Month: September 2012

Appeals court rejects request to remove judge in Arizona death-penalty case – Kevin Miles


September 28, 2012, http://www.bellinghamherald.com

 

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court Friday rejected an Arizona death row inmate’s request that a judge recuse herself from his carjacking-murder case because her own father was murdered in a carjacking close to 40 years ago.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said Kevin Miles” request that Judge Susan Graber recuse herself was inappropriate and “especially flimsy.”

Graber wrote the opinion last month upholding Miles’ death sentence for the 1992 carjacking and murder of Patricia Baeuerlen in Tucson. Graber’s father, Julius, was carjacked in 1974 by two teens wielding a sawed-off shotgun, then driven to a Cincinnati cemetery, where he was shot in the back of the head.

Miles‘ motion said federal court procedure and U.S. law require that federal judges disqualify themselves “in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

But Judges Marsha Berzon and Richard Tallman wrote that it is up to Graber to decide whether or not to step down, and they went on to defend her impartiality at some length in their published five-page order.

“Life experiences do not disqualify us from serving as judges on cases in which the issues or the facts are in some indirect way related to our personal experiences,” they wrote.

Miles‘ public defender, Timothy Gabrielsen, had no comment on the order Friday except to say, “I stand by the motion. I think it is appropriate.”

Assistant Arizona Attorney General Jonathan Bass called the timing of the motion peculiar, since it came after the court had already ruled on Miles’ appeal. If there’s any doubt, “you don’t want the judge to rule at all,” he said.

Bass agreed with the order, saying he “had no reason to think they (the circuit judges) are not impartial.”

Miles, then 24, and two underage friends were standing on a street corner in Tucson in December 1992 when Baeuerlen pulled up. Levi Jackson, 16, pointed a gun at her and the trio got into her car.

They drove to the desert, where they took her out of the car, taunted and harassed her before Jackson shot her in the chest and they drove off, leaving Baeuerlen where she had been shot.

Miles later used Baeuerlen’s ATM card to take money out of her account. He drove her car to Phoenix where he went shopping at a mall, exchanged her children’s Christmas gifts for other items and met with friends.

Police arrested Miles two days after Baeuerlen’s slaying, and he confessed after several hours of questioning. He was later convicted and sentenced to death. Jackson, who was initially sentenced to death, had the sentence reversed on appeal and is now serving a life sentence.

The recusal motion noted similarities to Julius Graber’s murder and to the post-conviction proceedings for Willie Lee Bell, an accomplice in Graber’s killing.

Bell, who was 16 at the time of that crime, was sentenced to death, but his sentence was overturned in 1978. He is now serving a life sentence in Ohio.

A motion for a rehearing before the full 9th Circuit of the latest decision in Miles‘ case is pending. If that motion is denied, Miles could then petition the U.S. Supreme Court for a hearing.

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CALIFORNIA – Arsonist gets death penalty in fatal Old fire – Rickie Lee Fowler


September 29, 2012 http://www.latimes.com

Death sentence in Old fire

 San Bernardino County jury on Friday ordered a death sentence for the violent methamphetamine addict convicted of setting the catastrophic 2003 Old fire that destroyed 1,000 homes, blackened the San Bernardino Mountains and led to five deaths.

The jury in August found that Rickie Lee Fowler deliberately set the blaze by tossing a lighted road flare into brush at the base of the mountains on an October day when Southern California already was overwhelmed by wind-fed wildfires, convicting him of murder and arson.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Bullock portrayed Fowler as an evil and sadistic felon who inflicted “misery and mayhem” on those who crossed his path throughout his life — raping and brutalizing two girlfriends, one of whom was pregnant with his son, and sodomizing a jail cellmate whom he turned into a “sex slave.”

“I would like to thank the jury for doing the right thing. This is one of those crimes that reaches out and grabs you by the throat,” Bulloch at a news conference afterward.

Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith is scheduled to sentence Fowler on Nov. 16. The judge has the legal authority to dismiss the jury’s recommendation and instead sentence Fowler to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but such an action is rare in California.

Smith noted that Californians on Nov. 6 will vote on a proposed ballot initiative — Proposition 34 — that, if approved, would abolish the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“Depending on what happens with that, it could affect sentencing in this matter,” Smith said during Friday’s hearing.

Dist. Atty. Michael Ramos said it would be a travesty of justice if California voters approved the measure, in effect granting Fowler and “baby murderers and cop killers” a reprieve from death row.

