Month: November 2017

Prosecutor: Why Arizona still needs the death penalty

November 27, 2017

County attorney: As long as there are horrific murders, there will be a role for the death penalty as a just and proportionate punishment.

n a coordinated campaign, death penalty opponents submitted nearly identical op-eds in major publications across the U.S. seeking to persuade the United States Supreme Court to review the case of Arizona vs. Hidalgo and abolish the death penalty.

Understanding how a decision is made to pursue the death penalty, the facts of this case and about the death penalty in Arizona undermines their arguments.

Few murders become death penalty cases

My office follows a thorough and deliberative process for reviewing all death penalty eligible cases under tight deadlines. Arizona law requires us to make an initial decision within 60 days of the murderer’s arraignment.

During this period, we request any and all information the defense team can offer to assess whether the death penalty can be supported by the evidence and is an appropriate punishment.

If more time is needed to gather information, we regularly work with the defense to extend deadlines. After receiving input from victims, reviewing everything provided by the defense, and considering the facts and circumstances of the case, an experienced team makes a recommendation to me.

MORE: Maricopa County runs out of death penalty attorneys

I consider the recommendation carefully before making any decision. Approving the filing of a “notice of intent to seek the death penalty” is the most consequential decision I make as county attorney.

Should more information be provided later on, we regularly review it and, where appropriate, we revisit our initial decision and resolve cases accordingly.

Lastly, not all murder cases are death penalty cases. In fact, Maricopa County has averaged 203 murders each year from 2012 through 2016, and a death notice has been filed in an average of 14 cases each year – less than 8 percent of the murders.

Why Hidalgo was sentenced to die

As for the op-eds, they fail to acknowledge the extensive protections provided to capital defendants to safeguard constitutional rights and ensure a fair and just process.

In Hidalgo’s case, every constitutional right was protected. Hidalgo had a qualified capital defense team that included experienced investigators and mitigation specialists. The trial judge that presided over the case had presided over numerous death penalty cases and had represented several capital defendants before becoming a judge.

A jury unanimously imposed a death sentence on Hidalgo for good reason.

Hidalgo agreed to kill the victim on behalf of a street gang for $1,000. When Hidalgo went to kill the victim, the victim was not alone.

Hidalgo murdered this second victim to eliminate a potential witness. He shot one victim in the back of the head and the other in the forehead. Even though both victims were certainly dead, Hidalgo shot each victim an additional five times.

Before determining death was an appropriate punishment, the jurors found that Hildalgo had actually killed four people, the two Arizona victims and two Idaho women.

Like other death penalty cases in Maricopa County, the question was not who did it.  Hidalgo actually pleaded guilty to the charged offenses. The only contested issue was what the penalty should be.

A just system needs the death penalty

Next, death penalty opponents assert that the death penalty in Arizona is racially disparate. But this does not match the facts. Currently, there are 69 Caucasians, 25 Mexican Americans, 17 African Americans, four Native Americans, three Asians and two classified as “other” awaiting justice on Arizona’s death row.

Continuing complaints about the cost and time to impose the death penalty neglect the costs associated with constitutional protections and thorough appellate review caused by the very people complaining about costs and the time involved.

For Arizona, this has led to excessive litigation in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and unnecessary delays averaging more than 20 years with associated costs. Other federal circuits in the United States routinely and thoroughly review death penalty appeals within 10 years. This tolerance for endless litigation is an area ripe for criminal justice reform.

Recent polls continue to reflect that a majority of Americans support the death penalty, and 31 states have determined there is a place for the death penalty in a just and proportionate system of punishment.

One year ago, voters in Nebraska reinstated the death penalty abolished the year before by their legislature. Voters in California recently rejected an initiative to abolish the death penalty and passed Proposition 66, which seeks to speed up the process for final review of capital sentences.

As long as there are horrific murders reflecting the worst of crimes, there will be a role for the death penalty as a just and proportionate punishment.

Bill Montgomery is Maricopa County attorney.

Law changes force dozens of old death penalty, juvenile cases back into courtrooms

November  29,  2017

A black teenager, just shy of his 16th birthday, was arrested for raping a white woman in 1967 in Escambia County.

