death penalty news----PENN., VA., N.C., S.C., FLA.
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Rick Halperin
2017-09-06 13:37:49 UTC
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Sept. 6

PENNSYLVANIA----death row inmate dies

Western Pennsylvania 'kill for thrill' murderer Michael Travaglia dies in

Michael Travaglia, one of Pennsylvania's longest-tenured death row inmates, has

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections officials confirmed that Travaglia, 59,
formerly of Apollo, died Sunday from natural causes. He had been on death row
at the State Correctional Institution in Greene County.

Travaglia, 1/2 of the notorious "kill for thrill" murderers along with John
Lesko, has been on death row since 1981, following his conviction in the fatal
shooting of Apollo police officer Leonard Miller.

The 21-year-old rookie was working his 3rd day on the job when he was gunned
down by Travaglia as he and Lesko returned from an icy Indiana County lake
where they killed and dumped the body of another man.

Together, Lesko and Travaglia were convicted of killing 4 people over an 8-day
murder spree that ended on Jan. 3, 1980.

"In the past 50 years, certainly, it is the most serious crime we've had simply
because of the number of victims who were killed in essentially a week," said
Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck.

Lesko and Travaglia, drifters who came together in downtown Pittsburgh, first
picked up Peter Levato, 49, at a strip club and tortured him during a drive out
to the Loyalhanna Dam, where they eventually shot and killed him on Dec. 27,

Days later, on New Year's Eve, Lesko and Travaglia were hitchhiking back to
Pittsburgh from Delmont. They were picked up by 26-year-old Marlene Sue
Newcomer of Connellsville. Her body was found in a Pittsburgh parking garage.

William Nicholls, a 32-year-old organist from Mt. Lebanon, was drowned by Lesko
and Travaglia in an Indiana County lake.

As Lesko and Travaglia drove back towards Pittsburgh, they attempted to lure
Miller away from a convenience store they planned to rob. As the young
policeman approached their car, Travaglia shot and killed him at Lesko's

Lesko was resentenced to death in 1995. He continues to appeal that sentence.

Travaglia was resentenced in 2005. Last year, his new lawyer sought to again
have the death penalty overturned.

(source: triblive.com)


Pennsylvania has fewest number of inmates on death row in nearly 25 years

More than a dozen inmates in Pennsylvania have been removed from death row this
year, leaving the commonwealth with the fewest under a death sentence in nearly
a quarter-century.

In December, Pennsylvania had 175 men and women in solitary on death row.

Today that number is 160, not including Shawnfatee Bridges, whom the federal
3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered immediately removed from death row's
solitary confinement on Friday.

"It's not that often that people who are incarcerated win," said Bret Grote,
legal director and founder of the Abolitionist Law Center in Pittsburgh. Grote
helped to file a civil rights lawsuit about Bridges' solitary confinement.

Bridges, 40, has spent nearly 1/2 his life on death row. In 1998, he was
convicted and sentenced to death for killing 2 people he believed had robbed
his home.

His conviction and sentence were overturned in 2013. He remained in solitary as
prosecutors appealed the ruling.

He's not alone.

There are 12 men on death row either awaiting resentencing or whose
court-ordered reversal is not yet final, according to a Reading Eagle analysis
of the latest quarterly data compiled by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education
Fund, which tracks death penalty cases.

A decade ago, Pennsylvania had nearly 50 on death row with overturned
sentences, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty
Information Center in Washington and a former federal defender in Harrisburg.

A number of things could happen to Pennsylvania inmates condemned to death, but
execution is the least likely. From 1973 to 2013, nearly half of those
sentenced to death in Pennsylvania have seen their sentence or conviction

"More people are coming off death row whose cases are being reversed than are
being put on death row," Dunham said.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Corrections relies on court orders that
either sentence defendants to or release them from prison to dictate death row

"Inmates who have a current capital sentence, as imposed by the court, remain
on the unit," said Amy Worden, a department spokeswoman, noting Bridges'
reversal had been stayed by the courts.

Pennsylvania's death penalty system, which hasn't executed anyone since 1999,
has been roundly criticized as unfair and expensive.

