2017-06-28 11:44:09 UTC
Former death row inmate now eligible for parole, victim's family strikes back
Noe Santana, whose 20-year-old cousin was kidnapped, raped and murdered in
1991, did not mince words when he had the chance Tuesday to talk to the killer.
"When you're looking at yourself in the mirror, I hope you take that razor you
shave your face with, shave your head with, and cut across your throat,"
Santana shouted at him in the courtroom. "There's nothing left for you in this
Santana was in court to see 44-year-old Robert James Campbell's death sentence
reduced to life in prison after he was declared intellectually disabled.
Before he was sentenced, Campbell apologized to the family and wished them
"I would just like to offer my deepest and sincerest apologies for all I've
hurt," he said softly.
Campbell was convicted in 1992 of capital murder in the death of Alejandra
Rendon, a bank teller he abducted while she was pumping gas.
He spent 25 years on death row, survived an execution day, and is now eligible
for parole after mental health professionals determined he is too disabled to
be executed, prosecutors said Tuesday.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently outlawed the execution of mentally disabled
people, sending Campbell's case back to Harris County for evaluation. A
prosecution expert declared him mentally disabled.
Wearing the yellow jail uniform typically reserved for high-profile inmates, he
appeared before Visiting Judge Michael Wilkerson, who sentenced him to life in
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said the law in 1991 did not allow for
the option of life without parole, so he will be eligible for parole.
"Times have changed when it comes to people with mental disabilities," Ogg
said. "It was with a heavy heart that our expert came back and agreed with the
defense that Campbell is intellectually disabled so we were forced to withdraw
our plan to seek the death penalty."
Defense attorney Rob Owen, of Northwestern University School of Law, has in the
past extended his condolences to the victim's family on behalf of the defense
team, which included Burke Butler and Callie Heller of the Powell Project and
Raoul Schonemann of the Capital Punishment Clinic at the University of Texas
School of Law.
"Robert expressed his remorse for his actions, apologized to everyone he had
hurt, and said he would continue to pray that his victims find peace," Owen
said Tuesday in an emailed statement. "We likewise extend our sympathy to the
victims for the terrible loss they have suffered, and our appreciation to the
District Attorney's office for their decision to forego further efforts to seek
Ogg said her office will protest all of Campbell's future parole hearings to
remind officials of the brutality of his crime.
"We can successfully fight his parole and keep Mr. Campbell behind bars," she
said. "He was a person who was a predator in our society."
Victim's advocate Andy Kahan said Campbell will likely go before the parole
board within 6 months. He said Rendon's family will ask the board to deny
parole and put Campbell on a special list in which he will not go before the
board again for at least 10 years.
If he is classified that way, he would only get parole hearings every decade, a
comforting thought for Rendon's family.
"Your last meal should be behind bars," Santana told the killer.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
What it's like to spend 22 years on death row for a crime you didn't commit
Nick Yarris served 22 years in solitary confinement on death row for a crime he
He was stabbed, strangled, savagely beaten and came face-to-face with some of
the most notorious serial killers America has ever produced, all the while
knowing he was innocent.
But, despite all this, despite being dismissed as a rapist and murderer, and
feeling so low he asked a judge if he could be put to death, he considers
himself 'extremely lucky'.
'Look at the physical features,' he told metro.co.uk from his home near Yeovil
in Somerset, as he prepared to travel to Los Angeles to work on a biopic of his
'[I] faced the death penalty but got out, acclimatised to society, overcame
Hepatitis C, and went on to stand next to some of the most brilliant actors in
the world performing in the Colosseum in Rome.'
'Guess what? There are 160 other men who have been proven innocent off death
row. Not all of them are getting the same play.
'A lot of them go and die in abstract, terrible ways and they don't get
It's true that the 56-year-old's case has been the subject of widespread
coverage since his release from prison in Pennsylvania in 2004 after DNA proved
But anyone who has watched Netflix documentary The Fear of 13 or read Yarris'
book by the same title will be able to testify that there is something
particularly compelling about his story.
After being wrongly sentenced to death for the rape and murder of Linda Mae
Craig in 1981, Yarris set about transforming his life from inside the prison
cell he was confined to 23 hours a day.
He estimates that he read around 9,400 books as he educated himself about the
law so that he could prove himself innocent through DNA testing.
Despite the glaring injustices of his trial and the barriers he faced in his
bid for freedom, it took him more than 2 decades to prove to he was not guilty.
