Day: October 5, 2012

FLORIDA – Death penalty deliberations begin for convicted murderer – JOEL LEBRON

OCTOBER 5,2012

The jury began deliberating whether they will recommend the death penalty for Joel Lebron, who was convicted last week in the 2002 kidnap, rape, and murder of Ana Maria Angel.

Last week, the same jury found Lebron guilty of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, sexual battery and sexual battery with a firearm.

Closing arguments started earlier in the day.

“There’s nothing wrong with this man. This man knew what he was doing,” said prosecutor Reid Rubin. “He knew how he was doing it. He enjoyed it. He enjoyed it so much he had an orgasm.”

State law outlines aggravators that make the death penalty apply and prosecutors are focusing on six of them.

“There is what’s called ‘heinous, atrocious and cruel.’ He did it because he thought she could identify him,” said Rubin.

Since Wednesday, the defense has been presenting mitigating factors to the jury, hoping jurors will consider any effects on Lebron from a childhood in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood, and a childhood car crash.

“Nothing that the state attorney just told you compels you in any way, shape, or form to recommend the death penalty,” said Rafael Rodriguez, Lebron’s attorney. “By your verdict, you have guaranteed that Joel Lebron will stay in prison for the rest of his life.”

The jury’s recommendation doesn’t have to be unanimous. Jurors began deliberating about noon.

According to investigators, Angel was 18-years-old in the spring of 2002 when she was out celebrating an anniversary with Nelson Portobanco, her boyfriend at the time, on South Beach when five people kidnapped them and forced them into their truck at gunpoint.

As they rode north to Orlando where the defendants came from, Angel was repeatedly raped and Nelson was beaten, said prosecutors. Police said Portobanco was eventually thrown out of the truck along I-95 and left for dead.

The five are accused of killing Angel execution-style at the side of I-95 near Boca Raton to keep her from identifying them. Police said Lebron, now 33, was the gunman.

Prior to Lebron’s conviction, three of the five defendants had already been convicted. Two were sentenced to life in prison; one is awaiting a second sentencing hearing because his death penalty sentence was overturned.

TEXAS – Convicted Cop Killer in Texas Exhausts Appeals – Anthony Cardell Haynes STAYED

October 5, 2012

Houston, Texas (CN) – A convicted cop killer who faces the death penalty for the 1998 murder of an off-duty police officer cannot have his appeal reopened and his Oct. 18 execution will move forward, a federal judge ruled. Anthony Cardell Haynes shot and killed Sgt. Kent Kinkaid following a night of crime where he committed a string of armed robberies before spotting the off-duty officer and firing at him.
A Harris county jury convicted Haynes in 1999 of capital murder and sentenced him to death. After failing to find relief in both state and federal courts for more than a decade, including a 456-page federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed in 2005, Haynes petitioned the court to reopen his federal habeas action citing an ineffective trial counsel. U.S. District Judge Sim Lake rejected that petition Wednesday and denied him a certificate of appealability.
Haynes claimed relief under the recent Supreme Court decision Martinez v. Ryan, which concluded that a deficient performance by a state habeas attorney may amount to some cause, but Lake said that decision does not apply to cases arising from Texas courts.
Lake also said even if it did apply, Haynes failed to show extraordinary circumstances under the law.
“Because the Martinez decision is simply a change in decisional law and is not the kind of extraordinary circumstance that warrants relief under Rule 60 (b) (6), Haynes‘ motion is without merit. Additional, the applicability of Martinez to Texas’s post-conviction process does not change the fact that the court has already adjudicated Haynes‘ Strickland claim. Haynes asks the court ‘to exercise its authority and grant him relief from its prior judgment…and grant federal review of this claim …'”
“The court has already reviewed the merits of Haynes‘ Strickland claim in the alternative and found it to be without merit.”
Lake also noted that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals observed, on direct appeal, that Haynes confessed “to knowingly murdering a police officer after a violent crime spree.”
“Haynes admitted that he shot Sergeant Kincaid because he was a police officer and, showing no remorse, bragged to friends that he had killed a police officer. Haynes also told people that he should have killed Nancy Kincaid, so that there would have been no witness to the murder.”
According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Haynes will be the 10th death row inmate to be executed this year, in the country’s most active death penalty state.

TEXAS – Man Condemned For Wife, Child’s Death Loses Appeal – GARY GREEN

October 5, 2012

HOUSTON  — The conviction and death sentence of a Dallas man for fatally stabbing his estranged wife and drowning her 6-year-old daughter in a bathtub have been upheld by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Gary Green was sent to death row two years ago for the September 2009 slayings of Lovetta Armstead and her daughter, Jazzmen, at their home. Armstead was stabbed more than 25 times. One other child, a boy, was stabbed in the stomach. He survived.

