Houston serial killer Anthony Shore faces another death date, this one Jan. 18. Shore was originally set for execution in October, but that got halted by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office amid rumors he was planning to confess to another murder: the 1998 killing of Melissa Trotter. Except Larry Swearingen had been convicted of kidnapping, raping, and strangling Trotter in 2000, and by then was preparing for his own execution in November.
Assistant District Attorney Tom Berg said his office revoked Shore’s execution warrant at the request of Montgomery County D.A. Brett Ligon, who believed Shore was colluding with Swearingen. (He says a folder was found in Shore’s cell with information relating to Trotter’s death.) Berg said the Texas Rangers have since interviewed Shore, who admitted he had “nothing to do” with Trotter’s murder. Shore alleged he and Swearingen once contemplated conspiring, but had since “parted ways.” Berg, who says his office and Ligon’s have reviewed the interview, said Shore decided not to “take the fall” for his fellow inmate. Shore has exhausted his appeals; Berg said he’s unaware of any new attempts to stay Shore’s execution, and concluded that his case will see its “inevitable end” next Thursday.
Shore’s execution is just the beginning of a busy month.
Swearingen, however, had his November execution stayed due to a filing error, and has since been granted additional DNA testing. Unlike Shore, who confessed to killing four girls between 1986 and 1995, Swearingen has maintained his innocence. His supporters, including his lawyer James Rytting, say he was in a county jail for outstanding traffic warrants at the time of Trotter’s murder. The 19-year-old was last seen on Dec. 8, 1998, with Swearingen (who wasn’t arrested until three days later), but her body wasn’t discovered until Jan. 2. Rytting said forensic evidence suggests her body could not have been dumped in the woods until “a week or 10 days” after Swearingen was arrested.
Included in the evidence sent out for testing is Trotter’s rape kit, which was never tested and could exonerate Swearingen should analysts uncover another DNA profile. Samples of hair particles found on Trotter’s undergarments and the alleged murder weapon (a torn pair of pantyhose) will also be tested. The evidence was shipped out in December and testing will likely take four weeks.
Rytting was alarmed that the state had reissued an execution date for Shore. “They shouldn’t be putting the guy into the ground with these questions still around,” he said. He says two witnesses, with no connection to Swearingen, told the D.A.’s Office that Shore suggested to them that he was connected to Trotter’s murder. The information, Rytting said, would “sure as hell” make Shore a suspect had it been provided prior to Swearingen’s conviction. “It’s a type of incriminating statement the prosecution seizes on all the time,” he said. “You don’t get to wiggle out of it with an ‘Aw shucks, I was kidding.'”
Shore will likely mark the first state-sanctioned killing of 2018, and his is just the beginning. William Rayford is scheduled for Jan. 30, and John Battaglia for Feb. 1.
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.
Texas’ “Tourniquet Killer” is set for execution Thursday. It would be the first execution under Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat who oversaw the first year without an execution in the county for more than 30 years.
The first execution of 2018 in Texas and the nation is expected to take place Thursday evening for Houston’s “Tourniquet Killer.”
Anthony Shore, 55, is a confessed serial rapist and strangler whose murders went unsolved in the 1980s and 1990s for more than a decade. With no pending appeals, his execution is expected to be the first under Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat who took office last January and has said she doesn’t see the death penalty as a deterrent to crime.
Still, she has said the punishment is appropriate for Shore, deeming him “the worst of the worst.”
“Anytime a person is subject to government’s greatest sanction, it merits thoughtful review,” Ogg said through a spokesman Wednesday. “We have proceeded as the law directs and satisfied all doubts.”
Shore wasn’t arrested in the murders until 2003, when his DNA was matched to the 1992 murder of 21-year-old Maria Del Carmen Estrada, according to court documents. His DNA had been on file since 1998, when he pleaded no-contest to charges of sexually molesting his two daughters. After his arrest, he confessed to the murders of four young women and girls, including Estrada.
Between 1986 and 1995, Shore sexually assaulted and killed 14-year-old Laurie Tremblay, Estrada, 9-year-old Diana Rebollar and 16-year-old Dana Sanchez, the court documents said. He also admitted to the rape of another 14-year-old girl, but she managed to escape after he began choking her. The murder victims’ bodies were all found in various states of undress behind buildings or in a field with rope or cord tied around their necks like tourniquets.
