Day: February 22, 2014

PENNSYLVANIA – Gov. Tom Corbett on Thursday signed a death warrant ordering the execution of a man convicted nearly 25 years ago for the grisly murder of a 2-year old girl.

february 20, 2014 (tribune-democrat)

Gov. Tom Corbett on Thursday signed a death warrant ordering the execution of a man convicted nearly 25 years ago for the grisly murder of a 2-year old girl.

The execution of Stephen Rex Edmiston, now 55, has been ordered for April 16, according to a statement from the governor’s office.

Edmiston was convicted in 1989 by a Cambria County jury for the 1988 murder of Bobbi Jo Matthew.

Edmiston was living in Huntingdon County when he took the girl from the home of her grandmother, Nancy Dotts, in Beccaria, Clearfield County, during the early morning hours of Oct. 5, 1988.

The child’s body was found two days later in a remote area of Reade Township in northeastern Cambria County.

Edmiston maintained his innocence at his trial. But state police testified that he drew a map with an X marking the location where, he said, “You’ll find a dead, raped little girl.”

Police found the girl’s body at the location and Edmiston allegedly admitted to raping her in his truck, then hitting her three or four times until she became quiet.

An autopsy showed Bobbi Jo was partially scalped, had blunt force injuries to her torso and a skull fracture. Her body was burned and her genital area obliterated, according to trial testimony.

Edmiston, who has been housed at SCI-Greene for several years, has been involved in the appeals process for more than two decades.

Cambria County attorneys David Kaltenbaugh and Kenneth Sottile defended Edmiston at his trial, but the appeal process was assumed several years ago by Robert Dunham of the Federal Defenders Office in Philadelphia.

Dunham could not be immediately reached for comment late Thursday.

Kaltenbaugh said he had lost track of where Edmiston was in the appeal process, but said of death row inmates: “They never really exhaust their appeals.”

Executions in Pennsylvania are carried out by lethal injection, but it is highly unlikely that the execution will be carried out this spring.

The last time anyone was executed in Pennsylvania was in 1999, when Gary Heidnik of Philadelphia was executed, said Joshua Maus, of the Governor’s Office of General Counsel.

That execution occurred only after Heidnik voluntarily give up his appeal process so he could be put to death.

The Edmiston execution warrant was the 31st signed by Corbett, Maus said.

Trial testimony and information provided by the governor’s office was that Bobbi Jo went to bed in the home she shared with her grandmother and her father, Harold Matthew, on the night she was abducted.

Around 3:30 a.m., Harold Matthew, who was sleeping on a sofa in the home, was awakened by a man with a beard, the father later told authorities.

The man was wearing a baseball cap and apologized to Harold Matthew for waking him, according to trial testimony.

At some point, Edmiston went into a bedroom shared by three children, including Bobbi Jo, and removed her from the home.

Edmiston was said to be the nephew of the boyfriend of Dotts, the child’s grandmother, who discovered her missing when she came home at 5:30 a.m.

Edmiston is the last Cambria County inmate on death row. The death sentence for Larry Christie, convicted in the murder of a night watchman at the Oriential Ball Room in Gallitzin was reduced to life in prison after it became apparent the courts would rule in his favor of his appeal.

Ernest “Ernie,” Simmons, convicted in the 1990s  murder of Anna Knaze, had his status changed when an appeals court ordered a new trial and prosecutors allowed him to plead guilty to third-degree murder.

Simmons was expected to be given credit for time served, and released, but is now back in prison on a parole violation.

Late last year the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the Simmons appeal regarding the parole violation.

Final brief on lethal injections with judge; could affect fate of Ronald Smith

february 21, 2014

CALGARY – A ruling by a Montana judge is a step closer on whether the state can take a shortcut in its attempt to get approval to change the way it carries out executions.

Ron Waterman, lead lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, says the group has filed its final brief in a court challenge that could ultimately affect the fate of Canadian Ronald Smith.

Smith, originally from Red Deer, Alta., is on death row in Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge for murdering two men in 1982.

The civil liberties group filed a lawsuit in 2008 on behalf of Smith and another death-row inmate that argued the lethal injections used in state executions are cruel and unusual punishment and violate the right to human dignity.

Montana District Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock ruled in September 2012 that the injections were unconstitutional. He pointed to a lack of training for individuals who administer the drugs and a discrepancy over whether two or three drugs should be used. He also questioned the method used to determine if an inmate is actually unconscious before receiving an injection.

His ruling gave hope to Smith.

But the Montana government convinced Sherlock to hear arguments from the state, which wants to bypass a requirement it would normally have to fill before getting the legislature’s approval to change the way executions are carried out.

The case has been dragging on ever since.

“They want to change the rules without going through the legislature and we’re saying not only can’t you change the rules without going through the legislature, but the way in which you changed the rules was totally incorrect,” Waterman said from Helena, Mont., in an interview with The Canadian Press on Friday.

“You have to go through a rule-making process, which means giving notice to the public, giving opportunities to be heard before adopting a rule.”

It’s now in the hands of Sherlock.

“This is the final briefing. This now puts all of those issues before the district judge and the judge will render a decision maybe within a couple of months — sometime in March or April,” Waterman said.

Smith, was convicted in 1983 for shooting Harvey Madman Jr. and Thomas Running Rabbit, while he was high on drugs and alcohol near East Glacier, Mont.

