2017-11-05 12:35:08 UTC
Appeals court affirms death row inmate's conviction, but 'disturbed' by former
Alabama DA's conduct
A federal appeals court has called a former Alabama prosecutor's behavior
"unconstitutional and unethical" in a 1997 death penalty case.
The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals describes former Houston County District
Attorney Doug Valeska's misconduct in an opinion issued in October. The court
also said it planned to forward its opinion on his conduct to the Alabama State
The appeal was filed by death row inmate Artez Hammonds, who was convicted by
Valeska in 1997. Hammond was asking the higher court overturn a Alabama Supreme
Court ruling, which decided inappropriate comments by Valeska at the trial did
not sway the jury.
The opinion states, "Although Valeska's improper remarks 'almost persuaded' the
Alabama Supreme Court to reverse Hammonds's conviction, it nonetheless held
that 'the trial judge corrected any harm by giving appropriate corrective
instructions.'" It continues, "Because Hammonds cannot show that he was
actually prejudiced by any constitutional trial error, we affirm."
Valeska was first elected Houston County District Attorney in 1986 and served
until 2016, when he decided not to seek a 6th 6-year term. He has been a
controversial figure in the past, and was even the focus of a New York Times
article last year.
Hammonds was convicted of killing of Marilyn Mitchell, who was was found raped
and murdered in her townhouse in May 1990. At trial, prosecutors presented
evidence showing Hammonds DNA and fingerprint at the scene, and showed that
Hammonds pawned a ring similar to Mitchell's engagement ring after she was
Hammonds did not testify at trial.
While a constitutional amendment allows a defendant the right to not testify--
and prosecutors cannot their silence against the defendant-- Hammonds'
attorneys asked the court in a pre-trial motion to preclude Valeska from making
any negative remarks about Hammonds' decision "given Valeska's track record."
The motion was granted.
Cobb in early January filed a complaint with the Alabama State Bar's
disciplinary committee stating that Houston County District Attorney Doug
Valeska had given false statements, or was not properly prepared and relied on
a faulty memory, to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.
"But neither the Constitution nor a direct order from the court inhibited
Valeska from improperly referring to Hammonds's decision not to testify," the
Eleventh Circuit opinion states.
The appeal and the ruling focuses on two comments made by Valeska during the
1997 trial: One where Valeska said during an objection, "Let him testify," and
another during closing arguments when Valeska referred to Hammonds' previous
imprisonment, before his arrest in Mitchell's slaying.
The court states their job is to decide whether the remarks swayed the jury's
decision. "Hammonds argues that the prosecutor's first statement, which
referred to his decision not to testify, violated his Fifth Amendment right
against self incrimination. He's right," the opinion states.
It states, "We are very disturbed by Valeska's behavior. Not only did Valeska
intentionally refer to Hammonds's decision not to testify, but he did so in
flagrant violation of the court's pre-trial order... Valeska had been
reprimanded in prior cases for engaging in precisely the same unconstitutional
and unethical behavior."
The order continues with its review of Valeska, claiming the state
"white-washed" his actions. "For this reason alone, we, like the Alabama
Supreme Court... are tempted to grant Hammonds's petition. But as we have
explained, we cannot do so unless Valeska's conduct actually prejudiced
"We can, however, provide the Alabama State Bar with a copy of our opinion for
consideration of Valeska's conduct, and we will do so," the ruling states.
Valeska has faced at least one bar complaint before, filed by former Alabama
Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb in 2016.
The court says in the order that while Valeska's conduct was inappropriate, the
trial judge immediately gave jury instructions to disregard the remarks and
that prosecutors presented "overwhelming evidence" incriminating Hammonds. For
those reasons, the court ruled, the errors didn't prejudice Hammonds.
Houston County has 18 inmates on Alabama's death row-- the 2nd most behind
Jefferson County, which has 25. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016
Houston County had a population of 104,056-- Jefferson County had a population
Trial date set for quadruple-murder suspect
A trial date has been set for the man accused of killing 4 people and severely
injuring a fifth person Oct. 11 in Pedro, Ohio.
