death penalty news----GA., FLA., MISS., OHIO, NEV., CALIF.
(too old to reply)
Rick Halperin
2017-06-16 13:06:53 UTC
June 16


Once again, Georgia jury declines to give death sentence

For the 2nd time this year, a defendant accused of killing a Georgia law
enforcement officer faced a capital trial and did not receive a death sentence.

On Wednesday, after just 30 minutes of deliberation, a jury sentenced
Christopher Calmer to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the
Sept. 14, 2014, fatal shooting of Monroe County sheriff's deputy Michael

No Georgia jury has imposed a death sentence in more than 3 years. The last
capital sentence was handed down in March 2014 by a Richmond County jury.

In the only other death-penalty trial this year, Michael Bowman was convicted
of killing off-duty Griffin police officer Kevin Jordan in May 2014. But after
jurors found Bowman to be guilty but mentally ill, prosecutors chose to no
longer pursue a death sentence and allowed Bowman to be sentenced to life
without parole.

There were 3 death-penalty trials - 2 in Fulton County and 1 in Newton County -
in 2016, but in all cases the defendants received sentences of life without

In the Monroe County case, Norris, 24, and another deputy went to Calmer's home
in response to a suicide call. After the deputies arrived, they exchanged
gunfire with Calmer. Norris, who was shot, was later taken off life support
after being declared brain dead.

On Tuesday, the jury, comprised of residents of neighboring Upson County, found
Calmer guilty of Norris's murder. They reached their sentence after hearing
mitigation testimony presented by his legal team, led by state capital defender
Amber Pittman.

Jerry Word, who heads Georgia's capital defender office, said jurors were told
Calmer suffered from depression and chronic back pain.

"It was a combination of his mental illness and the fact Mr. Calmer had been a
model citizen up to that point and was described as a model inmate after his
arrest," Word said, when asked why he thought the jury declined to impose a
death sentence.

(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)


New death penalty rules mean new sentences for 5 Volusia-Flagler killers

Shock, anger, acceptance and a determination to continue to seek justice for
their slain loved ones.

Those are some of the reactions from victims' families after learning that the
death sentences against Ray Jackson, Cornelius Baker, David Snelgrove, Jerone
Hunter and Troy Victorino have been struck down.

Jackson killed a woman in Daytona Beach. Baker kidnapped a woman from Daytona
Beach and killed her in Flagler County. Snelgrove robbed and killed a Palm
Coast couple. Hunter and Victorino, who beat and clubbed 6 people to death in
what is known as the Deltona mass murder, had their death sentences vacated on

Pam Norko, 67, of Long Beach, California, said her and her brother are ready to
testify at a new penalty phase for Snelgrove.

"We made a vow to each other that we would fight to see this man put to death.
I guess it would be pretty easy to say let's just leave this at life in prison
but that would be way too easy after what he did to them," Norko said.

Proceed with death?

The reactions are more deliberative from prosecutors who must now decide
whether to try to send the convicted murderers back to death row or allow them
to live the rest of their lives behind bars.

Seventh Circuit State Attorney R.J. Larizza said that his office will consult
with the victims' families on whether to seek the death penalty again before
reaching a decision.

Some local death sentences without unanimous jury recommendations

On Death Row

Here are inmates with non-unanimous jury death recommendations since 2002 from
Volusia and Flagler County. Some remain on death row at Florida State Prison
near Starke while others have had sentences vacated.

Volusia County Cases

--James Guzman, 51, sentenced to die for murdering a Virginia businessman,
David Colvin, with a samurai sword at a U.S. 1 motel in August 1991. Jury vote:
10-2 at 1st trial. Guzman won a 2nd trial. But Guzman waived a jury for his 2nd
trial and Judge William C. Johnson Jr. convicted him and sentenced him to
death. Federal court overturned conviction and sentence. Guzman was sentenced
again in 2016 to death. Jury vote 11-1 in 2016.

--Richard England, 44, convicted in the murder of Daytona Beach Planning Board
member Howard Wetherell. Jury vote in 2004: 8-4.

--Jerone Hunter, 29, received 4 death sentences in the Aug. 5, 2004,
bludgeoning deaths of 6 people and a dog at a Deltona home. The jury
recommended death in the killing of Michelle Ann Nathan by a vote of 10-2,
Anthony Vega, vote of 9-1, Roberto "Tito" Gonzalez, vote of 9-1 and Jonathan
Gleason vote of 10-1. Hunter received life for: Erin Belanger, Francisco
Ayo-Roman. Sentenced in 2006. Death sentence vacated.

