Friday

Man gets death penalty in 1992 killing of 6-year-old- Obel Cruz-Garcia


July 19, 2013 http://www.chron.com

It took more than two decades for Angelo Garcia‘s mother to see her 6-year-old son’s killer sent to death row.

On Friday, she said it was worth it.

It’s the greatest news, and it took 21 years,” the woman said after jurors sent Obel Cruz-Garcia to death row for the 1992 slaying. “It was good when they got the DNA, but this is better.”

Cruz-Garcia marks the first defendant from Harris County this year to receive the death penalty.

Over the past two weeks, jurors heard a brutal story about a home invasion that turned into a rape that turned into a kidnapping and murder. They also learned it was the sexual assault that ultimately led police to identify the 45-year-old.

Cruz-Garcia was serving time for kidnapping in Puerto Rico in 2007 when DNA from the 15-year-old rape kit tied him to the 1992 case.

Cruz-Garcia and another man were wearing ski masks when they broke in to the family’s south Houston apartment around midnight on Sept. 30, 1992.

The child’s mother and stepfather testified they were part of the defendant’s cocaine-trafficking operation. They said they were tied up while the duo ransacked the home.

The men then fled with Angelo in a car driven by a third man, who testified that Cruz-Garcia and the other suspect took the child to a Baytown lake, where he was stabbed. His remains were found in the lake about a month later.

On Monday, jurors convicted Cruz-Garcia of capital murder after deliberating about four hours. After days of more testimony, they sentenced him to die Friday.

Thinking about the time between crime and punishment left the victim’s family weeping after the verdict.

‘Waited all these years’

“We just waited all these years, all this time, and it finally happened,” said Angelo’s brother, James Garcia, with tears in his eyes.

Cruz-Garcia, who jumped bail on a felony drug case to flee the country two days after the abduction, was brought back to Houston in 2008 for trial.

Prosecutors praised the verdict after jurors deliberated about seven hours over two days.

“It’s an important decision, and sometimes it takes some people a little bit longer to get there,” said Assistant Harris County District Attorney Natalie Tise. “All in all, they weren’t deliberating all that long.”

Defense lawyers for Cruz-Garcia said they were disappointed and that the defendant is focused on his appeal.

Cruz-Garcia did not react to the verdict when read by state District Judge Renee Magee.

“He was pretty even-keeled through the entire trial,” said defense attorney Mario Madrid. “He didn’t show a lot of emotion during the trial or after trial.”

Cruz-Garcia has denied any involvement in the home invasion, the abduction or the child’s death.

Obama: “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago”


Watch the video  : click here

n some of his most extensive comments on U.S. race relations since entering the White House, President Obama on Friday gave a very personal perspective of the shooting of 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin and the subsequent trial of George Zimmerman, offering an explanation for why the case has created so much anxiety within the African-American community.

 

“When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said this could’ve been my son. Another way of saying that is, Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” Mr. Obama said in an unexpected appearance in the White House briefing room, where reporters were gathered to question White House spokesman Jay Carney. (Watch his full remarks in the video above)

 

 

 

“When you think about why in the African-American community, at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, it’s important to recognize the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and history that doesn’t go away.”

 

After a Florida jury on Saturday acquitted Zimmerman of murder, Mr. Obama gave a decidedly muted response, noting that the Justice Department was reviewing the case. Some civil rights leaders called for more action from the administration of the nation’s first African-American president.

 

 

The president on Friday laid out a series of actions the government could take to help ease racial tensions at the community level, as well as foster a better environment for African-American boys. He also spoke about the sort of negative experiences that are common for young African-American men — some of which he said he has personally experienced — that have prompted the passionate reactions to the Zimmerman verdict.

 

 

 

“There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping at a department store, and that includes me,” he said. He spoke about hearing the locks click on car doors while crossing the street — something Mr. Obama said he experienced before he was senator — or seeing a woman nervously clutch her purse while in an elevator with an African-American man.

 

 

“I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. It’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.”

 

Mr. Obama said that government at all levels could help ease race relations by working with local law enforcement to create racial sensitivity training programs and best practices. As a state senator in Illinois, Mr. Obama helped pass racial profiling legislation that required training for officers on racial bias issues. He said that while police departments were initially resistant, it allowed them to build more trust with their communities.

 

Next, Mr. Obama said, “I think it’d be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kind of altercations and tragedies” that occurred in the Trayvon Martin case.

 

 

 

Obama calls for “soul-searching” in wake of Zimmerman verdict

 

The president acknowledged that Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law was not part of Zimmerman’s defense. Nevertheless, Mr. Obama said that kind of law does not necessarily send a positive message.

 

“If we’re sending a message in our societies … that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there is a way for them to exit from the situation, is that really going to be contributing to the peace and order?” he asked. “For those who resist that idea, I’d just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? Do we actually think he would’ve been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman because he followed him in a car?”

