Day: May 19, 2012

TEXAS – Texas prison system has drugs for 23 executions

May 19, 2012  source : AP

After prodding from Texas AG, prison system says it has enough drugs to execute 23 inmates
Texas prison officials disclosed Friday they have enough lethal drugs to execute as many as 23 people.
In response to this week’s opinion from the state attorney general’s office that said the Texas Department of Criminal Justice could not withhold information about the drug supply, the department said it currently has 46 2.5-gram vials of pentobarbital. A 5-gram dose — about 3.4 ounces — is the 1st lethal drug used during each execution in Huntsville, according to Texas execution procedures.
The prison agency said it had similar supplies of 2 other drugs also administered to condemned inmates. It did not, though, identify suppliers of the lethal drugs, which the opinion also had addressed.
Executions also involve 100 milligrams of pancuronium bromide and 140 milliequivalents of potassium chloride. Texas has 290 10-milligram vials of the pancuronium bromide — 10 are required per execution — and 737 20-milliequivalent vials of potassium chloride — 7 per punishment.
The department’s written procedures call for a matching set of drugs and syringes “in case unforeseen events make their use necessary.” But in a brief statement emailed to reporters late Friday, the agency said a backup set of lethal drugs for executions “is not actually prepared, but an additional dose is available if needed.”
The attorney general’s opinion, dated Monday, was an answer to public information requests filed earlier this year by the Austin American-Statesman and British newspaper The Guardian.
Prison officials had argued that releasing the information could be harmful to employees and provide death penalty opponents a way to harass the drug suppliers with the hope firms would refuse to do business with the state.
“We find your arguments as to how disclosure of the requested drug quantities would result in the disruption of the execution process or otherwise interfere with law enforcement to be too speculative,” Sean Opperman, an assistant attorney general, wrote in the opinion.
The prison agency had 30 days to comply with the opinion or to challenge it in court. The status of the supplier question was not immediately clear.
Opperman said that, while the attorney general’s office “acknowledge(s) the department’s concerns,” the corrections department didn’t show how disclosure of the information “would create a substantial threat of physical harm to any individual.”
Department officials previously had indicated they had a sufficient supply to handle upcoming executions. At least five are scheduled for this summer, including one early next month.
Last year, one of the drugs Texas had used in the process, sodium thiopental, became unavailable when its European supplier bowed to pressure from death penalty opponents and stopped making it. No other vendor could be found, so the drug was replaced by pentobarbital.
The physical effects of pentobarbital on condemned inmates have not been noticeable during the executions, but the financial cost to the state has risen considerably. Prison officials put the cost of the previous mixture at $83.35. It’s now $1286.86, with the higher cost primarily due to pentobarbital.

IDAHO – Duncan now wants to appeal his death sentence

May 18, 2012 Source :

BOISE – Notorious multiple murderer Joseph Duncan was back in a Boise courtroom on Friday morning, as lawyers and a federal judge wrangled over setting a date for a new hearing into whether Duncan was mentally competent when he waived appeals of his triple death sentence for torturing and murdering a 9-year-old North Idaho boy.

Duncan, brought to Boise from federal Death Row in Terre Haute, Ind., his hair close-cropped and graying and wearing a baggy white T-shirt, left all the talking to his attorneys on Friday morning. But in December of 2010, he submitted a hand-written, two-page letter to the court saying he now wants to appeal after all.

Duncan in the past has strongly opposed contentions that he wasn’t mentally competent to make that decision in 2008. He underwent two lengthy mental evaluations before U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge ruled him competent and allowed him to dismiss his lawyers in that sentencing trial and represent himself; he already had pleaded guilty to all charges. The lawyers filed an appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals against Duncan’s wishes, arguing he was mentally incompetent.

“I have been very stubborn about not appealing my death sentence,” the condemned killer wrote. “My belief is that if I appeal, then I am acknowledging the system’s authority to commit murder.”

But he wrote that more recently, his younger brother had died, making Duncan his mother’s only surviving son. “It would be utterly cruel, and indeed, inhuman, for me not to consider my mother’s love when deciding what to do in regard to my own life,” Duncan wrote. “So I hereby inform you, and any others concerned, that I withdraw my waiver of appeal, and consent fully to all efforts and advice given by my attorneys to appeal.”

