Death Sentence

FLORIDA – Prison inmate who beat, killed his cellmate sentenced to death


A Santa Rosa Correctional Institution inmate who viciously beat and killed his cellmate in an apparent racial attack was sentenced to death Monday.

Shawn Rogers, 37, will be placed on death row for the murder and kidnapping of Ricky Dean Martin in 2012.

Rogers, who is a black man, and Martin, a white man, shared a cell in the prison. When word of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin’s death made it to the prison, Rogers carried out the racially motivated attack on Ricky Dean Martin that left him tied at the hands and feet, bruised, cut and in a coma that eventually killed him.

The court heard during Rogers’ trial that blood was smeared on the cell’s walls, and Rogers covered Martin’s body with a prayer rug before guards arrived. Martin’s face was covered with a pair of bloody boxer shorts.

A civil lawsuit filed by Martin’s family against the prison further claims Martin had filed grievances in the days before his death, saying he feared for his life and wanted to be moved from Rogers’ cell.

The same suit claims Rogers also raped Martin, though that claim was not presented by the state in Rogers’ criminal case.

Circuit Judge John Simon read a portion of Rogers’ sentencing document during court Monday, finding that the court agrees with the 12-person jury’s unanimous death recommendation.

“Mindful that a human life is at stake … the aggravating factors far outweigh the mitigating factors,” Simon said during sentencing, adding that not only did Rogers murder Martin, but he humiliated him in the process.

Rogers remained stoic as Simon read the document, not making any gestures or saying anything to his attorney, Kenneth Brooks. Rogers will join 349 other Florida prisoners on death row.

Neither Brooks nor prosecutor Jack Schlechter made any motions or arguments before Simon handed down the sentence. Both sides were allowed to present mitigating and aggravating factors in the case at a separate hearing in November, during which Simon heard about Rogers’ troubled past, with one doctor having called his upbringing a “perfect storm” for trouble.

At that same hearing, prosecutors pointed out Rogers had been functional to represent himself at trial, and was capable of premeditation because he voiced to others he would carry out an attack on a white person in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death.

In addition to the death sentence for the murder charge, Simon sentenced Rogers to life in prison for the kidnapping to inflict terror charge.

Simon told Rogers he is entitled to an appeals process and per state law his death sentence will be automatically reviewed by the Supreme Court.

The civil lawsuit is still ongoing in Federal Court.

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Mississippi Man Back on Death Row, Mental Evaluation Ordered


JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday reinstated the death sentence of an inmate convicted of killing a prison guard.

Justices also ordered a state circuit court judge to hold another hearing on the mental capacity of Willie C. Russell , who came within hours of being executed more than two decades ago.

Russell, now 57, was convicted in the 1989 killing of Argentra Cotton, a guard at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, where Russell was imprisoned for armed robbery, escape and kidnapping convictions in Hinds County.

A federal appeals court blocked the execution in January 1997 after Russell claimed he didn’t have a lawyer to appeal his death sentence. Russell later claimed he was intellectually disabled and could not be executed.

Sunflower County Circuit Judge Betty W. Sanders agreed and overturned the death sentence, and Russell remained in prison. On Thursday, justices said Sanders should have heard more testimony.

A majority of justices wrote that Russell underwent psychological testing in 2006 in an aggravated assault case, but he never underwent an assessment of intellectual disability.

In 2014, Sanders denied the state’s request for Russell to be evaluated for intellectual disability, saying the previous testing was sufficient. Five of the nine justices said Thursday that the judge conducted a “one-sided” hearing about Russell’s mental capacity before she overturned his death sentence.

However, four justices wrote a dissent, saying Russell had undergone enough psychological testing in 2006, and results of those tests could be used to determine whether he has an intellectual disability.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that it is unconstitutional to execute a person who has intellectual disabilities.

Sanders is retired from the bench. A majority of justices said Thursday that an expert chosen by the state must be allowed to evaluate Russell before a circuit judge holds new hearing about his mental capacity.