“We cannot allow a proposition to overturn what happened today in San Bernardino County for these five victims,” Ramos said.

The jury spent 11 days deliberating Fowler’s sentence, its final act in a trial that began in late July. Jurors declined to comment afterward, and no relatives of the Old fire victims attended the hearing.

Fowler, wearing a baggy dress shirt and charcoal slacks, showed little emotion when the death recommendation was read, only leaning over to whisper to his attorney Michael Belter.

Belter said his client was relieved that the deliberations had finally ended, but “obviously Mr. Fowler was disappointed with the result.”

Fowler’s attorneys plan to file a motion for a new trial, arguing that the prosecution did not present any direct evidence showing that Fowler had set the blaze or that the deaths were intentional. All five deaths were due to heart attacks triggered by the stress of the fire, according to prosecution testimony.

Belter said that during his conversation with jurors after Friday’s hearing it was clear that they spent a lot of time considering those arguments. “I think the jury went back and forth,” he said. “They had different splits, they had a lot to talk about.”

The prosecutor said Fowler deliberately set the blaze in Waterman Canyon in a fit of rage against his godfather, who had kicked Fowler out of his house at the top of the canyon.

The fire broke out Oct. 25, 2003, at Old Waterman Canyon Road and California 18, and raced through the forest and brush, forcing the evacuation of more than 30 communities and 80,000 people. It came as firefighters were battling a blaze in Upland and Rancho Cucamonga. Six men died of heart attacks, although prosecutors said one could not be directly linked to the stress of the fire.

A few months later, on Christmas Day, a huge debris flow — caused by intense rain on the denuded slopes of the burn area — swept through a church camp in Waterman Canyon, killing 14 people. Fowler was not charged in that incident.

Investigators said they questioned Fowler shortly after the fire but did not have enough evidence to arrest him at that time. Another suspect in the fire, Martin Valdez, 24, was fatally shot in Muscoy, near San Bernardino, in 2006. At the time of the fire, witnesses reported seeing Fowler and Valdez in a white van throwing a flaming object into Waterman Canyon.

Much of the prosecution’s case hinged on comments Fowler made in 2008 in which he acknowledged to investigators that he was attempting to burn down the home of a friend, but denied that he was the one who set the blaze. Fowler told investigators that he went to the back of the van and took out a flare, but that Valdez grabbed the flare and tossed it.

Death row suffers setback, Propofol won’t be sold for use in executions.


September 28, 2012 http://www.columbiatribune.com

A manufacturer of the anesthetic blamed for Michael Jackson’s death said yesterday it won’t sell propofol for use in U.S. executions, a setback for Missouri and other states seeking an alternative after other drug makers also objected to their products’ use in lethal injections.

Drug maker Fresenius Kabi USA, a German company with U.S. offices based in Schaumburg, Ill., is one of only two domestic suppliers of propofol and is the only one currently distributing in the United States. Earlier this year, Missouri adopted a new single-drug execution method that would make it the first state to use propofol on death-row inmates. Other states also have considered incorporating the drug into their lethal injections.

Fresenius Kabi spokesman Matt Kuhn confirmed to The Associated Press that the company told its distributors in late August that such usage is “inconsistent” with the company’s mission. It’s also forbidden under European Union laws to export drugs that could be used in executions.

Fresenius Kabi objects to the use of its products in any manner that is not in full accordance with the medical indications for which they have been approved by health authorities,” a company statement reads. “Consequently, the company does not accept orders for propofol from any departments of correction in the United States. Nor will it do so.”

Most of the 33 states with the death penalty had long used sodium thiopental as the first of a three-drug combination administered during lethal injections. But that drug also became unavailable when its European supplier acknowledged pressure from death penalty opponents and stopped selling it for executions.

Supplies mostly ran out or expired, forcing states to consider alternatives. Most states have retained the three-drug method but turned to pentobarbital, a barbiturate used to treat anxiety and convulsive disorders such as epilepsy, as a replacement for sodium thiopental. Pentobarbital supplies also have shrunk after its manufacturer said it would try to prevent its use in executions.

A spokeswoman for the Missouri attorney general’s office declined comment yesterday, and Department of Corrections officials didn’t respond to several requests seeking comment about Fresenius Kabi’s decision. In August, the state Supreme Court declined Attorney General Chris Koster’s request to set execution dates for six death-row inmates, calling it “premature” pending the uncertainty over propofol’s availability.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, called the drug maker’s decision the latest obstacle to a capital punishment procedure that until several years ago had been virtually unchanged for more than three decades.