 

Mr. Obama also said the nation should consider how to “bolster and reinforce our African-American boys.”

 

“There are a lot of kids out there who need help, who are getting negative reinforcement,” he said, adding there is “more we can do to give them a sense their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest them.”

 

Mr. Obama added that he is not “naive about the prospects of some new, grand program,” but that business leaders, clergy, athletes, celebrities and others could help “young African-American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed.”

 

The president said that national dialogues on race are not typically productive because “they end up being stilted and politicized,” but that it’s worth having conversations among families or churches.

 

Finally, he said the nation shouldn’t lose sight of its progress on issues of race and equality.

 

“When I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are,” he said. “That’s true of every community that I’ve visited all across the country.”

Louisiana releases execution protocol; inmate’s lawyer calls it ‘inadequate’


Louisiana corrections officials have released the state’s execution protocol after a lawsuit brought by two death row inmates called for more transparency into the procedure. But the inmates’ lawyers say details released by the state are spotty at best, and that the use of a new lethal drug is not fully explained.

Until this month, the state’s execution protocol was inaccessible by the public, including inmates and their attorneys. The protocol, obtained by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on Friday, was released after 2 death row inmates filed suit against the state Corrections Department and Louisiana State Penitentiary, or Angola, to make public the documents.

But, Michael Rubenstein, lawyer for inmate Jessie Hoffman, said the nearly 60-page document he received last week is “woefully inadequate.” While it confirms previous court admissions that the state plans to switch to using a single drug in its lethal injections, it leaves out important details, he said.

“The lethal injection protocol released by the Louisiana Department of Corrections this week fails to provide the most basic information about how it intends to carry out executions,” Rubenstein said Friday.

He pointed to gaps in how lethal drugs will be stored, overseen and administered, and who will have ultimate responsibility over the drugs. He also expressed concerns about the state’s decision to switch from a 3-drug cocktail to just 1 drug.

“We still do not know whether any medical authorities were consulted regarding the incorporation of (pentobarbital); the original source or expiration date of the new drug; how the drug is to be administered; or the training of personnel who will implement the new procedure for the 1st time,” Rubenstein said.

Pentobarbital is a drug primarily used to treat seizures and insomnia. In large doses — such as the 5 grams administered during execution — the drug is lethal. Formerly, it was used primarily in euthanizing animals.

When pentobarbital first began being used in cases of capital punishment, in Oklahoma in 2010, inmate advocacy groups expressed concerns with it being largely untested in large doses. Ohio was the 1st state to use it alone in March 2011, triggering an outcry from advocates.

Louisiana has not yet used the single-drug formula. The last inmate to be executed in the state was in 2010, when the 3-drug cocktail was still in use. The state decided to make the switch after supplies of sodium thiopental — the starter drug in the cocktail — began to run out.

While Hoffman’s execution is not yet scheduled, the other plaintiff in the case, Christopher Sepulvado, was scheduled to be executed on Ash Wednesday this year. But after he joined Hoffman’s suit, the court ordered the state to delay his execution until the protocol was released.

It is unclear whether the state will proceed with Sepulvado’s execution now that the protocol has been released. Part of the attorneys’ argument was based on concerns about the use of pentobarbital, its 3-year expiration date, and who would be monitoring its storage — 3 pieces of information not fully elucidated in the execution protocol.

Pam LaBorde, public information officer for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, would not comment on the case Friday, citing “pending death penalty-related issues before the courts.”

In response, Rubenstein said he and his colleagues will “engage in a robust discovery process to uncover the truth” that begins with additional interrogations and documents requests.

Hoffman was sentenced to death for the 1996 kidnapping, rape and killing of Mary “Molly” Elliott, an advertising executive in St. Tammany Parish. Sepulvado was convicted of the beating and fatal scalding of his 6-year-old stepson in Mansfield in 1992.

Source: The New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 29, 2013

Jury decides gang member should be executed for killing 4 people – Charles Ray Smith


June 10 2013, Los Angeles Times

Gang member sentenced to death

 

Jurors decided Monday that a gang member should be executed for the slaying of four people, including a 10-year-old boy gunned down from close range as he rode his bicycle along a quiet South Los Angeles street.

Charles Ray Smith, 44, stared straight ahead and showed no emotion as the verdict was read in a downtown courtroom.

Smith was convicted during a previous trial of taking part in two deadly shootings in 2006, including one that became known as the “49th Street Massacre” in which two men wielding AK-47s opened fire on children and adults enjoying a Friday summer afternoon.

Sergio Marcial Sr., whose son and brother were among those killed, said the trials in the case had taken an emotional toll on him and his family. He said one of the most painful moments during the legal proceedings was seeing an autopsy photograph of his slain son.

