death penalty news----TEXAS, N.J., PENN., N.C., ALA.
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Rick Halperin
2017-08-17 16:23:29 UTC
Aug. 17


'Shoot me in the head': Defense attorneys claim mental illness was reason
Laredo man killed wife

A man standing trial for slaying his 23-year-old wife asked responding officers
to shoot him in the head and told family members he should be given the death
penalty before being taken into custody, according to testimony heard Tuesday
in the 111th District Court.

Alberto Espinoza's attorneys are not disputing that he fatally slashed the
throat of his wife, Yolanda Martinez-Perez, on July 22, 2014. However, they are
asking the jury to find Espinoza not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.

"He was paranoid, he was delusional and he was hearing voices," Joaquin Amaya,
Espinoza's attorney, said.

While insanity defenses are rare, Amaya is arguing his client was not
responsible for his actions due to a psychiatric disease when he attacked his
wife with a knife in their home in 2014.

Espinoza wasn't previously competent to stand trial, according to Amaya, who
said his client had to be sent to a state hospital so he could know what was
going on.

Amaya said the jury will hear from 3 experts who will say Espinoza suffers from
"severe mental illness" and would not have committed the offense if it wasn't
for his illness.

During opening statements, assistant district attorney Julia Rubio asked the
jury to return a guilty verdict, saying the prosecution will show evidence to
prove Espinoza is criminally responsible for his wife's death.

"A troubled relationship, stress and rage, that is what this case is about,"
Rubio said.

The prosecution rested its case at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday after calling first
responders, police investigators, medical personnel and family members of
Espinoza to the stand to provide insight into what occurred in the weeks before
and after Martinez-Perez's death.

The day of the homicide, Espinoza allegedly heard a voice tell him that his
wife, whom he had been estranged from for about 6 months, was cheating on him
and betraying him.

Espinoza told police investigators he heard a voice tell him that
Martinez-Perez intended to kill him by poisoning potatoes being cooked for

Using photographs taken of the crime scene, Espinoza's defense counsel noted a
bottle of bleach on the kitchen sink and a container of ant killer seen in a
lower cabinet near Martinez-Perez's body.

In a recorded interview played for the jury, Espinoza said he "smashed (the
knife) against her on her throat" when Martinez-Perez was standing up from
bending down by the oven to pick up a pan.

The prosecution said Espinoza approached Martinez-Perez with a knife he had
sharpened and slashed her throat in one swift movement, cutting through every
part of her neck except the bone.

Later in the interview, Espinoza said that after the incident, "I didn't feel
rage. I didn't feel anything anymore. I just felt love for my daughters."

His daughters, ages 3 and 6 at the time, were in another room inside the
residence at the time of the slaying. After Martinez-Perez's death, Espinoza
collected a photo of his wife and took it to the girls so they would have
something to remember her by.

Investigators found the photo lying on the bed, where Espinoza allegedly told
his daughters to lay down. The girls were found crying and clinging to each
other by a responding officer, according to testimony heard Tuesday.

LPD Officer Juan Lorenzo Villarreal said he responded to the 4500 block of
Corrada Avenue after Espinoza's relatives called police, concerned about
Espinoza's welfare.

Espinoza had called a relative, telling her that he had done something bad.

Villarreal discussed seeing Espinoza, with blood on his shirt, pants and
sandals, answer the door.

"The first thing he told me (was) 'I did something very bad. I want to kill
myself. I want you to kill me,'" Villarreal said. Another officer, Mauricio
Ivan Chaires, recalled Espinoza telling him, "shoot me, shoot me in the head."

Alleged voices

Lorena Espinoza and her husband, Jesus Eduardo Garay, said they arrived at the
scene as Espinoza was being taken to a patrol car.

Garay said he approached the vehicle and asked Espinoza where his wife was. In
response, Espinoza gestured while smiling, moving his hand across his throat,
according to Garay.

While Garay said he had heard Espinoza was hearing a voice and didn't trust
anyone, he said Espinoza seemed "normal" and did not appear sick when working
with Garay at a restaurant.

Lorena Espinoza, the defendant's cousin, testified about a conversation that
occurred between Alberto Espinoza and some of his extended relatives a few days
before his wife's death.

"That day, he sat us down to talk to us. He looked very upset and he told us
that 'he' - we don't know who he was referring to - would tell him things,"
Lorena Espinoza said.

That same day, Alberto Espinoza had been released from the hospital after
seeking treatment. It was his 2nd visit to the hospital in a 2-day span due to
anxiety attacks.

