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death penalty news----PENN., FLA., LA., IND.
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Rick Halperin
2017-04-26 14:07:43 UTC
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April 26



PENNSYLVANIA:

Police ambush killer Eric Frein won't take stand as jury weighs death penalty


His fate hanging in the balance, a gunman who ambushed 2 state police troopers
at their barracks in 2014 decided Tuesday he would not take the witness stand
to try to persuade jurors to spare his life.

The defense rested its case after Eric Frein opted not to testify in the
penalty phase of his capital murder trial. His lawyers said outside court they
didn't want to expose Frein to cross-examination, fearing he might try to
"rationalize" the deadly ambush.

Frein, 33, was convicted last week of killing Cpl. Bryon Dickson II and
critically wounding Trooper Alex Douglass in an unprovoked, random sniper
attack at the Blooming Grove barracks. He was captured after a 7-week manhunt
that dominated news coverage and rattled communities throughout the Pocono
Mountains.

The jury is expected to begin deliberations Wednesday on whether to sentence
Frein to death or to life in prison without parole.

The father of a survivalist who ambushed 2 state police troopers, killing 1 of
them, said Monday that he failed his son.

The defense made a last-ditch effort to keep him off death row, with his
20-year-old sister casting him as a protective older brother.

Tiffany Frein, who was adopted into the family when she was 4, described a
highly dysfunctional household. She said her father, Eugene Michael "Mike"
Frein, physically abused her, punching her in the face repeatedly after she
called him a vulgar name. She testified her mother was a selfish manipulator.

Her brother stood up for her, she said.

"He made me feel like someone actually loved me," Tiffany Frein said.

Frein's half-sister, Ellen Mitchell, testified Mike Frein used to place
late-night, drunken calls to her and raged about "wanting to kill people."

"I didn't have time to deal with my father's crazy," she said.

Mike Frein, who earned a doctorate and worked on vaccines, previously
acknowledged to the jury he had a drinking problem more than a decade ago.

The defense, trying to prove a mitigating circumstance the jury could weigh in
its deliberations, has sought to portray Mike Frein as a domineering, angry but
highly accomplished figure Eric Frein looked up to and tried to emulate.

Mike Frein, who logged 28 years in the military and retired as a major,
admitted to jurors that he lied to his family for years that he saw combat in
Vietnam and was a sniper.

Eric Frein, meanwhile, was a military reenactor and college dropout who lived
with his parents into his 30s.

Mike Frein also told the jury he had shared his political views with his son,
calling the government too big and railing against abusive police. His son, in
a letter he wrote to his parents while on the run, advocated revolution as a
way to restore lost liberties.

The prosecution has proved the aggravating circumstances that would point
toward a death sentence: Eric Frein killed a law enforcement officer, and the
jury concluded it was a terrorist act.

Frein's decision to avoid the witness stand seemed to come as a relief to 1 of
his lawyers, Bill Ruzzo.

"Defendants typically rationalize, and we were afraid that might happen," Ruzzo
told reporters.

But the defense effort to make Frein more sympathetic to the jury was
undermined by a 2014 jailhouse recording, played by prosecutors, in which he's
heard joking that he planned to sell his story.

3 weeks after his arrest, Frein told his mother reporters had been asking him
for an interview. He laughingly said he would wait until after trial and give
to the highest bidder.

Frein was being "hounded" by media at the time, said defense lawyer Michael
Weinstein, who characterized the comments as off the cuff.

Weinstein renewed his complaints Tuesday about Frein's treatment in jail. The
defendant had refused to communicate with his lawyers Monday and looked
unsteady on his feet as he was helped into the courtroom by 2 sheriff's
deputies. Weinstein had asked the judge to order a mental competency exam but
was turned down after prosecutors played a jailhouse phone call recorded
Saturday in which Frein could be heard talking normally.

Weinstein said Frein has been forced since the guilty verdict to wear a heavy
suicide smock, which prevents inmates from hanging themselves, and is kept in a
cell with the lights always on even though Frein has never expressed any
intention to kill himself.

Even if the jury sends Frein to death row, the sentence won't be carried out
anytime soon, if ever. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has imposed a moratorium on
executions.