Having pleaded not guilty Oct. 20 to a 13-count capital murder indictment,
Arron Lee Lawson, 23, will go to trial Aug. 6, 2018. A capital indictment was
filed with the Supreme Court of Ohio, which means Lawson could face the death
penalty by lethal injection if he were convicted.
Lawson has been accused of killing Pedro residents Donald McGuire, 50; his
wife, Tammie L. McGuire, 43; her daughter, Stacey Jackson Holston, 24; and
Holston's son Devin Holston, 8, as well as stabbing Todd Holston, who survived
and was treated for his injuries.
The indictment, which was returned Oct. 18, included 4 counts of aggravated
murder, as well as rape, kidnapping, abuse of a corpse, attempted murder,
aggravated burglary, felonious assault, tampering with evidence, theft of a
motor vehicle and failure to comply with the order or signal of a police
Judge Andy Ballard is presiding over the case. Under Ohio law, 2 lawyers
certified to handle death penalty cases are assigned as defense counsel, and
the court appointed Kirk A. McVey, assistant state public defender, and
Portsmouth lawyer Gene Meadows to represent Lawson.
Prosecutors agreed to comply with several standard motions McVey filed, as well
as sealing evidence, appropriation of funds for a defense investigator, a
defense litigation expert and a defense psychologist.
Ballard ordered the parties exchange all evidence by May 11, 2018, and a final
pretrial hearing will be held at 10 a.m. June 26, 2018. The jail administrator
also asked for a list of approved visitors.
Lawson appeared clean shaven and with a haircut during a pretrial hearing
Friday in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court in Ironton, and he was not cuffed.
Following a manhunt that lasted more than 36 hours and involved more than 100
law enforcement officers, Lawson was arrested without incident around 10:35
a.m. Oct. 13 while walking along the 1700 block of County Road 52 after
authorities got a tip from someone who spotted him. Lawrence County Sheriff
Jeff Lawless told The Herald-Dispatch at the time that Lawson, who seemed worn
out, quickly gave up when authorities approached him.
Family members said Lawson often baby-sat Devin Holston and his 2-year-old
brother, Braxton, who was there during the killings but physically was
unharmed. Prosecuting Attorney Brigham Anderson declined to talk about a motive
Friday, but three of the aggravated murder charges in the indictment included a
specification alleging Lawson killed the McGuires and Devin Holston after
killing Stacey Jackson Holston to keep them from testifying against him.
McVey also declined to comment about the status of the case.
Lawson is being held without bond.
(source: The Herald-Dispatch)
Court won't review death sentence in prison riot murders
The U.S. Supreme Court won't reconsider the case of a death row inmate
convicted in the slayings of 5 fellow inmates during a 1993 prison riot in
48-year-old Keith LaMar was convicted of aggravated murder in 1995 for the
deaths of 5 inmates during an uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional
Institution at Lucasville. He received the death penalty for 4 of the 5
Justices rejected LaMar's petition Friday.
LaMar wanted his case reconsidered in light of a high court ruling last year
that found Florida's death penalty sentencing method unconstitutional.
(source: WHIO news)
Analysis: Secrecy lingers over Arkansas' next execution
As Arkansas prepares to restart its death chamber several months after the
state carried out its first executions in nearly 12 years, an order from the
state's highest court to release more information about lethal injection drugs
could throw an obstacle in its path. At the minimum, it may raise a new round
of uncomfortable questions about how the state obtains its execution drugs.
The state Supreme Court ruled last week that a 2015 law keeping secret the
source of Arkansas' execution drugs doesn't extend to manufacturers, a decision
that could force the state to release drug labels for its supply of a lethal
injection drug early this week. It could undermine an approach Arkansas and at
least a dozen other states have used to repel legal challenges by keeping
secret how and where they obtain their drugs.
The ruling came a week before the scheduled execution of Jack Greene, a
convicted murderer scheduled to die Thursday. A state judge dismissed Greene's
attempt to halt his execution on Friday, but the inmate's attorneys said
they're appealing to the Arkansas Supreme Court. Greene was convicted for the
1991 killing of Sidney Jethro Burnett after Burnett and his wife had accused
Greene of arson. Gov. Asa Hutchinson last week said he's seen nothing in
Greene's case file so far that would prompt him to halt the killer's execution.