“States have chosen a medical model. And in general, the medical profession is not involved in things other than life-preserving acts,” he said. “It’s going to be an ongoing problem.”

Hospira, the only other company that distributes propofol in the U.S., has exhausted its supply and doesn’t expect to release the drug for further sale until at least October or November.

Louisiana death-row inmate Damon Thibodeaux exonerated with DNA evidence


 

september 28, 2012 http://www.washingtonpost.com

NEW ORLEANS — A Louisiana death-row inmate convicted of the rape and murder of his 14-year-old step-cousin in 1996 on Friday became the 300th person exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence in the United States — and the 18th death-row inmate saved from execution by DNA.

Damon Thibodeaux, now 38, confessed to the brutal attack on his cousin after a nine-hour interrogation in 1996 by detectives from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. He recanted a few hours later and has maintained since that his confession was coerced. Despite his recantation, Thibodeaux was indicted four days after his arrest. In 1997, a jury found him guilty of murder and rape, largely on the basis of his confession. He was sentenced to death.

Thibodeaux walked out of the death-row unit of Louisiana’s Angola prison farm on a rainy Friday afternoon, free for the first time after 15 years, during which he was kept in solitary confinement 23 hours per day.

In an interview minutes after he left the prison, Thibodeaux said he struggled to control his emotions during the years he waited for exoneration.

“For the first couple of years, it takes a lot of getting used to. Sometimes, it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen. You think, they’re going to kill you and just accept it,” he said. “But as things started to accumulate, you start, you know, gaining hope.”

He said the detectives who questioned him in 1996 took advantage of his exhaustion and fed him details of the crime to include in his confession.

“They look for vulnerable points where they can manipulate you, and if you’re sleep-deprived or panicked, or you’re on something or drunk, it makes it that much easier to accomplish what they want to accomplish,” Thibodeaux said. “At that point, I was tired. I was hungry. All I wanted to do was sleep, and I was willing to tell them anything they wanted me to tell them if it would get me out of that interrogation room.”

Thibodeaux said that he hoped his case could help lead police agencies to be more careful not to induce false confessions.

The detectives involved in Thibodeaux’s interrogation could not be reached Friday. Earlier, a spokesman for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the agency’s handling of the case and said the investigators would not be made available.

Thibodeaux’s exoneration came after an unusual five-year joint reinvestigation of the case by the office of Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick, which brought the charges, and a team of defense lawyers and investigators, including the New York-based Innocence Project.

During the reexamination of the case, during which Thibodeaux put his formal appeals on hold, investigators concluded that his confession was riddled with glaring errors, such as the manner and time of death and the identification of the murder weapon, and did not match the crime scene and other evidence. Most remarkable, the investigation found that the sexual assault to which Thibodeaux also confessed — making him eligible under Louisiana law for the death penalty — never occurred.

“The 300th exoneration is an extraordinary event, and it couldn’t be more fitting that it’s an innocent man on death row who gave a false confession,” said Barry Scheck, a founder of the Innocence Project and one of the lawyers who worked on the case. “People have a very hard time with the concept that an innocent person could confess to a crime that they didn’t commit. But it happens a lot. It’s the ultimate risk that an innocent man could be executed.”

New DNA testing conducted during the inquiry on the clothing worn by Thibodeaux on the night of the murder and virtually every other piece of evidence collected by police established no links to the crime — so the absence of DNA became a powerful element of evidence itself. A DNA profile was also obtained from a tiny sample of blood on a piece of the wire used to strangle the victim. It did not match Thibodeaux.

The reinvestigation totaled more than $500,000, a cost shared by the defense and prosecution, according to lawyers involved in the case.

The dismissal of Thibodeaux’s case comes amid a flurry of such exonerations across the country and at a time when doubts about the reliability of American courts in determining guilt and innocence appear to be growing.

Early this week, John Edward Smith was released from a Los Angeles jail nearly two decades after being wrongly imprisoned for a 1993 gang-related drive-by shooting. Prosecutors in Chicago moved to dismiss murder charges against Alprentiss Nash in August, 17 years after he was convicted of a murder that new DNA analysis indicates he did not commit. In Texas last month, David Lee Wiggins was released after DNA testing cleared him of a rape conviction for which he had served 24 years.

