Day: June 19, 2012

TEXAS – Fourth execution date set in 10-year-old Fort Worth rape-murder – Cleve Foster


June 19, 2012 Source : http://www.star-telegram.com

A former Army recruiter from Fort Worth who was granted three stays of execution in 2011 now has a fourth date: Sept. 25.

State District Judge Sharen Wilson of Fort Worth set the new date this week, according to the Tarrant County district attorney’s office. The announcement came about nine months after Cleve Foster’s scheduled date with death was stayed a third time.

Foster was convicted in 2004 of the rape-slaying of a woman in Fort Worth more than 10 years ago.

Foster has repeatedly claimed that he is innocent and that he received poor legal representation at his trial.

Foster and co-defendant Sheldon Ward were convicted of fatally shooting Nyanuer “Mary” Pal, 30, whose body was found in a ditch by workers in west Fort Worth in February 2002. Ward died in 2010 of brain cancer.

The Supreme Court’s brief order in September 2011 said the reprieve would remain in effect pending the outcome of Foster’s request for a review, known as a petition for a writ of certiorari.

The writ was denied and the reprieve was lifted, clearing the way for a fourth execution date to be set.

In January 2011, Foster won a last-minute reprieve so the justices could further review an appeal in his case. The court later denied a hearing, the reprieve was lifted, and a new date was set.

Then in April 2011, the high court again halted his execution when lawyers sought a rehearing on arguments that he was innocent and had poor legal help at his trial and in early stages of his appeal.

His lawyers returned to the high court with similar arguments that he is innocent and had previous deficient legal help, specifically asking the court to decide whether prisoners like Foster had a constitutional guarantee for a competent lawyer when he first raised claims in a state appeals court.

State lawyers said that the issues had been resolved by the courts, that the Supreme Court has ruled there’s no constitutional right to a competent state-provided lawyer for appeals, and that the last-day appeal was just another attempt to delay Foster’s punishment.

On May 31, 2011, justices declined without comment to hear Foster’s motion for a rehearing, and on June 16, for the third time, Wilson, who presided over Foster’s original 2004 trial, set an execution date.

 

 

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Va. DNA data support innocence of 33 convicted of sex crimes, study concludes


June 18, 2012 Source : http://www2.timesdispatch.com

RICHMOND, Va. —

Data from Virginia’s post-conviction DNA project support the innocence of 33 persons convicted of sexual assaults from 1973 to 1987 concludes an Urban Institute study.

Findings released today indicate more people remain to be cleared by the Virginia project, a groundbreaking effort aimed at identifying persons wrongfully convicted in the 15 years before DNA testing was widely available.

The institute estimates a wrongful conviction rate in sexual assault cases of between 8 to 15 percent, comparable with the results in sample testing that exonerated two people and prompted then-Gov. Mark R. Warner to order the full Virginia project in 2005.

Jon Gould, director, of the Washington Institute for Public and International Affairs Research at American University, said “This is the most methodologically sound study that’s been done and the rate is much higher than has been shown in other studies.”

An acknowledged weakness in the institute’s report is that the contract for the study expired before researchers could get to courthouses to review the old trial files to better determine the context and significance of the DNA results.

The institute said available information on the cases was limited to data in the old state forensic files, which mainly included basic facts about the crime and the results of the original forensic tests and the results of more recent DNA analysis.

Rockne Harmon, a former California district attorney and DNA expert, said that is a problem. He said the institute should have at least done a representative sampling of the old court files.

Among other things, rape victims are frequently asked if they had consensual sex within 72 hours of an assault. “Without this (kind of) information little can be said about the materiality of finding a matching or non-matching DNA profile,” said Harmon.

However, John Roman, the lead researcher in the project, said that even if all the court records were reviewed he would not expect many of the 33 cases to drop out.

Weaknesses or not, Steven D. Benjamin, a member of the Virginia Board of Forensic Science and president elect of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the study should set off alarm bells.

“Each defendant in the cases that support innocence should be interviewed immediately, and the case investigated thoroughly,” he said. “If any one of these 33 is innocent, each day . . . is an injustice,” said Benjamin.