--Troy Victorino, 39, convicted on six counts of first-degree murder in the
Deltona bludgeoning case. The jury recommended death in the killing of Erin
Belanger by a vote of 10-2, Francisco Ayo-Roman, vote of 10-2, Roberto "Tito"
Gonzalez, vote of 9-1, Jonathan Gleason, vote of 7-1. Victorino received life
recommendations for Michelle Ann Nathan, Anthony Vega. Sentenced in 2006. Death
sentence vacated.

-- Ray Jackson , 40, kidnapped and killed Pallis Paulk, found dead in Daytona
Beach April 17, 2005. Jury vote: 9-3 in 2007. Death sentence vacated.

--Douglas Matthews, 34, fatally stabbed Kirk Zoeller and Donna Trujillo in a
Daytona Beach apartment on Feb. 20, 2008. Jury recommended death in 2010 by
10-2 vote.

--Joseph Jordan, 45, left Keith Cope hogtied for days in his Edgewater home
after a June 2009 robbery. Cope died as a result of his injuries even though
doctor's amputated his left arm to try to save him. Jury recommended death by
vote of 10-2 in 2013.

Flagler County cases

--William Gregory, 31, used a shotgun to kill Skyler Meekins, his teenage
ex-girlfriend, and her boyfriend Daniel Dyer in Meekins' grandparents' home in
Flagler County on Aug. 21, 2007. Jury recommended death by vote of 7-5 in 2007.

--Cornelius O. Baker, 29, killed a Daytona Beach woman Elizabeth Uptagrafft on
Jan. 7, 2007, after a home invasion robbery and kidnapping. Jury recommended
death by 9-3 vote in 2009. Death sentence vacated.

--David B. Snelgrove, 43, convicted of murder in the deaths of an elderly Palm
Coast couple, his neighbors, Glyn and Vivian Fowler, on June 23, 2000, to rob
them. Jury recommended death by 8-4 in 2008. Death sentenced vacated.

[source: Florida Department of Corrections]

"They deserve to have that conversation with us and they deserve to be heard on
what they want to see happen," Larizza said.

While Larizza's office won't comment, 2 family members have said prosecutors
plan to seek the death penalty again against Victorino and Hunter.

The death sentences have been vacated due to a case known as Hurst, in which
the Florida Supreme Court held that juries must unanimously recommend death
before a judge can sentence someone to death. The decision means that death
sentences without a unanimous jury recommendation will likely be overthrown
dating back to another 2002 court ruling in an Arizona case known as Ring.

The return of death penalty cases won't strain either personnel or the budget
at the State Attorney's Office, Larizza said.

The prosecutor's office has approximately $450,000 for its "due process fund"
to cover the 4 counties it serves: Volusia, Flagler, St. Johns and Putnam.
Those funds cover trial expenses, including travel and lodging expenses for
expert witnesses.

Larizza said unanimous jury recommendations for death were not prevalent when
Florida required only a simple majority of 7 to 5 before a judge could impose
death. The state Legislature changed that to 10 to 2 which lasted only briefly
before the state Supreme Court ruled it must be unanimous.

"It's hard to say whether it will be more difficult. I think a lot of people
assume that and they may be right," Larizza said. "But the jury will be
instructed that they have to be unanimous for it, the death penalty, to be a
possibility. They were never told that before."

Seventh Circuit Public Defender Jim Purdy said the Supreme Court will likely
overturn all death sentences going back to Ring in which the jury
recommendation was not unanimous.

"It's long overdue. It should have always been unanimous. The most significant
sentence that a person can get should absolutely require a unanimous vote,"
Purdy said.

Death sentence opposition

Purdy, who is part of a group known as Florida Conservatives Concerned about
the Death Penalty, is hoping that the state eventually does away with the death

"The death penalty process is far too costly, cumbersome, and error-prone to
continue," Purdy said in a press release from the group. "Given that Florida
has wrongly convicted and eventually released more people from their death row
(27) than any other state, the stakes are far too high."

The state Legislature was warned by the Florida Supreme Court in a 2005
decision that the death penalty needed revision. But legislators did not make
changes, including requiring the unanimous vote, until this year and only after
court decisions forced the issue.

The law and the politics have left families of victims frustrated with the
justice system which keeps coughing up cases to be fought all over again.

Cornelius Baker and his girlfriend burst into the home of Elizabeth Uptagrafft
in Daytona Beach and terrorized the family. Then they kidnapped Uptagrafft,
stole her car, made her withdraw money from an ATM and then drove her to a dirt
road in western Flagler County where Baker let her out of the car and then shot
her to death on Jan. 7, 2007. The jury voted for death for Baker by 9 to 3 in
2009. The girlfriend, Patricia Roosa, was sentenced to life without parole.

Uptagrafft's daughter and sister said that they don't want to go through the
pain of reliving their loved one's murder by way of painful testimony and crime
scene photos. So they will not attend a penalty hearing if prosecutors try to
send Baker back to death row.