Pennsylvania has executed only 3 people since the Supreme Court restored the
death penalty in 1976, none since 1999.

(source: ABC news)





FLORIDA:

Florida Supreme Court denies Avalos' appeal to avoid death penalty


The Florida Supreme Court has denied Andres Avalos' appeal to stop prosecutors
from seeking the death penalty if he is convicted of the 3 1st-degree murder
charges he is facing.

Avalos, 36, is charged in the Dec. 4, 2014, deaths of his wife Amber Avalos,
33; neighbor Denise Potter, 46; and the Rev. James "Tripp" Battle, 31. A
prosecutor said Avalos confessed to the slayings after he was arrested Dec. 6,
2014, following a 51-hour manhunt.

The case is set to go to trial beginning May 8. If convicted, the state has
indicated it will seek the death penalty.

Avalos' defense has indicated it will be relying on an insanity defense. If he
is convicted, his defense has also indicated that it will rely on claims that
he was emotionally or mentally disturbed and under extreme duress at the time
of the killings in an effort to spare him from the death penalty.

On April 6, Avalos' defense attorney, Andrew Crawford, filed an appeal with the
Florida Supreme Court asking that Circuit Judge Diana Moreland, who is
presiding over the case, be prohibited from qualifying a jury to enter a death
penalty phase should Avalos be convicted.

On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court denied the defense's appeal on its
merit, according the order filed. The order, however, is not final until after
the time period during which the defense can request a rehearing.

In its order, the Florida Supreme Court cited a similar appeal filed in the
case against Broward woman, Jacqueline Luongo. In Luongo's case, the defense
similarly asked that the presiding judge be prohibited from death qualifying a
jury. That appeal argued that the indictment charging Luongo with 1st-degree
murder did not list the aggravated factor required in a 1st-degree murder case
in order to seek the death penalty.

Crawford had made similar arguments in Avalos' case before Moreland last month
after new state legislation was enacted that requires a unanimous vote by a
jury to sentence a convicted murderer to death - finally correcting Florida's
death penalty scheme.

Avalos' defense has also argued that the state should not be allowed to seek
the death penalty against him because Florida's death penalty's scheme first
went into limbo following the U.S. Supreme Court's Jan. 12, 2016, ruling in
Hurst vs. Florida. In that case, the court found it unconstitutional that
Florida judges, not juries, have the ultimate say in whether to sentence
someone to death.

While the state Legislature worked quickly to pass corrective legislation, on
March 7, 2016, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the ruling in Hurst also
required a unanimous vote by a jury to sentence someone to death.

(source: bradenton.com)






LOUISIANA:

Former Caddo prosecutor in favor of eliminating death penalty


A former Caddo Parish prosecutor-- haunted by mistakes he made in the case of a
man who spent 3 decades on death row before being exonerated-- was among the
witnesses who testified before a Louisiana Senate committee that approved a
bill to eliminate capital punishment.

The bill -- whose sponsors point to the costs and rare use of death penalty
cases as much as the moral issues -- would abolish the death penalty for crimes
committed after Aug. 1, 2017. It was approved by the Senate Judiciary C
Committee by a 6-1 vote and sent to the full Senate, where it faces a tough
debate.

The proposed law would not change the sentences of the 6 dozen people currently
on Louisiana's death row, although observers of the bill said the new law would
undoubtedly be used to show inequities in sentences.

Supporters of the bill said capital punishment has not proven to be a deterrent
to crime and is prohibitively expensive. Louisiana has not executed an inmate
since early 2010 and that inmate was put to death after he waived all appeals.
Opponents of changing the law asked lawmakers to consider the victims.

"We have spent more than $100 million (on capital cases and appeals) and have
one body to show for it -- and it was a volunteer," said Sen. Dan Claitor,
R-Baton Rouge, the bill's sponsor.

The committee also heard about the high number of reversals of death penalty
cases. Two-- discussed as cases where the wrongfully accused might have been
executed-- both occurred in Caddo Parish.

