Supreme Court

A convicted Oklahoma killer’s death sentence was overturned because of a landmark US Supreme Court ruling


March12, 2021

The murder convictions and death sentence of Shaun Michael Bosse, seen in this undated photo, were overturned by an Oklahoma appeals court on Thursday, March 11, 2021.
 Shaun Michael Bosse

An Oklahoma death row inmate is set to receive a new trial after a court overturned his conviction based on a US Supreme Court ruling last year that determined a large part of the state is Native American territory for the purposes of federal criminal law

.The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Thursday the state did not have the jurisdiction to prosecute Shaun Bosse, who was sentenced to death in 2012 for the murders of 24-year-old Katrina Griffin, her 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter because the victims were members of the Chickasaw Nation and the murders took place on the reservation.The appeals court cited the Supreme Court’s landmark July 2020 ruling in McGirt vs. Oklahoma, in which the justices ruled 5-4 that a broad swath of the state was Native American land for the purposes of federal criminal law. According to federal law, crimes that involve Native Americans on a reservation are subject to federal, not state, jurisdiction.CNN has reached out to an attorney for Bosse for comment.District Attorney Greg Mashburn, who prosecuted Bosse, told CNN in an interview Friday that federal prosecutors will assume jurisdiction in the case.”I’m devastated for the family (of Bosse’s victims),” Mashburn said. “They can’t heal. They’re just going to have to go through this whole process again. I’m just really upset for them and hate that they’re going to have to sit through another trial.”

Former Alabama Chief Justice, lieutenant governor back new trial for death row inmate


March 19, A group of 14 former judges and prosecutors — including a former Alabama lieutenant governor and a former Alabama Chief Justice — urged a Jefferson County judge Tuesday to set a new trial for a death row inmate convicted in 1998.

In two of seven friend-of-the-court briefs filed with the Jefferson County Circuit Court on Tuesday morning, the signatories wrote that the court should follow the guidance of Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr, who said the court should grant Toforest Johnson a new trial amid questions about the conduct in the first. 

“The DA’s decision to vacate Mr. Johnson’s conviction is a heavy one made after an exhaustive investigation of the surrounding circumstances and irregularities leading to his conviction; this weighty decision should be given significant deference by the Court,” said a brief signed by former Alabama Chief Justice Drayton Nabers; former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Ralph Cook; former Alabama State Bar President Bill Clark; retired Judge William Bowen and attorney Bobby Segall. “To disregard District Attorney Carr’s decision would frustrate the exact duties he was elected to perform and further undermine public confidence in our criminal justice system.”

Toforest Johnson’s conviction

A jury convicted Johnson in 1998 of the 1995 murder of William Hardy, a Jefferson County deputy sheriff. Hardy was working as a private security guard at a Birmingham hotel when he was shot and killed in the hotel’s parking lot early in the morning of July 19, 1995. Police arrested Johnson and charged him with murder a few hours later. 

No physical evidence linked Johnson to the scene, and Johnson, 48, maintains his innocence. A jury could not reach a verdict in the first trial, but a jury in a second trial convicted Johnson. After the conviction, Johnson’s attorneys learned that a witness for the prosecution named Violet Ellison received $5,000 from the state after approaching the police in response to a reward offered. 

Johnson’s attorneys filed a motion known as a Brady claim, saying prosecutors withheld evidence that could have raised questions about the witness’ credibility. State courts upheld the conviction, but the U.S. Supreme Court ordered new hearings on the Brady claim in 2017. 

Last year, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Teresa T. Pulliam denied Johnson’s Brady claim, ruling that Johnson had not established “by a preponderance of the evidence” that Ellison “either came forward or gave testimony out of a ‘hope of reward,’ or that the state had knowledge of such motivation at or before the time of the trial.” 

But in June, Carr said Johnson should get a new trial, citing issues with Ellison and other witnesses and the fact that prosecutors could not settle on a theory of the case. 

“A prosecutor’s duty is not merely to secure convictions, but to seek justice,” Carr wrote in a brief to the court.