 

Military Court Dismisses Appeal Of Serial Killer On Death Row


December 12, 2017

Ronald A. Gray has lost another court battle aimed at stopping his execution.

A military appeals court dismissed Gray’s request for extraordinary relief last month.

Gray, a convicted serial killer whose crimes were committed in Fayetteville and on Fort Bragg, had asked the court to review his case as he sought to have his convictions and death sentence vacated.

The Nov. 13 opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces was the latest in a nearly 30-year legal battle over Gray’s case.

On Monday, an Army spokeswoman was not immediately able to comment on whether there are any other pending legal proceedings in the case. The spokeswoman also could not comment on whether an execution date has been scheduled or will be scheduled.

Gray is the longest-serving inmate on the military’s death row and is the only current prisoner whose execution has been approved by a president — a requirement before the military can carry out a death sentence.

President George W. Bush approved Gray’s execution in 2008, but a federal court issued a stay of execution to allow Gray to make an appeal.

Late last year, a federal judge removed that stay, potentially clearing the way for the Army to schedule Gray’s death.

The military appeals court, which has heard numerous appeals as part of the Gray case, ruled last month that it did not have the jurisdiction to provide the relief Gray sought in the form of a writ of error coram nobis, a legal order that allows a court to correct a judgment based on the discovery of a fundamental error, which did not appear in the records of the original trial.

Gray’s legal team has argued he was tried while incompetent to stand trial; that he was denied due process when military authorities failed to disclose evidence about his competency during appeal; that his appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance; that his sentence was the result of racial discrimination; and that the military death penalty violates evolving standards of decency under the Eighth Amendment.

The latest opinion stated that if the court did have jurisdiction, Gray failed to prove those claims and show he is entitled to extraordinary relief.

The court wrote that Gray’s case is final, after years of legal wrangling.

“Appellant has exhausted all of his remedies in the military justice system,” according to the opinion.

Gray has had numerous appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals and various civilian federal courts.

A former resident of Fairlane Acres near Bonnie Doone in Fayetteville, Gray was an Army cook before he was convicted of a series of rapes and murders in Fayetteville and Fort Bragg. His crimes were committed in 1986 and 1987 on Fort Bragg and near Fairlane Acres Mobile Home Park off Santa Fe Drive.

Gray killed cab driver Kimberly Ann Ruggles, Army Pvt. Laura Lee Vickery-Clay, Campbell University student Linda Jean Coats and Fairlane Acres resident and soldier’s wife Tammy Wilson, and raped several other women.

A former Army private, Gray was convicted during two trials. A Fort Bragg court sentenced him to death in 1988, after convicting him of the rape and murder of two women and the rape and attempted murder of a third woman, among other offenses.

A civilian court in 1987 sentenced him to eight life sentences, including three to be served consecutively, after convictions on charges of two counts of second-degree murder, five counts of rape and a number of other offenses all related to different victims.

Gray has been confined at the U.S. Army Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, since he was sentenced to death.

If he is executed, it would be the first death sentence carried out by the U.S. military since 1961. An execution would likely take place at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana — the same facility where, in 2001, terrorist Timothy McVeigh was executed for the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Serial killer : Anthony Allen Shore EXECUTED 01.18.2018 6.28 PM


UPDATE JANUARY 18 2018 

In his final statement, Shore, 55, was apologetic and his voice cracked with emotion.

No amount of words or apology could ever undo what I’ve done,” Shore said. “I wish I could undo the past, but it is what it is.”

He was pronounced dead at 6:28 p.m. CST.

 

Anthony Allen Shore (born June 25, 1962) is a convicted serial killer and child molester who is responsible for the slayings of one woman and three girls. He operated from 1986 to 2000, and was known as the “Tourniquet Killer” because of his use of a ligature with either a toothbrush or bamboo stick to tighten or loosen the ligature. The instrument was similar to a twitch, a tool used by farmers to control horses.