One was Rodricus Crawford of Shreveport, whose death sentence was overturned by
the Louisiana Supreme Court. The Caddo district attorney's office earlier this
month dropped charges, based in large part on medical evidence showing
Crawford's son died of an illness, not trauma-- as claimed by Caddo Coroner Dr.
Todd Thoma and his forensic pathologist.

The other was Glenn Ford, who spent 29 years on death row for the murder and
robbery of jeweler Isadore Rozeman-- before new evidence led the Caddo district
attorney's office to conclude Ford helped plan the robbery and pawn stolen
items, but was not the triggerman.

Attorney Marty Stroud of Shreveport, who prosecuted Ford, has been haunted by
that case, saying he was so concerned about procuring a death sentence-- he
developed tunnel vision about other people being involved; then celebrated with
friends when he won. Now in private practice, Stroud has since become an
advocate for abolishing the death penalty, saying humans cannot handle the
power over life and death.

"When my time comes, I hope God has more mercy on me than I had for Mr. Ford,"
Stroud told the committee. "I know I don't deserve it."

Among the opponents of the bill who testified, was Southern University law
professor Michelle Ghetti. Her ex-husband abused her so badly she once spent 3
days in the hospital. He later shot and killed his 6- and 9-year-old daughters
while on a speaker phone with his 2nd wife-- while sarcastically wishing her
Merry Christmas. Ghetti's daughter, Christie Battaglia, sobbed during some of
her mother's testimony, before telling lawmakers they should keep the death
penalty for the sake of victims.

(source: KTBS news)

**************************

Bill banning death penalty clears panel; stiff opposition awaits


A bill to abolish Louisiana's death penalty was approved by a friendly Senate
panel here Tuesday, backed by testimony of Christian faith leaders and a former
Shreveport prosecutor haunted by a wrongful conviction and over the objections
of some victims' families.

But Baton Rouge Republican Sen. Dan Claitor's Senate Bill 142, which was
presented by Acadiana lawmaker Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, faces much
stiffer opposition when it reaches a wider debate on the Senate floor and later
in the House if the measure makes it that far. Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge,
was the only member to object.

Claitor referred to his legislation as "a pro-life bill."

Bishop Shelton Fabre, representing the Louisiana Conference of Catholic
Bishops, testified the death penalty is an affront to God.

"The Catholic Church Considers the death penalty as an offense to the sanctity
of human life from conception to natural death," said Fabre, who is also the
bishop of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. "The pain of one death can't be wiped
away by another death."

Those who support the bill also testified the death penalty is expensive to
litigate and enforce, sentences are often overturned and they believe there is
a bias in death penalty cases.

Marty Stroud, a former Shreveport prosecutor, recalled his role in the wrongful
conviction of Glenn Ford, who was released from prison in 2014 and died from
lung cancer the following summer.

"I know at some point I have to answer (for it)," said Stroud, testifying
before the Senate Judiciary C Committee. "When that time comes I hope God has
more mercy on me than I did from Mr. Ford.

"It taught me we human beings can't handle the power of life and death. That's
God's work."

But the family of Shreveport jeweler Isadore Rozeman, whose brutal murder Ford
was originally convicted of committing, has said the real victim was Rozeman,
not Ford, who the courts asserted sold items stolen from Rozeman.

"There was no murder without Glenn Ford," Rozeman's nephew Dr. Phillip Rozeman
of Shreveport testified last year during a hearing about a bill regarding
compensation to those wrongly convicted.

Michelle Ghetti, whose ex-husband is on death row in Texas for murdering 2 of
his daughters from a following marriage, passionately argued to keep the death
penalty as her adult daughter Christie Battaglia wept.

"Without the death penalty, I'd be be living in fear," Battaglia said of her
father, who Battaglia has said she has forgiven.

Ghetti cited Old Testament verses justifying the death penalty to counter other
faith leaders' testimony and quoted Jesus from the New Testament as saying the
old laws aren't dead. "(The death penalty) was created by God as a remedy,"
Ghetti said.

"I use the new book, not the old book," Claitor said.

"I use both books," Ghetti replied.

Louisiana's district attorneys are also opposing the bill, saying it's an
appropriate tool in the most heinous cases where the jury's conscience has been
shocked by the viciousness of a crime.