Toforest Johnson

Oklahoma panel moves toward commuting death row inmate’s sentence


March 8 – Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 on Monday to advance death row inmate Julius Jones’ request for a reduced sentence.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 on Monday to advance death row inmate Julius Jones’ request for a reduced sentence, setting up the possibility he could avoid lethal injection.

The board’s approval moves Jones’ commutation request to a second-stage hearing later this year in which both Jones and his supporters will be able to address the board. If approved at the second stage, the commutation request will be forwarded to Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt for a final decision.

Jones, 40, maintains he is innocent of the 1999 shooting death of Edmond businessman Paul Howell, who was shot to death in front of his family during a carjacking.

Julius Jones was convicted and sentenced to die for the 1999 shooting death of Edmond businessman Paul Howell.
JULIUS JONES

Jones’ case drew the attention of reality television star Kim Kardashian West and numerous professional athletes with Oklahoma ties after it was featured in 2018 on the ABC television documentary series “The Last Defense.”

State prosecutors say the evidence against Jones is overwhelming and have defended his death sentence, urging the board to reject his commutation request.

“To this day, Jones has not expressed an ounce of remorse for his callous actions,” District Attorney David Prater wrote in a letter to the panel. “Instead, he continues to victimize the Howell family by fueling a media circus with outright lies and by making a farce of this clemency process.”

Dontae Morris’ death sentence in Tampa murder vacated by Florida Supreme Court


January 11, 2018

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the death sentence of Dontae Morris in the 2010 killing of Derek Anderson in Tampa.

The justices upheld Morris’ first-degree murder conviction, but in a 5-2 decision they ruled that Morris must be resentenced because of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Hurst vs. Florida that the state’s former death penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it limited the role of the jury in capital punishment cases.

In its decision Thursday, the court said: “Because the jury in this case recommended death by a vote of 10 to 2, we cannot determine that the jury unanimously found that the aggravators outweighed the mitigators … The error in Morris’ sentencing was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Morris is also on death row for the murders of two Tampa police officers, Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis that occurred 42 days later. Last year, the court upheld the death sentences in that case, which had a unanimous jury.

Anderson, 21, was shot in the back outside his mother’s east Tampa apartment on May 18, 2010. He had just arrived home after doing laundry at a friend’s house, carrying a load of clean clothing in a backpack.

A friend of Morris testified that he called her a few days after the murder and confessed that he shot Anderson. The friend, Ashley Price, claimed Morris told her he and Anderson had argued earlier that day because Anderson was selling marijuana on what Morris considered to be his “turf.”

Police were unable to link Morris to the crime until June 29, 2010, when he murdered Curtis and Kocab during a traffic stop. Curtis, who pulled over a car driven by Morris’ then-girlfriend, discovered that Morris had a warrant for writing bad checks. When Curtis moved to arrest him, Morris drew a gun and shot each officer once.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement analysis of the two bullets he fired revealed they came from the same gun used to murder Anderson.

On appeal, Morris’ defense argued that his conviction should be overturned. Among other issues, they cited the notoriety of the case and the judge’s decision to keep the trial in Hillsborough County. But the high court ruled that there was no evidence that the jury knew anything about Morris’s crimes before the trial.

The Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office will have to decide whether to seek a new death sentence for Morris in the Anderson case.

He remains on death row for the police killings.

Supreme Court sides with death row inmate over racist juror claim


JANUARY 8, 2018

WASHINGTON, The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday paved the way for a black Georgia inmate to challenge his 1991 death sentence for killing his sister-in-law after he argued the case was tainted by a racist white juror who questioned whether black people have souls.

The justices, in a 6-3 unsigned decision, threw out a lower court’s decision that had rejected his biased jury assertion. Keith Tharpe was found guilty and sentenced to death by a jury of 10 white people and two black people in Georgia’s Jones County. The allegations of racial bias arose from an interview with one of the jurors years later, not comments made during the trial

Monday’s ruling means the case will return to lower courts and gives Tharpe a chance to avoid execution.

Tharpe had been scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection in a Georgia state prison on Sept. 26 but the Supreme Court granted his last-minute stay application so it could have more time to decide whether to hear his appeal.