In July, a D.C. judge declared Kirk L. Odom innocent of a 1981 rape and robbery for which he had served more than 22 years in prison. The same week, the Justice Department and FBI announced they would reexamine thousands of cases after The Washington Post reported widespread problems in its forensic examination of hair fibers over several decades. That came on the heels of a conclusion by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan that five people convicted in the 1995 murder of a taxi driver and imprisoned since are innocent.

 

OKLAHOMA – Attorney General seeks execution date for death row inmate – Gary Allen


September 27, 2012 http://www.sfgate.com

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt asked a state appeals court Thursday to set an execution date for a man convicted of fatally shooting his fiancée almost 26 years ago.

Pruitt filed the request with the Court of Criminal Appeals a day after a federal judge rejected Gary Thomas Allen‘s request for a hearing on his claim that he is mentally incompetent and ineligible for the death penalty.

U.S. District Judge David Russell ruled Wednesday that Allen, 56, had not shown that a jury impanelled in 2008 acted unreasonably when it found him sane enough to be executed. Russell also lifted a stay that postponed Allen’s most recent execution date.

Pruitt said Russell’s ruling concludes Allen’s court appeals. “After a thorough review of this case, my office has concluded that the execution should be carried out,” the attorney general said.

Allen’s attorney, Randy Bauman, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

Allen was convicted and sentenced to death for the November 1986 murder of Lawanna Gail Titsworth in the parking lot of an Oklahoma City day care. Titsworth, 24, had moved out of the home she shared with Allen and their two sons four days before her death.

Court documents indicate the two were arguing when Allen shot Titsworth twice in the chest. Titsworth ran with a center employee toward the building, but Allen pushed the worker away, shoved Titsworth down some steps and shot her twice in the back at close range, records show.

A police officer responding to a 911 call tussled with Allen before shooting him in the face, according to court documents. Allen was hospitalized for about two months for treatment of injuries to his face, left eye and brain.

Allen entered a blind plea of guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced by a judge to die. But Allen’s attorneys have argued he was not competent enough to enter the plea.

A district judge in Pittsburg County stayed Allen’s original May 19, 2005, execution date after a psychological examination at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary indicated Allen had developed mental problems. The U.S. Constitution forbids the execution of inmates who are insane or mentally incompetent.

Three years later, a 12-member jury rejected Allen’s argument that he should not be put to death. Last December, the Oklahoma Appeals court ruled that an appeal of that decision was not authorized by law. The court said there is no procedure in state law to appeal a finding that a person facing execution is sane.

The state Pardon and Parole Board had voted in April 2005 to recommend that Allen’s death sentence be commuted to life without parole. That clemency recommendation wasn’t acted on until this year, when Gov. Mary Fallin denied it.

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Gary Allen execution stayed in april

 

ARIZONA – Death-row inmate suspected in Tempe slaying in 2000 – Albert Carreon


September 27, 2012 http://www.azcentral.com

Tempe police have arrested a gang member on suspicion of first-degree murder in the slaying of a man 12 years ago, using DNA and other evidence.

But suspect Albert Carreon, 50, wasn’t very hard to find. He already is on death row after his conviction and sentencing in a gang hit in Chandler 11 years ago.

Carreon, a New Mexican Mafia member, is now accused of first-degree murder in the slaying of Jose “Joey” Gonzalez, 20, who was found dead in a parked car on Dec. 20, 2000 at the Fiesta Village Townhouse complex in the 1400 block of West La Jolla in Tempe.

“The DNA is what really made the case. This guy was looked at as a potential suspect in 2005,” said Sgt. Jeff Glover, a Tempe police spokesman.

He said detectives determined that Gonzalez was shot to death at a different location, placed in a car he had borrowed from his girlfriend and driven to the townhouse complex, where his body was abandoned.

Jurors sentenced Carreon to death in April 2003 after finding him guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of Armando Hernandez inside a Chandler apartment. The victim’s girlfriend testified that Carreon stepped out of a bathroom with his gun drawn, accused Hernandez of being a snitch, shot him to death and then shot her four times.

Although the girlfriend was left for dead, she survived her wounds and testified against Carreon in a Maricopa County Superior Court trial. Carreon and Hernandez had been housed in adjoining cells in a maximum security prison in Florence.

A prosecutor argued during that trial that Carreon was hired to kill Hernandez by a gang member who believed that Hernandez was responsible for the arrest and conviction of the gang member’s brother.

