2017-07-02 19:53:00 UTC
Appeals court to review case of Argentine on Texas death row
A federal court has agreed to review the appeal of an Argentine man who is on
death row in Texas for a 1995 killing.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Wednesday it will examine whether
Victor Saldano, 44, was competent to stand trial and whether his lawyers were
deficient for not requesting a competency hearing before he was resentenced to
death years after the initial trial.
Saldano, who was in the U.S. illegally, was sentenced to death for the killing
of 46-year-old Paul King, who was abducted from a Plano supermarket, robbed and
His case has drawn the attention of Pope Francis, who is also Argentine and has
met at least twice with the inmate's mother. The Catholic Church opposes
Saldano was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die in 1996, but a
judge later threw out the original sentence because a psychologist improperly
testified that Saldano's Hispanic background made him likely to be a future
danger, which Texas juries factor into death penalty decisions. The trial's
punishment phase was repeated in 2004 and Saldano was again sentenced to die.
In its decision to consider the case, the appeals court wrote that "ample
evidence supports an inference of incompetency" and pointed to "numerous
instances" of Saldano's incoherent and strange behavior around the time the
punishment phase was repeated. Physicians offered various explanations for
Saldana's behavior, including his isolation on death row and that he was faking
his condition to get drugs.
Lower courts have ruled that the trial court had no obligation to hold a
The appeals court record showed both the trial judge and Saldano's lawyers had
concerns about his mental state, but the court's record includes no results of
any examinations of Saldano. Defense attorneys never requested a competency
hearing and the judge indicated he "had no reason to believe Saldano was
legally incompetent," the 5th Circuit wrote.
Defense lawyers, meanwhile, made a strategic decision at the resentencing phase
to not introduce evidence of Saldano's mental condition. Instead, they stressed
that Saldana didn't have a prior criminal record, that he was under the
influence of drugs and alcohol, and that it was a companion, Jorge Chavez, who
came up with the idea to commit the crime.
Chavez is serving a life prison term.
The appeals court has given Saldano's attorneys 30 days to present written
arguments. State attorneys then will have 15 days to respond.
(source: Associated Press)
An execution will not equal justice
On July 6, Virginia is scheduled to carry out its 3rd execution under Gov.
Terry McAuliffe, D, and 113th since 1976. The inmate, William C. Morva, was
convicted of fatally shooting 2 men - a deputy sheriff and a hospital security
guard - in 2006. His guilt is not in question. What is less clear is if jurors
would have sentenced him to death had they been aware of the true extent of his
At varying points, Morva reportedly believed that he was meant to lead a
distant indigenous tribe; that he was gifted with special powers to carry out
an unidentified quest; that he was unjustly persecuted by local officials and
the administration of President George W. Bush; and that his real name was
Nemo, which is Latin for "nobody." These are not signs of a rational mind, but
rather one afflicted with debilitating mental illness. A mental-health expert
who assessed him after his conviction diagnosed him with delusional disorder, a
serious psychotic condition similar to schizophrenia.
We have previously written that capital punishment is dehumanizing. But the
execution of a man suffering from severe mental illness is an act of particular
barbarism - especially if his condition may have been misdiagnosed in trial.
According to Morva's attorneys, the mental-health experts who provided
statements to the jury did not receive his full case history and diagnosed him
with a personality disorder rather than psychosis.
Despite his personal opposition to the death penalty, McAuliffe is committed to
upholding Virginia law, a stance we understand and respect. He commuted a death
sentence in April, however, after he found flaws in the sentencing process of
Ivar Teleguz. His predecessors - then-Gov. James Gilmore, R, and now-Sen. Tim
Kaine, D-Va. - had granted clemency on grounds of mental illness. Morva's case
raises many of the same questions and adds fodder to the national effort to
abolish capital punishment for people with serious mental illnesses.
McAuliffe should look favorably on the petition for clemency before him and
commute Morva's sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
He should also ensure that Morva receives the mental-health treatment he so
obviously needs. The killing of 2 devoted public servants is a tragedy, but the
state of Virginia will not right this wrong by getting more blood on its hands.
