Day: March 6, 2014

San Quentin Death Row Inmate Found Dead in Cell- Ralph Michael Yeoman

march 6. 2014

A death row inmate at San Quentin State Prison died in custody this week, a prison spokesman said.

Ralph Michael Yeoman, 66, who was sentenced to death for the 1988 murder of a Sacramento County woman, was found unresponsive in his cell Tuesday  morning and subsequently pronounced dead at 5:24 a.m., according to Lt. Sam Robinson.

The cause of death remains unknown pending the results of an autopsy, Robinson said.

Yeoman was convicted of first-degree murder following the Feb. 13, 1988, killing, kidnap and robbery of 73-year-old Doris Horrell, a Citrus Heights resident, according to Robinson.

Her body was found later that evening in an open field west of Interstate Highway 5, near the former Arco Arena.

Yeoman was sentenced to death for the crime and had been on death row since July 23, 1990.

Since 1978 when California reinstated capital punishment, 63 condemned inmates have died from natural causes. Additionally, 23 have committed suicide, 13 have been executed in California, and one was executed in Missouri.

Six died from other causes, and the cause of death is still pending for two condemned inmates.

Of the 725 male offenders on California’s death row, 706 are housed at San Quentin. Nineteen condemned inmates are either out to court, in medical facilities or in custody in other jurisdictions.

Tennessee Man May Get Death Penalty in Holly Bobo Murder

march 6, 2014

Tennessee resident Zachary Rye Adams was charged on Wednesday with especially aggravated kidnapping and felony murder in the first degree for the death of Holly Bobo on April 13, 2011.  Bobo, a nursing student, has not been seen for almost three years and was last seen being led into the woods by an unidentified man.  Police now believe that the unknown man was Adams.  If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Just 20 at the time of her disappearance, Bobo was getting ready to go to her nursing school for class the morning she disappeared.  Her body has never been found and scant evidence has been uncovered.  Besides a small measure of blood found in the carport of the family home, the only clue on which to build the investigation was the account of Bobo’s brother, who saw his sister being led into the woods behind their home by an unknown man wearing hunting attire.  Although at first he believed the man to be Bobo’s boyfriend, he became concerned by how the man was holding onto her and telephoned his mother.  She called 911.

News of Bobo’s disappearance filled the Tennessee town with approximately 2,400 volunteers and investigators who thoroughly searched the area.  A reward offered for information related to the case topped out at $460,000.

Adams, 29, was arrested after police officers conducted a search of his home last week while investigating an unrelated case of assault.  Police would not detail what the search yielded that led to the arrest of Adams.  Of note is that Adams’ house in Holladay is located approximately 15 miles from Parsons, where Bobo lived at the time of her disappearance.  Adams was formally charged by a grand jury special session and is set to be arraigned on Tuesday in Decatur County.

The director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Mark Gwyn, said that despite Adams’ arrest, they have not ruled out the chance that other arrests might be forthcoming and the investigation is continuing.  According to Gwyn, the case of Bobo’s disappearance was the most time-consuming and expensive investigation ever to occur in Tennessee.

Gwyn described the Bobo family as “devastated” upon hearing the news of the arrest.  The pastor of the Corinth Baptist Church, Don Franks, stated that he had visited with the Bobo’s before Thursday’s news conference and that they have relied and will continue to depend on their faith throughout this entire ordeal.   Kelly Allen, a friend of the Bobo family, said by phone that the news of an indictment was upsetting because she had never stopped hoping that Bobo might be found alive.

District Attorney General Hansel McAdams has not ruled out seeking the death penalty for Adams should he be convicted.  Prosecutors believe they have a solid case against Adams, which was confirmed by McAdams, who said that his office believes that they can prove that Bobo was taken without her consent and that their evidence will show that she was murdered during the kidnapping.

Adams is currently in jail on an unrelated charge.  He is being held on a bond set at $1 million.