"The trial was worse for us than the funeral. That trial was hell on us," said
Uptagrafft's daughter, Stacey Rodocker.

She said Baker does not deserve another minute of the family's time.

"Whether he's in prison or he???s on death row it's not going to make any
difference to us in our lives," Rodocker said.

Uptagrafft's sister, Brenda Gillespie, 64, of Daytona Beach, said she met with
prosecutors but is not pushing for a death sentence, although she likes that
Baker is more isolated on death row.

"They have to make their decision independent of us," she said.

Death, he 'deserves that'

Jackson kidnapped and killed Pallis Paulk, 23, on Nov. 9, 2004 because she
stole money and cocaine from him after they spent the night together, according
to testimony. Her bones were found in a shallow grave in April 2005 near
Williamson Boulevard. The jury recommended death for Jackson by vote of 9-3 in

Paulk's cousin Tyshoan Wllcox of Daytona Beach said she would like to see
Jackson sentenced to death.

"He deserves to be on death row. He deserves that," she said.

Paulk's oldest sister, Amanda Paulk, said Jackson took someone precious from
her family and she thinks the most severe punishment is to keep him alive and
locked up.

"I would prefer that he sat in jail and suffered for the rest of his life.
Honestly, I thought the death penalty was the easy way out for him," Amanda
Paulk said.

Snelgrove beat and stabbed Glyn Fowler, 84, and his wife, Vivian, 79, to death
in 2000 after breaking into their home to rob them to pay for his cocaine
habit. He stabbed the couple 38 times. Snelgrove was sentenced to death in 2002
on a jury recommendation vote of 7-5. That was overturned and Snelgrove was
again sentenced to death after another jury vote of 8-4 in 2008.

The couple's daughter, Norko, said her own daughter was turning 12 at the time.
She knew that her grandparents had died. But for the next year or so out of
habit she would still check the mail for what had been her grandparent's
customary packages of books, clothes and jewelry.

"He took our parents and my daughter's grandparents and they adored her," Norko
said her voice breaking.

Victorino and Hunter, along with Michael Salas and Robert Cannon, broke into a
home on Telford Lane in Deltona and beat and stabbed 6 people to death. Salas
and Cannon were sentenced to life without parole. Killed in the massacre were
Erin Belanger, 22; Michelle Nathan, 19; Roberto "Tito" Gonzalez, 28; Jonathan
Gleason, 17; Francisco "Flaco' Ayo-Roman, 30; and Anthony Vega, 34. Victorino,
a Latin Kings gang member who stood at 6 feet 6 inches tall, was the

Belanger's father, Bill Belanger, said he is focused on Victorino. It was
Victorino who killed Belanger's daughter.

"I hope another jury is unanimous in giving him the death penalty," he said.

(source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)


Death row inmate convicted in 1990s asks for re-sentencing

A death row inmate who was convicted in the 1990s of killing a Pensacola woman
is asking the state to vacate his sentence.

Eric Branch, 46, was found guilty of killing University of West Florida student
Susan Morris after she left an evening class in January 1993. Morris' body was
found in nearby woods, and she appeared to have been beaten, strangled and
sexually assaulted, according to News Journal archives.

Branch has been on death row since 1994, when an Escambia County jury convicted
him of murder and sexual battery and recommended death in a vote of 10-2,
according to state Supreme Court's records.

Now, Branch has asked to be re-sentenced under Florida's revised death penalty

In March, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law that mandates a jury
unanimously recommend the death penalty in capital punishment cases. The
revised legislation came after a local case, Hurst v. State, in which defendant
Timothy Hurst claimed the 10-2 jury split in his case was unconstitutional.
Since that ruling, several local death row inmates have pushed for new penalty

Branch's case has been reopened and was heard in Escambia County Court on
Wednesday. Assistant State Attorney John Molchan said the state argued Branch
does not fall under the new law because his case was decided so long ago.

"(Branch's counsel) had filed an amended motion thinking he should get relief
under the Hurst ruling," Molchan said. "We took the position that based upon
prior decisions that the court has made, he's not eligible for that ... . The
Hurst case is not retroactive for him."

Court records list the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel as Branch's
representative in the case. Representatives at the office could not be reached
for comment.

If a re-sentencing is granted, Branch would face a minimum sentence of life in
prison. His conviction would not go away, and a new jury would not hear the
entirety of the case. Rather, a new jury would hear the case's penalty phase.

Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille has previously said death penalty cases
require several more steps than other proceedings. The state needs to prove
aggravating factors on the defendant's part that would warrant a death
sentence, while the defense needs to outline mitigating factors. The jury makes
its decision after hearing those factors in the penalty phase.