(source: Editorial, Washington Post)
Is Virginia about to execute a man with a serious mental illness?
William Morva is scheduled to be executed in Virginia on July 6. He has been
convicted of murdering an unarmed security guard and a sheriff's deputy at age
24, while trying to escape jail, where he had been charged with attempted
robbery. However, a court-appointed forensic psychiatrist who examined Morva
concluded that he suffered from delusion disorder, and was impaired by the
illness at the time of the crime.
Morva's attorneys claim that had experienced persistent delusions in the past
but had not received any mental health treatment in prison. Fearing that he
might die of a perceived gastrointestinal problem because of the deliberate
negligence of the guards, and that the prison would not be held accountable for
it, Morva, they say, decided to escape and shot the security guard and deputy
out of a delusional fear for his life.
The scheduled execution is the latest in a series of controversial death
penalty cases involving inmates who are arguably mentally ill or intellectually
disabled, and whose mental disorders could well have impaired their reasoning
at the time of their crimes.
Recently, the Supreme Court ruled in Moore v. Texas that the standards of Texas
for evaluating the mental condition of inmates did not meet the standards set
in previous Court decisions Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida. States'
standards for determining one's intellectual disability - and thus one's
eligibility for the death penalty - must meet the medical community's consensus
standards. However, many states still execute inmates with severe mental
Many groups, including the Catholic Mobilizing Network, the American Bar
Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, have advocated for
barring death sentences for persons who have been ruled by a psychologist to
have been severely mentally ill at the time of their crime.
In Morva's case, his lawyers claim he had suffered from delusional disorder
that had gotten worse since he dropped out of high school in his senior year
and his family moved across the state to Richmond. He was evaluated by a
forensic psychiatrist, Donna Maddox, M.D., who read statements from scores of
witnesses who testified to his erratic and delusional behavior. Maddox reviewed
his medical records and visited Morva in person. She concluded that he was
indeed suffering from a chronic psychotic disorder at the time of his crimes,
and probably had been suffering from the illness several years prior.
After Morva's family moved to Richmond, he remained in the town of Blacksburg
after his time in high school and was "a bit of a vagabond," Robert Lee of the
Virginia Capital Resource Center, which represented Morva after he received a
death sentence, told CNA. While Morva's high school classmates admitted he was
a little odd, they hadn't seen any serious signs of delusional behavior.
However, that reportedly began to change as he walked around town barefoot and
slept at the houses of various friends, Lee said.
Thinking that he suffered from a severe gastrointestinal problem, Morva ate raw
meat, lots of cheese, berries, and pine cones. As his fluid living situation
and poor health management continued, his mental condition deteriorated. He
thought he was destined to be a leader of indigenous tribes in North and South
America, and he later believed that the authorities, especially members of the
Bush administration, were trying to thwart his grand plan.
In 2005, Morva planned to rob a convenience store with other partners, wearing
masks and carrying firearms. They left the storefront after finding it closed,
but an employee inside spotted the group and called the police, who apprehended
the suspects around town. Charged with attempted robbery, Morva could not leave
the Montgomery County Jail in Virginia because his family could not afford to
pay the bail.
After hurting his ankle in a fall and being escorted to a hospital by a prison
guard for treatment, he knocked the guard unconscious, stole his gun, and shot
an unarmed security guard to death on his way out of the hospital. Hiding along
a trail in Blacksburg, Va. for 24 hours, Morva was discovered by a Sheriff's
deputy, whom he shot dead with the stolen gun. He was apprehended afterward,
and was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.
At his capital trial, mental health experts did give Morva an evaluation, but
they relied on the testimony of his high school friends, who had not been
regularly in touch with him as a young adult, when he had suffered his worst
bouts of delusions. Even his estranged mother and sister could only provide
limited testimony, as they had lived across the state from him with little
contact. They did tell experts of the time he showed up to his father's funeral
unkempt, exhibiting some bizarre behavior, and wanting to walk barefoot, Lee
However, the experts ruled that Morva was not suffering from a psychotic
disorder, but rather from a personality disorder that was comprised of odd
behavior and a poor attitude. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced
to death, after which Robert Lee took up Morva's case.