The Urban Institute cannot reveal any of the identities, though many of those cases may be made public after July 1 due to recent state legislation ordering the department to release test results in cases where the convicted person’s DNA was not found.

Nearly 800 cases involving 1,100 convicted persons have been tested in the Virginia project since 2005 but only three more people have been exonerated in addition to the two cleared in sample testing seven years ago.

The Urban Institute says the Virginia data – DNA results in a random sample of suspects convicted of rape, murder and other serious crimes — is better suited for such studies on wrongful conviction rates than data in earlier studies.

“This ‘test-them-all’ approach to post-conviction DNA testing has never been replicated by any other state,” says the report.

The Virginia Department of Forensic Science said last month that testing failed to identify, or excluded, the DNA of 78 convicted defendants more than a dozen of them now dead and others not yet located.

Absence of DNA in the 78 cases can be consistent with innocence but may prove nothing. Much depends on context. Failure to find a suspect’s DNA in a cigarette butt at the scene of a rape may be irrelevant — but failure their DNA in semen can be telling.

Though unable to review old courthouse files, the institute said the Virginia data, “likely provide the best opportunity to date to understand the rate of wrongful conviction.”

“Whether the true rate of potential wrongful conviction is 8 percent or 15 percent . . . is not as important as the finding that these results require a strong and coordinated policy response,” concludes the institute report.

Brandon Garrett, a University of Virginia School of Law professor, also thinks the study needs a strong response from policy makers. “I think this report isn’t the final report, it’s just the beginning,” he said.

“There’s still a lot of (work) to do and a lot of questions that need to be answered,” said Garrett.

The Virginia Department of Forensic Science does not determine the legal significance of test results and forwarded them to local authorities where the crimes took place.

But aside from the five exonerations and several other cases, little is known of the other exclusion cases.

Critics of the Virginia effort such as Benjamin and Peter Neufeld, a cofounder of the Innocence Project, want to allow defense lawyers access to project results along with police and prosecutors.

They also urge that cases of possible wrongful convictions be pursued even where the convicted person is dead to clear their name, to make sure the guilty person is off the street and to learn what led to the wrongful conviction to help prevent future ones.

The Virginia Department of Forensic Science and the Board of Forensic Science, which considers the DNA test results criminal records, have long resisted efforts to reveal them to anyone other than law enforcement.

The convicted people were not going to be told about the testing until 2008 when the General Assembly used a budget amendment and directed they be notified.

This year the General Assembly, concerned that potential exonerations were not being adequately investigated, directed the department, effective July 1, to release the test results in cases where testing failed to find the convicted person’s DNA.

The legislators’ concern stemmed from the case of Bennett S. Barbour, of Charles City County, who was wrongly convicted of a 1978 rape in Williamsburg and was one of the people excluded by testing who could not be initially found by mail.

Testing in June 2010 cleared him and implicated a convicted rapist who will be tried for the crime in August. Barbour did not learn about the DNA testing until 18 months later when a volunteer lawyer tracked him down via telephone.

Garrett, of the University of Virginia School of Law, who urges more work be done, said, “Time will tell how many more of these cases, like Barbour’s, will result in full exonerations. Hopefully that process is moving more smoothly now.”

Methodology

Here is how the study was conducted:

The Justice Policy Center of the Urban Institute studied the test results in 634 of the Virginia cases involving 715 convicted people from 94 Virginia localities under the terms of a $4.5 million federal grant that paid for most, but not all, of the state testing.

Of the 634 cases, 422 were for sexual assault. In 227 of those cases, testing results were sufficient to either implicate or fail to find the convicted person’s DNA. And the institute believes that the testing in 33 of the exclusion cases supports innocence.

Comparing the 33 with all 422 sexual assault convictions yields an 8 percent wrongful conviction rate while comparing it to just the 227 cases where testing either implicated the convicted person or failed to find his or her DNA yields a 15 percent rate.

In 2005 the initial state sample testing of 31 cases resulted in 16 cases where the convicted person’s DNA was either identified or excluded and exonerated two men of rapes.

Comparing the two exonerations to the 31 cases yields a wrongful conviction rate of 6 to 7 percent while comparing the exonerations to the 16 cases with determinative results yields a rate of 12 to 13 percent.

