Day: November 12, 2012

Death-row inmate Hubert Michael Jr. will be executed soon, DA Kearney predicts

November 11, 2012

BELLEFONTE — Condemned killer Hubert Lester Michael Jr.’s temporary stay of execution won’t save him from being put to death by lethal injection, York County District Attorney Tom Kearney said.

“I believe it will happen in a relatively short window of time,” he said. “I think we’re going to get there — for the (victim’s) family and for the community. This is a temporary speed bump.”

Michael was to die at 7 p.m. Thursday, but the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of execution that returns the case to U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III. The Third Circuit wants Jones to explain why he denied Michael’s request to keep fighting his death sentence, but then issued what’s called a “certificate of appealability.”


Trista Eng

at issue: Michael’s attorneys with the Federal Community Defender Office and the state attorney general’s Office then have 14 days to address their issues — all at once, Kearney said.

Kearney said language in opinions by Jones and in an unrelated case by the state Supreme Court seems to indicate federal appellate judges in Pennsylvania are frustrated by federal community defenders, who litigate death-row cases bit by bit.

“Delay is winning,” he said.

Jones addressed it directly in his order denying Michael a stay:

“Indeed, to grant the relief requested by the petitioner would make the case a monumental example of the seemingly endless and oft-criticized federal habeas practice. Over 19 years after the heinous murder the petitioner has admitted committing, it is time to draw this affair to a close.”

Hard on family: The family of 16-year-old murder victim Trista Eng wants the sentence carried out, although all have had different reactions to the decades of delays, Kearney said.

“It’s got to be terrible for them,” he said. “I have to believe that this is an emotional roller coaster no one deserves.”

He described Suzanna Eng, Trista’s mother, as a remarkable woman, “resolute in her determination tsee justice for her daughter.”

At Michael’s clemency hearing Wednesday, Trista’s siblings “spoke of their relationship with their sister, and all that she has missed,” Kearney said.

Trista’s brother and sister expressed frustration toward the system, he said, and her brother told the board he hates Michael, according to Kearney.

“The attorney general’s office and our office will do everything we can to make sure the will of the community is carried forth,” he said.

SCOTUS: Despite the stay of execution, Michael, Trista’s family, prison officials and media spent tense hours Thursday at Rockview state prison near State College, waiting to hear whether the U.S. Supreme Court would grant prosecutors’ emergency motion to halt

This is the “execution complex” at Rockview state prison, near State College, where death-row inmates are executed. Three inmates have been put to death since Pa. reinstituted the death penalty in 1972. (Courtesy of Pa. Dept. of Corrections) the Third Circuit’s stay.

But that motion was denied, according to Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for the state attorney general’s office.

It was about 8:30 p.m. Thursday when the denial was announced, ending the wait and sending Eng’s family, the media and a handful of death-penalty protesters back home.

Waited quietly:All day Thursday and into Thursday night, Michael remained in Rockview’s execution holding cell, reading a Bible and a newspaper and listening to the radio, according to Susan McNaughton, press secretary for the state Department of Corrections.

He did not write or dictate a final statement, she said.

Although the execution was set for 7 p.m., the death warrant signed by Gov. Tom Corbett remained in effect until midnight, McNaughton said, and the execution could have begun as late as 11:59 p.m.

Had the execution happened, Michael would have been handcuffed before walking the 20 feet from the holding cell to the execution chamber under escort by six corrections officers, McNaughton said.

Police escort: Michael arrived at Rockview at 6:09 Thursday morning from Greene state prison under police escort, according to McNaughton, and he will now be returned to Greene. Rockview is the only state prison designated to handle executions.

He was visited by his spiritual adviser and one of his attorneys, she said, but no family members.

