Day: February 27, 2014

COLORADO -Judge to rule if death penalty case against Montour will be postponed

february 27, 2014 (Denverpost)

Less than a week before opening arguments are scheduled to begin in the death penalty case against an inmate who beat a corrections officer to death, prosecutors are asking the judge to eliminate several defense witnesses or postpone the trial.

More than 11 years after Edward Montour killed 23-year-old Eric Autobee, jury selection in his second trial began on Jan. 6. During jury selection, defense attorneys filed a motion asking the judge to hear new evidence they say proves Montour was wrongfully convicted in 1998 of killing his 11-week-old daughter, Taylor.

On Thursday, Douglas County District Court Judge Richard Caschette will hear arguments about Montour’s 1998 conviction, whether more than a dozen defense witnesses will be allowed to speak at trial and if the trial will be postponed.

Opening arguments are scheduled to begin on Tuesday.

Montour was serving a life sentence for her death when he beat Autobee to death in the kitchen of the Limon Correctional Facility in 2002. He plead not guilty by reason of insanity in August.

But defense attorneys filed a motion on Feb. 2, arguing that Taylor’s death was an accident, not a homicide. Montour repeatedly told authorities in 1997 that he dropped Taylor — who defense attorneys now say had an undiagnosed bone disease — as he stood up from a rocking chair.

On Tuesday, almost 17 years after Taylor’s death, the El Paso County Coroner amended the manner of death on Taylor’s death certificate from homicide to unknown. Based on the amended death certificate, defense attorneys have asked the judge to drop the death penalty against Montour.

Prosecutors filed a motion on Wednesday, asking the court to eliminate some of the defense witnesses connected to arguments about Montour’s 1998 conviction because of untimely notice, incomplete endorsements and a delay in providing the prosecution with reports. If the judge allows the witnesses to speak at trial, prosecutors are asking him to postpone the trial “for the months needed” to evaluate and respond to the experts they say the defense has been “secretly cultivating for many months.”

According to the prosecution’s motion, defense attorneys have repeatedly violated court orders without punishment by filing motions and introducing witnesses well beyond deadlines set by the judge. Repeated violations created “an intended and significant tactical disadvantage,” prosecutors argued.

Defense attorneys filed a response to the motion Thursday morning, objecting to both of the prosecution’s requests.

According to defense attorneys, prosecutors have been on notice since late 2012 that defense attorneys were investigating and would likely challenge Montour’s prior conviction.

Postponing the trial would make the jury biased and prevent Montour from receiving a fair trial, defense attorneys argue. The jury selection process would likely have to be redone.

A total of 3,500 jury summons were sent out before jury selection started in January.

Eric Autobee’s father, Bob, will be at the hearing on Thursday. Bob Autobee, who originally supported seeking the death penalty against Montour, has forgiven his son’s killer in recent years.

In past months he has become a public opponent of the death penalty.

On Wednesday, Caschette ruled that the Autobee family may not ask a jury to spare Montour the death penalty if he his convicted. He may, however, tell the jury about Montour’s character.

FLORIDA – Opening statements begin in death penalty case resentencing – Richard Michael Cooper

february 26, 2014 (tampabay)

LARGO — A jury has been selected and opening statements are scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the resentencing of Richard Michael Cooper, who has been on death row for 30 years after being convicted in a triple murder.

A federal appeals court threw out Cooper’s death sentence in 2011 after finding that a jury should have heard evidence of abuse Cooper suffered as a child during the sentencing phase of his trial.

It took a day and a half to seat a jury to hear the evidence on what sentence Cooper should receive for his role in the 1982 deaths of Steven Fridella, Bobby Martindale and Gary Petersen — remembered since as the “High Point murders.”

Cooper’s guilt is not in dispute. On the morning of June 18, 1982, Cooper and three others — Jason Dirk Walton, Terry Van Royal and Jeffrey Hartwell McCoy — drove to Fridella’s Largo residence looking for cocaine or money.