If put to death, Greene will be Arkansas' 1st execution since the state put 4
men to death over 8 days in April. The state had originally planned to execute
8 men over 11 days before its supply of midazolam, 1 of the 3 drugs it uses in
lethal injections, expired. 4 scheduled executions were halted by the courts.
The Supreme Court ruling revives a familiar issue: the secrecy surrounding the
source of Arkansas' lethal injection drugs. A 2015 state law keeps the drug
source a secret, a move Arkansas officials have said is needed to ensure it can
"Public pressure from anti-death-penalty advocates likely would lead
manufacturers to implement even more distribution controls that would, as a
practical matter, make it impossible for the state to acquire the drugs in its
lethal-injection protocol," the state argued in court filings last month.
Justices, however, dismissed that argument and said doesn't protect the drug
"The evidence presented in this case demonstrated that many manufacturers of
lethal injection drugs already prohibit the use of these drugs in executions
and that these manufacturers often have contracts in place with their
distributors that prevent the downstream sale of the drugs to prison
officials," Justice Courtney Goodson wrote in the court's ruling last week. "It
is therefore the confidentiality of the sellers and suppliers of these drugs to
the (Correction Department) that the confidentiality provisions were intended
The state had previously released photos of its execution drugs with the
manufacturers' names blacked out, but stopped doing so after The Associated
Press was able to use those labels to identity the drug makers. A separate
lawsuit seeking the same information about the state's 2 other lethal injection
drugs is also pending before the high court. Both lawsuits were filed by the
same attorney, Steven Shults, who has been seeking the labels.
Hutchinson in August scheduled Greene's execution after prison officials said
they'd obtained a new supply of midazolam. The department said it paid $250 in
cash for enough of the drug to conduct 2 executions.
2 drug makers unsuccessfully sought to prevent their drugs from being used in
Arkansas' executions in April, and a case is still pending before the state
Supreme Court over a medical supply company's claims that the state
misleadingly obtained 1 of the drugs.
Details about the maker of the latest midazolam supply could open the door for
new challenges. The ruling, which takes effect early this week, orders a lower
court to determine what information other than the manufacturer must be
withheld from the drug labels released.
With a narrow window until Thursday night, the biggest question remaining is
how much of an impact - if any - the decision to release those labels could
have on efforts to spare Greene's life.
(source: Associated Press)
Anti-death penalty protesters in Springfield
Anti-death penalty protesters have been outside the Greene County Courthouse
during Craig Wood's sentencing phase.
"It's important to not have the death penalty because what we believe is that
the cycle of violence has to stop and when you have the death penalty, the
cycle of violence continues," says Donna Walmsley.
Donna Walmsley is part of the Springfield Chapter for the Missourians for
Alternatives to the Death Penalty and says the death penalty furthers the
social standard of violence.
"Violence has to stop and when we have state sanctioned murder of our own
citizens even though in some cases they have done horrible things, we don't
believe that we sholdl be involved in riddling someone else when there is
another way to keep society safe."
She says the penalty phase of this trial has put a burden on Hailey's family
and tax payers after prosecutors decided to go to court instead of offering a
"We are also victims in Greene county because we have had to pay a lot of money
for a trial that did not have to happen."
That money she says should go to community resources.
"We could use this money on many other things. You know we have a jail here, we
could use more community policing, what we really need is money put towards
mental health treatment, not towards killing someone else."
The group says they will be outside the court house for the remainder of Wood's
IDAHO----new death sentence
Renfro receives death penalty for the murder of Sgt. Moore
A jury decided Saturday morning that the man who killed Coeur d'Alene Police
Sergeant Greg Moore should receive the death penalty.
Jonathan Renfro was found guilty of 1st degree murder for Moore's death back on
October 13. He will have a sentencing hearing on Monday at 1:30 p.m.
In May 2015, Moore stopped Jonathan Renfro while walking through a Coeur
d'Alene neighborhood that had become the victim of recent car burglaries.