Lester Simmons pleaded guilty through an agreement with the state that allowed him to avoid the death penalty.

But had the case been prosecuted today, it would have likely been handled differently.

After the passage of a new law, Simmons’ public defender, Kelly Richards, is now tasked with proving her client should be released from prison 50 years later, despite his life sentence.

Richards said the case is rife with racial and social undertones indicative of the time. A partial transcript from Simmons’ trial shows he stayed in the woman’s home for some time after the crime, during which the victim sparked a conversation with him about how difficult it was to be a black person in that era.

Now, his defense team will ask a judge to weigh how much those societal factors affected his sentence and try to prove Simmons, now 66, should be free.

Simmons is one of dozens of offenders in the First Judicial Circuit whose cases have been reopened this year after two unprecedented Supreme Court decisions. Both of these decisions have forced prosecutors and defense attorneys to invest hours of research and additional costs to re-examine the old cases.

The first decision brings back the case of every juvenile who has been sentenced to life in prison. With more research on brain development, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2012 that juveniles should be entitled to special hearings before a judge to ascertain their crime was heinous enough to warrant a life sentence, despite certain factors such as their immaturity and family or peer pressure.

The second decision mandates new penalty phase hearings for all death row inmates who were sentenced by juries that did not unanimously recommend the death sentence.

In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court declared the previous law unconstitutional based in part on the local case of Timothy Hurst. In all of the cases that warrant a new penalty phase, a new jury will be selected to hear the facts of the case and determine the death penalty aspect. None of the inmates are at risk of being released, as the guilt factor of their offense still remains.

The Legislature didn’t allocate additional funding to absorb the costs, so the Public Defender’s Office and the State Attorney’s Office have instead authorized overtime, travel costs and shuffled senior attorneys to lower divisions to help with the additional workload.

In the First Judicial Circuit, which covers Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties, the state is dividing 31 juvenile resentencing cases and as many as 10 death penalty resentencing cases among its attorneys.

“It is a lot of work, and on the death penalty resentencings, we are requesting two weeks to try those cases because we expect most of the evidence from the original trial will have to be presented again in order for the jury to evaluate the aggravators, the mitigators and the death penalty sentence,” State Attorney Bill Eddins said.

Eddins said juvenile sentencing hearings are being scheduled for between two and five days.

If each of the cases — both the juvenile sentencing hearings and death penalty resentenchings — were heard at their maximum and in the same court consecutively, it would equate to nearly a year dealing with cases affected by the two new laws — and that doesn’t take into account new crimes or pending cases.

Public Defender Bruce Miller said for each of the death penalty resentencing cases and juvenile resentencings, his office curates a legal team of a lead attorney, second chair, mitigation specialist, legal assistant and fact investigator.

Mitigation specialist Lindsey Johnson is tasked with tracking down old records for the defendants, finding their families and friends, organizing psychologists and other experts to testify about brain development, and locating key witnesses to the original case. For some of the cases, those witnesses are as recent as five years ago, but others case are decades old and the witnesses have since died.

“With a lot of the older ones especially, one of the guys has no family, it’s hard to find people,” Johnson said. “They’ve been in prison so long that sometimes even if they do have family they kind of forget about them.”

While neither the state nor defense is required to present the same witnesses or use the same attorney as during the original trial, it’s helpful if they can, Eddins said. To keep up with the strain, his office has brought in supervisors who usually act as managers to handle cases.

John Molchan, for example, usually oversees felony cases as a supervisor and serves on the circuit’s death penalty assessment board. But he has taken on the majority of the death penalty resentencing cases as the lead prosecutor.

Miller and Eddins said the state hasn’t funneled any additional funding to either the Public Defender’s Office or the State Attorney’s Office to help with the resources and manpower needed to bring back these old cases.

Aside from salaries and overtime allowances, there’s travel to speak with inmates housed in prisons across the state and the cost of bringing in experts to assess the case and testify.

There hasn’t been a cost assessment on the financial impact of the two Supreme Court decisions on local courts, but a conservative estimate for expert defense witnesses in just one of juvenile resentencing case would be more than $20,000, Miller said.

