2017-04-04 13:36:43 UTC
Supreme Court Will Take up 3rd Harris County Death Penalty Case This Year
After recently ruling in favor of 2 Harris County death row inmates, the U.S.
Supreme Court is poised to take up yet another Houston death penalty case this
Carlos Ayestas was sentenced to death for his role in a 1995 home invasion, in
which Ayestas and two others tied up a 67-year-old woman with duct tape and
strangled her to death. His guilt is not at issue in the case - but his
appellate attorneys argue that if the jury at his sentencing hearing had known
he was schizophrenic and addicted to cocaine they would have decided against
execution. Ayestas's original defense lawyers did not reveal this during the
sentencing hearing. The only mitigating evidence they presented about Ayestas
were 3 letters submitted by the Harris County Jail's English-as-a-2nd-language
teacher, who said Ayestas was an attentive student.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to take up the case on the grounds of
ineffective counsel, deciding whether the U.S. Fifth Circuit erred when it
denied Ayestas additional resources to dig up evidence showing that his
original lawyers failed him.
The justices denied to consider the case on one other basis Ayestas's attorneys
put forth: that Harris County District Attorney's Office prosecutors sought to
execute him based in part on his immigration status.
In 2014, Ayestas's appellate attorneys with the Texas Defender Service
discovered an internal "Capital Murder Summary" memo never shared with
Ayestas's trial defense counsel. In the memo, prosecutor Kelly Seigler lists 2
"aggravating circumstances" that support sentencing Ayestas to death. One was
the brutal nature of the senior citizen's murder. The other was the fact that
Ayestas was not a U.S. citizen. He was an undocumented immigrant from Honduras.
As the Texas Attorney General's Office noted in its brief opposing Ayestas's
appeal, someone later crossed out that second immigration-status reason, and it
was never presented to the jury. The Supreme Court justices did not explain why
they would not consider whether the U.S. Fifth Circuit erred when it declined
to hear out Ayestas's claims that prosecutors sought his execution for
discriminatory reasons. The Fifth Circuit's basis for declining that argument
last March was that Ayestas's defense counsel didn't try hard enough to
discover the Capital Murder Summary memo until more than a decade after his
trial - reasoning the Texas Defender Service argued was flawed in its Supreme
"Mr. Ayestas's case is about the right to be fairly charged and defended," his
attorneys, Lee Kovarsky and Callie Heller, said in a statement. "From the
charging decision through the federal habeas process, Mr. Ayestas has been
denied his constitutional right to nondiscriminatory treatment and effective
representation; these are rights to which all criminal defendants, especially
those facing a death sentence, are entitled."
This is the 3rd time this year that a Harris County death penalty case is in
the Supreme Court spotlight. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of
Houston death-row inmate Bobby Moore, whose attorneys have maintained that he
is mentally disabled and should not be executed. The court ruled that Texas's
method of determining whether death-row inmates are mentally disabled, which is
sometimes likened to the "Lennie test," a reference to the John Steinbeck novel
Of Mice and Men, is invalid. And in February, justices ruled in favor of Duane
Buck. At his sentencing hearing, an expert witness called by Buck's own
attorney suggested on the stand that because Buck is black, he posed a greater
"future danger." The court ruled Buck is entitled to a new hearing.
In the Texas Defender Service's brief submitted to the Supreme Court in support
of Ayestas, they began by quoting Chief Justice John Roberts's opinion in the
Buck case: "[T]his is a disturbing departure from a basic premise of our
criminal justice system: Our law punishes people for what they do, not who they
(source: Houston Press)
Supreme Court to hear another Texas death penalty case----The U.S. Supreme
Court agreed Monday to hear the Texas death penalty case of a Honduran national
who was convicted for his role in a 1995 murder of 67-year-old Santiaga Paneque
during a Houston home invasion.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear the Texas death penalty case of a
Honduran national who is arguing that a federal appeals court wrongly denied
him resources to investigate and provide evidence of substance abuse and mental
Advocates for Carlos Ayestas believe that if a jury had heard he had a history
of cocaine addiction and mental illness, they may not have sentenced him to
death for his role in a 1995 murder of 67-year-old Santiaga Paneque during a
Houston home invasion. State officials have dismissed such speculation.