Molchan said Circuit Judge E.P. Nickinson has taken the motion under
advisement. There is no deadline or proposed date for when Nickinson will make
a decision on the motion.

(source: Pensacola News Journal)


State attorney expects to seek death penalty in jail cell killing

State Attorney Bill Eddins' office has announced it will likely have a 2nd go
at seeing Shawn Rogers sentenced to die for the 2012 murder of Ricky Martin.

The First Judicial Circuit had been pursuing a death sentence in its case
against Rogers since 2015, when he pleaded guilty to the headline-grabbing
murder. Eddins' office abandoned the effort in January, though, after court
rulings nullified the death penalty in Florida.

Eddins said at the time that Rogers' case was "rather unique" in that the
inmate was already serving a life sentence in prison without possibility of
parole for a 2002 Volusia County armed robbery and aggravated battery with a
deadly weapon. The state had the luxury in Rogers' case of waiting for death
penalty sentencing procedures to be straightened out through legislation rather
than seeking a new indictment against him.

"There is no downside to dismissing the case and waiting to file it again,"
Eddins said at the time the original indictment was nullified. "We did this in
this death penalty case because the sentencing procedure is muddled, and we
want it to be crystal clear."

The Florida Legislature this year voted to change a law that had required at
least a 10-2 jury majority in order to impose the death penalty. Juries must
now be unanimous in favor of death for the sentence to be handed down.

The new standard meets requirements established by rulings at the U.S. Supreme
Court and Florida Supreme Court levels.

New indictments charging Rogers with murder and kidnapping in the Martin case
were handed down in May, according to State Attorney's Office spokesman Greg
Marcille. He was booked on the charges June 12.

"He's been reindicted and now we'll go through the process of reviewing the
case to see if the death penalty is appropriate," Marcille said. "We do expect
we will seek the death penalty."

Rogers pleaded guilty in September 2015 to murdering Martin, who was his cell
mate at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution.

Martin was found March 20, 2012, inside his cell, tied down with bedding
material and stripped of his clothing. He had been bludgeoned with a sock full
of batteries and died 3 weeks later at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola.

Martin's killing occurred after word had filtered into the prison about the
death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of neighborhood watch volunteer George
Zimmerman. Rogers was reported to have made comments along the lines of "this
is for Trayvon Martin" as he beat Martin, a white man, unconscious.

The Miami Herald wrote an in-depth article about Martin's death as part of a
series that called into question a Florida correctional system that allowed the
much smaller Martin, a non-violent offender, to be placed in a cell with
Rogers, who had a history of committing acts of violence on other inmates.

(source: Santa Rosa Press Gazette)


State attorney expects to seek death penalty in jail cell killing

State Attorney Bill Eddins' office has announced it will likely have a 2nd go
at seeing Shawn Rogers sentenced to die for the 2012 murder of Ricky Martin.

The First Judicial Circuit had been pursuing a death sentence in its case
against Rogers since 2015, when he pleaded guilty to the headline-grabbing
murder. Eddins' office abandoned the effort in January, though, after court
rulings nullified the death penalty in Florida.

Eddins said at the time that Rogers' case was "rather unique" in that the
inmate was already serving a life sentence in prison without possibility of
parole for a 2002 Volusia County armed robbery and aggravated battery with a
deadly weapon. The state had the luxury in Rogers' case of waiting for death
penalty sentencing procedures to be straightened out through legislation rather
than seeking a new indictment against him.

"There is no downside to dismissing the case and waiting to file it again,"
Eddins said at the time the original indictment was nullified. "We did this in
this death penalty case because the sentencing procedure is muddled, and we
want it to be crystal clear."

The Florida Legislature this year voted to change a law that had required at
least a 10-2 jury majority in order to impose the death penalty. Juries must
now be unanimous in favor of death for the sentence to be handed down.

The new standard meets requirements established by rulings at the U.S. Supreme
Court and Florida Supreme Court levels.

New indictments charging Rogers with murder and kidnapping in the Martin case
were handed down in May, according to State Attorney's Office spokesman Greg
Marcille. He was booked on the charges June 12.

(source: nwfdailynews.com)


Court upholds death sentence for convicted murderer

The Mississippi Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for a Hancock County
man convicted of capital murder in the death of his 70-year-old landlord.

In 2013 Timothy Evans was sentenced to death after confessing to the January
2010 murder of Wenda Lafern Holling.

Holling was strangled in her Hancock County home where Evans rented a room.
According to his statement to police, Evans admitted he first tried to smother
the victim, then strangled her and disposed of the body.

Holling's was found on the side of a Harrison County road, after being missing
for 3 weeks.