“The hours that go into something like this are enormous,” Miller said.

He said his office has requested additional attorneys in next year’s budget to help with the workload, but he expects the office will need to work within its means to accommodate the law shifts.

In the case of Simmons, the black teenager serving a life sentence, the state and defense must delve into 50 years of law revisions and present an argument that accurately reflects the sometimes-foggy details they can find in old court records from 1967. Nowadays, the death penalty wouldn’t even be on the table for a juvenile offender, said Simmons’ attorney, Richards.

“These are so time consuming because we have to go back to 1967 to find out exactly what happened, what may have happened legally in between and different laws come into play depending on when the original crime occurred, so they’re all different, it’s not cookie cutter anything,” Richards said.

Several of these cases have already been heard, including the case of Britnee Miller, who pleaded guilty to killing an acquaintance with her mom and neighbor in 2010 when she was 16.

During Miller’s sentencing hearing in October, Circuit Judge Gary Bergosh heard of Miller’s abusive childhood, of her dependency on her mother and her mom’s approval, and of how Miller has matured in the seven years since the death of Audreanna Zimmerman. Bergosh took those factors into account, but ultimately maintained Miller’s life sentence.

Another case, that of then-17-year-old Clifford Barth, who helped a group of friends rob and kill an auto parts employee in 1991, had a different outcome. Barth served 25 years in prison, and the judge decided in September he should be released.

In that case, both the state and defense agreed Barth should be released, and there wasn’t much argument by either side. He had no prior record, was immediately remorseful for his actions and hadn’t received any disciplinary reports during his decades in prison.

The Public Defender’s Office isn’t dealing with as many of the reopened cases as the State Attorney’s Office because some defendants are represented by private attorneys or the Public Defender’s Office has a conflict of interest.

Still, Miller, the Public Defender, said Johnson’s recommended caseload for death penalty cases is between four and seven, and with the influx, she’s over that recommendation.

“The juvenile resentencing especially is just a seismic shift in the legal arena, so to speak, and it’s still evolving,” Richards said. “Cases are coming out, being appealed, different circuits are handling things different so you’ve got to stay on top of the case law.”

While some juvenile sentencing hearings have been held in the First Judicial Circuit since the law shift, the region has yet to see death penalty sentencing phases heard in local courtrooms.

Eddins said he expects a number of juries to be impaneled in those cases as soon as next year. Cases like that of Jonathan Lawrence, a mentally ill man who killed several people in Santa Rosa County, and Willie Hodges, who killed a Pensacola woman with a claw hammer, have penalty phase trial dates set for next year already to reassess their death row status.

The others are still being assessed and are going back and forth between state and defense filings as each tries to keep up with precedents, tracking down witnesses who thought their involvement in cases were done decades ago, and working with defendants who may get a second chance at a life outside of prison.

South Carolina has no drugs left to execute Death Row cop killer

Novembre  29,  2017

A death row inmate is due to die in just two days on Friday 1 December – but the state of South Carolina has none of the drugs it needs to kill him.

Bobby Wayne Stone, now 52, was sentenced to death back in 1997 after he was convicted of murder and first degree burglary. On 26 February, 1996 Stone roamed the woods while drinking beer and shooting his guns – a shotgun and a pistol. At one point, he left off gunshots outside a woman’s home and then, when Sergeant Charles Kubala responded, shot three or four more times. Kubala, who was hit once in the neck and once in the ear, died at the scene.

After many years of legal wrangling, including appeals against his murder conviction and death sentence at the Supreme Court, Stone was finally given an execution date – Friday 1 December. But then he made a choice that may have saved his life.

Texas Death Row Inmate’s Execution Postponed Over False Testimony


Juan Castillo was scheduled to die on December 14, 2017. He was supposed to be the last prisoner on death row to be executed in Texas this year.

But on November 29, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals delayed Castillo’s execution and sent his case back to trial court to reexamine false testimony used to convict him. 