According to the Urban Institute, the Justice Policy Center conducts nonpartisan research and evaluation designed to improve justice and public safety policies and practices at the national, state and local level.

 

S. DAKOTA – S. Dakota death row inmate says justice will not be served until he is executed


June 18, 2012 : http://www.therepublic.com

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A convicted murderer said in a letter written from death row that the South Dakota Supreme Court owes it not only to him but to the family of the prison guard he killed to allow his execution to take place in a timely manner. It’s the only way, he said, the guard’s family can get justice.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2011, file photo Eric Robert appears during a hearing in Sioux Falls, S.D. Robert pleaded guilty to killing Ron Johnson during a botched prison escape at the South Dakota State Penitentiary and asked to be put to death. A judge determined in October that the crime merited the death sentence, and Robert was scheduled for execution the week of May 13 but the state Supreme Court postponed the date in February to allow more time for a mandatory review to make sure the death penalty was proper, even though Robert hadn't appealed the conviction or sentence. The review could take up to two years. (AP Photo/Argus Leader, Emily Spartz, File)

Eric Robert, 50, pleaded guilty to killing Ron Johnson during a botched prison escape at the South Dakota State Penitentiary and asked to be put to death. A judge determined in October that thecrime merited the death sentence, and Robert was scheduled for execution the week of May 13.

But the state Supreme Court postponed the date in February to allow more time for a mandatory review to make sure the death penalty was proper, even though Robert hadn’t appealed the conviction or sentence. The review could take up to two years.

In a three-page letter to The Associated Press, Robert detailed why he believes the death sentence is appropriate in his case and described his aggravation with the delay. The letter represented Robert’s first public comments since his October sentencing.

He said justice works differently in death penalty cases than in others.

“Victims of non-capital offenses receive their justice when the perpetrator is placed in custody. Victims in capital cases receive their justice when the perpetrator is executed. Give the Ron Johnson family their justice, they have been forced to wait too long. I finish where I started — I deserve to die,” he said, alluding to a statement he read during his trial that started with “I deserve to die.”

Robert, a chemist who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency before overseeing a city water treatment department, was serving an 80-year-sentence on a kidnapping conviction when he attempted to escape April 12, 2011, with inmate Rodney Berget.

Robert contends he was drunk and trying to rob an 18-year-old woman of $200, not sexually assault her, in the kidnapping case. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison and would not have been eligible for parole until he was 83. He focused obsessively on getting his sentence reduced, but his appeal was denied in 2009, leading to what the judge at his death penalty trial called an “internal war” that eventually left Johnson dead.

Johnson was working alone on the morning of his death — also his 63rd birthday — in a part of the prison known as Pheasantland Industries, where inmates work on upholstery, signs, custom furniture and other projects. Prosecutors said after the inmates killed Johnson, Robert put on the guard’s uniform and tried to push a large box on a cart containing Berget to the prison gate. The inmates were apprehended before leaving the grounds.

In his letter, Robert noted that everyone agrees he is mentally competent.

“Yet, as recently as May 8, 2012, the (South Dakota Supreme Court) was still nosing around this issue. They just can’t seem to fathom that a defendant would accept a just fate,” he wrote, later adding he has a right to plead guilty and receive the death penalty. “I am free to admit my guilt, as well as acknowledge and accept society’s punishment just as I am free to proclaim innocence in defiance of a verdict. I believe that the sentence of death is justly deserved in any murder and should be carried out.”

Robert said the issue at hand is not about him wanting to die. Instead, it’s about the Legislature providing the South DakotaSupreme Court with adequate guidance on how to handle a sentence review when there’s no appeal.

In court briefs recently filed by his lawyer, Robert proposed the Legislature consider changes to the law, allowing death penalty proceedings to be given priority in the state Supreme Court or, absent an appeal, requiring the court to review the case in a set number of days before the execution date.

The briefs noted the state Supreme Court has reviewed numerous cases, including a civil dispute between actor Kevin Costner and an artist about whether sculptures were appropriately displayed at a Deadwood resort, while Robert’s case is still pending.

The justices noted in their February decision that unless a proper review is done before Robert is killed, the execution could be found unconstitutional under death penalty guidelines established by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The other inmate who tried to escape, Berget, 50, also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death, although he is now appealing both his conviction and sentence. A third inmate, Michael Nordman, 47, was given a life sentence for providing the plastic wrap and pipe used in the slaying.

