Kentucky

KENTUCKY – Lone woman on Ky death row loses appeal – Virginia Susan Caudill


february 3, 2014 (wowktv,com)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – A federal judge has rejected an appeal from the lone woman awaiting execution in Kentucky after concluding her attorney wasn’t deficient at trial.

U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves turned away claims by 53-year-old Virginia Susan Caudill that her lawyer committed numerous errors during her joint trial with a co-defendant, 53-year-old Johnathan Wayne Goforth.

Caudill and Goforth were convicted in 2000 in Lexington of robbing and killing 73-year-old Lonetta White by bludgeoning her to death with a hammer on March 15, 1998. White’s body was then put in the trunk of her own car, which was set ablaze.

Prosecutors say the pair fled to Florida and Mississippi in the months after the slaying. Police arrested Caudill in New Orleans about eight months after the killing.

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Death Row exoneree Randy Steidl
 to speak Nov. 27 at NKU


November 13, 2012 http://www.lanereport.com

 

As part of the Journey of Hope Tour sponsored by the Northern Kentucky University Chase American Constitution Society, the ACLU of Kentucky and the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, NKU will host a free public lecture by death row exoneree Randy Steidl on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at noon in room 302 of the James C. and Rachel M. Votruba Student Union.

Steidl and a co-defendant were convicted for the 1986 murder of newlywed couple Dyke and Karen Rhoads in the small town of Paris, Ill. The two maintained their innocence but it was not until Northwestern University journalism students got involved that Steidl’s case received a proper review.

The entire case against Steidl was based on unreliable eye-witness testimony. Even though their stories conflicted with one another, both witnesses claimed to be present on the night of the attack and both described a gruesome scene. Yet, in spite of the violent stabbing that occurred, there was no physical evidence tying Steidl to the crime.

It was only after the in-depth investigative journalism conducted by Northwestern students that new information was uncovered and old evidence invalidated. With the aid of a local police officer, students were able to present enough evidence of Steidl’s innocence to call for a new trial. Eventually, all charges were dropped and Steidl became the 18th person to be released from the Illinois death row because of a wrongful conviction.

Steidl described his ordeal in a CNN interview. “Torture,” he said. “Actually being innocent and knowing that the state of Illinois wants to kill me for something I did not do.”

His NKU visit comes just weeks after the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights called on state lawmakers to abolish the death penalty and less than one year after a team of Kentucky legal experts published a 400-page report alleging serious flaws within the state’s death penalty system.

Human Rights Commission passes resolution to abolish death penalty in Kentucky


October 19, 2012 http://www.courier-journal.com

Arguing that capital punishment is often applied unfairly against minorities and the poor, the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights board has passed a resolution opposing the death penalty in Kentucky.

The commissioners at a meeting in Lexington Wednesday urged the Kentucky General Assembly to repeal the law that allows the use of the death penalty in murder convictions. The commission also urged Gov. Steven Beshear to sign any such law brought before him.

The resolution unanimously passed by the commissioners will be submitted to Beshear and to each state legislator.

As of April 1, Kentucky had 35 inmates on Death Row at the Kentucky State Penetentiary in Eddyville, according to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Marco Allen Chapman was the last Kentucky inmates executed, by lethal injection in 2008.

State Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, said the state legislature has considered abolishing the death penalty several times without passing a measure. He said he expects that a bill proposing the end of capital punishment will be introduced again and that he wouldn’t be surprised if the measure might have a chance to be enacted. “In my view, it could happen, because it’s so long overdue,” Neal said.

The commission resolution read:

“Since 1976, when Kentucky reinstated the death penalty, 50 of the 78 people sentenced to death have had their death sentence or conviction overturned, due to misconduct or serious errors that occurred during their trial. This represents an unacceptable error rate of more than 60 percent.”

The resolution said that “statistics confirm that the imposition of the death penalty is disproportionately imposed on minorities and the poor. African Americans constitute 12 percent of the U.S. population, but represent 42 percent of prisoners on death row.”

It cited figures from Amnesty International that more than 20 percent of black defendants executed since 1976 were convicted by all-white juries.

Additionally, it said, states are more likely to seek the death penalty when the offender is black and the victim is white, and that a death sentence is more likely to be imposed on black offenders convicted of killing a white victim.

The resolution also noted that more than 90 percent of defendants in capital cases are indigent and cannot afford an experienced criminal defense attorney.

