Day: October 30, 2012

Supreme Court To Hear Texas Death Row Inmate’s Case – Carlos Trevino

October 29, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear the case of Texas death row inmate Carlos Trevino in a case that could determine whether a defendant in Texas has a right to “competent” attorney during habeas appeals — a challenge to a criminal conviction that considers whether the defendant’s constitutional rights were violated during his trial.

In March, the nation’s highest court decided inMartinez v. Ryan that the failure of state habeas lawyers to argue that their client’s trial counsel was ineffective should not keep the defendant from being able to make that argument later in the appeals process.

The question in the Trevino case is whether the court’s decision in Martinez applies in Texas, said Trevino’s lawyer, Warren Alan Wolf. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decided in November 2011 that since the laws governing habeas appeals in Texas are different from those in Arizona, the Martinez decision does not apply.

Wolf said he had expected the court to select the case of John Balentine, another Texas death row inmate, as the one with which to decide the question. Balentine was an hour away from execution in August when the court granted him a stay to decide whether his state habeas attorney should have raised claims that his trial counsel had been ineffective. His trial lawyer, Balentine contended, failed to consider mitigating evidence that might have convinced jurors to sentence him to life rather than death.

Dissenting from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals’ refusal to grant Balentine a hearing, two judges wrote that, “The issue of Martinez v. Ryan’s applicability to capital habeas petitioners in Texas presents an issue of exceptional importance.”

Trevino was convicted in 1997 of the rape and murder of 15-year-old Linda Salinas at a park in San Antonio. At the time, he was a member of the Pisteleros gang, and several other members were charged for the murder. Trevino was the only one sentenced to death.

Trevino’s first habeas attorney, Albert Rodriguez, did “no investigation” outside of the record that already existed, Wolf said, and then became sick and “didn’t want to proceed.” As a result, he explained, “Carlos never really got fair representation.


Before being given a lethal injection at a South Dakota penitentiary, Moeller, 60, was asked if he had any last words.

‘No sir,’ he said, then added: ‘They’re my fan club?’

Donald Moeller, 60, received a lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls, marking South Dakota’s second execution this month in an unusual surge for a state that has carried out just two other death sentences since 1913. He was pronounced dead at 10:24 p.m.

last meal Tuesday of scrambled eggs, link sausage, tater tots and drip coffee.

OCTOBER 30,2012

This frame grab provided by KELO-TV shows convicted killer Donald Moeller during a court appearance in Sioux Falls, S.D., Wednesday, July 18, 2012.  Ronal Moeller  Taken: Becky O'Connell was in the fourth grade when she set out to walk a few blocks from home to buy sugar to make lemonade, but never returnedBecky O’Connell

(Reuters) – A man convicted of raping and murdering a 9-year-old girl after kidnapping her from a convenience store in 1990 is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Tuesday night in South Dakota, the state’s second execution this month.

Donald Moeller, 60, who had declared his innocence and fought for two decades to prevent his execution, admitted during a court hearing in early October that he had committed the crime and stopped appeals that would further delay his death sentence from being carried out.

His execution is scheduled for 10 p.m. Central Time on Tuesday at the state prison in Sioux Falls.

According to court records, Moeller abducted Becky O’Connell from a Sioux Falls convenience store where she had gone to buy candy and repeatedly raped and stabbed her. Her body was found in a wooded area the next morning with extensive knife wounds.

Moeller was convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to death in 1992, but was granted a new trial after the state Supreme Court ruled that testimony of previous attempted sexual assaults on three other people should not have been permitted.

Moeller was convicted and sentenced to death again in 1997. He continued appeals until recent weeks but at a federal court hearing in early October he admitted the crimes.

“If the rape and murder of Rebecca O’Connell does not deserve the death penalty, then I guess nothing does,” Moeller told the judge, according to court records.

Executions have been rare in South Dakota. Before this year, the state had put to death only two inmates since 1913. On Oct 15, it executed Eric Robert on October 15 for the killing of prison guard Ron Johnson during a failed escape attempt.

If Moeller’s lethal injection is carried out on Tuesday, he will be the 34th inmate executed in the United States in 2012, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

South Dakota covers up source of death penalty drugs ahead of execution

Prison authorities in South Dakota are refusing to release information on contaminated drugs made to order for an execution tonight (30 October).