Attorneys for the 41-year-old Green raised 46 points of error from his trial, including challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence against him, his confession and jury selection. The court this week rejected all of the claims.

Green could still pursue appeals in federal court. He does not have an execution date.

SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK: Scalia says death penalty, abortion, gay rights are easy calls

October 5, 2012

Scalia calls himself a “textualist” and, as he related to a few hundred people who came to buy his new book and hear him speak in Washington the other day, that means he applies the words in the Constitution as they were understood by the people who wrote and adopted them.

So Scalia parts company with former colleagues who have come to believe capital punishment is unconstitutional. The framers of the Constitution didn’t think so and neither does he.

The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state,” Scalia said at the American Enterprise Institute.

He contrasted his style of interpretation with that of a colleague who tries to be true to the values of the Constitution as he applies them to a changing world. This imaginary justice goes home for dinner and tells his wife what a wonderful day he had, Scalia said.

This imaginary justice, Scalia continued, announces that it turns out “`the Constitution means exactly what I think it ought to mean.’ No kidding.”

As he has said many times before, the justice said the people should turn to their elected lawmakers, not judges, to advocate for abortion rights or an end to the death penalty. Or they should try to change the Constitution, although Scalia said the Constitution makes changing it too hard by requiring 38 states to ratify an amendment for it to take effect.

“It is very difficult to adopt a constitutional amendment,” Scalia said. He once calculated that less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, residing in the 13 least populous states, could stop an amendment, he said.

In a lengthy question-and-answer session, Scalia once again emphatically denied there’s a rift among the court’s conservative justices following Chief Justice John Roberts‘ vote to uphold President Barack Obama’s health care law. Scalia dissented from Roberts’ opinion.

“Look it, do not believe anything you read about the internal workings of the Supreme Court,” he said. “It is either a lie because the press knows we won’t respond _ they can say whatever they like and we won’t respond _ or else it’s based on information from someone who has violated his oath of confidentiality, that is to say, a non-reliable source. So one way or another it is not worthy of belief.”

“We can disagree with one another on the law without taking it personally,” he said.


The issue of gay rights, or more specifically same-sex marriage, is expected to be a big one in the term that began this week. While the justices initially were scheduled to discuss the topic at their private conference in late September, it now appears likely that they will not make a decision about whether to take up a gay marriage case until after the presidential election, which would mean arguments would not take place until the spring.

The justices have a variety of pending appeals they could choose to hear that deal in one way or another with gay marriage.

One set of cases looks at whether same-sex couples who are legally married can be deprived of a range of federal benefits that are available to heterosexual couples. Another case deals with California’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and federal court rulings striking down the amendment. An Arizona case deals with a state law that revoked domestic partner benefits, making them available only to married couples. Arizona’s constitution bans gay marriage.


The audio of Roberts reading a summary of the health care decision is available online through the website at

OKLAHOMA – Execution date requested for death row inmate GEORGE OCHOA

October 4, 2012

McALESTER — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed a request Monday with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to set an execution date for George Ochoa, a 38-year-old Oklahoma State Penitentiary death row inmate.

“Ochoa was convicted and sentenced to death for the first-degree murders of Francisco Morales, 38, and wife, Maria Yanez, 35,” Pruitt states in a recent press release. “According to the report, Morales suffered 12 gunshot wounds and Yanez suffered 11 gunshot wounds while in their bedroom the morning of July 12, 1993. … The victim’s children were in the home at the time of the murders.”

According to court records, Morales and Yanez were shot and killed in their bedroom in the early morning hours of July 12, 1993. The sound of gunfire woke Yanez’s 14-year-old daughter, court records state, and she called 911 before looking out her bedroom door. “(She) saw two men,” court records state.

The young girl at first denied knowing the men, but eventually identified them as Ochoa and Osvaldo Torres, court records state. The young girl’s 11-year-old step brother saw one of the men shoot his father, court records state.

Ochoa and Torres were arrested “a short distance from the homicide,” court records state. “A short time before the shootings, Torres and Ochoa parked their car at a friend’s house,” court records state. “A witness observed one of the men take a gun from the trunk of the car and put the gun in his pants.”

Both Torres and Ochoa were tried and sentenced to death for the murders.

“However, in 2004, former Gov. Brad Henry commuted Torres’ sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole,” Pruitt states in a press release.

During his 2004 clemency hearing, Torres admitted that he had planned to burglarize Morales’ and Yanez’s home. “I never killed anyone. And I never knew George was going to kill anyone.”

Ochoa has been in custody at OSP since April 1, 1996, less than two weeks after he was convicted of first degree murder.