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Shore’s parents were both with the United States Air Force; he was born in South Dakota where his father was stationed. Because of his parents’ enlistments in the military, Shore’s family moved nine times before he entered high school. He has two sisters.[ Although he possessed much musical talent, he did not pursue a career in music, but instead became a telephone lineman. He married and had two daughters Tiffany and Amber, but later divorced and was given custody of his two young girls. He later married and again divorced.

Statement of Facts

Appellant confessed to committing four murders in which he attacked and sexually assaulted, or attempted to sexually assault his victims, an aggravated sexual assault that did not end in murder, and the sexual molestation of two children.

On September 26, 1986, appellant murdered fourteen-year-old Laurie Tremblay while attempting to sexually assault her. In discussing this crime, appellant stated that he was preoccupied with young girls and that he had met Tremblay by giving her rides on a semi-regular basis. During one of these rides, appellant, then twenty-four years old, became sexually aggressive and unhooked the fourteen-year-old’s bra. She demanded that appellant stop, and the two argued. Appellant hit Tremblay in the back of the head and then used a cotton cord to strangle her. According to appellant, the cord kept breaking, and he injured his finger while tightening the ligature; “I tried to make sure that she would never, ever tell anybody.” The strangulation left a knuckle impression on the back of Tremblay’s neck, and the cord itself left two distinct pressure lines. Appellant dumped the victim’s body behind a restaurant. The crime remained unsolved until 2003.

On April 16, 1992, appellant, at twenty-nine years old, gave a ride to twenty-year-old Maria Del Carmen Estrada, the victim in this capital-murder prosecution. Recounting the event, appellant stated that she “freaked out” when he made sexual advances toward her, but he persisted in his attack, using a pair of shears to aid in his attempt to rape her. He ultimately strangled Estrada by twisting a nylon cord around her neck and tightening it with a piece of wood. As in his first murder, appellant dumped the victim’s body behind a restaurant and left. When Estrada’s body was found, signs of trauma were apparent on her face. Her pants had been removed, her underpants and hose had been pulled below her pubic area, her shirt was open, her bra had been cut, and her hose appeared to be cut in the crotch. An examination revealed that Estrada’s vagina had a bloody contusion deep inside. The crime remained unsolved until 2003.

About a year and a half later, at thirty-one, appellant became infatuated with a fourteen-year-old student who was often home alone after school. On October 19, 1993, she came home to find appellant waiting for her. He was wearing baggy clothes, surgical gloves, sunglasses, and a bandana over his face. Appellant bound the girl’s hands with an electrical cord and wrapped her head in duct tape. He took her into the bedroom, took off her pants, and cut her panties off with a knife; appellant then raped the girl as she screamed and cried. He then began choking her, but she managed to escape. Before fleeing the home, appellant threatened that he would return and kill her and her family if she reported the crime. He also told her that he had been watching her and named her school and sports activities. A sexual-assault examination revealed that the victim’s hymen and anus were torn, and that semen was present. DNA recovered from that semen eventually pointed to appellant as its source. Appellant admitted to this crime, saying that he had watched the girl during his work as a “telephone man.” He admitted that he fantasized about her and wanted to rape but not murder her; this depraved desire, he believed, was proof that he could “beat the evilness” by possessing and controlling another human being without killing her. Again, the crime remained unsolved until 2003.

The next year, on August 7, 1994, appellant, at thirty-two years old, abducted, raped or attempted to rape, and killed nine-year-old Diana Rebollar. He recounted that he saw the child walking down the street while he was driving a van. He pulled into a parking lot and began talking to her. Noticing that nobody else was around, appellant grabbed Rebollar, threw her into the van, duct taped her hands and feet, drove behind a building, then attacked her. Her body was later found on the loading dock of a building, naked except for her black t-shirt, which had been pulled up to her armpits, and her vagina and anus were bloody. Appellant admitted to killing her by strangulation; a rope with a bamboo stick attached to it was found around Rebollar’s neck. This crime also remained unsolved until 2003.