In appealing the death sentence, Evans lawyers argued 10 points; including
failing to determine Evans' competency, whether the jury selection was
constitutional, and prosecutorial misconduct.

However, the court found no error and upheld the death penalty.

(source: WLOX news)


Commonwealth attorney to seek death penalty in Terry Froman murder trial

An Ohio jury on Thursday recommended the death penalty for Terry Froman for the
murder of local mother Kim Thomas. The formal sentencing from the court will be
on June 22.

Froman is also charged in Kentucky with the murder of Thomas' 17-year-old son,
Eli Mohney. That case will be heard in Graves County, Kentucky, where Mohney
was shot in his mother's home.

Commonwealth Attorney David Hargrove tells Local 6 he will also seek the death
penalty against Froman. Hargrove explained what makes the case a capital

"There's a burglary, first and foremost, for breaking in the house and
committing that. So, that'll qualify," he said. "Plus, there is a kidnapping
that goes along with that, as he kidnapped Ms. Thomas. Ultimately, he murdered
Ms. Thomas in Ohio, but he kidnapped her from Kentucky. So, those things are
aggravating circumstances that qualify the case for the death penalty."

He said he will discuss the option of a plea deal with the family of the
victims to see what they want.

"I am ready to try the case and move forward, but I want to be sensitive to the
family. It's been tough on them," Hargrove explained. "This was about as bad as
it gets in terms of crime. It is the most heinous one I've seen in a long time.
The family had to live it at that time. They have to relive it now through
Ohio. We bring it back here, they'll have to live it again."

Hargrove said he hopes the trial will start early next year.

If Froman gets another death penalty in Kentucky, it is unknown where he will
be executed. Hargrove said there is always a chance of an appeal, so the
possibility exists for the execution to be pushed back.

Hargrove explained that Kentucky has a moratorium on executions at the moment,
so it seems more likely that Froman would be executed in Ohio.

(source: WPSD news)


Arizona lawyer's sleuthing frees Nevada death row inmate----A man who spent 29
years on Nevada's death row was released in June 2017 after an attorney from
the Federal Public Defender's Office offered evidence that the victim, an
infant, might have died from infantile scurvy, not abuse.

When he was arrested for murder in 1988, he was just 19 years old, and his name
was Charles Robins. A Clark County, Nevada, jury sent him to death row for
allegedly beating to death his girlfriend???s 6-month-old baby girl.

On June 7, his cell door opened and he walked out of the prison in Ely, Nevada,
2 months shy of his 49th birthday, answering to the name Ha'im Al Matin Sharif.

According to Sharif, a devout Muslim, Al Matin means "steadfast" in Arabic, and
Sharif means "truthful and virtuous."

Ha'im, he says, is an Arabic variant of the Hebrew word chaim, which means
"life." It was suggested to him by an aunt who introduced him to Islam as a

So after 29 years in prison, Robins/Sharif gets to live the rest of his life
freely - and hopefully steadfast and virtuously - because of a legal miracle
performed by a Tucson-based attorney.

Sharif had been accused of torturing the infant. Her autopsy showed broken
bones and multiple hemorrhages. Sharif denied the abuse, and although his
then-girlfriend initially told police that Sharif was not abusive, she changed
her story and testified against him in court.

"I was confused as to the nature of the injuries they described, because I had
done nothing," Sharif told The Arizona Republic.

The jury found him guilty of 1st-degree murder, however, and he thought that
was the end of it.

"I pretty much resigned myself to the idea that I was going to be put to
death," he said.

But Cary Sandman, an attorney with the Federal Public Defender's Office in
Tucson, unearthed a forgotten caveat for "battered child syndrome"
investigations: Once-common childhood diseases like rickets and scurvy can
mimic symptoms of child abuse and must be ruled out first.

Sandman found medical experts to review the dead child's X-rays. They agreed
that the child probably had scurvy. Sandman also got the girlfriend to recant
her testimony. She claimed she was coerced by law enforcement into blaming
Sharif for the death when they threatened to take her other children away.

The Nevada Supreme Court considered the "compelling nature of the new medical
evidence," ruled that Sharif had "a colorable claim," and sent the case back to
trial court.

Rather than go back to trial, the Clark County District Attorney's Office
grudgingly amended the charges against Sharif. It agreed to ask the court to
pronounce Sharif guilty of 2nd-degree murder and sentence him to time served.

The office refused to dismiss the case altogether and exonerate Sharif.

"I think he absolutely committed the crime," said Clark County Chief Deputy
District Attorney Steven Owens. "I don't think there was evidence to prove he
didn't do it."

But the American judicial system requires that prosecutors gather sufficient
evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did do it, and
prosecutors decided that might be difficult.

"He's done (nearly) 30 years in prison," Owens said, which is more than the
standard 20-25 years of a life sentence for murder.