He added, “I love my mother, and if I could only regret one thing, it would be how I have hurt her. I am the biggest fool that I know.”

In 2008, a federal jury sentenced Duncan to death for the kidnap, torture and murder of 9-year-old Dylan Groene. He also received nine life sentences for a murderous rampage in 2005, in which he killed three members of Dylan’s family in order to kidnap and molest the family’s two youngest children; only Dylan’s then-8-year-old sister, Shasta, survived.

Since then, Duncan also has been convicted of kidnapping and murdering a 10-year-old California boy, drawing two more life sentences; in that case, after weeks of expert testimony, the court ruled him mentally competent.

In the Idaho case, however, the judge never held a competency hearing in open court, meaning all the information on Duncan’s mental competency remained secret. The 9th Circuit ruled that without such a hearing, there was “reasonable doubt” about Duncan’s competency, and ordered Lodge to hold a “retrospective” competency hearing on Duncan’s mental state in 2008.

If, after the hearing, Lodge rules that Duncan was competent when he waived his right to appeal, the death sentence stands. But if not, Lodge would then have to hold another hearing to determine if Duncan was mentally competent when he waived his right to an attorney in his 2008 sentencing trial and instead represented himself. That could force a replay of the whole sentencing trial.

In his closing statement in that trial in 2008, Duncan told the jury, “You people really don’t have any clue yet of the true heinousness of what I’ve done.” While on the run from a child-molesting charge in Minnesota in 2005, Duncan said he’d plotted terrible crimes targeting random children, from invading day-care centers to kidnappings at campgrounds. “I was not searching for a child but rather I was on a rampage,” he said. “My intention was to kidnap and rape and kill until I was killed, preferring death easily over capture.”

He traveled across eight states looking for child victims before attacking the Groene family in their home along I-90 at Wolf Lodge, just east of Coeur d’Alene.

On Friday, federal defender Dick Rubin told the court that Duncan now wants to be represented by an attorney for the competency hearing, and said Duncan shouldn’t answer any questions until his new attorney is appointed. He asked the court to appoint Michael Burt of San Francisco, a death penalty defense attorney who specializes in cases involving mental health.

However, Burt told the court Friday that he has another trial in the fall, and wouldn’t be available for Duncan’s competency hearing until December. Lodge had asked the attorneys to be ready for the hearing by this July, but prosecutors said they had other cases and wouldn’t be ready until October.

“The court’s not going to agree to that,” Lodge said. “This … has drug on. Memories get faulty.” He told the attorneys for both sides, “October-November is the latest. How you work that out is up to you.”

Calling a two-week recess, Lodge said, “We’re going to get the matter resolved.”

KENTUCKY – Serial killer on death row fights to get a hip replacement

May 19, 2012 Source :

A condemned killer’s fight to receive surgery for agonising hip pain has pushed Kentucky officials into an uncomfortable debate over security and politics.

Emails and memos show corrections officials struggling to reconcile their duty to provide medical care with the political ramifications of spending thousands of dollars for surgery on a man they plan to execute. A key problem was security issues that led several hospitals to balk at treating inmate Robert Foley.

Foley, 55, was convicted of killing six people in Kentucky in 1989 and 1991, making him the most prolific killer on that’s state’s death row.

His attorney, James Drake, said the state must care for condemned inmates. Foley, who has been on death row since 1993, can’t get around without help because he’s at risk of falling and hurting himself. “If you’re on death row, it’s just like anybody else,” Mr Drake said. “If you need a new hip, you need a new hip. It hurts.”

IDAHO – Richard Leavitt – Execution – June 12 2012 10:00 a.m EXECUTED

Richard Leavitt, 53, was pronounced dead at 10:25 a.m. at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution.

He offered no final statement, and the only time he spoke was to decline to have his head covered. 

Richard Leavitt

-Information taken from Idaho Attorney General’s Office

July 16, 1984: Danette Elg reported a prowling incident to the Blackfoot Police and identified Richard Leavitt as the prowler. Elg was acquainted with Leavitt, having met him through a mutual friend.