According to Amnesty International, more than two-thirds of the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights is the state authority that enforces the Kentucky and United States Civil Rights acts, which make discrimination illegal.

KENTUCKY – From Oct. 21, 2006: Meece gets death penalty; murderer says he is being railroaded


october 1, 2012 http://www.kentucky.com

A former Lexington taxi driver and lawn-care worker should be put to death for murdering three Adair County family members, a judge said yesterday.

Circuit Judge James G. Weddle imposed three death sentences on William Harry Meece, 33, as well as a total of 40 years on burglary and robbery convictions.

Weddle said Meece deserved the ultimate penalty for the murders of veterinarian Joseph Wellnitz, 50; his wife, Beth, 40; and son Dennis, 20. Meece invaded their farmhouse outside Columbia early one cold morning in February 1993 and shot each of them more than once, reloading in order to finish off Dennis Wellnitz.

Meece has been unusual and contentious throughout the process leading up to his trial, filing dozens of motions on his own, and his sentencing was no exception.

He read a five-page statement that said he did not kill the Wellnitzes but had been railroaded by lies — including those of his ex-wife, who testified against him.

He condemned the court system, likening it to “Nazi Germany, Communist China and Soviet Russia.”

“I bemoan the loss of the American ideal of a fair trial,” he said. He finished with a prayer in Hebrew and English and asked God to have mercy on the police, the prosecutor, the court and the witnesses against him.

Weddle, however, said he had absolutely no doubt Meece committed the murders. Weddle rejected requests for a new trial for Meece or a sentence of life in prison without parole.

The prosecutor, Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Wright, called Meece’s statement disgusting and said he was pleased the judge imposed the death sentence Wright had sought for Meece.

The death sentence had been a long time coming for friends and family of the Wellnitzes and for police who pursued the case for years.

Meece and the daughter of the slain couple, Margaret “Meg” Wellnitz Appleton, became suspects early in the case, but it took nearly 10 years for state police to get the evidence they thought was needed for an an arrest.

That development came by way of Regina Meade, Meece’s wife at the time of the murders. The two later divorced.

When state police contacted Meade as part of a follow-up in late 2002, she told them Meece and Appleton had told her years earlier about killing the Wellnitz family and disposing of the gun and Meece’s bloody clothes in a restaurant dumpster.

She also gave state police a piece of physical evidence — a small safe Meece stole from the Wellnitz home, Wright said.

Ten years after the murders, state police arrested Meece and Appleton, who had met as students at Lexington Community College.

Meece was already in jail by then on a charge that he offered to kill a man for $2,000 in Lexington in 2002. He is serving 12 years in that case.

Wright said money motivated the Adair County slayings. Appleton got $300,000 in insurance money after her parents’ deaths, and Meece was to get a share, the prosecutor said.

The case took a strange turn in late 2004. Meece pleaded guilty and gave authorities two chilling, detailed videotaped statements about how he killed the Wellnitzes.

Appleton also pleaded guilty in return for a sentence of life in prison without parole for at least 25 years, which she is serving.

But Meece quickly recanted. He said he’d had a conflict with one of his court-appointed attorneys and thought pleading guilty and then taking back the plea was the only way to get new lawyers and a fair trial.

He got new lawyers and a trial, but the confessions came back to haunt him. Wright played them for the jury, over Meece’s objection.

Meece told jurors the confessions were a lie and he was now telling the truth about being innocent. Jurors believed the confessions and other evidence more, however, convicting Meece in less than two hours.

Under Kentucky law there will be an automatic appeal of Meece’s conviction to the state Supreme Court. One issue is likely to be whether it was proper for jurors to hear Meece’s 2004 confessions.

KENTUCKY death row inmate being sent to New Mexico


september 26, 2012

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky death row inmate is set to be extradited to New Mexico to face murder charges in the 1991 slaying of a paramedic prosecutors say he kidnapped and shot and left to die remote desert area.

Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, told The Associated Press that a governor’s warrant has been signed for 55-year-old Michael Dale St. Clair. The inmate is scheduled for trial on Jan. 22 in Clayton, N.M., on charges he killed 22-year-old Timothy Keeling, of Denver.

Dennis Gene Reese, who is serving life in prison in Oklahoma, is also charged with participating in Keeling’s slaying.

Donald Gallegos, the district attorney in Clayton who is prosecuting the men, said St. Clair and Reese should be in New Mexico by next week. Gallegos said no decision has been made on whether to seek the death penalty.