Castillo, 36, was sentenced to death for the 2003 murder and robbery of Tommy Garcia Jr. in San Antonio. Castillo, his then-girlfriend, and two others had tried to lure Garcia with sex, and then steal his money. When 19-year-old Garcia ran away, Castillo shot him.

During his trial, Castillo’s former bunkmate at the Bexar County Jail, Gerardo Gutierrez, testified that Castillo had confessed to the crime. But in 2013, Gutierrez signed an affidavit saying he had lied about the confession.

Gutierrez’s false testimony is prompting the Texas CCA to pause the execution and further review Castillo’s case.

It’s not the first time Castillo’s execution date has been called off.

Previously, his Sept. 7, 2017 execution date was postponed at the request of the Bexar County District Attorney’s office because some of Castillo’s lawyers living in Harris County were impacted by Hurricane Harvey, according to the Texas Tribune. Castillo also had a prior execution date set back in May, but the date was postponed after Bexar County prosecutors failed to give sufficient notice to the defense, according to the Houston Chronicle

Texas has executed seven death row inmates in 2017, two of which were in Bexar County.

At least two other executions have been delayed in Texas this year because of issues over testimonies. Back in October, Anthony Shore, known as the “Tourniquet Killer,” had his execution date moved to January after he told prosecutors he had falsely planned to take responsibility for a fellow inmate’s murder.

Duane Buck, a Harris County death row inmate, had his sentence reduced to life in prison after the Supreme Court granted him the right to a retrial because a prison psychiatrist had told the jury in his 1997 trial that Buck would be more dangerous in the future because of his race.

U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeal of Alabama Death Row inmate convicted in 2007 slaying of parents


November 27,2017

Alabama Death Row inmate James Scott Largin

Alabama Death Row inmate James Scott Largin(Alabama Department of Corrections)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said it won’t hear the appeal of an Alabama death row inmate who was convicted in the 2007 killings of his parents in Tuscaloosa.

James Scott Largin, 46, earlier this year had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court a December 2015 ruling by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upholding his conviction and death sentence.

On Monday the high court, without opinion, refused to review his case.

Largin was sentenced to death by a Tuscaloosa County judge in 2009 for his capital murder conviction in the deaths of his parents, Jimmy, 68, and Peggy, 56.

“Peggy and Jimmy Largin were at home on the night of March 15, 2007, when they were shot multiple times with a .22 caliber rifle and their bodies were thrown down the stairs leading to the cellar in their home. Autopsy results showed that both victims died as the result of close-range gunshot wounds to the head,” according to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals ruling.

“This Court has independently weighed the aggravating and the mitigating circumstances as required by (Alabama law) … We are convinced, as was the circuit court, that death was the appropriate sentence for Largin’s capital crimes,” the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals stated in its order.

He was arrested after University of Alabama police found his parents’ car near the campus a few days after the murders, the Associated Press reported at the time.

A prosecutor at Largin’s original trial said Largin showed no remorse over the murders. The judge agreed with the jury’s recommendation that Largin be given the death penalty. His defense attorneys argued for life in prison without parole.

Death row inmate back in Newton County

Nov. 28, 2017

VINGTON, Ga. – Convicted murderer and death row inmate Rodney Renia Young was back in a Newton County courtroom Monday morning as his attorneys work to get him a new trial.

Young, 49, was convicted and sentenced to death by a Newton County jury in 2012 for the 2008 beating and stabbing death of 28-year-old Gary Lamar Jones in Jones’ Covington home.

According to media reports at the time, Young became enraged when Jones’ mother, Doris, moved to Georgia from New Jersey to live with her son after ending a seven-year relationship. She returned to the home on Benedict Drive around 11:30 p.m. March 30, 2008 and found her son bound to a chair, stabbed in the neck and bludgeoned with a hammer.

Young was arrested April 3 in Bridgeton, New Jersey by an agent from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations and an investigator from Newton County Sheriff’s Office.

During the hearing, attorneys from the Office of the Georgia Capital Defender and the American Civil Liberties Union questioned proportionality in the Georgia Supreme Court’s review of death penalty cases.

