.
Instead, the worst mass murderer in county history is expected to be sentenced
to 8 terms of life without the possibility of parole.
But the problems unearthed in the case weren't limited to Dekraai.
State and appellate judges looking at Dekraai have ruled that Orange County
prosecutors, sheriff's deputies and police detectives cheated over the course
of several years by secretly using jailhouse informants to cajole inmates into
incriminating themselves - a constitutional violation because the targeted
inmates were represented by attorneys. The courts also ruled that informants'
histories often were withheld from defense teams, another violation.
For others convicted of murder, those problems look like daylight.
Attorneys for at least 5 men now in prison for murders committed in Orange
County are using findings from the Dekraai case in attempts to win new trials.
The crimes are lurid and it's far from a given that their arguments will be met
with legal favor, but the Dekraai case could offer new ammunition.
Here are those cases:
Ricky Salas was just out of high school with a 3.2 grade-point average, when
Santa Ana police grabbed him in November 2005 for a fatal gang shooting that
took place 3 years earlier. Salas has been locked up ever since and is now
serving a life sentence without parole in state prison.
His best shot at freedom comes from the same jailhouse informant who helped
convince a jury to convict him of murder. Drug addict Landon Horning told the
jury that Salas had made incriminating statements while the 2 shared a cell at
Orange County jail - statements that corroborated the testimony of Salas'
What Horning allegedly didn't tell the jury - and what prosecutor Alison Gyves
allegedly didn't tell the defense team - was that Horning was a hallucinating
schizophrenic with brain damage and an addiction to heroin. Another secret:
Horning had been placed purposely in Salas' cell to obtain a confession in the
shooting death of 24-year-old Pedro "Tiger" Martin in Santa Ana. If true, that
would violate Salas' right to legal counsel because he had an attorney at the
Based on those claims, Salas' lawyer, Tarik Adlai, has taken the case back to
Orange County Superior Court, trying to get the conviction overturned.
"Ricky Salas was sentenced to death in prison for a crime committed three weeks
after his 18th birthday based on two presumptively unreliable witnesses: a
rewarded turncoat accomplice and a rewarded jailhouse informer," Adlai wrote in
a court motion. "Evidence not disclosed to the jury confirmed that both were
not only presumptively unreliable but both affirmatively lied to the jury that
Informant Horning told the jury that he was on probation for using cocaine,
when he really was on probation for using heroin. He said he was taking
anti-inflammatory medication, not the anti-psychotics that he was actually
Horning, who was in jail for repeatedly violating his probation, was let out of
jail early at the behest of the district attorney's office and moved to
Northern California, ostensibly for his safety. Adlai argues in court papers
that prosecutors were trying to stash Horning away, so the defense team
couldn't find and question him.
Salas' alleged accomplice, Jesse Madrigal, received a 5-year sentence after
testifying against the defendant. For his part, Madrigal admitted to driving
the Chevrolet El Camino from which the fatal shot was fired.
The district attorney's office would not comment on the merits of the case,
saying only that it was pending. In a past interview, prosecutors said they
gave the defense all the information they had at the time.
Drops of blood found at a murder scene in 1988 sealed Paul Smith's fate.
More than 20 years after the killing, Smith was arrested in Las Vegas, after
his DNA profile matched the genetic material in the blood drops. Police had
taken a sample from Smith after an unrelated arrest for domestic violence.
A jury in November 2010 found Smith guilty of stabbing marijuana dealer Robert
Haugen's nude body 18 times - nearly decapitating the victim - and torching his
remains in a Sunset Beach bedroom.
Smith argued that he did not kill Haugen, a childhood friend and Smith's pot
Smith explained that at the time of the crime, he carried a Swiss Army knife.
He said he must have cut himself while using the knife's small scissors to trim
high-grade marijuana at Haugen's home the day before the killing.
In the jail, Smith was placed by deputies in Mod-L20, a cell since shown to
have been used routinely to match suspects with jailhouse informants. Smith was
near an informant, Arthur Palacios, and at least 2 other unnamed informants.
Though prosecutors told Smith's defense lawyer about Palacios, they never
disclosed the other informants.
Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders wrote in the Dekraai case that
prosecutors didn't mention the other snitches because the revelation would have
exposed a network of informants in the jail.
Palacios testified that Smith confessed the murder to him, helping to win a
Jurors also heard evidence that Smith tried to burn his girlfriend with a
lighter and tortured her with a knife, in one incident, stabbing her in the
leg. On another occasion, Smith tied her nude body to the bed, proclaiming:
"Let the torture begin," according to court documents. News accounts say Smith
and the woman were involved in a sado-masochistic relationship.
