2017-11-02 15:36:50 UTC
Death Watch: Forced Testimony Over Evidence?----No physical evidence implicates
Cardenas in his cousin's murder
Ruben Cardenas, a Mexican national convicted of capital murder for kidnapping,
raping, and killing his 16-year-old cousin in McAllen, is scheduled for
execution on Nov. 8, but his fight is far from over. This week, Cardenas' legal
team, led by Maurie Levin and funded by the Mexican government, filed 2 appeals
with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals: one to reverse the Hidalgo District
Court's Oct. 25 decision to deny DNA testing, the other seeking relief and a
Stories vary about Mayra Laguna's Feb. 22, 1997, abduction, but a 2016
interview with KRGV/Channel 5 News has Cardenas saying that his cousin asked
him to fake her kidnapping and take her away. He said he drove her outside of
town, where they got into a fight about her wanting to marry him and began
hitting each other. "By the time I knew it, she was already just laying there,"
he said. In a panic, he dumped her body in a canal.
According to his appeals, however, there was no physical evidence linking
Cardenas to the crime - including no forensic evidence of sexual assault.
Instead, prosecutors relied primarily on statements Cardenas made after his
arrest. Levin writes: "His conviction and death sentence bear all the indicia
of a wrongful conviction, including questionable eyewitness testimony, coerced,
uncounseled confessions, and unreliable forensic evidence."
Further, Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program director Greg Kuykendall
insists that as a Mexican national, Cardenas had a right to consult with
Mexico's consulate for legal advice and representation under the Vienna
Convention on Consular Relations. But Cardenas was never informed of that right
after his arrest, nor was the consulate alerted. It took the state 11 days to
appoint Cardenas' legal counsel; during that time, Kuykendall said, Cardenas'
Miranda rights were "violated and he confessed." The consulate didn't learn of
the charges against Cardenas until 5 months later. Kuykendall says Mexico has
been "deeply involved in the case ever since, but a significant amount of
damage" had already been done.
Should his appeals be denied, Cardenas would be the 7th Texan executed in 2017.
Executions have been largely unpredictable this year: Larry Swearingen was
scheduled for Nov. 16 (and still is, according to the Department of Criminal
Justice website), but the Houston Chronicle reported on Sunday that his
execution had been stayed now that both sides have agreed to DNA testing.
(Swearingen was convicted of the 1998 rape and murder of Melissa Trotter, but
maintains he's innocent.) If Swearingen's name sounds familiar it's because
he's partially responsible for Anthony Shore's 90-day stay last month. The
state believes Shore colluded with Swearingen and was planning to claim
responsibility for Trotter's murder. Meanwhile, Juan Castillo, whose August
execution was delayed due to Hurricane Harvey, is back on the clock with a new
execution date, Dec. 14. He's the last person scheduled to die by the state's
hand in 2017.
(source: The Austin Chronicle)
Mexican national set for execution in Texas files last-minute appeal over DNA
A Mexican national set to die by lethal injection next week in Huntsville is
begging courts for a stay of execution as part of a last-minute appeal over DNA
testing in a case that has sparked pushback from south of the border.
A lawyer for Ruben Cardenas Ramirez filed papers Monday in the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals seeking to reverse a lower court's refusal to allow testing on
fingernail scrapings from 16-year-old Mayra Laguna, who was murdered and tossed
in a canal in 1997.
Her cousin, a high-school dropout born in Mexico and raised in Texas, later
admitted to the crime and was sentenced to death. But his lawyers argue the
confessions were coerced and potentially exculpatory DNA evidence should be
looked at before his Nov. 8 execution.
"His conviction and sentence of death were obtained through the use of
unreliable, coerced and false evidence, and DNA testing that is meaningless by
today's scientific standards," attorney Maurie Levin wrote in Monday's filing.
(source: Associated Press)
Execution date set for Battaglia
An execution date has been set for a man who shot his 2 daughters at his Deep
Ellum loft in 2001 while their mother helplessly listened on the phone.
