March 21


TEXAS:

Miller-El case finally ends, writing important chapter----Though tortured,
Miller-El case served purpose


The Miller-El case what an insult to the family of slain Irving hotel
clerk Douglas Walker that the tortured search for justice in his death has
taken the name of the killer.

Blame the 22-year saga on past gamesmanship in the Dallas County district
attorney's office, which required a righteous fight to root it out.

Finally, prosecutors have accepted a guilty plea from Thomas Joe Miller-El
in which he ducks the threat of execution in return for what amounts to a
life sentence. The deal properly avoids the risk of his weaseling freedom
from a new jury. The finality is years overdue in a case of clear-cut
guilt in the savage 1985 robbery and murder of Mr. Walker, 25.

Along the way, the Supreme Court ruled  in part on research by The Dallas
Morning News  that racial discrimination in jury selection was
unconstitutional.

The court later found Mr. Miller-El was prosecuted when the DA's office
was "suffused with bias" in the way race was used to weed out potential
jurors.

If protracting the case provided any public service, it's the embarrassing
discovery of the legacy of racism under legendary District Attorney Henry
Wade. Prosecutors once circulated written advice on stacking the odds
against a defendant. One nugget warned against "Jews, Negroes, Dagos and
Mexicans or a member of any minority race on a jury, no matter how rich or
how well educated."

It's notable that the epitaph for the Miller-El case is now written with a
black DA, Craig Watkins, in his first term. Not too long ago he might have
been secretly excluded from jury service.

Mr. Watkins has shown eagerness to ward off lapses of ethics and civility.
A new integrity unit is looking into potential cases of wrongful
convictions. That is what citizens should expect from an officeholder who
has profound power over the freedom and lives of others.

This case should remind Texans that the imposition of the death penalty
involves unacceptable risk in a system deeply flawed by racism,
gamesmanship and other weaknesses. However well-intentioned Mr. Watkins
may be, he will have successors potentially as different from him as he is
from Mr. Wade.

(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)






MICHIGAN----possible federal death penalty trial

Duo may face death penalty


A Richmond man and his Sugar Land accomplice, accused of ordering a double
murder in Detroit, are facing the possibility of the death penalty,
according to an FBI spokesman.

Narayan Thadani, 60, of Richmond and Douglas Tobar, 40, of Sugar Land, are
being detained in Houston on federal charges, awaiting an appearance in a
U.S. District Court in Detroit after their arrest last week.

Thadani and Tobar are charged with hiring 2 Houston-area hitmen to kill a
suburban Detroit couple who had filed a lawsuit against Thadani stemming
from a real estate transaction in India.

They face charges of conspiracy to murder, which according to federal
guidelines is punishable by the death penalty, along with charges of using
interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.

Investigators said Brij and Aasha Chabra were discovered dead in their
Troy, Mich. home after police stopped 2 men on March 11 for a traffic
violation and discovered a handgun and blood-stained documents from the
couple.

The alleged triggermen, identified as Miguel Angel Servando, 40, of Katy,
and Nelson Oswaldo Mendoza, 34, of Houston, are facing 1st-degree felony
murder charges in a Michigan court.

(source: Fort Bend Herald)






FLORIDA:

Good Friday Death Penalty Protest


A Gathered on the steps of the Old Capitol, members from the social
justice group Pax Christi and the Tallahassee Citizens Against Death
Penalty remember Christ's last walk before his execution on what is now
recognized as Good Friday.

The 2 groups have joined together to honor each station of Christ's
journey and to make a connection between the execution of death row
inmates and Jesus Christ

. Sheila Meehan is the Chair of the Tallahassee Citizens Against Death
Penalty group.

"I'm hoping for other people whom may have attended for the 1st time and
for the people who are in politics who do have the opportunity to make
changes in law they'll see the connection that I saw perhaps for the 1st
time today between an execution of Jesus and death penalty that we give to
our citizens."

The Tallahassee Citizens Against Death Penalty work with the NAACP and
ACLU in the community speaking out against the death penalty.

(source: WJHG News)






VERMONT:

Man pleads not guilty in potential death penalty case


A New York man who could face the death penalty over a drug robbery and
slaying says he's not guilty.

Roger Aletras, 36, of New York City, was arraigned Friday on 5 charges
stemming from the December 2002 slaying of accomplice Kevin Arkenau.
Prosecutors say the 2 traveled from New York City to South Burlington,
where they allegedly stole 50 pounds of pot and a car from two other
people at a motel.

The next day, Arkeneau was found dead in a Saratoga Springs, N.Y., hotel
room.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Darrow says the government will decide in
the coming months whether to pursue the death penalty in the case.

For now, Aletras is being held in federal prison in Pennsylvania on an
unrelated firearms charge. Handcuffed and dressed in jail issue orange
clothing, he entered the not guilty plea as he stood by defense attorney
Kerry DeWolfe.

(source: Boston Globe)






OHIO:

Veillette's lawyers seek change of venue for death penalty case


The attorneys for Michel Veillette filed for a change of venue in the
death-penalty case of the Mason man charged with stabbing his wife to
death and setting a fire which killed their 4 children on Jan. 11.

The pre-trial motion was one of approximately 60 filed Wednesday, March 19
by Veillette's lawyers, Greg Howard and Tim McKenna, who stated the
request was due to the local pre-trial publicity of the case.

Rarely, if ever, do Warren County judges grant a change of venue, said
Warren County Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel.

