Day: May 29, 2012

OHIO – Ohio Set To Execute Severely Mentally Ill Inmate Next Week – Abdul Awkal STAYED

UPDATE : june 15

CLEVELAND: An Ohio judge has ruled a condemned killer not mentally competent to be executed for the death of his wife and brother-in-law.

The ruling Friday by Cuyahoga County Judge Stuart Friedman on Abdul Awkal comes just a week after Gov. John Kasich ordered a last-minute reprieve hours before Awkal was set to die.

Awkal is convicted of killing his estranged wife and brother-in-law in a Cleveland courthouse in 1992 as the couple prepared to divorce.

Awkal’s attorneys had argued during several days of testimony that he is so mentally ill he believes the CIA is orchestrating his execution.

The Ohio Parole Board voted 8-1 last month against recommending mercy. Most members concluded Awkal had planned the shooting and it wasn’t because of a psychotic breakdown.

UPDATE : june 5 source :

Inmate Moved for Death Penalty to be Carried Out

COLUMBUS — Ohio prison officials are beginning their preparations to execute a man convicted in the 1992 slayings of his estranged wife and brother-in-law at a courthouse in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County.

If put to death, 53-year-old Abdul Awkal would be the second man Ohio executes since lifting an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty that lasted six months.

Awkal, whose execution is Wednesday, was sentenced to death for shooting Latife Awkal, his spouse from an arranged marriage, and brother-in-law Mahmoud Abdul-Aziz, as the couple was taking up divorce and custody issues.

Awkal’s attorneys asked the state Supreme Court Monday to delay the execution to allow a hearing on Awkal’s mental competency.

The state opposes the delay and Awkal’s earlier requests for clemency were denied.

Update : May 29, 2012 Source

On June 6, Ohio is scheduled to execute Abdul Awkal for the murder of his estranged wife and brother-in-law unless Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) grants a pending clemency petition, or a court steps in with a last minute order. Here’s the facts about the mental health of the man set to be executed next Wednesday:

  • Survived a Civil War: In 1975, when Abdul was sixteen years old, a civil war erupted in his home country of Lebanon. Abdul lived through this war for eight years before he was able to escape to Michigan to live with family members. Although Abdul never sought treatment during his first months in the United States and thus was not diagnosed with a mental illness until sometime later, he said that he spent his first four months in America sitting on his brother’s couch — behavior an Ohio clemency board said was “as if he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
  • History of Mental Breakdowns: Abdul eventually found work as a gas station attendant. About a year after he arrived in the United States, however, he was wrongfully accused of stealing from his employer. According to the Ohio Supreme Court, he then suffered a mental breakdown. Abdul “became hysterical, cursing and breaking things, vomited and then collapsed.” He was taken to a Detroit hospital in a straitjacket and later released with instructions (that he disregarded) to seek psychiatric treatment. Some time later, Abdul suffered at least one more mental breakdown as his marriage to the woman he eventually killed became increasingly dysfunctional. A mental hospital again told him to seek psychiatric care, but he did not follow up because he says he could not afford treatment.
  • Suicidal Depression: In November of 1991, about two months before he would kill his estranged wife and brother-in-law, Abdul finally did attend four counseling sessions because he was depressed and had thoughts of suicide.
  • Hallucinations: On January 7, 1992, Abdul shot his wife and brother-in-law during a meeting related to Abdul’s pending divorce. While awaiting trial in an Ohio jail, he began having hallucinations. Abdul says he saw his wife speak to him and tell him to “join her.”
  • Incompetent to Stand Trial: Abdul’s trial was delayed after a court found him mentally incompetent to assist in his defense. During the period between his arrest and his trial, county psychiatrists experimented with various anti-depressant, anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety drugs in an attempt to control his hallucinations and enable him to participate in the trial, and a judge eventually deemed him competent to state trial in September of 1992. During the pre-trial period, the prosecution also offered him a plea bargain, which he rejected, that would have taken the death penalty off the table. It’s not clear what Abdul’s mental state was when he rejected this deal.
  • Second Finding of Mental Incompetency: In 2004, Abdul wrote a federal judge asking that his appeals be terminated and that he be executed swiftly. The judge responded by ordering a psychiatric evaluation. Twelve years after his arrest, Abdul was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, depressed type and determined to be mentally incompetent to waive his appeals.
  • Letters to the CIA: In 2001, Abdul started writing letters to then-CIA Directors George Tenet and Porter Goss, along with former CBS new anchor Dan Rather and, eventually, President Obama offering advice on how to fight terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In one letter to Obama, for example, Abdul advises that rather than dismantling or safely detonating the Taliban’s explosive devices, U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan should “replace the electronic receiver inside the IEDs with ours and keep them buried.” Abdul also told a clemency board that he advises the CIA on “Islamic religion and culture” and that he is upset that the CIA did not listen to him after he warned them about 9/11. At other points, he’s claimed he is being executed because the “CIA wanted him dead.”