John Battaglia, 62, is scheduled to be executed Feb. 1 in Huntsville. He had
sought to delay or stop his lethal injection bysaying he was not mentally
But after a hearing last November, state District Judge Robert Burns found he
was competent, and the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed. Battaglia shot and
killed 9-year-ol Faith and 6-year-old Liberty in an act of revenge against hie
"No, Daddy! Don't do it!" Faith pleaded, seconds before her father pulled the
He then headed to a tattoo parlor where he had 2 red roses inked on his arm in
memory of the girls and left a message on their answering machine that night,
saying "Good night, my little babies. I hope you are resing in a different
place. I love you."
Battaglia was first scheduled for execution in March 2016 but was granted a
stay after he sought new legal counsel to helpappeal his sentence.
His execution was reshceduled for December 2016 aftera state district judge
found him mentally fit to be put to death. But the Court of Criminal Appeals
granted him a stay to evaluate his competency.
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----26
Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982----present-----544
Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx. #
27---------Nov. 8------------------Ruben Cardenas---------545
28---------Nov. 16-----------------Larry Swearingen-------546
29---------Dec. 14-----------------Juan Castillo----------547
30---------Jan. 30-----------------William Rayford--------548
31----------Feb. 1-----------------John Battaglia---------549
(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)
Sentence upheld for DA's killer
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld the conviction and death
sentence of Eric Williams, a former justice of the peace who killed the Kaufman
County district attorney, his wife and a top prosecutor in 2013.
In his appeal, Williams, 50, claimed there wasn't evidence to show he was a
future threat to society, 1 of the issues a jury considers when determining
capital punishment. He also claimed there was insufficient evidence to support
his capital murder conviction.
But the Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously agreed in a 110-page opinion
relelasled Wednesday that evidence showed the former Kaufman County justice of
the peace "planned and executed the murders of 3 people in 2 separate
Williams gunned down prosecutor Mark Hasse, 57, a block from the courthouse in
January 2013. 2 months later, Williams killed District Attorney Mike
McClelland, 63, and his wife, Cynthia, 65, inside their home.
In his appeal, Williams calimed that the killings were "isolated" incidents
that did now show he would be continuing threat to society. He claimed he only
wanted revenge against "a few politicians who ruined his life."
Kim Williams helped plan the murders and pleadled guilty 2 weeks aftery
testifying against her hsuband. She was given a 40-year sentence.
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Prosecutors ask for life sentence for Texas death row inmate Bobby Moore
After years of legal wrangling and a high-profile Supreme Court case that shook
up how Texas doles out capital punishment, Harris County death row inmate Bobby
Moore could end up with a life sentence.
Prosecutors on Wednesday asked that the 58-year-old be resentenced to life in
prison for the 1980 slaying of elderly store clerk James McCarble.
"I'm doing what I believe the law requires," District Attorney Kim Ogg said in
a statement. "The nation's highest court has ruled that intellectually disabled
persons can't be subject to the deathpenalty."
Moore's 3-decade legal saga landed in the national spotlight after a Supreme
Court decision in March, when a 5-3 ruling determined that Texas did not
properly consider whether the former carpenter was too intellectually disabled
to face execution.
The ruling set off waves of requests from inmates wanting their death sentences
overturned in exchange for life behind bars. At least 10 condemned killers from
across the state - including 6 others from Harris County - are pursuing lesser
And in Moore's case, if a court agrees to the lower sentence, the longtime
inmate could soon be a free man, out on parole after serving 37 years.
The convicted killer was 1 of 3 men involved in the April 25, 1980 botched
robbery of Birdsall Super Market near Memorial Park. The trio targeted the
store because 2 of the employees were elderly and the cashier was pregnant.
Triggerman Willie Albert Koonce turned himself in afterward, confessing to the
crime and outlining his accomplices' roles. Moore was collared in Louisiana 10
days after the slaying, and later sentenced to death at trial.
More than 2 decades after that, Moore's lawyers presented evidence that his IQ
hovered around 70. As a young teen, he still didn't understand days of the week
or months of the year, and he dropped out of school after failing every subject
in 9th grade.
The new evidence came on the heels of a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court abolishing
capital punishment for the intellectually disabled.