A Laredo Medical Center emergency room nurse, Julia Casso, said Espinoza did
not report any anxiety or depression during the two visits. It wasn't until he
was taken to the hospital after killing his wife that he answered yes to all
questions related to suicide, according to Casso.

Espinoza was taken to LMC for a self-inflicted wound to the arm. According to
the criminal complaint, Espinoza attempted to die by suicide before police

Sara Zamora, an employee of Border Region Behavioral Health Center, said she
completed an assessment of Espinoza at the hospital, where she noted he
appeared to be responding to "internal stimuli."

Internal stimuli is a phrase used in reference to a patient who may be hearing
things or seeing things but don't report it or deny hearing or seeing anything.
In this case, Zamora said Espinoza "directly denied hearing voices."

Espinoza appeared to be talking to someone, looking up from his hospital bed
and saying, "I'm going to be with you. I want to go with you," according to

She said those statements were not matching up with the questions being asked
as part of the assessment.

The trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday with expert testimony from
witnesses who are expected to discuss Espinoza's mental health before the
defense rests its case.

(source: Laredo Morning Times)


Senator John Russo Remembered

John Russo, Sr. was remembered as a politician for the people, and an "icon" of
the kind of bipartisan politics that is rare to find anymore.

Russo succumbed to cancer at the age of 84. He had been elected to the state
senate in 1973, and was Senate President from 1986 to 1990. He served as acting
governor, and ran for that office as well. Additionally he had a career as an
attorney and as assistant prosecutor in Ocean County.

Marlene Lynch Ford, who is now the assignment judge for the Superior Court in
Ocean County, said they had never met before being on the ballot together in
1983. She ran for Assembly that year, besting Warren Wolf.

"His loss is a public loss, but also a profound personal loss to those of us
who knew him," she said.

"Although our political relationship ended a long time ago when we stopped
getting elected," their personal relationship continued, she said. They were
just on the beach together a few weeks ago.

"Even in his very weakened state, his daughter made sure he got his beach time
in," she said.

She said Russo was the personification of the American Dream. Here was a poor
kid from Asbury Park, selling clothing out of the back of his car to make
money, but he wanted to go to Notre Dame. An alumnus arranged to get him an
interview to try to get into the prestigious school. "He was too proud to admit
he couldn't afford the trip," so he hitchhiked to the interview. From then, he
went on to Columbia Law School.

"From very humble beginnings, he overcame that and became a very critical
figure in New Jersey government," she said.

Former Ocean County Freeholder and mayor of Toms River, Paul Brush, said his
influence is still being felt today.

"He was an icon in Ocean County politics and also in the state," he said. Russo
worked bipartisanly, under a Republican governor, Tom Kean Sr., and Brush
stated that the 2 worked well together.

"They just did what they thought was right," he said.

Russo On The Death Penalty

One of Russo's more public fights was over the death penalty.

In 1982, Russo helped reinstate the death penalty. In 2007, it was being argued
before the Senate budget panel on whether to keep it or do away with it.

"If you're going to have a society that follows law and order, people have to
feel that the punishment fits the crime," he told the Ocean County Observer in
2007. At the time, New Jersey had eight men on death row and hadn't executed
anyone since 1963.

"I don't look for an execution. I get no satisfaction to see someone's
execution. I just want the penalty to be available," he said, for the "most
unusual and grievous" cases.

Although his father was murdered in Asbury Park by a robber on New Year's Day
in 1970, he had said this did not influence his feelings.

The robber would not have fit the criteria for the penalty, he said. The robber
didn't go there intending to murder.

Ultimately, there was much more opposition to the death penalty, and the
punishment was changed to life without parole. People arguing against the death
penalty stated that since New Jersey hadn't actually executed anyone recently,
it was essentially life without parole anyway. Additionally, there provided
some small measure of closure for the family of the victims, in that they did
not have to be dragged into the ongoing appeal process as the accused convict
perennially tried to fight their pending execution.

Russo's Legacy

Although much has been written about Russo's fight for the death penalty, his
legacy was larger than that, Brush said. He started a movement that made all
Senate bills be posted. That way, the public would know what lawmakers were

"That was his mantra: the people should be heard," he said.

That has since fallen by the wayside.

Another trait that seems to belong to a bygone era was his disdain for dirty
campaigning. He used to scream at any local politicians who went negative in
their campaigning, he said.

Another piece of his legacy belongs to the caps law, which limited a
municipality's spending, a precursor to the one that governs towns now.

"It was innovative. It set the tone to put the reins on political spending,"
Brush said.