The so-called ‘DIY drugs’ – doses of the barbiturate pentobarbital produced by a compounding pharmacy for the South Dakota Department of Corrections (DOC) – were used to execute Eric Robert earlier this month, with alarming results. Robert’s eyes opened during the lethal injection process, a sign that he may not have been properly anaesthetised and the execution may have been botched.

The ingredients used to make the drugs used in Eric Robert’s execution – and set to be used this evening in that of Donald Moeller – were found to have been contaminated with fungus.

However, despite these indications that the drugs may be faulty, and therefore carrying a risk of unnecessary suffering for the prisoner, South Dakota has thus far refused to disclose any information on how they were obtained.

The drugs are known to have been made by a compounding pharmacy – a service which allows batches of drugs to be made up to order, thereby allowing customers to bypass mainstream pharmaceutical suppliers which face more comprehensive regulation. The compounding pharmacy industry has been in the spotlight lately after reports linked it to a widespread outbreak of meningitis in the US.

South Dakota DOC had previously intended to use drugs they had illegally imported from a supplier in India in the executions, but these drugs expired last month.

Maya Foa, investigator for the legal charity Reprieve said: “The use of these DIY execution drugs means that we have little idea of just what is being injected into prisoners’ veins. It is no surprise that prison authorities appear so desperate to cover up any information on where they have come from, or who made them. The South Dakota Department of Corrections must come clean: it is indefensible for the ultimate punishment to be carried out in this slipshod and unaccountable manner.”

TEXAS – Death Row inmate didn’t commit murders, witnesses say – Lester Leroy Bower,

October 29,2012

SHERMAN — In a day of dramatic testimony Monday, two women implicated a gang of drug dealers in the 1983 slaughter of four men in a Grayson County airplane hangar.

After 29 years on Texas’ Death Row for the crimes, Lester Leroy Bower, who was a chemical salesman living in Arlington when he was arrested, hopes their accounts will help him win his freedom, or at least a new trial.

One of the women, identified in court as Witness No. 1, said her boyfriend told her that he participated in the killings on the October night they happened.

“He said he and his friends had gone there for a drug deal,” the witness said. “It didn’t go right and they had to kill some people.”

The boyfriend was identified in court as Lynn. Others in the gang were identified as Bear, Ches and Rocky, part of a methamphetamine ring operating in southern Oklahoma at the time, she said.

Several days after the killings, the woman testified, she heard Lynn and Ches discussing it.

“Ches was laughing, telling Lynn, ‘Did you see the guy’s face when you shot him in the head?'” the witness testified. “Lynn said, ‘I had to shoot him. He was running for the door.'”

The witness, who said she was the mother of a slaying victim, said she went to Bower’s defense lawyers in 1989 after learning that Bower had been convicted and faced the death penalty.

“As the mother of a homicide victim, I know how important it is to make the right person pay for what they did,” the witness testified. “I don’t believe Mr. Bower is that person.”

Bower’s lawyers have filed an appeal with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing that new evidence points to the innocence of their 64-year-old client, the fourth-oldest man on Death Row. The appellate court ordered state District Judge Jim Fallon to hold this week’s hearing in Sherman, in part to build a record of testimony that can be used later in a decision on Bower’s fate.

Bower, a graying man dressed in orange prison coveralls, also testified Monday, the first day of the hearing.

The condemned man, who did not take the stand at his 1984 trial, denied killing the men but said his own lies contributed to his conviction. Bower admitted lying repeatedly to investigators to try to steer clear of the case, and to his wife, fearing that she would have been upset by his secret purchase of an ultralight aircraft.

Bower said he bought the aircraft from the victims shortly before they died.

“This is my doing,” Bower said Monday. “I’m responsible for my actions, my trying to stay out of this and lying to authorities. Lying to my wife, that’s probably where this started.”

Monday was the first time the testimony of Bower and other defense witnesses had been heard in state court. When Bower was sentenced to die, state law specified that new evidence could not be presented unless it had been discovered within 30 days of the conviction. That law has changed.

Some time after this week’s hearing, Fallon is expected to issue a ruling that could suggest upholding the conviction, recommend that Bower be released, or recommend a new trial. Ultimately, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will decide the case.

