Discussion:
death penalty news----TEXAS, S.C.., FLA., ALA., LA.
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Rick Halperin
2017-06-27 13:54:53 UTC
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June 27



TEXAS----new execution date

Robert Pruett has been given an execution date for October 12; it should be
considered serious.


Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----24

Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982----present-----543

Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx. #

25---------July 27-----------------Taichin Preyor---------544

26---------Aug. 30-----------------Steven Long------------545

27---------Sept.7------------------Juan Castillo----------546

28---------Oct. 12-----------------Robert Pruett----------547

29---------Oct. 26-----------------Clinton Young----------548

30---------Jan. 30-----------------William Rayford--------549

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)

********

Texas death row inmate loses at U.S. Supreme Court, could face execution
date----The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a Texas death row inmate Monday,
making Erick Davila's case ineligible for review in federal court.


A Texas death row inmate whose case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme
Court could now face an execution date after the justices ruled against him in
a 5-4 decision Monday morning split among ideological lines. The man was
convicted in the 2008 shooting deaths of a 5-year-old girl and her grandmother
in Fort Worth.

The question before the high court in Erick Davila's case was whether claims of
ineffective assistance of counsel during state appeals should be treated the
same as during the original trial. Appellate courts throughout the country have
ruled differently on the issue, a situation that often prompts the Supreme
Court to step in. In the Monday opinion presented by Justice Clarence Thomas,
the justices ultimately decided that the different types of lawyers should not
be treated the same, making Davila's case ineligible for consideration in
federal court.

"Because a prisoner does not have a constitutional right to counsel in state
postconviction proceedings, ineffective assistance in those proceedings does
not qualify as cause to excuse a procedural default," Thomas wrote in his
opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Anthony Kennedy,
Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch.

Justice Stephen Breyer, a notable death penalty critic, wrote a dissenting
opinion, joined by liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and
Elena Kagan.

"The fact that, according to Department of Justice statistics, nearly 1/3 of
convictions or sentences in capital cases are overturned at some stage of
review suggests the practical importance of the appeal right, particularly in a
capital case such as this one," Breyer wrote in his dissent.

Davila's case started in Fort Worth in 2008, when he fatally shot a rival gang
member's 5-year-old daughter and mother during a child's birthday party,
according to court documents. Davila, now 30, claims he only meant to kill his
rival, Jerry Stevenson. In his confession to police he stated he was trying to
get Stevenson and "the guys on the porch."

If the jury had believed Davila only intended to kill 1 person, he would have
been ineligible for a capital murder verdict and the death penalty would have
been off the table. In this case, Davila must have intended to kill multiple
people to be found guilty of capital murder.

During deliberations, the jury asked the judge for clarification on the intent
issue, and the judge said Davila would be responsible for the crime if the only
difference between what happened and his intention was that a different person
was hurt. He did not affirm to the jury that Davila must have intended to kill
more than 1 person to be found guilty.

It's that jury instruction that Davila's long, complicated case hinged upon.
His lawyer at trial objected to the instruction, but was overruled. But in his
automatic, direct appeal after being convicted and sentenced to death, his new
lawyer never mentioned the judge's instruction, even though that is the appeal
where death-sentenced individuals raise what they think are wrongdoings from
the trial. Afterward, during his state habeas appeal, which focuses on issues
outside of the trial record, the lawyer didn't fault the previous lawyer for
not raising the issue on direct appeal.

The next step in the death penalty appeals process after going through state
courts is to move into the federal court system. But federal courts generally
can't rule on issues that could have been raised in state appeals. So, when
Davila's current lawyer, Seth Kretzer, tried to claim his client's direct
appellate lawyer was inadequate for not raising the issue of an improper jury
instruction by the judge, the federal courts said they couldn't look at the
issue because it could have been raised by the state habeas appellate lawyer.

"The way the law works right now is if the trial counsel made a mistake, the
federal court could save the inmate's life, but if the appellate counsel made
the mistake, they would have to go ahead and execute," Kretzer told The Texas
Tribune in January.

One exception to this rule was created in 2012 by the Supreme Court in Martinez
v. Ryan, which says that if a state habeas lawyer failed to question a trial
lawyer's inadequacy, the federal courts can review the claim to ensure that
defendants are guaranteed a fair trial. But Davila argued that the Martinez
exception should apply to inadequacy of the appellate attorneys, as well.

