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After 22 years, Ernesto Martinez convicted of Blythe murder during deadly road trip


December 4, 2017

Twenty two years ago, a desperate man stepped into the Day & Nite Mini Mart in Blythe, pulled a gun, demanded money and shot the clerk behind the counter. Then he grabbed the cash and fled.

That killer, a jury said, was Ernesto Salgado Martinez.

Martinez, 42, was convicted Monday of murdering Randip Singh, a shopkeeper who was gunned down during a deadly road trip to Arizona and back in 1995. The verdict, which took three-and-a-half days to reach, brings closure to one of the longest and most convoluted prosecutions in the recent history of Riverside County. Martinez’s verdict was confirmed by John Hall, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office.

Martinez, who was only 19 at the time, drove from Indio to Arizona to visit his family members, then was pulled over by a highway patrol officer along the Beeline Highway. Martinez shot that officer, Bob Martin, then fled back to California, where he crossed the state line and ran out of gas in Blythe. Prosecutors say Martinez then robbed the mini-mart, shooting Singh when he refused to empty the register.

During closing arguments last week, Deputy District Attorney Chris Cook said there was “overwhelming” evidence that Martinez was fleeing from one murder and killed again to keep running.

“The thing standing between him and getting home to Indio – a place of safety, family and familiarity – was Randip,” Cook said. “He was out of options and out of gas. He had just killed a police officer, he had to get home.”

“And he had a gun.”

Martinez, who taught himself law during two decades behind bars, acted as his own attorney during a six-week trial. In his own closing arguments, he accused witnesses of changing their stories and implied that a key piece of the evidence – a bullet casing – had been planted. He told jurors the prosecution’s case had “insulted their intelligence.”

“They are not asking you to decide this case based on the evidence. They are asking you to decide this case based on prejudice,” Martinez said.Martinez was also on trial for attempted murder, accused of stabbing his cell mate, Leroy Gutierrez, 50 times in 2011. Martinez argued that the stabbing was self defense, and jury acquitted him of the attempted murder charge on Monday.

The murder case will now proceed to the sentencing phase, at which prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty. However, regardless of how Martinez is sentenced, once the decision is made he will be returned to Arizona, where he has already received the death penalty for killing Martin, the highway patrol officer. Even if Martinez is sentenced to death in California, Arizona will still get to kill him first.

After the Blythe shooting, police captured Martinez during a standoff in Indio. Martinez was prosecuted in Arizona first, where he was convicted of killing Martin in 1998. Twelve years later, in 2010, local prosecutors had Martinez pulled off of Arizona Death Row and brought to Riverside County to be tried for Singh’s death. Now back in California, Martinez fired his public defender and became his own attorney. His case then took seven years to get to trial, in part because of Martinez’s talent for filing and arguing pre-trial motions.

“He is incredibly dangerous because he is so bright,” District Attorney Mike Hestrin said of Martinez in 2015. “I would like to get him out of our system and out of our jail. And one of the ways to do that is to get this case to trial as quickly as possible.”

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Prosecutor: Why Arizona still needs the death penalty


November 27, 2017

County attorney: As long as there are horrific murders, there will be a role for the death penalty as a just and proportionate punishment.

n a coordinated campaign, death penalty opponents submitted nearly identical op-eds in major publications across the U.S. seeking to persuade the United States Supreme Court to review the case of Arizona vs. Hidalgo and abolish the death penalty.

Understanding how a decision is made to pursue the death penalty, the facts of this case and about the death penalty in Arizona undermines their arguments.

Few murders become death penalty cases

My office follows a thorough and deliberative process for reviewing all death penalty eligible cases under tight deadlines. Arizona law requires us to make an initial decision within 60 days of the murderer’s arraignment.

During this period, we request any and all information the defense team can offer to assess whether the death penalty can be supported by the evidence and is an appropriate punishment.

If more time is needed to gather information, we regularly work with the defense to extend deadlines. After receiving input from victims, reviewing everything provided by the defense, and considering the facts and circumstances of the case, an experienced team makes a recommendation to me.

MORE: Maricopa County runs out of death penalty attorneys

I consider the recommendation carefully before making any decision. Approving the filing of a “notice of intent to seek the death penalty” is the most consequential decision I make as county attorney.

Should more information be provided later on, we regularly review it and, where appropriate, we revisit our initial decision and resolve cases accordingly.

Lastly, not all murder cases are death penalty cases. In fact, Maricopa County has averaged 203 murders each year from 2012 through 2016, and a death notice has been filed in an average of 14 cases each year – less than 8 percent of the murders.

Why Hidalgo was sentenced to die

As for the op-eds, they fail to acknowledge the extensive protections provided to capital defendants to safeguard constitutional rights and ensure a fair and just process.

In Hidalgo’s case, every constitutional right was protected. Hidalgo had a qualified capital defense team that included experienced investigators and mitigation specialists. The trial judge that presided over the case had presided over numerous death penalty cases and had represented several capital defendants before becoming a judge.

A jury unanimously imposed a death sentence on Hidalgo for good reason.

