United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit


By ExecutionWatch.com
LIVINGSTON, Texas – A Mexican national on Texas death row has lost an appeal in which he claims he is mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for execution.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s opinion that Ramiro Hernandez is not retarded, despite expert testimony that he suffers from mood and thought disorders and has received IQ scores ranging from the 50s to the 80s.

In its ruling Friday, the panel also rejected Hernandez’s request to expand his appeal to include claims that his lawyer was both ineffective and biased and that the trial court wrongly admitted evidence of previous convictions in Mexico.

Hernandez was sentenced to death in the 1997 slaying in Kerrville of a rancher who employed him as a hired hand. He is being held in the Polunsky Unit, home of the Texas death row for men.

The New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit is one of 12 regional U.S. appeals courts that hear cases that have run out of state-level appeals. It hears cases out of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.


Douglas Feldman to become 503rd inmate put to death since reinstatement

Fri., July 26, 2013

Just two months after his 40th birthday, Dallas County resident Douglas Feldman, rode his motorcycle up next to the cab of an 18-wheeler and fired a half-dozen rounds into the passenger area, killing 36-year-old driver Robert Everett.

Reportedly, Feldman was riding his Harley-Davidson on Dallas’ Central Expressway in August 1998 when Everett sped up next to him and then abruptly changed lanes in front of Feldman, nearly clipping him. Feldman was enraged, according to court records, pulled out a pistol and fired several rounds into the back of the truck before reloading the weapon and speeding up to parallel with the cab to shoot Everett. Feldman then fled. Less than an hour later, and about 11 miles from the scene of Everett’s murder, Feldman passed an Exxon service station, where 62-year-old Nicolas Velasquez, a tanker driver, was replenishing the station’s gas supply. Feldman rode into the station and fired two rounds into Velasquez’s back, killing him; the sight of the man next to the truck sent him back into a rage, he testified at his 1999 trial. More than a week later Feldman shot Antonio Vega, as Vega stood next to an 18-wheeler outside a Jack in the Box restaurant; again, Feldman said the sight of the truck was what compelled him to shoot. Vega survived. A bystander to the Vega shooting called in Feldman’s license plate number and police were able to match Feldman’s gun to all three shootings. Feldman was arrested and charged with capital murder.

Feldman admitted to police that he was responsible for the shootings, and at trial testified in his own defense, “noting that he had not forgiven Mr. Everett for his trespasses,” reads a Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in the case. “Feldman explained that he had shot Mr. Velasquez because the man was standing beside an [18-wheeler], which caused Feldman to ‘explode again in anger.'” Feldman was convicted and sentenced to die. On July 31, he will become the 503rd inmate put to death in Texas since reinstatement, and the 11th inmate killed by the state this year.

On appeal, Feldman argued that qualified jurors had been improperly excluded from the jury pool, that his attorney failed to present evidence that he suffered from bipolar disorder as possibly mitigating evidence, and that his trial judge erred by not allowing jurors to consider a lesser charge of murder (which would spare Feldman’s life), among other arguments. According to Feldman the murders arose out of a “sudden passion” and thus mitigated his culpability. “Even though sudden passion arising from an adequate cause is not a legally valid defense to capital murder under Texas law, it is definitely a factually valid rational explanation of the causal events leading up to the offense,” Feldman argued in a subsequent, handwritten appeal he filed on his own with the Fifth Circuit. That appeal, too, has been rejected, clearing the way for Feldman’s execution at the end of the month.

As Execution Nears, Plano Road-Rage Killer Claims Inhumane Treatment, Neglects to Mention He Tried To Tear Phone From Wall


Barring a stay of execution, Douglas Feldman is scheduled to die in nine days. His petition for a state writ of habeas corpus based on ineffective assistance of counsel has gone nowhere. He claims his trial attorney failed to investigate the role his alleged bipolar disorder played in the murders. Now he’s running out of road, but Feldman is in no hurry to become the 503rd Texas inmate to meet the end. So, he filed his own petition with a federal district court last week.

It’s handwritten and a little messy, but Feldman is no dummy. His petition is also lucid and articulate. He was, after all, once a financial analyst. Then, in 1998, he was out for a night ride on his Harley when he claimed an 18-wheeler nearly ran him off the road. He gunned his motorcycle alongside the truck and emptied his clip into the cab, killing Robert Everett, the driver.