He had been taking 30 to 40 hits of LSD and consuming between 12 and 18 beers a day at the time of the murders. He refused a plea deal that would have seen him avoid death row and spend the rest of his life in prison. Three weeks later, he pleaded guilty. He asked for and was given a death sentence.

Smith later had a change of heart and has had a number of execution dates set and overturned.

Should we use the death penalty?

february 21, 2014

I was shuffling through one of my many boxes of “stuff” a few days ago (looking for my passport, which I successfully located) when I ran across a bevy of old writings.

Short stories and other creative writing I authored in junior high, poems, position pieces, and those “papers” we all had to do in junior high and high school.

One such handwritten paper was on my opposition to the death penalty. It was written in 1988.

Growing up, I fiercely opposed putting prisoners to death. Re-reading this paper, I was reminded why, at the time, I had such ardent resistance to it. Killing our prisoners, I reasoned, put us in some pretty awful company around the world. The vast majority of countries do not practice the death penalty on its prisoners. And, if we were to lead by example, we shouldn’t either.

In high school and college, I supported the efforts of Amnesty International, writing letters to foreign countries. I did then and still believe in the work that group does to shine a light on international countries that do not share our beliefs in human rights.

Groups like the Innocence Project, too, have put the spotlight directly on our justice system, helping free at least 18 people from Death Row since 1992. People that were wrongly convicted. This, too, back in 1988 was a concern outlined in my paper.

Over the years, though, it has been harder and harder to support a 100 percent, no death penalty stance.

Then, there was Pamela Butler in 1999. The sweet little girl rollerblading her way through the neighborhood, innocently enjoying her childhood when a monster named Keith Nelson took that away.

Nelson was convicted and sentenced to death for her rape and murder. Of course, he still sits on federal Death Row, where he has been since 2002. He’s been awaiting his execution longer than Pamela Butler had on this earth.

There is just something patently wrong with that.

Now, 15 years later, we have an eerily similar case with a girl the same age and in a circumstance that is just too awful to fathom.

Hailey Owens lost her life this week, likely at the hands of another monster, Craig Michael Wood.

In 1988 I couldn’t imagine strapping these two to a chair in our old gas chamber and flipping the switch to initiate the toxic fumes.

After following the Butler story and driving to the church field where she was murdered in 1999, I was so disgusted I think my views even then started to change.

Now with a daughter by my side, and reading the report on Wood and his alleged acts against a little girl, I can’t find my way to letting him live. I just simply cannot.

Much consternation around the death penalty filters from the amount of time it takes (see Nelson) to actually exact the justice.

The hosts of a local radio talk show, “Dana and Parks” on 98.1 KMBZ have coined the phrase, “If we know, you go” when referring to death penalty cases, a nod to some sort of compromise on cases where we do not have iron-clad proof of the killer. Otherwise, in their view, inject them and get it over with.

Anymore, I really don’t care if a Keith Nelson or, if he’s guilty, Craig Michael Wood can be rehabilitated or ever contribute something to society.

I don’t want to sound cold or heartless, but in these types of cases, 2014 John just cannot agree with 1988 John.

The deaths of Pamela Butler and Hailey Owens were just too painful to think otherwise.


John Beaudoin is the publisher of the Lee’s Summit Journal. To comment, call 816-282-7001 or e-mail

Jason Michael Hann has been convicted of killing his 2-month-old son and 10-month old daughter and hiding their bodies in storage units.

february 21, 2014

INDIO, Calif. — A man who has been convicted of killing two of his infant children and hiding their plastic-wrapped bodies in storage units in Arkansas and Arizona was sentenced to death Friday in a California courthouse.

Jason Michael Hann, 39, who is already serving a 30-year sentence for the murder of his 2-month-old son, Jason, received the death penalty for the slaying of his 10-month-old daughter, Montana.

“These kids never had a chance of life,” said Bruce Price, an alternate juror who supported the death penalty decision. “This guy was trying to cover up his crimes as he went along.”

Some jurors initially resisted sending Hann to his death, but they eventually agreed to recommend that he die for his crimes. Riverside Superior Court Judge James Hawkins upheld the death sentence, denying a defense motion to reduce the sentence to life without parole.

Hann did not speak in his own defense. He sat in court, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, showing no signs of emotion.

Montana’s mother, Krissy Lyyn Werntz, was also charged in the killing. Her trial is scheduled to start on March 17.

Hann killed his infant daughter with a blow to head in Desert Hot Springs in 2001. Prosecutors said Hann wrapped her body in duct tape and plastic bags, then hid it in a blue “Tupperware-type” container stashed in a storage unit in Arkansas.

The body was found a year later after Hann stopped making payments on the storage unit. The contents of the unit were auctioned off, and the body was discovered by the new owner.

Hann and Wertz were arrested in 2002 at a motel in Portland, Maine. A day after the arrest, investigators found the body of the second infant, Jason, in a storage unit in Lake Havasu, Ariz. The boy, who had been killed in Vermont in 1999, and was also in a rubber container.

When the couple was arrested in Maine, they had in their custody a new child, a month old boy who also showed signs of abuse, including broken ribs, bleeding under his skin and internal injuries.

After the court hearing Friday, Price said the abused child was more proof that Hann deserved death. If the boy had not been saved, he likely would have suffered the same fate as his siblings, the juror said.

“(Hann) had already committed a crime against someone and he was in the process of doing the same thing,” Price said. “He got what he deserved.”