death penalty news----MO., COLO., CALIF., ORE., WASH., USA
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Rick Halperin
2017-05-19 13:49:00 UTC
May 19


Denham could be facing death penalty

Prosecutors still haven't decided if they will seek the death penalty in a 2016
quadruple-murder case in Edgerton, Missouri.

Grayden Denham currently faces multiple felony charges, including 4 counts of
1st-degree murder, 4 counts of armed criminal action, arson and tampering with
physical evidence as well as a misdemeanor for animal abuse. Denham is accused
of killing grandfather Russell Denham, 82, grandmother Shirley Denham, 81, and
family members Heather Ager, 32, and 3-month-old Mason Schavoni. He wasn't
present for a court hearing Thursday.

However, Mark Gibson, the assistant Platte County prosecutor, informed Circuit
Judge James Van Amburg the state had offered Denham a plea bargain of life in
prison without parole. The deal was to be accepted or rejected by May 4.

Defense attorney John O'Connor said he'd informed the defendant of all plea
offers but could neither accept or reject this offer.

Gibson moved to have Denham brought to court so he could read him the entire
plea offer. O'Connor objected, saying this would violate attorney/client

The judge denied Gibson's request.

The case is set for a trial to begin Monday, June 19. The state must file a
notice prior to the trial if it intends to seek the death penalty. The defense
could ask for a delay because of the change.

(source: newspressnow.com)


Garrett Coughlin charged with 6 murder counts in Coal Creek Canyon killings

The suspect in a triple homicide in Coal Creek Canyon last month was charged
with 6 counts of 1st-degree murder.

Garrett Matthew Coughlin, 24, was charged with three counts of 1st-degree
murder after deliberation and 3 counts of felony murder in Boulder District
Court on Thursday. He is also facing 1 count of aggravated robbery.

Felony murder charges can be filed when a person is murdered in the course of
the commission of a felony -- in this case, the alleged robbery -- even if the
defendant is not believed to have been the one to commit the murder.

Coughlin is being held at the Boulder County Jail until a hearing on Sept. 7 to
determine if there is enough evidence to hold him without bond.

The murder charges are all Class 1 felonies that carry a mandatory sentence of
life in prison without parole if a defendant is found guilty, and are also
eligible for the death penalty.

While Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett has been a vocal opponent
of the death penalty, he said he will still consider it.

"Although I support repeal of the death penalty in Colorado, as long as it is
the law of Colorado on any alleged 1st-degree murder case, I will review the
death penalty option with the family," Garnett said.

Coughlin is so far the only named suspect in the deaths of Wallace White, 54,
Kelly Sloat-White, 56, and Emory Fraker, 39, whose bodies were found on April
15 in the 800 block of Divide View Drive.

White and Sloat-White lived at the home, and Fraker was White's brother and
lived in Broomfield.

An arrest affidavit released on Tuesday states all three suffered gunshot
wounds, and investigators said they were able to tie Coughlin to the gun used
in the homicides.

Investigators linked Coughlin to the home on Divide View Drive via phone
records and documents associated with the house, and determined through
interviews that he had shown up 4 hours late for work on the morning of April
13, when police believe the 3 were killed.

Witnesses also told investigators that they saw Coughlin with large amounts of
marijuana packaged in a manner consistent with the marijuana owned by the
victims, as well as large amounts of cash following the homicides. Deputies
removed 100 plants from the property during the investigation.

(source: Fort Morgan Times)


Jury begins deliberating in 1981 Newport Beach killing, suspect had been on
death row for case

An Orange County Superior Court jury began deliberating Thursday in the case of
a 77-year-old man found beaten and strangled in his Newport Beach home more
than 3 decades ago.

James Andrew Melton, 65, originally was convicted and sentenced to death in
1982 for killing and robbing Anthony Lial DeSousa. But a federal judge
overturned his conviction in 2007 after determining that Melton was
over-medicated by jail staff and did not understand his trial.