Though he doesn’t argue that his client is innocent or undeserving of punishment, Shore’s lawyer, Knox Nunnally, said Wednesday that he was surprised Ogg continued to pursue the death penalty for Shore based on her previous statements on capital punishment. Ogg’s first year in office also coincided with the first year Harris County didn’t carry out an execution in more than 30 years.
“Many people in the death penalty community were expecting other things from her,” Nunnally said.
Though she has said the death penalty is “pure retribution,” Ogg told the Texas Observer last year that she still believes in it. But in two major death penalty cases that made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ogg opted for reduced punishments.
After the high court ruled death row inmate Duane Buck should receive a new trial because an expert witness claimed he was more likely to be a future danger to society because he was black, Ogg offered a plea agreement in October to a sentence of life in prison rather than holding a new death penalty trial. The next month, Ogg asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reduce the death sentence of Bobby Moore, whose case had earlier prompted the Supreme Court to invalidate Texas’ outdated method of determining intellectual disability in death-sentenced inmates.
But for a “true serial killer” such as Shore, Ogg said in a July statement that he was “a person deserving of the ultimate punishment.”
Shore’s execution was originally set for October, but Ogg postponed it after Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon requested a delay from her and Gov. Greg Abbott. Ligon was concerned that Shore might falsely confess to the Montgomery County murder of Melissa Trotter, potentially disrupting the existing death sentence for the man already convicted in Trotter’s murder.
“We knew that was not true, but, that said, we knew that if we didn’t investigate it, it would look like we ignored potential evidence,” Ligon said.
Ligon said that after Shore talked to Texas Rangers and his office, investigators were convinced that Shore was not responsible for Trotter’s death or any other open murder cases. Nunnally said Shore never confessed to Trotter’s murder.
Now, Nunnally says he thinks he’s done everything he can for Shore. He had hoped to ask for a delay if the U.S. Supreme Court elected to hear a case out of Arizona that questions the constitutionality of the death penalty as a whole, but the justices have yet to make a decision and don’t meet again until Friday — the day after his scheduled execution.
Shore’s execution will the be the first in 2018, following a years-long trend of fewer executions in Texas and across the country. Four other executions are scheduled in Texas through March.
The execution of the first death-row Indian prisoner, convicted of killing a baby and her Indian grandmother, has been set for February 23.
In 2014, Raghunandan Yandamuri, 32, was given the death penalty for kidnapping and killing a 61-year-old Indian woman and her 10-month-old grand-daughter.
However, he is likely to get a reprieve because of a 2015 moratorium on the death penalty by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf.
Authorities alleged that the killings were part of a botched ransom plot. Yandamuri had come to the U.S. on an H-1B visa.
The local Times Herald reported that even though his execution by lethal injection is set for February 23, he might get a reprieve because a death penalty moratorium previously was put in place by Governor Tom Wolf.
“The law provides that when the governor does not sign a warrant of execution within the specified time period, the secretary of corrections has 30 days within which to issue a notice of execution,” Pennsylvania Department of Corrections said in a news release.
According to the report, Wolf imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2015. State officials are awaiting the results of a study conducted by the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment, before moving forward with any executions.
Pennsylvania has not seen any executions in the last nearly 20 years. Since 1976, three persons have been executed in the States between 1995 and 1999.
A death row inmate convicted of fatally beating an Augusta woman died Tuesday in an Atlanta prison hospital where he was undergoing cancer treatment.
Robert O. Arrington, 70, was convicted of the April 2001 murder of 46-year-old Kathy Hutchens. She and her dog were found dead in her George Road residence 10 days after she called the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office for help in making Arrington leave her home. They had dated and lived together for a short time.
His boot prints and fingerprints were found in Hutchens’ blood. When arrested on April 13, 2001, the day Hutchens’ body was found, he still had her blood on his boots, according to prior reports in The Augusta Chronicle.
Hutchens wasn’t the first woman Arrington beat to death. In 1986 he killed his 53-year-old wife, Elizabeth Arrington, then dumped her body in a ditch in Burke County. The murder charge in that case was reduced to voluntary manslaughter and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Supreme Court is ordering a new sentence for a man involved in the deadly kidnapping of a young couple from South Beach.
