Day: April 8, 2012

‘I put my daddy on death row – but he’s innocent’: Man who testified against his father is campaigning for his release

april, 8 source :

A man who testified against his father when he was seven years old is proclaiming his innocence and campaigning for his release – 23 years after he was sentenced to life in prison.

Jerry Michael Burgos, now 29, was called to the witness stand to give evidence against his father in 1989.

Jerry Burgos, who was 29 at the time, was charged with strangling his wife Nilsa – who was seven months pregnant – and setting their Polk Township, Pennsylvania, house on fire in an attempt to cover up the crime.

Campaign: Jerry Michael Burgos, right, and his brother Jason, left, are starting a Facebook group to proclaim the innocence of their father Jerry, centre

Campaign: Jerry Michael Burgos, right, and his brother Jason, left, are starting a Facebook group to proclaim the innocence of their father Jerry, centre

When investigators asked the boy what had happened on that fatal night, he said: ‘My dad took me and my brother out of the house and put us in his truck,’  according to the New York Post.

Burgos had told jurors that thick smoke engulfed their home and that he had managed to save his two sons from the blaze – but not his wife.

But the boy could not remember seeing signs of a fire, which allowed prosecutors to use his testimony to discredit his father’s.

The father-of-two had purchased a $75,000 life insurance policy four months before his wife’s death so prosecutors had reason to believe he had committed the crime.

The couple were also said to be involved with other lovers, which gave jurors another motive for the murder.

In 1989 Burgos was sentenced to the electric chair and found guilty of murder, arson and abuse of a corpse.

But Jerry Michael does not believe his father committed the crime. ‘I never hated my dad. I never felt like he did this,’ he told the New York Post. ‘I was always happy to see him when we went to trial.’

‘I feel like parents are a little bit of us. I really don’t think he did it. I can’t see myself doing it, and I couldn’t see him doing it either,’ he added.

The case that has been plagued by controversies went to retrial in 1993 because Burgos’s lawyer argued that prosecutors improperly used Jerry Michael’s testimony. But the second jury still found Burgos guilty.

Then, in 2004, Burgos’s attorney Philip Lauer won an appeal to test for genetic clues, as the previous trials had relied mainly on circumstantial evidence and had ignored DNA testing.

‘It seems like its standard fare in every case that everything gets tested, but in rural counties that isn’t the case,’ Lauer told the New York Post.

But even though a t-shirt found inside Nilsa’s body bag revealed somebody else’s DNA, it was not enough to overturn the verdict.

Now Jerry Michael and his brother Jason are creating a Facebook page to raise awareness about their father’s case. 

‘I love my mom, but I also lost my dad,’ Jerry Michael said. ‘I really don’t think he did it. I’m 99.9 percent sure that he didn’t do it. There’s no way.’

10 years after DNA cleared York County man, death penalty still debated

april 8, 2012 source :

Some believe that Pennsylvania will eventually abolish the death penalty.

Ten years ago today, Ray Krone walked out of an Arizona prison after DNA tests showed he did not murder a Phoenix bartender in 1991.

He became the 100th death row exonoree, and his case came at a time when federal legislators were considering death penalty reform, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

What shook many was that Krone had been convicted twice in the murder, he said.

Krone was a military veteran, a Bible reader, and one of the top graduates in his Dover Area High School class. He had maintained his innocence during the 10 years he spent in prison, two of those years on death row.

“It was a revelation that so many mistakes could have been made,” Dieter said.

In the past 10 years, several states, such as Illinois, New Mexico and New Jersey, have abolished the death penalty, Dieter said. Others, such as Maryland, Connecticut and California, are seriously considering it.

The number of executions nationwide has dropped in the last 10 years, and the public is more aware of the errors that can occur.

Pennsylvania to study the death penalty

The last execution in Pennsylvania took place in 1999.

It marked only the third execution in the state since 1976, and in all three cases, the defendants gave up their appeal efforts.

Yet, today, more than 200 remain on death row in the state. Eleven are from York County cases.

A death penalty without executions is not a death penalty, Dieter said.

The state Senate passed a resolution in December authorizing a study of the death penalty.

Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery/Bucks counties, who sponsored the resolution, said he thinks the review is appropriate, given the studies done by other states. Questions about the cost, deterrence and appropriateness of the death penalty need to be answered, according to a news release.

The study will involve The Justice Center for Research at Penn State,

the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission on Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness, and the Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission.

The task force will study more than a dozen areas, including whether the selection of defendants for capital trials is arbitrary, unfair or discriminatory, and whether adequate procedural protections exist to prevent an innocent person from being sentenced to death and executed.

It will have two years to do the work.

Problems with the death penalty

Some, such as Kathleen Lucas of Springettsbury Township, believe it is only a matter of time until Pennsylvania repeals capital punishment.

Since the 1970s, 140 exonerations now have been reported nationwide, said Lucas, executive director for

Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Six have been in Pennsylvania.

In addition to Krone’s exoneration, the Sept. 21 execution of Troy Davis in Georgia has left a bad taste in people’s mouths, she said.

Davis was sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of a police officer, but he maintained his innocence until the end. His defense team had argued that some of the witnesses had recanted their statements that implicated him.

Pennsylvania has been singled out for problems with the death penalty, Lucas said. The American Bar Association cited numerous areas for reform in a 2007 report.

Studies have revealed, for example, that 98.6 percent of jurors in capital cases in Pennsylvania failed to understand “at least some” portion of the jury instructions, the report states.

Of those questioned, 82.8 percent of the jurors did not believe “that a life sentence really meant life in prison,” according to the report.

Racial and geographical disparities also exist, according to the report. A Pennsylvania Supreme Court committee found that one third of black death-row inmates in Philadelphia County would have received sentences of life in prison if they had not been black.

Death penalty cases are costly

Lucas questions why the state keeps the death penalty when it isn’t executing anyway. She argues the money spent on capital cases costs three times or more than sentencing a defendant to life.

The average death penalty case in Maryland costs about $3 million, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (citing the Urban Institute, 2008). It’s anticipated the state will pay $186 million for cases pursued between 1978 and 1999. The state has had five executions since 1976.

Death penalty cases demand more work because of what’s at stake, Dieter said. Typically, two defense lawyers and two prosecutors are assigned to the case. They must prepare for two phases — the trial and the sentencing — which require different investigations.

“We’re just throwing money down a big, black hole,” said Marc Bookman, executive director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation.

It also costs more money to incarcerate death-row inmates, Bookman said.

In these tough economic times, Lucas said, the money could be used elsewhere, such as education. Police also could pursue cold cases.

Support of the death penalty

The state District Attorneys Association doesn’t think the death penalty should be abolished, executive director Richard Long said.

It helps to bring a measure of closure to the victim’s family, and it has a deterrent effect as well.

“We think Pennsylvania has decided it’s an appropriate penalty in the most egregious type of murder cases,” he said.

It is the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that is slowing down the cases, Long said. The appeals are not moving through the process and being addressed in a timely manner — no matter what the outcome.

Many cases are being overturned because of problems, such as ineffective counsel, Lucas said.

Some, who started with the death penalty, end up with a life sentence, Dieter said. Pennsylvania has done studies and made efforts to fix problems, but “at this point, I think it’s still not working.”

York County District Attorney Tom Kearney said he has taken an oath to uphold the will of the people.

“When we seek the penalty, it is for the worst of the worst, and that is what we’re charged with doing,” he said.

His office takes great pains to consult with the victims, looking at the statute and reviewing the case to determine if the death penalty is a realistic option.

He pointed to the Michael and Nanette Craver case as an example. His office withdrew the death penalty against the couple in the death of their 7-year-old adopted Russian son.

That’s because after talking with experts, it appeared the mitigating circumstances would outweigh the aggravating circumstances. It would have meant a life in prison without parole.

The couple later was convicted at trial of involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment and conspiracy.

“The taking of a life is a serious business,” Kearney said. “This is not something we do on the fly.”

Kearney said he thinks it’s healthy for the community to discuss the death penalty and whether they believe legislators should change the law.

Local defense attorney Gerald Lord said he has handled numerous death penalty cases in which the defendants are found not guilty of first-degree murder. Some are convicted of lesser charges.

