death penalty news----TEXAS, PENN., GA., ALA., CALIF., ORE.
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Rick Halperin
2017-07-16 13:19:55 UTC
July 16


Texas Cracks Down on the Market for Jailhouse Snitches

Prosecutors love jailhouse informants who can provide damning testimony that a
cellmate privately confessed to a crime. Jailhouse informants, in turn, love
the perks they get in exchange for snitching, like shortened sentences,
immunity from prosecution or a wad of cash.

As you might imagine, though, in a market driven by such questionable motives,
the testimony these informants provide is often unreliable.

Even worse, it can be deadly. False testimony from jailhouse informants has
been the single biggest reason for death-row exonerations in the modern
death-penalty era, according to a 2005 survey by the Center on Wrongful
Convictions. They accounted for 50 of the 111 exonerations to that point, and
there have been 48 more exonerations since then.

Last month, Texas, which has been a minefield of wrongful convictions - more
than 300 in the last 30 years alone - passed the most comprehensive effort yet
to rein in the dangers of transactional snitching.

Texas has become a national leader in criminal-justice reforms, after having
long accommodated some of the worst practices and abuses in the nation. The
state, particularly in light of past abuses, deserves credit for seeking
innovative solutions to problems that have long proved resistant to change.

Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, the
Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

The new law requires prosecutors to keep thorough records of all jailhouse
informants they use - the nature of their testimony, the benefits they received
and their criminal history. This information must be disclosed to defense
lawyers, who may use it in court to challenge the informant's reliability or
honesty, particularly if the informant has testified in other cases.

The law was recommended by a state commission established in 2015 to examine
exonerations and reduce the chances of wrongful convictions. The commission
also persuaded lawmakers to require procedures to reduce the number of mistaken
eyewitness identifications and to require that police interrogations be
recorded - smart steps toward a fairer and more accurate justice system.

But the new procedures on jailhouse informants shouldn't have been necessary in
the 1st place. Under longstanding Supreme Court rulings, prosecutors are
required to turn over any evidence that might call an informant's credibility
into question - such as conflicting stories or compensation they get in
exchange for their testimony. Yet far too many fail to do so.

A better solution would be to bar the use of compensated informants outright,
or at least in cases involving capital crimes, as one Texas bill has proposed.
Studies have shown that even when a defense lawyer is able to make the case
that an informant has an incentive to lie, juries are just as likely to
convict. And that's assuming a defense lawyer uses such evidence - not always a
safe assumption given the wide range of quality in the defense bar.

Also, making evidence admissible at trial only goes so far. The vast majority
of convictions are the result of guilty pleas, which means a defendant may not
even find out that an informant was paid to incriminate him before having to
decide whether to accept a plea offer.

Some states have begun to require that judges hold hearings to test an
informant's reliability, much as they would test an expert witness's knowledge
- before the jury can hear from him.

But the deeper fix that's needed is a cultural one. Many prosecutors are far
too willing to present testimony from people they would never trust under
ordinary circumstances. Until prosecutors are more concerned with doing justice
than with winning convictions, even the most well-intentioned laws will fall

(source: Editorial, New York Times)


Lynn Abraham vies for interim D.A. job

Former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who held the job longer than anyone
else in the history of the city, heads a list of applicants to serve as the
interim D.A. until a replacement for former D.A. Seth Williams is elected this

Abraham, the city's first female district attorney, held the office from 1991
to 2010. During her term she earned nicknames such as "Deadliest D.A." and
"Queen of Death" for the high rate at which her office sought the death
penalty. However, none of her cases has ever resulted in an actual execution.

Former D.A. Williams, an Abraham protege who eventually succeeded her, resigned
from the position on June 29 after pleading guilty to 1 charge of bribery.
Williams was indicted on 29 federal charges including bribery, wire fraud and
extortion back in March. He will be sentenced later this year.

The interim will hold the position until the fall general election when
Democratic favorite Larry Krasner faces off against Republican underdog Beth

Other interim hopefuls for the position are James F. Berardinelli, John P.
Delaney, Curtis R. Douglas, Arlene D. Fisk, Kelley Brisbon Hodge, Joseph Jamil
Khan, D. Webster Keogh, Benjamin Lerner, William J. Manfredi, Kathleen E.
Martin, Paul P. Panepinto, Robert A. Rovner, and Leon A. Williams.

Khan finished s2nd to Krasner in the Democratic primary. Martin has been
running the office in Williams' absence.