Ayestas and 2 others bound Paneque with duct tape before beating her and
strangling her to death bound according to the state's brief to the Supreme
Court. Ayestas was found guilty and sentenced to death 2 years later.
Controversially, a memo discovered in 2014 showed the Harris County District
Attorney initially listed 1 reason to pursue the death penalty in Ayestas' case
was his immigration status: he was living in Houston illegally.
Now, after almost 20 years on death row, 47-year-old Ayestas' case will be
reviewed by the nation's highest court. In the case, Ayestas claims the U.S.
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals wrongly denied him resources to investigate and
produce evidence that his previous lawyers failed to raise in trial and state
appeals. (In his petition to the high court, he also raised the issue of the
Harris County memo, but the court denied it a hearing.)
"Mr. Ayestas's case is about the right to be fairly charged and defended. From
the charging decision through the federal habeas process, Mr. Ayestas has been
denied his constitutional right to nondiscriminatory treatment and effective
representation," Ayestas' lawyers Lee Kovarsky and Callie Heller said in a
statement after the court's decision. "...We look forward to appearing before
the Supreme Court and have faith that the Fifth Circuit's decision denying him
a meaningful opportunity to be heard will be reversed."
The Texas Attorney General's office declined to comment on the case.
During his trial in 1997, Ayestas' lawyer provided little evidence to try to
persuade jurors that her client should be spared from a death sentence,
according to Ayestas' petition to the Supreme Court. His lawyer brought forth
only positive recommendations from his prison English teacher.
"Despite her awareness of a history of substance abuse and red flags for mental
health problems, trial counsel's preparation was delayed, rudimentary, and
proceeded on a timeline inconsistent with her explanation that she throttled
investigation on Mr. Ayestas' instruction," Kovarsky wrote in the petition.
The state has argued this lack of evidence is Ayestas' fault alone, since he
instructed his lawyer not to contact his Honduran family until jury selection
Now, in Ayestas' most recent appeal, he raises an "ineffective assistance of
counsel" claim, saying his previous lawyers failed him by not producing
newly-discovered evidence of a cocaine addiction and mental illness. Ayestas
was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2001, and his lawyers believe they could
prove this illness was brought forth before the murder, during traumatic
experiences he had in Honduras and Mexico, where his sister said he was held
captive for 6 months until his father paid a ransom.
But this evidence isn't fully formed. Ayestas asked an appellate court for the
resources to truly investigate this claim and others brought forth by his
family to be able to provide a compelling case for relief from his death
sentence. A federal district court denied the plea, and the Fifth Circuit
upheld that decision.
That ruling is what stands before the Supreme Court now. Ayestas claims the
Fifth Circuit was wrong to deny him investigatory resources, adding that other
courts around the nation have held different interpretations of the rule that
the Fifth Circuit used to deny Ayestas' plea. But Texas argues there is no
circuit split, and that in his argument for investigatory resources, Ayestas
"misses the point" of the appellate court's ruling.
The Fifth Circuit ruled that it would not provide resources because even if
Ayestas could prove a substance abuse disorder, no jury would have found it
"sufficiently mitigating in light of the crime's brutality." The court also
said that the chance of any mental health evidence would have influenced the
jury's verdict was "conceivable, but not substantially likely," a necessary
determinant when granting appeals in death penalty cases.
"The Fifth Circuit determined that, even if petitioner conducted the
investigation for which he sought funding, his ineffective-assistance claim
would still fail...," Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller wrote in the state's
brief. "Having concluded that petitioner's underlying ineffective-assistance
claim lacked merit, the court denied funding to further develop it."
The case has been scheduled for the high court's October term, according to
(source: Texas Tribune)
For the families of men facing the death penalty, money can be a barrier to
seeing a loved one before the end.
