April 9


DA seeks death penalty in slaying of prison worker

An inmate accused in the 2002 slaying of a prison worker will be placed on trial and prosecutors will seek the death penalty after a judge Tuesday allowed the suspect to withdraw his guilty plea.

Edward Montour Jr., already serving a life sentence in the 1997 death of his 11-month-old daughter, is accused of killing Eric Autobee, 23, by striking him in the head with a heavy kitchen ladle at Limon Correctional Facility. Montour represented himself in the case and in January 2003, barely three months after the slaying, pleaded guilty to 1st-degree murder.

He told his advisory attorneys that he wanted to die by execution, according to court documents.

The case has lingered in court for more than 10 years following a judge's imposition of the death penalty, which was later thrown out by the Colorado Supreme Court. The court ruled in 2007 that only a jury, not a judge, can hand down death sentences.

While prosecutors have been seeking a penalty phase trial so a jury can impose the death penalty, Montour's defense attorneys have been trying to strike a deal that would spare Montour's life.

An offer to have Montour plead guilty and serve a life sentence in solitary confinement was rejected by prosecutors, attorney David Lane said, and Douglas County District Judge Richard B. Caschette on Tuesday allowed Montour to withdraw his guilty plea, setting the stage for a new trial. Caschette said in his ruling that he could not allow Montour's "calculated plan of state-assisted suicide."

"In giving up a 1st-degree murder conviction, all for the sake of attempting to get a death penalty, all things are possible now in this case including a verdict of not guilty after trial," Lane said in a statement.

Many prosecutors who support the death penalty have long argued that it remains the sole deterrent against inmates who are already serving life sentences from killing prison guards. District Attorney George Brauchler, who earlier this month announced that he would seek the death penalty for Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes, said the death penalty in this case sends the message that killing prison guards will not be tolerated.

"When a man already serving a life sentence kills a prison guard, a 'new' life sentence defies justice, common sense, and makes the taking of Eric Autobee's life a 'freebie,'" Brauchler said in a statement.

Autobee's family opposes the death penalty, but Brauchler said he's taking prison workers' safety into consideration.

The day before he was fatally shot while answering his front door, Colorado Department of Corrections Executive Director Tom Clements testified at the Legislature on behalf of improved prison worker safety. Clements' March 19 slaying remains unsolved.

Former inmate and white supremacist prison gang member Evan Ebel had the gun used in Clements' slaying when he died in a shootout with Texas authorities. Authorities have not said what role they believe Ebel played in Clements' slaying or whether others were involved.

An associate of Ebel's is in custody while another remains at large. El Paso County sheriff's officials say both are persons of interest in Clements' slaying.

Until Autobee's death in 2002, no corrections officer had been killed since 1929. Since Autobee's slaying, Sgt. Mary Ricard, 55, was killed last September while breakfast was being prepared for inmates at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility, and then Clements died at his home in Monument.

(source: Associated Press)


Utah on the wrong side of history

Last month, the state of Maryland became the eighteenth state in the U.S. to do away with the death penalty. In which direction do you think this issue is going? Will the number of states with the death penalty increase or decrease? While working for the U.S. Department of Justice, I assisted Poland and Albania with criminal justice issues surrounding requirements for European Union membership. Dissolving the death penalty is required for membership in the EU. Besides Texas, what state do you think will be one of the last to give up the death penalty?

Statistically, the death penalty in America is racially misrepresented. According to the last U.S. census, African Americans account for approximately 13 % of our population. African Americans currently account for 42.6 % of the people on death row. I ask you to visualize the metaphor portrayed in Lady Justice. Blindfolded with a scale in one hand and a sword in the other - do you think she can see these percentages? I'm not suggesting these people are innocent. I'm challenging our solution.

It is important to point out that of the 13 % of African Americans in the United States, half are women. There are very few women on death row in America. In addition, of the 13 % of African-Americans in the U.S. 1/3 are children. We do not execute children under the age of 18 years. If you do the math, the 42.6 % on death row are African American adult men. African American adult men make up approximately 5 % of our total U.S. population; yet they make up 42.6 % of those on death row. Do you think Lady Justice can do the math?

President Harry Truman was often blunt spoken. He once said, "People think I give them hell. I never give them hell. I just tell them the truth and they think it's hell."

With President Truman's statement in mind, I want to clearly state some facts that have placed Utah on the wrong side of history and have hurt Utah. First, most Utahns, in the late 1800s, didn't want to give up polygamy. Utah was on the wrong side of this issue, and eventually gave up. Second, not giving African Americans the priesthood, until 1978, again placed the majority of Utahns on the wrong side of history and made all of Utah appear to be racist.

As we look at what the future holds in America, what side of history will Utah be on? From gay rights, and women's issues, to gun violence and the death penalty, what side of history do you think Utah will be on? It appears that many Utahns are fearful of the future. Decisions based on fear are never good. Is stashing gold, clutching guns and ammunition, storing 2 years worth of food, all based on the unfounded expectation of Armageddon or the failure of government - circumstantial evidence?

