Arizona Supreme Court

Prosecutors ask Arizona court to order execution


April 23, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) — State prosecutors are asking the Arizona Supreme Court to order the execution of a man sentenced to death for killing his estranged girlfriend and her father in Pima County nearly a quarter-century ago.

The Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday asked for a warrant scheduling the execution of 55-year-old Joseph Rudolph Wood III for the 1989 killings of Debra and Eugene Dietz.

Appeals courts have upheld Wood’s convictions and death sentence and the Attorney General’s Office says Wood has exhausted his appeals and has no action pending in any court.

A defense lawyer for Wood, assistant public defender Dale Baich (bache), says the Department of Corrections‘ recent decision to use a two-drug combination for executions is “novel and highly untested.”

5 female death-row cases make Arizona a national outlier


february 5, 2014 (usatoday)

Women make up less than 2 percent of death-row populations in the United States. There are two women on death row in Arizona, and no woman has been executed here since Eva Dugan was hanged in 1930.

On Jan. 17, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the death sentence for Shawna Forde, a self-styled anti-immigration vigilante convicted of killing two people southwest of Tucson in 2009.

On Jan. 23, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge refused to reconsider her decision to allow a former Phoenix police detective to invoke the Fifth Amendment in the Debra Milke case, putting Milke’s potential retrial on hold until prosecutors can file a special action appeal. Milke was freed after 23 years on death row when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted her a new trial.

Wendi Andriano, who was sent to death row in 2004 for murdering her husband, is back in Maricopa County Superior Court for the next two weeks in a stage called post-conviction relief, arguing that she deserves a new trial because her defense attorneys did not represent her effectively.

Marissa DeVault’s trial starts Thursday on charges of killing her husband with a hammer in 2009.

And Jodi Arias will go back to trial on March 17 to determine if she should be sentenced to death or to life in prison for the 2008 murder of her lover Travis Alexander.

Andriano and Arias were portrayed as lying vixens, their sex lives detailed right down to their choice of personal sexual lubricants.

The DeVault case is certain to be salacious; she was a stripper and claims the husband she killed was abusive and forced her to sleep with other men. All three allege domestic violence in their defense.

Meanwhile, one of DeVault’s lovers will be confronted over child pornography found in his computer when he testifies against her.

“If it’s a woman, (prosecutors) have to defeminize her before they can humanize her,” Streib said.

It may not matter.

“Once sentenced to death, the likelihood of being executed is practically zero,” Streib said.

Death-penalty cases are rarely clear-cut; less so when the defendants are women.

ast spring, a first jury could not reach a decision as to whether to let Arias live or die.

In 2010, a Superior Court jury balked at sending Marjorie Orbin to death row, even though it found her guilty of killing her husband and cutting him in pieces.

One chunk of his torso was found in a plastic tub in the desert in north Phoenix.

And in 2002, the Arizona Supreme Court threw out a death sentence for Doris Carlson, who paid two men to kill her mother-in-law in 1996, after determining that the murder was not committed in an especially cruel, heinous or depraved manner. That is one of the aggravating factors alleged in the DeVault case, and the Arias argument on the death penalty is based on the murder being considered especially cruel.

Capital cases against women also are often more complex because the crimes are often more passionate and more intimate.

“The death penalty is mostly about crimes against strangers. That really frightens people,” said Elizabeth Rapaport, a law professor at the University of New Mexico.

Those crimes often include rapes and robberies, “and women just don’t do those kind of crimes,” Rapaport said.

Women who kill tend to kill spouses, lovers, children and family members.

“Those cases are rarely capital cases,” she said.

And as Victor Streib added, there is a general reluctance on the part of juries to send women to death row.

“Women tend to be favored,” said Streib, a defense attorney and law professor who retired from Ohio Northern University. Streib, who has written books on female killers, also provided statistics on the subject to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

According to the most recent statistics, as of January 2013, only 63 out of 3,125 inmates on death rows nationwide were women, about 2 percent. Only 14 women have been executed since 1973: four in Texas, three in Oklahoma, two in Florida, and one each in North Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama and Virginia., Texas

“What I always say when asked about this question is that there are no sophisticated studies indicating that women are treated more leniently in the capital-punishment system,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “Their numbers are too small to draw statistically relevant conclusions. What we do know is that women commit about 10percent of murders, comprise about 2percent of death rows and account for about 1percent of executions.”

Death sentences are supposed to be reserved for the worst of the worst murderers. Each case has a unique set of facts and evidence, and there is no foolproof scientific way to make the assessment as to which are the worst. And prosecutors must find appropriate aggravating factors from a set list dictated by state statute. It’s not just a question of how horrible the murder seems to the public.