Marilyn Shankle-Grant's son, Paul Storey, has been fighting his death sentence
for almost 10 years. All his legal efforts so far have fallen short, and in
autumn, a judge set his execution date for 12 April, 2017.
Storey was convicted in the 2006 shooting death of 28-year-old Jonas Cherry
during an armed robbery. Storey's accomplice - the gunman - pleaded guilty and
was sentenced to life in prison. Storey went forward with a jury trial and
received the death penalty in 2008.
Since he was sent to death row, Shankle-Grant has been able to see her son
about once a month, making the 4-hour drive from her home in Fort Worth, Texas,
to the state prison in Livingston, Texas.
But recently things have got more difficult for the 57-year-old hospitality
worker. The stress and depression over her son's impending execution was
affecting her work performance, and she lost a job she had held for 30 years.
She tried to pick up temporary work, and even started her own business,
Marilyn's Old-Fashioned Tea Cakes, baking flat, buttery rounds from her
grandmother's recipe, wrapping them up in cellophane and selling them at local
But even that small income stream has dried up - she stopped making tea cakes
not long after her son's execution date was announced.
"When I do them, I do it with lots of love," she explains. "Right now that's
just not in me."
The situation has become dire - her Forth Worth home entered foreclosure this
week. She needs $8,000 to save it.
Her financial difficulty - not to mention her broken car - have made the trips
to Livingston a real financial strain, at the same time that the approaching
execution date makes them more important than ever. She estimates each trip
costs roughly $350.
With just 6 weeks left to visit before her son is executed, Shankle-Grant
posted a weary status to her Facebook page, lamenting the short amount of time
she has left with her son and the financial struggle she faces just to see him.
It caught the eye of Abraham J Bonowitz, co-director of Death Penalty Action,
an anti-death penalty charity. He had met Shankle-Grant many times over the
years at death penalty abolition events.
Bonowitz reached out to Shankle-Grant to ask her permission to set up an online
fundraiser on her behalf. He created a page on the crowdfunding site You
Caring, which included a note from Shankle-Grant.
"My love and devotion to my son are not matched by the resources needed to make
the trip as often as I am allowed to visit him," she wrote. "With a heavy heart
I turn to my fellow human light to ask you to help me help my son face the
darkness as his destruction approaches."
The donations began streaming in. One anonymous donor contributed $1,000.
"My father was executed in Texas 13 years ago, and while the situation is still
painful, I'm thankful for our last few visits, and I know he was as well,"
wrote one contributor.
"Nobody's going to be able to take away the pain that Marilyn has, but we can
take away some of the anxiety," says Bonowitz, who is considering making these
fundraisers a permanent part of his work.
So far, he has raised nearly $6,000. The money allows Shankle-Grant to rent a
car each weekend, stay for 2 nights in a nearby hotel, as well as pay for meals
Thanks to the funds, Shankle-Grant has been able to visit her son every weekend
since. She says she is incredibly grateful for the help.
"None of this would be able to be happening if it weren't for that You Caring
page," she says. "I'm able to talk to him. When he's down and out and
depressed, we can talk about it and talk him through it. It gives me comfort,
Shankle-Grant's situation illustrates the hidden impact on the families of the
condemned, who often come from low-income backgrounds and can live far away
from the prison in which their loved one is housed. After 30 years of death
penalty abolition work, Bonowitz has seen the situation many times before.
Often a church or a non-profit will step in to help defray the cost of visiting
a family member before an execution.
"None of these families have any money," he says. "Marilyn never did anything
wrong and yet she is made to suffer. It's her son's fault, yes, but that
doesn't mean the love for her child stops."
The success of the fundraiser caught the attention of advocates in Arkansas,
which is poised to execute eight inmates over the course of 10 days, due to the
fact that the state's supply of an execution drug called midazolam is about to
Deborah Robinson, a freelance journalist who is writing a book about the 8 men,
says she has heard from three of them, asking for help so that their families
can see them before the execution dates in late April.