Hidalgo agreed to kill the victim on behalf of a street gang for $1,000. When Hidalgo went to kill the victim, the victim was not alone.

Hidalgo murdered this second victim to eliminate a potential witness. He shot one victim in the back of the head and the other in the forehead. Even though both victims were certainly dead, Hidalgo shot each victim an additional five times.

Before determining death was an appropriate punishment, the jurors found that Hildalgo had actually killed four people, the two Arizona victims and two Idaho women.

Like other death penalty cases in Maricopa County, the question was not who did it.  Hidalgo actually pleaded guilty to the charged offenses. The only contested issue was what the penalty should be.

A just system needs the death penalty

Next, death penalty opponents assert that the death penalty in Arizona is racially disparate. But this does not match the facts. Currently, there are 69 Caucasians, 25 Mexican Americans, 17 African Americans, four Native Americans, three Asians and two classified as “other” awaiting justice on Arizona’s death row.

Continuing complaints about the cost and time to impose the death penalty neglect the costs associated with constitutional protections and thorough appellate review caused by the very people complaining about costs and the time involved.

For Arizona, this has led to excessive litigation in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and unnecessary delays averaging more than 20 years with associated costs. Other federal circuits in the United States routinely and thoroughly review death penalty appeals within 10 years. This tolerance for endless litigation is an area ripe for criminal justice reform.

Recent polls continue to reflect that a majority of Americans support the death penalty, and 31 states have determined there is a place for the death penalty in a just and proportionate system of punishment.

One year ago, voters in Nebraska reinstated the death penalty abolished the year before by their legislature. Voters in California recently rejected an initiative to abolish the death penalty and passed Proposition 66, which seeks to speed up the process for final review of capital sentences.

As long as there are horrific murders reflecting the worst of crimes, there will be a role for the death penalty as a just and proportionate punishment.

Bill Montgomery is Maricopa County attorney.

Who are the women on death row in Arizona?


November  20, 2017

There are currently three women on death row in Arizona, and one woman who was executed.

Sammantha Allen was sentenced to death August in the killing of her 10-year-old cousin, Ame Deal. Her husband, John Allen, was also sentenced to death on Thursday, making Sammantha and John the first couple in the state to be sent to death row, according to the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Allen is the fourth woman to be sentenced to death in Arizona. She joins Wendi Andriano and Shawna Forde, who are currently on death row. The Arizona State Prison Complex – Perryville is where female death row inmates are housed.

Eva Dugan

Crime: January 1927

Executed: February 21, 1930

Dugan was found guilty of killing Arthur Mathis, a rancher near Tucson.

Dugan grew up a frontierswoman, floating from town to town for work. She met Mathis in Tucson, and he hired her immediately to work as his housekeeper. The Prescott Courier from May 1979 implies the relationship was a kind of arrangement.

A young man named Jack moved in with Mathis and Dugan, then Mathis was never seen again. Dugan and Jack skipped town.

Dugan and Jack sold Mathis’ car in Amarillo, Texas, the Pima County Sheriff discovered. Dugan was tracked to New York and arrested for grand larceny.

Months later, a man bought some land near the Mathis ranch. He was driving stakes for a tent when he discovered a shallow grave. The red-headed remains were identified as Arthur Mathis.

Dugan was sentenced to death.

“If I was a flapper with pretty legs, I never would have been convicted and given the death penalty,” she reportedly said.

Dugan was hanged February 21, 1930. When the gallows trap sprang, her body fell and she was decapitated.

The scene caused five people to faint.

Dugan’s gruesome death lead to capital punishment reform in Arizona. A year after the horrific incident, Arizona stopped executions by hanging and began using the gas chamber.

Wendi Andriano

Crime: October 8, 2000

Andriano was found guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of her husband. A jury found Adriano had killed her husband, Joe Andriano, by beating him with a barstool and slitting his throat.

Joe Andriano had been diagnosed with a terminal illness when Wendi Andriano was pregnant with their second child.

The night of Oct. 7, 2000, Wendi called 911 in the early-morning hours to get Joe medical help. She called a coworker in her apartment complex to help watch the kids. The coworker said he saw Joe lying on the floor in the living room. He was in the fetal position, vomiting and weak.

When paramedics arrived, Wendi sent them away, saying Joe was dying of cancer and had a do-not-resuscitate order. Paramedics left.

Andriano called 911 again at 3:39 a.m. Paramedics found Andriano in a bloody shirt, and Joe dead on the floor. There was a bloody barstool nearby. Joe had fatal head injuries and a stab wound to his neck.

The medical examiner determined Joe had been hit on the head at least 23 times. He also had sodium azide, a pesticide, in his system.

Andriano claimed she had tried to help Joe take his own life, and when the assisted suicide attempt failed, the two fought. Andriano said she hit Joe with a barstool in self defense.

Andriano was sentenced to death. She is appealing. She filed a federal habeas corpus appeal in April 2016.

Shawna Forde

Crime: May 30, 2009

Forde was found guilty in the first-degree murders of Raul and Brisenia Flores.

