Day: June 14, 2012

MISSISSIPPI – Gary Carl Simmons – Execution June 20 – Update EXECUTED 6:16 p.m

Last Statement

“I’ve been blessed to be loved by some good people, by some amazing people. I thank them for their support. Let’s get it on so these people can go home. That’s it,” Simmons said as he lay strapped on a gurney in the execution chamber moments before the procedure was carried out.

June 19, 2012 Source :

Attorneys for a former butcher convicted of dismembering a man over a drug debt and raping a woman he locked in a metal box have asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to stop Wednesday’s planned execution.

Gary Carl Simmons Jr. is scheduled to be executed Wednesday at 6 p.m. CDT for the 1996 killing of Jeffery Wolfe, whose body was found in pieces in a Jackson County bayou. Simmons also was convicted of kidnapping and raping Wolfe’s friend and sentenced to life on those charges.

Simmons lawyers said in a motion Tuesday that recent mental exams show he has long-term substance abuse problems, post-traumatic stress disorder and “mild executive-level brain dysfunction.” They also argue that his previous lawyers didn’t do a good job.

The attorney general’s office has argued in the past that Simmons’ sanity “is not in question.”

Simmons’ current attorneys say his trial lawyers didn’t explore mental health problems for sentencing purposes and the issue wasn’t properly raised by previous appeal lawyers.

The motion filed Tuesday said that until recently, Simmons “had never undergone a mental health evaluation for the purposes of developing mitigating evidence.”
Simmons’ previous appeals have been rejected by Mississippi courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.

When the Mississippi Supreme Court set Simmons’ execution date on June 5, the justices also gave him permission to get two mental health exams. Simmons’ lawyers later asked for a two-week delay of the execution, saying more time was needed for the tests and to file appeals based on those results. The court declined that request in a 6-2 decision on June 14.

Court records say that Simmons planned the death and dismemberment of a drug dealer because he didn’t have the money to pay him for marijuana.

Wolfe and his female friend went to Simmons’ house in Jackson County on Aug. 12, 1996, to collect the debt estimated at up to $20,000. Timothy Milano, Wolfe’s former brother-in-law, shot Wolfe numerous times with a .22 caliber rifle inside Simmons’ home, according to court records.

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June 13, 2012 Source :

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – The Mississippi attorney general’s office says a death row inmate’s recent request for mental health testing is meant only to delay his execution, scheduled for Tuesday.

Gary Carl Simmons‘ lawyers have asked the Mississippi Supreme Court stay his execution because they say more time is needed for two mental health evaluations and an appeal based on their results.

On June 5, the court set the execution date for Simmons, but granted his requests for evaluations by a forensic psychologist and a neuropsychologist.

The Mississippi attorney general’s office argued Wednesday the request for mental evaluations is a delay tactic and the court should rescind the order and deny a stay.

The 49-year-old was convicted of shooting and dismembering Jeffrey Wolfe in August 1996 in Pascagoula.

SOUTH DAKOTA – SD death row inmate asks for execution to proceed – Eric Robert

June 13, 2012 Source :

SIOUX FALLS  — A man sentenced to death for killing a prison guard says the state Supreme Court’s decision to delay his execution to allow for a mandatory review is denying him his constitutional rights.

Eric Robert, 50, will ask the South Dakota Supreme Court to allow his execution to proceed and is proposing legislative changes to prevent similar cases in the future in briefs that are expected to be filed later this week or early next week.

Robert pleaded guilty to killing prison guard Ronald Johnson during a botched prison escape in April 2011. A judge sentenced him to death for the crime last fall, and his execution was set for May. But the South Dakota Supreme Court stayed the execution in February to allow more time for a mandatory review, which could delay the execution for up to two years.

In briefs not yet filed with the court but given to The Associated Press in an email, Mark Kadi, Robert’s lawyer, argues that Robert has a constitutional, due process right to be executed based on the trial court’s order.

“If this process will take up to (two) years as reported, Robert proposes we seek to answer the main underlying issue in this case: does a death row inmate have a constitutional right to die on time as ordered?” Kadi said in an email.

In the briefs, Robert proposed the Legislature consider changes to the law, allowing death penalty proceedings to be given priority in the state Supreme Court or, absent a voluntary appeal, requiring the court to review the case in a set number of days before the execution date.

The briefs noted that during the months since Robert was sentenced, the state Supreme Court has reviewed numerous cases, including civil cases such as the dispute between actor Kevin Costner and an artist about whether sculptures were appropriately displayed at a Deadwood resort.