"Is it worth the cost of continuing (legal) proceedings?" he asked.

Nor were Sharif and his attorneys willing to spend 5 or more years of
incarceration and trial, only to run the risk that a jury could send Sharif
back to death row.

They all signed the deal, and Sharif last week walked out of prison into a car
headed for Phoenix, where he would spend the next several days in a detox of
sorts before flying to Washington state to live with a relative.

"I was in a dreamlike state," he told The Republic, "and still questioning
whether it was real or not."

'It looked like rosacea'

Charles Robins was born in Los Angeles. As a child, he lived with an aunt in
New York, who introduced him to Islam, through which he changed his name to
Ha'im Sharif.

In January 1988, he was livingin Vegas with a girlfriend named Lovell McDowell
and her children. The youngest, Brittany, was 6 months old. Late that month,
McDowell???s brother called the Nevada child protective services to report that
Brittany appeared to have bruises.

Investigators came to the home and examined the child. They found tiny
hemorrhages, but could not definitively say it was abuse.

"It looked like rosacea," Sharif told The Republic. "We weren't concerned."

Then when the child had swelling in her leg, Sharif and McDowell treated it
with Epsom salts.

On Feb. 28, 1988 - Sharif has a keen memory for dates - the baby seemed fine
during the day, but began screaming at night and could not move her leg. They
took her to the emergency room.

X-rays showed the child had a fractured femur, and because there was callous
around the fracture, doctors theorized that there had been earlier breaks that
had already healed. She spent several days in the hospital and was examined
twice more before the end of that March without any allegations of physical
abuse, according to the court record.

Then on April 19, 1988, Sharif was alone with the child while McDowell was
visiting with neighbors. Brittany stopped breathing.

"I took her to the bathroom, put her head on the basin and splashed water on
her face," he told The Republic.

He and McDowell and other neighbors attempted CPR, he said, but the child died.

An autopsy showed that Brittany had a hematoma in her brain, fibroids in her
ureter, and a hairline fracture in a vertebra. The medical examiner attributed
the injuries to blunt-force trauma. Sharif was arrested within hours and
charged with murder. And before he had even turned 20 years old, he was on
death row in a prison in Carson City, Nevada.

Life on death row 'a lot of reflection'

Sharif speaks like a man with far more education than the GED he claims to
have. He is calm and philosophical. Unlike certain other former death-row
inmates, he does not seem cagey - or nervously uncaged.

He attributes this in part to the difference between Arizona death row and
Nevada death row. In Arizona, death-row inmates are locked down 23 hours of the
day, taken out only to shower or for recreation alone in another cell. The only
contact they have with other people is with correctional officers and the
inmates they can speak to through walls and vents.

"You have to be straight up with yourself and accept what you see."

In Nevada, Sharif says, the death-row prisoners are locked down only at night
and can freely associate during the day, playing basketball and lifting weights
in the yards.

But Sharif also found comfort in Islam.

"It was instrumental in helping me calm down," he told The Republic.

"People think religion will be the vehicle to obtain some kind of identity and
become righteous," he said. "Now I look at it as pointing to something, showing
you who you really are."

Life on death row, he said, is "a lot of reflection, a lot of talking to
yourself. You have to be straight up with yourself and accept what you see."

He believes in the death penalty, says it fits in with his religious beliefs.
"But," he said, "from what I've seen, it seems so random."

He professes innocence, though he lived for 29 years among convicted and
condemned murderers. He recalled one prisoner serving a life sentence and
thought, "You pleaded guilty to that, and I'm on death row?"

Like all defendants sentenced to death, Sharif's case bounced from state court
to federal court and back again.

Once he was transported to the death house because of a paper mix-up. Always,
he said, he felt like he was living on borrowed time.

He fought for a new trial, claiming, among other things, that his trial
attorney was ineffective. In 2011, a U.S. District Court judge assigned the
case to the Federal Public Defender in Nevada, who declared a conflict of
interest and referred the case to the Arizona Public Defender.

It landed with Sandman and his co-counsel, Karen Smith.

Sandman went back to the beginning.

He consulted a 1962 landmark study in TheJournal of the American Medical
Association that bore the title, "The Battered Child Syndrome." There he
discovered that the syndrome had symptoms that "mimic" those of infantile
scurvy, a Vitamin C deficiency also called Barlow's disease. Though in earlier
times scurvy was more common - among 18th century trans-Atlantic sailors, for
example, who ate citrus fruit to stave it off - it is uncommon in developed
nations in modern times.

The hemorrhaging, bone breaks and callous formation were all symptoms of
scurvy, Sandman discovered. So he obtained Brittany's 1988 X-rays and took them
to medical experts, who confirmed his suspicions. It could have been scurvy all
along, and if so, the condition began before Sharif began living with McDowell.

