first-degree murder

Cheatham defense attorney challenges death penalty in Kansas

march 7, 2014

A defense attorney for capital murder defendant Phillip D. Cheatham Jr. said Friday that Cheatham’s case should be dismissed because capital punishment in Kansas is unconstitutional due to it being racially discriminatory.

In Kansas, 37.5 percent of the men on death row are black, while black men make up 5.5 percent of the Kansas population, John Val Wachtel argued during a motions hearing in the Cheatham case. The motions hearing is a precede to the retrial of Cheatham, 41, who is charged with killing two women and severely wounding a third.

“Kansas has become what Georgia was when Furman (v. Georgia) was handed down,” Wachtel said, referring to the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the death penalty based on a finding it was cruel and unusual punishment. Part of the decision focused on the arbitrary nature of imposition of the death penalty, often indicating a racial bias against black defendants.

In Kansas, application of the death penalty is discriminatory, Wachtel said, and in all Kansas death row cases, at least one white woman was a victim.

The death penalty “is racist in Kansas as applied,” Wachtel said.

Kansas hasn’t executed an inmate since 1965.

Jacqie Spradling, chief deputy district attorney for Shawnee County, countered that Cheatham can’t show the capital murder charge is unconstitutional. That fails because the district attorney doesn’t charge a defendant based on the race of the defendant or the victim.

“We don’t pick our victims, we don’t pick our defendants,” Spradling said. “But we do prosecute defendants. What I hear is noise of no value.”

Cheatham is charged with capital murder in the killings of Annette Roberson and Gloria A. Jones; two alternative premeditated first-degree murder counts in the slayings of Roberson and Jones; attempted first-degree murder of Annetta D. Thomas; and aggravated battery of Thomas.

Following his first trial, Cheatham was sentenced on Oct. 28, 2005, to the “Hard 50” prison term for the killing of Jones, as  well as the death penalty for the slaying of Roberson. Both were shot to death Dec. 13, 2003, at a southeast Topeka home.

Cheatham’s convictions and death penalty sentence were overturned in 2013 after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled he received ineffective assistance of his attorney during his first trial.

In another motion, Spradling sought to admit evidence of theft of drugs from Cheatham and theft of drug proceeds, both from his safe. Spradling said she wanted to present that evidence to show Cheatham’s motive to commit these crimes.

The theft of money and drugs from Cheatham, in turn, left him in debt to his drug supplier, Tracy Smith, who had placed a gun to his head and told him he was dead if he didn’t pay her back, a prosecution filing said. Cheatham was obligated to Smith to kill the women to show he was an honorable and reliable drug dealer, Spradling said.

Wachtel also objected to anticipated testimony by Thomas about her crack cocaine use and the impact the death of Roberson had on her. Spradling said she wouldn’t seek Thomas’ comments about the impact on her but would question her about her drug use and what she did to support her drug use.

District Court Judge Mark Braun took the motions under advisement. Cheatham next will appear in court May 9 for another motions hearing.

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.

Jodi Arias biography


Born in 1980 in Salinas, California, Jodi Arias made headlines when she was charged with murdering her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in 2008. Alexander’s body was found in the shower of his Mesa, Arizona, apartment by friends on June 9, 2008, five days after he was brutally murdered—he had been shot in the head and stabbed 27 times, and his throat had been slit from ear to ear. Testimony in Arias’s trial began in January 2013. Four months later, after spending 18 days on the witness stand, Arias was found guilty of first-degree murder.

Meeting Travis Alexander

Convicted killer Jodi Ann Arias was born on July 9, 1980, in Salinas, California. In the summer of 2008, Arias made national headlines when she was charged with murdering her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, a 30-year-old insurance salesman and Riverside native. Arias and Alexander had met at a conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2006, while he was living in Arizona and she was a resident of Palm Desert, California. By the following year, they were in a commited relationship. After only five months as a couple, however, the two went their separate ways in late June 2007.