On, or soon after, July 6, 1995, appellant saw sixteen-year-old Dana Sanchez at a pay phone; appellant was thirty-three. Appellant stated that Sanchez appeared angry, and he offered her a ride. Sanchez accepted the ride, but soon objected when appellant began touching her. She tried to evade him, but he pulled her into the back of the van and restrained her after she bit his chest. He then removed her clothes. Appellant claimed that he did not sexually assault Sanchez, but admitted that he did kill her. Sanchez’s decomposed body was found after appellant made an anonymous call to a television news station reporting that there was a “serial killer out there” and giving the body’s location and a detailed description of the victim. The nude body was found with a yellow rope wrapped around its neck; a toothbrush was twisted in the ligature with a knot. Like the other murders, this crime remained unsolved until 2003.

About two and a half years after killing Sanchez, appellant plead no contest to two charges of indecency with a child. The two victims were appellant’s children. Appellant was charged with sexually molesting his older daughter from the time she was in kindergarten until she was thirteen. She testified that appellant would touch her breast, vagina, and anus as she pretended to sleep and that “[appellant] would stand unclothed [at the doorway to her and her younger sister’s bedroom] and touch himself inappropriately.” Appellant also began molesting his younger daughter, and both girls eventually informed their aunt of the assaults. Appellant was arrested, and as a result of a plea agreement, he was placed on deferred-adjudication community supervision.

On October 17, 2003, about eleven and a half years after the Estrada assault and killing, Houston homicide detective Robert King forwarded evidence of the unsolved Estrada murder to Orchid Cellmark for DNA analysis. Appellant’s DNA profile, from the sample he had been required to give when he was placed on deferred adjudication for molesting his daughters and which was included in the CODIS data-bank, matched DNA found on Estrada’s body. Appellant was arrested for the murder. He confessed to that crime, as well as to the murders of Tremblay, Rebollar, and Sanchez, and the aggravated sexual assault of the fourteen-year-old student. The state sought a capital-murder conviction against appellant in the Estrada case. After the guilt phase of the trial, the jury found appellant guilty and, at the punishment phase, it learned of the three other murders and the aggravated sexual assault, as well as the details of appellant’s molestation of his two daughters. Additionally, the jury learned that appellant would frequently drug and choke his adult sexual partners and have intercourse with them while they were unconscious or semi-unconscious. The jury answered the special issues in favor of assessing the death penalty, and appellant was sentenced to death on October 21, 2004.

 

SHORE V. STATE, AP-75,049 (TEX.CR.APP. 12-12-2007)

 

For first time in more than 30 years, no Harris County death row inmates executed


December 6, 2017

For the first time since 1985, no Harris County killers will be executed by the state of Texas this year, a landmark shift for a county once known as the “capital of capital punishment.”

Despite a slight uptick in executions nationwide, Harris County’s one execution this year was cancelled after a desperate death row plot led to a last-minute stay for serial killer Anthony Shore in October. Two U.S. Supreme Court rulings spared two other inmates.

“This has been an important year in terms of death penalty litigation,” said District Attorney Kim Ogg. “I view it as a positive thing. I don’t think that being the death penalty capital of America is a selling point for Harris County.”

Nationwide, executions reached a high water mark in 1999, and Texas executions topped out at 40 the next year. But it’s Harris County courts that have kept the death chamber busiest, with 126 executions since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982.

“Harris County has always symbolized America’s death penalty because it has executed more people than any other county and — apart from the rest of Texas — more than any other state,” said Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center. “It is both symbolic and emblematic of the change in capital punishment in the United States. For the first time in a generation, the nation’s largest executioner has executed no one.”

STUDY: Conservatives’ distaste for death penalty sends support to 45-year low

In part, that’s due to the long-range impact of the Lone Star State’s introduction of life without parole as a sentencing option starting in 2005. Before that, jurors on capital murder cases had to pick between death and the possibility of eventual release.

But it’s also due to the more immediate impacts of court actions this year. In October, death row inmate Duane Buck was given a life sentence after the Supreme Court granted him a new hearing in light of testimony from an expert who told the jury that Buck was more likely to be a future danger because he is black.