Lord cited the 2003 shooting death of 25-year-old Anthony Lloyd as an example.

A jury acquitted his client, Dorian Eady of Erie, of first- and third-degree murder, attempted homicide, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment in the case. At one point, he faced a death penalty notice.

Witnesses testified Eady was in Buffalo the day before the shooting and in Erie when the shooting occurred. Eady had always maintained his innocence.

“It’s the ultimate penalty, and if you make a mistake, you can’t take it back,” Lord said.

Ten years later

As for Ray Krone, he moved back to York County and has made attempts to resume a normal life.

He has been thankful for the support of his friends, family and the residents of York County, he said. It has helped him as he has traveled across the country trying to make a difference.

Krone has been an outspoken proponent of abolishing the death penalty. He has spoken with legislators, students and others about his case, wrongful convictions, DNA testing and judicial reform.

Krone serves as director for communications and training for Witness to Innocence, an organization that consists of exonerated death row survivors and their loved ones who are fighting to end the death penalty.

Krone said he traveled to Connecticut last year to testify along with Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project for the repeal of the death penalty.

Legislators did not approve the repeal last year, but it is moving through the legislature this year.

“If they could do it to me, they could do it to anybody,” Krone said.


Who is on death row

Eleven people from York County cases are on death row in Pennsylvania.

They are:

— Kevin Dowling, 53, convicted in the October 1997 murder of Spring Grove shop owner Jennifer Myers. The York County District Attorney’s Office maintained Dowling killed Myers to prevent her from testifying against him in an attempted rape and robbery case.

— Daniel Jacobs, 41, convicted in the February 1992 stabbing death of his girlfriend, Tammy Lee Mock of York, and the drowning of their 7-month old daughter, Holly Danielle Jacobs.

— Harve Johnson, 30, convicted in the April 2008 beating death of 2-year-old Darisabel Baez.

— Kevin Mattison, 35, for the December 2008 shooting death of Christian Agosto during a robbery and burglary. Mattison of Baltimore had a previous murder conviction for killing a man in a street fight in Maryland in 1995.

— Hubert Lester Michael Jr., 55, pleaded guilty to the July 1993 kidnapping and shooting death of 16-year-old Trista Elizabeth Eng in the Dillsburg area.

— Milton Montalvo, 49, and Noel Montalvo, 48, convicted of the April 1998, stabbing deaths of Miriam Asencio-Cruz and Manuel Ramirez Santana, also known as Nelson Lugo. Asencio-Cruz was Milton Montalvo’s estranged common-law wife, and Santana was her friend.

— Hector Morales, 29, convicted of the July 2009 murder and burglary of Ronald Simmons Jr. Simmons was shot about 12 hours before he was to testify against Morales in a drug case.

— John Small, 52, convicted of the 1981 murder and attempted rape of 17-year-old Cheryl Smith, whose body was found in West Manheim Township.

— Mark Newton Spotz, 41, convicted of the February 1995 shooting death of Penny Gunnet, 41, of New Salem, his third victim in a four-day crime spree through central and eastern Pennsylvania.

— Paul Gamboa-Taylor, 51, pleaded guilty to the May 1991, hammer slayings of four family members: his wife, Valeria L. Gamboa-Taylor; their two children, Paul, 4, and Jasmine, 2; and another child, Lance Barshinger, 2. He received a life sentence for killing his mother-in-law, Donna M. Barshinger.

About the Krone case

Ray Krone was convicted twice and later exonerated in the 1991 murder of a Phoenix bartender.

Kim Ancona, 36, was found stabbed to death Dec. 29, 1991, in the CBS Restaurant Lounge in Arizona.

Police began their investigation, including questioning Krone. Police arrested him on New Year’s Eve.

Krone believed that police, in their investigation, would realize they had the wrong man. But he went to trial in the summer of 1992. An expert presented a videotape showing that a bite sample from Krone matched a bite mark on the victim’s breast.

A jury found Krone guilty of first-degree murder and kidnapping. He was sentenced to death.

In 1995, the Arizona Supreme Court overturned Krone’s conviction, granting him a new trial.

