New trial

Florida death row inmate who brutally stabbed a pregnant woman to death in 1993 is now charged in the death of her son, 23, who was born via c-section and died last year


December 22,2017

A Florida man convicted in the 1993 stabbing death of a pregnant woman will stand trial for the death of the victim’s son 23 years later.

Ronnie Keith Williams will be charged with murder in the death of 23-year-old Julius Dyke, the brain-damaged son of a woman he fatally stabbed in 1993

The Sun Sentinel reports the Broward County prosecutor’s office announced Thursday that Ronnie Keith Williams will be charged with first-degree murder in the death of 23-year-old Julius Dyke.

Julius Dyke was born via cesarean section two days after his 18-year-old mother, Lisa Dyke, was stabbed. Lisa died 18 days after he was born.

He had suffered extensive brain damage and his 2016 death was ruled a homicide linked to the attack.

Julius was not able to walk or talk and was only able to eat via a feeding tube.

Hearing of the impending charges, his grandmother and caretaker Margaret Dyke said: ‘Oh my Julius, my love.’

Now I truly miss my daughter because the only part of her has gone on with her.’

Lisa had been babysitting for a friend in Wilton Manors, near Fort Lauderdale, when Williams entered the home and attacked her in 1993. He had apparently been looking for his ex-girlfriend.

 

Advertisements

Mentor-on-the-Lake death penalty case: New trial confirmed by Ohio Supreme Court


December 13, 2017

Joseph Thomas

It’s official.

The former Perry Township man who was sentenced to death row for a Mentor woman’s rape and murder will get a new trial.

The Ohio Supreme Court has refused to reconsider its previous decision that reversed Joseph Thomas’ convictions.

Thomas was found guilty in 2012 for the death of Annie McSween.

The 49-year-old victim’s body was found on Nov. 26, 2010, in a wooded area outside of Mario’s Lakeway Lounge in Mentor-on- the-Lake, where she worked as a bartender.

Lake County Prosecutor Charles Coulson said he is disappointed the high court did not grant his request to reconsider the case.

“In my opinion, the court’s reasoning for reversal was both factually and legally flawed as pointed out in our motion for reconsideration,” Coulson said. “Now we will have to retry the case.”

A new trial date before Lake County Common Pleas Judge Richard L. Collins Jr. had not yet been scheduled.

Thomas will remain in prison until trial, the prosecutor said.

After Thomas was convicted, Collins chose to adopt the jury’s recommendation of death rather than downgrade the sentence to life in prison. In a 4-3 vote in October, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence and ordered a new trial be scheduled for Thomas.

The Lake County Prosecutor’s Office then filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that the high court’s majority neglected to fully analyze the issues, confused legal standards and failed to use its own law, instead “cherry-picking cases from outside Ohio” to make its decision.

McSween was strangled and stabbed multiple times in the neck and back on Black Friday. The power lines to the bar had been cut, and McSween and two other women had their tires slashed.

Thomas has maintained his innocence and claimed he had no motivation to commit the crime.

Although Thomas had frequently been seen carrying a blue pocketknife before that night, it was not recovered during the criminal investigation. At trial, prosecutors introduced five other knives Thomas owned, describing them as “full Rambo combat knives.”

Justice Terrence O’Donnell wrote the court’s lead opinion, which determined the trial court committed plain error by admitting those five knives that prosecutors knew were not used in the crime into evidence. The majority found a reasonable probability that the error affected the outcome of the trial, and that reversal was necessary to prevent a manifest miscarriage of justice.

“The state claims that the Court has ignored Ohio cases on this evidentiary issue, in favor of cases from other jurisdictions. That is a false and unfair accusation,” Thomas’ appellate lawyer Timothy F. Sweeney argued.

The three dissenting justices found the prosecution presented substantial evidence to support the jury’s verdict independent of the admitted knife evidence.

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.”

Miami mom is on trial a third time for the torture and murder of ‘Baby Lollipops’


December  4,2017

For the third time, a jury heard about Baby Lollipops’ short and tragic life — and the details remained just as ghastly now as they did in 1990, when his body was discovered in the bushes of a Miami Beach home.

The skeletal, malnourished 3-year-old weighed just 18 pounds. His soiled diaper was duct-taped onto his filthy body. His cheek bore a burn mark, likely from a cigarette.

Two teeth were knocked out, taking out a portion of his jaw. Blow after blow, inflicted month after month, eventually left his tiny body battered. He was unable to walk, his skull was fractured, his brain stem severed.

“His left arm was so badly injured that the muscle from the elbow to the shoulder had fused into the bone making it impossible for this young child to extend his arm,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Christine Hernandez told jurors on Monday.

Lazaro Figueroa died an unimaginably horrible death. And to blame, prosecutors allege, was his own mother, Ana Maria Cardona, who beat and abused her youngest child over months.

“This young baby was the subject of her hatred, this baby was the target of her rage,” Hernandez told jurors.

The start of the trial Monday marks the third time Cardona has faced a jury for the November 1990 murder of little Lazaro, whose corpse was discovered dumped outside a home in Miami Beach.

As detectives hunted for his killer and identity in a case that captivated South Florida, they dubbed him “Baby Lollipops” for the design on his shirt. Homicide detectives soon arrested Cardona, a cocaine addict who had lived in a Miami efficiency with her two other children and lover, Olivia Gonzalez.

Cardona’s defense team on Monday shifted the blame.

“We’re going to bring you testimony that while Olivia Gonzalez was serving time in prison, she bragged that she was the one who hit the child over the head with a baseball bat and killed him,” Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Manuel Alvarez said.

