2017-10-21 18:55:23 UTC
With jury chosen, court takes up final pretrial matters in capital murder case
Final pretrial matters were discussed Thursday at a hearing in the case of
Billy Joel Tracy, a Texas prison inmate facing the death penalty in the July
2015 beating death of a correctional officer at the Barry Telford Unit.
Tracy's lead defense attorney, Mac Cobb of Mount Pleasant, Texas, said he
intends to supplement a previously filed motion for a change of venue in the
case with additional arguments and copies of news articles after 102nd District
Judge Bobby Lockhart said he is willing to rule on the issue. A jury of 7 men
and 5 women was seated earlier this month after weeks of jury selection. 2
women will serve as alternates.
Texarkana lawyer Jeff Harrelson, who also represents Tracy, said the defense
would have stricken two of the existing jurors had Lockhart allowed them more
"strikes" than the 17 they exercised during the selection process. Lockhart
said the average age of the jury is 48. He said the youngest juror is 24, that
more than 1/2 of the jurors are college educated, and that the group is
Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp said the state is working with the
Texas Department of Criminal Justice to quickly acquire employment records for
witnesses expected to testify for the state who currently or formerly worked in
prison units where Tracy has been housed. Crisp also addressed the matter of
experts expected to testify for the defense in the event Tracy is found guilty
and the trial enters a second phase to determine punishment.
"Are they qualified? Is this reliable science?" Crisp said. "We don't even know
what kind of hearing we're having. Is this hard science? soft science? This
could go on for days."
Crisp said the state wants the opportunity to review reports such as "brain
scans" and the underlying science on which the defense experts will base their
testimony and opinions so that she can raise any challenges to their testimony
before the punishment phase of trial begins. Both sides are entitled to
question expert witnesses about their qualifications and the data, studies or
theories, for example, on which they rely and seek a ruling from the judge as
to whether the testimony should be admitted during the trial.
If the jury finds Tracy, 39, guilty, the court will have at least a couple of
days to conduct hearings before the date for punishment testimony is scheduled
to begin. Lockhart said Thursday that he expects the guilt-or-innocence phase
of trial to take about a week. The punishment phase is scheduled to begin Nov.
1, in the event Tracy is convicted.
Tracy is accused of beating Correctional Officer Timothy Davison, 47, to death
the morning of July 15, 2015, during a routine walk from a prison day room back
to Tracy's 1-man cell in administrative segregation. Tracy, who had allegedly
packed all of his personal belongings before walking out of his cell for an
hour of recreation, attacked Davison after slipping his left hand free of its
cuff. After knocking the officer to the floor, Tracy allegedly grabbed
Davison's metal tray slot bar and used it to pummel him. The attack reportedly
was captured on video surveillance from multiple angles and is expected to be
played for the jury during the 1st phase of trial.
Tracy's prison history began in 1995 when he was sentenced to a 3-year term for
retaliation in Tarrant County, Texas. 3 years later, Tracy was sentenced to
life with parole possible, plus 20 years for burglary, aggravated assault and
assault on a public servant in Rockwall County, Texas. In 2005, Tracy received
an additional 45-year term for stabbing a guard with a homemade weapon at a
TDCJ unit in Amarillo, Texas. Tracy was sentenced to 10 years in 2009 for
attacking a guard at a TDCJ unit in Abilene, Texas.
The jury has the option of sentencing Tracy to life without the possiblity of
parole or death by lethal injection.
(source: Texarkana Gazette)
Death penalty option removed for man in parents' slayings
Prosecutors say a Virginia man accused of fatally shooting his parents on
Easter Sunday in 2016 will no longer face the possibility of the death penalty.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports Henrico Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon
Taylor filed a formal notice Thursday in the capital murder case against
24-year-old William Roy Brissette.
"Based on the information ... provided to date, we felt it was the appropriate
action to take at this time," Taylor told the newspaper. But she declined to
discuss specifics as to why prosecutors decided to withdraw the death penalty
as an option.
59-year-old Henry J. Brissette III and 56-year-old Martha B. Brissette were
found dead March 27, 2016, in the home they shared with their son.
Brissette has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was found incompetent in
(source: Associated Press)
4 inmates charged with murder in deaths of 2 N.C. prison employees during
4 inmates have been charged with 2 counts of 1st-degree murder each in the
deaths of 2 prison employees in Pasquotank County during an attempted escape
Wisezah Buckman, 29; Seth Frazier, 33; Mikel Brady, 28; and Jonathan Monk, 30,
were charged Thursday in the deaths of Correctional Officer Justin Smith and
correction enterprises manager Veronica Darden.
"We intend to prosecute to the fullest extent," District Attorney Andrew Womble
said during a Friday news conference announcing the charges.
The 4 men could face the death penalty or life in prison without parole in
convicted, he said.