The court on Thursday upheld the conviction of Joel Lebron, but tossed out his death sentence. The 39-year-old man is getting a new hearing because a jury recommended the death penalty by a 9 to 3 vote.
Authorities say 17-year-old Nelson Portobanco and 18-year-old Ana Maria Angel were walking back to their car after a date in 2002 when they were forced into a pickup by Lebron and four other men.
Authorities say Lebron stabbed Portobanco and left him for dead, but the teen survived. Angel was repeatedly raped and taken to a retaining wall beside Interstate 95 where Lebron killed her with a single gunshot.
CALGARY—A lawyer for a Canadian on death row in Montana believes it’s only a matter of time before the death penalty in much of the United States is abolished and his client will be free to return home.
Ronald Smith, 60, is originally from Red Deer, Alta., and has been on death row since 1983 for fatally shooting Harvey Madman Jr. and Thomas Running Rabbit while he was high on LSD and alcohol near East Glacier, Mont.
He originally asked for and was sentenced to death but later changed his mind and has been fighting execution ever since. He has had a number of execution dates set and overturned.
“Last year, I think we’ve only had 20-some executions and those are really isolated to only three or four states, and only three or four counties in those states.
“Most of the United States has moved beyond this and there comes a time where the courts are going to say this is in fact cruel and unusual punishment.”
Lethal injection has been the sole method of execution in Montana since 1997. It is the only state that specifies the death penalty must be accomplished by an “ultra-fast-acting” barbiturate.
Executions in Montana have been on hold since 2008 when the civil liberties union filed legal action that argued that the sedative pentobarbital, which was being proposed by the state as a replacement for the previously used sodium pentothal, could lead to an “excruciating and terrifying” death.
District Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock sided with the civil liberties group and rejected an appeal by the state of Montana.
Sherlock has now sanctioned the state over its year-long delay in complying with a court order to turn over documents that could reveal if there was manipulation of an expert witness.
The group questioned whether the testimony of Roswell Evans was manipulated at trial to bolster the state’s unsuccessful claim that pentobarbital was suitable for executions.
“We’ve got some emails and we’re now looking at those and trying to ascertain what else is there,” Waterman said. “They’re going to make us unpack this whole thing piece by piece so they’re not going to go easily.
“I don’t know that it’s going to have any direct or immediate impact on the case itself.”
Waterman said it is more a case over legal fees and whether Montana acted in a vexatious manner.
As for Smith’s future, Waterman doesn’t see the current ban on executions in Montana changing any time soon. It would require a new statute being introduced and adopted by both sides of the legislature and would have to be signed by the governor.
“They didn’t change the statute during the last legislative session so the next time up is 2019. I’m not hearing anybody really being that keen about changing (it).”
The Canadian government officially intervened on Smith’s behalf last year when it asked Gov. Steve Bullock to grant him clemency.
“My hope would be ultimately that we can find clemency for Ron so that he can move back to Canada,” Waterman said.
“If the death penalty is abolished he would be eligible to be moved right away.”
Roberts was accused of planning her ex-husband’s murder with her boyfriend Nathaniel Jackson. The killing happened in the couple’s home in Howland.
Jackson was also sentenced to death.
In the past, the court said a prosecutor improperly helped prepare a sentencing motion in Roberts’ case and that a judge hadn’t fully considered factors that could argue against a death sentence.
Justice Terrence O’Donnell, writing for the majority, rejected arguments that allowing a new judge to sentence Roberts after the original judge died was unconstitutional.
Justice O’Donnell explained that Roberts helped Jackson plan Fingerhut’s murder in a series of letters and phone calls while Jackson was in prison on an unrelated charge. She actively participated with Jackson in the killing by purchasing a mask and gloves for him and allowing him into the home, evidencing prior calculation and design, O’Donnell said.
The court ruled 6-1.
The Court also pointed out that although Roberts expressed sadness for Fingerhut’s murder, she never accepted responsibility for it and denied her scheme to kill Fingerhut, “notwithstanding overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”
The Court concluded the death penalty was appropriate and proportionate to the death sentence imposed on Jackson.