Because death row inmates are housed in solitary confinement, every removal
marks a roughly $10,000 cost savings to taxpayers. It's these costs that led,
in part, to Gov. Tom Wolf issuing a moratorium on executions 2 years ago.

"I'll give you one reason why people should care: money," said Marc Bookman,
director of the Philadelphia-based Atlantic Center for Capital Representation,
a nonprofit that provides resources and training for defense practitioners.

Those taxpayer costs were estimated by the Eagle at more than $800 million.

Because a death sentence is more likely to be reversed in Pennsylvania than
upheld, the number on death row will continue to shrink, Bookman added.


Appeals court wants ex-Reading man off death row, out of solitary

The past 19 years of Shawnfatee M. Bridges' life have been spent in a prison
cell he has described as perpetually lit and smaller than a typical parking

The former Reading man, now 40, has been in solitary confinement on death row
since his 1998 conviction for the 1996 slayings of 2 Reading cousins.

Bridges won a case-altering appeal in April 2013 that overturned the 1st-degree
murder conviction and death sentence because prosecutors failed to provide the
defense with police records that could have been used to impeach a key trial

But Bridges' bid for a new trial was put on hold roughly a month later when the
Berks County District Attorney's office appealed the reversal to the 3rd U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals.

After 4 years and 4 months, the appeals court finally issued its ruling Friday,
affirming the reversal and directing prosecutors to give Bridges a new trial.

On top of that, the appeals court ended its 20-page ruling with a direct order
for Bridges to be immediately removed from death row.

The ruling is a long-awaited confirmation for Bridges' growing defense team.
Peter G. Rossi, one of several attorneys from the Cozen O'Connor law firm in
Philadelphia on that team, has been working on the case for 10 years.

"We were not totally surprised, but relieved, obviously, after all this time,"
he said of the ruling.

District Attorney John T. Adams said the ruling was a disappointing blow for
the prosecution. He said his office will decide in the near future whether to
appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Otherwise, they'll begin preparing for the new trial.

"This is a prosecution from 1996 and a conviction from 1998, so needless to
say, it's going to be a difficult task for our office to resurrect this case,"
he said. "We have a lot of hurdles to overcome."

Sentenced in 1998

Bridges, formerly of the 500 block of Weiser Street, was sentenced to death
Feb. 5, 1998, after a jury found him guilty of 1st-degree murder for the
slayings of Damon L. Banks, 22, and Gregory A. Banks, 19, on Dec. 8, 1996.

The cousins' bodies were discovered on a gravel road off West Neversink Street
in Exeter Township. Damon Banks was shot 13 times, and Gregory Banks was shot 5

Codefendant Roderick A. Johnson, 41, was also found guilty by a jury in a
separate trial in November 1997 and sentenced to death. His case is currently
under appeal for issues similar to Bridges' appeal, and Adams believes the
recent ruling will affect it. The state Attorney General's office is
prosecuting the case because Adams was Johnson's defense attorney at trial.

A 3rd codefendant, Richard T. Morales, 36, pleaded no contest to murder on Oct.
29, 1998, and was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in state prison.

Friday's ruling gave the following account of the case:

The men killed the cousins as revenge after Bridges believed they robbed his
Reading home the day before and held his girlfriend at gunpoint. They drove a
van to the Bankses' home and asked if they wanted to go somewhere to smoke
marijuana. They agreed and got into the van.

Johnson eventually pulled the van to the side of the road, turned around and
began shooting the Banks cousins. He then stopped, pulled them out of the van
and resumed shooting them.

At one point, Bridges picked up a gun and fired it in Johnson's direction. The
Banks cousins were left on the road while Morales and Johnson ran from the
scene. Police found Johnson at a restaurant with a gunshot wound.

Bridges drove the van to street corner, doused it in gasoline and set it on
fire. Police found several shell casings by the victims' bodies and a shotgun
and more casings in the remains of the van.

Several appeals

Bridges attempted several appeals following his conviction, but nothing stuck
until he made a petition to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District
requesting documents related to trial witness George Robles' interaction with

At trial, Robles testified he was part of a conversation with the other 3 men
about their plan for revenge. He said they invited him to join, but he

Bridges' discovery request yielded several previously undisclosed police
reports involving Robles that the appeals court agreed could have been used to
impeach Robles' testimony. Prosecutors have a duty to turn over evidence that
is favorable to the accused when the evidence is material to either guilt or

The appeals court said the withheld reports showed Robles was associated with
numerous shooting incidents leading up to Bridges' trial and that authorities
knew he was an alleged drug dealer. The reports detailed 5 incidents in which
Robles was never arrested or charged, including one where his fingerprints were
discovered on a box of drugs.