Russo, the late Daniel Newman (former Assemblyman and mayor of Brick), and John
Paul Doyle (former Assemblyman) opened up a joint legislative committee, with
former Pine Beach mayor Russell Corby heading the staff. Their job was to hear
from constituents and fix problems.

"It became a model for across the state," Brush said. "It's become an accepted

A lot of ink has also been used to describe his ban on assault weapons. The
governor wanted it done, and he rose to the challenge.

"It was not very popular but he thought it was the right thing to do and New
Jersey has had a ban on assault weapons for the last 25 years or so," he said.

"He was an icon and I don't think we'll see someone like him again," Brush
said. "We sure miss him."

About 20 years ago, Russo, as an attorney, represented Berkeley Township to
fight a program that would allow sending districts to sever ties with a
regional school district. The issue involved towns leaving Central Regional.

Dale Florio, who heads up the Princeton Public Affairs Group, which Russo
worked for as an attorney since 1992, wrote on the company's web site that
Russo was a friend and mentor to his colleagues.

"We hesitate to call John a 'throwback' when partisanship stayed in the
statehouse and you could 'break bread' together after the day's work. To us,
John was and will always be an example of how those of us who engage in the
science of politics should practice our craft," he wrote.

Senator and former Governor Richard J. Codey said he valued Russo's friendship.

"John used his political skills, his breadth of knowledge and his strength of
character to address the issues that defined an era and that continue to shape
the quality of life in New Jersey," Codey said in a press release. "He put
progress ahead of politics, teamwork ahead of partisanship and shared success
ahead of personal achievement. John's primary goal was always to get things
done. As a result, he was both well liked and highly respected."

Tom Kean Jr., son of the former governor and head of the Senate Republicans,
offered his condolences.

"On behalf of the Senate Republicans, I would like to offer our condolences to
Bob, Caryl, and their entire family on the passing of Senate President Russo,"
he said. "He was a dedicated public servant, a loving father, and a leader
committed to improving New Jersey for all its residents."

A viewing will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday at Anderson & Campbell
funeral home, 703 Main Streets, Toms River. A funeral Mass will be held at 10
a.m. on Saturday at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, 685 Hooper Avenue, Toms

(source: jerseyshoreonline.com)


Prosecutors: Evidence from 'terrified' witnesses leads to murder charges in

For years, the family of Miguel Aponte Jr. had to live knowing that his alleged
killer - who authorities say opened fire on him in 2009 inside a crowded Easton
bar - was still free and walking the streets in the Lehigh Valley.

Authorities say many people witnessed Aponte's murder inside the Easton Cafe,
but they lacked the evidence to charge the alleged gunman, 36-year-old Jacob
Holmes Jr. of Easton.

As the years passed, investigators continued to probe the case, bringing
reluctant and terrified witnesses in secret before a Northampton County grand
jury in hopes of gathering enough evidence against Holmes.

At a news conference Wednesday, Northampton County District Attorney John
Morganelli announced Holmes would face 1st-degree murder charges in Aponte's
homicide, news that he said brought Aponte's family to tears "because they knew
we had not let this case be forgotten."

"There were a lot of witnesses, but many were terrified knowing this guy was
walking the streets," Morganelli said. "It took time for us to build this case
and gather what was needed for a successful trial."

Easton police Lt. Matthew Gerould, who worked the case for years, said police
arrested Holmes Tuesday night at his workplace in Bethlehem Township, but would
not identify it.

"We had an alleged gunman who walked into a crowded bar and opened fire and
that scared a lot of people from coming forward," Gerould said at the news
conference at the county courthouse in Easton. "Mr. Holmes was still local and
still spending time with his family, something that Mr. Aponte's family could
not do."

In addition to homicide, Holmes remains in jail on charges of conspiracy and
reckless endangerment.

According to Morganelli:

Authorities say in March 2016, they re-interviewed Franklin J. Barndt, who
pleaded guilty in 2014 for being a lookout and helping the gunman in Aponte's
killing to dispose of the gun, which has never been found.

Barndt was offered no plea deals for his cooperation, authorities say. In that
2016 interview, Barndt told police that the night of the murder on March 30,
2009, he hid a handgun in the wheel well of a car parked near the Easton Cafe
and gave Holmes a white T-shirt to tie around his face.

Barndt said he saw Homes knock on a door of the bar and saw him fire the gun as
Aponte fell to the floor.

Authorities allege Aponte's death was planned by Holmes in retaliation for a
2006 shooting outside a Wilson strip club that wounded Homes and killed his
friend, Jason Oliver. That gunfight erupted from a fight over a girl, they say.