"I have a 21-year-old daughter whom I haven't seen in 17 years, along with a
3-year-old granddaughter," wrote inmate Kenneth Williams, who is scheduled to
die on 27 April, in a message to Robinson.
"The financial costs have prevented her from coming. If I am going to be
executed, I would love to see her before I go one last time and to see my
grandchild for the first time."
Lynn Scott, the sister of death row inmate Jack Jones, Jr, lives in North
Carolina. She runs her own business as a wedding planner, but not long ago her
husband suffered a heart attack and lost his business. It financially
devastated the couple.
"We lost everything - we lost our house, our 401k. We live paycheck to
paycheck," she says.
Arkansas is scheduled to execute her brother on 24 April. With airfare, hotel,
car rental and meals - plus cremation and burial expenses - she expects that
she will spend about $5,000.
"It's very difficult," says Scott. "What I want people to know is - whatever
the inmates did, we didn't do that. I didn't do that to those people, but I'm
still losing someone."
Modelling a crowdfunding page after the one in Texas, Robinson is now raising
funds for all 3 Arkansas families to help defray some of those costs.
If Shankle-Grant's You Caring page raises more money than she can use to see
her son, she says she wants the excess funds to go to the families in Arkansas.
Her son, Storey, still has a lawyer fighting for a stay of execution, in part
based on the fact that his victim's parents are opposed to the death penalty
and do not want him to be executed. Glenn and Judy Cherry have written letters
to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and other state officials asking for mercy.
Shankle-Grant still holds out hope that her son's execution will be halted, and
the portion of the fundraiser money that is designated for her son's burial can
be sent to the other families. She is asking supporters to write letters to the
Texas Department of Corrections, asking that Storey's life be spared.
In the meantime, because of a court hearing Storey has been moved to a county
jail that allows him to use the phone for the 1st time in years (phone calls
are not allowed for death row inmates in his prison). Shankle-Grant says he has
been able to talk to his elderly grandparents, who can't travel to see him, and
thanks to the fundraiser, she was easily able to pay the hefty $300 phone bill.
She is also able to talk to him, sometimes as often as four times a day.
It's a small comfort as the execution date creeps closer and closer.
"He'll hang up and call back, hang up and call back," she says. "I don't know
after  days if I'm ever going to hear his voice again. For me, it's very
(source: BBC news)
Judge denies Frein's motion to suppress confession
Accused cop killer Eric Matthew Frein's admission to shooting 2 state police
troopers can be introduced as evidence at his capital murder trial, Pike County
Judge Gregory Chelak ruled Monday.
The ruling sets the stage for Frein's long-awaited trial. Opening statements
begin at 9 this morning in Pike County Court in Milford.
"We'll be looking forward to starting the trial ... and bringing justice forth
on behalf of all the victims in this matter," District Attorney Ray Tonkin
Monday's ruling, however, may cause an issue should Frein be convicted.
"It's clearly an appellate issue," said Frein's attorney, Michael Weinstein.
Frein, 33, of Canadensis, is charged with 1st-degree murder and numerous other
crimes for the September 2014 sniper attack at the Blooming Grove state police
barracks that left Cpl. Bryon K. Dickson II, 38, of Dunmore, dead and Trooper
Alex T. Douglass, 34, of Olyphant fighting for his life. Frein faces the death
penalty if he is convicted of first-degree murder.
Not guilty plea
Frein pleaded not guilty to all charges. A Chester County jury of eight women
and 4 men will hear the trial, which is expected to last several weeks.
A small part of his videotaped interrogation was displayed on television
screens in Pike County Court Monday, as attorneys argued if it should be
admitted at his trial. At issue was whether or not state police violated
Frein's Miranda rights against self-incrimination because they continued to
question him despite his refusal to sign a waiver of his rights and his
statement early on in the interview that he did not wish to discuss "any
crimes." Frein was willing to help authorities pinpoint on a map where he
stashed a rifle, but didn't want to discuss anything else related to the
The video depicts Cpl. Benjamin Clark reading Frein's Miranda warnings and
handing him a paper to waive his rights.