But under a dated measure of intellectual disability - using so-called Briseno
factors - Texas determined Moore hadn't proved he fit that description.
Named after plaintiff Jose Briseno, the test relied on 7 questions to determine
intellectual disability in a 2004 ruling that referenced "Of Mice and Men"
character Lennie as someone most Texans would agree should be exempt from the
In theory, the Briseno test would help courts figure out whether a defendant
showed "adaptive behavior" suggesting they were not intellectually disabled.
It was that measure - a test the Supreme Court called "nonclinical" and an
"unacceptable method" - that the Texas appeals court relied on in part when
rejecting a lower court's decision to deem Moore intellectually disabled.
When Moore's lawyers appealed, the nation's highest court took up the case and
ruled that the Briseno factors were "an invention" of the Texas court and not
up to the "medical community's current standard."
Following the March decision, the issue bounced back to the Court of Criminal
"A review of the Supreme Court's decision and the record before this Court
supports but a single conclusion: Bobby James Moore is intellectually disabled
under current medical standards and ineligible for execution," defense lawyers
wrote in a brief filed Thursday in the CCA. "Accordingly, Mr. Moore
respectfully requests that this Court rule that he is intellectually disabled
and reform his death sentence to a term of life imprisonment."
Prosecutors, in a brief dated the same day, agreed, also asking that the Court
of Criminal Appeals use established diagnostic criterion as the new legal
standard for intellectual disability in capital sentencing.
Now, the CCA can commute the sentence to life, request more briefing or
argument, or send it back to trial court. It's not clear how quickly the court
would act, especially in light of another similar case before the state's
highest appeals court.
In the meantime, Moore will wait on death row as the legal system continues
hashing out his fate.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
State to pursue death penalty against former Austin officer VonTrey Clark
State prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for a former Austin police
officer accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend, Samantha Dean, in 2015,
according to KVUE's and the Austin American-Statesman's Tony Plohetski.
In response to the state's decision to seek the maximum penalty, VonTrey
Clark's defense attorneys filed a motion to push back Clark's trial date by "at
least 11 months due to the extensive amount of discovery in the case."
Bastrop County District Judge Carson Campbell granted the motion for Clark's
trial to begin Feb. 5, 2019, instead of March 19, 2017.
Clark is charged with capital murder. Dean was 7 months pregnant at the time of
her death, and prosecutors claim she was killed because she wouldn't terminate
Clark fled to Indonesia after her death but was later captured by federal
officials, who returned him to Bastrop County.
No trial date has been set for Kevin Watson, the hit-man Clark allegedly hired
to kill Dean.
(source: KVUE-TV news)
Pa. capital murder study ties case trajectory to defendant income
A new report on death penalty cases in Pennsylvania shows a strong tie between
how a case proceeds through the justice system and who a defendant relies on
for legal counsel.
Public defenders' and court-appointed attorneys' clients were more likely to
get a death sentence in the hundreds of death penalty cases that comprised the
study's sample, compared to those who were able to afford their own private
But the study also found that prosecutors were less likely to seek the death
penalty in the first place against defendants represented by public defenders.
Lisette McCormick, executive director of the Interbranch Commission for Gender,
Racial and Ethnic Fairness, suspects this may mean that prosecutors working
against often overburdened public defenders may use the threat of the death
penalty as a way of making a life sentence seem like a better deal pre-trial.
"If they take a plea, that's not necessarily a better outcome," said McCormick.
The Commission partnered on the study with Pennsylvania State University's
Justice Center for Research, and the university's department of criminology and
"Many of the public defenders, and court-appointed attorneys as well, have
limited resources. So there may be an increased opportunity for the defendant
to plead to something, [even if] there might not be enough evidence [for a
conviction]," McCormick said.
But McCormick doesn't know for sure because the report doesn't detail the
cases' earlier stages.
As it was, the study took over 3 years to complete - requiring researchers to
go beyond reported data and review case files in courthouses in 18 counties.