In the 2006 killing, Aponte's friend, John Logan Jr., pleaded guilty to
3rd-degree murder and Aponte served time in state prison on weapon charges
after he told police he had fired the gun into the air. Aponte was out of state
prison only 3 months before he was killed, investigators say.

An unidentified witness previously told police that on the night of Aponte's
murder, she picked up Barndt and Holmes from another tavern as the men talked
about "payback."

First Deputy District Attorney Terence Houck, who will prosecute the case, said
Barndt's statement about the killing helped lead police to more evidence and
the filing of charges against Holmes.


Authorities say Jacob Holmes Jr. will be prosecuted of 1st-degree murder,
although authorities say they are unsure if they may seek the death penalty.

Holmes remains in Northampton County Jail without bail. A date for his
preliminary hearing has not yet been set.

(source: Allentown Morning Call)


Prosecutors to seek death penalty against couple accused of kidnapping
11-year-old girl, killing her grandparents

Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty against a man and his girlfriend
accused of killing the man's parents and then kidnapping his niece.

Curtis Atkinson Jr., 36, was charged with the murder of his parents,
63-year-old Curtis Atkinson Sr. and 62-year-old Ruby Atkinson and kidnapping
Atkinsons' granddaughter, 11-year-old Arieyana Forney, who was later located in

Curtis Atkinson Jr.'s girlfriend, Nikkia Cooper, was also charged with murder
in the double-homicide that sparked the AMBER Alert for Forney.

Thursday morning, prosecutors indicated they will seek the death penalty
against Curtis Atkinson Jr. and Cooper, court officials say.

Police were initially called to a home on Glenncannon Drive in east Charlotte
at 11:05 a.m. April 2 to assist the Charlotte Fire Department. Police say there
was an attempted arson at the crime scene.

Officials do not know why Curtis Atkinson Jr. took Arieyana up to D.C., and
have not yet released a motive for the homicides.

Police say Cooper called police from Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. Metro Police found Forney inside a white Chevrolet Impala.

Anyone with additional information about the current investigation is asked to
call detectives at 704-432-TIPS.

(source: WBTV news)


Death penalty sought against man accused of killing parents, kidnapping niece

The district attorney announced Thursday morning he will be seeking the death
penalty for a couple accused of kidnapping an 11-year-old Charlotte girl and
killing her grandparents.

Curtis Atkinson Jr. and Nikkia Cooper face murder, kidnapping and drug charges.

Authorities said the couple killed Atkinson's parents in April inside their
home on Glencannon Drive in east Charlotte, then kidnapped his niece Arieyana

All 3 were found in Washington, D.C. days later, according to authorities.

Police have not released a motive behind the suspected killings and kidnapping.

(source: WSOC TV news)


Murder suspects arrested - 3 charged in deaths of Donta Russell, Danny Fox

An Escambia County grand jury has handed up capital murder indictments against
two Atmore men in the April shooting death of Donta Demorris Russell, as well
as an indictment against a Huntsville man who is charged with the November 2016
slaying of Danny Fox.

Chief Deputy Mike Lambert of the Escambia County Sheriff's Office reported
Tuesday that Darrell Brown, 29, of an MLK Drive address, and Yeldon Devonta
Rostchild, 23, of an address on West Owens Street, are being held without bond
in the Escambia County Detention Center.

Brown and Rostchild are accused of shooting Russell, who was 20 at the time of
his death, as he drove his Crown Victoria along MLK Drive, around 10:15 p.m. on
April 26. Initial reports were that he was also shot several more times after
his car crashed into a tree in the drive of an Old Ship Circle residence.

A capital murder charge carries upon conviction the possibility of the death
penalty or life without parole. No date has been set for their arraignments.

The grand jury also indicted Jeffery A. Armstrong, 56, of Huntsville in the
death of Danny Fox, whose body was discovered by family members November 1,
2016 in the front yard of his Ewing Drive home. The local man was killed by
blunt trauma to the head; his pickup was missing from the site.

Armstrong was driving Fox's truck when he was arrested for driving under the
influence the next day in Chipley, Fla. He was arrested by authorities there
and charged with theft of a vehicle, but was extradited to Alabama to face the
murder charge.

Armstrong, who is charged with 1 count each of murder and 1st-degree theft,
remains in the county jail under a $250,000 bond.

Lambert said the investigation into Fox's death is ongoing. No arraignment date
has been set.

(source: atmorenews.com)

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