Murder Investigation Begins

On June 9, 2008, Travis Alexander’s body was found in a pool of blood in the shower of his Mesa, Arizona, apartment by friends who had become increasingly worried about his whereabouts after not being able to contact him for several days. Almost immediately after entering the residence, the young men began taking in the heinous crime scene. In the bathroom, Alexander’s corpse displayed a number of inflictions: a gunshot wound to the head, 27 stab wounds, and a deeply and widely slit throat. Investigators later determined that the murder had occurred five days before his body was found, on June 4, 2008.

Arias quickly became the focus of the sensational case. She was charged with Alexander’s murder on July 9, 2008, and was arrested soon after. Initially, Arias denied any involvement in his death. Then, after investigators found her DNA mixed with Alexander’s blood at the crime scene, she changed her story: She claimed that she and her ex had been attacked by two masked intruders. After killing Alexander, the criminals decided to let her live, she told police, adding that she chose not to alert police at the time because she feared the intruders might seek revenge. At trial, she would revise her story for the third time.


Testimony in Arias’s trial began in early January 2013. The following month, the alleged killer took the witness stand, where she would remain for 18 consecutive days. Already infamously known for her different accounts of Alexander’s murder over the past several years, Arias testified that she had killed her ex in an impassioned act of self-defense. She stated that Alexander had frequently abused her, and that she killed him after he came at her in a fit of rage when she dropped his camera. She also claimed to have suffered memory loss as the result of emotional trauma she had experienced during the incident.Lying isn’t typically something I just do,” Arias stated during the trial. “The lies I’ve told in this case can be tied directly back to either protecting Travis’ reputation or my involvement in his death … because I was very ashamed.”

Whether she truly had difficulty remembering details of that day in 2008 or was simply having trouble keeping her story straight—or it was something else altogether—Arias’s testimony was wrought with inconsistency and confusion, piecemealed, and ultimately botched.

Jurors reached a unanimous decision in the case on May 8, 2013: Jodi Arias was found guilty of first-degree murder. Five jurors found her guilty of premeditated murder, zero found her guilty of felony murder, and seven found her guilty of both premeditated and felony murder. The verdict sparked elation among Travis Alexander’s family members as well as the general public. Arias now awaits sentencing, which could mean the death penalty. Should she receive capital punishment for her murder conviction, Arias would become only the third female death-row inmate in Arizona history.


Jurors reached a unanimous decision in the case on May 8, 2013: Jodi Arias was found guilty of first-degree murder. Five jurors found her guilty of premeditated murder, zero found her guilty of felony murder, and seven found her guilty of both premeditated and felony murder. The verdict sparked elation among Travis Alexander’s family members as well as the general public. Arias now awaits sentencing, which could mean the death penalty. Should she receive capital punishment for her murder conviction, Arias would become only the third female death-row inmate in Arizona history.


Jodi Arias Jail Interview 05-21-13

Jodi Arias FULL INTERVIEW  post-verdict 05-08-13

FLORIDA – Convicted killer Emilia Carr’s lawyer argues appeal before Florida Supreme Court

february 3, 2014 (Ocala)

Counsel for a Marion County woman sentenced to death row argued for a sentence reversal before the Florida Supreme Court Monday morning, stating his client is less culpable in the crime than her co-defendant — who is serving life imprisonment for the same offense.

Standing before the panel in Tallahassee, Emilia Carr’s attorney, Christopher S. Quarles, argued the Supreme Court should rule on the issue instead of choosing another remedy: sending the case back to the trial court to deal with the sentence question, either in a separate hearing or through a post-conviction relief proceeding.

“I think the evidence is very clear Joshua Fulgham is more culpable,” argued Quarles, referring to Carr’s co-defendant. “He had the motive, he hatched the plan, he brought the victim to the scene of the crime, and it’s very unfair…he is serving a life sentence when she is sentenced to death.”

According to trial testimony, Fulgham, who was Carr’s lover, lured his estranged wife, Heather Strong, 26, to a trailer in Boardman, which is in north Marion County near McIntosh. There, the pair duct taped her to a chair, suffocated her and then buried the body.