They parked a distance away and, wearing ski masks, crept toward the home at 6351 143rd Ave. Among them they carried a .357 Magnum revolver, a .22 rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun, according to court records.

They had originally planned to rob the men inside while they slept. But someone recognized one of the intruders, and the plan changed.

Fridella, Martindale and Petersen were bound with duct tape and forced to lie on the floor. Cooper, then 18, confessed to shooting Fridella twice with the shotgun. Cooper’s attorneys called no witnesses in his defense, arguing that he was under the spell of Walton, whom Cooper had described as “a Charles Manson-type figure.”

Cooper’s conviction and sentence were upheld on appeal. In 2011, the federal 11th Circuit again affirmed the conviction but tossed out the death sentence because of evidence the first jury never heard. That included frequent beatings at the hands of his hard-drinking father, Phillip “Socky” Cooper, who earned his nickname as a Golden Gloves boxing champion.

The elder Cooper beat his children with “boards, switches, belts and horse whips,” leaving welts all over their bodies, sometimes for offenses as small as not knowing their multiplication tables.

The abuse was so constant, a school principal, fearing he was making things worse, “stopped calling their father when Cooper would get in trouble because Cooper would show up at school beaten and with bruises all over him,” the court said.

Cooper’s stepbrother and sister also said no one had contacted them to testify at the first trial.

The Truth About The Death Penalty … And What You Can Do About It – Myth and Truth

february 26, 2014 (huffington)

Currently, 32 states use the death penalty, but does it really accomplish its intended purpose?

Though a majority of Americans — 55 percent — support the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, more and more people in the U.S. aren’t so sure, according to a 2013 Pew Research poll. Support for the death penalty has dropped by 23 percent since 1996, and new information is leading to renewed conversations around abolition.

Earlier this month, a study from the University of Washington found that jurors were three times more likely to sentence a black defendant to death as compared to a white defendant in Washington state, according to the Associated Press.

Revelations around inequality of sentencing are not the only complications to capital punishment. AP also reported that the EU’s firm stance against the death penalty has led to European countries refusing to export execution drugs to the U.S., resulting in a shortage of drugs used for lethal injections.

As the debate about the death penalty wages on, it’s time to take a closer look at capital punishment in the United States — and separate fact from fiction:

Myth: The death penalty makes good fiscal sense. It costs less than paying for a convicted murderer to live out their natural life on the state’s dime.
Truth: While the cost discrepancy varies from state to state, pursuing and issuing the death penalty is more expensive than imprisoning someone for life, according to Amnesty International. Conservative estimates by the California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice determined that California could save $125.5 million annually by abolishing the death penalty.

Myth: Only the most heinous criminals are put to death.
Truth: Almost all of the inmates on death row were not able to afford to hire private counsel, according to Amnesty International. This means that the likeliness of ending up on death row is directly related to socio-economics, not the relative brutality of the crime. Race also plays a key role. Amnesty International notes that, 77 percent of death row inmates have been executed for killing white victims. This is grossly disproportionate considering African-Americans make up roughly half of all homicide victims.

Myth: We only use the death penalty when we are absolutely certain of a criminal’s guilt.
Truth: Since 1973, 143 people have been released from death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Each of these 143 individuals were either acquitted of all charges, had all charges dismissed by the prosecution or were granted a complete pardon based on evidence of innocence.

Myth: Use of the death penalty is a good deterrent for would-be criminals.
Truth: According to FBI data, states that have abolished the death penalty have homicide rates consistent with or below the national rate.

Myth: Lots of countries use the death penalty.
Truth: In 2012, 21 countries around the world used the death penalty, National Geographic reported. The United States ranked fifth in number of executions, coming in behind China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and ahead of Yemen and Sudan.