"These facts arguably suggest that the police looked the other way with respect
to Robles' criminal conduct so that they could obtain information from Robles,"
the appeals court said.

The court added that the night before Bridges' trial began, Robles disclosed to
prosecutors the only direct evidence of Bridges' intent to kill the Banks
cousins, claiming that Bridges told him he was going to kill them.

The appeals court also noted that in former District Attorney Mark C. Baldwin's
closing argument, he emphasized Robles' testimony, saying it showed Bridges'
intent to kill and repeatedly suggested Robles had nothing to gain by

The appeals court said if the information was available to the defense and used
to confront Robles and certain police witnesses at trial, the jury could have
reasonably inferred that Robles had a special relationship with police that
motivated him to testify in their favor.

The appeals court added that it's also then a reasonable possibility that the
verdict to 1st-degree murder could be different.

Bridges optimistic

Bridges' defense team is optimistic about the future of the case following the
court's ruling and was particularly pleased with directive he be taken off
death row.

Since the appeal was taking so long and Bridges was still in solitary, the
defense team decided to try another route to have him moved.

Bret Grote, legal director and founder of the Abolitionist Law Center in
Pittsburgh, joined the effort and helped file a civil rights lawsuit Aug. 2
regarding Bridges' perpetual solitary confinement. The suit included a
preliminary injunction ordering his immediate release into the general prison

Grote said the appeals court ruling will likely make that lawsuit moot, but
they are keeping it in place until Bridges is moved. The ruling called for an
immediate change, but Grote said there is no exact time frame in which it must

"This has removed the only basis that the Department of Corrections was
asserting for keeping him on death row," Grote said.

Grote said Bridges called him Tuesday morning and was enthusiastic about the
favorable ruling.

"He recognizes that was a very important step in improving his situation,"
Grote said. "Every step of the way we have to continue pushing until he's
actually out of those conditions. He still has to address the retrial issue and
should do that in a place where he won't be hindered by the conditions of

The appeals court gave a 120-day limit for the new trial, but Adams said it is
unlikely the decades-old case will move forward that quickly.

Rossi agreed that there's a lot of work to be done, but said the defense team
is doing its best to have the case ready to go within that window.

"The evidence has been laying around now for years or may not be available," he
said. "But we're trying to locate some trial attorneys now. We don't want to
have to continue this any longer."

Rossi said the defense does not believe the case warrants the death penalty and
is hoping Adams' office chooses to drop it.

But even if it remains, Rossi said they'll be ready to go.

"We've got a team of lawyers from my firm and the folks in Pittsburgh and
public defenders in Harrisburg," Rossi said. "A lot of people are very
concerned about Mr. Bridges."

(source for both: Reading Eagle)


Virginia Death Row Has Fewest Number of Inmates in Decades

Virginia has the fewest number of inmates on death row since July 1979, shortly
after it resumed carrying out the penalty following a 1972 Supreme Court ruling
that halted executions across the U.S.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Tuesday that Virginia has four death row
inmates and none have been added in more than 5 years. As of April only 6 of
the 31 states that carry out executions had fewer death row inmates.

2 of Virginia's death row inmates will have their cases argued before the
Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: 41-year-old Thomas A. Porter
on Sept. 12 and 45-year-old Anthony Juniper on Sept. 15.

Also on death row are 52-year-old Mark Lawlor and 51-year-old William Burns.

Virginia executed Ricky Gray and William Morva earlier this year.

(source: Associated Press)


DA May Seek Death In Double Execution

The suspects in a grisly murder made their 1st appearance in Harnett County
District Court in front of Chief District Court Judge Jackie Lee Tuesday

With the family of the victims and Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats lining
the courtroom walls, Gregory Recardo Fargas, 27, of Lillington, Tracy Nicole
Read, 33, of Sanford and Jadin Quincy Bailey, 20, of Lillington were brought
into the courtroom.