"Scurvy in infancy results in unique, diagnostically determinative deformations
in a child's bones that are visible on x-Ray," Sandman wrote in one of his
court pleadings. "And scurvy frequently results in fractures in a child's long
bones, like Brittany's femur. Moreover, as more particularly described below,
scurvy results in hemorrhaging throughout the body, not uncommonly resulting in
fractured bones, bleeding under the skin that resembles bruising, bleeding
under the scalp, bleeding throughout the abdominal area, and subdural bleeding
of the brain. All of these conditions were ultimately seen in Brittany at the
time of her death as revealed on autopsy, and all are symptomatic of scurvy."

In 2013, a U.S. District Court judge thought Sandman had a point. But new
evidence in a criminal case cannot be introduced in federal-court appeals if
the case originated in state court. The federal judge sent it back to Nevada
state court for an evidentiary hearing.

The Nevada trial judge rejected the case outright, so Sandman took it up to the
Nevada Supreme Court the next year.

The justices wrote: "We are satisfied that Robins has presented specific
factual allegations that, if true, would show that it is more likely than not
that no reasonable juror would have convicted him of 1st-degree murder and
child abuse beyond a reasonable doubt or found the single aggravating
circumstance used to make him death eligible."

The court ordered the evidentiary hearing, and given the strong language, that
would likely lead to a new trial.

Neither side wanted to go there.

In March of this year, Smith took Brittany's X-rays to state prosecutors.
Prosecutors took them to their own expert, and then they started to negotiate.

Sandman says the Clark County DA's Office first offered a plea agreement to
life without parole, then softened to life with chance of parole. When they
finally offered a plea to 2nd-degree murder and time served, Sandman cut the

'Cautiously optimistic'

Sharif was hopeful, but he was still in prison, uncertain what would happen.

On June 6, prison officials told him he was leaving. The next day, they walked
him out the door into a prison van and drove him out to the prison parking lot.

Smith and Jeremy Voas, an investigator for the Federal Public Defender in
Phoenix, were waiting for him there. When Sharif got in their car, Voas drove
straight for the Utah border, partly to get Sharif out of Nevada before someone
changed their mind, and partly to avoid driving past the building in Las Vegas
where Brittany died.

Voas snapped photos of Sharif when they passed by Vermilion Cliffs in Utah. The
sudden freedom shows in Sharif's face. He holds his arms outstretched and mugs
for the camera, his mouth wide open.

They stopped for gas, and Sharif asked to pump. He used the restroom at the gas
station and came out laughing. There were automatic flush toilets, automatic
soap dispensers and faucets, an automatic paper-towel dispenser, things that
didn't exist when he went away to prison.

"Why didn't you tell me about that?" he asked Voas.

Once in Phoenix, Sandman took him to Durant's restaurant. He ordered a Sprite.
He spent the night at the downtown Westin Hotel and slept motionless in a
foot-wide swath of a giant bed, unused to the luxury of space.

Over the next 3 days, staff at the Federal Public Defender's Office paraded in
other former death-row denizens to counsel Sharif on the pitfalls of life on
the outside after so many years on the inside.

Staff taught him how to use email, about smart phones. They held a luncheon for
him in an office conference room. It was still the Muslim holy month of
Ramadan, and he decided to break the proscribed dawn-to-sunset fasting because
the meal was in his honor.

Then, they put him on a flight to Washington.

Sharif doesn't know what lies ahead. He'd like to get job training in
construction or welding or computer programming.

"I have a level of optimism," he said. "But I'm cautiously optimistic."

(source: Reno Gazette-Journal)


Homeless Man Faces Capital Murder In Hollywood Stabbing----A 23-year-old
homeless man faces the death penalty if convicted in Monday's stabbing death of
a man in Hollywood

A homeless man was charged Thursday with capital murder for the stabbing death
of a man in Hollywood. Alex Conn Vasquez, 23, was ordered to be held without
bail while awaiting arraignment Friday in connection with the killing of Jimmy
Bradford, 47, about 8 a.m. Monday near Hollywood Boulevard and Bronson Avenue.

Vasquez allegedly stabbed Bradford multiple times in the back after getting
into an altercation with him, according to prosecutors.

The murder charge includes the special circumstance allegation of murder during
the commission of a robbery, along with a knife use allegation.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office will decide later if it will
seek the death penalty against Vasquez, arrested Tuesday by Los Angeles police.

(source: patch.com)


Sheriff's Department Believed It Had a Legal Right to Withhold Documents From
The Court

The Sheriff's Department withheld documents from court disclosure, believing a
section of the California penal code didn't require the department to turn them
over, retired Sheriff's Lt. Catherine Irons testified Wednesday.