ARIZONA -9th Circuit denies all but 1 claim of Arizona death row inmate convicted in 1980 murder case

march 6, 2014

PHOENIX — A federal appeals court has denied almost all of the claims of an Arizona death row inmate who says he had ineffective counsel at his 1997 resentencing.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Wednesday remanded one claim of 53-year-old Scott D. Clabourne to a Tucson federal court.

That was Clabourne’s assertion that his lawyers at resentencing failed to object to the court’s consideration of his confession to police.

Clabourne was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of a 22-year-old University of Arizona student.

Authorities say the New York woman was raped, strangled and stabbed in the heart on Sept. 18, 1980. Her naked body was dumped in an arroyo, where it was found the following day.

Clabourne was first sentenced to death in 1983.


On the evening of September 18, 1980, Laura Webster left work with some friends and went to the Green Dolphin, a Tucson bar frequented by students from the University of Arizona. Sometime around midnight, she left the bar with three strange men. The next morning, Webster’s naked body was found lying in the dry bed of the Santa Cruz River. Wrapped in a bloody sheet, Webster had been strangled with a blue and white bandana, then stabbed to death. She had also been severely beaten, and traces of semen were found in her mouth, rectum and vagina.

The Tucson police got their first break in the case almost a year later when a woman named Shirley Martin reported that her former boyfriend, Scott Clabourne, had made several statements inculpating himself in a homicide. Clabourne was in custody on an unrelated burglary charge at the Pima County Jail, where he was interviewed by Detectives Bustamante and Reuter of the Tucson Police Department.

Clabourne gave a detailed, taped confession to the rape and murder of Laura Webster. According to Clabourne, he and two other men, Larry Langston and a man Clabourne called “Bob” (later identified as Edward Carrico), went to the Green Dolphin to “get some women.” Langston convinced Webster to leave the bar with them by promising to take her to a cocaine party Clabourne was purportedly hosting; instead the three men took Webster to a house Langston had been taking care of for a friend. The three men forced Webster to remove all her clothes and to serve them drinks. They then raped her repeatedly over the course of several hours. Though a much larger man than Langston, Clabourne claims to have been afraid of Langston; he also claims to have been intoxicated. Langston was the instigator, and he “made” the others take part. At the end of the night, Langston instructed Clabourne to kill Webster, and Clabourne obeyed: He strangled Webster with a bandana he carried, and then stabbed her with a knife.

Three days after Detectives Bustamante and Reuter interviewed Clabourne, a criminal information was filed charging Clabourne with first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault. Lamar Couser was appointed as Clabourne’s counsel. Couser brought a pretrial motion to suppress the confession, which was denied. He also moved for a hearing to determine Clabourne’s competency to stand trial, but the state called two psychiatrists to testify that Clabourne was not so mentally impaired that he would be unable to assist in his own defense. The court found Clabourne competent.

Clabourne was tried alone. 1 The prosecution relied primarily on Clabourne’s taped confession, but also introduced evidence of other incriminating statements Clabourne made after the murder. Shirley Martin testified that Clabourne had admitted committing the crime on several occasions (although his accounts were not consistent). Barbara Bailon, who worked at the Salvation Army halfway house, testified that Clabourne had confessed to killing a girl. Scott Simmons, a Pima County Jail Corrections officer, testified that Clabourne had told him about the crime before giving his taped confession. And a second corrections officer, Dale Stevenson, testified that he overheard Clabourne tell another inmate, “Yeah, I raped her. She didn’t want it but I know she liked it.”

The state also introduced testimony to corroborate Clabourne’s confession. Shirley Martin testified that the blue and white bandana found tied around Webster’s neck was similar to one that belonged to Clabourne. The owner of the house where the rape and murder occurred identified the sheet in which Laura Webster’s body had been found and testified that the mattress on one of her beds had been turned over to conceal large stains. And Webster’s friend Rick Diaz identified Clabourne as one of the men who had left the Green Dolphin with Webster.