Jurors will not hear that twice before, Cardona was sent to Death Row after convictions for first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.

Lazaro Figueroa died an unimaginably horrible death. And to blame, prosecutors allege, was his own mother, Ana Maria Cardona, who beat and abused her youngest child over months.

“This young baby was the subject of her hatred, this baby was the target of her rage,” Hernandez told jurors.

U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeal of Alabama Death Row inmate convicted in 2007 slaying of parents


 

November 27,2017

Alabama Death Row inmate James Scott Largin

Alabama Death Row inmate James Scott Largin(Alabama Department of Corrections)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said it won’t hear the appeal of an Alabama death row inmate who was convicted in the 2007 killings of his parents in Tuscaloosa.

James Scott Largin, 46, earlier this year had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court a December 2015 ruling by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upholding his conviction and death sentence.

On Monday the high court, without opinion, refused to review his case.

Largin was sentenced to death by a Tuscaloosa County judge in 2009 for his capital murder conviction in the deaths of his parents, Jimmy, 68, and Peggy, 56.

“Peggy and Jimmy Largin were at home on the night of March 15, 2007, when they were shot multiple times with a .22 caliber rifle and their bodies were thrown down the stairs leading to the cellar in their home. Autopsy results showed that both victims died as the result of close-range gunshot wounds to the head,” according to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals ruling.

“This Court has independently weighed the aggravating and the mitigating circumstances as required by (Alabama law) … We are convinced, as was the circuit court, that death was the appropriate sentence for Largin’s capital crimes,” the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals stated in its order.

He was arrested after University of Alabama police found his parents’ car near the campus a few days after the murders, the Associated Press reported at the time.

A prosecutor at Largin’s original trial said Largin showed no remorse over the murders. The judge agreed with the jury’s recommendation that Largin be given the death penalty. His defense attorneys argued for life in prison without parole.

Mississippi death row inmate Michelle Byrom to get new trial


April 1, 2014

(CNN) — A new trial has been ordered for Mississippi death row inmate Michelle Byrom, according to a state Supreme Court opinion issued Monday.

Byrom’s capital murder conviction was reversed, and the case has been remanded to the circuit court for a new trial, the opinion said.

“We are very grateful that the Mississippi Supreme Court has granted Michelle Byrom’s request for relief from her death sentence,” said Byrom’s attorney, David Calder. “This was a team effort on the part of the attorneys currently representing Michelle, and we believe that the court reached a just and fair result under the facts presented in this case.”

Byrom has been on death row since her 2000 conviction for capital murder. The 57-year-old woman was convicted of being the mastermind of a murder-for-hire plot to kill her allegedly abusive husband, a killing her son had admitted to committing in several jailhouse letters and, according to court documents, in an interview with a court-appointed psychologist.

He recanted when he was put on the stand, according to court records.

Attorney General Jim Hood, who had requested Byrom’s execution, said Monday his office would seek the court’s reasoning for the reversal.

“While we respect the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision, it is important that the trial court know and understand the specific errors that were found by the justices so that the lower court knows the best way to proceed,” he said. “Our citizens can once again take comfort in the fact that we have a legal system that works for all parties involved.”

The Supreme Court opinion noted that the decision “is extraordinary and extremely rare in the context of a petition for leave to pursue post-conviction relief.”

Oliver Diaz, the former presiding justice of the Supreme Court, called the opinion “actually kinda amazing,” from the order for a new trial to the ruling’s release on a Monday instead of a Thursday, as usual.

“The lawyers filed a last ditch motion for additional post conviction relief. These are almost never granted. Defendants are limited to a single post conviction motion,” he wrote in an e-mail to CNN. “It is extremely rare to grant and send back for a new trial.”

The court further instructed that a different judge should be assigned to Byrom’s new trial.

Circuit Judge Thomas J. Gardner, who imposed the death sentence on Byrom after her conviction, declined to comment to CNN, saying, “The matter is ongoing.”

Diaz also said the order for a new judge was extraordinary.

“Also, taking the step of removing the original trial judge is very unusual as well,” he wrote.

Tara Booth, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, said the department expects an order Tuesday to transfer Byrom from the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility to Tishomingo County, where the killing occurred.

Hood, the attorney general, had requested that Byrom be executed “on or before (the date of) March 27,” but the Mississippi Supreme Court, which has the final say on execution dates, denied Hood’s request.

During Michelle Byrom’s original trial, prosecutors said she plotted to kill her husband, who was fatally shot in his home in Iuka, Mississippi, in 1999 while Michelle was in the hospital receiving treatment for double pneumonia. A jury convicted her based on evidence and testimony alleging that she was the mastermind of the plot.

Byrom Jr. admitted in jailhouse letters that he had committed the crime on his own after growing tired of his father’s physical and verbal abuse, and a court-appointed psychologist has said that Byrom Jr. told him a similar story.

On the stand, Byrom Jr. pinned the slaying on one of his friends, whom he said his mother had hired for $15,000.

Following her attorney’s advice, Michelle Byrom waived her right to a jury sentencing, allowing the judge to decide her fate. He sentenced her to death.

Prior to Monday’s ruling, Michelle Byrom’s defense attorneys had filed a motion asking the court for additional discovery so the alleged confession to the court-appointed psychologist could be fully explored.

The defense attorneys also want to depose the prosecutor from her trial, Arch Bullard, regarding his knowledge of Byrom Jr.’s alleged confession to the psychologist.

Bullard has told CNN that he firmly believes Michelle Byrom was the mastermind of the murder-for-hire plot.