“I wanted to wait to get them here before I decided that,” Gallegos said. “I still need to talk to the victim’s family, too.”

Kentucky Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Lamb cited security concerns in declining to comment on the extradition of St. Clair, who is on death row for killing a Bardstown man in October 1991.

Tim Keeling‘s widow, Lisa Keeling Hill of Waxahachie, Texas, has pushed to have St. Clair and Reese prosecuted for the slaying.

Dennis Gene Reese, who is serving life in prison in Oklahoma, is also charged with participating in Keeling’s slaying.

Donald Gallegos, the district attorney in Clayton who is prosecuting the men, said St. Clair and Reese should be in New Mexico by next week. Gallegos said no decision has been made on whether to seek the death penalty.

“I wanted to wait to get them here before I decided that,” Gallegos said. “I still need to talk to the victim’s family, too.”

Kentucky Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Lamb cited security concerns in declining to comment on the extradition of St. Clair, who is on death row for killing a Bardstown man in October 1991.

Tim Keeling‘s widow, Lisa Keeling Hill of Waxahachie, Texas, has pushed to have St. Clair and Reese prosecuted for the slaying.

“St. Clair has never really had to answer for Tim’s death,” Hill told The Associated Press.

Retired New Mexico State Police Detective Toby Dolan, who investigated Keeling’s death, said the pending extradition of St. Clair and Reese is a relief. Dolan, the second officer to arrive at the scene, said he’s kept copies of crime scene photos and reports with him since retiring more than a year and a half ago after 21 years with state police.

“You kind of have that hollow feeling for that poor guy … who was murdered for no reason out in the middle of nowhere,” Dolan said. “It’s just one of those things that stuck with me all these years.

Reese and St. Clair had broken out of the county jail in Durant, Okla., on Sept. 19, 1991. At the time, St. Clair was serving four life sentences for murder and Reese was awaiting trial on charges of strangling and beating a woman to death.

What happened after the breakout is detailed in court testimony, documents and interviews with St. Clair and Reese. The pair went on a cross-country spree that led them through Texas and on to Denver, where they came across Keeling outside a grocery store.

St. Clair and Reese posed as buyers interested in purchasing Keeling’s truck, then kidnapped him. Reese drove as Keeling sat next to him and St. Clair held a .357 magnum revolver in the passenger seat. They stopped near Clayton, N.M., a small crossroads town, where prosecutors say St. Clair ordered Keeling out of the truck and shot him.

The run ended a few weeks later in Kentucky, where police charged them with kidnapping and killing distillery worker Frank Brady near Elizabethtown after they ditched and burned Keeling’s truck.

In an interview with The Associated Press in June, Reese acknowledged his role in Keeling’s death and said he plans to plead guilty. St. Clair, in letters to The AP, has remained defiant in his denials and doesn’t expect to live long enough to face execution in either state.

“Mother Nature has first mortgage on my death,” St. Clair said in a 2011 letter.

What happened after the breakout is detailed in court testimony, documents and interviews with St. Clair and Reese. The pair went on a cross-country spree that led them through Texas and on to Denver, where they came across Keeling outside a grocery store.

St. Clair and Reese posed as buyers interested in purchasing Keeling’s truck, then kidnapped him. Reese drove as Keeling sat next to him and St. Clair held a .357 magnum revolver in the passenger seat. They stopped near Clayton, N.M., a small crossroads town, where prosecutors say St. Clair ordered Keeling out of the truck and shot him.

The run ended a few weeks later in Kentucky, where police charged them with kidnapping and killing distillery worker Frank Brady near Elizabethtown after they ditched and burned Keeling’s truck.

In an interview with The Associated Press in June, Reese acknowledged his role in Keeling’s death and said he plans to plead guilty. St. Clair, in letters to The AP, has remained defiant in his denials and doesn’t expect to live long enough to face execution in either state.

“Mother Nature has first mortgage on my death,” St. Clair said in a 2011 letter.

Kentucky’s execution method questioned


September 26, 2012 http://www.kypost.com

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Two of the three inmates executed in Kentucky since 1976 didn’t contest their fates and went willingly to their deaths. One attorney worries that, under the state’s new proposed lethal injection rules, the inmate’s attorney won’t be notified in time to stop the process if a future volunteer has a change of heart.