To qualify, applicants had to meet the standards for the position "District
Attorney" as outlined in Purdon's Pennsylvania Statues.

They must be a resident of the city, at least 25 years old and must have
practiced as an attorney for 1 year before being appointed, among other
requirements. They also had to be in good standing , meaning they have not been
suspended from practicing law or serving probation.

On July 19, each of the 88 members of the Board of Judges will hear
presentations from each of the candidates, and on July 20 they will cast a vote
to select the candidate.

(source: phillytrib.com)


'Good citizens' will love him. 'Criminals will learn to hate him,' sheriff says
of new DA

When Jonathan Adams took office as district attorney in January, he faced a
number of challenges in the Towaliga Judicial Circuit that includes Butts,
Lamar and Monroe counties.

As the 1st new district attorney in the circuit in 17 years - only the 2nd
since its creation in 1999 - Adams was faced with a myriad of new
administrative tasks when he first took office.

The district attorney's office didn't have an office manual with policies and
procedures in place. He had to prepare for April budget hearings.

With Butts and Lamar counties considering courthouse renovations and the Monroe
County district attorney's office needing to find new office space, Adams faced
additional real estate and architectural concerns.

And it all was happening in the final months before Christopher Calmer was set
to stand trial in June in the 2014 fatal shooting of Monroe County deputy
Michael Norris.

"It was a juggling act," said Adams, 41.

A little more than 6 months later, Adams has begun building a reputation of
being hard on crime while also making strides to make the district attorney's
office more efficient and modern.

He's well-liked by law enforcement, said longtime Monroe County Sheriff John
Cary Bittick.

"I think Jonathan has done a great job since he has taken office," Bittick

He credited Adams for his work on the Calmer case, securing a conviction in the
high-profile case despite jurors??? decision not to sentence Calmer to death.

"I'm just looking forward to working with him," Bittick said.

Making changes

In his 1st months in office, Adams has asserted new goals of taking more cases
to trial and taking a strong stance to push older cases forward.

9 days after his swearing in, prosecutors indicted 3 people in the 2008 robbery
and killing of a Butts County business owner.

Butts Sheriff Gary Long said he'd asked the circuit's former district attorney
to seek the death penalty against Fuquah Cashaw in the 1999 cold case
kidnapping, sexual assault and fatal strangulation of Heather Davidson. A grand
jury indicted Cashaw on murder charges in 2015.

Davidson's family didn't understand why prosecutors weren't taking a harsher
stance, Long said.

After reviewing the case, Adams found a number of "aggravating factors" that
led him to think the case warranted seeking the death penalty, Adams said.

He filed a notice of intent to seek capital punishment in February.

"He really turned my head," Long said of the decision. "It was a breath of
fresh air to have a prosecutor come in who was taking a stand to be hard on

It was a breath of fresh air to have a prosecutor come in who was taking a
stand to be hard on crime.

Butts County Sheriff Gary Long

While law enforcement has a role in reducing crime, "ultimately it's lying with
the district attorney's office and the district attorney and his leadership to
send harsh penalties out for people committing crimes," the sheriff said. "He
has done just that"

Like Bittick, Long said he's looking forward to working more with Adams in the

"The good citizens of the county will love him and the criminals will learn to
hate him," the sheriff said. "That's exactly what we need."

Adams said the GBI asked him to give a second look at a 2012 child molestation
case that previously had been dismissed by the district attorney's office.
After finding "sufficient evidence," he reopened the case and is pursing

The mounds of documents that once were used in the district attorneys' office
have been replaced by desktop digital scanners that allow documents to be
delivered to defense attorneys electronically, Adams said.

Staffers now participate in quarterly training days and have an office manual
that clarifies workers' responsibilities.

In an effort to standardize prosecutors' sentencing recommendations, the office
now has a list of guidelines, he said.

Goals for the future

In the next 6 months or so, Adams is hoping to help launch a circuit-wide
victims advocacy program designed to provide services to crime victims in all 3

Monroe County victims have been served by the sheriff's office's C.A.R.E.
Cottage since the 1980s and the new initiative would expand the C.A.R.E.
Cottage concept to all 3 counties, Bittick said.

Adams said his office is applying for grants to hire a second investigator and
a victims' advocate whose job will be focused on linking victims with a state
compensation program and to work with partner agencies that provide victim

The state only pays the salary for one investigator, no matter the size of the
circuit, he said.

