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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
 
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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.

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.

Jodi Arias biography


Synopsis

Born in 1980 in Salinas, California, Jodi Arias made headlines when she was charged with murdering her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in 2008. Alexander’s body was found in the shower of his Mesa, Arizona, apartment by friends on June 9, 2008, five days after he was brutally murdered—he had been shot in the head and stabbed 27 times, and his throat had been slit from ear to ear. Testimony in Arias’s trial began in January 2013. Four months later, after spending 18 days on the witness stand, Arias was found guilty of first-degree murder.

Meeting Travis Alexander

Convicted killer Jodi Ann Arias was born on July 9, 1980, in Salinas, California. In the summer of 2008, Arias made national headlines when she was charged with murdering her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, a 30-year-old insurance salesman and Riverside native. Arias and Alexander had met at a conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2006, while he was living in Arizona and she was a resident of Palm Desert, California. By the following year, they were in a commited relationship. After only five months as a couple, however, the two went their separate ways in late June 2007.

Murder Investigation Begins

On June 9, 2008, Travis Alexander’s body was found in a pool of blood in the shower of his Mesa, Arizona, apartment by friends who had become increasingly worried about his whereabouts after not being able to contact him for several days. Almost immediately after entering the residence, the young men began taking in the heinous crime scene. In the bathroom, Alexander’s corpse displayed a number of inflictions: a gunshot wound to the head, 27 stab wounds, and a deeply and widely slit throat. Investigators later determined that the murder had occurred five days before his body was found, on June 4, 2008.

Arias quickly became the focus of the sensational case. She was charged with Alexander’s murder on July 9, 2008, and was arrested soon after. Initially, Arias denied any involvement in his death. Then, after investigators found her DNA mixed with Alexander’s blood at the crime scene, she changed her story: She claimed that she and her ex had been attacked by two masked intruders. After killing Alexander, the criminals decided to let her live, she told police, adding that she chose not to alert police at the time because she feared the intruders might seek revenge. At trial, she would revise her story for the third time.

Trial

Testimony in Arias’s trial began in early January 2013. The following month, the alleged killer took the witness stand, where she would remain for 18 consecutive days. Already infamously known for her different accounts of Alexander’s murder over the past several years, Arias testified that she had killed her ex in an impassioned act of self-defense. She stated that Alexander had frequently abused her, and that she killed him after he came at her in a fit of rage when she dropped his camera. She also claimed to have suffered memory loss as the result of emotional trauma she had experienced during the incident.Lying isn’t typically something I just do,” Arias stated during the trial. “The lies I’ve told in this case can be tied directly back to either protecting Travis’ reputation or my involvement in his death … because I was very ashamed.”

Whether she truly had difficulty remembering details of that day in 2008 or was simply having trouble keeping her story straight—or it was something else altogether—Arias’s testimony was wrought with inconsistency and confusion, piecemealed, and ultimately botched.

Jurors reached a unanimous decision in the case on May 8, 2013: Jodi Arias was found guilty of first-degree murder. Five jurors found her guilty of premeditated murder, zero found her guilty of felony murder, and seven found her guilty of both premeditated and felony murder. The verdict sparked elation among Travis Alexander’s family members as well as the general public. Arias now awaits sentencing, which could mean the death penalty. Should she receive capital punishment for her murder conviction, Arias would become only the third female death-row inmate in Arizona history.

Conviction

Jurors reached a unanimous decision in the case on May 8, 2013: Jodi Arias was found guilty of first-degree murder. Five jurors found her guilty of premeditated murder, zero found her guilty of felony murder, and seven found her guilty of both premeditated and felony murder. The verdict sparked elation among Travis Alexander’s family members as well as the general public. Arias now awaits sentencing, which could mean the death penalty. Should she receive capital punishment for her murder conviction, Arias would become only the third female death-row inmate in Arizona history.

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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.

ARIZONA: Jodi Arias Trial Sentencing Pushed Back


february 16, 2014

Jodi Arias will have her sentencing trial date pushed back from March 17 because of a prosecutor’s scheduling conflict – amid a report saying that she might have to get new lawyers after motions were filed this week.

Arias was convicted of murdering her boyfriend, Travis Alexander, at his suburban Phoenix home in 2008. A jury could not get to a verdict on her sentence.

The Arizona Republic reported that Juan Martinez, the prosecutor in question, has to handle a death penalty trial May 12, reported The Associated Press.

Maricopa County Superior Court Presiding Criminal Judge Joseph Welty this week said that the death penalty trial will go first. The suspect in that case is accused of killing a Phoenix-area police officer in 2007.

(Source: The Epoch Times)

5 female death-row cases make Arizona a national outlier


february 5, 2014 (usatoday)

Women make up less than 2 percent of death-row populations in the United States. There are two women on death row in Arizona, and no woman has been executed here since Eva Dugan was hanged in 1930.

On Jan. 17, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the death sentence for Shawna Forde, a self-styled anti-immigration vigilante convicted of killing two people southwest of Tucson in 2009.

On Jan. 23, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge refused to reconsider her decision to allow a former Phoenix police detective to invoke the Fifth Amendment in the Debra Milke case, putting Milke’s potential retrial on hold until prosecutors can file a special action appeal. Milke was freed after 23 years on death row when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted her a new trial.