Tom Griffiths, a Lexington attorney, was one of 11 people to address a public hearing Tuesday in Frankfort about Kentucky’s proposed execution method. A death row inmate could change his mind in the days or hours leading to an execution but still be put to death if not given the chance to speak to an attorney, Griffiths said.

“It doesn’t allow for any input at all,” Griffiths said.

The hearing was part of the legal process that could allow the state to resume executing inmates by the spring. The Kentucky Justice Cabinet must submit the proposed regulations to the Legislative Research Council by Oct. 15. The regulations then go to legislative committees for consideration. If there are no delays, state officials expect to appear before Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd in February or March to ask him to lift an order barring inmates from being put to death. That order cited problems the judge found with the state’s three-drug lethal injection method.

Kentucky is trying to switch to a method similar to the one used by other states, with either a single dose of the anesthetic sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, a short-acting barbiturate. The state may use two drugs — the anti-seizure medication midazolam, better known as Versed, and hydromorphone, an analgesic known commonly as Dilaudid — if the chemicals used in a single-drug execution are not available seven days in advance.

The state estimates the cost of a single execution under the new process at $81,438. Under the three-drug method, the estimated cost to all the agencies involved was $63,516. The increase appears attributable to rising costs for the services provided by multiple agencies.

Death penalty opponents offered multiple critiques of the proposed method, ranging from access to attorneys to the two-minute time limit a condemned inmate is given to make a final statement. In the last days of a condemned inmate’s life, prison officials restrict access to the inmate, and only prison officials and prosecutors automatically receive legal updates at the prison on the day of an execution.

Public defender Tim Arnold said attorneys need access to phones as well as their clients as the execution nears to discuss legal options, particularly if the inmate opts to stop all appeals.

“We need to have some communication to the clients,” Arnold said.

Mikhail Victor Troutman, a volunteer for the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, described the two-minute time limit as unconscionably short.

“The average bowel movement lasts longer from beginning to end,” Troutman said.

Because the proposed method doesn’t call for the state to wait for a final ruling on a stay of execution, a defense attorney must have a way to notify his client of a court ruling once the process begins, public defender David Barron said.

“What if something occurs during the execution?” Barron said.

While critics dominated the comments, victim advocates and relatives called on executions to begin sooner rather than later.

“We, sir, didn’t get two minutes to say our goodbye,” said Katherine Nichols of Shelbyville, head of Kentuckians’ Voice for Crime Victims, whose brother James Carl Duckett Jr. was slain in a case that remains unsolved.

Beverly Walters of Shepherdsville, who carries a photo of her daughter Patricia Vance, who was killed by death row inmate Randy Haight, wants executions to start quickly.

“I’ll be glad to push his drugs,” Walters told The Associated Press.

Kentucky changing its execution method


June 1, 2012 Source : http://www.wkyt.com

Executions in Kentucky could resume later this year after a move Thursday by the state’s Justice Cabinet. The death penalty has been on hold for nearly two years because of questions in part over the injection method used to execute inmates.

Dennis Briscoe has waited a long time for justice since Ralph Baze murdered his father and uncle. The convicted killer has lived on death row for nearly two decades. He’s one of several inmates who has exhausted his appeals and challenged the three-drug injection method as cruel and unusual punishment.

Claims that Kentucky’s three-drug cocktail violates the Eighth Amendment are not new. In 2007 the United States Supreme Court ruled the method constitutional. However that was before other states began using a single-drug system some consider more humane because of problems with the ingredients in the three-drug cocktail.

Debate over the competing methods was a critical factor that led a Franklin Circuit judge to temporarily halt executions across the state. Last month that judge ordered the Department of Corrections to consider a change. Now state officials say they will propose a new system by the end of July. “I’m glad to see a proactive move by the Department of Corrections in order to help fix this situation we have with the death penalty currently,” Briscoe said.

If that new system proposed allows for a single-drug execution, the judge in the case has ruled that any claims of cruel and unusual punishment by inmates will be dismissed. “I’m optimistic now that there’s going to be this recent move, this recent change,” Briscoe said, “However, I’m cautious as well because there could be a whole nother line of arguments.”

Today’s developments could lead to a new system as early as late summer.

KENTUCKY- Death row inmate wins hearing on mental status – Gregory Wilson


May 25, Source : http://www.courier-journal.com

Wilson

Twenty-five years after the victim was raped and murdered, the Kentucky Supreme Court ordered a judge Thursday to hold a hearing on whether Gregory Wilson, who was convicted of the crimes, should be exempt from the death penalty because he is mentally retarded.