"At the end of the day when law enforcement investigators get a case ready for
an arrest, they make the arrest and then they move on," Adams said. "Our
investigators are there to take that arrest to trial, the rest of the way."

It's a district attorney's office investigator's job to help apply for
warrants, listen to jail phone calls for evidence and to find victims and
witnesses who may have moved before a trial begins, he said.

Looking to 2018, Adams said he wants to find strategies to partner with law
enforcement and businesses to help sex trafficking victims on the road as they
stop off at truck stops, restaurants and other businesses on the Interstate 75
corridor that passes through the circuit.

"There are training programs available for those staff members that work in
those facilities," he said. "There are tell-tale signs of what a victim of sex
trafficking may look like."

Stickers and signs are available that can be posted identifying places as "safe
havens," so victims can understand what to do to get help without alerting the
person trafficking them, Adams said.

(source: macon.com)


DA says he'll pursue death penalty in capital murder case

Prosecutors will pursue the death penalty if a Morgan County jury convicts
Dewayne Oneal Hicks of capital murder for the 2013 slaying of James Patrick
Travers II during an alleged robbery attempt, said District Attorney Scott

Jury selection for Hicks' trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 2, with opening
remarks by attorneys slated for Aug. 7, according to court records and
attorneys involved in the case.

Hicks' court-appointed attorneys, Brian White and Griff Belser, declined to
discuss details of the case this week, citing the seriousness of the charges,
but said they are prepared to go to trial next month and do not foresee any

Hicks, 26, of Madison, is one of three men charged with capital murder in the
slaying that occurred during an apparent botched robbery attempt at Travers'

One of the defendants, Ryan O'neal Caudle, 25, of Decatur, already has pleaded
guilty to a lesser charge of felony murder. He was given a life sentence in
exchange for the guilty plea and his agreement that he testify against the
remaining defendants in the case, according to the DA's office.

The 3rd defendant, Charles K. Makekau, 28, of Decatur, is scheduled for trial
Oct. 25 on a charge of capital murder for his alleged role as the planner of
the robbery.

If convicted of capital murder, state law only allows for 2 possible sentences:
death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Anderson was not
prepared to say whether his office would pursue the death penalty against
Makekau if he is convicted of capital murder.

"We'll just take them 1 case at a time," he said.

According to the sworn affidavit of Decatur Police Detective Michael Burleson,
police responded to a 911 call reporting a burglary in progress at Travers'
home on the night of June 18, 2013.

The caller, Jasmine Sharpley, said 2 men entered the home at 1402 Mitchell
Pines Trail S.E. while she and Travers were in bed and demanded money,
according to the affidavit. At least 1 of the men was armed with a rifle,
Burleson swore in the affidavit.

The 2 men pulled Travers from his bed, and one took him downstairs. Moments
later, Sharpley said she heard a gunshot and was escorted downstairs by the
other man, according to the affidavit.

The 2 men fled the scene together, and a passerby discovered Travers' body
lying at the edge of U.S. 31, about 30 yards from his residence, minutes after
the 911 call, Burleson swore.

The affidavit does not specify how police identified Caudle and Hicks as
suspects, but said they became suspects in the initial stages of the
investigation. It also said Caudle had taken possession of a .30-caliber
carbine rifle hours before the murder and that the 2 men went to the residence
about 7 hours before the incident and conducted a "practice run" of the

Caudle was arrested in Detroit on July 29, 2013, and provided a written
statement detailing how he and Hicks planned, practiced and executed the
robbery and claimed Hicks was the one armed with the .30-caliber rifle and the
one who shot Travers, according to the affidavit.

Hicks gave a conflicting statement when he was brought in for questioning the
next day, claiming he and Caudle planned and practiced the robbery but backed
out when he found out who the target was and spent the entire night with a
friend. That alibi was "refuted by the witness," according to the affidavit.

The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in Hoover determined a bullet
removed from Travers' body during an autopsy was a .30-caliber carbine
projectile, according the affidavit.

In a separate affidavit, Burleson swore Makekau said during questioning that he
had come up with the plan to burglarize Travers' home, giving Caudle the disarm
code for the alarm system and telling him there would be a large amount of cash
at the residence.

Makekau told police he was to be paid a portion of the money from the home and
that he had texted Caudle at 2 a.m. the night of the incident to ask what
happened, according to the affidavit.