"Pretty standard stuff," Clark told him.
Frein didn't sign it. The video showed troopers in the stark off-white room
keeping Frein talking on topics ranging from how respectful Frein's parents
have been to smoking in restaurants. At one point, they let Frein light up a
"You, sir, are the champion of hide and seek," one trooper off-screen joked
'Wake people up'
The video displayed in open court didn't show Frein saying he opened fire to
"wake people up," as investigators have detailed in affidavits filed earlier in
the case, but it did edge close as Frein asked how old Dickson's children are.
"You feel terrible, you do," 1 of the interrogators pressed. "We can see that."
Clark lined up to get to the heart of the matter
"Why is the thing I don't really get," Clark said in the video.
Attorney William Ruzzo, who also represents Frein, contended in earlier court
filings that Frein's refusal to discuss crimes meant he invoked his right to
"'I don't want to talk about any crimes' is a simple, declarative sentence,"
Ruzzo said, adding later: "Cpl. Clark skillfully ignored the rights of Mr.
Tonkin argued that it's more ambiguous than that because Frein offered to talk
about a rifle he hid. He also first brought up the shooting by asking about
Dickson's children, saying the slain trooper is a father who didn't go home.
"Did you not think of that beforehand?" Clark asks in the video. Frein shakes
his head and mumbles.
"What's that?" asks Clark.
"I'll talk to a lawyer," Frein says in the video. "I don't know one. I don't
want to get too far into it."
Frein and the interrogators didn't know one wanted to talk to him.
Frein's father, Eugene Frein, retained attorney James Swetz the night of his
son's Oct. 30, 2014, capture because Frein's arrest was reported as being
"without incident," though abrasions to his face in early arrest photos
suggested otherwise, Swetz testified by phone Monday.
Swetz was not allowed in the barracks but did get a call from Tonkin after 1
a.m. Oct. 31, 2014, informing him the preliminary arraignment will be at the
courthouse in the coming hours. Prior obligations in Monroe County kept Swetz
In another development, 1 of 12 out-of-county jurors was excused from the trial
to attend to his wife's injury. The 1st of the 6 alternate jurors picked will
take the man's place.
Chelak also will let Tonkin introduce crime scene photos, autopsy photos and am
anatomical exhibit. The judge granted his motion to preclude hearsay and his
motion to introduce evidence of flight.
Tonkin also filed a motion Monday asking Chelak to unseal court orders that
document payments made to 2 experts Frein's attorneys intend to call at trial -
Louise Luck, who specializes in obtaining mitigating evidence that could be
presented in the death penalty phase, and Carol Armstrong, a neuropsychologist.
Tonkin argues the orders, which the prosecution has not seen, are important
because they reveal a possible financial incentive the experts may have. That
could be used to impeach their credibility.
Jury from Philly
The prosecution and defense agreed to use a jury from the Philadelphia area in
part because extensive media coverage of the 48-day manhunt that spanned Pike
and Monroe counties to find Frein could hamper his ability to get a fair trial.
State police said Frein hid in the treeline across from the rural barracks and
opened fire on the troopers with a long rifle. Frein, who has been described by
authorities as a skilled marksman and woodsman, disappeared into the forest and
remained on the run for 48 days while about 2,000 Pennsylvania state troopers
and several hundred officers and agents from other state, local and federal
agencies combed the dense woods.
The U.S. Marshals Service came across Frein hiding at an airport hangar in
abandoned Birchwood Resort in Pocono Twp. on Oct. 30, 2014.
Judge to allow cameras in Chatham County death penalty trials
A Chatham County judge plans to allow cameras in the courtroom during the death
penalty trial of at least 3 of the 4 alleged members of the Bloods gang who are
facing murder charges.
Tyriek Walker, Timothy Coleman, Jr., Artez Strain and Arthur Newton are accused
of shooting and killing 24-year-old Dominique Powell in September of 2016.
There were several hearings today strictly for the media. Rule 22 hearings are
specific to death penalty cases.