A hearing is scheduled in Warren County Tuesday, March 25 on a request to
unseal earlier documents pertaining to the case from the Mason Municipal
Court.

(source: Lebanon Western Star)






CALIFORNIA:

S.C. Throws Out Death Sentence in Killing of L.A. Police
Officer----Exclusion of Lingering Doubt Evidence Called Erroneous,
Prejudicial by Unanimous Court


The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously reversed Kenneth Gay's
death sentence for the 1983 murder of Los Angeles Police Officer Paul
Verna, saying the trial judge erred in limiting evidence that the defense
contended would show that Gays co-defendant may have been the lone
shooter.

Such evidence was relevant to show the existence of a mitigating factor,
Justice Marvin Baxter wrote for the court, adding that the exclusion of
the evidence was prejudicial because there was no physical evidence to tie
Gay to the murder weapon. The prosecution theory was that Gay and Raynard
Cummings passed a single gun between them, and shot Verna to avoid being
arrested for a series of robberies.

Verna was shot 6 times after he stopped the defendants' vehicle in the
Lake View Terrace area of the San Fernando Valley. The 2 were tried
jointly before separate juries, which found them guilty of first degree
murder, with special circumstances of killing an officer in the
performance of his duties and killing to avoid arrest.

The juries also found that each defendant personally used a firearm during
the commission of the crime. The convictions and sentences were affirmed
on direct appeal.

Sentence Thrown Out

Gay's sentence was thrown out, however, in 1998 by the state high court,
after its designated factfinder in the caseLos Angeles Superior Court
Judge J. Stephen Czuleger, now the presiding judgefound that Gays trial
counsel, Daye Shinn, had failed to conduct an investigation into
mitigating evidence and that such evidence was discoverable with
reasonable investigation.

Shinn was disbarred in 1992 in connection with unrelated matters.

The Supreme Court granted Gay a retrial as to penalty only, with took
place in 2000 before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt,
who has since died.

Prosecutors presented evidence of the circumstances of the crime,
including the 4 robberies that the defendants and their wives allegedly
committed prior to the fatal stop.

They also presented evidence of other violent or potentially violent
crimes committed by Gay, including the firebombing of the home of an
ex-girlfriends parents after the couple broke up, of a jailhouse threat to
kill Cummings' wife, and of a 1988 attempt to enlist Gay's by-then ex-wife
in an effort to escape.

Wiatt allowed eyewitnesses who had testified at the 1st trial to testify
for the defense at the second trial, and also admitted medical evidence
which the defense argued showed that Cummings may have been the lone
gunman. But he excluded other witnesses whom the defense said would
support their "lingering doubt" argument, agreeing with the prosecution
that the identification of the gunman was not a relevant issue in the
penalty retrial.

Wiatt also instructed jurors that it was "conclusively proved by the jury
in the 1st case that this defendant did, in fact, shoot and kill Officer
Verna" and that the jury was to "disregard any statements . . . and . . .
any evidence to the contrary during the trial."

The exclusion of the additional witnesses, Baxter said, was an abuse of
the trial judge's discretion and "crippled" the defense, an error that the
justice said was compounded by the judge's instructions.

Evidence of Innocence

Baxter cited People v. Terry (1962) 57 Cal.2d 538, which held that
evidence of the defendants innocence was admissible at a penalty retrial.
The fact that the death penalty law in effect at the time of Terry was
subsequently struck down and replaced by the current law does not require
a different result, the justice said.

Courts in other states have cited Terry in reaching similar conclusions,
Baxter added.

The justice went on to reject the prosecution contention that the
exclusion of the evidence was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because
there was substantial evidence of aggravating circumstances.

"The combination of the evidentiary and instructional errors presents an
intolerable risk that the jury did not consider all or a substantial
portion of the penalty phase defense, which was lingering doubt," Baxter
wrote. "The defense could have had particular potency in this case, given
the absence of physical evidence linking defendant to the shooting and the
inconsistent physical and clothing descriptions given by the prosecution
eyewitnesses."

He elaborated:

"Had the jury been allowed to hearand considerthe 4 statements in which
Raynard Cummings claimed to be the sole shooter, the testimony of the 4
defense eyewitnesses excluding defendant as the shooter, and the testimony
that defendant nonetheless was the man who came out of the car to retrieve
a weapon from the ground (thus offering an explanation why the prosecution
eyewitnesses had been able to recognize him), there is a reasonable
possibility the jury would have selected a different penalty."

While all seven justices joined in the opinion, Justice Kathryn M.
Wedegar, joined by Justice Joyce L. Kennard and Presiding Justice James J.
Marchiano of Div. One of the First District Court of Appealsitting in
place of Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who recused himselfsaid the court
should go further and abrogate a suggestion in its prior opinion, In re
Gay (1998) 19 Cal.4th 771, that lingering doubt is not a proper defense to
the death penalty.

Baxter, in a footnote, said it was unnecessary to determine whether
lingering doubt is a proper defense when the penalty phase takes place
before the same jury that heard the evidence in the guilt phase.

The case was argued in the Supreme Court by Sunnyvale attorney Therene
Powell, by appointment, for the defendant and by Deputy Attorney General
Lance E. Wintersa candidate for Los Angeles Superior Court judgefor the
prosecution.

The case is People v. Gay, 08 S.O.S. 1602.

(source: Metropolitan News-Enterprise)




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