Federal courts have disagreed on this issue, with most circuit courts ruling
that appellate lawyers can't be treated the same as trial lawyers. But the
often liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has previously ruled there is
no distinction between the 2.

During oral arguments on the case in late April, conservative justices appeared
concerned that opening up the exception would cause a "flood" of appeals into
the federal court system, but the left-leaning members of the court dismissed
the idea. Justice Sonia Sotomayor predicted there may be an "initial uptick of
claims until people settle down" and realize only a small number of cases are
eligible for federal review.

The state of Texas also argued in its brief to the high court that in Davila's
case, none of the larger legal questions matter, because even though the 5th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it couldn't review the case based on
its interpretation of the Martinez exception, it still reviewed the issue of
the jury instruction and rejected Davila's argument that it was improper.

This was the 3rd Texas death penalty case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this
term, which began in October and ends this week, but it was the 1st time the
justices sided with the state over the inmate. In February, the court agreed
with inmate Duane Buck that his case was prejudiced by an expert trial witness
who claimed Buck was more likely to be a future danger because he is black. And
in March, the justices sided with Bobby Moore, declaring that Texas' method for
determining intellectual disability for death row inmates was unconstitutional.

Davila's lawyer, Seth Kretzer, told the Texas Tribune Monday after the Supreme
Court announced its decision that the 5-4 ruling shows "why it's so important
to keep pressing these things." Kretzer is looking into other possible appeals
for Davila in the state courts, but recognizes that Tarrant County could soon
set an execution date for his client.

"We took this case farther than anyone thought we would, and we intend to keep
fighting it," he said.

(source: Texas Tribune)






SOUTH CAROLINA:

Inmate details 4 prison killings: 'I did it for nothing'


Guards at the Kirkland Correctional Institution rushed to Denver Simmons' cell
and made a grisly discovery: 4 men from the unit for mentally ill prisoners had
been beaten and strangled.

Simmons, 35, and Jacob Philip, 26, both already serving life without parole for
double murders, were charged with the slayings.

In a series of phone calls to The Associated Press, Simmons confessed to the
April 7 killings. Why? They could not endure lives in prison, he said, and
wanted to be executed.

"The more people (you kill), the more chance they're gonna give it to you,"
Simmons said.

Simmons said they had 27 main criteria for choosing their victims: "We come up
with who was easiest, as far as doing it to," he said. "And who trusted us."

Once they had their list, they came up with a way to lure each to their deaths.

"And we did it," Simmons said.

----

The victims:

---- John King, 52. Doing 25 years for burglary, larceny and theft. Liked to
"bum coffee."

"He was smallest," Simmons said of the 5-foot-4, 132-pound King. "And he
wouldn't offer much resistance."

Philip, who'd strangled his original victims, took the lead, Simmons said.

"He took his, from behind, and put his arm on his neck and just choked him,"
Simmons said. "It happened really fast."

They slid King under the bottom bunk and went to the common area known as "the
Rock" in search of their next victim.

---- William Scruggs, 44. Doing life for murder. Did laundry in exchange for
commissary goods.

"I said I had some cookies for him," Simmons said. "I said, 'Come up to my room
and I'll give you the stuff and the cookies.' And he came in a few minutes
later."

Simmons said Philip grabbed Scruggs from behind and dragged him to the floor.
Simmons wrapped an extension cord around Scruggs' neck.

"And, you know, he didn't suffer a long time, man," Simmons said. "I know that
sounds lame."

They placed Scruggs on the lower bunk and hung a sheet. They returned to the
Rock.

---- Jimmy Ham, 56. Scheduled for release in November after serving 9 years for
assault and battery, grand larceny and burglary. Liked to snort pills.

"I didn't want him on the list, because I knew he would fight," Simmons said of
the 5-11, 178-pound Ham. "And Jacob, as big as he is, he's not a fighter."
Simmons said they told Ham to crush up some tablets on a stool. As he bent
down, Philip lunged, but slipped.

As the 2 struggled on the floor, Simmons grabbed a broken broomstick he'd
hidden in his cell and struck Ham in the head. When Ham opened his mouth, as if
to shout, Simmons jammed the handle down his throat, "because there could be no
noise."

"And he just died," Simmons said.

They laid Ham's body alongside Scruggs' on the lower bunk, and Philip asked,
"Who's next?" They returned to the common area.