Although the facts of his case beggar belief, the former inmate thinks it is
the way in which he has been able to tell his story that has elevated him to
'I was showing them an unbelievable brilliance beyond what they would expect,'
'When they imagine someone on death row they think of some terrible loser guy,
who isn't going to have anything to say.
'They don't think it's going to be someone that would wow them, and I have.'
Yarris' journey towards his wrongful conviction for murder and rape began at a
much earlier age.
The happy childhood he recalled, living with his parents and 5 siblings in a
Philadelphia suburb was shattered when he was knocked out and raped at the age
He never told his parents and the trauma of the attack saw his behaviour worsen
and, as a teenager, he turned to drink and drugs.
He was arrested in 1981, aged 20, for the attempted kidnap and murder of a
police officer after being pulled over in a stolen car.
The charge was overblown and false and he would later be acquitted, however,
Yarris' drug-addled mind decided that the only way he would get off was to
offer the police a bargaining chip.
He decided to tell officers he knew who murdered a woman called Linda Mae
Craig, whose case he had seen covered in the papers.
Giving them the name of a man he believed to be dead, and therefore hard to
trace, his lie was exposed when officers were able to track him down.
The police then decided to charge Yarris with the crimes instead, and despite
having a number of alibis, he was convicted of rape and murder and put on death
He was sent to the notorious Huntingdon State Correctional Institute just
outside of Pittsburgh and placed in a disciplinary unit where talking was
But asked what his life would be like if he had never been convicted, the
56-year-old said he believes the alternative would have eventually proven much
'I'd have been dead,' he explained.
'It's weird. I have a photograph of me and 6 of my friends at a gathering years
ago in Philadelphia but now everyone is dead. I was the only one that survived
and I went to death row.
'Drug overdoses, murder, accidents, suicides, all of it. The whole range
because Philly is hard like that.
'The life expectancy of a person in my neighbourhood is really low. Both my
brothers are dead from consumption.'
Prison life was tough and Yarris recalls being subjected to a number of
beatings that left him with a detached retina.
But he said his turning point followed a conversation with his father, urging
him to take ownership of his bid for freedom.
'My father came and spoke to me on my birthday one year,' he continued.
'He said "Look, I've got 6 kids and I work as a roofer. I have no power, I have
no money. You do whatever it is that you have to do to get out of here."
'That's when I realised I couldn't look for no [sic] heroes so I had to make
myself the strongest person I could possibly imagine becoming and hope that I
would make it.'
3 years after his conviction, he was back in the headlines again, after
escaping during a prison transfer.
However, after months on the run, he handed himself into authorities in
Florida, where he was placed in a cell next to serial killer Ted Bundy, as he
waited to be transferred to a unit in Pennsylvania.
Unsurprisingly, Yarris is now a staunch opponent of the death penalty, even in
the case of Bundy, whose lawyer claimed in 2012 had murdered more than 100
'I think we've got to realise there's a lot more you can do somebody than put
them to death,' he said.
'The only thing that made me want to die was the thought of rotting there for
the rest of my life.
'[Bundy] was insane. What's the point of killing crazy people?' He added.
'The true definition of a crazy person is someone who repeats a pathological
behaviour without a mind to be able to correct it.
'Well, that's what he was doing. He couldn't stop killing mummy. He hated mummy
his whole life and he wanted to kill her over and over. So that's a crazy
person, that's not some diabolical genius.
'He just had a flair for words in the court room He used to laugh about it in
his cell. You know what I learned about serial killers? Every one of them was a
coward. Not one could fight.'
'Could they stand up to another man? Hell no. Why do you think they prey on the
most innocent and vulnerable in our society? Someone that won't hurt them
Yarris would detach from the grim reality of prison life by putting on
headphones and reading, often working up to 14 hours a day as he taught himself
He thought he was given a lifeline when DNA testing was introduced and became
the 1st man on death row to ask for it in 1988.
But instead of the key to freedom he was hoping for, it led to years of
heartbreak and frustration, including when a batch of samples burst open in a
laboratory rendering the evidence useless.
Ironically, the application that triggered his eventual release, came at
Yarris' lowest moment.
Not able to face fighting for his freedom any longer, he took the unusual
decision of writing to a judge to ask to be put to death in 2002.
Before facilitating his request the judge ordered that all DNA and evidence
remaining in the case should be tested.
Remarkably, DNA traces of 2 unknown men were found in Linda Mae Craig's car and
on her clothes.
The 33-year-old's killer has still not been found and Yarris has received
compensation, although he says it 'feels like pity money'.