In Philadelphia, cases handled by public defenders - who are salaried staffers
with predictable case-loads - had better outcomes, but they comprise just 20 %
of indigent defense cases in the city. Court-appointed attorneys - who work for
less predictable income, acting more as freelancers - handle the other 80 %,
and those cases were more likely to conclude with a conviction.
The study also raises questions that it could not answer due to data and
recordkeeping limitations, which some experts say underscores chronic problems
with the state's criminal justice system.
"Were charges dropped, or reduced in a plea bargain? There's no one data set
where you can just get all that," said Jeffrey Ulmer, associate head of Penn
State's Department of Sociology and Criminology. "Not just for researchers like
me - but for the public, knowing what the justice system is doing - it's a
problem for visibility and decision-making."
McCormick says the commission's forthcoming recommendations will include
improving data collection.
Only the 18 counties with at least 10 capital murder convictions during
2000-2010 were included in the study: Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Chester,
Dauphin, Delaware, Fayette, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe,
Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Washington, Westmoreland, and York.
Each of the other 49 counties had fewer than 10 and, collectively, accounted
for only 13 percent of such cases in Pennsylvania during the decade of focus.
Criminal justice experts say the study also underscores Pennsylvania's lack of
progress on the issue of indigent defense.
Rob Dunham, who led indigent defense teams focused on capital murder cases in
Philadelphia and Harrisburg, says the study echoes repeated discussions and
analyses of the problem by a multitude of varied sources over the years.
"The very same problems that have been left ignored for 30 years continue to
exist," said Dunham, who also formerly headed the Defender Association of
Philadelphia's training for its capital habeas unit in the federal court
A 2011 study commissioned by the legislature regurgitated much of a similar
report from 2003. And in 2017, nothing has changed.
Pennsylvania remains the only state where indigent defense is solely financed
by counties and doesn't get any state funding.
Dunham, now executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a D.C.
think tank, found death sentences were overturned in the vast majority of more
than 150 Pennsylvania murder cases he studied closely.
"People who are sentenced to death are not going to be executed, their
[sentences] are going to be overturned, and we can have no confidence in
capital proceedings because from the outset they're unfair," Durham says,
referring to the state's death penalty system as a "charade."
Pennsylvania has the 5th-largest death row population in the country and hasn't
executed an inmate since 1999, longer ago than any of the 35 states with a
death penalty but Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming and Nebraska.
The study had a few other noteworthy findings, including:
Black defendants were disproportionately convicted of murder, particularly of
the 1st degree.
Convictions were more likely in capital murder cases involving white victims.
White defendants were more likely to have private attorneys; black and Latino
defendants were more likely to be represented by a public defender.
Juries handled 70 % of death penalty cases and were significantly more likely
than a judge to impose a death sentence.
The findings will inform the Joint State Government Commission on capital
punishment, which was created in 2011 to examine 17 issues related to
Pennsylvania's death penalty system. They were supposed to release findings by
the end of 2013, but haven't yet.
McCormick says the joint commission will hold a public hearing on the report,
but the date hasn't been set yet.
(source: WHYY news)
Florida Supreme Court Rejects Plea to Stop Pending Execution
The Florida Supreme Court is refusing to block the pending execution of a man
convicted of killing 2 people.
The court ruled Wednesday against Patrick Hannon, who is scheduled to die Nov.
Authorities say Hannon and 2 other men went to the Tampa apartment of
27-year-old Brandon Snider and 28-year-old Robert Carter in January 1991. One
of the other men stabbed Snider several times when he answered the door, and
then Hannon cut Snider's throat.
Carter also lived in the apartment. He tried to hide, but Hannon followed and
fatally shot him.
Donald Smith's lawyers file new motion to block death penalty----Man accused in
girl's June 2013 kidnapping, rape, murder still awaits trial
Lawyers for accused child killer Donald Smith have filed a new motion seeking
to block the state attorney's office from seeking the death penalty if he's
Smith is awaiting trial in the 2013 kidnap, rape and murder of 8-year-old
In the new motion filed Tuesday, Smith's lawyers say the new death penalty law
written by the Legislature this year is not retroactive -- the law was
rewritten after portions of it were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme
Smith's lawyers argue because of that, he can only be sentenced to life in
prison if convicted.