Buckman was serving 32 years and 3 months for a 2nd degree murder conviction in
2015. Buckman had also been convicted of other violent crimes including assault
with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and armed robbery.
Frazier was jailed in 2012 for burglary to serve just under 11 years. He had
also been found guilty for possession of a firearm by a felon, indecent
liberties with a child and resisting an officer among other crimes.
Brady was convicted in 2014 for attempted 1st degree murder and sentenced to 24
years, 6 months. Other crimes on his record include assault with a deadly
weapon with intent to kill and assault of a law enforcement officer with a
Monk was serving 16 years and 6 months after a 2014 conviction for attempted
1st degree murder. Also on his record are convictions for assault with a deadly
weapon with intent to kill and burglary.
The inmates are accused of setting a fire before attempting to escape from the
sewing plant of the Pasquotank Correctional Institution on Oct. 12. 10 other
prison employees were injured. 2 remain hospitalized in critical condition at
Police responded within minutes and arrested four inmates before they could
scale the two fences surrounding the prison located west of Elizabeth City.
"This is the most serious matter I've ever prosecuted," Womble said at a press
conference held Friday in Elizabeth City.
The investigation continues and more charges are pending, he said. Police did
not release the weapons used or details of the attempted escape.
It was the deadliest escape attempt ever for the North Carolina prison system.
The state is reviewing safety practices in corrections enterprises including
the use of violent offenders in the program. The program teaches work skills to
2,500 inmates in 17 industries in prisons across the state. About 30 inmates
work in the sewing plant at Pasquotank where they embroider logo items, safety
vests and other items. The sewing plant was shut down after the attempted
(source: The Virginian-Pilot)
The victim was stabbed in the eyes and choked with wood. The suspect could get
A suspect charged with 1st-degree murder of a Key West business owner could
face the death penalty if convicted of the brutal crime that included stabbing
the victim in both eyes with a pen.
"I'm leaning in that direction," said State Attorney Dennis Ward on Wednesday
when asked if Justin Calhoun could face a punishment of death by lethal
injection if first convicted of the murder.
A grand jury met Tuesday and indicted Calhoun, 24, who identifies as female,
with 1st-degree murder of Mark Brann, 67, citing also the alleged use of a
handgun during a robbery.
The indictment mentions the eye-stabbing and the allegation Calhoun jammed a
broken piece of furniture down Brann's throat.
Brann was attacked early Aug. 14 inside his 1206 12th Street home in New Town,
where Calhoun said she often stayed. The 2 had been having a sexual
relationship, she told police.
Calhoun admitted to the attack, saying it started when she accused Brann of
being a cannibal and Brann grabbed a gun which went off during a struggle,
according to detectives.
No one was shot, police said, but Calhoun then racked the pistol planning to
shoot Brann with it but firearm jammed.
After stabbing Brann in the eyes, detectives said, she jammed a piece of wood
down his throat and stomped on it, and then grabbed a dresser drawer and beat
Brann about the head and throat with it.
"Calhoun admitted [she] went beyond self-defense," wrote Detective Jeffrey
Dean, in the arrest affidavit.
Brann died the next day, having suffered severe head injuries.
Calhoun is also charged with robbery with a deadly weapon, possession of
cocaine and possession of hydrocodone.
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 four 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.
Justices in that case said Florida's system gave judges too much power and
juries not enough power to decide capital cases. LaMar argued the new standard
should also apply to his case because Ohio's system is similar.
(source: Associated Press)
Parole board rejects condemned Ohio inmate's mercy request
The Ohio Parole Board on Friday rejected a request for mercy from a condemned
inmate who argues he had such a bad childhood and is in such poor health that
he should be spared from execution next month.
The board's 11-1 decision came in the case of Alva Campbell, set to die by
lethal injection on Nov. 15 for killing a teen during a 1997 carjacking. The
slaying came 5 years after he was paroled on a different murder charge.
Republican Gov. John Kasich has the final say.
The board concluded that Campbell's upbringing and childhood experiences "were
certainly dysfunctional and no doubt traumatic" but must be weighed against the
circumstances of his crime. The board also cited the fact that he had been
responsible for 2 killings, among other offenses.
"Those murders and other crimes committed by Campbell over the course of many
years reflect a disturbing propensity to engage in extreme and senseless
violence, a propensity that never abated despite multiple incarcerations and
attempts by the state to rehabilitate him," the board said.
The board member who supported clemency concluded that Campbell's "unstable,
inhumane living conditions" as a child were made worse by his eventual removal
from the home and that that was never fully considered by the courts.
Campbell's attorneys say he uses a walker, relies on an external colostomy bag,
requires 4 breathing treatments a day for asthma and emphysema and may have
Campbell, 69, also should be spared because he was the product of a violent,
dysfunctional and sexually abusive childhood and continued to suffer abuse
after he was placed in foster homes, his attorneys said earlier this month.