On or about July 17, 1984: Elg was murdered in her home. She had been attacked with a knife and sustained 15 separate stab and slash wounds. In addition, she had been sexually mutilated. Following her death, but before her body was discovered, Leavitt contacted the police and friends of Elg and expressed curiosity about her absence. Leavitt claimed that Elg’s co-workers and employer called him after she did not appear for work. These calls could not be confirmed.

July 21, 1984: After obtaining permission from Elg’s parents, Leavitt and Blackfoot police entered her home and discovered her body in a waterbed, which had also been slashed during the murder.

Sept. 25, 1985: A Bingham County jury found Leavitt guilty of first-degree murder and use of a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to death by 7th District Judge H. Reynold George on Dec. 19, 1985.

April 23, 1986: George held an evidentiary hearing.

May 1, 1986: George denied Leavitt’s petition for post-conviction relief.

May 30, 1989: The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed Leavitt’s conviction, but sent the case back to district court for resentencing. The Idaho Supreme Court reversed the sentence, because the trial court failed to “detail any adequate consideration of the ‘mitigating factors’ considered, and whether or not the ‘mitigating circumstances’ outweigh the gravity of any ‘aggravating circumstance’ so as to make unjust the imposition of the death penalty.” The state appealed to the United States Supreme Court, but the court declined to hear the state’s appeal.

Dec. 21, 1989: George held a sentencing hearing.

Jan. 25, 1990: George sentenced Leavitt to death.

Nov. 27, 1991: The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence. Leavitt appealed to the United States Supreme Court, but the court declined to hear his appeal.

April 29, 1993: Leavitt filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in United States District Court for the District of Idaho.

Feb. 20, 1996: Leavitt filed an amended petition.

Sept. 6, 2000: U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill denied Leavitt’s claims and dismissed his habeas petition. Leavitt filed a motion asking the court to reconsider.

Dec. 14, 2000: Winmill granted habeas relief relating to jury instructions, and ordered the state to initiate new trial proceedings within 60 days or release Leavitt. The state and Leavitt, on different grounds, appealed Judge Winmill’s decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

June 14, 2004: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Winmill’s decision granting habeas relief and ordering a new trial and affirmed his decision denying all other trial claims. However, the 9th Circuit sent the case back to Judge Winmill for consideration of Leavitt’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel during his resentencing.

Leavitt twice petitioned the 9th Circuit for reconsideration. Both petitions were denied.

2005: Leavitt then appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which declined to hear his appeal from the 9th Circuit decision.

Sept. 28, 2007: Winmill granted habeas relief relating to ineffective assistance of counsel. The state appealed to the 9th Circuit.

May 7, 2011: The 9th Circuit reversed Winmill’s decision, concluding that Leavitt was not entitled to habeas sentencing relief.

Sept. 13, 2011: The 9th Circuit denied Leavitt’s petition for rehearing.

Feb. 10, 2012: Leavitt filed an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

May 14, 2012: U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Leavitt’s case.

May 17, 2012: 7th District Judge Jon Shindurling signs death warrant for Leavitt, who will likely be executed by lethal injection June 12, 2012.


No. 11-8844

Richard A. Leavitt v. Arvon J. Arave, Warden

from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

See other cases from the Ninth Circuit.

Docket Entries

on May 14, 2012

Petition DENIED. (orders list)

on April 26, 2012

Reply of petitioner Richard A. Leavitt filed. (Distributed)

on April 11, 2012

Brief of respondent Arvon J. Arave, Warden in opposition filed.

on March 20, 2012

Order extending time to file response to petition to and including April 16, 2012.

on February 10, 2012

Petition for a writ of certiorari and motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis filed. (Response due March 16, 2012)

on December 1, 2011

Application (11A529) granted by Justice Kennedy extending the time to file until February 10, 2012.

on November 18, 2011

Application (11A529) to extend the time to file a petition for a writ of certiorari from December 12, 2011 to February 10, 2012, submitted to Justice Kennedy.