"I didn't get nothing, he ran," was Caudle's response, according to the

Hicks and Makekau are being held in the Morgan County Jail without bail.

(source: The Decatur Daily)


Judge orders mental competency hearing for man accused in series of homeless

A judge Friday ordered a mental competency hearing for a man accused of
attacking mostly homeless men in San Diego neighborhoods last year, resulting
in 4 deaths.

Jon David Guerrero, 40, is charged with 4 counts of murder, including a special
circumstance allegation of multiple murders that could lead to the death
penalty if he's convicted.

Judge Michael Smyth suspended criminal proceedings against Guerrero and set a
July 24 competency hearing after receiving word from a doctor who evaluated the

Deputy Public Defender Dan Tandon - who represents Guerrero with Deputy Public
Defender Whitney Antrim - said Guerrero has suffered from severe mental illness
for many years.

"Understanding his illness is the key to understanding what happened and why,''
Tandon said. "That kind of knowledge takes time and compassion on both sides.''

Authorities said the first attack happened on Feb. 8, 2016. Guerrero allegedly
stabbed a man, who was sleeping on a sidewalk, in the face and neck.

The victim chased the defendant, who dropped a flashlight, Deputy District
Attorney Makenzie Harvey alleged. Guerrero's DNA was found on that flashlight,
according to the prosecutor.

On June 28, 2016, Guerrero allegedly attacked two men while he was riding his
bike, hitting them in the back of the head.

About 8 a.m. on July 3, 2016, the burning body of Angelo De Nardo was found
underneath an Interstate 5 offramp near the 2700 block of Morena Boulevard in
Bay Park. Witnesses described seeing a man running across the freeway near
Clairemont Drive, carrying a gas can. The 53-year-old victim had a railroad
spike driven into his head and chest, the prosecutor said.

The following day, Shawn Mitchell Longley, 41, was found dead at a park on
Bacon Street in Ocean Beach with a railroad spike driven into his body, and
61-year-old transient Manuel Mason was severely injured by a railroad spike
near Valley View Casino Center in the Midway district, according to police

. On the morning of July 6, 2016, Dionicio Derek Vahidy, 23, was gravely
injured in downtown San Diego by an assailant who fled after leaving a towel
burning on top of him. Vahidy died in a hospital 4 days later.

Harvey said Guerrero is also charged in the death of 83-year-old Molly Simons
on July 13, 2016, in North Park. The victim was not homeless and lived with her
husband, police said.

The prosecutor said Simons was walking to the YMCA, where she volunteered
several times a week, when Guerrero allegedly rode by on a bicycle and struck
her in the back of the head, causing her death.

Another attack happened shortly after 4:30 a.m. July 15, 2016, when 2 San Diego
Harbor Police officers in a squad car in the 1800 block of C Street heard
someone underneath Interstate 5 in the East Village yelling for help, police

The officers pulled over and found a 55-year-old homeless man suffering from
"significant trauma'' to his upper body.

Guerrero was arrested that day on his bicycle. The defendant had a backpack
containing a large mallet with apparent blood stains along with three railroad
spikes, according to the prosecutor.

(source: KUSI news)


Questions remain after week of testimony in murder case----Edwin Lara accused
in death of Kaylee Sawyer of Bend

Just shy of the 1-year anniversary of a suspected murder that shocked Bend
residents and local law enforcement, much remains unknown about the death of
Kaylee Sawyer.

After 5 full days of testimony in the murder case against suspect Edwin Lara,
some new information has come to light, but key details remain unknown.

At stake is whether key evidence - including Sawyer's body - will be admissible
at trial.

Lara, 32, is accused of murdering Sawyer, 23, on July 24 after encountering her
while working as a security guard at Central Oregon Community College, where he
also studied criminal justice. An immigrant from Honduras, Lara had no criminal
history of any significance. At the time of Sawyer's death, Lara was married to
a woman who had recently been hired as an officer for the Bend Police
Department. He himself had aspirations to become a police sergeant, he told
investigators following Sawyer's death. Now, he is charged with four counts of
Oregon's most severe crime - aggravated murder - and faces the death penalty.

About 2-dozen witnesses testified last week during 5 days of hearings in which
Lara's defense team was trying to keep Lara's apparent confession to police -
and any associated evidence - inadmissible in his scheduled October 2018 trial.
The hearings continue Tuesday and are scheduled to go through Thursday. They
will then resume over a day or 2 in September, after which Deschutes County
Circuit Judge A. Michael Adler will issue a ruling.