"It's closure for one side's family and pain for the other side's family,"
Sheriff Coats said.

All 3 face 2 counts of 1st-degree murder in the deaths of Kelcie Lynn

The suspects in a grisly double homicide that took place last month were in
court Tuesday morning to face fst-degree murder charges.

"There was just a lot of hard, long hours spent working on this," Sheriff Coats
said commending his office's efforts during the 3-week long investigation.
"From the detectives, the dispatchers, the narcotics unit, everybody together
it was just long, hard hours. We were able to get the people charged in what I
would call a very short period of time."

The chain of events leading to their arrests began to unfold Thursday, Aug. 14,
around 3 p.m. after the person who made the initial discovery ran to a nearby
convenience store and asked the clerk to call 911.

The crime scene was located in a wooded area along Buffalo Lakes Road near Twin
Ponds Road.

It was there deputies from the Harnett County Sheriff's Office found the
victims lifeless bodies inside a 2001 Toyota Camry riddled with bullets and
covered in blood. Some reports estimate at least a dozen bullets struck the
vehicle in what many are also speculating was a drug-related execution.

"Because the investigation's still going on, there's a lot of contributing
factors here," Sheriff Coats said. "So, I can't comment right now."

During Ms. Read's appearance, Assistant District Attorney Don Harrop told Judge
Lee the death penalty had not been ruled out in the case.

"No decision has been made as to whether or not this will be a capital case,"
he said. "The decision will be made at a later date."

Ms. Read and Mr. Fargas will be assigned public defenders qualified to handle
capital punishment cases, while Mr. Bailey was represented by Lillington
attorney Tony Buzzard as his counsel.

Lawyers for Ms. Read and Mr. Fargas will be appointed from a pool of qualified
attorneys, while Mr. Buzzard is certified to act as the defense in a capital
case. According to Mr. Harrop, there is a long way to go before a decision on
whether or not to seek the death penalty will be made.

He noted many factors are taken into consideration before such a decision is

"Those factors are statutory," Mr. Harrop said following the hearing. "There's
a number of aggravating factors that have to apply before you can even seek the
death penalty."

Among the determining factors are the cruelty of the crime, whether there was a
financial gain for the suspects involved, if was particularly heinous or
atrocious and other circumstances that include elements involving the use of
weapons of mass destruction.

Determining the aggravating factors is just the 1st step in what could be a
rather lengthy process to even determine if the case does qualify.

According to Mr. Harrop, the case will be transferred to Superior Court where
what is known as a Rule 24 Conference would then be conducted.

At that time the prosecution would present what aggravating factors they
believe apply to a judge, who would make a decision as to whether or not the
District Attorney can seek the death penalty.

Or the DA's office could opt instead to not seek the death penalty, which would
be announced during the same Rule 24 Conference.

As part of the process, Mr. Harrop indicated the case could be turned over to a
grand jury.

Grand juries meet once a month, but he said the earliest the case could be
presented might be October or beyond.

"Probably not before October," Mr. Harrop said regarding a timeframe for such
an action. "Mr. Buzzard has asked to be heard on bond on Sept. 26. We're going
to accommodate that rather than the subterfuge (of going) directly to the grand

All 3 are expected back in court on Sept. 26 and remain in the Harnett County
Detention Center without bond.

(source: The Daily Record)


Death penalty possible for man who told 911 he thought he killed wife after
taking too much cold medicine

A North Carolina man accused of killing his wife after he told a 911 dispatcher
that he thought he committed the crime after taking too much cold medicine
could potentially receive the death penalty if convicted, a judge told him

Matthew Phelps, 28, who is charged with one count of murder for allegedly
fatally stabbing his 29-year-old wife, made his first appearance in a Wake
County court this afternoon, but he has not yet entered a plea. A judge told
the defendant that, if convicted, he could potentially receive the death
penalty or life without the possibility of parole.

ABC News has reached out to Phelps' attorney, Joseph Cheshire, for comment but
did not immediately hear back.

His next court date is set for Sept. 25.

Early Friday morning, police say Phelps called 911 and told the dispatcher, "I
had a dream and then I turned on the lights and she's dead on the floor."

"I have blood all over me and there's a bloody knife on the bed," Phelps said.
"I think I did it."