He said he wasn't able to sleep for a year after his release until he put his
experiences down in the book Fear of 13, which was released in paperback this
'After that, I began to really progress towards seeing how it wasn't so much
that it was personal against me,' he said.
'Why would I let this all ruin me? And I just let go.'
He is still able to meticulously recall his experiences, an ability he puts
down to years of solitude.
He moved to England after visiting to speak before parliament in 2004 and can
count St Albans, Stevenage, Hastings and Lincolnshire amongst his former homes.
He lives with his partner Laura and her 2 children, who have flown out with him
to LA as work begins on a film of his life directed by Alejandro Monteverde.
It is one of a number of projects Yarris is involved in, including a book on
positive thinking called The Kindness Approach that was released this year.
He said he often finds the contrast between his former life and his current one
'I was stood before the United Nations in November and had this surreal
moment,' he said.
'One minute I'm 60 days away from being executed, then I'm with the former
president of Switzerland in Geneva.
'I had this surreal feeling where I could touch both moments.
'It's strange how you can be reminded that you were once so low that you can't
be trusted with a metal object and then you are standing there to the applause
of people from all over the world.'
The Fear of 13 is now available to buy in paperback.
Brother's mental illness supports claim of condemned killer William Morva's
delusional disorder, say lawyers
At his sentencing for burglary in 2007, Michael Morva called the prosecutor
evil and described rising from his body and seeing heaven after a beating in
Later, when convicted of conspiring to help his younger brother, condemned
killer William Morva, escape from custody, jurors asked the judge if they could
recommend Michael Morva receive mental health therapy, according to media
A Dec. 16, 2015, a Virginia Department of Corrections mental health appraisal
written a few months before Michael Morva was released from prison noted that
while incarcerated Morva had been diagnosed with delusional disorder,
depressive disorder and at the time of the report, paranoid schizophrenia.
Michael Morva's mental illness history supports the claim that his brother, set
to be executed next week, suffers from delusional disorder and cannot
distinguish reality from delusions, say William Morva's lawyers. They contend
he was misdiagnosed at his trial a decade earlier and that the jurors did not
know the full extent of his illness.
Barring clemency from Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Morva is scheduled to be executed
by injection at 9 p.m. next Thursday at the Greensville Correctional Center. He
was convicted of the 2006 slayings of hospital security guard Derrick
McFarland, 32, and Montgomery sheriff's deputy Eric Sutphin, 40, after escaping
while in custody for robbery charges.
Citing post-trial diagnoses of William Morva, his lawyers are asking McAuliffe
to commute the death sentence to life without the possibility of parole arguing
he has suffered for more than a decade from the serious psychotic disorder.
Montgomery County Commonwealth's Attorney Mary K. Pettitt strongly disagrees.
In a letter last week to McAuliffe she wrote: "Mr. Morva's counsel now asserts
that his trial was unfair because the jury had insufficient information about
his mental health at the time he committed the crimes.
"This is highly inaccurate. Prior to trial, Mr. Morva was evaluated by a number
of experienced and eminent mental health experts," she wrote. "The 3 of them
individually spent many hours with Mr. Morva. Tests were administered.
Background information was obtained from family and friends. School records
were reviewed. All of them reached the same conclusion. Mr. Morva had a
superior IQ and suffered from a variety of personality disorders to include
schizotypal personality disorder with narcissistic features.
"This information was not only available to the defense but was presented by
the defense at trial. To assert some 10 years later that all three of the
original experts were wrong is absurd. With enough time and motivation one can
always find an expert to say what you want to hear but that doesn???t mean it
is true or accurate."
Pettitt concluded noting that, "A prosecutor also has responsibility to the
victims of crime and to the citizenry as a whole to make sure that the judicial
system operates in a just manner. In this case I am confident that the jury had
fair, complete and accurate information prior to rendering its verdict. I
respectfully ask that you allow the voice of the people to stand and not grant
clemency in this case."
She declined to comment Tuesday beyond her letter.
Morva's lawyers disagree with Pettitt and said in Morva's clemency petition
that the evidence the jury heard focused primarily on Morva???s behavior before
the dramatic deterioration in his mental health. That was also the focus of
information made available to a psychiatrist appointed to the defense.
Without information about Morva's functioning in the years leading up to the
crimes, the psychiatrist incorrectly diagnosed Morva with schizotypal
personality disorder, say his lawyers. The jurors were incorrectly told that
Morva was not psychotic and not delusional and that he was not "clearly out of
contact with reality," they argue.
Dawn Davison, one of William Morva's lawyers, said that Michael Morva's
diagnosis by the Department of Corrections belies Pettitt's implication that
Morva's lawyers shopped around for a helpful diagnosis.
