Arizona death-row inmate wants his execution delayed until state has new governor – Samuel Villegas Lopez


Update, June 22 Source : http://www.azcentral.com

Arizona’s Board of Executive Clemency voted 4-0 Friday not to recommend clemency or a reprieve for convicted murderer Samuel Lopez, who is scheduled to be executed Wednesday.

Also on Friday, Arizona’s Supreme Court denied a request by Lopez’s attorneys for a stay of execution, leaving a pending appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court as his last chance for a reprieve.

Lopez was sentenced to death for the brutal murder of Estefana Holmes in central Phoenix in 1986. After a “terrible and prolonged struggle,” Lopez raped and sodomized her, stabbed her more than 23 times in the chest and head, and slashed her throat, according to court records.

The board’s vote followed impassioned pleas both for and against his execution.

“He didn’t just murder Essie, he murdered our family,” said Denise Evans, Holmes’s daughter-in-law, saying that her devastated husband drank himself to death after her killing.

More than a dozen members of Holmes’s family testified, most describing how the murders continue to affect them, and saying the execution would bring them closure.

“Why should he be allowed more time on this earth than our sister?” asked Sarah Arguijo Bryant.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry expressed her condolences, but told the board that because of poor lawyering, no court had heard the full story of Lopez’s poor and brutal upbringing, or of how his childhood abuse of various substances, as an escape, had left him mentally impaired. Neuropsychiatrist George Wood, describing that upbringing in clinical detail, said Lopez and his siblings essentially were brought up as “feral children.” He noted that two of Lopez’s brothers also faced the death penalty for their own crimes.

That background and impairment should have mitigated his sentence to life without parole, Henry said. Inevitably, when the death penalty is imposed “it’s not for the worst crime, it’s for the worst lawyer,” she said.

State prosecutors had provided the board members with color photos of Holmes and the murder scene. Board member Mel Thomas said he reviewed them closely before the hearing. “I tell you now, when I did this at home, I cried,” he said.

Lopez, who is being held at the Eyman state prison, did not take part in the hearing. He previously had been scheduled for execution May 15, but won a delay after the Arizona Supreme Court agreed that three new members of the clemency board hadn’t had adequate training when they first considered his bid for clemency last month. When Gov. Jan Brewer replaced three of the five board members, including the chairman, in April, the departing members said they had been ousted because she was unhappy with their votes to recommend clemency in certain cases.

Henry had sought another stay, arguing that the new members couldn’t give Lopez a fair hearing because they were improperly appointed and biased against him; but Friday the state supreme court denied her motion without comment. The U.S. Supreme Court had not acted Friday on a separate request for a stay filed by Lopez’s attorneys

June 20, 2012 Source :

PHOENIX — Attorneys for a death-row inmate set to be put to death in Arizona next week want the execution delayed until the state has a new governor, arguing in a Tuesday filing that Gov. Jan Brewer appointed “political cronies” to a clemency board in an unconstitutional, closed-door process.

In their filing in the Arizona Supreme Court, defense attorneys for death-row inmate Samuel Villegas Lopez argue that he can’t receive a fair hearing with the state’s clemency board, often an inmate’s last chance for mercy before an execution.

Brewer overhauled the board in April, a move that her spokesman Matt Benson said at the time was designed to “bring fresh insight and fresh blood” to the board.“The Arizona Supreme Court has already found these allegations to be without merit. The latest filing is more of the same,” Benson said in statement Tuesday evening. “Governor Brewer appropriately nominated qualified individuals to the Board of Executive Clemency, including a Democrat, and they were properly confirmed by the Arizona Senate. The governor and the Board of Executive Clemency have the right to defend themselves when named in a lawsuit in which spurious and sanctionable allegations are asserted.”

In their filing, Lopez’s attorneys argued that the new board members are “political cronies” appointed to ensure that they never vote for executions to be delayed or overturned.

The attorneys also argue that the selection committee for the new board members questioned potential members about how they would vote on controversial or high-profile cases in interviews that were closed to the public in violation of open-meetings laws.

“While the Governor may be free to appoint her political cronies to Arizona boards and commissions, and while political patronage may be an accepted part of Arizona government, the law at least requires that those actions be known to the public,” the filing said.

“Offensive to any reasonable notion of fairness, this denial of access to the clemency process would not have occurred in the sunlight of public scrutiny,” they wrote. “Mr. Lopez must now plead for mercy before a board constituted of a majority of members selected by that process.”

Lopez’s clemency hearing is set for Friday.

His attorneys also argue that statements made by Benson and newly appointed board Chairman Jesse Hernandez to reporters display clear bias against Lopez and a prejudgment of his request for mercy.

For instance, Benson told The Associated Press last month that defense attorneys were “attempting to further delay justice for the heinous crimes committed by their client 25 years ago.”

“Throwing together a host of trumped-up charges against a citizen board does not change that fact,” he said.

Hernandez has told the AP that the attorneys were “grandstanding” in filing a lawsuit against Brewer and the board in Maricopa County Superior Court over the new board members.

Hernandez did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The Arizona Supreme Court already delayed Lopez’s execution once, on May 15, to give the new clemency board members time to undergo four weeks of training before they held a hearing about Lopez’s fate.

The court granted the delay on the grounds that Lopez was denied a fair chance for clemency because a majority of the board members had not undergone the training. The court rescheduled the May 16 execution for June 27.

Lopez faces a lethal injection at a state prison in Florence for the 1986 murder of Estefana Holmes. The Phoenix woman was raped, robbed and stabbed in what authorities described as a “terrible and prolonged struggle.

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