Still, the seeming randomness of the system is at times shocking: A drug cartel member cuts off the head of a rival who ripped him off, pleads guilty to second-degree murder and gets a 14-year prison sentence; a man beats his girlfriend to death, leaves her naked body in the street and is charged with second-degree murder.

Wade Bradford is accused of killing two girlfriends, one in front of a male rival in the garage of a Tempe condo; the other was found four years after her murder in a rented storage facility in the West Valley.

The first of his trials went to the jury on Tuesday. Neither case is capital.

“There may even be evidence that when women do cross the line into violent murders, they may face being punished more severely than men because their murders stand out,” Dieter said. “They are outside the expected behavior of women.”

But as Dieter pointed out, there are no studies to prove or disprove that theory.

When prosecutors seek death against women, the cases tend to be sordid. They are about money. Or sex. Or domestic violence. Or betrayal.

Prosecutors alleged that Milke, Andriano and DeVault killed for insurance money; Forde was trying to steal a drug dealer’s cash.

Andriano and Arias were portrayed as lying vixens, their sex lives detailed right down to their choice of personal sexual lubricants.

The DeVault case is certain to be salacious; she was a stripper and claims the husband she killed was abusive and forced her to sleep with other men. All three allege domestic violence in their defense.

Meanwhile, one of DeVault’s lovers will be confronted over child pornography found in his computer when he testifies against her.

“If it’s a woman, (prosecutors) have to defeminize her before they can humanize her,” Streib said.

It may not matter.

“Once sentenced to death, the likelihood of being executed is practically zero,” Streib said.

Arizona death-row inmate wants his execution delayed until state has new governor – Samuel Villegas Lopez


Update, June 22 Source : http://www.azcentral.com

Arizona’s Board of Executive Clemency voted 4-0 Friday not to recommend clemency or a reprieve for convicted murderer Samuel Lopez, who is scheduled to be executed Wednesday.

Also on Friday, Arizona’s Supreme Court denied a request by Lopez’s attorneys for a stay of execution, leaving a pending appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court as his last chance for a reprieve.

Lopez was sentenced to death for the brutal murder of Estefana Holmes in central Phoenix in 1986. After a “terrible and prolonged struggle,” Lopez raped and sodomized her, stabbed her more than 23 times in the chest and head, and slashed her throat, according to court records.

The board’s vote followed impassioned pleas both for and against his execution.

“He didn’t just murder Essie, he murdered our family,” said Denise Evans, Holmes’s daughter-in-law, saying that her devastated husband drank himself to death after her killing.

More than a dozen members of Holmes’s family testified, most describing how the murders continue to affect them, and saying the execution would bring them closure.

“Why should he be allowed more time on this earth than our sister?” asked Sarah Arguijo Bryant.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry expressed her condolences, but told the board that because of poor lawyering, no court had heard the full story of Lopez’s poor and brutal upbringing, or of how his childhood abuse of various substances, as an escape, had left him mentally impaired. Neuropsychiatrist George Wood, describing that upbringing in clinical detail, said Lopez and his siblings essentially were brought up as “feral children.” He noted that two of Lopez’s brothers also faced the death penalty for their own crimes.

That background and impairment should have mitigated his sentence to life without parole, Henry said. Inevitably, when the death penalty is imposed “it’s not for the worst crime, it’s for the worst lawyer,” she said.

State prosecutors had provided the board members with color photos of Holmes and the murder scene. Board member Mel Thomas said he reviewed them closely before the hearing. “I tell you now, when I did this at home, I cried,” he said.

Lopez, who is being held at the Eyman state prison, did not take part in the hearing. He previously had been scheduled for execution May 15, but won a delay after the Arizona Supreme Court agreed that three new members of the clemency board hadn’t had adequate training when they first considered his bid for clemency last month. When Gov. Jan Brewer replaced three of the five board members, including the chairman, in April, the departing members said they had been ousted because she was unhappy with their votes to recommend clemency in certain cases.

Henry had sought another stay, arguing that the new members couldn’t give Lopez a fair hearing because they were improperly appointed and biased against him; but Friday the state supreme court denied her motion without comment. The U.S. Supreme Court had not acted Friday on a separate request for a stay filed by Lopez’s attorneys

June 20, 2012 Source :

PHOENIX — Attorneys for a death-row inmate set to be put to death in Arizona next week want the execution delayed until the state has a new governor, arguing in a Tuesday filing that Gov. Jan Brewer appointed “political cronies” to a clemency board in an unconstitutional, closed-door process.