They also argued before Alcovy Judicial Circuit Judge Samuel Ozburn that Young’s constitutional rights had been violated during his 2012 trial because he wasn’t present at bench conferences that occurred during the trial and questioned the constitutionality of Georgia’s requirement that death penalty defendants prove intellectual disability beyond a reasonable doubt.

The attorneys said Young’s wearing of a “stun belt” during his trial also deprived him of the opportunity to participate in his defense and receive a fair trial.

Testifying about the “stun belt,” Young said wearing the belt made him feel uncomfortable and that he was unable to communicate with his attorneys.

“They told me I would get shocked if I moved,” he said.

Under cross-examination by Alcovy Judicial Circuit District Attorney Layla Zon, Young said he was never shocked during his trial. He also said he was never told he could not talk to his lawyers, nor did he ever communicate his discomfort with the belt during his trial.

Young was led into the courtroom at the Newton County Justice Center wearing his white Georgia Department of Corrections prison uniform and a blue jacket with a large white DOC on the back. His hands and feet were bound by handcuffs, leg shackles and a belly chain.

His lead attorney, Josh Moore of the Office of the Georgia Capital Defender, asked Ozburn to allow one of Young’s hands to be released from the handcuffs so he could take notes.

Ozburn gave Young’s attorneys 45 days to provide the law on the issue of proportionality review and the DA’s office an additional 45 days.

“It will be a few months at least before he rules on that motion and likely as well on the motion for a new trial,” Zon said. “If he grants the motion for a new trial we will have to try the case again.

“If he denies the motion then he (Young) can appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.”

Layton lawmaker wants deeper look at Utah death penalty costs

November  27,  2017

A legislator is proposing an in-depth study of death penalty costs so the state will have unambiguous answers at hand as Utah’s capital punishment debate continues.

A bill filed by Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, for the 2018 legislative session would order research of all costs associated with the prosecution and execution of a death penalty case and an expected 25 years of appeals. The data would be compared with the costs of a capital murder convict serving life without parole.

A legislative analyst in 2012 estimated a death penalty case cost $1.6 million more. But Handy said the study was very limited and did not consider all costs. Categories for the larger proposed study would include county and state prosecution and defense costs, plus court, jail and prison expenses.

The new study “doesn’t have to be pro or con death penalty,” Handy said, “but we hear in the Legislature that we should be making data-driven decisions. Let’s find out what it really costs, so when a (death penalty) bill comes up, we will be informed.”

Handy’s proposal comes as Wasatch Front counties continue to wrestle with the costs of death row appeals, such as Doug Lovell’s ongoing battle against his sentence in the 1985 murder of Joyce Yost of South Ogden.

Lovell’s court-appointed attorney for his current death penalty appeal squabbled with the Weber County Attorney’s Office over his payments, leading him to drop from the case last summer, according to previous coverage. Sam Newton was paid $71,500 by the county to represent Lovell in 2016, according to county financial records.

Newton’s replacement, Colleen Coebergh, has a contract for $100,000 to maintain Lovell’s indigent defense.

As capital appeals continue, “There is a very high emotional cost to the families and a cost to the taxpayers,” said Dave Wilson, a Weber County deputy attorney who helps coordinate public defender contracts.

The 2012 legislative study said more than two-thirds of a death penalty case’s costs are borne by the county government.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics says 33 states and the federal Bureau of Prisons held 2,881 inmates under death sentence at the end of 2015. Utah has nine inmates on death row today, said Maria Peterson, Utah Department of Corrections spokeswoman.

Handy said he realizes his request for a cost study may run against the grain in the capital punishment-friendly Utah Legislature, which reinstated the firing squad option for executions in 2015. Lawmakers also have rejected periodic bills that aimed to drop the death penalty.

Most law enforcement officials support the death penalty, Handy said, recalling an occasion when Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson “came at me like a house afire” during a public discussion of capital punishment.

“People who are such ardent supporters, they don’t care” about the costs, Handy said.

“But I look at it also as trying to adhere to mainstream conservatism,” Handy said. “This may not be the best use of hard-earned taxpayer dollars, with the costs of education and social services growing exponentially.”

The death penalty “is certainly no deterrent,” Handy argued. He said he wonders “what purpose it has, except for payback or from a vengeance standpoint now.”

