Day: April 7, 2012

Ohio death penalty debate continues as executions start up again

april 7, 2012 source :

COLUMBUS — Attorney General Mike DeWine has released the 2011 Capital Crimes Annual Report, the yearly snapshot of Ohio’s Death Row, listing facts and figures about inmates who have been executed and those facing death.

It’s a timely survey, given the continuing debate over Ohio’s administration of the death penalty.

According to the report, 313 death sentences have been issued in Ohio since 1981, a number that includes multiple sentences for some individual inmates.

Of those, the state has executed 46. The first was Wilford Berry on Feb. 19, 1999. The most recent was Reginald Brooks on Nov. 15 of last year.

The average age of executed inmates was 45. Nineteen were black, 27 white, all men, serving an average of more than 16 years on Death Row.

They killed 76 people, including 17 children.

The highest number of executions in recent years was in 2010, when eight inmates received lethal injections. Five more were put to death last year.

Sixteen inmates had their death sentences commuted. Gov. John Kasich has granted clemency twice, for Shawn Hawkins (convicted of a drug-related double murder in Hamilton County in 1989) and Joseph Murphy (convicted of killing an elderly Marion woman in 1987).

Former Govs. Ted Strickland, Bob Taft and Dick Celeste commuted the sentences of five, one and eight Death Row inmates, respectively.

Twenty-two inmates died in prison either of natural causes or suicide before their death sentences being carried out.

Eight were deemed mentally retarded and, thus, not eligible for death sentences. Eight are pending resentencing. And 71 had their sentences blocked by judicial action.

That leaves 154 people on Ohio’s Death Row, most of whom have been relocated from the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown to the Chillicothe Correctional institution, located about 50 miles south of Columbus.

Four of those received death sentences last year. A dozen have dates set for their lethal injections.

Mark Wiles, convicted in the brutal knifing death of a Portage County teen, is next in line on April 18, pending any additional legal challenges.

Green light

The report was released a few days before a federal court ruled Ohio could move ahead with Wiles’ execution.

But Judge Gregory Frost didn’t mince words concerning Ohio and the death penalty.

In a decision last week, he declined a request from legal counsel for Wiles to stop his scheduled execution, opening the door for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to restart lethal injections after several months of delays.

But Frost made it clear prison officials better get it right this time.

He’s understandably skeptical, writing in his decision, “Ohio has time and again failed to follow through on its own execution protocol. The protocol is constitutional as written and executions are lawful, but the problem has been Ohio’s repeated inability to do what it says it will do.”

He added later, “They must recognize the consequences that will ensue if they fail to succeed in conducting a constitutionally sound execution of Wiles. They must recognize what performing a constitutionally sound Wiles execution and then returning to the flawed practices of the past would mean.”

Death penalty-free

Two Democratic state lawmakers continue to call for an end to the death penalty in Ohio, “raising fervent opposition” to Judge Frost’s decision last week,

Reps. Nickie Antonio, from the Cleveland area, and Ted Celeste, from the Columbus area, are sponsors of legislation that would ban the death penalty, replacing it with life in prison without parole.

Last week, they pointed to Connecticut, the 17th state in the country that has ceased putting inmates to death.

“Moving forward with executions is a step backward for Ohio,” Antonio said in a released statement. “Now is the time for Ohio to join policy leaders throughout the country and move to life without parole.”

Celeste added, “Connecticut will soon be the fifth state in the past five years to abolish this barbaric, outdated form of punishment. Public opinion is clearly changing with regard to capital punishment, and I am hopeful that Ohio will soon be able to capitalize on this momentum as well.”

Conn. Ends Death Penalty, But Not For 11 Men On Death Row

april 7 , source :

Can you call it abolition if you’re still executing people? David R. Dow considers Connecticut’s hair-splitting new law, and wonders whether our focus on innocence is to blame.

On the website of The New York Timesthere’s an old photo of a man named William Petit standing next to his wife, Jennifer, and their two daughters, Hayley and Michaela, 17 and 11. They look peaceful and content, a portrait of happiness

Dr. Petit is the only one of the four still alive. On Aug. 6, 2007, his wife and daughters were brutally murdered in their Cheshire, Connecticut home. The manner of their shocking deaths helps explain an otherwise bizarre development: The Connecticut legislature is going to abolish the death penalty, but not until the Petit killers are put to death.