Myth: Lethal injection is the United States’ preferred method of execution because it’s humane and doesn’t cause the condemned any pain.
Truth: There’s split opinion within medical and legal communities on the pain experienced by the condemned during lethal injection, and whether or not it constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” as prohibited by the Constitution. However, recent shortages of the drugs used in the lethal injection cocktail have forced states to try new, untested drug combinations. In January, 53-year-old Dennis McGuire experienced a prolonged 15-minute execution under an experimental two-drug cocktail, as reported by the Associated Press.

Support for the death penalty continues to drop. If you find yourself on this side of the issue, here’s what you can do about it.

  • Educate yourself by learning more about the issue
  • Work with organizations working to abolish the death penalty in your state.
  • Make your voice heard by submitting a video or written statement to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s 90 Million Strong campaign.




Man has witnessed all of Florida’s executions in the past 25 years

february 26, 2014

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — John Koch has a plastic container of manila envelopes that he sorts through rarely.

Each envelope contains hand-written notes, usually a script, and a piece of audio that is mostly cassette tapes.

“Now I’m putting them on CDs, I’m getting smart now,” said Kock.

The envelopes are dated with name written on them. The names represent every Florida inmate who’s received the death penalty in almost the last 25 years, some of whom have been the subject of Oscar-winning films.

“I saw Aileen Wuornos go,” he said.

Others like Allen Lee Davis of Jacksonville become known for a lavish request.

“His last meal was a large lobster tail, fried potatoes, half a pound of shrimp. This man was a large man,” Koch said.

Koch’s also documented a notorious murderer who went down in state history.

“I watched also the first woman to be executed in the state of Florida,” he said “That was Buenoano.”

Koch landed his front row seat at the hands of a policy within the Florida Department of Corrections. It allows news reporters to serve as witnesses during an execution.

“They give you two pencils and they give you a notebook to write on,” Koch said.

Koch is a Florida native who has been on the radio in the Live Oak area since the mid-1970s. He’s as much as an institution as the Dixie Grille where he likes to grab breakfast from time to time.

Koch began witnessing executions after one of Ted Bundy’s victims was found near Suwanee River State Park.

“I was there the day Robert Leonard, then Sheriff Robert Leonard, brought out the little girl’s body,” he said. “And I broke the story.”

About a decade later when Bundy was set to be electrocuted in 1989 Koch made sure he saw the story through. “And I started fighting on my end to get in there.”

He says he vividly remembers what happened when Bundy walked into the room.

“He looked over at the chair and you could see him give up,” Koch said. “That moment, that moment, he realized he ain’t going nowhere. It’s over.”

Koch says he also realized no one had ever regularly reported on what happens when an inmate is brought in to die. “What was the process? How does it work? What’s going on?”

So, he chose to continue witnessing executions as a way to inform people about a decades-old process that’s largely private and controversial. To this day members of the Catholic Church hold signs outside the Duval County Courthouse to show their opposition to capital punishment.

“Punishment is not the answer. The answer is you get the person to change. And it doesn’t change the horror that’s gone on or the loss that’s gone on,” says a protester outside the courthouse.

Koch though refrains from opinion and tries his best to remove himself from what’s happening in front of him.

“What’s your immediate feeling after watching somebody die? Nothing really,” he said. “Because they would have no feelings for you, none whatsoever.”

Each time he just writes down what he sees.

“I’ve always watched the hands. That always tells me a lot, whether they are nervous, they’re calm,” Koch said. “You can see the communication going back and forth between the team leader and the executioner.

“It’s gory. I hate it. It’s not fun watching people die whether they deserve it or not. I can feel the soul being wrenched early before it’s time. I sense all of that, but I put that aside and I’ve got 30 seconds to tell you a very important story.”

In all Koch has reported on the death of 63 Florida inmates and he doesn’t have plans to stop. He says people tell him to turn what’s inside his manila envelopes into a book.

But for now, he wants to stick to the only job he says that gives him goose bumps.

“Yeah, yeah, see, look at the goose bumps. I still get them and that is the reason I do any of this.”