Then in November, Harris County prosecutors asked for a life sentence for Bobby Moore, months after the Supreme Court determined that Texas did not properly consider whether he was too intellectually disabled to face execution.

Falling murder rates and changing political tides have also contributed to the decline in capital punishment.

“Perhaps the most important change is that the public is substantially less supportive of the death penalty than it has been at any time since 1972,” Dunham said, citing a recent Gallup poll. The research group’s October findings showed that 55 percent of U.S. adults support capital punishment for convicted murderers, a low not seen since March 1972.

Outspoken death penalty supporter Dudley Sharp blamed the drop on the length of time between sentencing and execution.

“At this point it’s more than doubled since the 1980s, which would dramatically lower the execution rate,” Sharp said.

Even without Harris County, Texas regained its spot this year as the busiest death chamber in the nation with seven executions. Nationwide, 23 prisoners were put to death — three more than the year before — amid an otherwise downward trend.

MOORE: Prosecutors ask for life sentence for Texas death row inmate Bobby Moore

A generation ago, it was a different story.

A year before Karla Faye Tucker’s execution grabbed national headlines amid the tough-on-crime efforts of the 1990s, Harris County saw 11 killers in 1997 executed. Tucker, the first woman executed in Texas since the 1800s, was convicted of a brutal pickaxe slaying; she blamed the killing on drugs.

The next execution in Texas is Jan. 18, when “Tourniquet Killer” Anthony Shore is slated to die by lethal injection.

Shore’s execution on Oct. 18 was halted at the last minute after he told investigators of an abandoned confession plot with fellow death row inmate Larry Swearingen, a Montgomery County killer whose execution was also delayed.

A handful of other Harris County killers who are nearing the end of their appeals process could potentially net 2018 execution dates, including Carlos Ayestas, a Honduran man convicted in a 1995 slaying. The court heard oral arguments in the case in October and is expected to offer a decision next year.

No new death sentences, however, were imposed in Harris County this year — Ogg’s first to helm the district attorney’s office.

“I think it reflects both the new administration and the new skepticism about the death penalty and life without parole all combined with a dash of Harvey,” said local defense attorney Pat McCann. “And then of course there’s the simply bizarre continuing tale of Mr. Shore and Mr. Swearingen and the frankly inexplicable turn of events there.”

Next year could be different, however.

“When you have an historic low one year it’s not surprising to see the numbers rise slightly the following year,” Dunham said.

Death row exoneree Anthony Graves lauded local prosecutors for their role in the shifting tides.

“Kudos to the administration for being out front on criminal justice reform,” he said. “Because this is what it is, this is what it looks like.”

Convicted killer Bessman Okafor to get new sentencing next year


December 6, 2017

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A convicted killer sentenced to death row went before a judge Wednesday as he begins the process to get a new sentence

Bessman Okafor killed Alex Zaldivar, 19, and wounded two others in 2012.

He has to be re-sentenced because the state Supreme Court ordered all death sentence decisions must be unanimous.

Read: Florida Supreme Court overturns death sentence for Bessman Okafor

Rafael Zaldivar, the victim’s father, said reopening this case is painful.

“Everybody has to relive this all over again. It’s like we never moved on. It’s a never-ending story,” he said.

The judge scheduled Okafor’s new sentencing phase for November of next year.

The sentencing should take two weeks, with the first for jury selection and the other for witness testimony.

Photos: Orange County inmates on death row

Okafor will go before an Orange County judge to get an attorney and schedule a new sentencing phase.

“It’s opening up old wounds. It’s terrible for our family,” Rafael Zaldivar aid.

Okafor was sentenced to death in November 2015 for killing Alex Zaldivar and wounding two others during an Ocoee home invasion in 2012.

The three were set to testify against Okafor in a separate home invasion before the killing.

Rafael Zaldivar said he thinks about his son every day.

“He was a good and loving son. Unfortunately, he barely passed his 18th birthday,” he said.

State law has changed since the previous jury voted 11-1 to send Okafor to death row.

Jurors must now all agree on the death penalty.

Rafael Zaldivar believes that will happen.