In a crime so chilling that even some death-penalty opponents I know reconsidered their opposition, Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky entered the Petit house at three in the morning. They beat Dr. Petit unconscious with a baseball bat, tied him up in the basement, and went upstairs. There, Hayes raped Jennifer while Komisarjevsky attacked Michaela. The men strangled Jennifer to death and tied the girls to their beds. Then they set the house on fire.

With his legs still bound, Dr. Petit broke out of the basement and stumbled across the yard.  He screamed to his neighbor for help. Twelve hours later, Hayes and Komisarjevsky were under arrest. Connecticut juries sentenced both men to death.

And now they are the last two men to be sentenced to death in the state, because last week, by a vote of 20 to 16, the Connecticut Senate voted to abolish the death penalty. The bill will now move to the House, where it is certain to pass, before being signed by Gov. Daniel Malloy.

Yet Hayes and Komisarjevsky, along with nine other inmates, remain on Connecticut’s death row, their sentences unaffected by the new law. How can that be? How is it possible for a legislature to decide that the death penalty should be eliminated, but only after we first execute 11 more men?

The morality of the death penalty has nothing to do with error. It is not even about deterrence; and for most people, it is not about cost. It is about belief.

Home Invasion

I believe the answer to that question has to do with two troubling features of the modern anti-death-penalty movement. The first is the excessive reliance on the concept of innocence. The second is the often tepid, tone-deaf response from the abolitionist community to unspeakable crimes like the one that destroyed the Petit family.

The innocence revolution—driven largely by advances in DNA analysis—has been undeniably dramatic. Forty-four states now have innocence projectsdevoted to identifying and helping gain the release of innocent prisoners. Nationwide, nearly three hundred men have walked out of prison exonerated, after DNA proved beyond question we sent the wrong man to jail.

And as these cases began to permeate the public consciousness, death-penalty opponents seized on them as a tactic: None of those 289 exonerated inmates, they said, would have been released if he had been executed. The possibility of error became the central argument in the abolitionist brief.

Measured along one metric, the tactic has paid off: When the most recent abolition becomes official, Connecticut will be the fifth state in the past five years (along with New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Illinois) to have repealed the death penalty.

But that metric does not tell the full story. Connecticut has not actually executed anyone since Michael Ross, who waived his appeals, was put to death almost seven years ago. Before Ross, the state had not executed anyone in more than 30 years.  In Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico, there were a combined 26 people on death row when capital punishment was stricken from the books.

In contrast, in the remaining death penalty states, more than three thousand men await execution.

With Connecticut now on the abolition side of the ledger, only 10 of the 33 states with a death penalty have executed someone in the past five years. Meanwhile, Texas alone has executed nearly half the people put to death in America since 2007 (102 out of 232).

read full article

ALABAMA – Larry Smith. Marshall County Man Set Free; Was Once On Death Row

april, 6  source

A Marshall County man was released from jail Friday after serving more than 17 years in prison.  He was even on Alabama’s death row for capital murder.

Larry Randell Smith hugged his mother, Sherry Miller, as soon as he walked out of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office.  Other friends waited to greet him.

Smith was convicted in August 1996 of the September 1994 robbery and shooting death of his friend, Dennis Harris.

He appealed, and his conviction and death sentence was upheld by the Alabama Supreme Court in 1999.

Smith continued to appeal, and in 2010, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously ruled that he had an ineffective attorney defending him.

On Friday, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit armed robbery in the first degree.

District Attorney Steve Marshall said prosecutors are comfortable with the resolution because the victim’s mother, Diane Maier, believes it is appropriate.

“The mother of the victim, who sat through the original trial as well as the [capital punishment hearing], firmly believed that Larry Smith did not pull the trigger and kill her son,” Marshall said.

“She believed he was involved, but also believes that Larry Smith can help that family determine who else was involved in the murder of her son.  She felt it was very important that that be part of what happened.”