Smith's much-delayed trial is set for February. He's due in court for a
pretrial hearing Thursday.
Mobile County capital murder suspect becomes latest to retry case
It was the 1st capital trial since her election in 2011, the death penalty was
on the table for a heinous double murder and Mobile County District Attorney
Ashley Rich prosecuted and secured the a conviction herself a month after
The jury found Derrick Penn, 44 at the time, guilty on four counts of capital
murder. The prosecution proved that Penn broke into the apartment of his
estranged wife, Janet Penn, where he fatally shot her before beating her
boyfriend to death with the same gun.
It was a strong win for a newly elected district attorney. It's also one of a
handful of capital murder convictions that have been overturned on appeal
during Rich's tenure.
In 2014, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Penn's conviction and
death sentence after it found "plain error" in how the jury was instructed to
consider a single piece of evidence: a restraining order Janet Penn had sought
for protection from her estranged husband.
The appeal was brought by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit
organization that has challenged and overturned multiple capital convictions in
Mobile County alone. EJI claimed the protective order was used in the original
trial to imply Penn was guilty of burglary and murder because it showed his
estranged wife wouldn't have let him into her apartment willingly.
Capital murder is defined in Alabama as murder occurring during the commission
of another crime. It automatically comes with potential sentences of life in
prison or the death penalty. Because of that, the burglary charge was crucial
to Penn's conviction and death sentence.
However, Alabama law also prohibits using "collateral bad acts" as evidence in
criminal trials because, according to EJI, "jurors tend to believe the
defendant is guilty of the charged crime if he has committed previous crimes."
The higher court agreed with EJI.
While prosecutors said they intended to use the protective order to prove
"motive, plan, design, scheme, [or] intent," the appellate court found Judge
Charles Graddick failed to properly limit the jury's consideration of that
evidence when he charged them.
The court also found that Rich, in her closing arguments, used the protective
order to "establish what Janet [Penn] had been thinking" in the days leading up
"Specifically, the prosecutor argued that the exhibit supported the State's
position that Penn had entered or remained unlawfully in Janet's apartment,
telling the jury: 'She had filed a protection from abuse order, weeks before,
because she didn't want [Penn] around her, in her apartment, anywhere near
her," the 2014 opinion read.
For the appellate court, that was enough to call into question the validity of
Penn's convictions - the same court that overturned the 2013 capital murder
conviction and death sentence of Derek Tyler Horton on similar grounds late
Like Penn's conviction, Horton's was overturned because "collateral bad acts"
were introduced to the jury including evidence that Horton has been previously
investigated for an alleged domestic assault and testimony about his prior
history with illegal drugs.
As has been the case with other local convictions overturned on appeal, the fly
in the ointment was a procedural issue, as in the case against Carlos Kennedy,
whose 2013 conviction and death sentence for sexually assaulting a 69-year-old
Mobile woman before beating her to death with a clawhammer was overturned
because he wasn't allowed to act his own attorney at trial.
Last year, Kennedy was given that chance during a lengthy retrial. However,
Kennedy called no witnesses and presented no evidence and, for the 2nd time,
was found guilty of capital murder, though he dodged a death sentence after the
jury instead recommended life without parole.
Penn's retrial last week also ended with a 2nd unanimous guilty verdict
following a brief day of deliberation. On Tuesday morning, the jury returned an
11-1 recommendation in favor of the death penalty to Judge Rick Stout.
As in the 1st trial, Penn never denied killing his wife and her new boyfriend.
Instead, seeking a lesser charge, the defense argued that Penn hadn't broken
into his wife's apartment that night in 2009, and that the killings were not
premeditated but done in the "heat of passion."
His 2nd prosecution, led by Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Wright, argued
Penn betrayed that defense with his own words in statements captured on a
series of voicemail messages left for Janet Penn in the weeks leading up to her
"They want you to believe that it was all in the sudden heat of passion but his
own words tell you what he was going to do," Wright said during closing
arguments. "This isn't something he just said 1 time. There were threats and
multiple statements that he was going to kill them."