Richard A. Leavitt, Petitioner, represented byDavid Z. Nevin

Arvon J. Arave, Warden, Respondent, represented by L. LaMont Anderson


 May 25, 2012 Source

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The attorney representing a death row inmate scheduled to die in two weeks says he has passed a polygraph test that proves he’s innocent.

Richard Albert Leavitt was convicted of the 1984 stabbing murder of Blackfoot resident Danette Elg. Proseuctors said he stabbed her repeatedly and then cut out her sexual organs. He is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection on June 12.

But Leavitt has long maintained his innocence in the case, and now his attorney, David Nevin, is asking the federal court to accept a polygraph test as proof of that claim. Polygraph tests are typically not admissible as evidence in court.

full article : click here 


May 18, 2012 source

Inmate 23081 has been moved to F Block of the Idaho State Correctional Institute in preparation for his scheduled execution, set for Tuesday, June 12.

Brent Reinke, director of Idaho’s Department of Correction, told Citydesk that inmate Richard Leavitt had a sense that his pending execution was coming.

“Absolutely. He was ready to be moved,” said Reinke. “For an individual at his stage in the legal process, he was resolved and knew what to expect. The warden did a very good job of communicating with him.”

Reinke said that prison officials also made some recommendations regarding other inmates on death row. Leavitt is one of 14 inmates on death row: 13 men and one woman.

“During last November’s execution process [leading up to the death of inmate Paul Ezra Rhoades], we tried very diligently to reach out to that population,” said Reinke. “The warden told me, ‘Look, you’ve gone a bit too far. Just back off a bit. It’s going to be OK. If they need help, they’re going to ask you for it.'”

Reinke confirmed that IDOC has opted to use a one-drug injection method for the execution, which is slated for 10 a.m., June 12. Two syringes, each containing 2.5 grams of pentobarbital, will be used, instead of the three-drug method that was used during the Rhoades execution in November.

Leavitt was convicted of the stabbing death of Danette Elg in her Blackfoot home in July 1985. She had been stabbed 15 times and sexually mutilated. Leavitt was convicted in September 1985, but spent the rest of his days appealing his conviction and sentence. His most-recent appeal, to the U.S. Supreme Court, was turned down this week. On Monday, the high court declined to hear his case.

Cameron Todd Willingham Exoneration Was Written But Never Filed By Texas Judge

May 19, 2012 Source :

Cameron Todd Wilingham

A Texas judge who reviewed the controversial 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham planned to posthumously exonerate the father who was put to death for killing his three daughters in a house fire.

Scientific experts who debunked the arson evidence used against Willingham at his 1992 trial and a jailhouse witness who recanted his shaky testimony convinced District Court Judge Charlie Baird in 2010 that “Texas wrongfully convicted” him. But Baird’s order clearing Willingham’s name never became official, because a higher court halted the posthumous inquiry while it considered whether the judge had authority to examine the capital case.

While waiting for permission to finish the case from the Third Court of Appeals, Baird put together the document that “orders the exoneration of Cameron Todd Willingham for murdering his three daughters,” because of “overwhelming, credible and reliable evidence” presented during a one-day hearing in Austin in October 2010.

“You can’t do anything for Willingham except clear his name,” Baird told The Huffington Post. “When they tried Willingham, I’m convinced that everyone worked in good faith. The problem is that up until the execution, everything had changed so dramatically that you realized the science relied upon at trial was not reliable enough to take a man’s life.”

Baird’s intended order never came to light because the court of appeals criticized his handling of the case and prevented him from resuming work on it before he left the bench at the end of 2010 after choosing not to seek re-election. No one asked him for it after the court of appeals blocked him, he said.

Baird, now an attorney in private practice, said he was moved to share the document with HuffPost after reading about Carlos DeLuna, a Texan who a Columbia University team said this week may have been wrongly executed in 1989.

The 18-page unissued order closely examined the arson evidence presented during the trial, including claims that investigators found patterns on the floor where an accelerant was poured and traces of it on the porch. But Baird said he was persuaded by other experts that the initial investigative techniques were out of date.

The judge faulted Gov. Rick Perry and the state Court of Criminal Appeals, because they “ignored” exonerating evidence in 2004.