Carreon’s disciplinary record in prison includes three major violations, including two assaults and a drug possession or manufacturing infraction.

 

At UN, French minister meets with ex-death row inmate


September 27, 2012 AFP

NEW YORK — France’s foreign minister met Thursday with a former US death row inmate as he launched a campaign at the United Nations calling for a universal ban on executions.

Laurent Fabius spoke for half an hour with Kirk Bloodsworth, an American sentenced to death for the murder of a young girl before being the first to be exonerated by a DNA test after nine years behind bars.

The minister praised the courage of the wrongfully convicted man, who has campaigned against capital punishment since his 1993 release.

“It’s an issue dear to our hearts because the death penalty is inefficient, irreversible and inhumane,” Fabius said.

“There’s no better place than the United Nations to launch this fight.”

He spoke after meeting with his counterpart from Benin, Nassirou Arifari Bako, as well as some 50 countries on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly to convince them of the need to abolish the death penalty.

Other international gatherings are planned in the context of the campaign, including one in Paris on October 9 followed by others in Rabat and Madrid, according to Fabius.

France, which abolished capital punishment in 1981, is a major proponent of abolishing the death penalty, with media regularly reporting about executions. During their meeting, Bloodsworth thanked Fabius for the country’s efforts.

In a recent interview with AFP in his small apartment in Mount Rainer, near the northeastern city of Baltimore, Kirksworth spoke of nightmares that still haunt him to this day.

“I used to have very bad dreams, sweating, screaming,” he said. “I’d wake up thinking they’d drag me to the gas chamber.”

After being pardoned by the governor of Maryland and receiving $300,000 for his lost years — a sum he said that constituted about $3.72 an hour — Bloodsworth now takes his message to schools, universities and even to the world stage at the United Nations.

“Obviously my biggest reason for ending the death penalty is that we could execute an innocent person, we’ve already done that,” he said. “I believe in punishment but the death penalty is not right, not in a country that has so many different ways to take care of prisoners.”

Executions Rarely Reason for Leaving Pa. Death Row


September 27, 2012 http://www.wetmtv.com

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Two-hundred Pennsylvania convicts are sentenced to die, but they’re less likely to be executed than to be removed from death row for other reasons. State Corrections Department spokeswoman Sue McNaughton, who has kept records on death-row prisoners since 1985, said Wednesday 184 inmates have left death row in that time.

The largest proportion – 133 inmateswere resentenced to life imprisonment. That’s what condemned killer Terrance Williams is seeking in court and from the governor as Williams’ Oct. 3 execution date draws near.

McNaughton says 12 other former death-row inmates were resentenced to other penalties and nine death sentences were vacated.

Twenty-four death-row inmates died of natural causes, three committed suicide and three were executed.

Ohio man on death row for killing 11 women challenging conviction with court filing- Anthony Sowell


Anthony Sowell

September 27, 2012 http://www.therepublic.com

CLEVELAND — An Ohio man sentenced to death for killing 11 women whose remains were found in and around his Cleveland home is now challenging his conviction.

WEWS-TV reports Thursday (http://bit.ly/Psqxzv) that lawyers for Anthony Sowell (SOH’-wehl) of Cleveland filed a petition to have his conviction overturned and win a new trial.

Such filings are common for those sentenced to the death penalty and often are turned down.

Prosecutors said Sowell, who was convicted last year of killing 11 women, lured the victims to his home by promising them alcohol or drugs.

The murdered women began vanishing in 2007. Police discovered 10 bodies and a skull at Sowell’s house in late 2009 after officers went there on a woman’s report that she had been raped at the home.

Pardons Board takes death row inmate Terrance Williams’ case ‘under advisement’ STAY


September 27, 2012 http://www.pennlive.com

The state Pardons Board won’t immediately rule on a condemned Philadelphia man’s clemency bid, just six days before his scheduled execution.

The pardons board heard new arguments today but will take the case “under advisement,” after earlier rejecting the clemency bid.

The fate of 46-year-old Terrance Williams now moves back to a Philadelphia judge weighing new evidence in the 1984 murder case. Judge M. Teresa Sarmina has pledged to rule Friday on a motion to stay the execution.

Williams is on death row for killing two men as a teenager. His lawyers say both men had been sexually abusing him and that prosecutors hid that information from jurors in the second trial, who sentenced Williams to death.

Williams is scheduled to be executed Wednesday.