Forde, a rogue Minutemen leader on the Arizona border, burst into the Flores home in Arivaca, Arizona, in the middle of the night along with Jason Eugene Bush and Albert Robert Gaxiola.

Dressed in camouflage, Forde, Bush and Gaxiola claimed to be agents looking for fugitives. They took jewelry, then shot Raul Flores, his daughter, 9-year-old Brisenia, and his wife, Gina Gonzales.

Gonzales survived the attack by pretending to be dead. Gonzales was calling 911 when the intruders came back. Gonzales fired a shotgun at them, wounding Bush.

Evidence showed Forde planned the attack, though Bush pulled the trigger. Both Forde and Bush were sentenced to death.

Sammantha Allen

Crime: July 12, 2011

Allen was found guilty in the killing of 10-year-old Ame Deal.

Sammantha and John Allen lived in a home near Broadway Road at 35th Avenue with Ame Deal and many others.

Ame faced severe abuse in the home, court documents said.

Deal died after she was locked in a plastic box that was left outside overnight in the Arizona summer. Deal was being punished for taking a popsicle. She died of suffocation and heat, according to court documents.

Sammantha Allen was sentenced to death. John Allen was later also sentenced to death in November.

PHOENIX – John Allen gets death penalty in murder of 10-year-old girl


November 16,2017

Jurors in Maricopa County Superior Court deliberated for only a few hours before deciding that John Allen should get the death penalty.

The jury previously determined that Ame Deal’s death was especially cruel or heinous.

Allen, 29, was convicted of first-degree murder and child abuse on Nov. 8.

His 28-year-old wife, Sammantha Allen, was a cousin of Deal’s and was convicted of murder in the girl’s death in June. She’s now the third woman on Arizona’s death row.

Prosecutors said the couple forced Ame into the small, plastic box as punishment for stealing ice pops. They went to sleep and the girl was found dead the next morning.

Defense attorney Robert Reinhardt had argued that John Allen, a father of four young children, did not intend for the girl to die and that the other adults in the home created the abusive environment.

But County Attorney Bill Montgomery said Thursday that the Allens “received the only proportionate penalty that could rightly be imposed for the torture and pain they put Ame through. Ame deserved so much more from the adults responsible for her care.”

Ame’s death was the culmination of a shocking history of abuse at the hands of relatives who were charged with caring for her.

Authorities said the girl was forced to eat dog feces, crush aluminum cans barefoot, consume hot sauce and get in the storage box on other occasions.

She also was kicked in the face, beaten with a wooden paddle and forcibly dunked after being thrown in a cold swimming pool, according to police investigators.

Adults at the home originally claimed Ame hid during a late-night game of hide-and-seek and wasn’t found until hours later.

Three other relatives are in prison serving sentences for abusing Ame.

David Deal, who is listed as the girl’s father on her birth certificate, is serving a 14-year sentence after pleading guilty to attempted child abuse.

Ame’s legal guardian at the time of her death was her aunt, Cynthia Stoltzmann, who is serving a 24-year prison sentence for a child abuse conviction. Ame’s grandmother, Judith Deal, is serving 10 years for child abuse.

Authorities said Ame’s mother left the family years earlier after suffering abuse from relatives and moved to Kansas without her daughter.