"Alva's development suffered, and the chances of him becoming a responsible
adult withered," lead attorney David Stebbins, a federal public defender, wrote
in a filing with the parole board.
Campbell was paroled in 1992 after serving 20 years for killing a man in a
Cleveland bar. On April 2, 1997, Campbell was in a wheelchair feigning
paralysis when he overpowered a Franklin County sheriff's deputy on the way to
a court hearing on several armed robbery charges, records show.
Campbell took the deputy's gun, carjacked 18-year-old Charles Dials and drove
around with him for several hours before shooting him twice in the head as
Dials crouched in the footwell of his own truck, according to court records.
Franklin County prosecutor Ron O'Brien opposes mercy and calls Campbell "the
poster child for the death penalty."
O'Brien said it was ironic Campbell was raising health concerns to avoid
execution given that he faked paralysis to carry out his crime.
"As judgment day nears he again resorts to ill health as a reason to enable an
escape from his capital sentence - and should not be permitted to do so,"
O'Brien said in a filing with the parole board earlier this month.
O'Brien also dismissed Campbell's claims about his upbringing.
"It is easy to blame deceased parents or a childhood for mistakes or even
crimes - but not for 2 separate murders committed decades apart," O'Brien said.
Other inmates across the country have cited ill health as a way to avoid
execution. Some have been successful, including Vernon Madison, a 66-year-old
Alabama inmate with stroke-induced dementia, who was spared because he didn't
understand his death sentence or remember the killing.
But many others have not had the same success, including double killer Richard
Cooey, from Ohio, who was executed in 2008 despite arguing that his obesity
would prevent humane lethal injection because viable veins in his arms were
difficult to find.
(source: The Tribune)
Death penalty trial in Lake County, Ind., pushed to next fall
A judge pushed the jury trial for Darren Vann, who is facing the death penalty
on murder charges in the deaths of multiple women, to next fall, almost 4 years
since his initial arrest.
Vann's trial was set to begin with jury selection in February, with
presentation of evidence beginning in March. But his defense team asked those
dates be moved back as they are behind schedule in selecting a jury and still
had evidence to go over in the case.
Lake Superior Court Judge Samuel Cappas granted the request at a hearing
Friday. This is a capital punishment case, and "it deserves special accord,"
Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter asked that it be noted Vann's trial has
been postponed multiple times since he was initially charged in October 2014.
The trial is now scheduled to begin jury selection in September, with evidence
starting the following month, court records show.
In April, the Indiana Supreme Court turned down Vann's appeal to look at the
constitutionality of the state's death penalty statute.
Cappas said Vann, 46, would have to appear in court on Nov. 9 so that he could
be notified in person of this change.
Vann has repeatedly filed waivers so his attorneys could appear on his behalf.
When he appeared in court in June, Vann said he didn't want a trial.
"Don't say something you can't back up. You say you're gonna give me death. Go
ahead and kill me, (expletive)," Vann said at the time.
Vann has pleaded not guilty in the deaths of Afrikka Hardy, 19, of Chicago, and
Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville.
He has also pleaded not guilty in the murders of 5 other women: Teaira Batey,
28, of Gary; Tracy Martin, 41, of Gary; Kristine Williams, 36, of Gary; Sonya
Billingsley, 52, of Gary; and Tanya Gatlin, 27, of Highland.
With the exception of Hardy, whose body was found in a Hammond motel, the
bodies were found in abandoned Gary homes.
His attorneys, Matthew Fech, Gojko Kasich and Mark Bates, previously filed
other motions in the case, which Cappas also addressed Friday.
The defense asked that the judge not interrupt while attorneys questioned
potential jurors in the case.
"The defense is not attempting to silence the court in any way, shape or form,"
Fech said Friday.
Vann lawyers seek to delay murder trial date
Fech said, though, that a judge questioning what the attorneys are asking could
give jurors a sense the court disapproves of what's being said. The jury
selection process can already seem intimidating to jurors, he said.
Cappas said he felt the motion was "premature" and the request "goes against
the grain of what my job is," he said.
"I'm not going to take myself out of the process," he said.
Cappas added that the attorneys could raise the issue again during jury
questioning if they felt it was needed.
The defense also asked that neither party be allowed to ask the "magic
question," essentially asking jurors if they could set aside any potential
biases to be impartial in reaching a verdict.
Fech said they need to hear "what the jurors actually think, not what they
think the court wants them to say."
Deputy Prosecutor Michelle Jatkiewicz countered that "simply because you have
an opinion doesn't mean you can't set that opinion aside."
"If you don't ask the question, you can't get the answer," she said.
'Go ahead and kill me,' suspect charged with 7 murders tells prosecution in
Cappas rejected the defense's request.
"We're going to take some faith that they're going to be honest," Cappas said.
(source: Chicago Tribune)
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