Maier is in poor health and was not present for this court appearance, but affirmed her support for Smith during a phone call with prosecutors Friday morning.

The district attorney said the plea agreement was also due to a lack of evidence.

“This is a murder case that’s almost 20 years old,” said Marshall. “For us to be able to go back and retry it was next to impossible.”

“I think any time you have delay in the prosecution of cases, it is to the disadvantage of the prosecution,” Marshall added.  “It was a significant disadvantage in this case to have the facts presented to us almost 20 years later to have to deal with it.”

Prosecutors said some witnesses do not recall the circumstances of of their trial testimony before, and there are witnesses who have changed their testimony from what they initially told law enforcement.

Marshall said the investigation into the murder of Dennis Harris will continue, and as part of the plea agreement, Larry Smith will be interviewed further by investigators.

“One of the things that was important to [Harris’ mother] is that Mr. Smith be released to be able to cooperate with law enforcement,” Marshall said.

“Mr. Smith’s lawyers have had an investigator working on this case for several years. They have information that otherwise law enforcement did not have available to them previously that they have been willing to provide and are obligated to provide.”

Larry Smith said he is ready to move forward with life after serving 17 years and 5 months in prison, much of it on death row.

“I’m just glad it’s over and I’m ready to go home,” he said.

Smith’s mother said she is ready to fix her son a home-cooked meal for the first time in nearly two decades.

“I’m on top of the world, I thank God for this, for his freedom,” Smith’s mother said.

“It’s been miserable. I can’t say the words of what I’ve been through. It’s been so depressing.

“I knew all these years my son was innocent. Something he did not do.”

Miller said her relationship with the victim’s mother has helped her through it.

“We’ve been good friends through all these years, she’s been wonderful support,” Miller said about Diane Maier.

“She knows that my son was innocent. She never had no doubts. From day one she knew he was innocent.”

Smith and Miller said they hope to soon go camping and fishing together.

LOUISIANA – Todd Wessinger – execution may 9, 2012 STAYED

Update 25 april source :


A federal judge in Baton Rouge has granted a temporary stay of execution for a man convicted in the 1995 slaying of two workers at a now-closed restaurant.
The Advocate reports Todd Wessinger was scheduled to be executed May 9 but U.S. District Judge James Brady granted the stay while he reviews arguments presented Wednesday by his attorneys, who asked for a permanent stay of the death penalty order.
Brady did not say when he would rule on the request.
Wessinger, a former dishwasher at a now-closed Calendar’s restaurant, was found guilty and sentenced to die by lethal injection for fatally shooting 27-year-old Stephanie Guzzardo and 46-year-old David Breakwell on Nov. 19, 1995.


acts from The Supreme court Louisiana

This case arises from the murder of two employees of Calendar’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge on Sunday, November 19, 1995, at approximately 9:30 a.m. The evidence shows that defendant, a former employee at Calendar’s, rode his bicycle tothe restaurant that morning armed with a .380 semi-automatic pistol. Mike Armentor, a bartender at the restaurant, saw defendant just outside of the restaurant, and they exchanged greetings. Immediately after entering the restaurant through a rear door, defendant shot Armentor twice inthe back. Although Armentor sustained severe abdominal injuries, he survived. Defendant then tried to shoot Alvin Ricks, a dishwasher, in the head, but the gun would not fire. As Ricks ran out of the restaurant, defendant attempted to shoot him in the leg, but the gun misfired. As he was running across the street to call 911, Ricks told Willie Grigsby, another employee of the restaurant who escaped the restaurant without being seen by defendant, that he had seen the perpetrator, and the perpetrator was Todd. Ricks also told the 911 operator that the perpetrator was Todd.

Stephanie Guzzardo, the manager on duty that morning, heard the commotion and called 911. Before she could speak to the operator, defendant entered the office, armed with the gun.  After a short exchange with Guzzardo, in which she begged for her life, defendant, after telling her to “shut up,” shot her through the heart. Guzzardo died approximately thirty seconds after being shot. Defendant then removed approximately $7000 from the office. Defendant next found David Breakwell, a cook at the restaurant who had been hiding in a cooler, and shot him as he begged for his life. Defendant then left the restaurant on his bicycle. EMS personnel arrived at the scene shortly there after, and Breakwell died en route to the hospital.

