death penalty news----TEXAS, VA., S.C., GA., FLA.
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Rick Halperin
2017-07-14 14:20:16 UTC
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July 14


Hogan Lovells Argues Disbarred Lawyer's 'Mouthpiece' Doomed Death Row Inmate

In a Texas death row case in which a disbarred lawyer may have previously
represented the defendant, a Hogan Lovells team has joined with local Texas
counsel to try to derail an execution set for later this month.

The lawyers are seeking either commutation or, alternatively, a delay of
convicted murderer TaiChin Preyor's July 27 scheduled execution.

They have asked Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for the reduced sentence or
delay so they can deploy $45,000 that a federal court has awarded Preyor to
pursue his clemency request and investigate allegations about his initial
post-conviction counsel, Brandy Estelle.

Estelle, a court-appointed public defender, was "woefully unqualified," and
served only as a "mouthpiece" for Phillip Jefferson, the disbarred lawyer, who
handled the legwork for Preyor's appeals, according to Preyor's application for
commutation of sentence filed last week with the Texas Board of Pardon and

Estelle also double charged the federal court and Preyor's mother for the legal
work she was having Jefferson do, according to the same application's

"This is not just an individual plea for mercy," said Catherine "Cate" Stetson,
a member of Hogan Lovells' global board and a co-director of its appellate
practice group, who represents Preyor.

Her firm handles multiple death row cases on a pro bono basis, but "this one
was to our collective sensibilities jarring," Stetson said, given the
allegations about Preyor's prior appellate counsel.

Neither Preyor nor his present lawyers deny that he committed "a terrible act,"
but "the gross infirmities in his representation during the sentencing phase
and during habeas proceedings should give this Board pause," his commutation
application stated.

According to an Associated Press account, Preyor was sentenced to death in 2005
for killing 20-yea-old Jami Tackett in a brutal San Antonio slashing and
stabbing attack that also wounded Tackett's boyfriend.

Estelle did not return a call for this story. Jefferson could not be reached.
Estelle's law firm's website lists her as graduate of Loyola Law School and
notes her "15 years of legal work in both public law and private practice,"
citing specifically "her extensive background in real estate.'


Habeas Reforms

Texas lawmakers have made efforts to reform the process for appointing lawyers
to help death row defendants pursue their writs of habeas corpus - the appeals
that serve as the criminal justice system's final safety net. In habeas
proceedings, a defendant's lawyer can present new exculpatory evidence,
previously untapped witnesses and indications that trial counsel failed to do
their job properly.

In 1995, Texas lawmakers passed the Habeas Corpus Reform Act, a law
guaranteeing Texas death row inmates "competent counsel" for their habeas
appeals. 4 years later they passed another law giving trial courts the
authority to pick lawyers from an "approved attorneys" list drawn up by Texas'
highest court for criminal appeals.

But those reforms "were not enough to target this kind of practice," Stetson
said of the Preyor case.

According to Preyor's application this month, Jefferson, who like Estelle is
from California, had been castigated in an unrelated case by the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for having shown "a gargantuan indifference to
the interests of his client," committed "gross misconduct," shown "chronic
inattention to his client's interests," and been "wholly incompetent."

Jefferson never disclosed to Preyor or his family that he was disbarred,
according to Preyor's commutation application.

For her part, Estelle never informed the court about Jefferson's role in the
case, the same application alleged.

"[I]t appears from the documents filed by Ms. Estelle that she and Mr.
Jefferson conducted no investigation beyond the record as it then existed, and
raised no arguments before the habeas court regarding the sentencing phase of
his trial," the application stated.

Estelle and Jefferson "overlooked" that Preyor's trial counsel had failed to
hire a mitigation specialist during a sentencing phase, and "it appears they
conducted only a cursory mitigation investigation despite references in trial
counsel's files to the fact that Mr. Preyor experienced a deeply troubled
childhood," the application asserted.

The Texas governor isn't exactly known for granting frequent commutations and
pardons, Stetson noted.

"The record is not good, but we are still hopeful," she said. "If you look at
the fact pattern here and the nature of the representation, a disbarred lawyer
using a California real estate lawyer [Estelle] as his beard, even if you are
supportive of capital punishment, there is a baseline foundation of fairness
that was not met."