“These civil cases are undoubtedly important to the parties involved regarding their equitable or monetary interests. Death penalty cases due to their special nature and consequences, however, deserve special consideration,” the brief said.

Attorney General Marty Jackley said he could not comment on the new briefs because he has not yet seen them. Under appellate procedure, the state is only allowed to file one brief, which it has already done.

Robert was serving an 80-year-sentence on a kidnapping conviction when he attempted to escape April 12, 2011, with fellow inmate Rodney Berget.

Johnson was working alone the morning of his death — also his 63rd birthday — in a part of the prison known as Pheasantland Industries, where inmates work on upholstery, signs, custom furniture and other projects. Prosecutors said that after the inmates killed Johnson, Robert put on Johnson’s uniform and tried to carry a large box toward the prison gate with Berget inside. The inmates were apprehended before leaving the grounds.

Berget also pleaded guilty and has been sentenced to death. Another inmate, Michael Nordman, 47, was given a life sentence for providing the plastic wrap and pipe used in the slaying.

The penitentiary made more than a dozen procedural changes less than a month after Johnson’s death, including adding officers and installing additional security cameras. Other changes, outlined in a 28-page report, included further restricting inmate traffic, strengthening perimeter fencing, improving lighting and mandating body alarm “panic buttons” for staff.

Prosecutors often challenge DNA evidence that could clear the convicted

June 13, 2012 Source :

When Terrill Swift was released from prison after serving 15 years for rape and murder, he sought DNA testing because he wanted to prove his innocence. Cook County prosecutors opposed his efforts but relented last year after the Tribune made inquiries about Swift’s request.

After the DNA from semen in the victim’s body was matched to a convicted murderer and rapist, Swift went to court to get his conviction thrown out. But prosecutors opposed that effort, saying the DNA was meaningless, especially when considered against Swift’s confession.

A judge turned aside prosecutors’ arguments, saying the DNA was powerful evidence, and earlier this year the judge vacated Swift’s conviction.

And last month, when Swift went to court to obtain a certificate of innocence to expunge the record of his arrest and conviction and clear the way for him to seek compensation from the state, prosecutors opposed that request, too, saying Swift’s disputed confession outweighed the DNA.

Nearly a quarter-century into the DNA era, what has been called the gold standard of forensic evidence has fulfilled its promise to help police and prosecutors win convictions. Rare is the case in which DNA evidence, particularly in a rape or a murder, does not send a defendant to prison.

DNA’s potential to free the innocent has been more elusive. That has been especially true in Cook and Lake counties, where prosecutors have opposed requests for DNA testing and then downplayed the results when they excluded their leading suspects or inmates trying to win their freedom.

“When we started doing this work 20 years ago, we received opposition on requests and motions to do post-conviction DNA testing in more than three-quarters of the cases,” said Peter Neufeld, a co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project. “Today … the overwhelming majority of prosecutors do not oppose motions for DNA testing.”

What’s more, Neufeld said, prosecutors rarely challenge DNA results that appear to indicate a suspect’s innocence. Prosecutors in Cook and Lake counties are part of a tiny group that consistently do that, he said.

“That kind of consistent rejection of logic and common sense,” Neufeld said, “is fairly unequaled around the country.”

Prosecutors counter that DNA is not the “end all” of evidence, as Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez once said, and say they are bound to consider all evidence in a case, not just the DNA. In the cases where DNA has failed to persuade prosecutors, the opposition frequently has been supported by a suspect’s confession. For decades a building block of murder cases, confessions remain remarkably potent in spite of what DNA has revealed about their frailties.

“Generally speaking, the significance of DNA evidence varies from case to case,” said Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Alvarez. “In some cases, it may be critically important to a criminal investigation or a prosecution. In others, it can be relatively unimportant. It is the state’s attorney’s opinion and the general policy of this office that DNA evidence cannot be viewed in a vacuum, but rather examined in light of all of the other facts and evidence known at the time.

“DNA evidence certainly establishes a link between the donor of the DNA and a location or a piece of evidence, but it does not always establish the identity of the criminal,” Daly added. “The significance of DNA evidence is dependent upon all other facts available in the totality of the investigation.”

A series of cases in Lake County illustrate that standoff.

On May 15, Lake County prosecutors issued news releases announcing new murder charges in two cases — the bludgeoning of Fred Reckling, 71, in Waukegan in 1994 and the stabbings of Laura Hobbs, 8, and Krystal Tobias, 9, in Zion in 2005.