SOUTH CAROLINA – Supreme Court ponders death-row inmate Stanko’s appeal in Conway

October 4, 2012

COLUMBIA — An appeal by twice convicted murderer Stephen Stanko, who was sentenced to death in both cases, is in the hands of the S.C. Supreme Court justices after attorneys made their oral arguments Thursday.

Stanko, 44, appealed his murder conviction and death sentence from the 2009 trial in Horry County for the fatal shooting of 74-year-old Henry Turner of Conway.

Stanko also was sentenced to die after being convicted in 2006 by a Georgetown County jury in the death of his 43-year-old live-in girlfriend, Laura Ling.

In April 2005, police said Stanko killed Ling in her Murrells Inlet home that he shared with her and Ling’s then-15-year-old daughter, who also was assaulted. Stanko took Ling’s car, drove to Turner’s home in Conway and killed him before taking his pickup truck, according to authorities.

Stanko fled Conway and went to Columbia where he claimed he was a New York millionaire and flirted with several women at a downtown restaurant. From there Stanko went to Augusta, Ga., where the Masters golf tournament was being held and met another woman and spent the weekend with her before he was arrested there.

Prosecutors tried Stanko for Ling’s death and the assault of her daughter and in his defense he claimed a brain injury caused a defect that caused him to not be aware of his criminal responsibility for his actions.

Stanko has already appealed his conviction and death sentence in Ling’s murder and state Supreme Court justices denied his request saying his trial was fair.

On Thursday, Bob Dudek with the S.C. Commission of Indigent Defense told the justices that Stanko’s trial in Conway was flawed because jurors were not given the opportunity to consider insanity as a possible verdict; that attorney Bill Diggs represented Stanko in Ling’s trial and Stanko had appealed that conviction on the basis Diggs was inadequate; that a juror had prior knowledge of the case and was biased toward the death penalty; and the publicity surrounding the case did not allow for a fair trial.

J. Anthony Mabry, who represented the state Attorney General’s office, told the justices that Stanko was not insane, but a psychopath.

Under insanity the test is did he know the difference between right and wrong, not that he could form malice,” Mabry said.

But Dudek said giving jurors instructions to consider malice was part of the crime because a weapon was used does not allow them to consider that Stanko was insane at the time of the crime because he used a gun to shoot Turner.

“You are telling the jury they can infer malice by the use of a deadly weapon and they can skip over insanity,” Dudek said. “There were doctors who testified Stanko was legally insane. … Stanko was not responsible for what he did and that is totally inconsistent with malice.”

Chief Justice Jean Toal asked Dudek to explain how the inference of malice undercut Stanko’s insanity defense.

“There’s no real contest that Mr. Stanko brutally killed this person,” Toal said before describing that there was extensive expert testimony during the trial about Stanko’s frontal lobe injury and his mental defect of not being criminally responsible. “That doesn’t depend on any facts of the crime.”

Dudek replied that just because a gun was used to kill Turner does not mean that Stanko had malice and wasn’t insane.

“Everybody knows juries are very weary of finding people not guilty by reason of insanity because they feel like the person is getting off,” Dudek said.

Another issue justices must consider in the appeal is whether Diggs should have represented Stanko in the Turner case because he had represented Stanko in the Ling case and Stanko had appealed that conviction.

Justice Costa M. Pleicones asked Dudek why should a circuit court judge ignore Stanko’s request for Diggs to represent him in the second trial, and Pleicones called Stanko’s request one the “best arguments by a defendant” that he had ever heard.

“Mr. Stanko made an eloquent, lucid argument as to why he didn’t want Mr. Diggs disqualified,” Pleicones said.

Toal also said Stanko told the court before his trial that Diggs was the only attorney he was comfortable with because Diggs understood his brain injury and the defense.

“He has the ability and right to waive any conflict, does he not?” Toal said.

“No, I disagree,” Dudek said. “The good of the system comes before the right of the defendant.”

The issue of Diggs representation was decided by two circuit court judges and was shown not to be a conflict, Mabry said.

Stanko also appealed that a juror should have been disqualified because she knew about his previous death sentence and Dudek described her as being for the death penalty based on the way she answered some questions.

But Mabry questioned if the juror was confused by questions from Diggs because John said during the voir dire that he was confused. The juror later said she could set aside any prior knowledge and make her decision based on the facts of the case, Mabry said.

In the appeal, Stanko also asked for the court to consider his mental illness and that he is not fit for execution, but Toal said now was not the time to discuss the issue because his execution is not near.

“We couldn’t consider … a person’s mental status until execution looms,” Toal said. “That decision also could never be made at trial.”

It is unclear when the justices will issue a ruling in the appeal. Stanko is being held on death row at Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville.