death penalty news----TEXAS, PENN., S.C., ALA., KY., ARIZ., CALIF., USA
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Rick Halperin
2017-11-28 14:11:42 UTC
Nov. 28


High Court Won't Review Beaumont Courthouse Shooter Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review the conviction and death sentence
of a Houston man for the slaying of a 79-year-old woman during a 2012 shooting
rampage outside the courthouse in downtown Beaumont.

The high court, without comment, ruled Monday in the case of 47-year-old
Bartholomew Granger. He does not have an execution date and his lawyers are in
the early stages of other appeals in federal district court.

Granger testified at his 2013 trial moved to Galveston that he wanted the death
penalty. He acknowledged opening fire on his daughter outside the Jefferson
County Courthouse after she testified against him in a sexual assault case but
said he didn't intend to kill a bystander, Minnie Ray Sebolt.

Granger's daughter and her mother were among 3 people wounded.

(source: Associated Press)


Will Rahmael Holt Be Given The Death Penalty For The Murder Of Officer Brian

A prominent local defense attorney says the likelihood is very high that
Rahmael Holt will be given the death penalty for the murder of New Kensington
Police Officer Brian Shaw.

"This poor young kid was doing this job protecting all of us, and for the
defendant to turn around and do what he allegedly did is outrageous, and I
think it will be treated as such," defense attorney William Difenderfer said.

The killing of a police officer in the line of duty is a capital felony and the
chances of a death penalty being imposed are greater than in other homicides.

Richard Poplawski, convicted of murdering 3 Pittsburgh police officers, was
sentenced to death and currently sits on death row awaiting execution.
Difenderfer says the jury Holt will face in Westmoreland County will likely be
apt to do the same.

"You're going to be in Westmoreland County," Difenderfer said. "That's mostly a
rural area. As we know, rural areas are typically conservative. Conservatives
are typically pro-prosecution."

But that's not always the case.

In 2007, prosecutors were denied the death penalty they sought against Leslie
Mollett for the murder of Cpl. Joseph Pokorny. The jury gave Mollett life

4 years ago, Ronald Robinson also got life for the murder of Penn Hills Police
Officer Michael Crawshaw.

Difenderfer believes that won't be the case with Holt, but notes that the
verdict must be unanimous with no dissenters.

"When it ultimately comes to deliberate and them to go home knowing they voted
to put a young man to death, that's a very tall order to ask of somebody," he

If Holt is convicted and if the death penalty is sought, there's a good
likelihood it will be granted, but the burden is high and it would take only 1
juror to spare his life.

Holt is the 13th person since 2000 to be accused of killing a police officer in
our region. Poplawski is the only one to receive the death penalty. 3 others
received life in prison.

Governor Tom Wolf has issued a moratorium on the death penalty. The last
execution in Pennsylvania was carried out in 1999.

(source: KDKA news)


SC man on death row for parents' double murder in 1997 still appeals

20 years ago, Terry and Earl Robertson were beaten and stabbed to death in
their Rock Hill home. Their son, James Robertson was charged and convicted of
the killings.

Robertson, known as "Jimmy," has been on South Carolina's death row for 18
years, since his 1999 conviction for double murder, armed robbery and credit
card fraud.

Saturday, Nov. 25 is the 20th anniversary of the murders and subsequent arrest.
The deaths, and the ensuing trial, captured the nation's attention and
continues to do so. This weekend, there will be a TV special focusing on the
Rock Hill case.

Meanwhile, Robertson is not done with his appeals.

On Dec. 1, he will have a hearing on his latest attempt to get a new trial or
his sentence overturned. State prosecutors with the S.C. Attorney General's
Office, and lawyers who took on Robertson's case 6 years ago, are arguing
whether Robertson's should get a new trial because of errors in 1999 by his
trial lawyers and by prosecutors.

"Justice is not fast, especially in capital cases," said Colin Miller, a
University of South Carolina law school professor and legal expert in criminal
procedure and evidence. "The 'CSI effect' is people expect cases to be
resolved, finalized, quickly. Reality is there are people who receive death
sentences that never are executed. Most of them are never executed."

South Carolina does not have enough lethal injection drugs to execute anyone. A
planned execution of a convicted killer, set for Dec. 1, has been postponed.

Not a question of guilt

Kevin Brackett, 16th Circuit Solicitor who prosecuted Robertson along with
former prosecutor and current S.C. Rep. Tommy Pope, said there is no doubt that
Robertson is guilty.

"The evidence against him remains completely overwhelming," Brackett said.

Tim Hager was the York County Sheriff's Office lead detective in the case, with
now-retired Ralph Misle.