On his way home, he pulled off at an Exxon fueling station and shot tanker driver Nicholas Velasquez in the back. A week later, he shot Antonio Vega outside of a Jack-in-the-Box because he was standing next to a big rig. A jury sentenced him to die. Last year, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to vacate his death sentence. Earlier this year, he wrote a letter to Gawker, pondering the sociological inequities he’d identified on death row and requesting “LSD Hydrate” to help him cope with some heavy existential anxiety.

Now, he’s taking a run at the federal district court himself and claiming some abhorrent treatment in the Polunsky Unit. Among other things, he says he’s had his head shaved, been subject to round-the-clock searches, been forced to sleep naked on the bare concrete floor and been denied toilet paper. All of this, he claims, without having been “convicted of any disciplinary offense.”

But Unfair Park reached out to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and was just stunned to discover that Feldman isn’t exactly Nelson Mandela. About a month ago, he granted an interview to a reporter. Before it could begin, TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark says, the inmate tried to tear a telephone from the wall.

Feldman, Clark says, has a lengthy disciplinary history. He’s been caught with a razor, which officers believed could be used as a weapon. He has filled bottles in his cell with feces and urine. He has “attempted to assault a corrections officer by slipping out of his cuffs.”

Clark couldn’t comment on Feldman’s pending litigation.


Court: Texas inmate’s decades-old sentence invalid

The life sentence given to a Texas man who has remained in prison for 33 years since being pulled off of death row isn’t valid, Texas’ highest criminal court said Wednesday, possibly paving the way for a new trial or the inmate’s release.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said once it overturned Jerry Hartfield’s murder conviction in 1980 for the killing of a bus station worker four years earlier, there was no longer a death sentence for then-Gov. Mark White to commute.

The opinion was given in response to a rare formal request by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to confirm the validity of its ruling overturning Hartfield’s conviction, in light of the governor’s 1983 commutation. The New Orleans-based federal court made the request, which upheld a lower state court’s ruling that the sentence was invalid.

“The status of the judgment of conviction is that (Hartfield) is under no conviction or sentence,” Judge Lawrence Meyers wrote in a decision supported by the court’s other eight judges. “Because there was no longer a death sentence to commute, the governor’s order had no effect.”

 ID=2416367Hartfield, now 57, was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1976 robbery and killing of a Southeast Texas bus station employee. The criminal appeals court overturned his murder conviction, ruling that a potential juror improperly was dismissed after expressing reservations about the death penalty.

White commuted Hartfield’s sentence in 1983 at the recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and he has remained in prison since then, unaware until a few years ago that his case was in legal limbo. Court documents in his case described him as an illiterate 5th-grade dropout with in IQ of 51, although Hartfield says he’s learned to read and write while in prison.

In its failed appeal to the 5th Circuit, the state argued that Hartfield’s life sentence should stand because he missed a one-year window in which to appeal aspects of his case.

Neither the prosecutor’s office in Bay City nor Hartfield’s attorney, Kenneth R. Hawk II, immediately responded to phone messages Wednesday seeking comment.

During a prison interview last year, Hartfield told The Associated Press that he’s innocent, but that he doesn’t hold a grudge about his predicament, which his lawyer last year described as “one-in-a-million.”

“Being a God-fearing person, he doesn’t allow me to be bitter,” Hartfield said from prison.

Hartfield was 21 in June 1977 when he was convicted of murdering 55-year-old Eunice Lowe, a Bay City bus station ticketing agent who was beaten with a pickaxe and robbed. Her car and nearly $3,000 were stolen. Lowe’s daughter found her body in a storeroom at the station.

At the time, Hartfield, who grew up in Altus, Okla., had been working on the construction of a nuclear power plant near Bay City, about 100 miles southwest of Houston. He was arrested within days in Wichita, Kan., and while being returned to Texas, he made a confession to officers that he called “a bogus statement they had written against me.”

The alleged confession was among the key evidence used to convict Hartfield, along with an unused bus ticket found at the crime scene that had his fingerprints on it and testimony from witnesses who said he had talked about needing $3,000.