As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart recognized almost four decades ago, the “most irrevocable of sanctions should be reserved for a small number of extreme cases.” This is why the Constitution forbids executions of juvenile offenders or the mentally retarded. And it is why the death penalty is reserved to only a handful of the most severe crimes. Indeed, American juries consider death such an extreme sanction that only 2 percent of convicted murderers are sentenced to die.

There’s no question that Abdul committed a terrible crime more than twenty years ago, and he has spent every subsequent minute of his life in state custody because of his actions. That will not change if Gov. Kasich grants Abdul clemency, or if the Supreme Court recognizes that people with severe mental illnesses do not belong on death row.

California- Man accused in 1982 gay slaying to be retried – James Andrew Melton

May 29, 2012  Source :

SANTA ANA – More than three decades after a Newport Beach retiree was found dead in his condominium – naked and with a cord wrapped around his neck – prosecutors are preparing to retry the man found guilty for the killing but who had his murder conviction overturned.

James Melton, 60, was plucked from death row at San Quentin State Prison in 2007 and brought back here to face retrial after a federal judge threw out his 1982 death penalty conviction finding he had been overmedicated by Orange County jail staff and could not understand his trial.

Article Tab: James Andrew Melton. (file photo)

James Andrew Melton.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas earlier this month decided not to pursue the death penalty against Melton, who is facing the same charges as before: a special circumstances murder during the commission of a robbery.

If convicted, the defendant faces life in state prison without the possibility of parole.

On June 22, Superior Court Judge William Froeberg will consider a motion to dismiss the case by Melton’s defense attorney, Denise Gragg, a senior assistant public defender, because as she put it “there’s been so much damage done by the passage of time that (Melton’s) due process rights to the trial have been violated.”

Prosecutors say Melton is as culpable as before.

“The facts establish just as they did back in 1982 that he’s guilty of the crime of murder,” Deputy District Attorney Steve McGreevy said.

The crime

Melton, a Los Angeles resident, was convicted by an Orange County jury of killing Anthony Lial DeSousa, 77.

The victim’s nude body was found in the bed of his Newport condominium Oct. 11, 1981. The coroner found DeSousa had been beaten unconscious and strangled.

The prosecution’s main witness, Johnny Boyd of Pasadena, said he and Melton had been lovers in prison and plotted to rob elderly men who ran personal ads in homosexual publications.

Prosecutors said Melton met DeSousa through a personal advertisement the victim placed in a gay newspaper.

Boyd, who was given immunity from prosecution, said he answered the ad in the Advocate and set up a dinner meeting between DeSousa and Melton. Boyd testified Melton admitted the slaying to him and that he had seen Melton wearing DeSousa’s diamond rings.

Melton’s 1982 conviction for DeSousa’s murder followed a history of violent crime, including an attempted rape, robberies, an assault and two rapes – one of which occurred on a synagogue altar in Berkeley, the Orange County Register reported.

Melton was released from custody five months before DeSousa was slain.

The reversal

After his conviction, Melton filed numerous appeals.

His appellate attorney took the case all the way to the California Supreme Court, which upheld Melton’s conviction in 1988.