In their filing in the Arizona Supreme Court, defense attorneys for death-row inmate Samuel Villegas Lopez argue that he can’t receive a fair hearing with the state’s clemency board, often an inmate’s last chance for mercy before an execution.

Brewer overhauled the board in April, a move that her spokesman Matt Benson said at the time was designed to “bring fresh insight and fresh blood” to the board.“The Arizona Supreme Court has already found these allegations to be without merit. The latest filing is more of the same,” Benson said in statement Tuesday evening. “Governor Brewer appropriately nominated qualified individuals to the Board of Executive Clemency, including a Democrat, and they were properly confirmed by the Arizona Senate. The governor and the Board of Executive Clemency have the right to defend themselves when named in a lawsuit in which spurious and sanctionable allegations are asserted.”

In their filing, Lopez’s attorneys argued that the new board members are “political cronies” appointed to ensure that they never vote for executions to be delayed or overturned.

The attorneys also argue that the selection committee for the new board members questioned potential members about how they would vote on controversial or high-profile cases in interviews that were closed to the public in violation of open-meetings laws.

“While the Governor may be free to appoint her political cronies to Arizona boards and commissions, and while political patronage may be an accepted part of Arizona government, the law at least requires that those actions be known to the public,” the filing said.

“Offensive to any reasonable notion of fairness, this denial of access to the clemency process would not have occurred in the sunlight of public scrutiny,” they wrote. “Mr. Lopez must now plead for mercy before a board constituted of a majority of members selected by that process.”

Lopez’s clemency hearing is set for Friday.

His attorneys also argue that statements made by Benson and newly appointed board Chairman Jesse Hernandez to reporters display clear bias against Lopez and a prejudgment of his request for mercy.

For instance, Benson told The Associated Press last month that defense attorneys were “attempting to further delay justice for the heinous crimes committed by their client 25 years ago.”

“Throwing together a host of trumped-up charges against a citizen board does not change that fact,” he said.

Hernandez has told the AP that the attorneys were “grandstanding” in filing a lawsuit against Brewer and the board in Maricopa County Superior Court over the new board members.

Hernandez did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The Arizona Supreme Court already delayed Lopez’s execution once, on May 15, to give the new clemency board members time to undergo four weeks of training before they held a hearing about Lopez’s fate.

The court granted the delay on the grounds that Lopez was denied a fair chance for clemency because a majority of the board members had not undergone the training. The court rescheduled the May 16 execution for June 27.

Lopez faces a lethal injection at a state prison in Florence for the 1986 murder of Estefana Holmes. The Phoenix woman was raped, robbed and stabbed in what authorities described as a “terrible and prolonged struggle.

ARIZONA – Motion denied to watch executions by injection


May 31, 2012 Source : http://www.azcentral.com

Despite strong language from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and a 2002 appeals-court ruling, a federal judge in Phoenix on Wednesday denied motions to allow attorneys and reporters to watch as executioners insert the catheters that carry the drugs used in lethal injections for condemned prisoners.

The Federal Public Defender’s Office in Phoenix and other defense attorneys have complained about the practices of the Arizona Department of Corrections in carrying out executions by lethal injection. Among the concerns are the qualifications of those who insert IV lines into the condemned prisoners and why they repeatedly fail to find suitable veins in the prisoner’s arms and must resort to a surgically installed catheter in the groin area.

On May 15, the day before death-row prisoner Samuel Lopez was to be executed for the 1986 murder of a Phoenix woman, his attorneys filed a motion with U.S. District Judge Neil Wake, asking to be allowed to witness the catheterization. Wake did not rule on the motion. But the subject had come up in oral arguments on May 14 in a last-ditch appeal to the 9th Circuit.

Of concern in that appeal was a March execution in which the condemned man was not allowed to speak to his attorney when prison staff was unable to find a suitable vein in his arm and instead inserted the catheter in his groin.

The appeals court refused to stop Lopez’s execution, but one of the judges questioned why the media had not insisted on being present when the lines were inserted. The state of Ohio and California allow such witnessing, and a 2002 9th Circuit opinion ruled that the public has a First Amendment right to witness all aspects of an execution.

Lopez subsequently received a reprieve from the Arizona Supreme Court until June 27 because of problems with the state clemency board.

A coalition of Arizona journalism groups took up the challenge and asked to become part of the lawsuit over the Corrections Department policies.

That same day, another group of journalists in Idaho filed its own lawsuit asking to witness the preparation process on First Amendment grounds.

But Wake denied the Arizona motions Wednesday, citing technicalities in the timing of the motion and saying that a First Amendment violation had not been properly claimed.