Sawyer was last seen in the very early hours of July 24 after participating in
a bachelorette party in downtown Bend. While her boyfriend was giving her a
ride home, the 2 got into an argument.

Rather than follow him to their apartment, Sawyer walked off. The 2 exchanged
some texts, but conversation stopped around 1 a.m.

How Sawyer may have encountered Lara and how she died are unclear. In the days
following Sawyer's death, Lara told many people he killed her accidentally with
his car, according to court testimony. However when investigators inspected the
vehicle they did not find evidence to support that theory.

Lara is also charged with a count of aggravated murder for allegedly attempting
sexual assault in the commission of a murder. Details of that allegation have
not been discussed in court, though testimony has suggested Sawyer's body was
only partially clothed when found.

More information is likely to come starting Tuesday when court proceedings
resume. Adler has ordered that at least significant portions of Lara's alleged
confession be played in court.

The defense team is arguing Lara's apparent confession should be thrown out
because statements he had made about talking with an attorney were apparently
ignored by the Tehama County jail staff prior to the interrogation. Defense
attorneys say the information Lara gave them was improperly obtained, and the
evidence collected as a result of that information - including Sawyer's body -
should also be inadmissible at trial.

The Deschutes County District Attorney's Office says Sawyer's body would have
been found soon anyway, likely by workers on a road project that started July
26 on the stretch of U.S. Highway 126 between Redmond and Sisters where
Sawyer's body was found.

If Adler rules in favor of the defense, there's still a heap of evidence
against Lara.

Aside from his statements to Central Oregon investigators, Lara admitted to
killing Sawyer to several people over the 2 days following her death, according
to court testimony. Further, Sawyer's bloodied possessions were found in a shed
behind Lara's house, along with a bloody rock. Blood was found on his work car
and on his work boots.

While evidence against Lara has been clearly laid out, the motive for allegedly
sexually assaulting and murdering a stranger has yet to be touched in court
testimony. The 2 sides that have been painted of Lara - a young man seeking a
career in law enforcement, or a man who told people he had an "urge to kill" -
conflict. They also make the alleged murder that much more terrifying, said
Eric Beckwith of the Redmond Police Department, the lead investigator on the

"We realized early on that this was what we would call a worst-case scenario,"
Beckwith said on the stand.

Following Sawyer's death, Lara is suspected of wrapping up and dumping her
body, then blackmailing his cousin to help him move it to a 2nd location,
according to court testimony. Police allege he then drove to Salem and
kidnapped a 19-year-old woman at gunpoint as she got off work at Ross Dress for

Police say Lara then drove to Yreka, California, where he broke into a motel
and attempted to steal a car from an elderly man. When the man called for help,
Lara allegedly shot him in the chest and left him for dead, although the man

Lara is then accused of running to a nearby gas station, where he allegedly
carjacked and kidnapped three people. He then allegedly engaged in a high-speed
police chase before surrendering, requesting to speak with Central Oregon law
enforcement and allegedly confessing during a 6-hour interrogation.

Beckwith made a comment to Lara during the interrogation about possible other
crimes he committed, as if it was inconceivable Lara could have started his
criminal life in such shocking fashion.

"I don't think you are a bad guy," Beckwith told Lara in the interrogation. "I
think this thing has spun completely out of control."

A year later, the case is still perplexing to many. It's held the attention of
locals for the past year but has also attracted national eyes, as People
Magazine was rumored to be calling attorneys on both sides of the case and
published a story about the killing Wednesday.

Several law enforcement officers testified over the past week that in their
combined dozens of years on the job, they have never encountered something
quite like this.

On Thursday, Beckwith said the case presented unusual elements because Lara was
working in a form of law enforcement and was married to a cop. After telling
his wife, Isabel Ponce-Lara, that he accidentally killed Sawyer by striking her
with his car, Lara left the couple's Redmond home with a 9 mm handgun while
making suicidal comments, Ponce-Lara told police.

Beckwith testified that because of Lara's experience with law enforcement, when
interrogating him he decided to lay all of his cards on the table. Trying to
use rudimentary interview techniques would be "insulting" to someone like Lara,
he said.

While much has been said about the case over the past week, the core details of
Sawyer's death, including a possible murder weapon, have not been discussed.

Testimony is set to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Deschutes County Circuit Court.

(source: The Bend Bulletin)

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