Tharpe, 59, kidnapped and raped his estranged wife, Migrisus Tharpe, and used a shotgun to kill Jaquelin Freeman, her sister, in September 1990, according to court records.

Three of the court’s conservatives, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, dissented from Monday’s decision.

Thomas, the court’s only black justice, is also from Georgia. He pointed out in his dissenting opinion that the court’s decision will “delay justice” for the victim, who was also black.

“The court’s decision is no profile in moral courage,” Thomas said.

In 1998 Tharpe’s lawyers, as they were preparing an appeal in the case, spoke with the trial jurors including a man named Barney Gattie, who has since died.

“After studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls,” Gattie told Tharpe’s lawyers in an affidavit, according to court papers.

Gattie also told the defense lawyers that there are two kinds of black people, one who he called “regular black folks” and another group he referred to using a racial slur.

“Because I knew the victim and her husband’s family and knew them all to be good black folks, I felt Tharpe, who wasn’t in the good black folks category in my book, should get the electric chair for what he did,” Gattie added.

The 12-person jury, including its two black members, voted unanimously to sentence Tharpe to death.

Florida death row inmate who brutally stabbed a pregnant woman to death in 1993 is now charged in the death of her son, 23, who was born via c-section and died last year


December 22,2017

A Florida man convicted in the 1993 stabbing death of a pregnant woman will stand trial for the death of the victim’s son 23 years later.

Ronnie Keith Williams will be charged with murder in the death of 23-year-old Julius Dyke, the brain-damaged son of a woman he fatally stabbed in 1993

The Sun Sentinel reports the Broward County prosecutor’s office announced Thursday that Ronnie Keith Williams will be charged with first-degree murder in the death of 23-year-old Julius Dyke.

Julius Dyke was born via cesarean section two days after his 18-year-old mother, Lisa Dyke, was stabbed. Lisa died 18 days after he was born.

He had suffered extensive brain damage and his 2016 death was ruled a homicide linked to the attack.

Julius was not able to walk or talk and was only able to eat via a feeding tube.

Hearing of the impending charges, his grandmother and caretaker Margaret Dyke said: ‘Oh my Julius, my love.’

Now I truly miss my daughter because the only part of her has gone on with her.’

Lisa had been babysitting for a friend in Wilton Manors, near Fort Lauderdale, when Williams entered the home and attacked her in 1993. He had apparently been looking for his ex-girlfriend.

 

Florida Death Row Inmate Gets New Sentencing Hearing


December 21, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.  — The Florida Supreme Court is ordering a new sentence for a man involved in the deadly kidnapping of a young couple from South Beach.

The court on Thursday upheld the conviction of Joel Lebron, but tossed out his death sentence. The 39-year-old man is getting a new hearing because a jury recommended the death penalty by a 9 to 3 vote.

Authorities say 17-year-old Nelson Portobanco and 18-year-old Ana Maria Angel were walking back to their car after a date in 2002 when they were forced into a pickup by Lebron and four other men.

Authorities say Lebron stabbed Portobanco and left him for dead, but the teen survived. Angel was repeatedly raped and taken to a retaining wall beside Interstate 95 where Lebron killed her with a single gunshot.

Howland woman condemned to death row asking for another appeal


 

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Lawyers for Ohio’s only condemned female killer have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to accept her appeal.

Death row inmate Donna Roberts was convicted of planning her ex-husband’s 2001 killing with a boyfriend in hopes of collecting insurance money.

Roberts’ death sentence was struck down in the past after the state Supreme Court said a prosecutor improperly helped prepare a sentencing motion in her case.

The court also said a judge hadn’t fully considered factors that could argue against a death sentence.

Earlier this year, the Ohio Supreme Court once again upheld the death sentence for the 73-year-old Roberts.

She was sentenced to death for the third time in 2014 but appealed that decision.

Watch: Testimony from Roberts’ appeal

Roberts was accused of planning her ex-husband’s murder with her boyfriend Nathaniel Jackson. The killing happened in the couple’s home in Howland.