Both announcements credited “newly developed leads and forensic findings … actively pursued by law enforcement.” The releases did not mention that the new sets of charges resulted from DNA tests that prosecutors had dismissed as either unnecessary or meaningless.

In the Reckling case, prosecutors fought for years to block post-conviction testing sought by James Edwards, who had confessed and was sentenced to life in prison.

Edwards, often working as his own lawyer, claimed his innocence could be proved by testing blood found at the scene from a then-unidentified man. Prosecutors argued at trial that the blood in Reckling’s appliance store and car did not clear Edwards because it could have come from a store employee. They aimed to block post-conviction testing by noting that jurors were presented with that theory, and they still found Edwards guilty.

“Testing of this showing us who specifically (the blood came from) is not going to exculpate the defendant,” said then-Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Mermel, according to a court transcript. “The defendant is wasting the time of the criminal justice system because he has nothing else to do but write these motions.”

After Edwards had spent 14 years in prison, the Illinois Supreme Court ordered the DNA tests. Last month, prosecutors said forensic evidence had guided investigators toward Hezekiah Whitfield, 42, of Chicago, who is now charged with murder.

Prosecutors agreed to a new trial for Edwards and then immediately dropped the charges, though he remains jailed on separate convictions for armed robbery and murder.

“The Supreme Court says prosecutors have a duty to seek justice, not convictions,” said Edwards’ lawyer, Paul De Luca. “Doesn’t it seem like they didn’t abide by the rules?”

In the killing of the two girls in Zion in May 2005, lawyers for the original suspect — Jerry Hobbs, one victim’s father — clashed with prosecutors over the timeline and procedures for both sides to assess the physical evidence. Immediately after the murders, authorities sent evidence to the Northeastern Illinois Regional Crime Laboratory, where analysis with a microscope found no semen evidence that would have indicated a sexual assault, according to the lab’s report.

After Hobbs had spent more than two years in jail awaiting trial, the defense team’s scientists reported the opposite — that semen from another man had been found in Laura Hobbs and on her clothes. Hobbs’ lawyers argued this proved that his confession — given after some 24 hours of intermittent interrogation — was false. Prosecutors disagreed, arguing that the girls had been playing in the woods and the girl could have touched some semen and then wiped herself.

“The defense is … misleading the court,” Mermel said in December 2008. “What they have is one errant sperm which is impossible to deposit by the offender or an offender. It’s trace evidence.”

After that hearing, Hobbs sat in jail for more than a year before the DNA was matched to Jorge Torrez, a onetime friend of Tobias’ brother, according to court records. While Hobbs was jailed, prosecutors say, Torrez murdered a 20-year-old woman in 2009 and raped another in 2010, both in Virginia. Torrez is now serving five life sentences for a series of attacks on women, including the rape, and he faces trial in the Virginia murder case.

Hobbs was freed in August 2010, but nearly two years passed before the Lake County prosecutor’s office tacitly acknowledged his confession was false by announcing that Torrez had been charged with the girls’ murders. Mermel retired this year amid controversy over remarks he made to the media about the meaning of DNA. Lake County prosecutors could not be reached for comment. Mermel declined to comment.

Hobbs’ attorney, Kathleen Zellner, said she would like to see legislation making confessions inadmissible in court unless they can be corroborated by physical evidence. Prosecutors, she said, repeatedly have proved reluctant to admit the faults of their favorite evidentiary tools.

“(DNA) takes away the power that a prosecutor would have to develop a case around an eyewitness or a confession … and I guess there’s resistance to that,” she said.

Zellner has another client fighting his case in which DNA calls into question the conviction. Though there is no confession, prosecutors say the DNA does not persuade them of his innocence. So far they have declined to vacate the man’s conviction, although they say they are “actively investigating” the case.

Alprentiss Nash was convicted in the 1995 murder of a man named Leon Stroud during a home invasion and robbery and sentenced to 80 years in prison. Nash, according to prosecutors, put on a black ski mask before committing the crime, and the mask was found near the crime scene.

Cook County prosecutors under then-State’s Attorney Dick Devine opposed Nash’s request for testing, but the Illinois Appellate Court later ordered it. When the testing was done on skin cells found on the mask, the genetic profile was matched to an inmate who recently was paroled from prison after serving time for a drug conviction. Zellner requested additional testing, to which Alvarez’s office agreed.

In an interview at Menard Correctional Center, where he is being held, Nash, 37, said he hoped the DNA results would lead to his release.