Specifically, those messages recorded Penn saying things like "You're going to
make me kill y'all" and that if "he couldn't have [Janet], no one could."
However, the petition for protection from abuse that Janet Penn filed a few
weeks prior to her death was referenced again during the retrial. During her
closing arguments, Wright referenced it to show that Janet had made attempts
"to keep him away from her" and "wasn't trying to get back together with him,"
as the defense had alluded.
While it's unclear how that reference to the document might be viewed during an
appellate review, any decision as to its appropriateness would be based on how
Judge Stout instructed the jury to consider that evidence before they were sent
If for any reason Penn appeals his new conviction and sentence, it will require
the court of criminal appeals to check for any "plain error or defect in the
proceedings," which is required in all cases where the death penalty is imposed
regardless of the reasons for the appeal.
Conviction overturned for Mississippi death row inmate charged in triple murder
The conviction was overturned Thursday for Sherwood Brown, a death row inmate
charged in a triple homicide.
Brown is accused of murdering a 13-year-old DeSoto County girl, her mother, and
grandmother in 1993. Jurors believed Brown killed the teen while committing
felony child abuse.
Brown's attorney argued that that the man is intellectually disabled.
In 1995, Brown got the death penalty for killing the 13-year-old and received
life sentences for the deaths of her mother and grandmother.
Thursday, the court ruled that Brown be granted a new trial based on DNA
testing results and false forensic testimony.
(source: Fox News)
High court won't reopen case of Howland man sentenced to death
A man convicted in Trumbull County for his part in a woman's plot to murder her
husband will not get another chance to plead his case.
The Ohio Supreme Court issued a ruling on Wednesday that it would not reopen
the case of 45-year-old Nathaniel Jackson.
Earlier this year, Jackson's attorneys argued that he deserved to have his case
reopened because he received ineffective legal counsel during an appeal.
Jackson was sentenced to the death penalty in 2002, after being convicted of
cooperating with a co-conspirator, Donna Roberts, in a plot to murder Roberts'
husband, Robert Fingerhut.
Jackson allegedly cooperated in the scheme in order to collect a $500,000
According to court records, Roberts was having an affair with Jackson before he
was sent to prison for a separate offense.
Investigators say the 2 communicated while Jackson was in prison.
When Jackson was released on December 9, 2001, Roberts was waiting to pick him
2 days later, Robert Fingerhut was found dead on the kitchen floor of his home.
He had been shot several times.
In addition to letters and phone records gathered as evidence, investigators
say Roberts bought Jackson a mask and gloves to wear while committing the
crime, even allowing him into the home where the murder occurred.
Jackson has appealed the death penalty case before, with similar results.
Jackson's sentence is scheduled to be carried out on July 15, 2020.
His convicted co-conspirator, Roberts, remains the only woman on Ohio's death
row. She is currently scheduled to be executed in August 2020.
(source: WFMJ news)
Prosecutor to seek death penalty for man accused of murder at Somerset church
The man charged in the death of a woman in a church activity center appeared in
court on Thursday morning, and prosecutors announced they would be seeking the
death penalty in the case.
Dwight Mitchell Bell is charged with murder, robbery, theft, evidence
tampering, and being a persistent felony offender. Commonwealth's Attorney Eddy
Montgomery says he will seek the death penalty if a jury finds Dwight Bell
"We filed notice today of the death penalty because this was a murder and
robbery, the robbery being the aggravator," Montgomery said.
Investigators say he went into the Denham Street Baptist Church and killed
Carolyn New, 70, in August.
A detective testified that Bell went to the church while New was there asking
for food because he was homeless. When New returned with food, police say Bell
Richard New, the victim's stepson, says he doubts the case against Bell will
result in Bell's death. New said he is just glad the accused is locked up and
that the prosecution has a good case against Bell who confessed to the crime.
"If he is in prison....and has life with no parole, that's the same as the
Bell's attorney entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. The tentative start
date for his trial is April 9th. The judge set a pre-trial conference date for
(source: WKYT news)
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