"I can't believe this," he said.

The Raleigh Police Department released the audio from the 911 call but redacted
some information and altered the caller's voice.

Phelps told 911, "I took more medicine than I should have." He said he "took
Coricidin Cough & Cold," explaining, "a lot of times I can't sleep at night."

Man tells 911 he thinks he killed wife after taking too much cold medicine The
dispatcher asked if the victim was awake, and Phelps responded, "She's not
breathing. Oh my God."

The dispatcher asked if the victim was beyond help, and Phelps replied, "I
don't know. I'm too scared to get too close to her. ... I'm so scared."

Sobbing, Phelps said, "She didn't deserve this."

Officers responded and found his wife, Lauren Phelps, with stab wounds. She was
hospitalized and later died.

The family of Lauren Phelps, whose maiden name was Hugelmaier, said in a
statement, "Lauren was all about her family.

"Her 4 nephews were her whole world. Church was a priority for her. Lauren
volunteered and loved the children and youth ministry. She enjoyed fashion and
loved finding great deals at Target. Lauren loved her dog, Cooper, like he was
her child. She was a very special person to everyone who knew her. The family
requests privacy as they cope with this unbearable tragedy."

According to ABC Durham station WTVD, the couple had been married since last

Bayer, the makers of Coricidin, said in a statement, "Bayer extends our deepest
sympathies to this family."

"Patient safety is our top priority, and we continually monitor adverse events
regarding all of our products," Bayer said, adding, "There is no evidence to
suggest that Coricidin is associated with violent behavior."

(source: ABC News)


Aspiring Pastor Accused of Murdering Wife Appears in Court: 'There's a Lot to
This Story,' Defense Says

A North Carolina man accused of murdering his wife last week made his 1st court
appearance on Tuesday, after which his attorney reportedly vowed there would be
"a lot" more to be revealed about what happened.

Matthew Phelps appeared in front of a Wake County, North Carolina, judge on a
1st-degree murder charge in the death of his wife, Lauren, a courthouse
official tells PEOPLE.

Phelps stayed silent during the hearing and did not enter a plea. Under state
law, he could face the death penalty or life in prison without parole if

Outside the courtroom, his attorney, Joseph Cheshire, urged the public to not
rush to conclusions.

"It's a very tragic situation - sad and tragic. And at the same time we have to
ask everybody to withhold judgement in this particular case until we know more
and we're able to develop more," Cheshire said, according to local TV station
WRAL. "There's a lot to this story I believe that will be told in the future,"

"I know this is difficult for people to understand, but he [Phelps] is going
through a terrible trauma," Cheshire told reporters. "And you know there are
all kinds of stages to these things and he's at the beginning of those stages.
So there's a lot of trauma to go around in all of this, in all of these cases

Cheshire could not be reached for comment by PEOPLE. Prosecutors did not
immediately return a call.

"We're asking everyone to be patient so we can all get to the bottom of this,"
Cheshire said after the hearing on Tuesday, according to the News & Observer.

Early Friday morning, a distraught Phelps called 911 in Raleigh, North
Carolina, declaring that he had just woken up to find his wife dead on the
floor of their home.

"I had a dream, and then I turned on the lights and she's dead on the floor,"
Phelps said in the call, audio of which was obtained by PEOPLE.

He continued, "I have blood all over me and there's a bloody knife on the bed
and I think I did it. I can't believe this."

Over the course of the approximately 6 1/2 minute conversation with a
dispatcher, Phelps grew progressively more inconsolable, breaking down into

He also said that he had taken too much cold medicine before he went to sleep
the night before.

"I took more medicine than I should have," he said, adding, "I took Coricidin
Cough and Cold because I know it can make you feel good. A lot of times I
can???t sleep at night. So I took some."

He added: "Oh my God. She didn't deserve this."

Police arrived at the couple's home on Patuxent Drive in Raleigh to find Lauren
Phelps suffering multiple stab wounds, authorities have told PEOPLE. She was
taken to a local hospital where she later died.

"While the investigation of the case is currently underway, preliminary
findings have established that the crime was not a random act," police said in
a statement.

In the wake of the killing, Bayer, the maker of Coricidin, said in a statement
that "patient safety is our top priority and we continually monitor adverse
events regarding all of our products."