These nonsensical positions and fears are firmly placing Utah on the wrong side of history and pushing Utah politics to the margins of American society.

There is a curious thinness to Utah's collective thinking on these contemporary issues.

As Oscar Wilde, the prolific Irish poet said, "You can't reason a man out of something he didn't reason himself into." Will Utah be reasonable about gay rights, women's rights, gun violence, and the death penalty or will we again find ourselves on the wrong side of history? I think this is one of those problems that even duct tape can't fix!

(source: Opinion; Robert C. Wadman is professor, emeritus, criminal justice department, at Weber State University----Standard-Examiner)


Accused serial killer has links to New Mexico

There's a nationwide search for more victims of an accused serial killer - who may have killed women right here in New Mexico.

Detectives are dusting off cold case files around the country to link 72-year-old Samuel Little to other crimes.

Records show he was here in New Mexico a few years after those murders and as recently as 2 years ago.

Now, APD and BCSO detectives may be taking a 2nd look at what he did during his time here.

Little is now in custody with LAPD after DNA evidence linked him to the murder of 3 women in Los Angeles in the late 1980s. He's also accused of 2 murders and 2 attempted murders in Mississippi and Florida.

Cold case murder detectives say he was a thief by day, murderer by night - sexually attacking women and strangling them.

LAPD linked Little to three murders in the late 1980s and now they're looking through many more cold case files to find more victims.

Los Angeles detectives are coming through cold case murders through the early 1990s for matches - and they're urging departments across the country to do the same.

Little has a rap sheet spanning 24 states - including New Mexico.

In 1992, he was arrested at 300 Menaul NW in Albuquerque - then the site of a Kmart - for shoplifting.

He didn't show up in court the following week and a decade later, a judge at Metro Court dismissed the charges.

As recently as 2 years ago, Little was accused of shoplifting in Hobbs - and then he again failed to appear in court.

The Metro Crime lab shared by APD and BCSO will be running Little's DNA to see if there are any matches to cold cases in New Mexico.

All told, his criminal record spans more than 56 years - but so far, he's only spent about 10 years in prison.

He's currently awaiting trial on the triple-murder charges in California. He'll be eligible for the death penalty.

(source: KRQE News)


Mental evaluation finds Lake Oswego murder suspect fit for trial

A man charged in the slashing death of a Lake Oswego-area high-tech engineer is fit to stand trial, according to a mental health evaluation discussed in court Tuesday.

However, defense attorneys for Erik John Meiser dispute the report, maintaining their client suffers from delusions and cannot aid in his own defense -- the minimum requirement set by law.

Clackamas County Circuit Judge Eve L. Miller set an April 29 hearing on Meiser's fitness. Another hearing on Meiser's Oregon State Hospital records will be held April 22.

Meiser, 38, arrested in the Sept. 17 slaying of 57-year-old Frederick "Fritz" Hayes Jr., was placed in the state hospital in January, after telling a clinical psychologist he was the target of conspirators who constantly tormented him and wanted to turn his son into a cannibal. His trial in Clackamas County Circuit Court was postponed while he underwent treatment to restore his mental health.

Last month, a team headed by Dr. Christopher Lockey, Oregon State Hospital's supervising psychiatrist, then evaluated Meiser and sent its report to Miller. Meanwhile, Meiser was returned to the Clackamas County Jail on March 20. Facing an aggravated murder charge, he is being held without bail.

If convicted, Meiser could face the death penalty.

According to court documents, Meiser is accused of hacking Hayes to death after burglarizing his home in the 900 block of Atwater Road. Shortly before 6:30 a.m. Sept. 17, Fritz and his wife, Margaret "Maggie" Hayes, returned home after taking a walk together. When Maggie Hayes entered the kitchen, she saw a tall man brandishing a machete in one hand and a knife in the other. She ran out a back door, screaming. When she looped around to the front, she saw her husband lying outside the front door and called 9-1-1.

Fritz Hayes suffered several "large cuts across his head, neck and facial area" in the attack. He was dead when firefighter-paramedics arrived. A bloody machete was found tossed away next door.

Oregon State Police forensics experts matched fingerprints on the machete to records on file for Meiser, who has a 23-year record of arrests in 10 states. He was arrested Sept. 22 in Corvallis.

Meanwhile, Meiser remains a person of interest in the July 27 stabbing death of 28-year-old Nick Fickett, who was camping north of Kelso, Wash.

Police in Ogden, Utah, said Meiser also is accused of slashing a man in the face with a knife, then running off before officers arrived.

(source: The Oregonian)


The mentally ill require a different calculation for the death penalty

As the father of an adult with a severe mental illness, I am dismayed by a Colorado prosecutor's decision to seek the death penalty in the Aurora movie theater attack.

Attorneys for the accused gunman, James Eagan Holmes, offered to have their client plead guilty in return for a life sentence without parole. That was not good enough for Arapahoe District Attorney George Brauchler.