"There was no doubt whatsoever," Hager said. "We knew within an hour of finding
his parents, that Jimmy Robertson was a suspect."

Robertson was seen by a neighbor leaving the home in his father's car on that
evening in November 1997, after another person found the bodies, Hager said.
Police found that Robertson used his father's credit card at a Fort Mill store,
then in Virginia. Both times, Robertson was captured on video.

He was arrested the night of the killings in Pennsylvania, near where his
brother was attending college.

"The police in Philadelphia were waiting for him to get there, and took him
right then," Hager said.

Robertson's accomplice during the flight, his former girlfriend Meredith Moon,
also was arrested. She told police where to find the bloody bat, hammer and
knives that Robertson used used in the crime. The items were in an Interstate
95 trash bin in Maryland.

Twice in the past 15 years, Robertson has been on the cusp of being executed.
Each time, he or his lawyers filed appeals that stopped the execution. In 2005,
the appeal came after the S.C. Supreme Court had set an execution date. In
2011, a federal judge halted the execution until all state appeals can be

"With the death penalty, courts recognize there is no chance to review the case
if the person is executed," Miller said. "Courts generally give a number of
chances to review claims."

Those reviews can take years, or decades.

"When it comes to the death penalty, everybody in the court system wants to be
sure," said Kenneth Gaines, a USC law professor and expert on criminal trials.
"This is life and death....So the courts give death row inmates every
opportunity to have their case looked at. You can't undo death."

Moon took a plea deal in exchange for testifying against Robertson, and has
since been released from prison.

2 lawsuits

In an effort to avoid death, Robertson has 2 lawsuits pending. He's now 44.

In York County civil court, Robertson has a lawsuit alleging that his trial
lawyers in 1999 were ineffective, and that prosecutors used improper wording
during some arguments. In federal court, Robertson has a lawsuit alleging that
he has been held illegally for all these years.

The civil lawsuit in York County, called a post-conviction relief action,
seemed to be resolved in 2011, when a judge ruled that Robertson had competent
counsel during the 1999 trial.

But in 2016, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled the lawyer who represented Robertson
in 2011 did not have the right death penalty post-conviction relief experience.

Lawyers from South Carolina's Death Penalty Resource & Defense Center,
including John Blume, Keir Wyble and Emily Paavola, became Robertson's lawyers
on both appeals. All 3 are veteran death penalty defense lawyers. Efforts to
reach Blume, Weyble and Paavola were unsuccessful.

Judge Keith Kelly of Spartanburg has been assigned to Robertson's appeal and
hearings on Dec. 1, court documents show. The S.C. Attorney General's Office is
the state prosecutor in charge of trying to uphold Robertson's sentence.

Miller said there is no timetable for when Robertson's appeals could be

That leaves police and prosecutors who put Robertson in prison waiting to see
what happens.

Pope, who used to receive Christmas cards sent by Robertson, has repeatedly
said the convicted man's motives are to seek attention. He said Robertson
received a fair trial.

TV show focuses on Robertson

The new season of the Oxygen Network show "Homicide for the Holidays" premieres
at 6 p.m. Saturday and will focus on convicted killer James Robertson.

Interviewed for the show were 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett and the
former solicitor, S.C. Rep. Tommy Pope. The 2 men prosecuted Robertson. Also
interviewed were York County Sheriff's Office Lt. Tim Hager and retired
detective Ralph Misle.

The show also talked to Lyn Riddle, who wrote a book about the killings and
trial. Andrew Dys, a reporter and columnist for The Herald who covered
Robertson, also was interviewed.

(source: thestate.com)


U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeal of Alabama death row inmate convicted in 2007
slaying of parents

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said it won't hear the appeal of an Alabama
death row inmate who was convicted in the 2007 killings of his parents in

James Scott Largin, 46, earlier this year had appealed to the U.S. Supreme
Court a December 2015 ruling by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upholding
his conviction and death sentence.

On Monday the high court, without opinion, refused to review his case.

Largin was sentenced to death by a Tuscaloosa County judge in 2009 for his
capital murder conviction in the deaths of his parents, Jimmy, 68, and Peggy,

"Peggy and Jimmy Largin were at home on the night of March 15, 2007, when they
were shot multiple times with a .22 caliber rifle and their bodies were thrown
down the stairs leading to the cellar in their home. Autopsy results showed
that both victims died as the result of close-range gunshot wounds to the
head," according to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals ruling.

"This Court has independently weighed the aggravating and the mitigating
circumstances as required by (Alabama law) ... We are convinced, as was the
circuit court, that death was the appropriate sentence for Largin's capital
crimes," the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals stated in its order.