Landry, D-New Iberia, a former law enforcement officer, has a similar bill to
abolish the death penalty in the House.

"This is the most taxing initiative I've taken on," he said. "It's literally
about life and death."

Claitor's bill isn't retroactive. If approved, it would not be effective until
Aug. 1, 2018.

(source: The (Monroe) News Star)






INDIANA:

Higher court denies Vann's appeal to examine death penalty statute


The Indiana Supreme Court turned down the request of a Gary man to look at the
constitutionality of the state's death penalty statute before he goes to trial.

Last year, the attorneys for Darren Deon Vann, 46, who is charged in the deaths
of seven women, argued before a Lake County judge that Indiana's death penalty
statute was unconstitutional. The judge denied that claim, following suit with
rulings in previous challenges in other Indiana cases.

In January, Vann's attorneys returned before the judge, asking to be able to
appeal his ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court, and the judge granted that
request.

Vann has based his argument before Lake County and the higher court on a few
key points: how a jury is supposed to weigh factors that could influence a
death sentence, allowing a judge to determine a defendant's death sentence when
the jury can't and that the statute possibly violates the 8th Amendment
prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Vann's attorneys argued that this should be addressed before a trial is set,
saying that "Vann should not have to wait until the jury is unable to recommend
a penalty before he may challenge a statute that he believes to be
unconstitutional and deprives him of his constitutional rights," according to a
motion in the appeal case.

The decision impacts not only Vann, but "affects every other pending death
penalty case in Indiana" and given how expensive a death penalty trial and
direct appeal is, "deciding these questions now has the potential to save the
taxpayers of Indiana a great sum of money," the defense argued in the motion.

In trying to get the Supreme Court to look at the case, the defense called in a
Louisiana attorney with The Promise of Justice Initiative, a nonprofit in New
Orleans, to provide some outside, expert opinion on the matter.

Drawing on other state and federal court cases, many of which Vann's attorneys
also cited, the nonprofit's attorney argued that "addressing this issue sooner
rather than later could potentially avoid years of litigation and prevent the
needless reversal of death sentences imposed through unconstitutional
procedures." Since 1977, 97 people have been sentenced to death in Indiana as
of Nov. 7, 2016, and 11 people are currently on the state's death row, the
nonprofit's attorney cited in a brief.

The state responded by arguing that other criminal defendants have repeatedly
made similar claims in the past, and like those, Vann's claims are "without
merit." Furthermore, the outside perspective from the nonprofit "does not add
any compelling arguments in support" of going forward with Vann's request, the
state said in a response.

If any doubts linger following Vann's trial, "he can raise it on direct appeal
so that this Court can decide it within an actual - and not hypothetical - set
of facts," according to the response. But Vann's current appeal request "has
already delayed this case going to trial" and "if this Court grants the
request, the trial will be delayed many more months to years," the response
states.

Last Thursday, in an order signed by Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush, the court
decided to deny Vann's request to look at the constitutionality of the statute.

Lake County prosecutors previously requested the death penalty for Vann, as he
faces charges in connection with the deaths of Anith Jones 35, of Merrillville;
Afrikka Hardy, 19, of Chicago; Teaira Batey, 28, of Gary; Tracy Martin, 41, of
Gary; Kristine Williams, 36, of Gary; Sonya Billingsley, 52, of Gary; and Tanya
Gatlin, 27, of Highland.

The request for the death penalty "alleges as aggravating circumstances that
Vann has committed other murders," according to a state response filed in
Vann's request for an appeal.

Vann was joined by attorneys for Carl Blount, 28, of Gary, in arguing that the
death penalty statute is unconstitutional last year. Blount previously faced
the death penalty on a murder charge in the fatal shooting of Gary police
Patrolman Jeffrey Westerfield. A Lake County judge denied both of their
requests.

Rather than going to trial, Blount accepted a deal and pleaded guilty in
January. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole the following month.

Vann has a status hearing at 10 a.m. on Friday in Lake County to discuss
pending matters in his case. In recent weeks, his attorneys have filed motions
to preserve evidence and for discovery. Aside from hearings and filed
documents, a gag order in the case prevents those involved from commenting
outside of court.

(source: Chicago Tribune)


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