"They minimized his mental illness," Lee insisted, saying that Morva's
psychotic disorders are "amenable to treatment" and medications. Nevertheless,
according to the court proceedings, his record is that of his 2006 trial when
he was determined to have a personality disorder, not his later determination
of delusional disorder.
He is scheduled to be executed on July 6, and Catholics are petitioning
Governor Terry McAuliffe to grant him clemency.
Furthermore, Morva's brother Michael was diagnosed by the Virginia Department
of Corrections with a delusional mental disorder. He received treatment and
medications for the illness, and after 6 months the department determined he
was "clinically improved and stable." He is currently employed and living with
"This is the case of somebody who is seriously mentally ill," Robert Dunham,
executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told CNA, and "that
mental illness precipitated the murder." Morva's case is not the only
controversial death penalty news of late.
On Wednesday, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ended a federal district
court's halt of Ohio's execution process by lethal injection. The 3-drug
process was to be used in 3 scheduled executions, 1 of which is now set for
July 26. Ohio had used a drug combination of midazolam, pancuronium bromide,
and potassium chloride in its lethal injection protocol. A federal district
court had put a halt to that process after claims that midazolam, a sedative,
was not effective enough in blocking the painful effects of the other drugs
that would paralyze the subject and stop a beating heart.
Midazolam has been used in botched executions, like in Oklahoma where Clayton
Lockett was seen visibly writhing on the gurney after midazolam and the ensuing
drugs were administered to him. He eventually died of a massive heart attack.
While some pointed to the failure of midazolam to protect him from the painful
effects of the ensuing drugs, others said that the problem was with a faulty
administration of an IV into his vein. A district court halted Ohio's 3-drug
process, and the ruling was upheld by a 3-judge panel on the Sixth Circuit.
However, that ruling was appealed to the full court, which issued its 8-6
decision on Wednesday allowing the lethal injection protocol to proceed.
Although there was a risk of pain in the execution method, "the Constitution
does not guarantee a pain-free execution," the court stated. The district court
will now make a full decision on the use of the drugs. Ohio had used a 3-drug
protocol before but stopped the practice in 2009 before taking it up again
(source: Catholic News Agency)
FLORIDA----female death sentence thrown out
Tiffany Ann Cole, convicted in Jacksonville buried alive case, has death
sentence thrown out
The Florida Supreme Court is ordering new sentencing hearings for 4 inmates
currently on the state's death row, including 1 of 3 women residing there.
The high court on Thursday threw out the sentences because a jury did not
unanimously recommend the death penalty in the cases. The Court ruled last year
that death sentences have to be unanimous, and anyone sentenced after a 2002
ruling could be eligible for a new sentence.
Among those getting a new hearing is Tiffany Ann Cole. She was convicted for
her role in the 2005 murders of a Jacksonville couple that was buried alive.
The court also ordered a new sentencing hearing for Michael Bargo, who was
convicted for taking part in 2011 the murder and torture of a Marion County
Greer will bring back capital offenses bill
Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, said he'll be back next legislative session
with a bill to expand the list of crimes that are punishable by death.
Greer's bill would make murders committed on school or day care campuses
"If you go to a college campus or a kindergarten class and kill some kids, you
ought to get the death penalty," Greer said last week.
Greer carried the bill this spring, but it never made it out of the House
Greer's bill also adds the murder of prosecutors as a capital offense, along
with the murder of law enforcement officers. Similarly, the murders of family
members of law enforcement, correction officers and judges as acts of revenge
would be punishable with death.
Current capital offenses include murders committed during kidnapping, rape,
robbery, burglary or arson.
Mike Lewis, a spokesman for the Alabama attorney general, said that office
recently received a copy of the bill and is reviewing it.