Davison said records show that in 2011 Michael Morva was diagnosed at Wallens
Ridge State Prison with delusional disorder - about 7 months after William
Morva's lawyers alleged in an appeal that is what William Morva suffered from.
"There's a genetic component to the disease," said Davison.
Virginia Department of Corrections records show that Michael Morva was released
on May 27, 2016, from Sussex II State Prison. Prior to that he had been held at
Sussex I State Prison, Wallens Ridge State Prison and the now closed Powhatan
Davison said the department changed his diagnosis at some point from delusional
disorder to schizophrenia. "They're both this psychotic disorder. There's this
disconnect from reality," said Davison. She said there is a family history of
Michael Morva, 37, and William, 35, are former Chesterfield County residents.
Michael Morva, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, is being treated by the Department
of Veterans Affairs for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, said Davison. She
said McAuliffe has been given Michael Morva's records as well as William
Davison argues that it would be inappropriate to execute Morva because the jury
did not know the truth about his mental state at the time the crimes were
committed and because his delusions - among other things his belief that people
at the Montgomery County jail were trying to harm him - led to his crimes.
In her letter to the governor, Pettitt wrote, "2 bedrocks of our judicial
system are the right to have a jury decide a defendant???s guilt or innocence
and the right to have a fair trial. Mr. Morva has had both."
"The fairness of his trial has been reviewed, and reviewed, and reviewed with
all courts, both state and federal, finding no unfairness or basis to overturn
the voice of that jury. So the issue before you is really whether or not you
individually are going to override that jury???s voice and undermine our
judicial system," she added.
A McAuliffe spokesman said Tuesday the clemency petition was under review.
Judge says Morganton man tied to ISIS is 'cold, calculated, cowardly'
A judge sentenced a Morganton man to life in prison Tuesday morning at the
federal courthouse in Asheville.
Justin Sullivan, who was 19 years old when he was first arrested in 2015,
pleaded guilty last November to one count of attempting to commit an act of
terrorism transcending national boundaries.
He told the FBI he was a converted Muslim and wanted to kill 1,000 people by
using cyanide-laced bullets and vehicles filled with bombs. Sullivan wanted to
get an AR-15 from a gun show in Hickory to kill a large number of U.S.
citizens, according to court documents.
But what he didn't know was that he was corresponding with an undercover FBI
During the sentencing, Sullivan told the court that he was not a bad person and
that a life sentence was not justified at all.
Prosecutors said in September of 2014, Sullivan converted to Islam, became a
violent Islamic extremist and watched ISIS videos, wanting to create his own
Islamic state in the United States.
"He planned to attack a concert or a club, places that we would call soft
targets, places where people would be about enjoying their lives and not
expecting acts of violence," said U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose.
The judge said that it was an act of terrorism and that Sullivan was cold,
calculated and cowardly.
Sullivan stood up and told the judge it was a lie to describe him as a
The FBI found the rifle used in that shooting while investigating the terrorism
The district attorney plans to seek the death penalty in that case.
After his sentencing, Sullivan's father spoke to Channel 9.
"As parents, we're not happy, but as Americans, I accept it," Rich Sullivan
said. "Of course, he is still my son and I still love him."
Sullivan's parents also alerted authorities prior to his arrest after a
silencer arrived at the family's home. The FBI acted after learning Sullivan
was plotting to murder them because they were interfering with his plot to kill
Channel 9 reporter Dave Faherty asked Rich Sullivan if he forgives his son.
"No, I can't," Rich Sullivan said.
The focus now turns to Sullivan's capital murder trial in Burke County for the
shooting death of John Clark. FBI agents said they found the murder weapon at
Sullivan's home and matched it through ballistics.
"From what we have learned about Justin Sullivan is that from a very early age,
and I'm talking 8 or 9 years old, he has suffered from real depression and
suicidal ideation," said defense attorney Vicki Jayne.
(source: WSOC TV news)
Death penalty dispute goes to Florida Supreme Court
Florida Gov. Rick Scott's power to strip a prosecutor of murder cases because
she won't seek the death penalty will be tested before the state Supreme Court.
State Attorney Aramis Ayala is asking the court to block Scott from assigning
her Orlando-area murder cases to a neighboring prosecutor.
Justices will hear arguments Wednesday in the dispute that began in March when
Ayala said she wouldn't seek the death penalty against Markeith Loyd, who is
charged with the fatal shooting of an Orlando police officer, or any other
Scott said he reassigned the cases because Ayala isn't following Florida law.