The state is expected to oppose Roberts’ latest request.
From his small cell on California’s death row, Scott Pinholster swore he could prove his innocence. The proof, he said, was in the dried blood on a work boot and a pink towel recovered from his home years ago.
The condemned inmate insisted that modern DNA testing — nonexistent when he was convicted of a double murder in 1984 — would show the blood belonged to him, not the victims, as the prosecution argued at his trial.
But a recent search for the items has led to a disturbing discovery that could throw the case into jeopardy: The Los Angeles County courts mistakenly destroyed the evidence.
A judge must now determine what, if anything, should be done to remedy the high-stakes error.
Pinholster’s attorney has asked for a hearing on how the destruction happened and says he will eventually ask for a new trial. Prosecutors, however, argue that a killer’s life shouldn’t be spared simply because of an innocent mistake by court staff.
One of the jurors who voted to send Pinholster to death row more than three decades ago was shocked to hear that the man convicted of fatally stabbing and beating two men might get a second chance.
“Oh my God!” said the juror, who spoke on condition of anonymity, when recently contacted by The Times. “He’s liable to get off then?”
Pinholster is one of 744 people awaiting execution in California — the largest death row population in the country. Although the state hasn’t put anyone to death since 2006, that could soon change, as voters passed a measure last year to speed up the process. Of the state’s condemned inmates, about 20 have exhausted their appeals, putting them at the front of the line. Among them is Pinholster.
California law requires that courts keep evidence until after a death row inmate is executed or dies behind bars — a safeguard put in place to preserve evidence for future testing. Mary Hearn, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Superior Court, said the court’s procedure for destroying evidence, which was updated last year, now requires that staff first contact California’s Supreme Court to confirm a death row inmate has died. The court, Hearn said, began a review of its procedure before learning of Pinholster’s case.
Hearn said Pinholster, 58, is the only known example of evidence destruction in a case of a living death row inmate convicted in L.A. County. But a small number of cases around the country have raised similar legal problems.
On the eve of an execution in 2005, Virginia’s governor reduced a condemned death row inmate’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole after learning that a court clerk had destroyed evidence in his murder case despite being warned by subordinates not to do so. Two years later, a man on death row in Oklahoma was released from prison after a judge ruled that a police lab analyst had intentionally destroyed hair evidence that could have pointed to the inmate’s innocence.
Elisabeth Semel, a UC Berkeley law professor who directs the school’s clinic that defends condemned inmates facing execution, said destruction of physical evidence cripples the ability to examine an inmate’s innocence claim.
“If the very evidence you need is gone … how do you make justice happen for these individuals?” she said, describing the scenario as “terribly, terribly devastating.”
The importance of such tests was highlighted last month when Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned a prisoner who spent 39 years behind bars for the 1978 killing of a young woman and her 4-year-old son in Simi Valley. After the prisoner, Craig Coley, exhausted his appeals years ago, a judge authorized the destruction of the crime-scene evidence. But a cold-case detective recently found the evidence and when tested, it helped clear Coley of the murders.
For Pinholster, prosecutors point to a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision that makes it difficult for prisoners to reverse convictions or reduce sentences unless they can show that evidence was destroyed in “bad faith.” In Pinholster’s case, prosecutors argue, the destruction was the result of “at most negligence, incompetency, recklessness,” but not “bad faith.”
At his trial, a prosecutor argued that the blood on the boot and towel found in the defendant’s Van Nuys apartment belonged to at least one of the two victims — Thomas Johnson, 25, and Robert Beckett, 29. The men were stabbed and beaten to death at the Tarzana home of a marijuana dealer on Jan. 9, 1982.
The state’s key witness, Art Corona, told police that he, Pinholster and a third man, Paul Brown, were all armed with buck knives when they barreled into the home looking to steal drugs and cash. Minutes later, Corona said, the two victims showed up. Pinholster attacked the men with a knife, his fists and his feet, Corona said, adding that Brown also stabbed one of the men.
Their loot: $23 and a quarter-ounce of pot.