“I’m very confident they’re going to do it again,” he said.

Months after the Supreme Court ruling, Orange and Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced she would not seek the death penalty during her tenure.

Read: Florida Supreme Court rules against Ayala on Scott’s reassigning of death penalty cases

Gov. Rick Scott then gave Okafor’s case, along with dozens of others, to State Attorney Brad King in Ocala.

“Out of the blue, we had to deal with Aramis Ayala, about her not applying the death penalty to our son’s case. So, it’s been difficult for us and we did not need that with everything going on,” Rafael Zaldivar said. “Thank God Gov. Rick Scott executed that order.”

Attorneys seek to ensure Scott Dozier won’t be executed until 2018


December 5, 2017

A judge in Las Vegas kept a condemned prison inmate’s execution on hold Tuesday over concerns about a never-before-tried three-drug combination planned for use during Nevada‘s first execution in more than 11 years.

Clark County District Court Judge Jennifer Togliatti also said Tuesday that she wants to see written filings before she decides several other key issues.

With the Nevada Supreme Court expected to review the case and decide if Scott Raymond Dozier’s execution should go forward, Togliatti took no immediate action on a request by state and local prosecutors to reverse her Nov. 14 order halting the execution, which had been planned the same day.

State attorney general’s office lawyers say they’re drafting an appeal to the state high court of Togliatti’s order that the state Department of Corrections must remove a disputed paralytic, cisatracurium, as the third drug in a protocol using high doses of the sedative diazepam and the potent opioid fentanyl.

“You could have proceeded. He could be dead today,” the judge told attorney general solicitor Jordan Smith on Wednesday, noting that he said the state would appeal instead.

The judge added that she felt Supreme Court review of the three-drug cocktail will be important if the state wants to use it in future executions.

Togliatti canceled a Dec. 7 hearing, and made it clear that Dozier will have to wait at least several months for the execution he has said repeatedly he wants carried out.

She set a Jan. 17 hearing on a bid from the attorney general and Clark County district attorney’s offices to proceed using just diazepam and fentanyl. A medical expert witness called by federal public defenders challenging the case said those two drugs should be enough to kill the inmate.

She also is being asked to decide if federal public defenders should continue to represent Dozier in a review of the state’s proposed execution protocol.

Dozier, appearing by videoconference from Ely State Prison, did not say he wanted attorneys David Anthony and Lori Teicher to stop representing him.

Togliatti barely contained exasperation over what she termed “manipulation of the court process,” and asked the inmate if a flurry of filings in recent days meant he was asking for a “do-over” of the lengthy proceedings that began in July and required almost daily action in the run-up to the scheduled execution date.

Dozier called the months of hearings that made his case a topic of national interest “vital,” noted that they led to revisions of the protocol, and said he feels now “like I had to take a less-than-ideal option because that was the only option available.”

Dozier, 47, has been on death row since 2007 for convictions in separate murders in Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Jonathan VanBoskerck, a chief Clark County district attorney, has said that local prosecutors have an interest in seeing the penalty that Togliatti imposed 10 years ago carried out. He said Tuesday that other arguments are irrelevant since Dozier is not challenging his sentence or the process.

“The bottom line is it’s his choice,” VanBoskerck told the judge.

 

RELATED | Condemned inmate Scott Dozier complains of death penalty delay

 

SCOTUS rejects case of Alabama Death Row inmate who claims racial discrimination in jury picks


December 4, 2017

Christopher Floyd

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a ruling issued today, refused to hear the appeal of Alabama Death Row inmate Christopher Anthony Floyd, who says prosecutors struck 10 of 11 blacks from the jury pool at his trial.

Floyd appealed earlier this year to the U.S. Supreme Court after a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court last year.

The Alabama Supreme Court’s decision came despite a previous U.S. Supreme Court order that told the Alabama court to take another look at Floyd’s case in light of a similar case in Georgia – Foster v. Chatman. In the 2016 appeal of that case, SCOTUS reversed a conviction for discriminatory jury selection involving prosecutors’ striking blacks from the jury pool.