Baird, a Democrat, is now running for district attorney in Travis County, which includes Austin. The Willingham opinion is undated. Baird said he wrote it in the weeks after the Oct. 14, 2010, hearing. District court planner Kasey Hoke and court administrator Debra Hale told HuffPost they remember him preparing it in late 2010.

With Baird pushed to the sidelines that year, the fire that tore through Willingham home in Corsicana on Dec. 23, 1991, remained on the books as a triple homicide. Willingham escaped the burning house, but his three daughters — a 2-year-old and 1-year-old twins — were trapped inside and died from smoke inhalation. (His wife was out running errands for Christmas.)

Investigators concluded the blaze had been deliberately set with an accelerant. Two weeks after the fire, they arrested Willingham, a 23-year-old high school dropout with a rap sheet that included shoplifting and driving under the influence.

Willingham, maintaining his innocence, turned down a plea deal offering him life behind bars. At his August 1992 trial, the two fire investigators testified for the prosecution that Willingham torched his own home. The prosecution also called a jailhouse snitch, Johnny Webb, to the stand. Webb claimed that Willingham admitted in jail after his arrest that he killed his children. The jury convicted him in about an hour.

State and federal courts upheld Willingham’s conviction, and in 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to get involved. During the appeals process, Baird was on the Circuit Court of Appeals that twice ruled against Willingham.

But doubts about Willingham’s guilt emerged. In 2000, Webb recanted his testimony. Forensic science had evolved since his trial, too. In 2004, Gerald Hurst, a chemist, released a report days before Willingham’s execution that said the testimony of the fire investigators was wrong and that the fire was accidental.

The report was rushed to Gov. Perry, but he denied a request for a reprieve, allowing the state to put Willingham to death by lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004.

(The New Yorker and the Chicago Tribune had written extensively about Willingham’s case prior to Baird’s involvement.)

Baird’s proposed order — which drew upon Hurst’s report and the findings of other experienced arson investigators — came as a welcome surprise to Willingham’s relatives and attorneys, who continue to believe he was innocent.

“I’m very thankful he did this,” said Eugenia Willingham, Todd Willingham’s stepmother. “I’m sure this will have a good impact for Todd. I raised that boy and I believed him,” Willingham told HuffPost. “He adored those children. I never thought he could have done that.”

The fire occurred in Navarro County, but lawyers for Willingham’s family brought the case to Baird under a provision of the Texas Constitution that says all courts are open for people claiming harm to their reputation. Using the same arcane provision,Baird issued the state’s first posthumous exoneration in 2009 to Timothy Cole, who died in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.

R. Lowell Thompson, Navarro County’s district attorney, sought to derail the inquiry into Willingham, who was prosecuted by a predecessor. The prosecutor filed the petition with the court of appeals that froze Baird’s investigation and is critical of the former judge for writing the proposed order.

“it’s very surprising to me that he would enter some sort of opinion without hearing all the evidence, because none was presented by the state,” Thompson told HuffPost.

Baird said Thompson had the chance to argue his side, but left the court. Thompson said he departed because he wanted to get the court of appeals to step in immediately.

“I was doing my job and he thought he was doing the right thing,” said Thompson. “To me, it looked like he wasn’t applying the law.”

Some of the harshest criticism in Baird’s writing is directed at Perry. The governor’s role in refusing to postpone Willingham’s execution was closely examined by The Huffington Post during his presidential campaign.

“By 2004 there was no doubt that every single indication of arson had been debunked by the scientific community,” Baird wrote. “This fact was staring Governor Perry in the face; nevertheless, he refused to grant a reprieve.”

Perry has stood by decision when questioned previously about Willingham. His office didn’t flinch from the latest criticism.

“Nothing the Austin court could have done would change the fact that Todd Willingham was convicted and sentenced to death by a jury of his peers for murdering his three daughters,” said a statement from his spokeswoman Lucy Nashed. “He had full access to every level of the appeals process, and his conviction was reviewed and upheld by multiple levels of state and federal courts. … The governor reviewed all of the facts of the case and agreed with the jury, and state and federal courts that Willingham was guilty.”