He was tried again in 2014, with the case ending in a mistrial after the jury
deadlocked 10-2 in favor of convicting him of 1st-degree murder.

Prosecutors are no longer seeking the death penalty, in part because of the
case's age.

In his 3rd trial, which began this month, the prosecution said Melton and his
lover, Johnny Boyd, had hatched a plan to meet rich, older men through ads in
gay magazines and then go to their homes and rob them.

Boyd was given immunity to testify in the 1st trial. He died of AIDS in 1992,
so the jury in this trial was read transcripts from his original testimony.
Boyd said he arranged a meeting between Melton and DeSousa, who had come out as
a gay man after his wife died.

On Oct. 13, 1981, DeSousa's body was found in his bedroom.

Boyd testified that Melton admitted to the killing and that he had seen Melton
wearing DeSousa's jewelry. Melton was later arrested with several of the
victim's belongings including his car, a watch, a suitcase, and a movie
projector, authorities said.

The defense has said there are no fingerprints or DNA evidence linking Melton
to the crime scene, and that Boyd, a key witness, lacked credibility.

Melton has convictions for 2 rapes, robbery, and assault with a deadly weapon,
according to court records.

(source: Orange County Register)


Speaker to address death penalty

Tom O'Connor, an adviser to corrections departments throughout the country and
the CEO of an organization called Transforming Corrections, will be the keynote
speaker at a Friday dinner in Corvallis.

The event will be held beginning at 6 p.m. at the First Congregational United
Church of Christ, 4515 SW West Hills Drive.

After O'Connor's speech, people attending will discuss the death penalty and
possible alternatives. The event is a fundraiser for Oregonians for
Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Tickets for dinner and the program are $25. Tables for 8 are available for
group purchase. Call 503-990-7060 to order tickets or go to www.oadp.org
through PayPal.

(source: Albany Democrat-Herald)


Washington death row Inmate Loses Court Challenge Over Intellectual

On January 25, 1997, Cecil Emile Davis, a "violent offender" on state
supervision, broke into the Tacoma home of 65-year-old Yoshiko Couch. Once
inside he raped and beat her and then suffocated her by holding a rag soaked in
cleaning solvents over her mouth.

Davis was later convicted of aggravated 1st degree murder and sentenced to

On Thursday, the Washington Supreme Court rejected Davis' claim that
Washington's death penalty system is unconstitutional because it doesn't
protect death row inmates with intellectual disabilities - sometimes referred
to in the courts as "mental retardation" - from execution.

"We find his arguments unpersuasive and dismiss the petition," Justice Steven
Gonzalez wrote in a majority opinion signed by 6 of the 9 justices.

Washington law and the U.S. Constitution prohibit executing someone who's
intellectually disabled. In Washington, that determination is made by the trial
judge after a guilty verdict is rendered.

At trial, Davis argued that the jury, not the judge, should have to find beyond
a reasonable doubt that he didn't have an intellectual disability. The trial
judge rejected that motion.

At sentencing, Davis' lawyer made the case for mercy based on a variety of
issues including "low intelligence," but did not make the case that Davis had
an intellectual disability that constitutionally excluded him from the death

Nor did Davis make that case on appeal. In fact, his attorney wrote, "Davis
does not claim he is intellectually disabled or that he was intellectually
disabled at the time of the crime."

However, in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Florida's death penalty
system failed to use the appropriate criteria for determining intellectual
disability, thus creating the risk that inmates with intellectual disabilities
would be executed. Based on that ruling Davis argued to the Washington Supreme
Court that Washington law, which is similar to Florida's, "creates an
unacceptable barrier to proof of intellectual disability."

Under Washington law, a defendant must have an IQ of 70 or below before the
court will consider whether there's an intellectual disability. A doctor in
Davis' case testified that he had an IQ score of 68, although other tests
indicated he might have a higher score.