Smith, court documents say, also attempted to hire a hit man from within the
jail to attack a sheriff's investigator working on the case.
As compelling as the evidence may be, Smith's conviction could be overturned if
the court finds his constitutional rights were violated.
6 years after the trial, during evidentiary hearings connected to Dekraai, the
court learned that sheriffs deputies inside the jail kept a special online log
detailing the interactions between deputies and informants. That log contained
information on Palacios, information that prosecutors acknowledged should have
been given to Smith's defense. The information could have been used to attack
the informant's credibility on the witness stand.
The use of the informant may also have violated Smith's right to counsel, since
he had legal representation and was formally charged at the time. Prosecutors
instructed Palacios not to ask any questions of Smith, but he ended up doing
so, according to court documents.
"They're pretty straightforward violations," said Smith's attorney, Jerome
He said the Dekraai ruling by Judge Thomas Goethals gives him hope that such
decisions will be made according to the law and not according to sentiment.
"It certainly shows an indication on the part of the court to take these
accusations very seriously," Wallingford said.
The district attorney's office is scheduled to reply to Wallingford's arguments
On a chilly night in March 2006, members of the Rollin' 20s street gang left
Long Beach to go dancing at an Anaheim night spot, Club Boogie. Inside the
club, they noticed some other partiers were wearing snappy clothes and flashy
The "bling" again stood out when the Rollin' 20s ran into that same group at a
nearby Denny's. The gang allegedly decided to steal the jewelry.
A fight broke out inside the restaurant and spilled into the parking lot. Shots
were fired. Armand Jones, an 18-year-old actor who would posthumously become
known for his role in the 2007 movie "Freedom Writers," was killed in the
shoot-out by a single bullet through the heart.
Jones, aglitter in gold chains, a gold watch, diamond studded earrings and
other expensive jewelry, was celebrating the last day of filming.
Stanley Simon was 1 of 4 people arrested in the killing. In police interviews,
Simon denied shooting Jones or participating in the brawl.
But prosecutors said in court that Simon became loose-lipped when put together
in jail with informant Jeremiah Rodriguez, who at the time stood accused of 4
counts of attempted murder in an unrelated case.
Simon didn't know that Rodriguez was taking notes of their alleged
Rodriguez told police that Simon admitted shooting one of the surviving victims
in the back of the head with a snub-nosed 38-caliber gun.
Simon denied on the witness stand talking to informant Rodriguez. He said he
didn't trust Rodriquez and didn't tell him anything.
Simon's attorney James Crawford said in a recent filing that authorities
withheld evidence concerning informant Rodriquez. It wasn't until February 2017
- 6 years after Simon's conviction - that Crawford learned Rodriguez had a long
history as a jailhouse informant.
Crawford argues that informant Rodriguez and co-defendant Damon Hill were sent
by police to illegally interrogate Simon, who was allegedly denied his right to
counsel, a violation because he had legal representation and was formally
Rodriguez who was looking at a possible sentence of life without parole was
allowed to plead guilty with a 4-year-sentence after testifying, according to
Simon was sentenced in 2011 to life without parole by Superior Court Judge
Thomas Goethals, the same judge who presided over the Dekraai case.
The DA's office said on August 31 that it did not have time to respond to
questions about the Simon case.
The call on the police radio was "suspicious circumstances," but that did
little to describe the horror awaiting Santa Ana officers in June of 1998, when
they went to the house on South Hallady Street.
In a backyard shed, they found a body covered with bags of ice in a children's
inflatable swimming pool. The victim's head had been blown away by a single
high-caliber gunshot. Nearby were plastic bags filled with dirt and brain
A crucifix lay atop the body of gang member Ruben Leal, known in the
neighborhood as "Oso."
The backyard hose was still running.
Fellow gang member Ramon Alvarez was among the people in the house. He said he
had arrived about 20 minutes before the police and hadn't noticed the body in
the shed, even as he went outside to smoke a cigarette.
Later that month, Alvarez was at the Santa Ana city jail with inmate Craig
Gonzales, who knew the defendant from a previous stint in prison.
Gonzales told police in 2010 that Alvarez confessed to the killing and gave
details not released to the public.
Alvarez was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. He
recently filed documents in federal court seeking a new trial on the grounds
that Gonzales lied on the witness stand.