The co-defendants were tried in separate trials, and the state sought the death penalty for both. They both were found guilty of first-degree murder and kidnapping.

In the first trial, a jury recommended death for Carr in a 7-5 vote in December 2010. The judge in that case followed the recommendation and put her on death row.

The jury in the second trial returned a recommendation of life imprisonment for Fulgham in April 2012. Again, the judge followed the recommendation.

“They had different judges, they had different juries, they had different legal teams,” said Quarles.

He argued that during each trial the state painted that defendant as the mastermind, even though evidence shows Fulgham had been manipulating both Strong and Carr in the time period leading up to the crime.

Justice Charles Canady pointed out that Carr, 29, has an IQ of 125, while Fulgham, 32, is intellectually challenged.

“In the actual commission of the crime Ms. Carr was heavily involved in what was going on,” countered Assistant Attorney General Sara Macks.

She pointed to several factors motivating Carr including the fact that Carr wanted to raise a family with Fulgham.

Carr gave birth to Fulgham’s child during her time inside the Marion County jail pending trial. Macks also pointed to threats Carr had made of hiring someone to kill Strong.

Justice Jorge Labarga wondered why the two trial court judges didn’t wait and sentence the co-defendants around the same time after receiving the respective jury recommendations.

As part of her explanation, Macks said Fulgham’s trial had been delayed more than one year when counsel from Miami had become involved.

She urged the high court to resolve the direct appeal before redirecting the case back to the trial court. Macks said if the issue is addressed at the trial court level during post-conviction relief, Carr’s defense would also be able to bring up any issues connected with mitigation.

“This is not a death case,” Quarles argued in rebuttal before the panel adjourned.

A ruling is expected at a later date.

Carr is currently housed at Lowell Correctional Institution with the other five women on Florida’s death row. Fulgham is currently housed at Florida State Prison in Raiford, according to state prison records.

In August, Fulgham sent a hand-written letter to the Marion County Jail through his mother intended for convicted murderer Michael Bargo. Inmates are not granted the same privacy as the general public and therefore their mail is public record except for medical records and legal correspondence.

In the letter, Fulgham offered Bargo advice about prison. “A lot of people will tell you a life sentence is the same as death row,” he wrote, adding that such advice is wrong.

“If you do end up in prison at all, it isn’t that bad,” Fulgham wrote, describing his access to an MP3 player, television and Playboy magazine.

FLORIDA – Death Row inmate demands Irish government help on appeal – Michael Fitzpatrick

February 2, 2014

Reprieve, a UK-based legal charity, has censured the Irish government for failing to provide adequate support to Michael Fitzpatrick, an Irish citizen who spent over a decade on death row in Florida and is now up for a retrial. The Irish government has denied the allegation.

Fitzpatrick, who was born in the US, was granted dual Irish citizenship in September 2013. He was eligible to apply through one of his grandmothers, who was born in Tipperary and immigrated to America.

According to a statement released by Reprieve, which aids in cases around the world where it feels human rights are most at risk, the Irish government refused to send a representative to a key hearing in Fitzpatrick’s case on January 10.

“It is standard practice for government officials to provide extensive consular assistance to nationals imprisoned abroad, including attending hearings and trials to ensure that minimum standards are upheld,” the release said.

Capital punishment was abolished in Ireland in 1964.

Fitzpatrick, 51, was convicted in 2001 for the 1996 rape and first-degree murder of Laura Romines, 28, who was found in the early hours of August 18 wandering a rural road in Land O’Lakes, Florida, naked and with her throat slit. She was hospitalized and died three weeks later.

Romines told first responders at the scene that she had been attacked by a man named “Steve,” who investigators first presumed to be Stephen Kirk, a motel security guard. Romines had been staying with Kirk and his wife. Kirk was exculpated by a “significant amount” of evidence, including numerous witnesses who had seen him at work at the time of the attack.