Stays of Execution 2017



Date of Scheduled Execution State Prisoner Reason for Stay
January
11 OH Anthony Kirkland Stay granted by Ohio Supreme Court on October 16, 2014 “pending disposition of available state remedies …. It is further ordered that this stay shall remain in effect until exhaustion of all state post-conviction proceedings, including any appeals.”
12 OH James Hanna Reprieve granted by Gov. John Kasich because Ohio did not have execution drugs.^^
12 OH Ronald Phillips Stay granted by magistrate judge in U.S. District Court on December 19, 2016 to permit litigation of challenge to Ohio lethal injection protocol; on December 21, 2016, governor then rescheduledexecution for February 15, 2017.
23 OR Gary Haugen Reprieve in place, Gov. John Kitzhaber imposed a moratorium on all executions in Oregon. Current Gov. Kate Brown has requested a report on the status of the death penalty and indicated the report will inform future policy decisions.
25 TX Kosoul Chanthakoummane Execution date rescheduled to July 19, 2017.
February
2 TX John Ramirez Stay granted by U.S. District Court on January 31, 2017 to permit new counsel to file a petition seeking clemency for Ramirez. On February 1, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit deniedthe Texas Attorney General’s motion to vacate the District Court’s stay order.
7 TX Tilon Lashon Carter Stay granted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on February 3, 2017 on a 5-4 vote. The Court ruled that Texas had failed to timely serve the death warrant upon the Texas Office of Capital and Forensic Writs.
15 OH Ronald Phillips Stay granted by U.S. District Court magistrate judge on January 26, 2017 as part of preliminary injunction order declaring Ohio’s execution protocol unconstitutional. Then rescheduled for May 10, 2017 by Gov. John Kasich on February 10, 2017.*
19 OH Ramond Tibbetts Stay granted by U.S. District Court magistrate judge on December 19, 2016 to permit litigation of challenge to Ohio lethal injection protocol; on December 21, 2016, Gov. John Kasich rescheduledexecution for April 12, 2017.
March
2 PA Wayne Smith Stay granted by U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on January 25, 2017 to provide Smith to vindicate his right to pursue state and federal post-conviction challenges to his conviction and sentence that are available to all criminal defendants.
3 PA Richard Poplawski Stay granted by the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas on February 17, 2017 to provide Poplawski the opportunity to pursue state post-conviction challenges to his conviction and sentence that are available to all criminal defendants.
4 PA Aric Woodard Stay granted by the York County Court of Common Pleas on February 9, 2017 to provide Woodard the opportunity to pursue state post-conviction challenges to his conviction and sentence that are available to all criminal defendants.
6 PA Patrick Haney Stay granted by U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania on February 8, 2017 to provide Haney the opportunity to pursue state and federal post-conviction challenges to his conviction and sentence that are available to all criminal defendants.
15 OH Gary Otte Stay granted by U.S. District Court magistrate judge on January 26, 2017 as part of preliminary injunction order declaring Ohio’s execution protocol unconstitutional. Then rescheduled for June 13, 2017 by Gov. John Kasich on February 10, 2017.*
22 OH Jeremiah Jackson Stay granted by Ohio Supreme Court until exhaustion of all state post-conviction proceedings.
April
12 OH Ramond Tibbetts Stay granted by U.S. District Court magistrate judge on January 26, 2017 as part of preliminary injunction order declaring Ohio’s execution protocol unconstitutional. Then rescheduled for July 26, 2017 by Gov. John Kasich on February 10, 2017.*
12 TX Paul Storey Stay granted by Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
17 AR Bruce Ward Stay granted by the Arkansas Supreme Court on April 14 to permit counsel to litigate whether Ward is mentally competent to be executed. Temporary restraining order granted by Pulaski County court on April 14 in litigation brought by pharmaceutical company seeking to bar Arkansas from using vecuronium bromide in scheduled execution. Restraining order lifted by Arkansas Supreme Court. Stay granted by the Arkansas Supreme Court on April 17 pending decision by the United States Supreme Court in McWilliams v. Dunn on questions concerning the right to an independent mental health expert that may affect the resolution of similar issues in Ward’s case.
17 AR Don Davis Temporary restraining order granted by Pulaski County court on April 14 in litigation brought by pharmaceutical company seeking to bar Arkansas from using vecuronium bromide in scheduled execution. Restraining order lifted by Arkansas Supreme Court. Stay granted by the Arkansas Supreme Court on April 17 pending decision by the United States Supreme Court in McWilliams v. Dunn on questions concerning the right to an independent mental health expert that may affect the resolution of similar issues in Davis’s case.
20 AR Stacey Johnson Temporary restraining order granted by Pulaski County court on April 14 in litigation brought by pharmaceutical company seeking to bar Arkansas from using vecuronium bromide in scheduled execution. Restraining order lifted by Arkansas Supreme Court. Stay issued by Arkansas Supreme Court on April 19 to allow hearing on postconviction DNA testing.
25 VA Ivan Teleguz Death sentence commuted by Gov. Terry McAuliffe on April 20 to life in prison, with no chance for parole.
27 AR Jason McGehee Preliminary inunction granted by U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas staying McGehee’s execution until Arkansas Parole Board complies with 30-day period for public comment on its 6-1 recommendation for clemency and Gov. Asa Hutchinson decides whether to issue clemency.
May
10 OH Alva Campbell, Jr. Execution rescheduled for September 13, 2017 by Gov. John Kasich on February 10, 2017.*
10 OH Ronald R. Phillips Execution rescheduled for July 26, 2017 by Gov. John Kasich on May 1, 2017.**
17 OH Donald Ketterer Stay granted by Ohio Supreme Court until exhaustion of all state post-conviction proceedings.
16 TX Tilon Carter Stay granted by Texas Court of Criminal Appealson May 12 to permit the court to consider claim that new evidence shows that Carter’s conviction was a product of scientifically erroneous and false forensic testimony that the victim had been smothered.
24 TX Juan Castillo Execution rescheduled for September 7, 2017.
June
13 OH William Montgomery Execution rescheduled for October 18, 2017 by Gov. John Kasich on February 10, 2017.*
13 OH Gary Otte Execution rescheduled for September 13, 2017 by Gov. John Kasich on May 1, 2017.**
28 TX Steven Long Execution rescheduled for August 30, 2017.
July
19 OH Mark Pickens Stay granted by Ohio Supreme Court until exhaustion of all state post-conviction proceedings.
19 TX Kosoul Chanthakoummane Stay granted by Texas Court of Criminal Appealson June 7, 2017, to review claims of discredited forensic science.
26 OH Robert Van Hook Execution rescheduled for November 15, 2017 by Gov. John Kasich on February 10, 2017.*
26 OH Raymond Tibbetts Execution rescheduled for October 18, 2017 by Gov. John Kasich on May 1, 2017.**
August
15 PA Omar Shariff Cash Stay granted by U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on June 28, 2017 to provide Cash the opportunity to pursue state and federal post-conviction challenges to his conviction and sentence that are available to all criminal defendants.
22 MO Marcellus Williams Stay granted by Governor Greitens on August 22, 2017. The Governor appointed a Gubernatorial Board of Inquiry to further consider Marcellus Williams’ request for executive clemency.
30 TX Steven Long Stay granted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on August 21, 2017 to permit Long to re-litigate his claim of intellectual disability under Moore v. Texas. The Texas courts had previously denied his claim, applying the “Briseno factors” that were declared unconstitutional in Moore.
September
7 TX Juan Castillo On August 30, 2017, the Bexar County District Court granted the Bexar County District Attorney’s motion to withdraw Juan Castillo’s execution date. The request was made after Governor Abbott declared a state of disaster for 30 Texas counties because of Hurricane Harvey. The court also issued an order setting a new execution date for December 14, 2017.
13 OH Jeffrey A. Wogenstahl Stay granted by the Ohio Supreme Court on May 4, 2016 on motion to vacate execution date and to reopen direct appeal. Execution rescheduled for April 17, 2019 by Gov. John Kasich on February 10, 2017.*
13 OH Alva Campbell, Jr. Execution rescheduled for November 15, 2017 by Gov. John Kasich on May 1, 2017.**
26 GA Keith Tharpe Stay granted by the U.S. Supreme Court on September 26, 2017 “pending the disposition of [Tharpe’s] petition for a writ of certiorari” seeking review of a decision by the 11th Circuit denying him an appeal of his habeas corpus claim that his death sentence was unconstitutionally tainted by the participation of a racially biased juror.
October
5 AL Jeffrey Borden Injunction granted by U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on September 29 staying Borden’s execution through October 19, 2017, but vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court on October 4. Stay grantedby U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama on October 5, 2017
18 OH Melvin Bonnell Rescheduled for April 11, 2018 by Gov. John Kasich on February 10, 2017.*
18 OH William Montgomery Rescheduled for January 3, 2018 by Gov. John Kasich on May 1, 2017.**
18 OH Raymond Tibbetts Rescheduled for February 13, 2018 by Gov. John Kasich on September 1, 2017.^
18 TX Anthony Shore 90-day stay of execution granted by Harris County trial court to permit prosecutors to investigate claim that Shore was colluding with another death-row prisoner to confess to the murder in that case. Execution rescheduled for January 18, 2018.
19 AL Torrey McNabb Injunction granted by U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama on October 16, 2017 astaying McNabb’s execution, and affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on October 18. Injunction vacated by U.S. Supreme Court on October 19, 2017 and stay lifted. EXECUTED.
26 TX Clifton Lee Young Stay granted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on October 18, 2017 and evidentiary hearing ordered on Young’s claim that newly discovered evidence (gunshot residue on the gloves of the prosecution’s key witness and affidavits of four prisoners that this witness had bragged about committing the killing and framing Young) shows that his conviction and sentence were obtained with false or perjured testimony.
November
9 AR Jack Greene Stay granted by the Arkansas Supreme Court on November 7, 2017 on petition raising issue related to Arkansas procedures for determining competency to be executed.
14 NV Scott Dozier Stay granted by the Clark County District Court on November 9, 2017 to permit the prosecution to appeal its ruling barring the use of a paralytic drug in Nevada’s execution protocol.
15 OH Alva Campbell Gov. John Kasich called off the execution on November 15, 2017 after personnel of the Ohio Department of Corrections failed five times to find a suitable vein to insert an intravenous execution line.
15 OH Robert Van Hook Rescheduled for February 13, 2018 by Gov. John Kasich on May 1, 2017.**
16 TX Larry Swearingen Stay granted by trial court on October 27 because of clerk’s error in serving notice of execution.

