FLORIDA – Jimmy Ryce’s Killer Appeals SCOTUS To Stay His Execution – Juan Carlos Chavez

February 7, 2014 (cbs)

The South Dade man convicted of killing Jimmy Ryce in 1995 has filed an appeal with the United States Supreme Court to stay his execution, which is currently scheduled for next Wednesday.

Juan Carlos Chavez has been on death row since his conviction in 1998.

The Ryce family declined to comment on the appeal Friday, but Don and Ted Ryce sat down for interviews with CBS4 News earlier in the week ahead of the pending execution.

“I just want it to be over. I want to get it behind us,” Don Ryce said.

Now there is a chance the day Done Ryce has waited almost 19 years for will be delayed.

“There is a reasonable possibility that the Supreme Court would consider a stay in this instance,” Miami-based appeals attorney Richard Klugh said Friday night.

Klugh is not connected to the case, but is familiar with the history and the letter of the law.

“It could take days, it could take a matter of weeks. But most likely the Supreme Court will try to move expeditiously,” he said.

Chavez was convicted in 1998 of the kidnap, rape and murder of 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce.

The farm hand told police he dismembered the boy’s body, put the parts in planters, and then filled them with concrete.

Jimmy’s family held out hope he’d be found alive. Posters with his pictured were plastered all over South Florida.

After Chavez’s arrest, confession and conviction, they waited patiently for justice to be served.

Jimmy’s mother and sister would not live to see the day.

“This person, Juan Carlos Chavez, who’s been on death row for so long, he’s outlived my mother, Claudine. He’s outlived my sister,” Jimmy’s brother Ted said. “Now… Now, it’s time.”

Chavez’s attorneys argue the lethal cocktail administered to death row inmates violates the U.S. Constitution, saying it amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment.”

It’s a punishment Don Ryce thinks is well-deserved, even though it won’t bring his little boy back.

“I hate the word closure because what it implies is that there’s an end and everything is okay,” Ryce said. “And that’ll never happen.”

If the execution moves ahead as planned on Wednesday, Don and Ted Ryce said they plan to be in the viewing gallery at the state prison in Starke.

CALIFORNIA : Man gets death penalty in 1988 murder of pregnant woman – Jason Michael Balcom

february 7, 2014 (latimes)

A man who raped and murdered a pregnant woman in her Costa Mesa home a quarter of a century ago was sentenced to death Friday.


Jason Michael Balcom strangled and stabbed 22-year-old Malinda Gibbons in the chest on July 18, 1988.

Her husband, Kent Gibbons, found his wife dead in their apartment, bound and gagged with his neckties. Police said she had been sexually assaulted.

At the time of the crime, Balcom, then 18, was living with his mother and aunt in a Costa Mesa motel less than a mile away from the apartment. He had been  released from juvenile hall just weeks before the murder.

Investigators cracked the cold case more than a decade later when DNA evidence linked Balcom, now 43, to the crime.

Balcom’s DNA was entered into a nationwide database in 2004 after he was convicted of rape in Michigan, where he and his mother moved after the murder.

He was serving a 50-year prison term when Orange County prosecutors extradited him  to stand trial.

In 2012, an Orange County jury convicted Balcom of first-degree murder with sentencing enhancements for murder during commission of sodomy, rape, robbery and burglary. But jurors deadlocked on whether to recommend the death penalty.

A second jury recommended the death penalty last year, a decision that was affirmed in Superior Court on Friday.


Florida Supreme Court hears argument of Longwood killer who asked for death penalty – William Roger Davis III

february 3. 2014 (orlandosentinel)

From the witness stand, the man who kidnapped, raped and strangled a Longwood used car lot receptionist asked jurors to give him the death penalty, and they did.

Today a government lawyer who defends death row inmates asked the Florida Supreme Court to go against his wishes and throw out his death sentence.