Arthur Newton was supposed to have a hearing but his had to be rescheduled.
During each hearing, defense attorneys ask the judge to limit what the media
can and can't show. The judge told WTOC Monday that the cameras can only be
rolling when the defendants are sitting at the table with their attorney and
only if they are dressed in regular clothes.
We are not to show them in shackles or in their jail suits.
Some of the defense attorneys also requested the media be sensitive about
showing family members as well. Judge Morse granted the request for cameras
with these specific limitations.
WTOC will receive a formal order about these specific guidelines which we will
be required to follow over the course of the trial and any future hearings.
Again, it's still unclear when they will have a rule 22 hearing for Arthur
Newton. As for the other three, they will be formerly arraigned on April 6.
(source: WTOC news)
Prosecutors to Seek Death Penalty in Jeffery Peacock Case
Prosecutors will seek the death penalty in the case of a Colquitt County
quintuple murder suspect.
The district's attorney's office officially filed to seek the death penalty in
the Jeffery Peacock case.
He is the man accused of shooting and killing his 5 friends then setting the
house on fire in may of 2016.
District attorney Brad Shealey says the date of Peacock's 1st appearance is
(soruce: WTXL news)
Florida's Vengeful Governor
Gov. Rick Scott of Florida overreached last month when he issued an executive
order stripping a state attorney of her authority to prosecute a man charged
with killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and an Orlando police officer. On
Monday, he also removed her from 21 other murder cases.
Mr. Scott's executive orders appear to be without precedent in Florida. They
are meant to punish the state attorney, Aramis D. Ayala, Florida's 1st black
elected prosecutor, for announcing she would no longer seek the death penalty
because it was not in the best interest of her jurisdiction, which stretches
from Orlando to Kissimmee.
Ms. Ayala rightly argued that capital punishment does not deter crime, nor does
it protect police officers. Instead, it often leads to protracted appeals, and
rarely delivers closure to the victim's family. "Punishment is most effective
when it happens consistently and swiftly," she said. "Neither describe the
death penalty in this state."
In retaliation, Governor Scott reassigned the cases to a prosecutor who will
most likely seek executions.
This is not just a dispute over the death penalty. It's also about the
governor's brazen lack of respect for prosecutorial independence, which is
critical to the functioning of the legal system. Not only is it unclear whether
the governor has the authority to make these reassignments, but in substituting
his judgment for Ms. Ayala's, he is also sending a dangerous message to
prosecutors in Florida that politics will supersede their discretion.
The governor's action also got ahead of the normal judicial process.
Pre-emptively calling the death penalty "justice" wrongly presumes the
defendants should be executed without consulting the families of the victims or
considering any mitigating evidence about the accused.
Governor Scott must quickly reverse his executive orders. I do not say this
lightly. I was appointed to lead the Florida Senate criminal justice committee,
a rare privilege for a Democrat in the Republican-controlled legislature. I
sponsored legislation, signed into law last month by Governor Scott, to require
a unanimous jury vote for the death penalty, after the Florida and United
States Supreme Courts last year struck down Florida's capital punishment system
While I may not agree with Ms. Ayala's decision to reject the death penalty in
all cases, I strongly affirm her right to make that choice.
Florida prosecutors, like all prosecutors, have broad discretionary power. That
was the central argument in a letter protesting the governor's overreach, which
was signed by more than 150 prosecutors, judges and law professors. "Florida's
entire criminal justice system is premised on the independence of prosecutors,"
they wrote. Ms. Ayala "is solely empowered to make prosecutorial decisions for
Although Ms. Ayala's critics have denounced her actions as dereliction of duty,
they cannot point to a single law or statute that she has violated. That's
because she hasn't. There are no federal or state laws that say prosecutors
must seek death sentences. And the United States Supreme Court has banned all
state laws that make executions mandatory for murders.
The governor's executive order also undercuts the will of the people who last
fall elected Ms. Ayala to serve them. Moreover, a poll last year found that
nearly 2/3 of Floridians prefer life imprisonment over the imposition of the
death penalty. So do people who live in Central Florida, where her district is,
58 % to 36 %.