(source for both: Texas Lawyer)


Governor is true to campaign promise on capital punishment

Gov. McAuliffe's decision last week not to commute the sentence of convicted
double-murderer William Morva is in line with what candidate McAuliffe told
Virginians during his run for the top job 4 years ago: While he is personally
against the death penalty, McAuliffe said, only in rare and specific cases
would he substitute his judgment for that of the legal system.

McAuliffe came under pressure from a wide spectrum, ranging from Democratic
legislators to the European Union to Virginia's 2 Roman Catholic bishops, to
spare the life of Morva because, they suggested, he was mentally ill at the
time of the 2006 crime, and because the jury had not been given sufficient
information about his mental state while deciding punishment for the crime.

Morva was convicted of the brutal slayings of Montgomery County Deputy Sheriff
Cpl. Eric Sutphin and hospital security guard Derrick McFarland, following what
the governor termed "a carefully orchestrated effort to escape custody while
awaiting trial for burglary, robbery and firearms charges."

Recent efforts to paint Morva as suffering from significant mental illness, the
governor said, do not jibe with evidence and professional opinions presented at
the trial, including experts called by both the prosecution and the defense.

"These experts thoroughly evaluated Mr. Morva and testified to the jury that,
while he may have personality disorders, he did not suffer from any condition
that would have prevented him from committing these acts consciously and fully
understanding their consequences," the governor stated.

Morva "was given a fair trial" and "the jury heard substantial evidence about
his mental health as they prepared to sentence him in accordance with the law
of our commonwealth," the governor noted in his statement, turning back yet
another point of argument by those eager to spare the defendant's life.

(source: Editorial, Sun Gazette)


State seeks death penalty for man accused of murdering 9-year-old girl,
grandmother in Darlington Co.

State prosecutors are now seeking the death penalty against the man accused of
murdering an 9-year-old girl and her grandmother in July of 2016. A wrongful
death suit filed by the family of the victims claims that the murders were
related to drug use and other illegal activity taking place at the
grandmother's home.

Cephas Cowick was served with the notice of intent for the state to seek the
death penalty on June 6, 2017.

Court documents said certain aggravating circumstances in the murders of Denise
Couplin and her granddaughter, Deziyah Chatman, led to this change:

1)The victim of the murder was under the age of 11.

2)The murder was committed for himself and/or another with the purpose of
receiving money or a thing of monetary value.

3) There were multiple murder victims (2) during this incident.

Meanwhile, a wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against Cephas Cowick, his
wife Katherine Baucom-Cowick, who is also charged with 2 counts of murder, and
the estate of Denise Couplin.

That suit was filed June 27, 2017, almost 1 year since the murders happened.

The woman filing the complaint, Tonay Davis, is the mother of 9-year old
Deziyah Chatman.

Tonay is also the daughter of Denise Couplin.

The lawsuit alleged had Couplin had "questionable involvement with illegal
activity including drug use and associating with individuals who sold and used
drugs, including Cephas Cowick and Katherine Baucom."

Tonay said in the lawsuit that, unbeknownst to her, Cowick and Baucom were
often invited to Couplin's home to buy or use drugs or other illegal activity.

"Although the exact details of what occurred on Sunday, July 17, 2016, are
still under investigation, it is believed that Denise Couplin allowed Cowick
and Baucom to enter the home. Apparently some argument or issues developed in
regard to the criminal enterprise which led to an argument and altercation
leading to Cowick shooting both Denise Couplin and Deziyah Chatman," the
lawsuit claims.

The family said they have incurred funeral expenses, loss of services, loss of
companionship, loss of comfort and use of intestate's society, anxiety, wounded
feelings, shock, grief, mental anguish, suffering, sorrow and bereavement as a
result of Deziyah's death.

"The plaintiff respectfully prays for judgement against the Defendants, for an
award of actual damages, punitive damages, for the costs of this action, and
for such other and further relief as the Court may deem just and proper,"
according to the lawsuit.

Both Cowicks have been charged with: 2 counts of murder; 3rd-degree arson;
criminal conspiracy; armed robbery with a deadly weapon; 1st-degree burglary;
grand larceny less than $10,000; and possession of a weapon during a violent

According to testimony from the prosecution at a bond hearing after the
murders, the couple acted in concert in the deaths of Chatman and Couplin,
shooting the grandmother and her granddaughter with a pistol while in a

Warrants allege the suspects went to the victims' home for the purpose of

It was also alleged the Cowicks stole Couplin's vehicle and later burned it in
an attempt to conceal their crimes.