In an interview, Thompson challenged Handy’s views.

“Nobody says, ‘Gosh, I love the death penalty,’” Thompson said. “But it is important for the most egregious offenses, when lives are taken, changed forever, and people have to live without their loved ones.”

Consider Charles Manson, the sheriff said.

California prosecutors secured a death sentence against Manson, but after the California Supreme Court overturned the death penalty, the cult leader lived on in prison for the murders he masterminded in 1969.

As a “moral, ethical” matter, “It would have been appropriate to have the death penalty as part of the pending punishment,” Thompson said.

“The costs associated with following through with the death penalty, in my opinion, are irrelevant,” the sheriff said.

Utah’s abbreviated review in 2012 pegged the direct cost of an execution at the Utah State Prison at $195,000. And, it said, “For every offender executed before age 76, there is a projected $28,000 savings per year.”

“There need to be some teeth in our laws for them to be effective,” Thompson said. “I truly believe the death penalty does deter, in many cases that we’ll never know.”

Utah’s Death Row

Michael Anthony Archuleta, 55, re-sentenced Dec. 21, 1989

Douglas Stewart Carter, 62, re-sentenced Jan. 27, 1992

Taberon Dave Honie, 42, sentenced May 20, 1999

Troy Michael Kell, 49, sentenced Aug. 8, 1996

Ronald Watson Lafferty, 76, re-sentenced April 23, 1996

Floyd Eugene Maestas, 60, sentenced Feb. 1, 2008

Ralph Leroy Menzies, 59, sentenced March 23, 1988

Von Lester Taylor, 53, sentenced May 24, 1991

Douglas Lovell, 59, re-sentenced May 4, 2015

Source: Utah Department of Corrections

He’s one of Louisville’s most notorious accused killers. Now, his own life is on the line

November  24,  2017

He once boasted that he had killed 10 men.

Ricky Kelly also likened himself to Caesar, telling a fellow inmate in a secretly recorded conversation that he tried to “implement fear in people” to control them. “You do something real graphic in front of a mother f—–,” he said, “they don’t want that to happen to them.”

Former Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Stengel called Kelly “the most frightening person I’ve come across in 30 years of law enforcement,” while former Louisville Metro Police Chief Robert White said his record shows a “total disregard for life.”

And a member of Kelly’s own crew, Tao Parker, told authorities that fellow dealers were so scared of him that he had a hard time finding anyone to sell him drugs.

Now, seven years after Louisville’s most notorious criminal was charged with complicity in eight murders, Kelly finally will go on trial for just one – allegedly shooting rival drug dealer Lajuante “Bebe” Jackson as he sat on his porch in the Sheppard Square housing project on Aug. 19, 2005.

he trial, set to begin Dec. 1 in Jefferson Circuit Court, could help close the books on a deadly time in Louisville fueled by wars over crack cocaine. It also should finally resolve a case that has taken a tortuous path through the criminal justice system and that has been marked by tragic irony.

First, after a county grand jury charged Kelly in the eight slayings – including that of federal witness Gail Duncan, who was shot dead by masked men in front of her daughter – the commonwealth dropped all charges, saying it feared for the safety of witnesses.

Kelly was then indicted in federal court, where the names of witnesses don’t have to be disclosed in advance, but only in connection with Jackson’s murder.

But the federal charges against Kelly and co-defendant Dion Dajuan Neal – who allegedly paid for the execution to protect a drug trafficking organization – were dropped after crucial eyewitness Greg Sawyers was gunned down in the street.

Now the case is back in state court, where Kelly is charged with murder for hire, though Neal is not charged at all.

Kelly’s lawyers, Mac Adams and Daniel Alvarez, say that it is illogical and that they will make the discrepancy a centerpiece of their defense.

“How can the commonwealth seek the death penalty based on the allegations that Kelly was paid when it is not prosecuting the man who allegedly paid him?” Adams asked. “What does that say about their proof – about their whole case?”

Prosecutors Elizabeth Brown Jones and Justin Janes declined comment on the evidence.