Couser raised an insanity defense. However, he called only one witness: Dr. Sanford Berlin, a psychiatrist who had treated Clabourne several years previously at the University of Arizona Medical Center. 2 Couser did not contact Dr. Berlin until the week of trial. Perhaps for that reason, Dr. Berlin was not prepared to testify as to Clabourne’s mental state at the time of the murder; he could only surmise that Clabourne might be suffering from a mild form of schizophrenia. The state put two psychiatrists on the stand to testify that Clabourne understood the nature of his actions and the difference between right and wrong, and that he was legally sane at the time of the murders. Couser cross-examined the state’s experts, but put on no other witnesses.

Clabourne was convicted on all counts,3 and a sentencing hearing was held before Judge Richard N. Roylston, who had also presided at trial. Judge Roylston found that the offense was committed in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner, an aggravating circumstance under Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. S 13-703(F)(6). 4 Couser argued that Clabourne should not be sentenced to death because he was mentally impaired at the time of the offense, but he put on no evidence at the sentencing hearing, relying on the evidence presented at the guilt phase of the trial. Judge Roylston concluded that Clabourne’s “capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was impaired but was not significantly impaired.” Judge Roylston did not consider this evidence sufficiently compelling to be a mitigating circumstance under Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. S 13-703(G)(1),5 and in any event found that whatever mitigating effect Clabourne’s impairment might have had was outweighed by the cruel and depraved manner in which he had committed the offense. 6 Judge Roylston sentenced Clabourne to death.

Murder trial of Edward Montour rekindles death penalty debate

march 5, 2014

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — It was a murder trial putting the death penalty on trial.

Opening arguments began in the death penalty murder trial of Edward Montour, accused of killing a Limon prison guard in 2002.

Montour pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

If a jury finds him guilty, the defense said executing Montour will cost taxpayers more than a million dollars.

Supporters sais it’s a cost worth bearing because sometimes only death is the appropriate punishment.

Prosecutors said they want Montour, who is already serving a life sentence for the death of his infant daughter in 1997, to die for beating Limon 23-year-old prison guard Eric Autobee to death with a kitchen ladle in 2002.

“Your government is trying to kill one of its citizens. There is no bigger step that any government could possibly take,” said Montour’s defense attorney, David Lane.

Lane was fighting to save Montour’s life — as was the victim’s own father.

“A lot of people think because I forgave him I don’t want him punished,” said Bob Autobee, Eric’s father. “That is completely wrong. People who do these things have to be punished, but death is not the answer.”

What is the answer was hotly debated in court.

Montour would join three others on Colorado’s death row, including Robert Ray, Sir Mario Owens and  Chuck E Cheese killer, Nathan Dunlap, who Gov. Hickenlooper last May gave an indefinite reprieve.

“Our system of capital punishment is imperfect,” said Gov. Hickenlooper during a press conference following his decision to spare Dunlap’s life. “And, there’s an inherent inequity that, at such a level of punishment, it really does demand perfection.”

Republican gubernatorial candidates tackled the issue during a FOX31 debate Sunday.

“Nathan Dunlap is a heinous mass murderer,” said Colorado Senator Greg Brophy. “He killed four people in cold blood. If I had been governor I would have had an execution about six months ago.”

“The people of the state of Colorado support the death penalty, and we support our juries and judges to make the right decisions,”  added Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

But Montour’s lawyer said the direction of the death penalty nationally is very clear.

“There are now 25 states — that’s about half the country — that have abolished the death penalty or put a moratorium on it primarily because it costs so much money. It is far cheaper to lock up someone for life in solitary confinement,” argued Lane.

Years of legal appeals have made the death penalty so costly.

Many studies found housing someone in prison for the rest of their life is actually cheaper than the state spending money on lawyers defending the death penalty.

Montour’s trial is expected to last two months.

Other death penalty cases include: James Holmes, the suspect in the Aurora theater shootings and Dexter Lewis, accused of stabbing five people to death at a bar.


RELATED STORY: Man facing death penalty may have been wrongfully convicted in 1st case

Delaware lacks lethal injection drugs needed to execute death row inmates

march 5, 2014

Delaware has 17 condemned prisoners facing the death penalty, but no means of executing any of them.

Like other states, Delaware prison officials have found it difficult to get the drugs used in lethal injections because major manufacturers several years ago began prohibiting the use of their products in executions out of ethical concerns and fearing the unwanted publicity.