(source: WMBF news)


Hearing held for man accused of murder, arson

Attorneys representing a man charged with killing his 14-year-old stepdaughter
and setting fire to his Cobb home argued Thursday the court proceedings should
be closed to news cameras and photographers.

Dafareya Hunter, 38, appeared in Cobb Superior Court wearing handcuffs and a
suit alongside his state-appointed legal counsel, who maintained that pre-trial
hearings should be held outside the view of news cameras and the millions of
Cobb residents who could see those images.

Crystal Bice, of the Georgia's Capital Defenders Office, which offers legal
assistance to defendants facing the death penalty, called witnesses who
testified that media coverage of Hunter's case would negatively influence the
prospective jury pool and have a detrimental effect on her client's right to a
fair trial.

"This case has contained a considerable amount of notoriety," Bice said. "Any
additional coverage could add to that notoriety, causing Mr. Hunter not to
receive a fair trial in the case."

Attorney Lesli Gaither, who represents the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and
WSB-TV, argued that cameras increase the openness of judicial proceedings in
Georgia courts.

Statistician Jeffrey Martin, a witness for the defense, testified that more
than 9.2 million people living in the Atlanta media market have already viewed
news clips reporting on the death of Ana Then and her stepfather's subsequent

Cobb County makes up about 11 % of the overall market, he said, adding that
news footage related to Hunter's arrest and the case against him received more
than a million views from potential Cobb jurors.

Cognitive psychologist Christine Ruva was called by the defense to discuss the
detrimental impact those news reports could have on a prospective jury pool.

Ruva, who looked over news clips that reported on Hunter's case, maintained
that none of the stories portrayed the defendant in a positive light, something
that could sway a juror's opinion of whether the man is innocent or guilty long
before his trial even begins.

Particularly detrimental clips about the case, she said, were the ones that
included interviews with neighbors who maintained that during the blaze, Hunter
seemed more concerned about his dogs and car; interviews with devastated family
members; and interviews about the state's decision to seek capital punishment
in the case because "the fact that these crimes are so heinous, the death
penalty must be sought."

"Information you have been exposed to prior to coming here is going to impact
all future information processing," Ruva said, arguing it is extremely
difficult for jurors who have been exposed to such information to remain
unbiased in a criminal trial.

Superior Court Judge Lark Ingram took the arguments under advisement and will
make a ruling whether to allow photographers and news cameras in the courtroom
at a later date.

Hunter is accused of raping his stepdaughter, stabbing her multiple times and
then dousing her body in gasoline before setting it on fire. The man's stepson
was sleeping in the home at the time but managed to escape the fire through a
window, sustaining minor injuries, court documents show.

Hunter was indicted Nov. 3 on charges of felony murder, malice murder,
aggravated assault, rape, first degree cruelty to children, aggravated child
molestation, 1st degree arson and criminal attempt to commit a felony.

His case marks the 1st time Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds has sought the
death penalty since taking office in 2012.

(source: Marietta Daily Journal)


Prosecutors Predict 6 Death Penalty Cases In Bay County Could Be Overturned

The Florida Supreme Court is sending another death row inmate back to Bay
County for re-sentencing.

The high court overturned the death sentence Kevin Jeffries, 32, received for
the torturing and killing of a 90-year-old Lynn Haven man in 2013.

He was part of a trio that killed Wallace Scott at his home.

State Supreme Court justices ruled the jury didn't have the necessary findings
to impose the death penalty on Jeffries.

It's one of several local death row inmates who's sentences have been

Although he was only an accomplice, the other 2 defendants cut deals, and
Jeffries was the only one to receive a death sentence.

However, that's not why he and others are receiving new sentencing phases.

"The United States Supreme Court decision in Hurst requires not only the jury
must unanimously find that a defendant committed the crime, but the jury must
unanimously find that death is the appropriate decision," said Prosecution
Attorney Larry Basford.

In Jeffries' case, the jury recommended the death penalty by a 10 to 2 vote.

Last week the court granted a new sentencing for Robert Bailey who shot and
killed Panama City Beach Police Sgt. Kevin Kight in 2005.

Before being interviewed Thursday, Basford joined defense attorneys for a
status hearing for James Card, another murderer who's getting a new sentencing.

Basford said this process is taking a toll on his staff, and even more-so on
the families of the victims.

However he says the state attorney's office will continue to seek "just"
punishment in each case.

"We intend to still pursue the death penalty when we believe that that is an
appropriate sentence and that we have evidence and the law is on our side to
support the death penalty," said Basford.