Investigators said Renfro pulled out a gun, shot Moore, took the officer's gun
and then sped off in his car.
(source: KREM TV news)
Arizona's 40-year experiment with the death penalty has failed
The U.S. Supreme Court will soon consider taking a case that challenges
Arizona's death-penalty law on the grounds that it fails to narrow the
punishment to the worst offenders. Regardless of whether the court accepts it,
the case raises serious questions about the death penalty that the Arizona
Legislature needs to come to grips with.
As the attorney general, I was responsible for overseeing dozens of appeals
from sentences of death. 6 people were executed during my tenure. It was
critical for me that we imposed the ultimate sanction only on those most
Tragically, our state has failed in this undertaking in fundamental ways. The
breadth of our statute, capturing nearly every 1st-degree murder, makes it
unconstitutional. But more than that, Arizona's use of the death penalty is bad
Arizona does not have a good track record for getting it right. At least 9
times our death penalty has swept up the innocent in its net. Nationwide, 160
people have been exonerated from death row. Getting it wrong once is 1 time too
many. Death, in its finality, means correcting a wrongful sentence is not an
option. Sentencing the innocent to die undermines the public's confidence in
the entire criminal justice system, and is reason alone to abandon the death
Moreover, Arizona's death penalty scheme has unsettling racial disparities in
its application. People in Arizona who are accused of murdering white victims
are more likely to receive the death penalty. Hispanic men who are accused of
murdering whites are more than 4 times as likely to be sentenced to death as
white defendants accused of murdering a Hispanic victim. Any other state policy
with that sort of disparity would be quickly repudiated. The Legislature should
end this horrible death penalty malfunction.
The spiraling costs of seeking and imposing a death sentence are further reason
to abandon the policy. These costs have caused the location of the crime to
take precedence over its heinousness. Several counties simply cannot afford to
pursue the death penalty, creating imbalances having nothing to do with the
crime. Maricopa County imposed the death penalty at a rate 2.3 times higher
than the rest of the state between 2010 and 2015. The increased use of the
death penalty was driven, in part, by an overzealous County Attorney, Andrew
Thomas, who later lost his law license for abusing his authority.
The costs associated with defending Arizona's statute (never mind the cases
themselves) have been substantial. Dozens of convictions have been set aside
because Arizona, unlike almost every other state, did not provide for jury
sentencing in capital cases. Arizona was 1 of 2 states to extend the death
penalty to felony murders, leading to a rebuke by the Supreme Court and further
reversals. The Arizona Supreme Court narrowly interpreted our state's
prohibition on executing the intellectually disabled until they were recently
forced to reconsider. And case after case has been reversed because of flaws in
the instructions given in capital sentencing proceedings.
The case now before the Supreme Court is only the latest example of these
problems. But the case itself highlights stunning breadth of Arizona's statute.
Virtually every 1st-degree murder is eligible for the death penalty, leaving
imposition of the death penalty to the unfettered discretion of prosecutors and
juries, causing an intolerable risk of arbitrariness in its administration.
We've been here before. In 1972, the court struck down every state's
death-penalty statute because they operated to execute a "capriciously selected
random handful," rather than the worst offenders. Similar to other states'
efforts, then-state Sen. Sandra Day O'Connor and Rudy Gerber (who later became
an Arizona judge) rewrote Arizona's statute to comply with the court's
narrowing requirements by obligating the prosecutor to prove one or more
aggravating factors before the death penalty could be imposed.
More than 4 decades have passed and we are back to square one. Despite the
efforts of O'Connor and Gerber, Arizona has failed to narrow the application of
the death penalty and has been unable or unwilling to provide the guidance
necessary to ensure that the death penalty is only imposed on the worst
Finally, 31 states have abandoned the death penalty. In light of its myriad
problems, Arizona should join the rising tide against imposing it.
(source: Commentary; Terry Goddard served as the state attorney general from
2003 to 2011 and the mayor of Phoenix from 1984 to 1990----Arizona Daily Star)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
DeathPenalty mailing list