"Bayer extends our deepest sympathies to this family," the statement read. "...
There is no evidence to suggest that Coricidin is associated with violent

The Phelps married last year, according to Lauren's Facebook. She "was all
about her family," relatives said in a statement obtained by ABC News.

"Her 4 nephews were her whole world. Church was a priority for her. Lauren
volunteered and loved the children and youth ministry. She enjoyed fashion and
loved finding great deals at Target.

"Lauren loved her dog, Cooper, like he was her child. She was a very special
person to everyone who knew her. The family requests privacy as they cope with
this unbearable tragedy."

Lauren was a Sunday school teacher and Matthew was studying to be a pastor, a
friend told ABC. Matthew's social media presence shows that he studied missions
and evangelism at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College.

Matthew is being held without bond in the county jail and will next appear in
court on Sept. 25, ABC News reports.

(source: people.com)


Hembree says lawyer did him wrong

A convicted killer with an overturned death sentence was in Gaston County Court
on Tuesday to request a new lawyer.

A Superior Court judge denied Danny Hembree's request. Hembree then decided to
stick with attorney Theodore Cummings rather than represent himself.

Hembree, who gained notoriety with a taunting letter extolling the luxuries of
watching TV and taking frequent naps while on death row, faces a new trial in
the 2009 death of 17-year-old Heather Catterton, a teen who lived in Gaston and
Cleveland counties.

But Hembree claimed Cummings, who works out of Hickory, cannot effectively
represent him because Cummings at one time represented a co-defendant of his in
the 1992 death of Deborah Ratchford.

A jury sentenced Hembree to death in 2011 for Catterton's killing. In 2013,
Hembree pleaded guilty to 2nd-degree murder in the 2009 death of 30-year-old
Randi Dean Saldana and was sentenced to 26 years in prison.

(source: Gaston Gazette)


Lexington Co. mom says this drug caused ex-husband to kill their 5 kids

Timothy Ray Jones Jr. was "under the intoxicating influence" of synthetic
marijuana when he allegedly killed his 5 children in their Red Bank home 3
years ago, his former wife says.

The claim comes in a lawsuit seeking damages from 5 Lexington County retailers
that Amber Jones says sold him the product.

The lawsuit doesn't say how often Timothy Jones used the synthetic marijuana
K-2, sold as Spice. "I don't know the frequency or amount used," said John
Carrigg, a former Lexington County councilman who is one of Amber Jones'

It's the 1st suggestion of why the children were murdered. "Based on my
understanding, there was clearly evidence these drugs played a part," Carrigg

"These substances are well-known to be severely addictive and are well-known to
cause numerous physical and psychological changes in people," the lawsuit says.
"These substances are well-known to cause both auditory and visual

Synthetic marijuana compounds "may affect the brain much more powerfully than
marijuana," the National Institute on Drug Abuse says on its website. "Their
actual effects can be unpredictable and, in some cases, severe or even

Eleventh Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard declined to comment on the lawsuit but
said Jones' trial is tentatively set to begin in February. Public defenders
Boyd Jones and Rob Madsen, Timothy Jones' lawyers, could not be reached

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from Lexington Ink, Tatway Tattoos, Time
Warp, Alibaba's Pipe Emporium and T&N Smoke as well as their owners and 1
employee of Lexington Ink.

Tatway Tattoos took over Lexington Ink's location but "is not related to them
at all" and has never sold synthetic marijuana, owner Stefany Munn said. "Our
deepest sympathies are with the (Jones) family."

The other 4 businesses, their owners and the Lexington Ink employee could not
be reached Tuesday.

Traces of synthetic marijuana were found in Timothy Jones' vehicle in September
2014 after he was arrested a week after the murders, police have said.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Jones, 35, for what is one of the
largest mass murders in the Columbia area in decades.

He is charged with 5 counts of murder in the deaths of his children - Merah, 8,
Elias, 7, Nahtahn, 6, Gabriel, 2, and Elaine, 1. Authorities believe he killed
the children on Aug. 28, 2014, after picking them up from school and day care.

Indictments - 1 for each child - say he beat Nahtahn to death and strangled the
other 4.