As a black man, I see the death penalty as a powerful symbol of injustice in
which race often determines who lives and who dies, especially in Florida. The
state has the 2nd-largest number of death row inmates in the country, after
California, and African-Americans are grossly overrepresented on Florida's
death row. This disproportionality was a driving force behind my bill. And
while I felt that Florida was not ready to relinquish the death penalty, I
tried to make it more fair.
Ms. Ayala's arguments for rejecting the death penalty were compelling and well
reasoned; they were drawn from the stark racial disparities in the criminal
justice system that she confronts every day. Yet Ms. Ayala has always said that
she would hold the guilty accountable, including, if he is convicted, the
defendant in the first case from which she was removed, Markeith Loyd.
Understandably, the issue of how to punish people who kill police officers
remains highly charged, especially among law enforcement officials. Many
believe that the only proper resolution for the death of Lt. Debra Clayton, the
Orlando police officer Mr. Loyd is accused of killing, is an eye for an eye. I
But for others, including Stephanie Dixon-Daniels, the mother of Mr. Loyd's
slain ex-girlfriend, who has also experienced a devastating loss, Ms. Ayala's
sentencing choice made sense. The death penalty will continue "to drag us back
in court and relive this violent, hideous act," Ms. Dixon-Daniels said.
Instead, she wants closure.
Ms. Ayala demonstrated leadership when she made her decision. "An analysis of
the death penalty must be pragmatic," Ms. Ayala concluded. "It must be
realistic and not simply theoretical, impulsive or emotional."
It's disappointing that the governor abandoned the same dispassionate
examination. It's not justice Governor Scott is delivering by forcing the death
penalty upon us all. It's vengeance.
(source: Op-Ed; Randolph Bracy is the chairman of the Florida Senate criminal
justice committee--New York Times)
Gov. Rick Scott reassigns 21 murder cases over Aramis Ayala's death penalty
Gov. Rick Scott on Monday removed State Attorney Aramis Ayala from 21 more 1st
degree murder cases because of her refusal to seek the death penalty.
All of them will be handled by State Attorney Brad King, who serves Lake,
Marion and 3 other counties.
The move comes 3 weeks after Scott removed Ayala from the case of accused cop
killer Markeith Loyd, following a dramatic public announcement.
On March 16 Ayala had stepped to a podium in front of the Orange County
Courthouse and said she would not seek the death penalty against Loyd or anyone
Scott was outraged.
A few hours later, he phoned her, asking her to step back from that case, but
she refused. Later that day, he signed an executive order, assigning the case
That decision made Ayala a darling of death penalty opponents but set off both
pro- and anti-Ayala demonstrations in Orlando and Tallahassee.
Monday's action by the governor was an extension of this earlier decision.
He made the decision, he said in a prepared statement, "in the interest of
"Each of these cases I am reassigning represents a horrific loss of life. The
families who tragically lost someone deserve a state attorney who will take the
time to review every individual fact and circumstance before making such an
impactful decision," his statement said.
"State Attorney Ayala's complete refusal to consider capital punishment for the
entirety of her term sends an unacceptable message that she is not interested
in considering every available option in the fight for justice," he added.
Ayala was in Tallahassee on Monday. A spokeswoman in her office had no
immediate response, but she has hired a Tampa lawyer to challenge the
Governor's decision to remove her from the Loyd case.
She has called that action unprecedented and an improper intrusion on the
authority given her by Orange and Osceola county voters.
King was not immediately available for comment. He was in Orlando Monday for a
10 a.m. hearing in the Loyd case. He made no mention Scott's impending order
during that 20-minute hearing.
He has agreed to review the 21 new murder cases, according to the Governor's
Loyd, 31, is accused of murdering Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton in a
Wal-Mart parking lot Jan. 9 as she tried to chase him down and arrest him on a
That warrant was for the shooting death of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade
Dixon, who was killed Dec. 13.