Judge Angela McCormick Bisig has ruled that it is up to the jury to decide both if Kelly committed the murder and was paid to do it. If convicted, Kelly could face the death penalty.

Kelly’s lawyers wouldn’t let him talk to a reporter. But in an unsolicited phone call last summer, the defendant, now 47 and jailed since 2015 on a $500,000 bond, professed his innocence and claimed prosecutors have intentionally delayed his trial because they know they can’t convict him.

In a motion he wrote and filed himself, he said, “The commonwealth’s case against defendant has been greatly exaggerated.”

There is no physical evidence tying him to Jackson’s murder, but the commonwealth hopes to use Kelly’s own words to convict him.

In a conversation surreptitiously recorded in 2010 by another inmate, Rico English, at the Green River Correctional Complex, Kelly described in graphic terms how he ended Jackson’s life.

“First shot hit him in the chest,” Kelly told English, who was wearing a body wire. “I dropped that mother——. Pop, pop pop. … I put 36 slugs in that n—–‘s face and stood on his head. The whole head collapsed.”

“The only way my name got involved,” Kelly added, “is that … I did it bare face.”

“Dion gave me $5,000” to kill Jackson, Kelly is heard saying on the recording made for the U.S. Secret Service and Louisville Metro Police.

Prosecutors in court papers indicate they will build their case with as many as 73 recordings made in various jails and prisons they say reveal his “consciousness of guilt” for the crime.

The commonwealth also has said it has as many as 20 “cooperators,” including witnesses such as Parker, the ex-crew member, who told investigators Kelly casually claimed Jackson’s murder, saying “Yeah, got his ass.”

The prosecutors’ star witness may be Francois Cunningham, an admitted killer placed in the federal witness protection program after he agreed to testify.

Cunningham faced capital murder charges himself but in exchange for a lesser sentence pleaded guilty to killing a couple in Fern Creek Park and burning their bodies. He told Louisville Metro Detective Denny Butler in 2011 that Kelly was a hit man who provided “muscle” for legendary drug dealer Reggie Rice, who died in 2014, and that Duncan and another government witness were among Kelly’s victims.

“He’d rather kill you than waste his time out there selling drugs,” said Cunningham, who also pleaded guilty in another killing in which the victim’s body was dumped in the Outer Loop Landfill.

But Cunningham provided no information about Jackson’s death, and Adams said the defense will try to block evidence about any of the seven other murders, to which Kelly pleaded not guilty and with which he is no longer charged.

Adams said the defense also will try to exclude any mention of the murder of Sawyers, who had told investigators he saw Kelly shoot Jackson and saw Neal pay for the hit. Sawyers was shot dead on East Broadway after surviving two previous attempts on his life.

Former prosecutors who aren’t involved in the case say evidence about the other killings would be admissible only to show motive or a “common scheme or plan” with Jackson’s murder.

Brian Butler and Kent Wicker, ex-prosecutors who are now criminal defense lawyers, also predict evidence about Sawyers’ death will be inadmissible unless the commonwealth presents substantial evidence tying Kelly to the crime. Another man was acquitted of Sawyers’ murder.

Adams and Alvarez in court papers dismiss the prison recordings as merely “jailhouse braggadocio.”

Butler said the defense will likely argue inmates often brag about violent acts – falsely – to enhance their credibility and maintain their safety, and try to show discrepancies between his account and the facts of the crime. Kelly, for example, boasted of firing 36 bullets into Jackson while an autopsy found only 22.

But Adams said he will try to show discrepancies in eyewitness accounts of the crime.

Christopher Lee Chalker, for example, told police he was at Jackson’s buying $20 of crack cocaine and described two shooters who bore no resemblance to Kelly.

The defense also will portray the prosecution’s cooperating witnesses as a rogues’ gallery of “murders, thugs and villains whose testimony was bought with sweetheart deals on their own charges,” Wicker said.

As one of Kelly’s former attorneys, Richard Kammen, put it: “They put out the word that if you pinned something on (Kelly), you’d get out of prison.”

Lajuante W. Jackson was 26, married and had one daughter when he was slain. His family did not respond to letters and other messages seeking comment for this article.