Melton then filed a federal appeal, claiming the medical staff at Orange County jail gave him a variety of psychiatric drugs that impaired his ability to understand his trial and contribute to his own defense. Melton was in the jail in Santa Ana for 13 months during the trial.

The late U.S. District Judge Robert Takasugi overturned his conviction in 2007, saying in a ruling that Melton was given “high doses of powerful mind-altering drugs,” despite the fact he never exhibited symptoms of psychosis or received psychiatric treatment.

The antipsychotic and antidepressant medication “suppressed Melton’s mental functioning, impaired his memory and cognition and made him indifferent to his surroundings,” Takasugi wrote.

“As a result, he was docile and compliant at trial, but also frequently unable to rationally consult with counsel about his defense,” the judge said.

Death penalty decision

Prosecutors were disappointed in the federal court’s ruling but are ready to prove their case again.

“While some of the methods of proving and establishing the circumstances might change, the goal remains the same: to hold the defendant responsible for the brutal murder of Mr. DeSousa,” McGreevy said.

The time lapsed since the crime is part of the reason why the district attorney has decided not to seek the death penalty at retrial, McGreevy said.

“It will definitely be a different case than that tried in 1982,” he said, adding the passage of 30 years with the ultimate penalty contributed to the decision.

Melton’s attorney Gragg is appreciative of Rackauckas’ move to drop death penalty.

“I think the D.A.’s Office has done a wonderful job in evaluating whether this should be a death penalty case. I am grateful for the time they took as well as the decision.”

TEXAS – Decision adds to scrutiny of death penalty cases – Anthony Bartee

May 26, 2012 Source

At 3:25 a.m. on May 2, Anthony Bartee was eating breakfast, not knowing if it would be his last.

That evening, Bartee, 55, was to be strapped to the gurney in the death chamber in Huntsville for the 1996 robbery and slaying of his friend David Cook, 37.

Bartee’s attorney David Dow started his day scrambling to get his client a second stay the first was granted within a week of Bartee’s original Feb. 28 execution date. In addition to the usual appellate route, Dow took an atypical one.

He filed a federal lawsuit against the Bexar County district attorney’s office, claiming that Bartee’s civil rights were violated by prosecutors withholding evidence for DNA testing that could prove his client’s innocence.

The DA’s office doubted the attempt would work because Bartee had 15 years to make evidence claims. And besides, he wasn’t convicted based on DNA. But with Bartee’s death imminent, Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery granted the temporary stay to allow more time to examine Dow’s civil rights claims.

The ruling was rare, experts said, and speaks to an ever-increasing scrutiny of death penalty cases as exonerations from post-conviction DNA testing continue to mount.

“The courts are more cautious, and most people think they should be if there is a question about it,” said Cornell University Law School Professor John H. Blume.

Juries, too, are handing down fewer death sentences, nationwide and locally.

Local prosecutors have noted the trend and are taking a harder look at whether to seek death.

“We don’t go get the death penalty just because we can,” First Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg said. “It’s a very serious decision-making process.”

Dow did not return phone calls or emails.

A majority of Texans, 73 percent, either strongly or somewhat support the death penalty, according to a University of Texas at Austin and Texas Tribune poll published Thursday. The number drops to 53 percent when asked about the option of life without parole.

A majority of Americans also support the death penalty, according to a 2011 Gallup Poll. But at 61 percent, that support is at its lowest point in 39 years, the poll concluded.

Since the state adopted life without parole in 2005 as an alternative to death, it “definitely changed the dynamics” in Bexar County, Herberg said.

Exonerations also have affected the entire criminal justice system, including jurors who must decide if someone lives or dies, said John Schmolesky, a professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law.

“I think it’s moved the pendulum to at least introduce an element of skepticism in capital cases,” Schmolesky said.

The last death sentence in Bexar County came in 2009, a year when only one person was condemned to die although prosecutors had sought the death penalty more often than that.

Given that at least 24 people were sentenced to die in the 11-year period that ended in 2006, Bartee being one of them, that’s a dramatic decrease.