Defendant was eventually arrested and charged with two counts of first degree murder. Testimony adduced at trial established that defendant had asked one of his friends to commit the robbery with him, and that he planned to leave no witnesses to the crime. Several people also testified that they had seen the defendant with large sums of money after the crime. The murderweapon was subsequently discovered, along with a pair of gloves worn during the crime, at an abandoned house across the street from defendant’s residence. One of defendant’s friends testified that defendant had asked him to remove the murder weapon from the abandoned house.
Defendant was convicted of two counts of first degree murder for the deaths of Breakwell and Guzzardo and sentenced to death. The jury found three aggravating circumstances:

(1) that defendant was engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of aggravated burglary orarmed robbery;

(2) that defendant knowingly created a risk of death or great bodily harm to more
than one person; and

(3) the offense was committed in an especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel manner.

read full opinion

Update april 12, 2012  source :

Attorneys for convicted killer Todd Wessinger, who is scheduled to be executed May 9 for the 1995 slaying of two workers at a now-closed Baton Rouge restaurant, has asked a federal judge to reconsider his recent denial of a new trial or sentencing.

The Advocate reports ( ) Todd Wessinger’s attorneys also asked that his execution be stayed.

Wessinger’s attorneys want U.S. District Judge James Brady to hold an evidentiary hearing on Wessinger’s federal constitutional claims. The attorneys argued that Brady issued his ruling Feb. 22 without ever holding such a hearing.

Wessinger, a former dishwasher at the restaurant, was found guilty and sentenced to die by lethal injection for fatally shooting 27-year-old Stephanie Guzzardo and 46-year-old David Breakwel on Nov. 19, 1995.

“This Court’s actions throughout these proceedings led Mr. Wessinger to believe that evidentiary hearings would take place,” Wessinger’s current attorneys — Danalynn Recer, of The Gulf Region Advocacy Center in Houston; Soren Gisleson, of New Orleans; and federal public defender Rebecca Hudsmith, of Lafayette — contend in court filings.

Those attorneys electronically filed a motion Tuesday in federal court in Baton Rouge to alter or amend Brady’s judgment. A supporting memorandum was electronically filed Wednesday.

In February, Brady rejected a dozen claims raised by the Wessinger, 44, including allegation that his trial attorneys provided ineffective assistance during jury selection and the guilt and penalty phases of his 1997 trial in Baton Rouge.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Wednesday he believes the judge’s decision “was sound and based on the facts presented by the record.”

“It seems that the defense is arguing that everyone involved in this case did something wrong, including the defense lawyers, experts and the court — that is everyone but the defendant, who committed a particularly brutal murder,” Moore stated.

“I hope that the execution date will remain intact although I anticipate more filings on behalf of the defendant to upset the carrying out of the jury’s verdict,” he added.

Brady, who described the state’s evidence against Wessinger in the guilt phase as “overwhelming,” said in his ruling that Wessinger faults his attorneys’ penalty phase preparation for not probing further into his childhood and upbringing.

Wessinger contends such an investigation would have led to evidence of a physically and mentally abusive childhood, possible mental defects and an alienation from society that led him to believe he did not belong.

Brady ruled that Wessinger is not attacking the quality or thoroughness of the investigation but “does not like the way his story was spun for the jury.”

“This is a clear factual error inconsistent with the record which must be revisited,” Wessinger’s attorneys argue in their memorandum.

“At penalty phase, trial counsel generally painted a rosy picture of Mr. Wessinger as ‘a caring and present father, a brother who cared for his handicapped sister growing up, and a hard worker from a stable family.’ Because trial counsel had not hired a mitigation specialist nor conducted any independent life history investigation, the presentation was an incomplete and inaccurate view of Mr. Wessinger,” his current attorneys maintain.

“It is not the case, as this court suggests, that trial counsel conducted the investigation and made strategic choices about what to present,” Wessinger’s attorneys add.