Executions Scheduled for 2018


Executions Scheduled for 2018


Month State Prisoner
January
3 OH John Stumpf — RESCHEDULED  (november  14)
3 OH William Montgomery — RESCHEDULED  (april 11)
18 TX Anthony Shore
30 TX William Rayford
February
1 TX John Battaglia
13 OH Warren K. Henness — RESCHEDULED
13 OH Robert Van Hook — RESCHEDULED  (july 18)
13 OH Raymond Tibbetts
22 TX Thomas Whitaker
March
14 OH Douglas Coley — RESCHEDULED
14 OH Warren K. Henness — RESCHEDULED
27 TX Rosendo Rodriguez
April
11 OH Melvin Bonnell — RESCHEDULED
11 OH William Montgomery
May
30 OH Stanley Fitzpatrick — RESCHEDULED
June
27 OH Angelo Fears — RESCHEDULED
July
18 OH Robert Van Hook
August
1 OH David A. Sneed — RESCHEDULED
September
13 OH Cleveland R. Jackson
October
10 OH James Derrick O’Neal — RESCHEDULED
November
14 OH John David Stumpf — RESCHEDULED

Arizona: Debra Milke’s New World after Spending 23 Years on Death Row


In September 2013, 2 1/2 weeks after being released from custody, Debra Milke had a hearing in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Debra Milke