He was arrested after University of Alabama police found his parents' car near
the campus a few days after the murders, the Associated Press reported at the

A prosecutor at Largin's original trial said Largin showed no remorse over the
murders. The judge agreed with the jury's recommendation that Largin be given
the death penalty. His defense attorneys argued for life in prison without

(source: al.com)


Louisville man who faced death penalty will serve 10 years for manslaughter

A Louisville man who faced the death penalty will now serve just 10 years for

Ricky Kelly, known as one of Kentucky's most notorious murder suspects, was
once charged with being involved in 8 murders. On Monday, he took a plea deal
for 1 man's death.

Kelly, who has been locked up since 2006 on various charges, pleaded guilty to
manslaughter for to the August 2005 shooting death of LaJuante Jackson. As part
of the deal, he agreed to serve 10 years in prison.

Prosecutors said Kelly shot Jackson 10 times to protect a drug trafficking
organization. He was set to go to trial in December and once faced the death
penalty in this case.

The 44-year-old was originally charged with complicity to 8 murders in 2010.
Those charges were dropped in 2013, and the case moved to federal court. But
the same year, prosecutors' key witness against Kelly was murdered.

The case was then pushed back to state court in 2014. Prosecutors called the
case "challenging" and released a statement, which reads in part:

"In any case where we are not able to go forward with all the witnesses, we
have to balance the likelihood of conviction from a jury which is denied the
full picture with the certainty of an immediate conviction through a plea,"
said Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine. "This plea represents a choice that we
feel most benefits the family of the victim and the safety of the community."

(source: WDRB news)


Prosecutor: Why Arizona still needs the death penalty; County attorney: As long
as there are horrific murders, there will be a role for the death penalty as a
just and proportionate punishment.

In a coordinated campaign, death penalty opponents submitted nearly identical
op-eds in major publications across the U.S. seeking to persuade the United
States Supreme Court to review the case of Arizona vs. Hidalgo and abolish the
death penalty.

Understanding how a decision is made to pursue the death penalty, the facts of
this case and about the death penalty in Arizona undermines their arguments.
Few murders become death penalty cases

My office follows a thorough and deliberative process for reviewing all death
penalty eligible cases under tight deadlines. Arizona law requires us to make
an initial decision within 60 days of the murderer's arraignment.

During this period, we request any and all information the defense team can
offer to assess whether the death penalty can be supported by the evidence and
is an appropriate punishment.

If more time is needed to gather information, we regularly work with the
defense to extend deadlines. After receiving input from victims, reviewing
everything provided by the defense, and considering the facts and circumstances
of the case, an experienced team makes a recommendation to me.

I consider the recommendation carefully before making any decision. Approving
the filing of a "notice of intent to seek the death penalty" is the most
consequential decision I make as county attorney.

Should more information be provided later on, we regularly review it and, where
appropriate, we revisit our initial decision and resolve cases accordingly.

Lastly, not all murder cases are death penalty cases. In fact, Maricopa County
has averaged 203 murders each year from 2012 through 2016, and a death notice
has been filed in an average of 14 cases each year - less than 8 % of the

Why Hidalgo was sentenced to die

As for the op-eds, they fail to acknowledge the extensive protections provided
to capital defendants to safeguard constitutional rights and ensure a fair and
just process.

In Hidalgo's case, every constitutional right was protected. Hidalgo had a
qualified capital defense team that included experienced investigators and
mitigation specialists. The trial judge that presided over the case had
presided over numerous death penalty cases and had represented several capital
defendants before becoming a judge.

A jury unanimously imposed a death sentence on Hidalgo for good reason.

Hidalgo agreed to kill the victim on behalf of a street gang for $1,000. When
Hidalgo went to kill the victim, the victim was not alone.

Hidalgo murdered this second victim to eliminate a potential witness. He shot 1
victim in the back of the head and the other in the forehead. Even though both
victims were certainly dead, Hidalgo shot each victim an additional 5 times.

Before determining death was an appropriate punishment, the jurors found that
Hildalgo had actually killed 4 people, the 2 Arizona victims and 2 Idaho women.

Like other death penalty cases in Maricopa County, the question was not who did
it. Hidalgo actually pleaded guilty to the charged offenses. The only contested
issue was what the penalty should be.

A just system needs the death penalty

Next, death penalty opponents assert that the death penalty in Arizona is
racially disparate. But this does not match the facts. Currently, there are 69
Caucasians, 25 Mexican Americans, 17 African Americans, 4 Native Americans, 3
Asians and 2 classified as "other" awaiting justice on Arizona's death row.