However, the Alabama Supreme Court in November 2016 concluded that the Foster case did not require a change in the outcome of Floyd’s case, and again affirmed Floyd’s conviction. Floyd then turned again to SCOTUS.

In 2005, Floyd was convicted in Houston County for the murder and robbery of Waylon Crawford. Floyd was sentenced to death.

In selecting the jury for Floyd’s case, the prosecutor and Floyd’s lawyers exercised a total of 36 peremptory challenges, according to the state supreme court order. Prosecutors used its 18 challenges to remove 10 of 11 African-American venire members and 12 of 18 female venire members. Floyd’s lawyers removed one African-American and seven female venire members. The final jury consisted of six white male jurors, six white female jurors, two alternate white male jurors and one alternate African-American female juror.

Floyd, who is white, did not object to the jury based on Batson v. Kentucky– a previous U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting racial discrimination in jury selection, court records show.

In Monday’s rejection of Floyd’s appeal, SCOTUS did not render an opinion. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with which Associate Justice Stephen Breyer concurs, issued a statement.

“Although the unique context of Floyd’s case counsels against review by this Court, I find the underlying facts sufficiently troubling to note that in the ordinary course, facts like these likely would warrant a court’s intervention,” Sotomayor wrote. “During voir dire, the Houston County District Attorney’s Office exercised peremptory challenges against 10 out of 11 qualified African-American venire members, and used 12 of its 18 strikes against women. The prosecutor also marked the letter “‘B,’ as in black,” next to the name of each potential African-American juror.”

“That we have not granted certiorari should not be construed as complacence or an affirmance of all of the reasoning of the courts below,” Sotomayor wrote. “The unusual posture in which Floyd raised his Batson and J. E. B. claims warrants caution in the exercise of the Court’s review here. Yet, courts reviewing claims in circumstances like these must be steadfast in identifying, investigating, and correcting for improper bias in the jury selection process. Such discrimination “‘casts doubt on the integrity of the judicial process,’ and places the fairness of a criminal proceeding in doubt.”

Death row inmate Lotter’s attorneys ask U.S. Supreme Court to hear case


December 1,  2017

A Nebraska death row inmate has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take his case and review decisions by a federal district court and appellate court to deny his latest challenge to his sentence.

John Lotter, who was convicted in the killing that inspired the 1999 movie “Boys Don’t Cry,” specifically is seeking review of an 8th Circuit Court of Appeals order July 31 denying him permission to go forward with an appeal in U.S. District Court in Nebraska.

Rebecca Woodman and Jessica Sutton, of the Death Penalty Litigation Clinic in Kansas City, Missouri, had sought to challenge Nebraska’s sentencing method, which relies on judges and not juries to determine if someone gets the ultimate punishment.

They started the challenge in U.S. District Court in Lincoln.

But in February, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf refused and denied Lotter’s habeas corpus petition, in part because the attorneys hadn’t gotten permission from the 8th Circuit Court to file it.

He likened the filing to a Hail Mary pass.

Lotter, who is raising the same challenge in state court based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Florida case last year, appealed.

In a one-page judgment July 31, a three-judge 8th Circuit panel said after carefully reviewing the district court file it was denying Lotter’s application for a certificate of appealability.

The court’s permission is required for him to go forward in federal court because he has had at least one prior habeas corpus petition.

Lotter also is appealing a Richardson County District judge’s decision to deny him an evidentiary hearing.

Lotter was sentenced to death for his role in the 1993 killings of Brandon Teena and two witnesses, Lisa Lambert and Philip DeVine, at a rural Humboldt farmhouse.

Layton lawmaker wants deeper look at Utah death penalty costs


November  27,  2017

A legislator is proposing an in-depth study of death penalty costs so the state will have unambiguous answers at hand as Utah’s capital punishment debate continues.

A bill filed by Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, for the 2018 legislative session would order research of all costs associated with the prosecution and execution of a death penalty case and an expected 25 years of appeals. The data would be compared with the costs of a capital murder convict serving life without parole.