After consulting with "800 victims and their families" on the July 2012 shootings that left 12 dead and dozens wounded, Brauchler declared that for Holmes, "justice is death."

Only the most egregious cases should merit the death penalty, and despite the monstrosity of these shootings, executing a defendant who was receiving psychiatric care and who appears to have a severe mental illness violates that high standard.

Although a definitive diagnosis has yet to be made public, Holmes was seeing a doctor who specializes in treating schizophrenia. News reports say Holmes told a fellow college student before the murders that he had been diagnosed with dysphoric mania, a form of bipolar disorder. Common symptoms for both schizophrenia and dysphoric mania can include delusions and impaired reasoning. Both illnesses frequently surface in men during their early 20s. The causes of both are unknown but are not thought to be brought on by an individual's own actions.

My son got sick when he was 22. Chances are, you too know someone with a mental illness. Those of us with mentally ill family members have seen how schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can distort our loved ones' thinking and sometimes cause them to break the law. Their actions are symptoms of their disorders.

Mental illness does not excuse murder - a fact that Holmes's attorneys readily acknowledged. But murders spawned in psychosis should be adjudicated differently from those for profit, jealousy or revenge.

Our legal system does a poor job in dealing with mentally ill defendants. The standard legal test is whether the defendant knew at the time of the crime the difference between right and wrong and whether he understood the consequences of his actions. But that's often a fool's reasoning when applied to an ill person's mind. I once asked a convicted murderer with schizophrenia if he understood that murder was wrong and that if he murdered someone, he would be punished. Of course he did, he quickly replied to both questions: "Everyone knows you shouldn't kill people. I didn't kill anyone. I killed an alien that had crawled into a baby's body. I saw it go inside him."

Brauchler's Pontius Pilate-style explanation does not absolve him of his prosecutorial responsibility to use discretion in the face of public cries for blood. Nor is Brauchler delivering "justice" to the victims and their families. Sending Holmes to prison for life without parole would have brought swift closure while ensuring public safety. Now victims face a protracted public trial, decades of legal appeals and appellate hearings in which they will be required to rehash their nightmares. Arapahoe County prosecutor Brauchler should have followed suit. Instead, he chose a road that will add more pain to an already unbearable tragedy.

(source: Pete Earley is the author of "Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness."--Washington Post)


Death row inmates' last meals prove morbidly fascinating in The Last Meals Project ; New York-based photographer Jonathon Kambouris' work matches the mugs of murderers with the last food they ate.

Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, requested 2 pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream as his last meal before he was executed by lethal injection in Indiana. For serial killer Ted Bundy, it was steak, eggs, hash browns and coffee. Stacey Lamont Lawton, who was convicted of murdering 47-year-old Dennis Price in Texas in 1992, asked for a jar of dill pickles.

No matter your thoughts of the death penalty, there is something fascinating yet creepy about the last meals of murderers. Photographer Jonathon Kambouris, 30, started thinking about the practice after reading about McVeigh and his ice cream.

"I just thought that was so intense - knowing his final meal," he told the Daily News.

Kambouris said the last meal selection is "a thought-provoking concept" that "brings up an interesting idea of what makes us human." Here, John William Elliot's mug shot is paired with his final foods: 6 cookies and a cup of tea.

In 2006, Kambouris decided to jump forward with what would become The Last Meals Project. He started researching what those on death row selected as their final meals. Kambouris gathered the mug shots and paired them with some information about the criminal as well as a depiction of the requested items.

"I thought it was important to see the face as well as the food," he said.

Gary Leon Brown simply asked for an ice cream sandwich. Kambouris did the bulk of the work between 2006 and 2009, but he considers it to be an ongoing work.

"It's such a thought-provoking concept," he said. "It brings up an interesting idea of what makes us human."

James David Autry requested comfort food as his last meal before he was put to death by lethal injection in Texas. Kambouris said that the meal selection is the last choice - the final decision - one makes before the end.

Someone's last words are not as important as their last meal, Kambouris said. He pointed out that Jonathan Wayne Nobles, who was convicted of murdering 2 women in Austin, Texas, in 1986, was singing "Silent Night" when the lethal drugs took effect. His last meal was the Eucharist Sacrament. Both are perplexing tidbits on their own, but put them together and it paints an even more confusing picture of Nobles.

Ted Bundy's last meal? Steak, eggs, hash browns and coffee. Kambouris said his last meal would probably be comfort food, like a cheeseburger and french fries or pizza.

"But hopefully I won't be making that decision," he said with a laugh.

Studies have shown that the average last meal includes meat and tallies more than 2,700 calories. The nutritional recommendation for an entire day is about 2,000.

The most recent death row inmate to be executed was Steven Ray Thacker, who was put to death by lethal inject in Oklahoma on March 9. His last meal was a meat lover's pizza, a small bag of peanut M&Ms and an A&W root beer.

The death penalty is legal in 33 states. Of the 1,325 executions since 1976, 493 of them have been in Texas. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there are currently 304 people on death row.

(source: New York Daily News)

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