Appeals

Howland woman condemned to death row asking for another appeal


 

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Lawyers for Ohio’s only condemned female killer have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to accept her appeal.

Death row inmate Donna Roberts was convicted of planning her ex-husband’s 2001 killing with a boyfriend in hopes of collecting insurance money.

Roberts’ death sentence was struck down in the past after the state Supreme Court said a prosecutor improperly helped prepare a sentencing motion in her case.

The court also said a judge hadn’t fully considered factors that could argue against a death sentence.

Earlier this year, the Ohio Supreme Court once again upheld the death sentence for the 73-year-old Roberts.

She was sentenced to death for the third time in 2014 but appealed that decision.

Watch: Testimony from Roberts’ appeal

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.

 

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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.

Salvadoran Man on Texas Death Row Loses Supreme Court Appeal


December 11, 2017

The U.S. Supreme has refused to review an appeal from a 48-year-old Salvadoran man on Texas death row for the slayings of two Houston store clerks during an attempted robbery more than 17 years ago.

The U.S. Supreme has refused to review an appeal from a 48-year-old Salvadoran man on Texas death row for the slayings of two Houston store clerks during an attempted robbery more than 17 years ago.

The high court had no comment in its decision Monday in the case of Gilmar Guevara.

Attorneys for Guevara asked the justices to reverse lower courts’ rulings rejecting arguments that he’s mentally impaired and ineligible for the death penalty.

Guevara was convicted and sentenced to death for the fatal shootings of 48-year-old Tae Youk and 21-year-old Gerardo Yaxon. Youk was from South Korea and Yaxon from Guatemala.

Guevara, identified as the shooter, and two accomplices fled the scene in southwest Houston in June 2000 without any money.

He does not yet have an execution date.

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.

Texas Death Row Inmate’s Execution Postponed Over False Testimony


November 29,2017Juan Castillo - TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Juan Castillo was scheduled to die on December 14, 2017. He was supposed to be the last prisoner on death row to be executed in Texas this year.

But on November 29, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals delayed Castillo’s execution and sent his case back to trial court to reexamine false testimony used to convict him. 

Castillo, 36, was sentenced to death for the 2003 murder and robbery of Tommy Garcia Jr. in San Antonio. Castillo, his then-girlfriend, and two others had tried to lure Garcia with sex, and then steal his money. When 19-year-old Garcia ran away, Castillo shot him.

During his trial, Castillo’s former bunkmate at the Bexar County Jail, Gerardo Gutierrez, testified that Castillo had confessed to the crime. But in 2013, Gutierrez signed an affidavit saying he had lied about the confession.

Gutierrez’s false testimony is prompting the Texas CCA to pause the execution and further review Castillo’s case.

It’s not the first time Castillo’s execution date has been called off.

Previously, his Sept. 7, 2017 execution date was postponed at the request of the Bexar County District Attorney’s office because some of Castillo’s lawyers living in Harris County were impacted by Hurricane Harvey, according to the Texas Tribune. Castillo also had a prior execution date set back in May, but the date was postponed after Bexar County prosecutors failed to give sufficient notice to the defense, according to the Houston Chronicle

Texas has executed seven death row inmates in 2017, two of which were in Bexar County.

At least two other executions have been delayed in Texas this year because of issues over testimonies. Back in October, Anthony Shore, known as the “Tourniquet Killer,” had his execution date moved to January after he told prosecutors he had falsely planned to take responsibility for a fellow inmate’s murder.

Duane Buck, a Harris County death row inmate, had his sentence reduced to life in prison after the Supreme Court granted him the right to a retrial because a prison psychiatrist had told the jury in his 1997 trial that Buck would be more dangerous in the future because of his race.

Court spurns appeal by Arizona death row inmate – Graham Sanders Henry


april 10, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) — Saying that finality is long overdue, a federal appeals court is spurning the latest appeal on behalf of an Arizona death row inmate convicted of the 1986 killing of a Nevada man.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week refused to reconsider a previous ruling that turned down an appeal on behalf of Graham Sanders Henry.

The appellate court said it won’t reconsider Henry’s appeal because that would delay Supreme Court review of the case, including Henry’s convictions for what the court’s order called his “ghastly crimes” from nearly 28 years ago.

Henry was sentenced to die for killing Las Vegas-area resident Roy Estes. He was driven to the desert north of Kingman in Arizona’s Mohave County where he was stabbed in the heart and his throat cut.