With Baird’s opinion revealed, lawyers for Willingham’s family members continue pushing for a pardon that would clear his name. Last year, the Texas Forensic Science Commission issued a report saying the evidence from the fire investigators was no longer valid.

“It’s an awful shame that this opinion was sitting in his desk gathering dust and nobody could see it,” said Barry Scheck, a lawyer from the Innocence Project working for Willingham’s relatives. “This opinion will stand the test of time, because it faces the facts.”

MISSOURI – Attorney General requests execution dates for 9 men on death row

May 19, 2012  Source :


Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has requested the Missouri Supreme Court set execution dates for nine men on death row.

Koster has requested the dates, saying there are no legal obstacles remaining to carrying out the men’s sentence.

“Missouri does not know the cost of executions yet we now have 19-plus men waiting execution. We can’t find the money in the budget for education, public safety, roads etc. and yet are willing to stay with a public policy that is likely costing the state millions. Missouri would do well to end the death penalty and to focus resources instead on solving more cases of violent crime, taking violent offenders off the streets and providing meaningful support for victims and their families,” Kathleen Holmes, state coordinator of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said in a release.

One of the nine men included in the list is Leon Taylor.

Astrid Martin does her best to keep herself busy, still trying to forget what happened to her family nearly two decades ago. 1994 was a very difficult year for her – she lost a mother to cancer and, just a few weeks later, a husband to a bullet at the hands of Taylor. All these years later, Martin still struggles with the grief.

“If you have a tragedy it’s not like a push button where you are OK the next day. You are very emotionally sick. I lost my mother and my husband and almost my little girl. That’s a big chunk to take away at once,” Martin said.

It was April 1994 at a gas station in Independence, MO. Taylor and two others held up Robert Newton, Martin’s husband. Even though Newton turned over the cash, Taylor killed him right in front of his step-daughter.

“He said, ‘Listen pal, don’t shoot. I got my little girl here and I don’t want to see her dead,'” Martin’s daughter said while on the stand during Taylor’s trial as she recounted what happened.

At Taylor’s murder trial, then 8-year-old Sara took the stand and captured the hearts of the entire city.

“I turned around and saw my dad on the floor,” Sarah said when an attorney asked what she saw after she heard the big bang.

Taylor then turned the gun on the girl, but the weapon jammed. All these years later, Martin is convinced God was watching over her daughter.

Sarah is now happily married with four kids and her mother wants to thank everyone for the outpouring of support she and her daughter received all those years ago.

“They were so supportive, they were so supportive and, to me they wrote letters for years and I want to thank you all for being so wonderful to us,” Martin said.

Martin said Taylor wrote a letter of apology to her and she now forgives what he did, but she said she’ll never forget.

There are 46 inmates currently on Missouri’s death row.

Dave Dormire, director of the Division of Adult Institutions for the Missouri Department of Corrections, announced a new one-drug protocol (propofol) for lethal injection. This one-drug protocol replaces the three-drug protocol previously used by the state.

This change was necessary, according to Dormire. Sodium thiopental, one of the three drugs previously used in executions, is no longer available.


17 mai, source :

Attorney General Chris Koster submitted for filing similar versions of the attached motion in the Missouri Supreme Court today regarding the following capital murder cases:

State v. David Barnett
State v. Cecil Clayton
State v. Andre Cole
State v. Paul Goodwin
State v. Herbert Smulls
State v. Walter Storey
State v. Leon Taylor
State v. Michael Worthington
State v. David Zink

lethal injection protocol : pdf file 

IDAHO – Idaho Opts For 1 Drug Only In Execution Policy

May 18, source : AP 

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho’s corrections chief says the agency is switching to a one-drug lethal injection for future executions of death row inmates.
Idaho Department of Corrections Director Brent Reinke said Friday execution teams will administer a single, lethal dose of the surgical sedative pentobarbital.
That’s a change from the execution carried out by the agency last fall, when the condemned inmate was injected with three-drug mixture, which included pentobarbital.
Reinke says the change was driven by difficulties in obtaining the other two chemicals used to kill Paul Ezra Rhoades in November.
The decision makes Idaho the latest death penalty state to switch to using only pentobarbital in its lethal injection.
Reinke says the one-drug protocol will be used in the June 12 execution of convicted murderer Richard Leavitt.