“I’m tired of doing time,” he said of his 17 years in custody.

But Alvarez’s prosecutors argue that the DNA evidence does not clear Nash, which has frustrated him and Zellner.

“They’ve got an exclusion. They’ve got the profile of the real killer,” Zellner said. “And they’re horsing around with it.”

Luka Magnotta Case: Body Parts Sent To Vancouver Schools Confirmed As Jun Lin

June 13, 2012 Source :

TORONTO — Police say DNA results confirm that the body parts mailed to two Vancouver schools last week belong to the Chinese student who was killed and dismembered in Montreal.

Montreal police Cmdr. Ian Lafreniere said Wednesday that all the body parts match. A foot and a hand were also mailed to two of Canada’s top political parties in Ottawa.

Police suspect Luka Magnotta of killing Jun Lin and posting a video online that shows him having sex with the dismembered corpse. Magnotta was caught in Berlin last week and is facing extradition.

One of Lin’s feet and a hand were mailed to two schools last week. His head is still missing.

Texas – Death Sentence Thrown Out in 2005 Murder Case – Manuel Velez

June 13, 2012 Source :

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday threw out the death sentence of Manuel Velez, who was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s infant son in 2005. The decision was based on what the court said was the use of inaccurate expert testimony during Velez’s sentencing.

Velez, who was convicted by a Cameron County jury, will be taken off death row, though he has not been cleared of his conviction. Velez has already filed an appeal of his conviction, said Brian Stull, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project.

Velez’s death sentence was based on testimony from state expert A.P. Merillat, who gave the jury incorrect information about what freedoms Velez would have if not sentenced to death, according to Wednesday’s ruling.

Merillat made it seem Velez “would have a lot of freedom he truly would not have,” Stull said. “And that’s a key issue in Texas — the state has to prove future danger.”

Armando Villalobos, the Cameron County district attorney who was a prosecutor in the case, did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment.

Velez will be represented by lawyers from two private law firms when he appeals his sentence, though Stull said he will be available to Velez as well.

The lawyers have uncovered evidence that injuries to the baby were sustained before Velez lived with him and while Velez was out of the state, Stull said.

The court also found that Velez’s girlfriend had given misleading testimony at the trial, though it did not consider that testimony grounds to reverse the sentence or conviction.

Merillat’s testimony, meanwhile, was also the basis for a previous death sentence that was overturned after ACLU involvement in 2010.

TEXAS – Agreement on DNA testing in Skinner case, but “key” evidence missing

June 13, source :

Hank Skinner.Hank Skinner

DNA testing of evidence in the Henry Skinner triple murder case hit yet another snag this week as prosecutors admitted that a blood-stained windbreaker – termed “perhaps the key piece of evidence” by the killer’s lawyer – cannot be found.

In a motion laying out terms of a joint agreement to begin testing filed late Tuesday, the state and Skinner attorney Rob Owen identify 40 items to be submitted for testing. Among them are clippings from a victim’s fingernails, vaginal swabs, and knives found at the scene of the 1993 New Year’s Eve Pampa murder.

Skinner, 50, was convicted of fatally bludgeoning his girlfriend, Twila Busby, and stabbing to death her two adult sons. He consistently has maintained his innocence, saying that consumption of codeine and alcohol had rendered him incapable of killing the victims.

Prosecutors in Tuesday’s filing concede that the windbreaker, collected from the scene by the Pampa Police Department, has not been found.

“According to the state, every other single piece of evidence in this case has been preserved,” Owen said in an email. “It is difficult to understand how the state has managed to maintain custody of items as small as fingernail clippings while apparently losing something as large as a man’s windbreaker jacket. To date, the state has offered no explanation for its failure to safeguard evidence in this case.”

A spokesman for the Texas Attorney General’s Office declined immediate comment.

Owen said the jacket, which appears to be stained with perspiration and blood, may have been worn by the assailant. Owen said that, since the trial, a witness has identified the jacket as one worn by Busby’s uncle.

That man, now dead, reportedly was seen stalking Busby at a party shortly before her murder.

Skinner has had at least two execution dates set. Last November, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay to ascertain how revised laws regarding such testing may apply to his case.

Skinner has endeavored for more than a decade to obtain DNA testing of seemingly important evidence gathered at the crime scene.

Once a Gray County district court approves the proposed joint order, agencies or entities possessing items to be tested will have five days to send them to the Texas Department of Public Safety laboratory in Austin.