She had spent 24 years behind bars and her eyes were wild, like those of an animal, as she backed into the corner of a crowded elevator, hugging the walls and shaking.
“I was trying to get used to people,” she told The Arizona Republic in an exclusive interview last week. “I was trying not to hyperventilate.”
Milke was a celebrated murderer, convicted of arranging the 1989 murder of her 4-year-old son, Christopher.
Christopher was told he was going to the mall to see Santa Claus. Instead, he was taken into the desert by Milke’s male roommate and one of his friends, and shot in the head.
Milke denied that she had any part in the murder, but a jury thought otherwise. She was sent to death row in 1991 and languished there until March 2013, when a federal appeals court threw out her conviction and her death sentence – not because she was exonerated, but because her constitutional rights had been violated. The prosecution and police had refused to turn over the spotty personnel record of a Phoenix police detective who claimed Milke had confessed to the arranged murder. There were no recordings or witnesses to prove the confession took place.
19 months after the federal appellate decision, an Arizona appeals court determined that it would constitute double jeopardy to retry her for the murder.
Now she lives free in a tile-roofed stucco house in a cookie-cutter development on the fringes of suburban Phoenix.
Her eyes have calmed, her face relaxed as she sits in a darkened room, shades drawn against the light.
She has gained 38 pounds.
“They don’t have ice cream in prison,” she said.
She speaks easily. She is friendly and talkative.
She was 25 and youthful when she went to prison. Now, at 51, she is white-haired and matronly.
“Half my life,” she said, sighing. “I don’t really mourn over that. I can’t get the years back. I accept that. I accept my life as it is now.”
Phoenix is a very different place than it was in 1989. Its population has swelled. So have its boundaries. The freeways baffle her. The supermarkets seem surreally large.
Technology has created gadgets that could not have been imagined in 1989.
Milke is trying to gain insight into who and where she is, like a time traveler from the 1980s who suddenly materialized in the second decade of the 21st century.
She still professes her innocence. Milke claims that she had nothing to do with her son’s murder. But there is no evidence to show she was not involved.
She feels as if she straddles a fence on the death penalty, “a victim on both sides of it,” calling herself the mother of a child who was murdered, who then spent half her life facing execution.
She doesn’t need to see her co-defendants executed.
“It’s not going to change anything,” she said. “They’re going to die in prison.”
She feels she was treated unjustly by the legal system, and even the criminal-defense community is bitterly split on whether she is innocent or guilty.
This is not the story of that argument. Only Milke and the 2 men who took her son to the desert and killed him know what happened. And even then, they may have differing views. But they aren’t talking anyway. While Milke is free, the other 2 remain on death row with little legal recourse standing between them and execution.
This is Milke’s story about being inside, and then about being outside.
“Just imagine being locked in your bathroom for 24 years and no one will let you out,” Milke said. “Just as I had to adapt to prison, now I have to adapt to freedom.”
Learning to live in prison
In December 1989, Milke was recently divorced, and she and Christopher were living in Phoenix with a would-be suitor named James Styers.
In 1 version of the story, Milke wanted the hyperactive child out of her life, and in another version, Styers wanted him gone to improve his chances with Milke. So Styers enlisted a friend named Roger Scott, and on Dec. 3, 1989, they took the boy into the desert and shot him.
Styers and Scott drove to Metrocenter Mall in northwest Phoenix and told a security guard that the child was lost in the mall. Police didn’t believe the story and Scott confessed, implicating Milke. Then he led police to the boy’s body.
Milke was arrested at her parents’ home in Florence and interrogated by Phoenix police Detective Armando Saldate. He claimed that Milke confessed her involvement in the murder. But there was no tape or video recording of the confession and no one else had witnessed it. Milke flatly denied she had confessed or that she had arranged her son’s death.
Eventually, Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Noel Levy persuaded the jury to bring back a guilty verdict against Milke, and Superior Court Judge Cheryl Hendrix sentenced her to death.
Scott and Styers were also sentenced to death.
Milke no longer remembers which law-enforcement agency came for her on that February day in 1991 when she was taken from a Maricopa County jail to the Arizona State Prison Complex- Perryville in Goodyear.
She was a nervous wreck, and a jail doctor gave her an Ativan tablet to ease her anxiety before they loaded her into a car and drove her west on Interstate 10.
“I just remember the freeway seemed endless,” she said.
As she was led in handcuffs across the yards into the prison, she thought, “I’m not going to die here. I’m not going to live the rest of my life here. I’m going to get out.”
She cried all through her 1st night, angry at “God and everybody.”
Then she began to learn to live in prison.
Technically, she was on death row, but there was no such place in Perryville and she was its only occupant, and even then, it was only semantics. The next woman on death row, Wendi Andriano, who beat her husband to death, would not arrive until 2005. The third, Shawna Forde, an anti-immigrant vigilante involved in a double murder, followed in 2011.
So in 1991, Milke’s cell-block neighbors were general-population prisoners who were being disciplined in maximum security: prostitutes and gang-bangers – bad girls, career criminals. Though officially deemed an ogre, unlike the others, Milke was a middle-class girl who had never been in trouble before.
She saw drug overdoses and fights.
“I’ve seen inmates on fire,” she said, women who lit themselves in desperation and craziness. “I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff.”
Today, death-row prisoners, especially the men, spend 23 hours a day locked in their cells with little contact with other prisoners or the outside world.
Milke had a cell with a window in its door, and anyone in the unit could walk up to it and talk to her. She had 2 windows to the outside world on the other side of her cell, 1 of which opened about 2 inches.
She was treated like a trustee. After 2 in the afternoon, she was allowed to stay out of her cell until 9 p.m., even going outside in a fenced-in part of her unit. She was allowed to help the correctional officers with dinner. She took correspondence courses.
That changed after 1997, when corrections Officer Brent Lumley was murdered by a male inmate. Afterward, a new wing bearing Lumley’s name was built at the Perryville prison, and the male prisoners were moved to Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis near Buckeye.
Milke had to learn to live in lockdown.