Court to rehear appeal for Ariz. death row inmate – James Erin McKinney


March 14, 2014
PHOENIX (AP) — A federal appeals court is reconsidering an appeal filed on behalf of an Arizona Death Row inmate convicted of two killings during burglaries.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last September upheld a trial judge’s denial of James Erin McKinney’s challenges to his murder convictions and death sentences.

However, the San Francisco-based appellate court now says a larger panel of its judges will consider McKinney’s appeal.

The three-judge panel’s ruling said it didn’t matter much that McKinney was seated so he faced the jury while on trial with a co-defendant before separate juries. And it rejected his other challenges in the appeal.

McKinney was convicted in the 1991 killings of Christene Mertens and Jim McClain during separate burglaries in Maricopa County.

ARIZONA -9th Circuit denies all but 1 claim of Arizona death row inmate convicted in 1980 murder case


march 6, 2014

PHOENIX — A federal appeals court has denied almost all of the claims of an Arizona death row inmate who says he had ineffective counsel at his 1997 resentencing.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Wednesday remanded one claim of 53-year-old Scott D. Clabourne to a Tucson federal court.

That was Clabourne’s assertion that his lawyers at resentencing failed to object to the court’s consideration of his confession to police.

Clabourne was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of a 22-year-old University of Arizona student.

Authorities say the New York woman was raped, strangled and stabbed in the heart on Sept. 18, 1980. Her naked body was dumped in an arroyo, where it was found the following day.

Clabourne was first sentenced to death in 1983.

 

On the evening of September 18, 1980, Laura Webster left work with some friends and went to the Green Dolphin, a Tucson bar frequented by students from the University of Arizona. Sometime around midnight, she left the bar with three strange men. The next morning, Webster’s naked body was found lying in the dry bed of the Santa Cruz River. Wrapped in a bloody sheet, Webster had been strangled with a blue and white bandana, then stabbed to death. She had also been severely beaten, and traces of semen were found in her mouth, rectum and vagina.

The Tucson police got their first break in the case almost a year later when a woman named Shirley Martin reported that her former boyfriend, Scott Clabourne, had made several statements inculpating himself in a homicide. Clabourne was in custody on an unrelated burglary charge at the Pima County Jail, where he was interviewed by Detectives Bustamante and Reuter of the Tucson Police Department.

Clabourne gave a detailed, taped confession to the rape and murder of Laura Webster. According to Clabourne, he and two other men, Larry Langston and a man Clabourne called “Bob” (later identified as Edward Carrico), went to the Green Dolphin to “get some women.” Langston convinced Webster to leave the bar with them by promising to take her to a cocaine party Clabourne was purportedly hosting; instead the three men took Webster to a house Langston had been taking care of for a friend. The three men forced Webster to remove all her clothes and to serve them drinks. They then raped her repeatedly over the course of several hours. Though a much larger man than Langston, Clabourne claims to have been afraid of Langston; he also claims to have been intoxicated. Langston was the instigator, and he “made” the others take part. At the end of the night, Langston instructed Clabourne to kill Webster, and Clabourne obeyed: He strangled Webster with a bandana he carried, and then stabbed her with a knife.

Three days after Detectives Bustamante and Reuter interviewed Clabourne, a criminal information was filed charging Clabourne with first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault. Lamar Couser was appointed as Clabourne’s counsel. Couser brought a pretrial motion to suppress the confession, which was denied. He also moved for a hearing to determine Clabourne’s competency to stand trial, but the state called two psychiatrists to testify that Clabourne was not so mentally impaired that he would be unable to assist in his own defense. The court found Clabourne competent.

Clabourne was tried alone. 1 The prosecution relied primarily on Clabourne’s taped confession, but also introduced evidence of other incriminating statements Clabourne made after the murder. Shirley Martin testified that Clabourne had admitted committing the crime on several occasions (although his accounts were not consistent). Barbara Bailon, who worked at the Salvation Army halfway house, testified that Clabourne had confessed to killing a girl. Scott Simmons, a Pima County Jail Corrections officer, testified that Clabourne had told him about the crime before giving his taped confession. And a second corrections officer, Dale Stevenson, testified that he overheard Clabourne tell another inmate, “Yeah, I raped her. She didn’t want it but I know she liked it.”

The state also introduced testimony to corroborate Clabourne’s confession. Shirley Martin testified that the blue and white bandana found tied around Webster’s neck was similar to one that belonged to Clabourne. The owner of the house where the rape and murder occurred identified the sheet in which Laura Webster’s body had been found and testified that the mattress on one of her beds had been turned over to conceal large stains. And Webster’s friend Rick Diaz identified Clabourne as one of the men who had left the Green Dolphin with Webster.