Pinholster said he had stolen drugs from the home a few hours before the killings but never harmed anyone. When he took the stand, he seemed to revel in his criminal record. Asked for his occupation, he smirked and responded, “a crook,” according to court documents. He also boasted to jurors of having committed hundreds of robberies, but insisted he’d always carried guns, not knives.
A Sheriff’s Department criminalist told jurors that he’d tested the right work boot and towel collected from Pinholster’s home and found they came back positive for human blood, but technology at the time couldn’t narrow down whose blood it was. The prosecutor suggested that Pinholster had stepped in a pool of blood at the Tarzana home and used the towel to wipe off the murder weapon.
Neither Pinholster nor his attorney argued at trial that the blood was from him — an omission the district attorney’s office said undercuts his current claim. His new attorney said Pinholster was never asked during the trial who the blood belonged to.
Contacted recently, another juror who asked to be identified only as a 76-year-old woman said she was confident in the verdict.
“He was absolutely guilty,” she said. “No question.”
Even after three decades, she said, she can conjure a haunting memory of an image painted at trial by the prosecutor — Pinholster, wearing boots, kicking in the skull of one of the victims.
After his conviction, state courts rejected appeals from Pinholster, but a federal judge overturned the death sentence in 2003, ruling that his trial counsel had failed to tell jurors about the extent of Pinholster’s mental health problems. In 2011, however, the U.S. Supreme Court restored Pinholster’s death sentence.
“He’s been very discouraged,” said Sean Kennedy, Pinholster’s current lawyer.
But months after having his death penalty restored, the inmate got good news. A judge had finally approved his request to have DNA testing done on the towel and boot. Pinholster contends that the bloodstains came from his repeated intravenous use of heroin.
A Los Angeles police officer was assigned to scour an LAPD storage room for the items in case the court had returned them after the trial. The search came up empty, so officers checked inside another police storage facility. Still nothing. As the hunt stretched into a fourth year, Kennedy grew suspicious. Finally, a prosecutor stepped in to help speed up the process.
“And that,” Kennedy said, with a shake of his head, “is when they finally fessed up.”
Court documents from January 1998 show that People vs. Pinholster was mistakenly listed among more than a dozen cases deemed eligible for evidence destruction. The trial exhibits, records show, were destroyed that summer. Two top Los Angeles County Superior Court officials signed the destruction order — Judge John Reid and Ty Colgrove, an administrator who helped run the court’s criminal operations. Both men have since retired.
Reached for comment, Colgrove said he didn’t recall the case, as he’d signed hundreds of destruction orders over the years, but added that he relied on lower-level employees to properly sort through the cases.
Hearn, the court spokeswoman, said Reid could not comment, as he still sometimes fills in on the bench. In a recently signed declaration, Reid wrote that if he’d known the evidence from a capital case was going to be destroyed, he “would not have signed the order.”
Kennedy, an associate clinical professor at Loyola Law School whose work on Pinholster’s case carried over from his days as the federal public defender for the Central District of California, bristled at the rationale.
“It’s almost like the judiciary is facilitating wrongful executions,” he said.
Life on death row has worn on Pinholster. Last year, as California voters weighed two options — speeding up executions or banning the death penalty — Pinholster was quoted in a Times article, expressing apathy.
“After 30 years,” he said, “you don’t care one way or the other.”
But there’s still some hope for his exoneration, Kennedy said, pointing to trial exhibit 29 — a pair of bloodstained jeans also recovered from Pinholster’s home years ago. While court employees have said they presume the jeans are lost or destroyed, they haven’t found any documents showing they were, in fact, discarded.
Kennedy has asked for a special hearing so he can question the court officials who approved the destruction. A judge is expected to rule on that request early next year.
For Michael Kumar, the former marijuana dealer who lived at the home where the killings took place, the mention of Pinholster brings a rush of memories. Although he’d been out of town the weekend of the murders, the pain is still raw over the loss of Johnson, his best friend — a gentle giant who loved to play classical piano. When asked about the possibility of a new trial, Kumar sighed.
“It’s preposterous to me…. It’s completely a joke if this guy says he’s innocent,” said Kumar, 58, who now sells parts for and restores classic cars. “I’m not going to say he doesn’t have the right, because I’m not sure what the technicalities are, but it’s just that — a technicality.”