William Roger Davis III, 35, killed Fabiana Malave, Oct. 29, 2009. According to evidence at his trial, he abducted her at knifepoint from Super Sport Auto, the small car lot on U.S. Highway 17-92 in Longwood where she worked, drove her to the Orlando house where he lived, raped her then ordered her to get dressed and to get back on his bed, where he strangled her.

He then loaded her body into his SUV and drove around for hours before parking a few dozen feet from where he had abducted her, where Seminole County deputies spotted his vehicle then arrested him. Today, Davis was not on trial before the Florida Supreme Court. The judge who gave him the death penalty, Circuit Judge John Galluzzo of Sanford, was.

Nancy J. Ryan, a Daytona Beach assistant public defender, argued that Galluzzo made three technical errors in imposing the death sentence, reason enough to send the case back to Seminole County for a new hearing.

One of the biggest was that he didn’t give enough weight to Davis’ mental state at the time of the homicide, she said.

Davis and four mental health experts testified that he suffers from bipolar disorder and that he had been off his medication for a year and a half when he killed Malave.

His testimony about why he killed Malave was chilling.

“I don’t really have an answer for that,” he told a Seminole County Sheriff’s detective a few hours after the homicide. He went on to add that killing someone felt “pretty interesting. … squeeze the life out of somebody. … I feel liberated.”

And when asked if he’d do it again, his answer, “Oh, yeah.”

Galluzzo gave great weight to Davis’ testimony that if given the opportunity, he’d again go off his medication and would likely do violence to someone else, Ryan pointed out.

He focused too much on that and not enough on the fact that Davis suffered from an extreme emotional disturbance at the time, Ryan argued.

But Assistant Attorney General Stacey Kircher today told justices that Davis was not in an extreme emotional state.

“He does not appear to suffer from hallucinations,” she said. “He was very calm, reflective.”

After killing Malave, he put her body in his SUV and drove to a restaurant, to a music store to play with instruments, to a park to smoke, Kircher argued.

What he was doing, she said, was killing time until it got dark, when he planned to put Malave’s body back in her car at the car lot.

Justices made no decision today but asked questions of both attorneys.

Justice Barbara Pariente suggested that even if Galluzzo did not give enough weight to Davis’ mental state, there were many other valid legal reasons, carefully spelled out in the judge’s sentencing order, why the death penalty was the right sentence.

A Seminole County jury voted 7-5 to recommend death two years ago. The same jury had earlier rejected Davis’ argument that he was innocent because he was insane.

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.

Judge fires 34-year court veteran for helping man wrongfully convicted of rape

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas City man freed from prison three decades after being wrongfully convicted of rape considers Sharon Snyder his “angel” for giving him a public document that showed him how to properly seek DNA tests. A Jackson County Circuit judge considers the 34-year court employee an insubordinate for offering legal advice and being too chatty about courthouse matters.

Sharon Snyder, a 70-year-old great-grandmother who was fired nine months before she was scheduled to retire, sees herself somewhere in the middle and insists she would provide the same help if she had a chance to do it again.

Robert Nelson, 49, was convicted in 1984 of a Kansas City rape that he insisted he didn’t commit and sentenced to 50 years for forcible rape, five years for forcible sodomy and 15 years for first-degree robbery. The judge ordered the sentence to start after he finished serving time for robbery convictions in two unrelated cases prior to the rape conviction.

Those sentences ended in 2006.

In August 2009, Nelson filed a motion seeking DNA testing that had not been available at his trial 25 years earlier, but Jackson County Circuit Judge David Byrn denied the request. Two years later Nelson asked the judge to reconsider, but again Byrn rejected the motion because it fell short of what was required under the statute Nelson had cited.

After the second motion failed in late October 2011, Snyder gave Nelson’s sister, Sea Dunnell, a copy of a motion filed in a different case in which the judge sustained a DNA request.

Nelson used that motion — a public document Dunnell could have gotten if she had known its significance and where to find it — as a guide for a motion he filed Feb. 22, 2012, again seeking DNA testing. That August, Byrn sustained the motion, found Nelson to be indigent and appointed Laura O’Sullivan, legal director of the Midwest Innocence Project, to represent him.