LOUISIANA – Todd Wessinger wins 3rd hearing on death sentence

May 18, 2012 Source :

Todd Wessinger must receive a third federal court hearing on his push to overturn his death sentence after being convicted of murdering two workers at a Baton Rouge restaurant in 1995.

U.S. District Judge James J. Brady scheduled the hearing for Dec. 13, according to court documents filed Wednesday.

In February, Brady denied Wessinger, 44, a new trial. The judge ruled that “overwhelming” state court evidence supported Wessinger’s conviction on charges that he murdered 27-year-old Stephanie Guzzardo and 46-year-old David Breakwell at the since-closed Calendar’s restaurant on Perkins Road.

In April, however, Brady took additional defense motions under consideration and indefinitely blocked Wessinger’s scheduled May 9 execution.

On Wednesday, Brady rejected four of Wessinger’s latest five claims of state court errors.

But the judge ruled that Wessinger’s claim of “ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase of the trial” is “deserving of further proceedings.”

By limiting his latest ruling to the penalty phase of Wessinger’s trial, Brady signaled his future decision would either support or overturn the jury’s imposition of the death penalty. The murder conviction stands.

Brady noted that an on-point ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — which governs federal court decisions in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi — shows new claims of mental illness, low intelligence and childhood abuse can be raised at sentencing and on appeal.

The judge noted the 5th Circuit’s decision only applies to defense evidence on federal appeal that is “significantly different and stronger” than defense evidence presented to state courts.

But Brady added Wessinger cannot win a new sentencing hearing unless he can show his defense attorney’s failure to present new evidence of his claimed mental problems at sentencing was so significant that “he might not have received the death penalty.”

In April, defense attorneys argued Wessinger suffered childhood seizures and physical and emotional abuse, developed substance addictions and was traumatized by the deaths of his children prior to the murders of Guzzardo and Breakwell.

Those arguments were presented by appellate attorneys Danalynn Recer, of The Gulf Region Advocacy Center in Houston; Soren Gisleson, of New Orleans; and Federal Public Defender Rebecca Hudsmith, of Lafayette.

Assistant District Attorneys Dale R. Lee and J. Christine Chapman argued against Wessinger’s stay of execution.

Chapman and Lee told Brady the families of Guzzardo and Breakwell “have endured years of uncertainty and appeals. They undoubtedly endure harm each day that the lawful sentence of the court is not carried out, and they are clearly entitled to finality and closure.”

TEXAS – Texas ordered to pay ex-inmate $2M over conviction – Billy Allen

may 18, 2012 Source :

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas was ordered on Friday to pay about $2 million to a man who spent 26 years in prison for murder before his conviction was overturned.

Billy Frederick Allen’s attempt to get the money has been a key case in developing standards for when ex-prisoners should be compensated. State Comptroller Susan Combs resisted paying Allen, arguing his conviction was overturned because of ineffective lawyers, not because he had proven his innocence.

But the state Supreme Court said the criminal courts showed Allen had a legitimate innocence claim and he should be paid.

Allen was convicted of two 1983 Dallas-area murders. He was freed in 2009 and sued the state for compensation for wrongful imprisonment.

Texas’ compensation law is the most generous in the U.S., according to the national Innocence Project, which works on cases where inmates allege wrongful convictions. Freed inmates who are declared innocent by a judge, prosecutors or a governor’s pardon can collect $80,000 for every year of imprisonment.

In Allen’s case, he didn’t have an innocence declaration. What he had instead was a Court of Criminal Appeals ruling that reversed his conviction based on ineffective counsel. It also determined that the evidence against him was too weak to for a reasonable jury to convict him.

Although prosecutors dismissed the charges, they said they still consider him a suspect and have kept the case open.

DNA evidence has led to most of Texas’ exonerations. But with DNA testing essentially standard in most cases now and the number of DNA-based exonerations expected to dwindle, cases like Allen’s — which had no DNA evidence — are likely to account for more compensation claims.