“I had to have the window open around the clock,” she said. “Otherwise I felt claustrophobic. I used to listen to the traffic on I-10 and watch the airplanes and wonder where they were going or coming from.”
Even if she knew what day it was, she lost all sense of time, describing the days as a conveyor belt with 1 rolling into the next. She built a routine: writing from 5:30 to 6:30, then showering, cleaning supplies, TV shows, reading.
She taught herself algebra. She read books she should have read in school, by Leo Tolstoy and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
She became friends with Andriano, and the 2 talked through a vent between their cells. They would pass coffee or tea to each other during shift changes, when they were less likely to be seen, by rolling up pieces of paper and telescoping them together until they had long wands that would reach from one cell to the next.
“Every year it was all the same,” she said. “It just melted one into another.”
Appeal victory
Milke’s case tracked through Arizona state courts without relief and then, as happens with capital cases, it bounced into federal court. Her attorneys had uncovered the sordid record of Detective Saldate, who had been fired from the Phoenix Police Department for his bad acts.
In March 2013, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Milke’s conviction and death sentence and ordered that she either be released or retried. The ruling noted that Saldate had a long history of misconduct that called his credibility into question.
On March 14, 2013, Milke said, she was lying on the floor of her cell talking to Andriano through the vent when a female correctional officer came with the news that one of her lawyers, Lori Voepel, was on the phone.
The first thing she said was, “We won.”
“I just started shaking on the inside,” Milke said. Voepel started to explain the ruling. “It went in one ear and out the other,” Milke said.
It took until July before the state of Arizona decided to retry her and transfer her to a Maricopa County jail. The case went to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, and County Attorney Bill Montgomery vowed to continue to seek the death penalty and send Milke back to Perryville.
Milke learned of the transfer the night before she would go. She packed some things, donated her TV and radio so that some other prisoner could have them and was sent to the Estrella Jail in south Phoenix.
Life in jail is harsher than life in prison – no windows, no TV, no clocks.
“You would ask what time it was and no one would tell you,” she said.
She could not stomach the food. She was stressed by the noise. And when she would be taken to her court hearings, she looked as haggard and unkempt and wild as a witch in a fairy tale.
But on Sept. 6, 2013, Superior Court Judge Rosa Mroz ruled that Milke could be released on $250,000 bond. She was taken to Lower Buckeye Jail, where she changed into street clothes. Then her other lawyer, Michael Kimerer, secreted her away by car to Voepel’s office, where a court officer affixed an electronic monitoring device to Milke’s ankle.
“This bracelet means freedom to me,” she told the officer.
She snacked on a vegetarian sandwich that had been brought in for her, because she craved vegetables. And on the way to a welcome-home party at a friend’s home, they drove through a Starbucks restaurant because she had heard in prison that the coffee was wonderful.
“It was gross,” she said.
Welcome to the 21st century, Debra Milke.
European Backing
Unlike many inmates released from prison, Debra Milke has a strong and wealthy support system, and it is centered in Europe.
Milke was born in Germany, and her parents moved back there and then on to Switzerland, where they lived the last of their lives. Milke’s mother died after Milke was released from custody but before all charges were dropped, so she was not allowed to travel to Switzerland to see her mother on her death bed.
Capital punishment is illegal in Europe, and Europeans are stridently against its use elsewhere. There have been books and movies about Milke, and the French- and German-speaking media have assiduously followed her case.
In effect, she is perceived in Europe as Amanda Knox is perceived in the United States: a poor, innocent woman caught up in some unjust foreign judicial system.
(Knox and Milke, incidentally, have met.)
Subsequently, Milke’s European supporters footed her bond, and she is living in the Phoenix-area home of a German friend.
But on her first night out of custody, she might just as well have still been on the inside.
She ventured timidly out into the house’s backyard. The next night she dared step into the front yard. And on the 3rd day, her German friend took her for a walk around the block.
“It was strange. There were all these houses and cars,” she said.
She was overwhelmed the 1st time she went to the supermarket. “I was amazed at how huge the stores had become and became panicky.”
When she saw a woman and a young boy in one aisle, and heard the child say, “Mommy, I want this,” she fell apart.
Her first trip to Walmart was worse. And the first dinner out at a sports bar was unbearable for the noise, the talking and the overstimulation. She panicked at the State Fair.
She couldn’t bring herself to read or watch television because she had done so much in prison.
She bought a computer but left it in the box for a month, bought a flip phone and then eased into a smartphone but can’t fathom the things she can do with it.
“It was odd to see everyone walking around with a phone, and strange and annoying walking around listening to everyone’s conversations,” she said. “I wanted to just turn around and tell them to shut up.”
Because she was in isolation for so many years, she never got sick. Now she falls victim to every flu bug and suffers from allergies
After 24 years of waiting to get back to life, it was difficult to know what to do because she was overwhelmed by options.
She got a dog. She toils in the garden of her friend’s house.
Her attorneys persuaded her to go back to work and she found a job as a bookkeeper 5 days a week.
Mulling name change
In September 2014, the Arizona Court of Appeals dismissed all charges against Milke, ruling that retrying her would be tantamount to double jeopardy. The Arizona Supreme Court let the lower court decision stand. That freed Milke to travel and to move on in her life.
She will spend the next month in Europe, visiting with her remaining relatives there, fulfilling contractual obligations with German media, and traveling to Switzerland to visit her mother’s grave and tend to her estate.
She has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city of Phoenix, Maricopa County, County Attorney Montgomery, disgraced Detective Saldate and other police officers, alleging malicious prosecution and civil-rights violations.
She is considering changing her name. She wants to fade into the world but is worried that going to court to change names will call more attention to her and reveal her new identity anyway.
She says she knows where she wants to live – but won’t tell so that she can become anonymous.
She is seeing a psychiatrist.
“I’m trying to figure out who I am today,” she said. “I’m trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces and move ahead.”
Source: WFMY news, August 3, 2015
 