Wendi Andriano, who was sent to death row in 2004 for murdering her husband, is back in Maricopa County Superior Court for the next two weeks in a stage called post-conviction relief, arguing that she deserves a new trial because her defense attorneys did not represent her effectively.

Marissa DeVault’s trial starts Thursday on charges of killing her husband with a hammer in 2009.

And Jodi Arias will go back to trial on March 17 to determine if she should be sentenced to death or to life in prison for the 2008 murder of her lover Travis Alexander.

Andriano and Arias were portrayed as lying vixens, their sex lives detailed right down to their choice of personal sexual lubricants.

The DeVault case is certain to be salacious; she was a stripper and claims the husband she killed was abusive and forced her to sleep with other men. All three allege domestic violence in their defense.

Meanwhile, one of DeVault’s lovers will be confronted over child pornography found in his computer when he testifies against her.

“If it’s a woman, (prosecutors) have to defeminize her before they can humanize her,” Streib said.

It may not matter.

“Once sentenced to death, the likelihood of being executed is practically zero,” Streib said.

Death-penalty cases are rarely clear-cut; less so when the defendants are women.

ast spring, a first jury could not reach a decision as to whether to let Arias live or die.

In 2010, a Superior Court jury balked at sending Marjorie Orbin to death row, even though it found her guilty of killing her husband and cutting him in pieces.

One chunk of his torso was found in a plastic tub in the desert in north Phoenix.

And in 2002, the Arizona Supreme Court threw out a death sentence for Doris Carlson, who paid two men to kill her mother-in-law in 1996, after determining that the murder was not committed in an especially cruel, heinous or depraved manner. That is one of the aggravating factors alleged in the DeVault case, and the Arias argument on the death penalty is based on the murder being considered especially cruel.

Capital cases against women also are often more complex because the crimes are often more passionate and more intimate.

“The death penalty is mostly about crimes against strangers. That really frightens people,” said Elizabeth Rapaport, a law professor at the University of New Mexico.

Those crimes often include rapes and robberies, “and women just don’t do those kind of crimes,” Rapaport said.

Women who kill tend to kill spouses, lovers, children and family members.

“Those cases are rarely capital cases,” she said.

And as Victor Streib added, there is a general reluctance on the part of juries to send women to death row.

“Women tend to be favored,” said Streib, a defense attorney and law professor who retired from Ohio Northern University. Streib, who has written books on female killers, also provided statistics on the subject to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

According to the most recent statistics, as of January 2013, only 63 out of 3,125 inmates on death rows nationwide were women, about 2 percent. Only 14 women have been executed since 1973: four in Texas, three in Oklahoma, two in Florida, and one each in North Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama and Virginia., Texas

“What I always say when asked about this question is that there are no sophisticated studies indicating that women are treated more leniently in the capital-punishment system,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “Their numbers are too small to draw statistically relevant conclusions. What we do know is that women commit about 10percent of murders, comprise about 2percent of death rows and account for about 1percent of executions.”

Death sentences are supposed to be reserved for the worst of the worst murderers. Each case has a unique set of facts and evidence, and there is no foolproof scientific way to make the assessment as to which are the worst. And prosecutors must find appropriate aggravating factors from a set list dictated by state statute. It’s not just a question of how horrible the murder seems to the public.

Still, the seeming randomness of the system is at times shocking: A drug cartel member cuts off the head of a rival who ripped him off, pleads guilty to second-degree murder and gets a 14-year prison sentence; a man beats his girlfriend to death, leaves her naked body in the street and is charged with second-degree murder.

Wade Bradford is accused of killing two girlfriends, one in front of a male rival in the garage of a Tempe condo; the other was found four years after her murder in a rented storage facility in the West Valley.

The first of his trials went to the jury on Tuesday. Neither case is capital.

“There may even be evidence that when women do cross the line into violent murders, they may face being punished more severely than men because their murders stand out,” Dieter said. “They are outside the expected behavior of women.”

But as Dieter pointed out, there are no studies to prove or disprove that theory.

When prosecutors seek death against women, the cases tend to be sordid. They are about money. Or sex. Or domestic violence. Or betrayal.

Prosecutors alleged that Milke, Andriano and DeVault killed for insurance money; Forde was trying to steal a drug dealer’s cash.

Andriano and Arias were portrayed as lying vixens, their sex lives detailed right down to their choice of personal sexual lubricants.

The DeVault case is certain to be salacious; she was a stripper and claims the husband she killed was abusive and forced her to sleep with other men. All three allege domestic violence in their defense.

Meanwhile, one of DeVault’s lovers will be confronted over child pornography found in his computer when he testifies against her.

“If it’s a woman, (prosecutors) have to defeminize her before they can humanize her,” Streib said.

It may not matter.

“Once sentenced to death, the likelihood of being executed is practically zero,” Streib said.

Arizona death-row inmate found dead in apparent suicide


01.29.2014

An Arizona death-row inmate died Monday in an apparent suicide, state Department of Corrections officials said.

Gregory Dickens, 48, was pronounced dead after lifesaving measures failed, according to a news release.

Dickens was sentenced to death for his part in a double murder near Yuma in 1991. But, last week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, under a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, he was entitled to a new hearing in U.S. District Court to determine whether his first appeals attorney had been ineffective.

He was also the lead plaintiff in a 2009 federal lawsuit that challenged the state’s methods of carrying out executions by lethal injection.

(Source: AZCentral)

 

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