The Kansas City Police Department’s crime lab concluded last month that DNA tests excluded Nelson as the source of evidence recovered from the 1983 rape scene and he was freed June 12.

“She gave me a lot of hope,” Nelson said of Snyder. “She and my sister gave me strength to go on and keep trying. I call her my angel. She says she’s not, but she truly is.”

Five days after Nelson was released, Court Administrator Jeffrey Eisenbeis took Snyder into Byrn’s office near closing time and told her the prosecutor and defense attorney “had a problem” with her involvement in the case. She was suspended without pay, ordered to stay out of the courthouse unless she had permission to be there and scheduled to meet with a human resources investigator June 20.

“At first I didn’t know if my pension was going to be intact, and all I could do was curl up in a fetal position and cry,” said Snyder, who had been planning to retire in March. She later found out her pension would be just fine.

Byrn fired her June 27, telling her she had violated several court rules by providing assistance to Nelson and talking about aspects of the case, even while under seal, to attorneys not involved in the matter.

The judge’s dismissal letter cites numerous recorded phone conversations between Dunnell and Nelson in which they discussed Snyder’s efforts, including the document she provided that Nelson used in his successful DNA motion.

“The document you chose was, in effect, your recommendation for a Motion for DNA testing that would likely be successful in this Division,” Byrn wrote. “But it was clearly improper and a violation of Canon Seven … which warns against the risk of offering an opinion or suggested course of action.”

Court spokeswoman Valerie Hartman said Byrn and other court officials wouldn’t comment on the story for a number of legal and ethical reasons, in addition to it being a personnel matter. Nelson’s attorney, O’Sullivan, also declined to comment.

“I lent an ear to his sister, and maybe I did wrong,” Snyder said. “But if it was my brother, I would go to every resource I could possibly find.

“I think I might have been the answer to his prayers.”

WASHINGTON Supreme Court upholds death penalty in 1997 murder – CECIL DAVIS

September 20, 2012 http://seattletimes.com


The Washington Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for a man convicted of randomly killing and raping a 65-year-old woman while her disabled husband was in the house.

The court issued its decision Thursday on Cecil Davis’ appeal stemming from his conviction in the 1997 slaying of Yoshiko Couch.

Davis had appealed the death sentence because jurors saw him in shackles during his first trail. In 2004, the Supreme Court vacated his sentence and Davis was re-tried in 2007, when he again was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Justices Mary Fairhurst and Charles Wiggins dissented from the ruling Thursday, saying while Davis’ crime was brutal, similar crimes have been punished with life in prison without chance of parole and not the death sentence.

They say the sentence highlights “the random and arbitrary nature of the imposition of the death penalty in Washington,” Wiggins wrote.

Wiggins also said he dissented because he thinks there is a race factor in the sentencing.

“A review of the reports of prosecutions for aggravated first-degree murder quickly discloses that African-American defendants are more likely to receive the death penalty than Caucasian defendants,” he wrote.

Davis is African-American.

According to the court, Davis was partying with a friend outside his mother’s house in Tacoma when he told his friend he wanted to “rob somebody” and wanted to kill a person. Davis along with a friend crossed the street and kicked in Couch’s front door.

Davis proceeded to beat the woman and sexually assault her. At that point, his friend left, according to court documents.

Later on, friends found Couch dead in her bathtub, naked from the waist down. An autopsy found that Couch had been suffocated and died of exposure to chemicals.

Her husband, Richard Couch, had been downstairs in the home the entire time. Because a number of strokes, he wasn’t able to walk and a telephone that usually sat by his bed had been moved to a closet and he couldn’t reach it. Investigators found extensive evidence connecting the killing to Davis, including blood, hair and fingerprints. Davis had also taken Yoshiko Couch’s wedding ring and he attempted to sell it to his mother.

Prosecutors also said that after Davis was in jail, he told a cellmate he killed Couch, but not raped her.