Jurors deliberated for 3½ hours before convicting Hartfield of murder and another 20 minutes to decide he should die.

source : Usa today

TEXAS – Green gets stay 2 days before execution EXECUTED 10:45 p.m

October 9, 2012 http://www.news-journal.com/

Two days before his scheduled execution, a Montgomery man on Texas’ Death Row for the 2000 abduction, rape and strangulation murder of a 12-year-old Dobbin girl received a stay because he wasn’t given due process to prove he is mentally incompetent for execution, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Judge Nancy Atlas, in the Southern District of Texas, ruled that Jonathan Marcus Green, 44, who was convicted in 2002 for the murder of Christina LeAnn Neal, did not receive a fair opportunity to demonstrate that he is incompetent, “and thus the State of Texas denied him due process.”

But the Texas Attorney General’s Office plans to file a motion today asking the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the stay.

Green is schizophrenic and “is not malingering,” said his appellate attorney, James Rytting.

“He is mentally ill … and he’s only gotten worse after being stuck in administrative segregation,” Rytting said.

In her written opinion, Atlas notes that 221st state District Court Judge Lisa Michalk, who denied Green a stay two days before he was to be executed on June 30, 2010, applied incorrect legal standards by seeking to determine if there was a change in Green’s mental capacity since his imprisonment in 2002.

“The correct question was whether Green was presently competent, regardless of his comparative mental capacity between 2002 and 2010,” Atlas wrote.

Green understood that he was convicted of killing Christina and was to be executed for that crime, the basis for Michalk’s finding that he understood why he was being executed, Atlas wrote.

But Green believed he was to be executed as a result of “spiritual warfare” between demons and God, Atlas found, and Michalk prevented Green from presenting relevant evidence, denied Green due process.

TEXAS – Court rejects death sentence appeal in 1998 road rage killings of two truckers – DOUGLAS FELDMAN

September 20, 2012 http://fleetowner.com

READ THE OPINION : http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/11/11-70013-CV0.wpd.pdf

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected an appeal to get Douglas Feldman, 54, off death row for the road rage slayings of two truck drivers in 1998 in Texas.

Feldman, a former financial analyst, was convicted in 1999 of murder in the shooting deaths of truckers Nicholas Velasquez, 62, of Irving, TX, and Robert Everett, 36, of Marshfield, MO.

In his 1999 trial, Feldman told jurors he was cruising on his Harley-Davidson on southbound Dallas Central Expressway in August 1998 when a truck “came out of nowhere, just flying.” He said he feared for his life and became angry, according to a report in The Dallas Morning News.

Feldman testified that he fired at Everett’s truck “because I felt like I needed to try to stop that man.” When the truck continued on the highway, “I chased Mr. Everett down, and I shot him to death.”

Feldman said he then spotted Velasquez at a gas station and “exploded again in anger” and shot him, even though Velasquez had done nothing to him. He then shot another man in a restaurant parking lot, who survived.

“I felt emotionally compelled,” Feldman told jurors. “I was consumed by anger.”

In his trial, Feldman testified that he carried a 9mm handgun because he thought his life was in danger. His lawyers presented evidence showing that he had been treated earlier for substance abuse and paranoia.

The jury in the trial took only 24 minutes to convict Feldman of capital murder in the case. He was sentenced to death, but an execution date has yet to be set.

In his appeal, Feldman contended that he had deficient legal help at his trial, that the jury received improper instructions and that a prospective juror was improperly dismissed.

Feldman’s lawyer said he plans to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.


June 12, 2012 Source : Execution Watch

NEW ORLEANS — A federal appeals panel Tuesday rejected an appeal by Texas death row prisoner Arthur Brown Jr.

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Brown’s assertion that his trial attorneys failed to uncover and present sufficient mitigating evidence at the punishment hearing where he was ordered put to death.

“Brown’s claims are not adequate to proceed further,” the U.S. Fifth District Court of Appeals said in denying Brown’s request for permission to continue in the appeals process.

He was convicted in a 1992 drug-related quadruple homicide in Houston.

The U.S. Fifth Circuit, one of 13 federal court districts, encompasses Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Full text of the ruling is at http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/11/11-70012-CV0.wpd.pdf

TEXAS – 5th Circuit sends death case back to local judge – Anthony Bartee

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


The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has asked a lower court judge to rule on whether the testing of DNA evidence ordered by the Bexar County district attorney’s office in death row inmate Anthony Bartee‘s case now makes moot Bartee’s claim that the office violated his civil rights.