Dale Baich of the Federal Public Defender’s Office said his office had not yet decided how to proceed.

Dan Barr, an attorney who represents the Arizona journalists, said his options would be to wait for Baich to amend his motion or file a separate lawsuit to assert the journalists’ claims.

“The whole trick is bringing up the issue in the right form and the right time,” Barr said.

ARIZONA – Samuel Villegas Lopez – Execution – RESCHEDULED June 27


Update 

May 23, Source : http://www.kpho.com

The Arizona Supreme Court has denied a petition to review the case of a death row inmate set for execution next week.

Lawyers for Samuel Villegas Lopez had asked the state’s high court to review a lower court’s order dismissing his petition for post-conviction relief on March 30.

The state Supreme Court issued its ruling Wednesday without comment. There’s no immediate response from Lopez’s attorneys.

The 49-year-old Lopez is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection May 16 at the state prison in Florence in what would be the fourth execution in Arizona this year.

———————————————-

PHOENIX (Reuters) – Arizona’s top court issued a stay of execution on Tuesday for death row inmate Samuel Villegas Lopez, a day before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection, to address claims that he had been denied a chance at a fair clemency hearing.

Villegas Lopez was sentenced to death for raping 59-year-old Estafana Holmes and stabbing her to death in a violent, drawn-out assault at her Phoenix apartment in 1986

The Arizona Supreme Court rescheduled his execution for June 27 so that attorneys could address claims that he was denied a fair clemency hearing because some members of the state clemency board had not received a mandated four-week training course.

“We conclude that the interests of justice are best served by staying the pending execution and forthwith issuing … a new warrant of execution, for June 27,” the court said in its ruling.

“The period between now and the new execution date will allow training of new board members and a clemency hearing to be subsequently held by the board,” it added.

He had been due to die by lethal injection at 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning, at the state prison in Florence, some 60 miles southeast of Phoenix.

ARIZONA – Death penalty upheld in Ariz. teen’s killing


april 13, 2012 source :http://www.trivalleycentral.com

The Arizona Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction and death sentence of a man found guilty of fatally bludgeoning his 14-year-old niece whose semi-nude body was found while her mother was in the hospital.

Brad Lee Nelson of Golden Valley had appealed his sentence to the court, arguing that he didn’t have an impartial trial jury, that the killing wasn’t premeditated and that putting him to death would be cruel and unusual punishment.

The 41-year-old was convicted of first-degree murder in the June 2006 killing of 14-year-old Amber Graff.

Records show that Nelson was watching Graff and her 13-year-old brother Wade at a hotel in Kingman in western Arizona while their mother was in the hospital being treated for Crohn’s disease.

Prosecutors say that Nelson walked from the hotel to a Kmart, bought a rubber mallet, came back and hit Amber in the head with it multiple times as Wade slept.

Prosecutors say that after hitting her with the mallet, Nelson covered up her body and soon after spent the morning with Wade going to a couple of stores and hanging out by the pool. When they returned to the hotel room, Nelson told Amber to wake up and pulled the covers from her.

Her body was blue and naked from the waist down, her forehead was covered in blood, and blood and foam were coming out of her mouth. Semen later found on her groin area matched Nelson, although there was no evidence that Amber was raped.

The rubber mallet was found in a bloody black sock under the bed.

Amber’s stepfather later gave investigators a letter from Nelson to Amber that proclaimed his love for her and promised to never hurt her.

Defense attorneys had argued that Nelson didn’t mean to kill the girl while the prosecution argued that his trip to Kmart to buy the mallet and his efforts to cover up the crime proved it was premeditated murder.

Prosecutors also theorized at trial that Nelson came on to Amber and she denied him, provoking him enough to kill her.

“It was pretty clear it was sexually motivated,” Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith, who prosecuted the case against Nelson, said Thursday. “I don’t see anything accidental about any of it.”

In their ruling Thursday, the Arizona Supreme Court rejected multiple arguments from Nelson’s attorney that sought to have his death sentence overturned, including that the jury’s finding that Nelson was eligible for the death penalty because Amber was under the age of 15 is “arbitrary and capricious.”

Under Arizona law, a number of so-called aggravating factors make someone convicted of first-degree murder eligible to be executed, including that the murder victim is under the age of 15. Amber was two months away from turning 15 when she was killed.

Nelson’s attorney, David Goldberg, argued that the state doesn’t have a compelling or rational basis to execute someone who kills a child who is 14 years and 10 months old as opposed to someone who has turned 15.

The court ruled that the Arizona Legislature set the age at 15 after determining that the young are especially vulnerable, should be afforded more protection and that murders of the sort should carry more severe punishments.

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