Couser raised an insanity defense. However, he called only one witness: Dr. Sanford Berlin, a psychiatrist who had treated Clabourne several years previously at the University of Arizona Medical Center. 2 Couser did not contact Dr. Berlin until the week of trial. Perhaps for that reason, Dr. Berlin was not prepared to testify as to Clabourne’s mental state at the time of the murder; he could only surmise that Clabourne might be suffering from a mild form of schizophrenia. The state put two psychiatrists on the stand to testify that Clabourne understood the nature of his actions and the difference between right and wrong, and that he was legally sane at the time of the murders. Couser cross-examined the state’s experts, but put on no other witnesses.

Clabourne was convicted on all counts,3 and a sentencing hearing was held before Judge Richard N. Roylston, who had also presided at trial. Judge Roylston found that the offense was committed in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner, an aggravating circumstance under Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. S 13-703(F)(6). 4 Couser argued that Clabourne should not be sentenced to death because he was mentally impaired at the time of the offense, but he put on no evidence at the sentencing hearing, relying on the evidence presented at the guilt phase of the trial. Judge Roylston concluded that Clabourne’s “capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was impaired but was not significantly impaired.” Judge Roylston did not consider this evidence sufficiently compelling to be a mitigating circumstance under Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. S 13-703(G)(1),5 and in any event found that whatever mitigating effect Clabourne’s impairment might have had was outweighed by the cruel and depraved manner in which he had committed the offense. 6 Judge Roylston sentenced Clabourne to death.

Arizona death-row case to get unusual 13th look by high court – Richard hurles


february 20, 2014, (azcentral)

WASHINGTON – When the Supreme Court’s justices sit down Friday to consider which cases to hear, one appeal will be familiar – an Arizona murder case that the justices have taken up the last 12 times they met.

Experts say it is unusual for the justices to consider one case 13 times in a row – so far – at their regular case conference without turning it down or agreeing to hear it. And while they say no one can know for sure, they have several theories why Ryan v. Hurles has been hanging around since before the court’s current term started in October.

“Twelve is a long time,” said Dale Baich, an assistant federal public defender in Arizona. “I don’t recall seeing a case held over for that many times.”

The petition to the Supreme Court is the latest twist in the 22-year case of Richard Hurles, who killed Buckeye librarian Kay Blanton in 1992 when he stabbed her 37 times as she worked alone in the library. He was convicted in 1994 of burglary, attempted sexual assault and first-degree murder, and sentenced to death.

Hurles has filed repeated appeals since then, getting to the point that a death warrant was issued in 2000 before it was stayed.

Among the claims in his latest round of appeals is a charge of judicial bias against trial Judge Ruth Hilliard. Hurles had asked that Hilliard – the judge at both his trial and his sentencing – not be allowed to consider his second post-conviction review.

But that request was denied by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Eddward Ballinger. Hilliard then denied Hurles’ second petition, a decision that was affirmed by the Arizona Supreme Court.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and in January 2013 a three-judge panel of that court ordered an evidentiary hearing into Hurles’ bias claim.

The Arizona attorney general’s office appealed that ruling last summer to the U.S. Supreme Court, which first put Hurles’ case on its conference calendar Sept. 30. It has put the case on every conference calendar since then, 12 so far, without deciding whether or not to hear it.

“We really don’t know why the case is being held,” said Baich.

But he, like others, offered several possible explanations: The court could be waiting for a decision in a different case to be resolved first, it could be writing an opinion, or a justice, or justices, might be writing a dissent should the case get rejected.

“This is pure speculation on my part,” Baich said. “There could be a number of reasons.”

Amy Howe, editor for the U.S. Supreme Court blog SCOTUSblog, said it is also possible that a justice might be rewording the petition. Or it could just be that the four votes needed to issue a writ of certiorari – agreeing to hear the case – are not there yet and justices are trying to pick up that fourth vote.

Paul Bender, a law professor at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, said the delay is most likely caused by the court waiting to see a 9th Circuit decision on a similar case that “might resolve the issues in this case.”

The Hurles’ case is “an issue that they’re potentially interested in, but whether they’re really going to take it depends upon what the 9th Circuit did and what the state’s going to do after that,” Bender said.

Howe said despite the theories, there will be no way of knowing the reason for the delay until after the court has either granted or rejected the appeal.

“You just don’t know until you actually see what’s happening,” she said.