Romines’ boyfriend, Joe Galbert, who had recently kicked her out of the Motel 6 room where they had been living, was eliminated as a suspect because he was in jail at the time.

Police zeroed in on Fitzpatrick, who had been working as a pizza delivery man, because witnesses reported seeing him with Romines at various points the day before, and because the semen found by a SAVE (sexual assault victim examination) performed on Romines at the hospital was identified as his. After first denying that he had any sexual encounter with Romines, Fitzpatrick claimed that it was consensual and had taken place on the morning of the 17th.

Fingernail scrapings taken from Romines during the SAVE test indicated the potential involvement of another, unidentified male.

In 2001, Fitzpatrick was sentenced with 30 years in prison and the death penalty, to be served concurrently. His direct appeal was affirmed.

His post-conviction appeal began in 2005, and on June 27 of last year the Florida Supreme Court unanimously upheld the circuit court’s decision that Fitzpatrick should be granted a retrial due to overwhelming evidence that his first attorney, Bill Ebel, failed to defend him adequately.

Mark Gruber, one of the attorneys from Capital Collateral Regional Counsel who handled Fitzpatrick’s post-conviction appeal, told IrishCentral that Ebel “had the case for four years and never obtained the assistance of anyone. Not a co-counsel, not an expert witness, not a private investigator. The prosecution brought in expert witnesses, a medical examiner, and there just wasn’t any rebuttal. . . . The prosecutor made that exact argument during closing arguments to the jury: ‘Here’s all this scientific evidence that we brought in and there hasn’t been any challenge to it.’ So that’s what we did in post-conviction.”

The medical experts consulted for the post-conviction proceedings stated that many of the conclusions drawn by the state in Fitzpatrick’s first trial were inaccurate or unfounded, and that some of the experts it brought to the stand were not qualified to testify in that capacity.

After Fitzpatrick’s citizenship was confirmed in September, Reprieve asked the Irish government to become involved in his case. Soon after, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) issued a release stating that they were “providing consular assistance to Mr. Fitzpatrick and [would] notify the relevant US authorities of our interest in the case.”

At the January 10 hearing, the state was attempting to link Fitzpatrick to the unsolved 1992 murder of a woman in Tampa, FL. According to Fitzpatrick’s current attorney, Phil Hindahl, the hearing has been extended and will continue on February 27.

In Reprieve’s most recent release, Maya Foa, Director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “Michael has already spent more than ten years on death row because of a horrifically unfair first trial. The Irish government could step in to ensure that history does not repeat itself and yet they are refusing to do even the bare minimum.”

In response to inquiries made to the Consulate General of Ireland in Atlanta, under whose jurisdiction Florida falls, the DFA Press Office stated via email that the department is “offering full consular assistance to Mr. Michael Fitzpatrick and will continue to do so as required. . . . We have notified the relevant US authorities of our interest in the case, which is going through normal judicial procedure in the United States.

“Departmental representatives would not routinely attend such hearings, particularly when we are satisfied that the Irish citizen involved has full access to legal counsel. We do maintain contact with the citizen’s lawyers to ensure that we are informed about proceedings, and we are also in contact with the NGO Reprieve on this case.”

The email also noted that, although the Irish government is not automatically entitled to consular prison visits with American citizens being tried in a US court, they had “sought and were granted one, which was undertaken by the Consul General Paul Gleason based in Atlanta in October 2013.”

Fitzpatrick’s attorney confirmed this. “I’ve had contact with the Consulate General of Ireland [in Atlanta] and I think that they intend on appearing in future hearings. As far as the hearing on January 10, for some reason they weren’t able to attend. I do know that [Atlanta Consul General] Paul Gleason, has been to the local jail and has met with Mr. Fitzpatrick. It was several months ago, but he has offered and is providing consular services, whatever that entails. . . so that’s their role right now as far as their input and their participation in the trial.”

The communications officers at Reprieve declined to provide further information as to what steps they would like to see the Irish government take on Fitzpatrick’s behalf.

Fitzpatrick’s retrial will begin on June 16.