King has not said what penalty he will seek in either case.
(source: Orlando Sentinel)
21 More Cases Taken From Anti-Death-Penalty Prosecutor
Florida's Republican governor on Monday took 21 more 1st-degree murder cases
away from a Democratic prosecutor who has said she will no longer seek the
Gov. Rick Scott gave the cases being handled by Orlando-area State Attorney
Aramis Ayala to neighboring judicial circuit State Attorney Brad King.
Ayala has come under fire recently after announcing she wouldn't seek the death
penalty against Markeith Loyd or any other defendant. Loyd is charged with
killing an Orlando police lieutenant and his pregnant ex-girlfriend earlier
this year. Scott took the Loyd case away from Ayala last month and reassigned
it to King.
"The families who tragically lost someone deserve a state attorney who will
take the time to review every individual fact and circumstance before making
such an impactful decision," Scott said in a news release. "State Attorney
Ayala's complete refusal to consider capital punishment for the entirety of her
term sends an unacceptable message that she is not interested in considering
every available option in the fight for justice."
Ayala's spokeswoman said Scott never notified her office about his order and
instead learned about it through the media.
"Ms. Ayala remains steadfast in her position the Governor is abusing his
authority and has compromised the independence and integrity of the criminal
justice system," said Eryka Washington.
Ayala has said she plans to ask the Supreme Court to overturn the governor's
decision to strip her of the Loyd case.
Ayala's decision has stirred strong opinions on both sides of the death penalty
debate. Civil rights groups and faith groups have praised her while many
Republicans lawmakers and law enforcement have criticized her.
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said regardless of her position on the
death penalty, Ayala needs to follow the law.
"Whenever decisions are made regarding the prosecution of individuals, the
prosecutor must take into consideration the will and the desire of the victim's
survivors," he said.
Democratic state Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa called Scott's actions a "gross abuse
of his power."
"The governor is attempting to set dangerous precedent that would destroy the
idea of independence for state attorneys throughout Florida who must now fear
political retribution by the state's most powerful politician if they make a
decision he disagrees with," Shaw said in a news release.
(source: Associated Press)
US court grants hearing to Brit held for 30 years
A British man who was wrongly sentenced to death in 1987 will be allowed a
fresh hearing, based on evidence of his innocence, a US appeals court has
Kris Maharaj, 78, has always maintained his innocence after he was sentenced to
death over the 1986 murders of Derrick and Duane Moo Young in a Miami hotel
room. He has been held for over 30 years, and had his death sentence commuted
to life imprisonment in 2002.
Mr Maharaj's lawyer at the human rights organization Reprieve, Clive Stafford
Smith, has presented new evidence from people linked to Colombian drug cartels,
who have conceded that they - not Mr Maharaj - committed the crime.
The new ruling from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta says: "Mr.
Maharaj has made a prima facie showing that his new evidence, when viewed in
light of the evidence as a whole, would demonstrate that he could not have been
found guilty of the Moo Young murders beyond a reasonable doubt because if a
hit man for the cartel committed the murders, Mr. Maharaj did not."
The judgment said that the additional witnesses had presented "compelling"
accounts that "independently corroborate one another's [...] All 5 individuals'
stories reflect that the Moo Youngs were killed by the cartel."
The case will now move back to Miami for a federal hearing before a single
judge, who will consider the new evidence.
As part of the proceedings, Mr Maharaj's lawyers will also be able to access
previously unexamined evidence showing that Jaime Vallejo Mejia - a guest in
the hotel on the night of the murders - was a Colombian cartel operative.
Clive Stafford Smith, founder of Reprieve and pro bono lawyer for Kris Maharaj
for 24 years, said:
"We still have a long way to go, as we need to force disclosure of the rest of
the evidence the government has held all these years. But it is a great day for
Kris, and I hope now we will finally get him the justice he has long been
Marita Maharaj, 77, Kris' wife:
"At last perhaps everyone will see the truth. Kris will be thrilled. He has
been unwell, but this will finally give him hope."
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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