Bartee, on death row since 1998 for the robbery and shooting death of David Cook, 37, won a stay of execution May 2 just hours before he was set to die by lethal injection.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Fred Biery granted the stay after Bartee’s lawyer, David Dow, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the district attorney’s office, saying they violated Bartee’s rights by not releasing evidence for testing.

The county appealed Biery’s ruling for a stay to the 5th Circuit. However, the county also submitted for testing the evidence Dow sought to have released.

Because of that, the 5th Circuit ruled on Tuesday to send the case back to Biery for the purpose of answering whether the testing makes Bartee’s claim irrelevant.

No information was available on when Biery might rule on the case.

Rico Valdez, with the Bexar County district attorney’s office, said they plan to finish the testing.

No new execution date has been set for Bartee.

TEXAS – East Texas man on death row loses federal appeal – Richard Cobb

May 28, 2012 Sourcehttp://www.kiiitv.com

HOUSTON – A man on death row for an East Texas robbery a decade ago where three people were shot, one fatally, has lost a federal court appeal. The decision moves 28-year-old Richard Cobb a step closer to execution.

Cobb argued to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that letters from a jailhouse informant to Cherokee County prosecutors improperly were withheld as evidence in Cobb’s trial.

The informant also testified against Cobb at his capital murder trial for killing 37-year-old Kenneth Vandever during the robbery of a store in Rusk in 2002 and abducting, shooting and wounding two female clerks. The New Orleans-based appeals court ruled late Friday the letters were immaterial in the trial outcome.

Cobb’s companion in the robbery, Beunka Adams, was executed last month.

LOUISIANA – Todd Wessinger wins 3rd hearing on death sentence

May 18, 2012 Source : http://theadvocate.com

Todd Wessinger must receive a third federal court hearing on his push to overturn his death sentence after being convicted of murdering two workers at a Baton Rouge restaurant in 1995.

U.S. District Judge James J. Brady scheduled the hearing for Dec. 13, according to court documents filed Wednesday.

In February, Brady denied Wessinger, 44, a new trial. The judge ruled that “overwhelming” state court evidence supported Wessinger’s conviction on charges that he murdered 27-year-old Stephanie Guzzardo and 46-year-old David Breakwell at the since-closed Calendar’s restaurant on Perkins Road.

In April, however, Brady took additional defense motions under consideration and indefinitely blocked Wessinger’s scheduled May 9 execution.

On Wednesday, Brady rejected four of Wessinger’s latest five claims of state court errors.

But the judge ruled that Wessinger’s claim of “ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase of the trial” is “deserving of further proceedings.”

By limiting his latest ruling to the penalty phase of Wessinger’s trial, Brady signaled his future decision would either support or overturn the jury’s imposition of the death penalty. The murder conviction stands.

Brady noted that an on-point ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — which governs federal court decisions in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi — shows new claims of mental illness, low intelligence and childhood abuse can be raised at sentencing and on appeal.

The judge noted the 5th Circuit’s decision only applies to defense evidence on federal appeal that is “significantly different and stronger” than defense evidence presented to state courts.

But Brady added Wessinger cannot win a new sentencing hearing unless he can show his defense attorney’s failure to present new evidence of his claimed mental problems at sentencing was so significant that “he might not have received the death penalty.”

In April, defense attorneys argued Wessinger suffered childhood seizures and physical and emotional abuse, developed substance addictions and was traumatized by the deaths of his children prior to the murders of Guzzardo and Breakwell.

Those arguments were presented by appellate attorneys Danalynn Recer, of The Gulf Region Advocacy Center in Houston; Soren Gisleson, of New Orleans; and Federal Public Defender Rebecca Hudsmith, of Lafayette.

Assistant District Attorneys Dale R. Lee and J. Christine Chapman argued against Wessinger’s stay of execution.

Chapman and Lee told Brady the families of Guzzardo and Breakwell “have endured years of uncertainty and appeals. They undoubtedly endure harm each day that the lawful sentence of the court is not carried out, and they are clearly entitled to finality and closure.”