The lawsuit by Amber Jones was filed in Lexington County Circuit Court on the
3rd anniversary of the slayings.

Amber Jones also sued the state Department of Social Services last year,
claiming the agency failed numerous times to safeguard the children despite
many reports that their father was a threat to their lives and well-being.

Timothy Jones told investigators he believed his children planned to kill him
and then "chop him up and feed him to the dogs," according to an arrest warrant
revealed in court.

Beyond that, few details are known about what drove Jones and what he told law
enforcement. A court-imposed gag order prevents disclosure of some findings and
comments from prosecutors, defense lawyers and investigators.

Synthetic marijuana makers continually change the composition of their product
as authorities try to outlaw it, the lawsuit said.

That means users "have no idea how intensely the chemical will affect them and
thereby are deprived of the ability to intelligently determine whether they
pose a danger to themselves or others," it said.

Timothy Jones, who worked for a computer technology company in Columbia, had
custody of the children after his 10-year marriage ended in divorce in October

Authorities began looking for the children after Amber Jones reported them
missing Sept. 3, 2014.

Timothy Jones was stopped Sept. 6, 2014, at a traffic safety checkpoint in
Raleigh, Miss., on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or
drugs. The site is near where his parents live.

His vehicle contained "a large amount of blood and handwritten notes with
directions to kill and mutilate bodies," according to an arrest warrant. It
added that a search of the vehicle revealed "a significant amount of bleach
products (aroma) along with blood."

The traffic stop ended his odyssey of more than a week of driving through the
Southeast. The bodies of the children were in plastic garbage bags in his SUV
for part of that trip, authorities have said.

The children's bodies were found 3 days later on a hillside outside Camden,
Ala., after Jones led investigators there.

(source: heraldonline.com)


Prosecutors will seek death penalty again in 2 old cases

After having 2 death sentences thrown out because of recent high court rulings,
prosecutors have decided to again seek the death penalty for 2 men convicted of
murder years ago in 2 separate cases.

Attorneys for James Daniel Turner and Norman Blake McKenzie were both in
Circuit Judge Howard Maltz's St. Johns County courtroom on Tuesday afternoon
for status conferences regarding their clients' cases.

Maltz, earlier this year, vacated both men's death sentences after the U.S.
Supreme Court, in 2016, struck down Florida's old sentencing scheme for death
penalty cases in a case called Hurst v. Florida.

The court found that the procedures violated the defendant's right to a trial
by jury by allowing the judge to make the final decision after considering the
jury's recommendation. It also took issue with those recommendations having to
come from only a majority of jurors rather than a unanimous decision.

Legislators responded that same year by passing a new law that required a 10-2
vote from jurors for a death sentence, but that was quickly shot down by the
Florida Supreme Court, which found that the Hurst decision, and its predecessor
- a 2002 decision in Ring v. Arizona in which the U.S. Supreme Court examined
many of the same issues - meant that a unanimous decision from jurors was
needed for a death sentence.

Gov. Rick Scott signed a new law in March requiring just that.

While Turner's and McKenzie's convictions still stand, they do have to be
resentenced after Maltz found that, because jurors in their trials did not vote
unanimously for the death sentence, they are eligible for new penalty phases
because of what courts have come to call a "Hurst error."

Turner, who appeared in court with his attorney Tuesday, was convicted of
1st-degree murder in 2007 for the 2005 stabbing death of Renee Boling Howard of
Crescent Beach after he escaped from a South Carolina prison. Then-Circuit
Court Judge Wendy Berger sentenced him to death in 2008 after a 10-2 jury
recommendation for the sentence during the penalty phase of his trial.

Berger, who now serves on the 5th District Court of Appeal, also handed down
two death sentences for McKenzie after two 10-2 recommendations from a jury in
2007. Months earlier, jurors had convicted him of 1st-degree murder for killing
Randy Wayne Peacock and Charles Frank Johnston with a hatchet. Peacock was also

McKenzie, who was not in court Tuesday, will be returning to the St. Johns
County jail to await sentencing. Turner will be returning to state prison where
he is also serving time on other charges related to the 2005 murder.

Both cases are scheduled for another status conference in November. The new
penalty phases are expected to take place some time next year.