Ayala argues that Scott doesn't have the right to take the cases from her
because she's independently elected.
(source: Associated Press)
Florida death penalty is in 'chaos,' former justice says
When death penalty trials finally resume in Florida - including retrials of
overturned old cases - the system will be pure "chaos," a retired Florida
Supreme Court justice said Tuesday.
Gerald Kogan, who served on the court 1987-98, was one of several speakers who
participated in a phone briefing organized by the nonpartisan Floridians for
Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
Last January, the U.S. Supreme Court in Hurst v. Florida struck down Florida's
capital punishment scheme because it "require(d) not the jury but a judge to
make the critical findings necessary to impose the death penalty."
The state Supreme Court later ruled in October that a jury's recommendation for
a death sentence must be unanimous.
In cases where prisoners have been on death row for many years, new trials will
be unsettling because there will be a need to go back and dig up lots of
information as well as find relevant witnesses, Kogan said.
He added that will also be the case when re-doing the penalty phase to
determine if the evidence against a particular defendant means they get a life
sentence or the death penalty.
Adding to the mix for new juries is that there may now be additional evidence
discovered between the 1st trial and the re-sentencing hearing.
"Every new penalty phase is going to have to be re-investigated and presented
in full," said Scott Sundby, a professor at the University of Miami School of
"There will not be an ability to simply rely on the prior penalty phase,
because the Supreme Court ... has come down with a number of decisions as to
what is considered mitigation, arguing for a sentence less than death," he
"As we know, Florida has gotten its hand slapped a couple of times, because it
had too much of a restrictive view of what constitutes intellectual
Every defense attorney will have to have a 'mitigation specialist,' Sundby
said, who will go back and look at evidence before the trial, and evidence
about the defendant's mental health since he's been on death row.
Juanita Perez, whose son Benjamin Hamilton and granddaughter Ivory were
murdered by Justin Heyne, called the current situation "horrible."
Heyne, convicted and sentenced to death in Brevard County in 2009, is expected
to get a new sentencing hearing because the jury's recommendation in his case
was not unanimous.
"I want to throw up. Are you kidding me?" Perez said, regarding what lies ahead
in many cases. "I don't understand how this could have gotten so far."
As of Tuesday, there were 362 inmates on death row in Florida, according to the
Department of Corrections.
Murder suspect Russell Tillis for now backs off representing himself in court
A Jacksonville man who faces death by lethal injection agreed in court Tuesday
to, at least for the time being, no longer work toward representing himself in
is his 1st-degree murder case.
Russell David Tillis said he would rather not work with attorney James
Hernandez but was willing to give it a shot provided Judge Mark Borello
appointed another attorney, James Boyles, to join the murder case as well.
Borello reminded Tillis that the state was seeking the highest punishment
possible against him and that he should be more concerned about that than an
attorney's bedside manner.
The 56-year-old Tillis is accused of killing Joni Lynn Gunter sometime from
February 2014 to May 2015 when he was arrested on another case. No date for his
1st-degree murder trial has been set and in all likelihood it won't happen
until next year, Hernandez said.
Tillis will not be representing himself in murder trial; death penalty on the
table----The death penalty is on the table for Russell Tillis. He has been
charged with the murder of 31-year-old Joni Gunter, a woman whose remains were
found on his property.
The death penalty is on the table for Russell Tillis. He has been charged with
the murder of 31-year-old Joni Gunter, a woman whose remains were found on his
However, at his last court appearance on June 19, Tillis said he wanted to
represent himself in the murder case because he was displeased with his
council. At the hearing on June 27, he was originally firm in his stance to
defend himself, before withdrawing that at the end of the hearing.
Tillis will now be represented by 2 attorneys.
Now with the death penalty as a possibility, Judge Borello said it is his duty
to find Tillis a 2nd attorney to try and fight against the death penalty.
Attorney James Boyle has been added to the case.
Tillis would like James Boyle appointed as first chair in his case because he
feels that Boyle, unlike his current first chair James Hernandez, has been
helpful. He feels that Boyle should be his first chair attorney.
But Judge Borello isn't so sure. The judge said he was unsure whether Boyle had
enough experience, unlike Hernandez, in handling cases of this matter and
because the death penalty is on the table, it is their responsibility to fight
for Tillis' rights as his attorneys.
It is believed that now Hernandez will handle the death penalty portion of the
case and Boyle will handle preparing and the trial. Tillis has agreed to those
The next pre trial hearing is July 13.
(source: WTLV news)
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