In their majority opinion, the justices allowed that Washington law may have
similar flaws to Florida's, but concluded that wasn't a factor in Davis' case.

"Essentially, Davis argues that he is entitled to resentencing since [the
Florida case] makes clear that using a 70 IQ as an evidentiary cutoff is
unconstitutional," the majority wrote. While that test might not be
constitutional, the Washington justices concluded that Davis wasn't harmed by
it because his intellectual capacity was, in fact, considered by the court.

"Davis has not established that our death penalty statute, or his sentence, was
unconstitutional," concluded the majority.

The justices also rejected Davis' assertion that a jury, not a judge, should
determine intellectual disability.

However, in a concurring opinion, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud argued that the
Supreme Court should give more attention to the question of how an intellectual
disability is determined.

"This is a complex constitutional issue ... we have the obligation to explore,"
McCloud wrote in an opinion also signed by Justice Mary Fairhurst.

In a lone dissent, Justice Barbara Madsen took the opposite view. She argued
that Davis' death sentence should be reversed on the grounds that the judge,
not the jury, decided whether he was intellectually disabled. Madsen said
Washington law requiring the court to make that determination violated Davis'
Sixth Amendment rights, based on the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the
Florida death penalty case.

Madsen also said that Davis' IQ score of 68 cannot be disregarded. "That
evidence alone creates a fact question as to whether Davis suffered from an
intellectual disability," Madsen wrote.

In a statement, Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said, "Davis' crimes
shocked the conscience of our community. We hope this brings closure for the
community, especially the family and friends of Yoshiko Couch."

Davis, who's African American, is 1 of 7 men on death row in Washington.
However, the state is not carrying out executions because of a moratorium
imposed by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2014.

The Washington Supreme Court has another case pending that could test the
constitutionality of the death penalty. Lawyers for death row inmate Allen
Eugene Gregory, who is also African American, are challenging the state's
capital punishment statute on the grounds that it is "infected with
arbitrariness and racial bias."

(source: KUOW news)


No death row reprieve for notorious Pierce County killer

Convicted killer Cecil Davis has asked the state's high court to spare his life
twice in the past decade.

And twice the justices have said no - though that doesn't mean he'll be

On Thursday, the Washington Supreme Court upheld Davis' death sentence for the
murder of Yoshiko Couch in 1997. Davis also raped and robbed the Tacoma woman,
while her invalid husband was in the house and couldn't help her.

Davis will be allowed to live at least while Jay Inslee is governor. He issued
a moratorium on executions in 2014, but after his term the future for the
state's death row inmates is uncertain.

The Supreme Court upheld Davis' sentence by dismissing what's known as a
personal restraint petition. It argued that he should not have been sentenced
to death, because that violated his constitutional rights to a jury trial and
due process, and against cruel and unusual punishment.

The state's capital punishment system fails to protect intellectually disabled
criminals from execution, Davis said.

State law and the U.S. Constitution prohibit the death penalty for the
intellectually disabled, but a trial judge decided Davis didn't qualify for the

A jury, not a judge, should have made that decision, Davis argued.

The high court rejected those arguments, and Davis' assertion that his
attorneys had been ineffective at trial.

"We find his arguments unpersuasive and dismiss the petition," Justice Steven
Gonzalez wrote for the majority, which included 5 other members of the court.

Justice Barbara Madsen dissented, and agreed with Davis that a jury should have
decided whether he had an intellectual disability. State law that says the
judge should make that determination violates the Sixth Amendment, she wrote,
which includes the right to a jury trial and due process.

Davis' death sentence should be reversed, Madsen said, and he should be sent
back to trial court for another sentencing.

Justice Sheryl McCloud and Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst concurred with the
majority, but argued the case should go back to the trial court to examine the
experience Davis' appellate counsel had with similar cases.

Then the high court should use that information to consider a recent request
Davis made for new attorneys, the justices said.