Gonzales testified that he never before worked with prosecutors, but Alvarez
said the informant worked with prosecutors on a sexual assault case in Nevada
in 2002 in exchange for a suspended sentence. The information wasn???t
disclosed to Alvarez' lawyer at the time of the trial, though appellate
documents show the prosecutors didn't know either.
Secondly, wrote Alvarez, Gonzales questioned him in violation of his civil
rights. Alvarez said the informant was moved near his cell while he was
reviewing discovery information.
Alvarez, who wrote his own motion by hand, cited the Dekraai case and the use
by police and prosecutors of a secret network of jailhouse informants.
An appellate court has upheld Alvarez's sentence and the state supreme court
refused to review the case.
The state attorney general, which is arguing the case against Alvarez, says
that while Gonzales may have been evasive in his testimony, that's not the same
as perjury. The state also points out that while Alvarez has cited the Dekraai
case - in which an informant was improperly used - he has provided no proof
that it happened in his case.
The last thing inmate William Payton expected was that the guy with the Bible
in the cell next door was an informant working for the district attorney.
Accused of murder, Payton opened up to jail neighbor Daniel Escalera, who
disarmed him with talks about the Lord before turning the subject to murder.
Escalera became a key witness in Payton's 1982 penalty trial, which ended with
the defendant being sent to death row. Today, Payton is next in line from
Orange County to be executed, should the penalty resume.
Escalera testified that Payton confessed to having a "severe problem" with
women and sex. That testimony helped sway a jury deliberating in the 1980 rape
and stabbing death of Garden Grove resident Pamela Montgomery.
Attorney's for Payton, motivated by findings in Dekraai, say the prosecutor in
the Payton case, Michael Jacobs, was untruthful in a 1999 deposition in which
he said Escalera and another informant were not agents of the government.
Jacobs, in a past interview, denied any misconduct and said he testified to the
best of his knowledge.
If the misconduct is true, it would mean that the informant program uncovered
by assistant public defender Sanders stretched back more than 3 decades.
From the beginning, the facts of the case worked against Payton. He was
convicted of killing Montgomery, stabbing the 21-year-old woman a dozen times.
Payton also was convicted of trying to murder 2 others: Patricia Pensinger, who
survived 40 stab wounds, and Pensinger's 10-year-old son, Blaine, who was
stabbed 23 times.
The key question was whether Payton would be sentenced to death.
He was with the help of the informants.
(source: Orange County Register)
If executions resume in California, at least 3 San Diego defendants could be
next in line
It has been 11 years since the state has executed an inmate in California.
That's a good sign for those who hope to see the death penalty abolished some
To those who support capital punishment, some of them prosecutors or crime
victims, it's a sign of what's broken in California's particular brand of
criminal justice, and that long delay is likely what prompted 51 % of voters to
pass Proposition 66 in November.
The ballot measure, dubbed The Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016,
promised to shrink the amount of time from when a defendant is sentenced to
death and when he or she is executed, which now takes at least a couple of
decades. In part, it required death penalty appeals be decided within 5 years.
And that's a key provision that was challenged on constitutional grounds in the
state Supreme Court. Opponents of Proposition 66 argued that the 5-year time
limit imposes a "mandatory" deadline by which all post-trial matters must be
resolved, and encroaches upon the court's authority to "balance the matters
before them in a way that is fair to all litigants."
In short, the California Supreme Court would have to devote 90 % of its time to
death penalty cases over the next several years to get through a massive
On Aug. 24, the state's highest court upheld the new law and ruled that the
5-year requirement for resolution of post-trial appeals was a "directive" and
therefore not mandatory.
That led some supporters of the measure to suggest that executions could resume
in California with a matter of months. (Regulators still have to approve a new
drug protocol that would be used to execute condemned inmates.)
Currently, the state has are more than 740 death row inmates, more than 15 of
whom have exhausted their appeals, putting them next in line for execution.
Among them are Hector Ayala, 66, a San Diego man convicted in the
execution-style murders of 3 men during an auto shop robbery in 1985; Richard
Samayoa, 64, convicted in 1988 of fatally bludgeoning a south San Diego
neighbor and her daughter in December 1985; and Kevin Cooper, 59, who was
convicted of murdering 4 people in Chino Hills in 1983 after escaping from the
California Institute for Men, where he was serving time for burglary.
Cooper's trial was moved to San Diego County because of extensive publicity
about the case in San Bernardino County. He came within hours of dying by
lethal injection in 2004, until an appeals court ordered DNA testing of
evidence from the crime scene.