The penitentiary boosted security after Johnson’s death, including adding officers, installing more security cameras and mandating body alarm “panic buttons” for staff.

FLORIDA – George Zimmerman’s Jailhouse Calls To Wife Reveal Couple’s Alleged Plan To Hide Funds (AUDIO)


June 18,  2012 Source : http://www.huffingtonpost.com

The special prosecutor in the case of George Zimmerman, the Florida man accused of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, released a half-dozen recorded jailhouse phone conversations between Zimmerman and his wife, Shellie, which prosecutors say reveal the couple’s plans to conceal more than $130,000 of donated money via transfers between their personal bank accounts.

The release of the recordings comes just a week after Shellie Zimmerman was arrested and charged with perjury for lying under oath about the family’s financial status during an April hearing in which her husband was granted bond.

Prosecutors say that while George and Shellie Zimmerman told the judge under oath that they were broke, and their lawyer requested a low bond because of the couple’s dire financial situation, they were instead paying off credit card bills and transferring funds into his wife’s personal bank account from a Paypal account linked to a website to raise defense funds.

In a call on April 12 Zimmerman tells his wife how happy he is about all of the money pouring in from website.

“Oh, man, that feels good… that there are people in America that care,” George Zimmerman tells Shellie. “Yeah they do,” she responds.

Shellie Zimmerman then tells George how so many people had gone to the website that it crashed several times.

“It makes me feel happy and to lay here and um be okay,” George Zimmerman tells his wife during that phone conversation.

“I’m so happy to know that you’re gonna be okay,” Shellie Zimmerman says. “After this… you’re gonna be able to just, have a great life.”

“We will,” Zimmerman said.

The call was made the day after Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

LISTEN PHONE CALLS : CLICK HERE 

On Friday, State Attorney Angela Corey’s office said that it would be releasing a trove of evidence in the case, including 151 audio recordings of phone calls that Zimmerman made from the Seminole County Jail. But not long after the announcement, Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, argued that only a fraction of those calls — which prosecutors used to have Zimmerman’s bond revoked and charges levied against his wife — should be released.

O’Mara has said that he plans on filing a motion to ask the judge in the case only to allow the release of phone calls that are directly related to Zimmerman’s bond. Otherwise, he wrote in a web posting, the privacy of family and friends of his clients could be compromised.

“Our motion will contend that the majority of the phone calls are personal and irrelevant to the charges against Mr. Zimmerman or issues surrounding the next bond hearing,” O’Mara wrote on gzlegalcase.com. “Moreover, the public release of these phone calls could jeopardize the privacy of friends and family of Mr. Zimmerman who are unrelated to the case. We will not be objecting to the release of phone calls that include conversations relevant to the the bond hearing or the charges Mr. Zimmerman faces.

Shortly after George Zimmerman’s initial bond hearing in May, it was revealed that he had raised as much as $200,000 via a website to collect funds for his defense. At a June 1 hearing, his bond was revoked after prosecutors presented recorded jailhouse conversations in which the Zimmermans seem to collude to keep the funds hidden. Zimmerman told his wife to “pay off all the bills,” which included those for American Express and Sam’s Club credit cards.

“This court was led to believe they didn’t have a single penny,” prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda said at the hearing. “It was misleading, and I don’t know what words to use other than it was a blatant lie.”

According to court documents filed last week, prosecutors also obtained bank records showing that between April 16 and April 19, just days before Zimmerman’s first bond hearing, Shellie Zimmerman transferred more than $74,000 from her husband’s account to her own.

There were a total of eight transfers, according to the documents — four transfers in the amount of $9,990, two for $9,999, and two others for $7,500. Even after Zimmerman’s release, the large transfers of cash continued. On April 24, Shellie Zimmerman transferred more than $85,000 from her husband’s account to her own.

Shellie Zimmerman was arrested and charged last week but that same day posted a $1,000 bond and was released.

George Zimmerman, who has plead not guilty to second-degree murder charges in the February 26 shooting death of Martin, has a new bond hearing scheduled for June 29.

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