At his second trial in 1996, the prosecution argued that the bite marks on the victim’s body matched Krone’s “unique dentition.” Krone’s attorney, Christopher Plourd of San Diego, countered that the bite marks were not Krone’s, and the saliva found on the victim provided a DNA pattern that excluded Krone.

A jury convicted him again.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James McDougall said he had doubts about Krone’s guilt and sentenced him to life in prison.

In 2002, testing of DNA on the victim’s clothes proved Krone wasn’t the killer and instead implicated Kenneth Phillips Jr.

Krone was freed that year after 10 years in prison.

Krone sued Maricopa County in Arizona, and the city of Phoenix over his wrongful conviction. He received settlements totaling $4.4 million.

Krone now lives in Conewago Township.


Life in prison

Is there a difference between how death row inmates versus those sentenced to life without parole live in prison?

The answer is yes, said Sue McNaughton, press secretary for the state Department of Corrections.

Death row inmates are locked in their cells 22 hours a day. They are allowed outside to exercise, to shower or to research their appeals in a mini law library, she said.

When they do leave their cells, they are shackled and escorted by several staff members, McNaughton said.

Inmates who are in for life live in regular housing. In general population, two inmates can live in a cell, but those with lifetime sentences might be offered a single cell.

Inmates serving a life sentence can work prison jobs, she said. They can go to the library to read a book. They are not as restricted.

Feds want more time to weigh death penalty

april 8, 2012 source :

Prosecutors want more time to decide whether to seek the death penalty for a legally dead Mississippi man charged with a kidnapping that resulted in the death of a 12-year-old Las Vegas girl whose body was found in Louisiana.

Thomas Steven Sanders was declared dead in Mississippi in 1994. He surfaced as a suspect in the death of Lexis Roberts, whose body was found in October 2010 in Catahoula Parish, La. The body of her mother, Suellen Roberts, was found the next month in Yavapai County, Ariz.

Sanders is charged with the child’s death in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, La.

Prosecutors have asked for a 30-day extension until Aug. 1 to decide on seeking the death penalty. The motion says defense attorneys agree with the request.

U.S. District Judge Dee Drell has not yet ruled.

Authorities have said in court records that Sanders confessed to killing the mother and daughter. His attorneys, however, have filed motions to prevent that information from being presented at trial. They argue Sanders asked for a lawyer, and questioning should have stopped.

At the request of Drell, U.S. Magistrate James Kirk investigated the confession issue and in March wrote a lengthy recommendation to allow the confession at trial. Kirk’s recommendation contained some of the most graphic details to become public about the killing.

According to the judge’s recommendation and other court documents, Sanders was living at a storage facility in Las Vegas when he met Roberts. A relationship developed and they planned to take her daughter on a trip to Bearizona, a wildlife park in Arizona near the Grand Canyon, for the Labor Day weekend in 2010.

They spent the night in a hotel and played in the swimming pool, court records said. On their way back to Nevada, Sanders pulled over in the desert “ostensibly so Suellen could shoot his .22 rifle” but instead he shot her in the head, Kirk wrote in his March filing, which drew upon the confession documents.

“Sanders then loaded Lexis, who was in hysterics over seeing her mother murdered, into the car and traveled to Louisiana. He took Lexis to a wooded area and shot her in the back of the head and, when she didn’t die, he shot her twice more in the head. When she still didn’t die, he tried to shoot her through the heart. When she still didn’t die, he cut her throat, killing her,” Kirk wrote.

Sanders‘ attorneys have been trying to get the confession thrown out based on the argument that questioning continued after he asked for a lawyer. Kirk disagreed, saying that Sanders only requested a lawyer to discuss certain questions: why he killed the mother and daughter, what he had been doing while in Nevada and whether he had worked for a mattress company.

Authorities in Louisiana and Arizona have said Sanders could face state charges.

Sanders walked away from his family in Mississippi in 1987 and they didn’t hear for him for years. His parents, brother and ex-wife petitioned a Pike County, Miss., court in July 1994 to have him declared dead. Despite the death certificate, Sanders was able to move about easily and undetected even though he was arrested over the years, including for drug paraphernalia and a number of traffic and motor vehicle incidents, all in Tennessee. He was sentenced to two years in jail in Georgia for simple battery.

He’s being held without bond. His trial is scheduled for January.