Records show Kelly was born to a 15-year-old mother, grew up in public housing in Beecher Terrace and Cotter Homes, and never met his father, who died when he was 3.

At Crosby Middle School, he was frequently absent or tardy and attended three classes for students with learning disabilities. He dropped out of Seneca High School.

Three of his cousins have been murdered and one of his brothers, Antwan “Pearl” Tolley, is serving 19 years in prison on federal weapons charges.

He told a psychologist that over the years he was shot in the arm and leg and “witnessed countless murders” of “friends that I know of. I’ve seen walkup killings that I refused to be a witness to… because you just don’t do that.”

Yet despite telling people he detested snitches, court records show he once tried to work off marijuana charges by setting up buys for police. His work produced two arrests before he quit, saying his life was threatened and he was “like scared.”Kelly was indicted for the first time as an adult in 1991, when he was 21, on drug-trafficking charges. Three years later, he was charged with attempted murder after he and one of his brothers, Terrell Gray, pulled up next to a truck at a KFC and opened fire, hitting a man inside. Charges against Gray were dismissed and Kelly, who pleaded guilty to wanton endangerment, got one year in jail.

In the prison recordings, Kelly is heard telling English that he ran his crew out of “The Spot,” a West End clubhouse furnished with a pool table and a hot tub and stocked with 40 cases of Bud, “Hennessy for myself” and a bowl full of condoms. The only women allowed were “paid strippers and prostitutes.”

But he had other uses for women. He told English he used them to lure men to be robbed or murdered, then paid them so that they wouldn’t implicate him.

“When you give a bitch money, you put blood on her hand,” he said, according to a tape transcript. “Can’t no bitch handle life” in prison.

Kelly was sentenced to 27 years in prison on an array of gun, drug, assault and persistent felon charges in 1998. After a failed parole, he was returned to custody and he served out his sentences in March, according to the Kentucky Corrections Department.

The seven other murders in which charges against Kelly were dropped remain unsolved, Metro Police spokesman Dwight Mitchell said.

If Kelly is acquitted of Jackson’s murder, he will walk out of court a free man.


►Aug. 19, 2005: Lajuante W. Jackson, 26, is shot dead at 744 S. Clay St.

►July 7, 2010: Ricky Kelly, then 39, is charged with eight counts of complicity to murder for the deaths of Jackson as well as Gail Duncan on April 11, 1996; Deron Cole on July 24, 1996; John Sanders on Oct. 21, 1996; Charles Lewis on July 1, 1998; Blair Kidwell on July 3, 1998; Craig Jones on July 8, 2005; and Warren King on July 13, 2006. Kelly is also charged with trafficking in cocaine.

►November 2010: Greg Sawyers tells a federal grand jury he saw Kelly shoot Jackson and that Dion Dajuan Neal – Sawyers’ cousin – paid Kelly “10 stacks,” or $10,000, for the hit. Sawyers is released on home incarceration on a cocaine trafficking charge.

►March 25, 2011: All state charges are dropped, in part to protect witnesses, prosecutors said. Kelly and later Dion Dajuan Neal are charged with murder in aid of a drug trafficking organization under a federal anti-racketeering law. Neal is accused of paying Kelly for the hit.

►July 27, 2013. Sawyers, 34, is killed. Court records show he received a threatening letter in jail delivered by a friend of Kelly. Kelly wasn’t charged in connection with the threat or the killing. Orlando Gilmore is later acquitted in the murder.

Man on death row will get to argue for new trial

november  25. 2017

A man on death row for killing three siblings in Pennsylvania will get a chance to argue that his conviction was based on a flawed hair analysis.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that 62-year-old David Chmiel will have the opportunity to raise questions about the reliability of the forensic tests that led to his 2002 conviction.

A court justice wrote that Chmiel’s case warrants another look because the FBI has admitted testimony given by their hair examiners was wrong in a vast majority of cases.

Chmiel was originally convicted in 1984 and has appealed multiple times. His attorney hasn’t returned a voicemail seeking comment.

The decision sends the case back to a lower court in Lackawanna County, where Chmiel will get to ask a judge for a new trial.