---- Jason Kelley, 35. Serving 15 years for stabbing his teenage stepson. He
was a friend, but also "just annoying."

"Jacob went to get him, and he come in the room," Simmons said. "And we
basically said, 'Look behind the curtain.' And he literally peeked behind and
he said, 'What the?' And Jacob grabbed him and threw him down. And I had the
broomstick from Ham. And he threw him down on the ground, and I got on top of
him and pushed the broom across his neck."

As Kelley lay there - dead or just unconscious, Simmons couldn't tell which -
Simmons rammed the stick in his ear.

Simmons said they didn't even bother hiding the body before heading to the
guard station to report what they'd done.

----

The AP wrote to both inmates. Philips' attorney said her client is "severely
mentally ill" and would not comment.

Following the killings, Simmons was transferred to Lieber Correctional
Institution northwest of Charleston. It is home to South Carolina's death row.

Simmons now realizes that's likely as close as he'll get to the execution
chamber.

South Carolina hasn't carried out an execution in 6 years. Simmons has read
stories about the state's inability to secure the drugs necessary to do a
lethal injection.

Even a recently confessed killer of 7 got life without parole, he noted.

"The death penalty's not the death penalty anymore, you know?" he said.

He imagines he'll do the next 10 years in solitary, and probably get another 4
life sentences tacked onto the 2 he was already doing.

"Obviously, we did it all for nothing," he said. "And I guess that makes it
even worse."

(source: sacbee.com)






FLORIDA:

Florida Supreme Court to hear case between state attorney, governor Wednesday


Gov. Rick Scott and a prosecutor who refuses to seek the death penalty in
Orange and Osceola counties will square off against each other before the
state's high court Wednesday.

It's all part of the fallout from State Attorney Aramis Ayala's decision to no
longer pursue the death penalty.

The state Supreme Court will take up the issue at 9 a.m. Wednesday and will
hear arguments, meaning Ayala's attorneys will tell the court her side.

Scott's lawyers will have the same opportunity.

Ayala is suing the governor because he took 23 cases in which the death penalty
might be appropriate and handed them off to State Attorney Brad King from
Ocala.

The governor said his executive authority gives him the right to do that, but
Ayala argues he's stepping on her responsibility to decide when and if to
pursue the death penalty.

(source: WFTV news)






ALABAMA:

U.S. Supreme Court sends Alabama death row inmate appeal back to state court


The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday today vacated a state appeals court judgment
in the case of death row inmate ToForest O. Johnson, who was convicted in the
1995 slaying of a Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy.

In a split decision, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the judgment and sent the
case back for further consideration in light of a position asserted by the
Alabama Attorney General's Office in its brief filed on May 10, 2017 in
Johnson's case.

The question presented by Johnson was whether a state court can enforce a rule
that Brady v. Maryland - a rule that prosecutors must reveal potentially
exculpatory evidence - does not apply to impeachment evidence when the Supreme
Court has held otherwise, according to the Death Penalty Information Center
website. In response to Johnson's petition, the Alabama Attorney General's
Office also asked that the judgment be vacated and sent back for review because
state law had changed since the case was first decided.

Chief Justice John Roberts, along with justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito,
and Neil Gorsuch joined together in a dissenting from sending the case back to
the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

Johnson was convicted of the murder of Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff William
G. Hardy on July 19, 1995 while Hardy was on duty working at his part-time
security job at a Birmingham hotel. The jury, by a vote of 10-2, recommended
Johnson be sentenced to death, according to court records. The trial judge
accepted the jury's recommendation and sentenced Johnson to death.

(source: al.com)






LOUISIANA:

Rapides DA to seek the death penalty for Timothy Teasley case


The Rapides Parish District Attorney's Office has filed a notice that it plans
to seek the death penalty against Timothy Teasley for the February murder of
Thaer Ziden, an employee at Chi-Town Gas & Grocery, and the attempted murder of
another employee.

On April 26, Teasley was indicted for 1st degree murder and attempted 1st
degree murder.

According to a document filed by the State, prosecutors plan to show that
Teasley "knowingly created a risk of death or great bodily harm to more than
one person." And, "the offense was committed in an especially heinous,
atrocious or cruel manner."

Teasley's attorneys are asking that he be mentally evaluated.

The case is being prosecuted by Monica Doss. Teasley is being represented by
several attorneys with the Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana.

(source: The Advocate)


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