As a result, supplies of two of the three drugs used in Delaware executions have expired, according to records obtained by the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act. Moreover, prison officials aren’t even trying to get the necessary drugs.

“These drugs can be costly, and these drugs have a shelf life,” correction department commissioner Robert Coupe said. “There is also the challenge of navigating the marketplace because of the attention that this type of purchase gets.”

The source of the drugs is moving to the forefront of the death penalty debate, as lawyers and death penalty opponents seek to find out which companies are providing the drugs. Compounding pharmacies — which custom-mix prescription drugs for doctors and patients — seemed like the answer, but some of them are starting to back away, too.

As a result, many of the 32 states that allow the death penalty are having difficulty not only in restocking supplies, but in trying to find what alternative drugs might be available and changing their execution protocols accordingly.

“It’s not just the shortage or the inability to find the drug. It’s the inability to make a final determination of what their whole protocol should be and get that approved,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington, DC-based Death Penalty Information Center.

The result, according to Dieter, has been a de facto moratorium on executions in some states, such as Arkansas and California. Virginia lawmakers considered legislation this year allowing the state to use the electric chair if lethal injection drugs were not available. In Mississippi, lawyers for a condemned woman sued the department of correction this week, asking for more information about the procurement and expiration dates of lethal injection drugs.

“No state has said ‘We’re ending the death penalty, we can’t find the drugs.’ … It’s more of a hold on executions rather than backing out of the whole process,” said Dieter, adding that it’s hard to pin down a number for how many states have had drugs expire.

Delaware prison officials have taken a wait-and-see approach, in part because no execution dates are expected to be set in the next six months.

“We are watching and learning and listening from those news reports as to what options would be available for us to explore if we get an execution schedule,” Coupe said.

Coupe believes the agency could find the necessary drugs if an execution date is set.

The last person put to death in Delaware was convicted killer Shannon Johnson, who was executed in April 2012 after waiving his appeals. The state used pentobarbital as the initial sedative before administering two other drugs.

A bill to repeal the death penalty in Delaware cleared the Democrat-led Senate by a single vote last year, even after the chief sponsor removed a provision that would have spared the lives of the 17 inmates awaiting execution. The measure later stalled in a House committee, with majority Democrats acknowledging there were not enough votes.

Currently, Delaware prison officials have only one of the necessary lethal injection drugs on hand, according to records obtained by the AP. The prison agency initially refused to provide the records in response to a July 2013 FOIA request.

“The DOC’s contacts with any person or entity regarding the supply, manufacture, prescription or compounding of drugs used in the execution of a death sentence should be a confidential state and trade secret under FOIA,” deputy attorney general Catherine Damavandi wrote in October 2013. “Given the controversy surrounding administration of the death penalty, the need for confidentiality to protect the identities of persons or entities who may supply the DOC with lethal injection drugs is obvious.”

The AP appealed the records denial to the attorney general’s office, which ordered the agency to supply them, just as it had done in 2011 in response to the agency’s denial of a previous FOIA request.

Under Delaware’s current execution protocol, a condemned inmate is rendered unconscious by a sedative or anesthetic before receiving fatal and potentially painful doses of two paralytic drugs, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Delaware used sodium thiopental as the initial drug before its sole U.S. manufacturer stopped making it in 2009. The state then began using pentobarbital.

Records show that the correction department obtained 50 vials of potassium chloride from Cardinal Health in February 2013, replacing 51 vials that expired that same month. The current supply of potassium chloride, enough for four executions, expires in October.

Meanwhile, supplies of the other two drugs, pancuronium bromide and pentobarbital, expired in July 2012 and September 2013, respectively.

Dieter said he was not aware of any state that had considered using expired drugs. Such a move could be fraught with trouble, and likely would result in claims of cruel and unusual punishment.

“You need something that’s effective as an anesthetic, and if its 90 percent effective, you might have partial consciousness, partial awareness,” he said. “If it’s past its expiration date, there are just no guarantees. It might work, it might not.”

