rob will

Death row inmate’s effort to spare live gains momentum – Rob Will

march 31 2012 source :

Robert Gene Will II says he couldn't have killed a Harris County officer because Will's hands were tied behind his back. Photo: Ben DeSoto / Houston Chronicle

Like so many before him, Texas death row inmateRobert Gene Will II says he’s not guilty. Given the state of Texas’ record in seeing its death sentences carried out, the odds on getting the right people to believe him are not great.

But there have been exceptions. Will insists that if he can get a fair hearing, he will be another one. He admits he was no saint in his younger days, that he ran with a bad crowd, and yes, that he and a buddy were breaking into a car on the morning of Dec. 4, 2000, when a spotlight suddenly caught them in its glare. Within moments his life changed forever, and Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Barrett Hill lost his.

Will claims he did not shoot Hill. He has claimed as much since the day of his arrest. He could not have done it, he says, because his hands literally were tied behind his back.

“I am COMPLETELY INNOCENT,” Will wrote on a website dedicated to securing his freedom, “and I am sure anyone who takes the time to look into my case will come to that same conclusion.”

Perhaps not. Those convicting of killing law enforcement officers are even less likely than most of death row’s 288 residents to find sympathy. So it was bound to draw notice when U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison recently showed legal solidarity even as he denied Will’s latest appeal. Ellison said legal limitations – technicalities, if you will – precluded him from siding with Will.

“Questions as to Will’s possible innocence do remain,” Ellison wrote in a March 19 order granting Will the right to appeal to a higher court. “Unfortunately, the court is powerless to address the merits of additional claims raised post-judgment, unsettling though they are.”

Judge suggests review

In a separate opinion two months earlier, issued after a hearing at which Will was allowed to introduce evidence, Ellison reiterated his frustration at not being able to help, and he went further. Although he also denied Will’s motion, the judge made clear that Will’s case should get a broader review. He called one of the original trial judge’s rulings an “error of grave proportion” and said that the presence of rows of uniformed law enforcement officers in the courtroom “would have likely justified post-trial relief had the issue risen on direct appeal.”

“The questions raised during post-judgment factual development about Will’s actual innocence create disturbing uncertainties …,” Ellison wrote in a Jan. 17 memorandum. “On top of the considerable evidence supporting Will’s innocence and the important errors in the trial court, there must also be addressed the total absence of eyewitness testimony or strongly probative forensic evidence. With facts such as these, and only circumstantial evidence supporting Will’s conviction and death sentence, the court laments the strict limitations placed upon it.”

Questions abound

Will, 33, admits that he and Michael Rosario were burglarizing a car when Hill came across them. They ran, but Will was apprehended. He claimed that he was handcuffed when Rosario showed up and shot the deputy. Prosecutors contended that Will shot the deputy and admitted as much to a motorist he encountered during a later carjacking as he was trying to escape. Will’s lawyers argue that the motorist did not mention that in any of her early statements to police.

Will’s lawyers also have argued that Rosario, the son of a Houston police officer who was not charged in the murder, has admitted killing Hill to at least five individuals. They also point to an absence of any forensic evidence connecting Will to the shooting, and to a bullet graze on the back of a jacket Will wore that morning – consistent with a shot being fired by Rosario toward Hill when the latter was close by and in custody. Hill’s weapon was not fired.

Justices’ ruling a factor

Ellison’s sympathetic language after reviewing the case was the first good news Will’s legal team has had in a long time. But even better news arrived on March 20 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that simple fairness, if not the Constitution, requires that the lawyers who handle the early appeals of a capital murder conviction do so competently.

In a 7-2 decision in Martinez v. Ryan, the high court ruled those convicted of a crime can in some instances challenge the effectiveness of those hired for so-called habeas corpus appeals at the state level. It is unclear, experts said, whether such a challenge is limited to the very narrow circumstances raised by that Arizona case, or whether it can be applied to all manner of misconduct that results in a defendant being unable to raise an issue in future appeals, such as missing a deadline or failing to file certain claims.

“I think it is arguable that Martinez covers the latter scenario and will be argued by defense counsel that way, but the opinion as written is pretty restrictive,” said Brad Levenson, head of the State Office of Capital Writs, a public defender’s office for appeals in capital murder cases that was established in 2010 in part because of concern over the consistence of legal representation. “I think only time will tell how far Martinez can be interpreted.”

If the decision turns out the be less restrictive than the specifics of the Martinez case, the ruling could be significant. Critics of the decision, including dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia, raise fears that it will prolong death row appeals and be a burden to states. Defense lawyers who specialize in capital cases say it could be a great boon to those who have drawn the black bean of a lousy appeals lawyer.

Ex-lawyer defends work

Will’s former state habeas lawyer, Leslie Ribnik, filed a 28-page legal brief on Will’s behalf, the first 20 pages of which were the same — word for word, typo for typo — as the one he filed in the case of Angel Maturino Resendiz, the notorious “railroad killer” whose serial murders led to his conviction and ultimate execution in 2006.

Ribnik admitted making mistakes in Resendiz’s appeal and missed deadlines, which resulted in the default of some claims. Ribnik later removed himself from the appellate lawyer list and acknowledged he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and likely was feeling the effects even as he was preparing Will’s appeal.

Nevertheless, Ribnik has previously insisted he did an adequate job on Will’s appeal.

“I will own up to my screw-ups — I’ll take my lumps,” Ribnik told the Austin American-Statesman in 2006. “As for Will, I think I did a good job on that one.”

Will’s later appeals lawyers disagreed, pointing out that Ribnik did not investigate the statements from individuals about Rosario’s alleged statements about the shooting, or investigate anything.

“The damage was real,” Will’s lawyer, Samy Khalil, said of Ribnik.