A legislative analyst in 2012 estimated a death penalty case cost $1.6 million more. But Handy said the study was very limited and did not consider all costs. Categories for the larger proposed study would include county and state prosecution and defense costs, plus court, jail and prison expenses.

The new study “doesn’t have to be pro or con death penalty,” Handy said, “but we hear in the Legislature that we should be making data-driven decisions. Let’s find out what it really costs, so when a (death penalty) bill comes up, we will be informed.”

Handy’s proposal comes as Wasatch Front counties continue to wrestle with the costs of death row appeals, such as Doug Lovell’s ongoing battle against his sentence in the 1985 murder of Joyce Yost of South Ogden.

Lovell’s court-appointed attorney for his current death penalty appeal squabbled with the Weber County Attorney’s Office over his payments, leading him to drop from the case last summer, according to previous coverage. Sam Newton was paid $71,500 by the county to represent Lovell in 2016, according to county financial records.

Newton’s replacement, Colleen Coebergh, has a contract for $100,000 to maintain Lovell’s indigent defense.

As capital appeals continue, “There is a very high emotional cost to the families and a cost to the taxpayers,” said Dave Wilson, a Weber County deputy attorney who helps coordinate public defender contracts.

The 2012 legislative study said more than two-thirds of a death penalty case’s costs are borne by the county government.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics says 33 states and the federal Bureau of Prisons held 2,881 inmates under death sentence at the end of 2015. Utah has nine inmates on death row today, said Maria Peterson, Utah Department of Corrections spokeswoman.

Handy said he realizes his request for a cost study may run against the grain in the capital punishment-friendly Utah Legislature, which reinstated the firing squad option for executions in 2015. Lawmakers also have rejected periodic bills that aimed to drop the death penalty.

Most law enforcement officials support the death penalty, Handy said, recalling an occasion when Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson “came at me like a house afire” during a public discussion of capital punishment.

“People who are such ardent supporters, they don’t care” about the costs, Handy said.

“But I look at it also as trying to adhere to mainstream conservatism,” Handy said. “This may not be the best use of hard-earned taxpayer dollars, with the costs of education and social services growing exponentially.”

The death penalty “is certainly no deterrent,” Handy argued. He said he wonders “what purpose it has, except for payback or from a vengeance standpoint now.”

In an interview, Thompson challenged Handy’s views.

“Nobody says, ‘Gosh, I love the death penalty,’” Thompson said. “But it is important for the most egregious offenses, when lives are taken, changed forever, and people have to live without their loved ones.”

Consider Charles Manson, the sheriff said.

California prosecutors secured a death sentence against Manson, but after the California Supreme Court overturned the death penalty, the cult leader lived on in prison for the murders he masterminded in 1969.

As a “moral, ethical” matter, “It would have been appropriate to have the death penalty as part of the pending punishment,” Thompson said.

“The costs associated with following through with the death penalty, in my opinion, are irrelevant,” the sheriff said.

Utah’s abbreviated review in 2012 pegged the direct cost of an execution at the Utah State Prison at $195,000. And, it said, “For every offender executed before age 76, there is a projected $28,000 savings per year.”

“There need to be some teeth in our laws for them to be effective,” Thompson said. “I truly believe the death penalty does deter, in many cases that we’ll never know.”

Utah’s Death Row

Michael Anthony Archuleta, 55, re-sentenced Dec. 21, 1989

Douglas Stewart Carter, 62, re-sentenced Jan. 27, 1992

Taberon Dave Honie, 42, sentenced May 20, 1999

Troy Michael Kell, 49, sentenced Aug. 8, 1996

Ronald Watson Lafferty, 76, re-sentenced April 23, 1996

Floyd Eugene Maestas, 60, sentenced Feb. 1, 2008

Ralph Leroy Menzies, 59, sentenced March 23, 1988

Von Lester Taylor, 53, sentenced May 24, 1991

Douglas Lovell, 59, re-sentenced May 4, 2015

Source: Utah Department of Corrections