(source: staugustine.com)


Judge excludes testimony concerning children's deaths in Luis Toledo case

A Deltona man accused of killing his wife and her 2 children told investigators
the woman begged for air and that the children were killed by someone else who
used an ax, according to testimony at a hearing on Tuesday.

But a medical examiner testified it's unlikely that the family's killing
happened exactly the way it was described by suspect Luis Toledo.

Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano ruled out much of former Volusia County Associate
Medical Examiner Tim Gallagher's testimony, saying a large portion of it was
highly speculative. The judge excluded the evidence from Toledo's death-penalty
trial set to start Oct. 2 in St. Augustine.

Zambrano said that Gallagher could testify about Toledo's description of how
his wife died but not about the children's deaths.

Toledo, 33, is charged with 2nd-degree murder in the killing of his wife,
28-year-old Yessenia Suarez, and 2 counts of 1st-degree murder in the deaths of
her children, Thalia, 9, and Michael, 8. If convicted of killing either of the
children, Toledo could face the death penalty.

The mother and children were reported missing Oct. 23, 2013, from their home at
317 Covent Gardens Place in Deltona. Their bodies have not been found.

Toledo defense attorney Jeff Deen argued that none of Gallagher's testimony
should be allowed because all of it was speculation and conjecture based on an
8-minute video statement from Toledo.

"He doesn't have a body," Deen said about Gallagher. "He's never testified in a
death case without one."

Gallagher testified that Toledo told investigators that he moved his hand from
right to left and struck his wife in the neck. Toledo said she fell to the
ground and begged for air, Gallagher testified.

Gallagher, who is now an associate medical examiner in North Carolina, said
under questioning by prosecutor Ryan Will that there are a lot of variables
when someone is struck in the neck that could cause death. He said in one
scenario the blow would fracture the person's spinal cord.

"If that had occurred she would have been instantly paralyzed and she would not
have been able to beg for air," Gallagher said.

(source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)


Elected Florida prosecutor discontinues her policy against pursuing the death

The elected chief prosecutor for the Orlando area has reversed her ban on
seeking the death penalty, the Orlando Sentinel reported Friday.

The announcement from State Attorney Aramis Ayala, who represents Florida's
Orange and Osceola Counties, came one day after the Florida Supreme Court ruled
(PDF) against Ayala. She had asked the high court whether Florida Gov. Rick
Scott had the authority to remove 29 first-degree murder cases from her office
by executive order. The high court ruled against her, saying the ban was not
within her prosecutorial discretion.

Ayala announced the ban in March, saying the death penalty does not act as a
deterrent, puts victims' families through decades of unnecessary suffering and
is applied unevenly across racial categories. She said Friday that she would
convene a panel of 7 assistant prosecutors to review cases in which capital
punishment might be an option. If all 7 agree that it's appropriate, the
assistant prosecutor in charge will be able to pursue it.

Scott's office declined to say whether he would keep future capital cases in
Ayala's office, saying "the governor must be convinced that the death penalty
will be sought ... when appropriate."

The Florida Supreme Court's ruling comes in a lawsuit Ayala filed directly with
the high court after Scott took away the cases, an earlier Sentinel article
says. Ayala had argued that she was exercising her prosecutorial discretion,
but the high court's 5-justice majority said she "has exercised no discretion
at all."

"Ayala's blanket refusal to seek the death penalty in any eligible case,
including a case that 'absolutely deserve[s] [the] death penalty' does not
reflect an exercise of prosecutorial discretion; it embodies, at best, a
misunderstanding of Florida law," write Justice C. Alan Lawson for the
5-justice majority.

Justices Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince dissented, arguing that Ayala was
within her rights, and that Scott's removal of the cases "fundamentally
undermines the constitutional role of duly elected State Attorneys."

Ayala also filed a parallel federal lawsuit, the Sentinel says, which is still
pending. Ayala's attorney, Roy Austin, Jr., said what happens next in the
federal case depends on how the governor responds to Ayala's 7-prosecutor

The 29 death penalty cases Scott took from Ayala's office landed with State
Attorney Brad King of Ocala, who has taken 2 to trial. Both defendants received
a death sentence.

Ayala made the news separately in July when an account of police pulling her
over, believing her valid license plate was not registered to any vehicle, went

(source: abajournal.com)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu

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