Michael’s attorneys have declined interviews, but released a statement Thursday afternoon:

“On behalf of Hubert Michael, we are extremely pleased that the federal Court of Appeals has granted (him) a stay of execution. Mr. Michael has suffered from debilitating mental conditions throughout his life. Mr. Michael has compelling legal claims in his case which have never been reviewed by any court. The Court of Appeals recognized that there are complicated issues involved in this case that should be carefully considered.”

13 years: Had the execution happened, Michael, 56, formerly of Lemoyne, would have been the first murderer put to death in Pennsylvania in 13 years, and the fourth inmate executed since 1972, when the state reinstituted the death penalty.

The three men executed since 1972 had all willingly given up appeals and weren’t fighting their death sentences.

It’s the third death warrant Pennsylvania governors have signed for Michael. The first two were in 1996 and 2004. Both times, his execution was stayed.

For years, Michael maintained he wanted to die, but he changed his mind in 2004, just days before his scheduled execution.

His attorneys argue he was not mentally competent when he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on Oct. 11, 1994, and didn’t challenge his death sentence.

They’ve also said Michael suffered from mental-health issues while he was held in Graterford state prison, but that those issues improved when he was transferred to Greene state prison.

Now that his mental health has improved, Michael is fighting his death sentence.

The background: Michael told his former defense attorney, York County chief public defender Bruce Blocher, he offered Trista a ride as she was walking to her job at Hardee’s in Dillsburg on July 12, 1993.

She accepted, at which point he kidnapped her, drove to to state game lands in Warrington Township and raped and killed her, according to testimony from Blocher at an appeals hearing in 1997.

Michael fled the state 10 days later. At the time, he was free on bail for a Lancaster County rape charge.

Captured: He was captured July 27, 1993, in Utah. Police found the murder weapon in the car he was using, officials said.

He was charged with homicide in late August 1993, after Trista’s body was found by his own family members. Michael had confessed the murder to his brother.

In November 1993, Michael escaped from Lancaster County Prison but was captured in New Orleans in March 1994, according to the Department of Corrections.

He was later sentenced to 10 to 20 years for the Lancaster County rape, according to court records.

OHIO – EXECUTION – Brett Hartman 11/13/2012 EXECUTED 10.34 a.m

 Brett Hartman

November 13, 2012

Today, he calmly accepted his death.

‘I’m good, let’s roll,’ he said in his final words.

He then smiled in the direction of his sister and repeatedly gave her, a friend and his attorney a ‘thumbs up’ with his left hand.

‘This is not going to defeat me,’ Hartman then said to warden Donald Morgan, who didn’t respond.

The effect of the single dose of pentobarbital did not seem as immediate as in other executions at the state prison in Lucasville, in southern Ohio.

Four minutes after Hartman first appeared to be reacting to it as his abdomen began to rise and fall, his abdomen rose and fell again, he coughed and his head shifted rhythmically for a few moments.

His sister, Diane Morretti, dabbed at her eyes during the process. The warden declared Hartman’s time of death as 10:34am.

Both Hartman’s attorney, David Stebbins, and prisons system spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the gap between Hartman’s movements was not out of the ordinary.

Hartman claimed he did not kill Snipes, but found mutilated body and panicked, trying to clean up the mess before calling 911. It was a claim rejected by numerous courts over the years.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a last-minute appeal by Hartman yesterday.

Hartman’s last meal, which in Ohio is called a special meal, consisted of steak with sauteed mushrooms, fried shrimp, Macaroni & Cheese, a baked potato with butter and sour cream, Rainforest Crunch cereal, cans of Pepsi and Dr Pepper, and a bowl of Honey-Comb cereal, a prison spokesman told MailOnline.

Hartman is the 49th inmate put to death since Ohio resumed executions in 1999.

Murdered: Ms Snipes had been stabbed 138 times. Her throat had been cut and her hands were cut off in the gruesome murder in her home  Ms Snipes

November 10, 2012

Three years ago, the condemned killer from Akron came within a week of being executed by the state of Ohio. Just last year, he came within three weeks of being executed.