His oldest son, who was 12 at the time, was seriously wounded in the attack and had to repeatedly recount his ordeal in court.

“I’m glad that we can move on and not worry about going and hearing how my son got killed — and my brother and my neighbor,” Marcial said. “I’m glad that it’s over.”

Defense attorney James Cooper said he and his colleague, James Bisnow, knew the case would be difficult given the age of the victims and the fact that none had any gang ties. Bisnow noted that his client has gone through four trials, including one in which a jury deadlocked on whether Smith was guilty and two more that could not decide if he should be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison.

“It was an unprecedented fourth trial, which is extremely costly to the taxpayer and was unjustified in view of the mitigating evidence,” Bisnow said.

The brutality of the 49th Street killings shocked a city long used to gang violence. The shooting was one of several high-profile gang crimes that stoked fears among some of a possible race war. Witnesses described the gunmen as black; the victims were Latino.

But prosecutors have argued that race had little to do with the killings and that Smith and another man, Ryan T. Moore, mistook the victims for rival gang members in a tit-for-tat feud over turf, drugs and pride. Moore was convicted during a separate trial and sentenced to death.

Smith’s attorneys urged the jury last week to spare their client, arguing that there was a lingering doubt that he was involved in the killings. They said jurors should also consider a variety of disorders from which Smith suffers, including post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by his upbringing. They said his afflictions warped Smith’s view of the world, impaired his logic and made him react impulsively.

Smith, they said, was raised by parents who were heavy drinkers when he was a child and who were addicted to crack cocaine when he was a teenager. All four of his brothers ended up in jail or prison, the attorneys told jurors during closing arguments.

The lawyers also noted that many of Smith’s relatives testified that he was a loving father who encouraged his children to do well in school.

But Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Amy Ashvanian described Smith in court as a gang shot-caller who showed no remorse for his crimes. She said Smith told an associate after the 49th Street shooting: “If they’re old enough to shoot, they’re old enough to get shot.”

Smith’s killings, Ashvanian said, began in March 2006 after an incident in which a rival gang member in a green sedan shot at one of Smith’s friends. In response, Smith used an AK-47 to shoot Bani Hinojosa, 27, in the back. Hinojosa, a construction worker who had been sitting in his green sedan, was bringing milk home to his wife and daughters. He had no gang ties and had nothing to do with the earlier shooting involving Smith’s friend.

The victims of the 49th Street shooting on June 30, 2006, were David Marcial, 10; his uncle, Larry Marcial, 22; and Luis Cervantes, a 17-year-old neighbor. David’s brother, Sergio Marcial Jr., was seriously wounded. He and David had been riding their bicycles on the sidewalk outside their home.

Maribel Marcial, David’s aunt and Larry’s sister, said she and her family would have accepted a verdict of life in prison for Smith but were gratified by the jury’s decision.

“It is the beginning of healing for all my family,” she said after the verdict. “We’re all going to die. But in this matter, he’s going to pay for what he did. He’s going to know the reason that he is dying.”

Man sentenced to death for murder at Caesars Palace – Bryan Hall


November 9, 2012 http://www.ktnv.com

Las Vegas,  — Bryan Hall appeared in court Friday to find out if he could face the death penalty for killing a waiter at Caesars Palace.

Family and friends of the victim, Brad Flamm, gathered in the courtroom at the Regional Justice Center for the decision.

It was an emotional morning as both attorneys argued the pros and cons of the death penalty in the case.

Just a few hours later, the jury reached a verdict that Hall will face death as punishment for his conviction.

Hall was convicted of murdering Flamm earlier in the week.

Flamm’s family was visibly satisfied when the decision was read in court.

“We’re just glad justice is done. This guy won’t hurt anyone ever again,” said Flamm’s father, Fred. “He’s put away, and he’s not going to be with us anymore. Hopefully the sooner the better.” 

Hall and Flamm had been friends, but police said they got into an argument over a woman they both dated.

In May 2009, Flamm’s body was found by a loading dock outside Caesars Palace. He had been beaten and strangled.

Flamm’s mother said it was hard to see him in court, but harder to see him at the county jail, where she happens to work.

“But now he won’t be there,” Jennifer Flamm said. “I won’t have to go into work and worry about him being there.”

The Flamm family is happy to be able to now move forward, keeping Brad’s spirit alive.

“Brad lives on in our hearts,” Fred Flamm said. “We miss him, but he’s still there.”

Hall will return to court for a formal sentencing on January 17.

Tennessee death-row inmate’s conviction overturned – Michael Dale Rimmer


October 12, 2012 http://www.usatoday.com

8:33PM EDT October 12. 2012 – A Tennessee judge on Friday overturned the conviction and death sentence of a man who has spent 14 years on death row over the killing of an ex-girlfriend whose body was never found.