Prosecutors ask Arizona court to order execution


April 23, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) — State prosecutors are asking the Arizona Supreme Court to order the execution of a man sentenced to death for killing his estranged girlfriend and her father in Pima County nearly a quarter-century ago.

The Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday asked for a warrant scheduling the execution of 55-year-old Joseph Rudolph Wood III for the 1989 killings of Debra and Eugene Dietz.

Appeals courts have upheld Wood’s convictions and death sentence and the Attorney General’s Office says Wood has exhausted his appeals and has no action pending in any court.

A defense lawyer for Wood, assistant public defender Dale Baich (bache), says the Department of Corrections‘ recent decision to use a two-drug combination for executions is “novel and highly untested.”

ARIZONA – Jurors mull execution for Marissa Devault


April 10, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) — Jurors who convicted an Arizona woman of fatally beating her husband with a hammer are scheduled to resume their deliberations Thursday over whether she warrants the death penalty.

The jury at Marissa Devault’s trial has already spent one day considering whether there were “aggravating factors” that would make her eligible for execution for the 2009 death of Dale Harrell.

If such factors are found, jurors will hear testimony from witnesses and arguments from lawyers over whether she should be sentenced to life in prison or to death. But if those factors aren’t found, a judge will sentence Devault to either the rest of her life in prison or life in prison with the possibility of release after 25 years.

Prosecutors say Devault should face the death penalty because she carried out the crime in an especially cruel manner for the purpose of collecting on life insurance, pointing out that Devault caused a fist-size hole in Harrell’s skull.

Defense attorneys say Devault never filed any claim in Harrell’s death and added that the insurance money theory is undermined by the fact that one of the two policies in question covered only accidental deaths – and Harrell’s death wasn’t an accident.

While lawyers made arguments Wednesday over whether she was eligible for execution, Devault whispered to her defense team and often looked away from the jury.

If jurors keep the death penalty on the table, the penalty portion of the trial is expected to stretch into next week and include appearances from Devault’s mother and grandmother, both of whom will testify on her behalf. Some of Devault’s daughters also have written letters that are expected to be read in court.

Prosecutors say Devault killed Harrell in a failed bid to collect on a life insurance policy to repay about $300,000 in loans from her boyfriend. Devault says she killed her husband in self-defense and told investigators that he had physically and sexually abused her in the past.

Harrell, 34, suffered multiple skull fractures in the January 2009 attack at the couple’s home in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert. He died nearly a month later at a hospice because of complications from his head injuries.

Devault initially told investigators that her husband attacked her while she was asleep and choked her until she was unconscious. She also told police that when she woke up, she saw another man who lived at their home beating Harrell with a hammer.

But authorities say Devault, 36, confessed to the killing after bloodstain evidence showed Harrell was alone in the bed at the time of the attack.

The key prosecution witness was Devault’s former boyfriend, Allen Flores, a Yale University-educated management consultant who is 20 years older than Devault and had loaned her $300,000 during their two-year relationship.

Flores testified that Devault wanted to either hire someone to kill Harrell, or kill him herself and tell police he tried to rape her after a night of drinking.

Devault’s attorneys attacked Flores’ credibility, noting he was given an immunity agreement on child-pornography allegations in exchange for his testimony. The child pornography was found on Flores’ computer during a search that was part of the murder investigation, authorities said.

 

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.

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