"The lawyers on this case are dedicated, experienced, hardworking
professionals; but collateral challenges in death penalty cases is one of the
most complicated areas of the law," McCloud wrote in their opinion.

After Davis first appealed his death sentence to the Supreme Court, the
justices overturned it in 2004. A juror saw Davis shackled during trial, which
the high court said might have influenced the juror to consider him dangerous.

As a result, the case was sent back to Pierce County, where a 2nd jury decided
Davis should die.

He appealed the sentence again to the Supreme Court, asking for life without
parole, and the court said no in 2012.

The personal restraint petition was Davis' most recent attempt to permanently
stave off execution.

It wasn't clear Thursday whether Davis planned to challenge the Supreme Court's

He's 1 of 8 people in the state on death row, which is at the Washington State
Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Davis raped the 65-year-old Couch in her home, then smothered her with a towel
soaked in toxic solvent. He also took the wedding ring from Couch's finger,
cash from her purse, and beer and meat from her kitchen.

Separate from that murder, he is serving a life sentence for fatally stomping
another woman, Jane Hungerford-Trapp, in Tacoma in 1996.

(source: thenewstribune.com)


House votes to expand death penalty for police killings

The House passed legislation on Thursday that would make the murder of a law
enforcement officer punishable by death.

Approved by a 271-143 vote, the measure expands the aggravating factors when a
jury considers a death sentence in federal cases.

48 Democrats voted with all but 4 Republicans in favor of the legislation,
which was timed for a vote during National Police Week.

Federal law outlines 16 factors juries must consider when debating whether the
death penalty is justified, such as whether the victim was a "high public
official" or the accused committed the crime in a particularly cruel way.

Killing a federal law enforcement officer is already considered a factor for
the death penalty under current law. The bill approved by the House would
extend that to state and local police officers and first responders.

All 50 states also have laws increasing penalties for crimes against law

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) acknowledged the
proposed change would likely have limited applicability given that most
homicide cases are considered by state courts and that it may be rare for a law
enforcement killing to be involved in a federal offense.

But bill's proponents primarily wanted to send a deterrence message.

"Getting this bill signed into law will protect those who serve our communities
and send a clear message: targeting or killing our first responders will not be
tolerated," said Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), the bill's author.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) came out against the bill, arguing in
a letter to House Judiciary Committee leaders that "expanding the number of
aggravating factors that would subject a person to the death penalty is
unnecessary and duplicative; counterproductive to improving law enforcement and
community relations; and unlikely to prevent future violence against police."

Civil rights groups said the bill falls in line with President Trump's desire
to get tough on crime and enforce "law and order," but would ultimately be

Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed federal prosecutors last week to charge
and pursue the "most serious, readily provable offense" in criminal cases. The
move prompted outcry from Democrats and libertarians such as Sen. Rand Paul
(R-Ky.), who warned it would unnecessarily increase the prison population.

An Obama-era order in 2013 under then-Attorney General Eric Holder instructed
prosecutors to avoid mandatory minimums in some drug-related cases.

Todd Cox, the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund policy director, wrote
in a Medium post this week that Congress should instead consider proposals that
require police departments to provide anti-bias and de-escalation training.

"Unfortunately, Congress has chosen to spend this week considering unnecessary
and redundant legislation that will only widen the gap between communities and
law enforcement, without any added security benefit," Cox wrote.

Democrats, who largely already oppose the death penalty, said it unnecessarily
expanded the statute, particularly for if a defendant only attempted to kill a
law enforcement officer.

"I'm not aware that we have in the law anywhere a death penalty for an
attempted crime,' said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a senior member of the
House Judiciary Committee. "The attempted terrible act certainly should be
punished. But not as severely as the accomplishment of the terrible act."

The House is expected to consider another police-themed bill on Friday that
would allow probation officers to arrest people without warrants if they
forcibly assault or obstruct them during their official duties.

(source: thehill.com)

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