A USA TODAY investigation last year showed that Memphis prosecutors responsible for the case never told the man, Michael Dale Rimmer, or his lawyers, about an eyewitness who had told the police that two different men were inside the office around the time she disappeared, and that both had blood on their hands. One of the men that the witness identified was already wanted in connection with a stabbing.

Document: Court order

Shelby County Judge James C. Beasley Jr. wrote in a 212-page order released late Friday afternoon that Rimmer’s trial lawyers repeatedly failed to unearth that evidence, a “devastating” blow to his contention that someone else committed the crime. That problem was compounded, the judge wrote, because the lead prosecutor in the case, Thomas Henderson, made “blatantly false, inappropriate and ethically questionable” statements to defense lawyers denying that the evidence existed.

The case is the latest black eye for prosecutors in Memphis, who have been faulted repeatedly for failing to disclose evidence that could be helpful to defendants. In 2008, for example, a federal appeals court blasted the office in another death penalty case for a “set of falsehoods” that was “typical of the conduct of the Memphis district attorney’s office.” At least two other cases handled by Henderson — who went on to supervise all of Memphis’ criminal prosecutions — have come under scrutiny over similar lapses.
Beasley on Friday accused Henderson of “purposefully” misleading Rimmer’s lawyers, and making “comments to counsel and the court were both intellectually dishonest and may have been designed to gain a tactical advantage.”

Still, Beasley wrote, that conduct alone wasn’t enough to overturn Rimmer’s conviction and death sentence, because his lawyers could have discovered the evidence on their own if they had looked more carefully. Instead, he said, it was the “seriously deficient” investigation by Rimmer’s “overburdened” lawyers that required him to order a new trial.

John Campbell, Shelby County’s deputy district attorney general, said Friday he had not read the entire order and could not comment on specific findings. But he said prosecutors would either appeal the decision or re-try Rimmer for Ricci Ellsworth’s murder. “I can’t imagine ever not re-prosecuting the case,” he said.
Rimmer’s new lawyer, Kelly Gleason, said she “happy and relieved that the court has set aside this unjust conviction.”

Ellsworth, Rimmer’s former girlfriend, disappeared from the office of a seedy Memphis motel where she worked as an overnight clerk in February 1997, leaving behind only an office and bathroom soaked with blood. Her body has never been located.

Rimmer, then 30, was the obvious suspect. The two had dated, but the relationship soured, and Rimmer eventually went to prison for raping her. There, other prisoners said, he repeatedly threatened to kill Ellsworth, suggesting that he could make sure she was not found. Rimmer was arrested in Indiana a month after Ellsworth disappeared; police there found blood on the back seat of the car he was driving that they later said was consistent with samples taken from the motel office and from Ellsworth’s mother.

Still, a witness who visited the motel office around the time Ellsworth disappeared told the police that he had seen two different men inside, both with blood on their hands. When FBI agents showed him photographs of possible suspects that included a photo of Rimmer, he picked out a different man, Billy Wayne Voyles, who was already wanted in connection with an unrelated stabbing.

Rimmer’s lawyers, Beasley wrote, were unaware of those facts, though they could have learned of the witness’ identification if they had reviewed the “residual” evidence in the court clerk’s vault. Instead, he wrote, they relied on Henderson’s repeated representations that no such evidence existed. As a result, he wrote, the jurors who found Rimmer guilty of the murder and sentenced him to die never heard about it.

That witness, James Darnell, told a court for the first time that he had seen one of the men carry what looked like a heavy object wrapped in a comforter out of the motel office and load it into the trunk of a car.

TEXAS – DEATH ROW PRISONER SUES GOV. PERRY OVER INTOLERABLE LIVING CONDITIONS


may 5 , 2012 by Execution Watch

LIVINGSTON, Texas — A prisoner on death row has filed a class-action lawsuit against Gov. Rick Perry and other officials for inhumane and unconstitutional living conditions, the nonprofit group Descending Eagles announced Friday.

Among the abuses alleged in the suit are:
— taking away wheelchairs from those who cannot walk,
— denying mental and physical health care,
— being held in solitary confinement for over ten years without any legal justification based on their conduct,
— dangerously unsafe living conditions, including inadequate nutrition and exercise,
— denial of adequate access to telephones,
— destruction and loss of necessary legal documents,
— denial of religious freedom
— denial of fair administrative process,
— failure to timely deliver mail including legal correspondence

The suit, which also names state Sen. John Whitmire and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, identifies as the plaintiff death row prisoner Thomas Whitaker of Fort Bend County.

Descending Eagles, the Austin-based nonprofit that helps death row prisoners and their families, said there have been acts of retaliation by TDCJ toward men who have been a part of the suit or similar litigation.