While prosecutors continue to block his efforts for additional DNA testing, only the U.S. Supreme Court stands between Hartmann and his execution Tuesday in Lucasville. Hartmann contends he is innocent of the brutal slaying of Highland Square resident Winda Snipes in 1997 and his attorneys plan to continue his fight for testing of evidence until the final hours.

Prosecutors have long argued that Hartmann, 38, has already been granted his wish with additional DNA testing that only confirmed the “clear and convincing evidence of his guilt.” They say the 11th-hour appeals by Hartmann are only designed to delay his death.

Hartmann’s attorneys, Michael Benza and David Stebbins, say the courts have failed to take the testing further and examine key pieces of evidence.

Prosecutors originally sent many of the items to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the state’s forensic crime lab, but the evidence has either never been tested or never revealed, Benza said.

The items include bloody fingerprint on an electric clock in which the cord was cut and used to kill Snipes. There is also a bloody fingerprint on a chair.

The defense wants the untested prints compared to Hartmann as well as Snipes’ ex-boyfriend. They’ve been seeking the tests for years, but the state will not cooperate.

“If Brett’s not a match to the bloody fingerprints, then that’s pretty good evidence that someone other than Brett committed this crime,” Benza said.

Some fingerprints that were apparently tested, he said, were never linked to Hartmann. Other items were sent for testing. What those items were, however, were never disclosed to defense attorneys, he said.

“That’s what I find really most disturbing,” Benza said. “The prosecutors wanted it tested at trial, yet we get no answers from anybody on why there were not tested.”

Details of slaying

Snipes, 46, was found dead in her South Highland Avenue apartment. Her body was bound at the ankles, her torso stabbed more than 130 times, her neck slashed and her hands severed and missing.

Hartmann, who had a casual sexual relationship with Snipes, contends he had been with her about 14 hours earlier during a sexual encounter, but did not kill her.

It was Hartmann, then 23, who reported finding Snipes’ body. He told police he went to her apartment, discovered her mutilated body and panicked, fearing police would pin the murder on him. He cleaned up evidence of his previous visit — cigarette butts, beer cans and his T-shirt, which he said was left behind in his haste to leave Snipes after their sexual encounter.

About two hours after finding the body, Hartmann said, he made a series of 911 calls in an attempt to report Snipes’ death anonymously. He was later arrested when his bloody shirt and a watch belonging to Snipes were found in his bedroom. His semen was also found in Snipes’ body.

Years later, a federal judge ordered additional DNA testing from Snipes’ body. The DNA was linked to Hartmann. But defense attorneys counter that Hartmann had already acknowledged having sex with Snipes before her death. They want specific evidence tested before the execution goes forward.

Clock evidence

The clock has been an intriguing untested item since the slaying in September 1997. It was found inside Snipes’ apartment stopped at 4:40. The cord was cut and used to strangle Snipes, who had been seen alive at 4:30 p.m.

Defense attorneys believe the clock stopped around the time of the murder. Phone records suggest Hartmann was at his home at 4:50 p.m.

In past appeals, defense attorneys say a former jail inmate lied at Hartmann’s original trial and the ex-con’s attorney, Tom Adgate, would confirm it — if he was granted immunity from attorney-client privacy violations.

They also allege that Snipes had an abusive boyfriend with a violent history who was never fully investigated by Akron police, lacked an alibi and likely saw Hartmann and Snipes together just before the killing.

Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh declined to comment Friday through a spokeswoman, preferring to wait until after Tuesday’s scheduled execution. In 2009, a federal appellate court granted a stay a week before Hartmann was to die. In 2011, an unofficial moratorium by Gov. John Kasich sparred Hartmann for another year.

Walsh and state attorneys have consistently maintained Hartmann’s guilt and say he has already had his chance at DNA testing.

The Supreme Court, Benza said, has granted three stays of execution in the past month to grant evidence testing to condemned inmates