Facing an impending shortage of pentobarbital, Delaware officials turned to West-Ward Pharmaceuticals of Eatontown, NJ, in April 2013 to try to obtain a similar barbiturate, phenobarbital. The prison agency’s former bureau chief for management services exchanged emails with West-Ward’s regional sales manager over a week, but the phenobarbital was never obtained.

Similarly, the agency was unsuccessful in trying to obtain pancuronium bromide from Cardinal Health.

“I can’t seem to get anyone from Cardinal to call me back or respond to my messages,” former DOC bureau chief Kim Wheatley wrote in a July 2013 email to a Cardinal representative. “Not sure what is going on, but I have most recently been told that the item that was on backorder for us is no longer on backorder and in fact was blocked for our purchase from the very beginning.”

The Cardinal representative responded three days later, telling Wheatley, “unfortunately, both Teva and Hospira continue to have this item on backorder with no ETA.”

Cardinal Health said in a statement it follows manufacturers’ instructions regarding restrictions on the distribution of their products.

West-Ward’s parent company, Hikma Pharmaceuticals, said it was notified last year about the potential misuse of phenobarbital for executions in Arkansas.

“As we strongly object to the use of our products for capital punishment, once alerted to the potential misuse, we took action,” Hikma vice president Susan Ringdal said in an email.

(the guardian)

With Death Penalty, How Should States Define Mental Disability?

march 3, 2014 (

Twelve years after banning the execution of the “mentally retarded,” the U.S. Supreme Court is examining the question of who qualifies as having mental retardation, for purposes of capital cases, and who does not.

In 2002, the high court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that executing “mentally retarded” people is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. But the justices left it to the states to define mental retardation.

Now the court is focusing on what limits, if any, there are to those definitions.

The case before the court involves the brutal murder of Karol Hurst, who was 21 years old and seven months pregnant when she was kidnapped, raped, and killed by Freddie Lee Hall and an accomplice.

Hall was sentenced to death, but after the Atkins decision, his lawyers challenged the sentence. They cited multiple diagnoses of Hall as having a mental retardation and quoted the state supreme court as having previously declared that Hall had been “mentally retarded his entire life.” The state court, nonetheless, subsequently upheld Hall’s death sentence on grounds that his IQ tests averaged higher than 70.

Hall appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the question Monday is whether states can establish a hard statistical cutoff in these cases.

Florida’s statute, as interpreted by the state supreme court, sets the definition of developmental disability at an IQ score of 70 or below. With anything higher, the defendant cannot put on other evidence to show he is intellectually disabled. Moreover, the state does not allow use of the standard error of measurement that is deemed inherent in IQ tests.

Hall’s various test scores added up to an average of more than 70, but no more than 75, meaning that he would qualify as having a disability if the state had used the standard five-point error of measurement. Without that statistical norm, however, Hall’s lawyers were barred from putting on any other evidence of disability — for example, school records that consistently identified Hall as being mentally retarded.

“Florida’s position is inconsistent with the views of all the mental disability organizations and professional organizations that are involved in the definition of mental retardation,” says Jim Ellis, a longtime advocate for people with mental disabilities. He has also filed a brief in the case.

Allowing states to redefine “mental retardation” in defiance of professional standards, he argues, is nothing more than a way to undo the Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling.

But the state of Florida counters that the Supreme Court did not require any particular clinical definition. Rather, the court relied on what it deemed to be a national consensus that executing mentally disabled people is cruel and unusual punishment. And Florida argues that national consensus is not necessarily the same as a clinical definition.

“The line separating ‘retarded’ from ‘not retarded’ is itself arbitrary,” says Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. “It is itself a matter of convention and not science.” Scheidegger has filed a brief in support of Florida’s position.

Florida is one of only five states that have set an inflexible line for determining intellectual disability in capital cases. The others are Alabama, Kentucky, Virginia and Idaho, and the results there have been stark. Only two claims of mental retardation have been successful in those states since 2002, according to a Cornell University study. That’s about 2 percent, compared to a 28 percent success rate in the other 45 states.