Continuing complaints about the cost and time to impose the death penalty
neglect the costs associated with constitutional protections and thorough
appellate review caused by the very people complaining about costs and the time

For Arizona, this has led to excessive litigation in the U.S. Ninth Circuit
Court of Appeals and unnecessary delays averaging more than 20 years with
associated costs. Other federal circuits in the United States routinely and
thoroughly review death penalty appeals within 10 years. This tolerance for
endless litigation is an area ripe for criminal justice reform.

Recent polls continue to reflect that a majority of Americans support the death
penalty, and 31 states have determined there is a place for the death penalty
in a just and proportionate system of punishment.

1 year ago, voters in Nebraska reinstated the death penalty abolished the year
before by their legislature. Voters in California recently rejected an
initiative to abolish the death penalty and passed Proposition 66, which seeks
to speed up the process for final review of capital sentences.

As long as there are horrific murders reflecting the worst of crimes, there
will be a role for the death penalty as a just and proportionate punishment.

(source: Bill Montgomery is Maricopa County attorney; azcentral.com)


Palmdale abuse case: Penalty phase for Isauro Aguirre begins

The penalty phase begins Monday for a Palmdale man found guilty of torturing
and murdering his girlfriend's son.

Isauro Aguirre was found guilty of 1st-degree murder and guilty in the special
circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture following
the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez.

The jurors who convicted Aguirre will be asked to recommend whether he should
be sentenced to death or life in prison. Prosecutors are seeking the death

Gabriel was routinely beaten, shot with a BB gun, fed cat feces and forced to
sleep while gagged and bound inside a small cabinet, witnesses and prosecutors
said. He died in May 2013.

Aguirre's attorneys are expected to argue that Aguirre should be sentenced to
life in prison without the possibility of parole.

During closing arguments, Hatami called Aguirre an "evil" man who "liked
torturing" the boy and did so systematically in the months, leading up to the
child's death.

Gabriel's mother, Pearl Fernandez, is also charged with murder and will be
tried separately.

2 former Los Angeles County social workers -- Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia
Clement -- and supervisors Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt were charged last year
with one felony count each of child abuse and falsifying public records in
connection with the case.

(source: KABC news)


Federal court sends Fell death penalty case back to Vermont

A U.S. appeals court is seeking more information from a federal judge in
Vermont before ruling on a question of evidence in the death penalty case
against Donald Fell.

Fell is awaiting a retrial in the abduction and beating death of a North
Clarendon woman.

Proceedings in federal court in Vermont had been put on hold pending a decision
by the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on whether statements by a
co-defendant could be admitted as evidence. That co-defendant, Robert Lee, has
since died in prison.

Fell, 37, faces the death penalty for his alleged role in the November 2000
carjacking and slaying of Teresca King, 53. He had been sentenced to death
after his conviction at a trial more than a decade ago. However, a judge threw
out that conviction and sentence after revelations of juror misconduct.

Prosecutors this summer appealed a ruling by U.S. District Judge Geoffrey
Crawford that barred Lee's statements from entering the sentencing phase of
Fell's trial, if he is convicted again. The federal appeals court recently sent
the case back to Vermont for a further hearing and a ruling by Crawford on the
"reliability" of Lee's statements.

"Because the district court in its initial ruling did not determine the
reliability of each of the statements the government seeks to introduce at the
sentence selection phase of the trial ... we find the current record
insufficient for resolving the issue on appeal," the court's order stated.

The appeals court told Crawford to issue a ruling within 60 days of the Nov. 15
order. A hearing is set for Jan. 5 in federal court in Burlington.

The appeals court has said other pending motions regarding disputed evidence
and other matters can proceed in the meantime.

The appeals court has asked Crawford to determine if the statements that
prosecutors are seeking to use violate either the Federal Death Penalty Act or
Fell's Fifth Amendment due process rights.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Darrow, a prosecutor in the case, declined to
comment Monday. Michael Burt, an attorney based in San Francisco who is
representing Fell, could not immediately be reached Monday for comment.

Prosecutors have sought to introduce Lee's statements to show their theory that
Fell was the ringleader and Lee a follower.

Fell and Lee, according to court records, were allegedly fleeing the slayings
of Fell's mother and her friend in Rutland when they carjacked King in a
downtown supermarket's parking lot in November 2000.

Vermont doesn't have the death penalty. However, because King was beaten and
killed in New York state after her abduction in Rutland, federal prosecutors
took jurisdiction of the case and are seeking the death penalty for Fell.

A retrial for Fell had been set for early this year. However, it was delayed
when Fell's attorneys asked for more time to prepare.

A new trial date in September was then set and jury selection got underway, but
Crawford ruled to exclude the statements from Lee, prompting prosecutors to

No new trial date has been set.

(source: vtdigger.org)

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