(source: Times Daily)
Capital Punishment: The times they are a changin'----Hey Gov. McAuliffe: A
Democratic standard-bearer would grant Morva mercy
In 2017, The Times They Are A-Changin' is more than just a prophetic Bob Dylan
song (and album) riffing on social change, it's a prudent observation about
waning public support for the death penalty - especially among Democrats.
Gone are the blood-lusting, big-haired days of 1992, when Bill Clinton was
first-elected. Most forget, Clinton prevailed despite the spectacle of his
unprecedented and unbecoming posturing on the death penalty; cultivating a
"tough on crime" persona, "Bubba" returned to Arkansas from the campaign trail
in a cynical, self-serving move, to oversee the troubled execution of a
brain-damaged 42-year-old black man, Ricky Ray Rector.
Nowadays, democratic distaste for the death penalty is blowing in a
suffocating, sepulchral wind; currently it threatens to engulf, and perhaps
darken, the political future of Virginia Governor, Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe
has the thankless job no human in civilized society should - he has to to
decide whether to grant clemency to William Morva - a severely mentally-ill man
scheduled to be executed on July 6.
McAuliffe insists he's personally opposed to the death penalty, but he has also
vowed that he's willing to impose it, which he did, recently, allowing the
execution of Ricky Gray to proceed in January. In fact, McAuliffe bears the
ignominious distinction of being the only sitting Democratic governor to allow
an execution to go forward - both Gray's and the execution of Alfredo Prieto in
2015 - a tangible marker when it comes to newfound Democratic dissatisfaction
with the death penalty - and a sign that the times, truly, they are a-changin'.
If, from the tangled morass surrounding the death penalty generally, and
Morva's case, specifically - Governor McAuliffe is to emerge from his life or
death decision a standard-bearer of modern-day democratic values - a truly
viable candidate for Commander-in-Chief in 2020 (and beyond) - there is only 1
action he can take, that he must take: McAuliffe must spare Mr. Morva.
Last year, even before the 2016 Democratic Party platform broke with Hillary
Clinton's indefensible stance against abolishing capital punishment, political
reporter Kira Lerner asked what the smart money today suggests is purely
rhetorical, "Is Hillary Clinton the Last Democratic Presidential Candidate to
Support the Death Penalty?" Lerner observed: "Being opposed to capital
punishment is no longer a handicap for Democratic presidential candidates; in
fact, taking a strong stance against the death penalty may even be beneficial
in both a primary and general election. And experts say we can expect to see a
time in the near future when support for the practice could actually be a
Glancing about the country there is plenty of evidence suggesting Lerner's
prognostication is a fait accompli. For example, in May, in Philadelphia, civil
rights attorney Larry Krasner won the democratic nomination for District
Attorney despite vowing to never seek the death penalty. Likewise, in Denver,
Colorado, Democratic prosecutor Beth McCann was elected despite making a
similar pledge. And, in Orlando, Florida, the elected chief prosecutor, Aramis
Ayala, also a Democrat, courageously swore-off the death penalty, starting a
legal firestorm that smolders still. In California, and even in traditional,
accepting hotbeds of capital punishment, like Alabama, democratic acceptance of
the death penalty has plummeted.
In fact, the writing isn't just on the wall for Democratic candidates when it
comes to their electorate's disenchantment with the death penalty, it's in a
cogent oped written by former New Mexico Governor, Bill Richardson. In "I
carried out the death penalty as governor. I hope others put it to rest,"
Richardson argues, "[t]o effectively represent the interests of citizens, and
protect our nation's role as a global leader, a new generation of policymakers
and politicians must put the death penalty to rest once and for all."
Starting with Mr. Morva's untreated, severely debilitating mental illness that
was directly involved in the crimes he committed, there are many good, even
honorable reasons, for Governor McAuliffe to spare Mr. Morva's life. And then,
as Bob Dylan might wryly sing, there's politics. So, come senators, congressmen
- and yes, you too, Governor McAuliffe - please heed the call. Don't stand in
the doorway. Don't block up the hall. For he that gets hurt will be he who has
stalled ... For the times, they are a-changin'.
(source: Stephen Cooper, Los Anngeles Post-Examiner)
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