Card will be back in court next month for another hearing.

Basford says it's ultimately up to the victim's family whether the state will
pursue the death penalty or a life sentence life without parole for the other
remanded cases.


Death Penalty Overturned in Torture Murder

Another local man sentenced to death will get a 2nd chance at the death penalty
phase of his trial.

The Florida Supreme Court ruling was released this morning in the Kevin
Jeffries case. Jeffries and his accomplices tortured and killed Wallace Reid
Scott in April of 2013. According to the ruled Jeffries tortured Scott for the
pin number to his debit card.

The jury voted 10-2 that Jefferies should be sentenced to death. However, the
U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the method in which Florida courts determine the
death penalty was unconstitutional and a unanimous decision for death is
required by a jury.

This is just the latest in several death penalty cases that have been remanded
back to local courts for a new sentencing phase. The most high profile case was
Robert Bailey who was convicted and sentenced to death for killing Sgt. Kevin
Kight of the Panama City Beach Police Department.

Bailey's new sentencing has not yet been scheduled.

(source for both: mypanhandle.com)


St. Cloud father found guilty in infant's murder

A St. Cloud man was found guilty of 1st-degree murder and child abuse in the
killing of his infant son.

Larry Perry, 33, now faces the death penalty.

Perry had admitted guilt to a manslaughter charge in the 2013 death of his
nearly 3-month-old son, Ayden Perry. But prosecutors argued that the killing
was murder, and jurors agreed.

The jury will return Monday for the penalty phase of the trial, in which they
will have to decide whether Perry should be sentenced to death or life in

To stop Ayden from crying, he threw the child against a wall and tried to twist
his neck, at which point Ayden stopped crying. Perry then brought the child
into his apartment's living room, dropped him onto the floor and stomped on his
face and chest. Then he called 911 and asked for help.

"That baby was tortured to death in the hands of the man who was supposed to
love him unconditionally," Assistant State Attorney Mark Interlicchio said.

Ayden had a severely fractured skull, bruising on his face and chest, and
broken ribs.

Defense attorney Frank Bankowitz argued that Perry, who was caring for Ayden by
himself after the child's mother was arrested on a drug trafficking charge 2
weeks earlier, snapped under the pressure. Perry said as much when he called
911, Bankowitz said.

"That's not a murderer, that's a person who comes to their senses and realizes,
oh my God, what have I done?" Bankowitz said.

Perry's case is 1 of 24 that Gov. Rick Scott took away from Orange-Osceola
State Attorney Aramis Ayala after she announced she will not seek the death
penalty. Ayala sued to get the cases back and is now waiting for the Florida
Supreme Court to decide whether Scott had the authority to take the cases away.

(source: Orlando Sentinel)


Anti-death penalty prosecutor pulled over in traffic stop

There was nothing unusual about a June 19 traffic stop in Orlando -- except the
driver happened to be Florida's 1st African-American state attorney who also
happens to be in a legal fight with the governor over the death penalty.

2 Orlando police officers told prosecutor Aramis Ayala they stopped her because
her car's tag didn't come back registered to any vehicle and because the
windows were tinted. They were polite, and Ayala said in a statement that the
stop appears to be consistent with Florida law.

However, she also said she violated no law and sees the incident as a point of
dialogue with the police chief as she seeks better relations between police and
the community.

"My goal is to have a constructive and mutually respectful relationship between
law enforcement and the community," she said.

Orlando police have released a bodycam video of the encounter.

Ayala's refusal to seek the death penalty has riled Gov. Rick Scott.

She announced earlier this year that her office would no longer seek the death
penalty because it wasn't a deterrent and it dragged on for victims' families.
In response, the governor took away almost 2 dozen cases from her office. She
is currently fighting the governor's decision before the Florida Supreme Court.

In a statement, the Orlando Police Department said that the agency allows the
running of tags for official business only and it's done routinely on patrol.

In the bodycam video, 1 of the officers tells the prosecutor, "We run tags all
the time ... that's how we figure out if cars are stolen."

The police agency added in its statement, "As you can see in the video, the
window tint was dark, and officers would not have been able to tell who, or how
many people, were in the vehicle."

Ayala said the tint of her car's windows wasn't in violation of the law and
that her license plate was properly registered and confidential. Florida law
authorizes confidential vehicle registrations for some law enforcement

(source: Associated Press)

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