Death sentences in the United States also have dropped, by 65 percent in the past 12 years, with 78 handed down last year, compared with 224 in 2000, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Prosecutors here, in deciding whether to seek the death penalty, weigh the cost of the litigation, the circumstances of the crime and the accused killer’s history of violence, among other factors, Herberg said.

“The future danger aspect of it has always been an issue with the jury,” he added. “If they can’t get out of prison, (communities) are safer.”

Bartee’s own violent past wasn’t known to Cook, his friends or family.

He was sent to prison for raping at knifepoint a girl, 15, and a woman, 20, in separate incidents in 1983, according to court records. At the time Cook was killed, Bartee had been out on parole for only 15 months.

The DNA factor

At 9:35 a.m. on May 2, Bartee was eating lunch and visiting with family. His father and sister planned to witness his execution. So did the father, two sisters and brother-in-law of Cook.

n San Antonio that day, district attorney’s office investigator George Saidler, a retired homicide detective who worked on Cook’s case, was searching the police property room for glasses and cigarettes collected 16 years ago from Cook’s house.

What prompted him was Dow’s new request for DNA evidence testing. Prosecutors needed to know if authorities still had the evidence, especially if a court ruled in Bartee’s favor.

Biery’s decision to stay the execution was a move in the right direction, said civil rights attorney Jeff Blackburn, who heads the Innocence Project of Texas.

“We have to err on the side of finding out every fact that we can,” he said. “I think that if we’ve learned anything, it’s that it’s hard to trust the government when they say (DNA’s) not involved in this case.”

Nationwide, DNA testing has been instrumental in exonerating more than 280 people, the majority in the past 12 years. Of those, 17 spent time on death row, according to The Innocence Project.

Still, that’s just a fraction of the more than 2,000 people falsely convicted in the past 23 years, according to the first national registry of its kind, which was released last week.

In response to the growing number of exonerations and advances in DNA testing technology, the Texas Legislature made changes regarding DNA evidence that could help someone wrongly convicted prove their innocence.

Two changes occurred late last year. Lawmakers made it less difficult for someone convicted to get DNA testing introduced in court. Also, judges now have the power to order that DNA profiles be sent through national and state databases, presumably to find out whether someone else committed the crime.

Bartee, so far, has benefited from the new laws.

“I think you do see the courts are saying, no matter what let’s test it,” Herberg said. “We’re certainly seeing that. That’s the reason for this delay (in Bartee’s case).”

The new evidence laws have ushered in debates about what to test and when. Advocates of testing argue that every avenue needs to be explored, while some prosecutors contend that more DNA testing can be used as a stalling tactic.

“DNA evidence isn’t the silver bullet that’s going to solve every single case,” Schmolesky said. “If the (person) admits he was present, he may have left fingerprints, saliva on cups for example, or things that result in DNA testing but don’t show he committed a crime.”

Local prosecutors haven’t wavered in their belief that further testing for Bartee’s case is a waste of time.

“He wasn’t convicted with DNA evidence but by his own behavior,” Assistant District Attorney Rico Valdez said.

A cautious approach

At noon on May 2, Bartee finished visitation. He was transferred that afternoon from death row in Livingston to Huntsville. He had his final meal before his scheduled 6 p.m. execution and waited to see if Biery’s stay would be overturned.

Just after 7 p.m., when the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed Bartee’s execution, he thanked his family, his supporters, God and his legal team.

With the execution stalled, prosecutors also opted for caution. They sent for testing the glasses and cigarettes Saidler had found in the property room, though no court had ordered it.

They didn’t want lingering unanswered questions about a conviction, if it could be helped.

“We don’t want anyone thinking we just want someone executed,” Valdez said.

Last week the Bexar County crime lab’s testing found on the evidence the DNA of three people — two men and one woman so far unidentified. The results will now be sent through the state and federal databases. As prosecutors hunt for DNA matches, the civil rights case lingers in federal court.

To Valdez, the results so far haven’t changed a thing.

And almost three months to the day Bartee was first scheduled to die, he remains on death row with no new execution date set.