In all, 38 inmates are committed to death row from San Diego County, according
to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who stepped down July 7 after leading the
office for 14 years, asked for the death penalty 34 times during her tenure,
but many of those cases never made it to trial.
Of those that did, juries recommended death 8 times. Those defendants are:
George Williams, 61, an Indiana man sentenced to death for the 1986 kidnapping,
rape and murder of a 14-year-old Chula Vista girl.
Manuel Bracamontes, 54, a former Chula Vista bus driver sentenced to death for
the 1991 kidnapping, molestation and murder of his 9-year-old former San Ysidro
Jeffrey Young, 43, an Orange County man sentenced to death for the 1999 murders
of 2 South Bay people gunned down during a botched robbery at a Lindbergh
Field-area parking lot.
Eric Anderson, 43, a Poway tattoo artist sentenced to death for the April 2003
murder of the owner of the Cajon Speedway.
Adrian Camacho, 42, a gang member and small-time drug dealer sentenced to death
for killing a rookie Oceanside police officer during a traffic stop in 2003.
Tecumseh Colbert, 33, was sentenced to die for fatally shooting 2 men in
separate incidents in San Diego during a 22-day crime spree in 2004.
Derlyn Threats, 36, sentenced to death for the torture killing of a young
mother during a burglary in her Vista home in 2005.
Jean Rices, 36, sentenced for the execution-style slayings of 2 people during a
2006 liquor store robbery in El Cajon.
(source: San Diego Union-Tribune)
A debate over 'humane' executions
On August 24, 53-year-old Mark Asay became the first white man in Florida to be
executed for the murder of a black man since the death penalty was reinstated
in the U.S. in 1976. His execution also marked another 1st: the lethal
injection was prepared using a new drug as part of the three-drug cocktail.
Barring a brief suspension in the early 1970s, the U.S. has been relentless in
sending convicts to death row, and is behind only China, Iran, Pakistan and
Saudi Arabia in the total number of executions each year. China does not
disclose the numbers, but Amnesty International reports that they are in
thousands. The U.S. has executed 20 in 2016 and 17 so far in 2017.
From a peak of 98 executions in 1999, the numbers are coming down, but the
racial undertones of the U.S.'s criminal justice system are unmistakable.
Nationally, while 50% of murder victims are white, the number rises to 76% when
it comes to murders that end in the death penalty, indicating that the verdict
is harsher when the victims are white. Of the 1,459 people executed in the U.S.
since 1976, 55.7% - against a population of 77.35% - have been white and 34.5%
- against a population of 17.9% - black.
There is not much debate in the U.S. on the death penalty per se. Bernie
Sanders and Martin O'Malley were the only 2 candidates in the 2016 presidential
campaign who opposed it. The rest were for continuing with it though there have
been several documented cases of innocents being sent to death or coming close
to it. During the campaign, Hillary Clinton was confronted on her views on the
death penalty by an African American man who had spent 39 years in prison, and
came close to being executed, before being exonerated. "This is such a
profoundly difficult question," she had replied.
The process and the product
But the debate on a "humane" way of execution continues and is revived every
time a new execution is scheduled. The idea of capital punishment was inherited
from Britain where, in the 19th century, 122 crimes were punishable by death.
The U.S. began using electric chairs in 1888. In 1924, Nevada sought a "more
humane" way and cyanide gas chambers were built. Since 1976, 1,284 executions
have been carried out through the injection of a lethal cocktail, 158 through
electrocution, 11 using gas chambers, 3 by hanging and 3 by firing squads. A
total of 32 States, apart from the federal government, execute convicts.
The debate in recent years has been on whether or not execution by lethal
injections is humane. This mode of execution involves an anaesthetic and a
paralytic drug, followed by a final one that arrests the heart of the target.
There have been multiple cases in which the targets gasped and convulsed during
the execution. The process takes up to an hour to complete. Supreme Court
Justice Sonia Sotomayor had once said about the lethal injection: "What cruel
irony that the method that appears most humane may turn out to be our most
cruel experiment yet."
Midazolam, the anaesthetic drug used by several States, and similar drugs
became difficult to procure as companies that produced these refuse to sell
them for execution. In April this year, Arkansas wanted to hurry up the
execution of 8 people before its drug stock expired. They executed 4, and have
recently announced that a new supply of drugs has been procured against cash
payment, and executions will restart. Given the difficulty in procuring
Midazolam, Florida chose Etomidate. The execution was termed 'flawless' by
(source: Varghese K. George writes for The Hindu)
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