The court ruled 5-2 that a Kenton Circuit Court judge improperly rejected Wilson’s claim without a hearing.

The Supreme Court also ordered the judge, Gregory Bartlett, to rule on whether Wilson is entitled to DNA testing of semen found in the automobile of the victim, Deborah Pooley.

In a heated dissent, Justices Bill Cunningham and Wil Schroder, who sits in Covington, argued that the case has gone on long enough and that Wilson should have raised the issues long ago.

“Don’t forget after all these years that an innocent person named Deborah Pooley was ruthlessly murdered and her killer is still in the courts of this state,” Cunningham wrote.

Wilson was convicted in the 1987 murder, kidnapping, rape and robbery of Pooley. His conviction came after a raucous trial in which he represented himself at times while at other times was represented by two lawyers who volunteered to try the case for $2,500, after the trial judge begged for somebody to handle it.

One of the lawyers had never tried a felony case while the other listed a local pub as his office and was described later by his co-counsel as a “burned-out alcoholic.”

Wilson was scheduled to die by lethal injection on Sept. 16, 2010, but the execution was halted by Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd, who cited questions about Wilson’s mental status and new state regulations for carrying out executions.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Minton said that Wilson, who moved for a new trial in 2010, presented enough evidence that he was mentally retarded to justify a hearing.

Kentucky law bars the execution of an offender considered “seriously mentally retarded,” which is defined as having an IQ of 70 or below combined with “substantial deficits in adaptive behavior” exhibited as a child.

Wilson submitted school records showing that, at 14, he had an IQ of 62 and was “easily influenced by delinquent peers.”

But the same evaluation said he was only “mildly retarded” and that his adjustment to school “should be no problem.”

Cunningham also noted in the dissent that Wilson was able to write pleadings in his own case that were “articulate, organized and possessed of writing skills and vocabulary that many college students do not possess.”

The court rejected part of Wilson’s appeal, saying he wasn’t entitled to a jury determination of whether he is mentally retarded, and it also reiterated a previous holding that there is no constitutional right to DNA testing.

Wilson’s current lawyer, chief Jefferson County public defender Dan Goyette, said he was reviewing the opinion and did not have an immediate reaction.

Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, noted that Wilson, as Cunningham’s dissent points out, was found competent to stand trial and his lawyers have failed to produce that report. “We are hopeful that the upcoming hearing in Kenton Circuit Court will result in an order from the court to obtain the competency report,” she said.

Pooley was abducted and forced into her car at knife point, then taken to a secluded location on Covington’s floodwall, where her hands were tied and she was raped in the back seat.

Wilson’s girlfriend, Brenda Humphrey, who also was convicted of murder, testified that Wilson strangled Pooley, despite her pleas for her life, and that they later dumped her body in a remote thicket before using her stolen credit cards on a shopping spree.

The trial captured state and later national attention when no lawyers would defend Wilson because of the minimal fee that was provided in capital cases. Chief Circuit Judge Raymond Lape Jr. posted a plea on his courthouse door saying he was “desperate” for somebody to come forward.

One of the lawyers who finally volunteered, William Hagedorn of Newport, a semi-retired lawyer, volunteered to serve as lead counsel for free, though he had no office, no staff, no copy machine and no lawbooks.

It also turned out that on each day of the trial bailiffs took Humphrey to have sex with one of Lape’s colleagues on the bench. That judge and Hagedorn are now deceased.

KENTUCKY – Serial killer on death row fights to get a hip replacement


May 19, 2012 Source : http://www.independent.co.uk

A condemned killer’s fight to receive surgery for agonising hip pain has pushed Kentucky officials into an uncomfortable debate over security and politics.

Emails and memos show corrections officials struggling to reconcile their duty to provide medical care with the political ramifications of spending thousands of dollars for surgery on a man they plan to execute. A key problem was security issues that led several hospitals to balk at treating inmate Robert Foley.

Foley, 55, was convicted of killing six people in Kentucky in 1989 and 1991, making him the most prolific killer on that’s state’s death row.

His attorney, James Drake, said the state must care for condemned inmates. Foley, who has been on death row since 1993, can’t get around without help because he’s at risk of falling and hurting himself. “If you’re on death row, it’s just like anybody else,” Mr Drake said. “If you need a new hip, you need a new hip. It hurts.”