Ellison seemed inclined to agree. If Will’s appeal is again placed before him, he may be able to do something.

“It seems that Judge Ellison could hear the claim now,” Levenson said. “And from what I know, it could be a substantial claim.”

TEXAS – Court Ruling Could Affect Texas Death Row Cases

march, 21   source :

Death row inmate Jesse Joe Hernandez, set to be executed next week for the 2001 death of a 10-month-old boy in Dallas, is hoping that a ruling Tuesday from the U.S. Supreme Court could give him another chance to prove that the tragedy was not entirely his fault.

The nation’s highest court ruled that the failure of initial state habeas lawyers to argue that their client’s trial counsel was ineffective should not prevent the defendant from making that argument later on. Lawyers across the country, including those for at least two Texas death row inmates, were eagerly awaiting the court’s ruling in the Martinez v. Ryancase out of Arizona, which could expand appeals access for inmates.

A procedural default will not bar a federal habeas court from hearing those claims if, in the initial-review collateral proceeding, there was no counsel or counsel in the proceeding was ineffective,” the court majority held.

Habeas lawyers investigate issues that could or should have been raised during a defendant’s original trial.

Brad Levenson, director of the Texas Office of Capital Writs, filed a petition with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday afternoon on behalf of Hernandez,arguing that his March 28 execution should be stayed, in part, because of the court’s ruling.

Although the ruling applies to federal courts, Levenson said, Texas’ highest criminal court should take its cue from the nation’s highest court and hear Hernandez’s claims.

Hernandez was convicted in 2002 for the death of a child who lived in the home where he lived at the time. Hernandez admitted he hit the child, who was rushed to the hospital, where he was put into a medically induced coma and then died after he was removed from life support.

In a writ filed Tuesday with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Hernandez argues that his actions did not directly cause the child’s death. Instead, an expert who recently reviewed the medical records concluded that the hospital gave the child a lethal dose of the drug pentobarbital and that he was pulled from life support too soon.

There’s no way to tell at end of day whether he would have survived,” Levenson said. “Our expert said there’s a very real probability the child could have lived.”

Levenson said Hernandez’s trial lawyers and his initial appeals lawyers were ineffective because they failed to do further investigation and hire their own experts to find out why the child died. Levenson, who took the case only three weeks ago, hired a doctor who reviewed the medical records and determined that the little boy had not been diagnosed as brain-dead before he was removed from life support and that he was given toxic doses of pentobarbital.

It’s not to say that Mr. Hernandez is not guilty of a crime, but he’s not guilty of capital murder,” Levenson said.

Current law, though, could prohibit Hernandez from arguing that because his original trial lawyers were ineffective by not further investigating the cause of death that he should get a new trial. Those kinds of claims must be raised from the beginning of the appeals process to be valid later on. And Hernandez’s previous habeas lawyers did not argue that he was inadequately represented.

Levenson said that even though Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling applies to claims made in federal court — not state writs like the one he filed — the same principle ought to apply.

We’re saying the state courts should also take a look at these claims for the same reason the Supreme Court would take a look at them,” he said.

The ruling could also be a boon for death row inmate Rob Will, who was convicted in 2002 of fatally shooting a Harris County sheriff’s deputy. Will says that the man he was with that night was the real shooter and that he is innocent.

In January, U.S. District Court Judge Keith Ellison denied Will’s pleas for a new trial but wrote that he lamented doing so because of “disturbing uncertainties” raised about his guilt.

Will is hoping the court’s ruling in Martinez will allow him to argue that he should get a new trial because both his trial lawyer and his state-appointed habeas lawyer were ineffective when they failed to track down several witnesses who have testified that the other man confessed to the killing.

Update : Rob will

from freeRob Will (group-friends) (facebook)

CASE UPDATE: We had some success with the filing to the Court and been granted a Certificate of Appealability, which means we have something to work with going forward to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Thank you all for your Solidarity and Support for Rob. He is so appreciative!

It is filing day for Rob will !

For all those who support Robert Will, its the filing day, I think Rob did not get much sleep that night, I hope that finally justice removes the shit they have in their eyes, and that justice finally recognize his mistakes, that all these years is an innocent in the death row,when he should have to enjoy life. I cross my fingers so that finally he has a right judgment, a man handcuffed to the ground, can not grasp a gun and shot. That consideration be given confessions that were made by the real guilty. that all evidence of his innocence was finally held in consideration. I send all my positive thoughts for Rob.  I stand with U.

TEXAS – Appeal of Death Row Case Is More Than a Matter of Guilt or Innocence

No one saw Rob Will shoot and kill Harris County Deputy Sheriff Barrett Hill in the still-black morning hours in a Houston bayou on Dec. 4, 2000. No physical evidence linked him to the murder.

Mr. Will, now on death row, said that he is innocent, but that he has been represented by ineffective lawyers. He has a new lawyer who faces the daunting challenge of representing Mr. Will at this late stage in his appeals.

Witnesses have testified that another man confessed to Deputy Hill’s murder. But in a January ruling, Judge Keith Ellison of United States District Court lamented that even though he was concerned Mr. Will could be innocent, he had to deny his motion for a new trial.

“The questions raised during post-judgment factual development about Will’s actual innocence create disturbing uncertainties,” he wrote. “Federal law does not recognize actual innocence as a mechanism to overturn an otherwise valid conviction.”

Mr. Will’s best chance for a new trial may lie with an Arizona case that the United States Supreme Court is soon expected to rule on. States across the country are anxiously awaiting the ruling, which could establish that defendants have a constitutional right to adequate appellate lawyers. For some states, that could require major spending on court-appointed lawyers for thousands of convicts.

full article

source : New York times.march 10,2012

Texas Tribune