Day: April 12, 2014

Skinner transcripts received by attorneys


April 11, 2014

Defense attorneys requesting extension to 21-day deadline.

Attorneys with the state Attorney General’s Office and convicted murderer Hank Skinner’s defense team say they have received copies of the court transcripts from Skinner’s evidentiary hearing in Gray County on Feb. 3 and 4.

Receipt of the transcripts triggers a 21-day period for attorneys to file their findings from the witness testimony back to the 31st District Court.

Lauren Been, a spokeswoman for the AG’s Office, said both sides are required to respond.

Skinner, who is on death row for the brutal murders of Pampa resident Twila Busby and her two adult sons on New Year’s Day 1993, is being represented by attorneys Douglas Robinson and Robert Owen. If District Judge Steven Emmert rules favorably for Skinner, his attorneys could seek an appeal.

Emmert does not have a deadline to file his decision, but his bailiff, Wayne Carter, said the judge wants to move along quickly with the case.

A spokeswoman from Robinson and Owen’s office in Washington D.C. said Thursday they are waiting for a few exhibits from the court and are requesting the court to extend the filing deadline to May 30.

Skinner was not at the hearing in which both sides presented evidence from a series of recent DNA tests.

FLORIDA – Gonzalez death sentence upheld in Billings murders


April 11, 2014

The Florida Supreme Court unanimously upheld the conviction and death sentence for the man authorities said masterminded the robbery and killings of Byrd and Melanie Billings nearly five years ago.

Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 40, was convicted in 2010 of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of home invasion robbery with a firearm.

Gonzalez led a group of men who forced their way into the Billings home in Beulah in July 2009 and gunned down the couple during an attempted robbery. The Billingses had 17 children, 13 of them adopted. Nine of the children were home at the time of the killing.

On Feb. 17, 2011, Circuit Judge Nicholas Geeker followed a jury recommendation and sentenced Gonzalez to death.

In imposing the death sentence, Geeker found as aggravating factors that Gonzalez had a conviction for a prior violent felony, that the murder was committed during the course of a robbery, and his crimes were heinous, atrocious and cruel.

In upholding the conviction, the state Supreme Court found that the convictions were supported by competent, substantial evidence, according to the State Attorney’s Office.

“We’re very pleased with the decision and the court’s opinion on the sentence and use of the death penalty,” said Assistant State Attorney John Molchan, who prosecuted Gonzalez along with State Attorney Bill Eddins.

Although Gonzalez’s direct appeal was denied, he still can attempt to have his conviction or sentence overturned.

Gonzalez has the option to seek post-conviction relief, a review of whether deficiencies in his attorney’s performance led to Gonzalez’s conviction. He also can file a petition for a U.S. District Court to review the case, which could overturn the conviction or overturn his sentence.

TENNESSEE -Senate authorizes electric chair for executions


April 10, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The Senate has voted to allow the state to electrocute death row inmates if lethal injection drugs cannot be obtained.

The measure sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager passed on a 23-3 vote on Wednesday.

The Harriman Republican said current law allows the state to use its alternate execution method only when lethal injection drugs are not legally available. But Yager said there was no provision for what do if there was a shortage of those drugs.

The state’s lethal injection protocol uses a sedative commonly used to euthanize animals, but states are exhausting supplies.

The state’s last electrocution was in 2007. The companion bill is awaiting a House floor vote.

Previous story

A plan to bring back the electric chair is making its way through the Tennessee legislature, though some lawmakers have voiced uneasiness about returning to an execution method the state largely had abandoned.

A House committee approved a bill Tuesday morning that would make electrocution the state’s method for killing inmates sentenced to death if lethal injection were declared unconstitutional or the drugs needed to carry it out were unavailable. But a handful of members said they have reservations about the electric chair, which the state has used only once since 1960.

(www.wbir.com)

“It seems barbaric to me,” said state Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Nashville. “I’d rather go with the gas chamber, myself. … The electric chair bothers me.”

Tennessee switched to lethal injection when it brought back the death penalty in the 1990s, but lawmakers gave inmates the option of choosing the electric chair for crimes committed before Jan. 1, 1999. One inmate, Daryl Keith Holton, was electrocuted in 2007.

In recent years, lethal injection has come under scrutiny. Death penalty opponents have pressed manufacturers to stop making available the drugs used in lethal injections, and courts have begun to weigh whether the method really produces the painless death that supporters claim. That has led state officials to reconsider electrocution, which the attorney general said last month never has been found unconstitutional.

State officials nonetheless expect House Bill 2476 would be challenged in court if it were to pass. Jernigan, sighing heavily, spelled out why, describing the damage electrocution does to the body. But state Rep. Dennis Powers, the Jacksboro Republican who filed the bill, stood by the measure.

“What seems barbaric is someone that’s been on death row 29 years,” he said. “This is really not about the death penalty. The death penalty is already the law in Tennessee. This is about how we do it.”

Jernigan responded by noting that some states allow death by firing squad. State Rep. Kent Williams, I-Elizabethton, said that method did not phase him either.

“That’d be the easiest way to go,” he said, adding, “I don’t know why we got away from hanging.”

“We’re wanting to make sure that these people on death row go ahead and get the just sentence that they deserve,” Powers replied. But some members still weren’t convinced.

“I just kind of feel that some kind of injection is a more humane way … than it is, I think, to just fry somebody,” said state Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar.

“Our job is not to judge. Our job is to arrange the meeting between the (defendant) and the creator, for him to judge,” Powers said.

HB 2476 now heads to the House Finance Committee and could be voted on by the full House of Representatives by the end of the legislative session. The state Senate is scheduled to vote on companion legislation, Senate Bill 2580, on Wednesday.