Judge Thomas Goethals has called for the ongoing hearing to determine whether
or not he can trust the Sheriff's Department to turn over all the materials he
subpoenaed in 2013, as part of his court's look into the Sheriff's use of
jailhouse informants.

Irons, who retired from the department in 2015, said withholding documents was
to protect the "safety and security" of the jail.

"In your experience, when a request was made for classification records like
the TREDs, a unilateral decision was made, we don't give those out," said
Goethals, questioning Irons.

"That's my understanding," Irons responded.

The hearing is an outgrowth of the case of Scott Evans Dekraai, a mass murderer
who has admitted shooting to death 8 people at a Seal Beach salon in 2011.
Goethals will determine if Dekraai's rights were so seriously violated by the
use of informants that he can't receive the death penalty.

The involvement of an informant in Dekraai's case spawned a broad inquiry into
what's known as the jailhouse snitch scandal, or how deputies moved and worked
informants in the jail to gain confessions without the knowledge of defense
attorneys and in violation of inmates??? constitutional rights.

Many insights into the use of informants has come from 2 sources, an electronic
database on inmate movements known as TRED and the Special Handling log. The
log is a trove of deputies' notes on their daily work, including their work
with informants.

Although the defense subpoenaed those records in January 2013, it wasn't until
late 2014 that the TRED system was disclosed and in 2016 that the 1,157 page
Special Handling log - most of which remains under seal - was turned over to
the court. Why it took so long for those documents to be disclosed, and whether
there was an effort to hide them, is at the center of this court hearing.

2 Sheriff's deputies - who have invoked their Fifth Amendment right against
self-incrimination - were admonished by Goethals for their testimony in
previous hearings, where they avoided mentioning the TRED system when asked
about them. Goethals said the deputies, Seth Tunstall and Ben Garcia, "either
intentionally lied or willfully withheld material evidence from this court."

Irons testified that when a subpoena was received, Sheriff's Department
officials might exclude certain jail files on the basis that those documents
are privileged under the penal code. Those documents were not turned over to
County Counsel or the court.

That changed in 2014, Irons said.

"At some point...that penal code wasn't going to keep them out anymore. And so
the change of direction was county counsel needed to have everything and they
would discuss in court what was actually going to be disclosed or not," said

The Sheriff's Department has stated publicly that TRED records were never a
secret and have always been discoverable in court.

While county counsel always objects to the release of TRED files on security
and confidentiality grounds, "they've been discovered on numerous occasions,"
former Sheriff's spokesman Jeff Hallock told the ABA Journal in 2016.

Irons was also the 1st member of the Sheriff's command staff to say that she
had reviewed the special handling log while a supervisor at the jail.

Both the lieutenant who started the Special Handling Log and the Sergeant who
ended it have testified they never read the log until much later.

Although a version of the special handling log was ended in 2013, Irons said
she started it again in 2014, unaware that one had existed before.

There was no mention Wednesday of an Orange County Grand Jury report released
Tuesday which called the notion of a jailhouse snitch program in Orange County
a "myth" exaggerated by the media.

The report said while there is legal use of informants in the jails, there's no
systemic misuse of informants and any misconduct is largely confined to "a few
rogue deputies" without the approval of officials up the chain of command.

Irons testified informant operations were common when she was a lieutenant and
she decided to formalize the process in 2012 for outside agencies to request an

Before the process was formalized, Irons said the captain of the facility was
involved in approving most informant operations.

"I personally did not approve an operation in the jail without running it up
the chain of command," Irons said.

In response to questions from Goethals, Irons said she never received any
specific legal training about court cases that govern the use of informants in
jails and protect defendants??? rights, such as Massiah vs. United States,
Brady vs Maryland, and Illinois vs. Perkins.

Meanwhile, the families of Dekraai's victims have continued to attend the court

The outcome of the hearing could affect whether Goethals decides to throw out
the death penalty or sentence Dekraai to 8 consecutive terms of life in prison.

The family of Michelle Daschbach Fast, 47, said they were opposed to the death
penalty and were critical of how the case has been handled so far.

"Never did we imagine that the blunders that tainted this case would be created
by the prosecution team themselves, on a case that was supposed to be a slam
dunk," said Laura Daschbach, Michelle's sister, reading from a letter from the

"A life of appeals for everyone involved is the antithesis of justice," she

The family of another victim, Lucia Kondas, 65, wrote in a letter to the court
that they supported the death penalty for Dekraai.

"I do not believe a self-confessed mass murder's [sic] rights should outweigh
the rights of the victims and their families," wrote Mary Bianchi, Kondas'

(source: voiceofoc.org)

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