Grayson County prosecutors have vigorously contested alternate theories presented by the defense, saying Bower was convicted on the basis of strong circumstantial evidence. That included Bowers’ repeated lies to FBI agents and that he was known to have owned a firearm and exotic ammunition similar to that used in the crimes. Additionally, parts of the ultralight aircraft were discovered in his home.

The victims — Bob Tate, Philip Good, Jerry Mack Brown and Ronald Mayes — were found shot to death in a hangar five miles from Sherman, the Grayson County seat.

During Monday’s hearing, friends and relatives of the victims sat on one side of the crowded courtroom, supporters of Bower on the other. Robbie Dutton, Brown’s widow, listened from the first row, just behind the prosecution table.

“Just rehashing, you know,” she said of her feelings after Monday’s testimony concluded. “We’re not wanting him to be punished for something he didn’t do, but the evidence presented in 1984 was so damning.”

Nothing she heard Monday changed her belief in Bower’s guilt, she said.

“It’s hard to hear all of this again,” Dutton said.

Witness No. 1 testified that she was told of the killings hours after they occurred, while she and Lynn drove through Sherman.

“When he told me about all this, it was like my whole world shifted at that point,” she said. “It was like I just stepped into a TV movie.”

She also described her boyfriend’s behavior in the days after the killings.

“He would have a hard time sleeping,” she said. “He would have nightmares. He would be up pacing. He said he could see the man’s eyes he shot and he could hear the noise reverberating off the tin building.”

The second witness, identified as Witness No. 5, said she was the wife of Bear, who died of cancer five years ago. She testified that several times she heard her husband and the other men talk about a shooting in an airplane hangar in which four men were killed.

“I believe they committed the crime, yes,” she said.

Grayson County prosecutor Kerye Ashmore attacked the credibility of both women, citing their heavy drug use at the time of the slayings, and in the case of Witness No. 1, a felony conviction for forgery.

Bower also faces what likely will be a vigorous cross-examination as the hearing resumes today.

On Monday, Bower described meeting the men in the hangar and paying $3,000 cash as a down payment for the ultralight. But he hid his purchase.

“I was concerned how my wife would react,” Bower said. “I was quite sure she would not have approved.”

He said he was stunned and frightened when he heard of the slaughter a few days after it happened. The following January, FBI agents tracked Bower down through telephone records of his calls to one of the victims. When questioned, he said, he admitted inquiring about the aircraft but did not say he had visited the crime scene.

“Once I headed down the proverbial bad path, I kept on going,” Bower said. “I told them the same lie.”


California’s longest-serving death row inmate spared execution – Douglas Stankewitz,

October 30,2012

SACRAMENTO (Reuters) – A federal appeals court has overturned the death sentence of California’s longest serving death row inmate, a 54-year-old Mono Indian man convicted in 1978 for killing a woman during a drug- and alcohol-fueled carjacking.

Douglas Stankewitz, who has spent 34 years awaiting execution, will be re-sentenced to life without the possibility of parole unless prosecutors decide within 90 days to retry the penalty phase of his trial, which would consider punishment only, not guilt or innocence.

The decision late on Monday by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals comes just a week before Californians vote on a referendum to abolish the death penalty in the state.

A federal judge halted all California executions in 2006, saying a three-drug lethal injection protocol risked causing inmates too much pain and suffering before death. California revised its protocol, but executions have not resumed.

An appeals court panel, in a 2-1 decision, ruled that Stankewitz received ineffective legal counsel during the penalty phase of his murder trial, when he was sentenced to die.

His lawyer, they wrote, failed to investigate and present evidence “including evidence of his deprived and abusive upbringing, potential mental illness, long history of substance abuse and use of substantial quantities of drugs leading up to the murder.”

In a recent interview with Reuters inside San Quentin State Prison, Stankewitz called the death penalty “a joke,” and described how long delays in the appeals process, coupled with ineffective counsel, had led to him spending more than three decades waiting to die.

“They can’t kill me because the system is messed up so bad,” Stankewitz told Reuters during that interview.

Stankewitz suffered alcohol exposure in the womb, was removed from his home at age 6 after his mother beat him and bounced between foster care facilities where he was severely troubled and abused, court documents show.

He was 19 when he and a group of friends carjacked Theresa Graybeal, 22, from a K-Mart parking lot in Modesto and drove across California’s rural heartland to Fresno, roughly 100 miles away. There, Graybeal was shot and killed.