Jackson was also sentenced to death.

In the past, the court said a prosecutor improperly helped prepare a sentencing motion in Roberts’ case and that a judge hadn’t fully considered factors that could argue against a death sentence.

Justice Terrence O’Donnell, writing for the majority, rejected arguments that allowing a new judge to sentence Roberts after the original judge died was unconstitutional.

Justice O’Donnell explained that Roberts helped Jackson plan Fingerhut’s murder in a series of letters and phone calls while Jackson was in prison on an unrelated charge. She actively participated with Jackson in the killing by purchasing a mask and gloves for him and allowing him into the home, evidencing prior calculation and design, O’Donnell said.

The court ruled 6-1.

The Court also pointed out that although Roberts expressed sadness for Fingerhut’s murder, she never accepted responsibility for it and denied her scheme to kill Fingerhut, “notwithstanding overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

The Court concluded the death penalty was appropriate and proportionate to the death sentence imposed on Jackson.

The state is expected to oppose Roberts’ latest request.

 

FLORIDA – Prison inmate who beat, killed his cellmate sentenced to death


A Santa Rosa Correctional Institution inmate who viciously beat and killed his cellmate in an apparent racial attack was sentenced to death Monday.

Shawn Rogers, 37, will be placed on death row for the murder and kidnapping of Ricky Dean Martin in 2012.

Rogers, who is a black man, and Martin, a white man, shared a cell in the prison. When word of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin’s death made it to the prison, Rogers carried out the racially motivated attack on Ricky Dean Martin that left him tied at the hands and feet, bruised, cut and in a coma that eventually killed him.

The court heard during Rogers’ trial that blood was smeared on the cell’s walls, and Rogers covered Martin’s body with a prayer rug before guards arrived. Martin’s face was covered with a pair of bloody boxer shorts.

A civil lawsuit filed by Martin’s family against the prison further claims Martin had filed grievances in the days before his death, saying he feared for his life and wanted to be moved from Rogers’ cell.

The same suit claims Rogers also raped Martin, though that claim was not presented by the state in Rogers’ criminal case.

Circuit Judge John Simon read a portion of Rogers’ sentencing document during court Monday, finding that the court agrees with the 12-person jury’s unanimous death recommendation.

“Mindful that a human life is at stake … the aggravating factors far outweigh the mitigating factors,” Simon said during sentencing, adding that not only did Rogers murder Martin, but he humiliated him in the process.

Rogers remained stoic as Simon read the document, not making any gestures or saying anything to his attorney, Kenneth Brooks. Rogers will join 349 other Florida prisoners on death row.

Neither Brooks nor prosecutor Jack Schlechter made any motions or arguments before Simon handed down the sentence. Both sides were allowed to present mitigating and aggravating factors in the case at a separate hearing in November, during which Simon heard about Rogers’ troubled past, with one doctor having called his upbringing a “perfect storm” for trouble.

At that same hearing, prosecutors pointed out Rogers had been functional to represent himself at trial, and was capable of premeditation because he voiced to others he would carry out an attack on a white person in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death.

In addition to the death sentence for the murder charge, Simon sentenced Rogers to life in prison for the kidnapping to inflict terror charge.

Simon told Rogers he is entitled to an appeals process and per state law his death sentence will be automatically reviewed by the Supreme Court.

The civil lawsuit is still ongoing in Federal Court.

Ex-death row inmate re-sentenced to life in prison


December 18, 2017

ST. LOUIS — A longtime Missouri death row inmate whose conviction in the 1991 rape and killing of two sisters was overturned has pleaded guilty to murdering them and been re-sentenced to life behind bars.

Reginald Clemons, who spent 22 years on death row, pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of second-degree murder and other crimes. His plea agreement calls for him to serve five consecutive life sentences.

The Missouri Supreme Court in 2015 dismissed Clemons’ conviction after finding that prosecutors suppressed evidence that police had beaten a confession out of him.

Clemons was among four men convicted in the deaths of 20-year-old Julie Kerry and her 19-year-old sister, Robin. Authorities say the sisters were raped and shoved off the old Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis.