April 10


Mandatory DNA testing bill advances

A DNA-testing bill seeking to prevent wrongful convictions, restore faith in the state's justice system and prevent costly delays to state executions passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday in a unanimous vote.

Senate Bill 1292 requires the state pay for all biological evidence to be collected and DNA tested prior to a trial in cases where the defendant could receive the death penalty.

"This modest but vitally important reform will help reduce the possibility that the ultimate mistake is made with someone receiving the ultimate penalty," said Houston Democrat Sen. Rodney Ellis, who partnered with Attorney General Greg Abbott to write the legislation, in a press release. "The fact of the matter is that we have already dodged just such a bullet thanks to advocates for the wrongfully convicted."

Anthony Graves, who was exonerated in 2010, spent 16 years on death row for a murder he did not commit.

He's not alone.

Texas has paid more than $50 million to more than 80 exonerees since enacting legislation to compensate the wrongfully convicted for time spent in prison, although only some of them faced the death penalty and would have been affected by this bill.

DNA testing fueled a growing national movement to keep the innocent out of prisons and convict the true perpetrators. To date, there have been 303 post-conviction DNA exonerations nationwide, according to the national Innocence Project.

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Mann executed for murdering 10-year-old Pinellas girl

Larry Eugene Mann was executed Wednesday night for the 1980 murder of 10-year-old Elisa Nelson of Palm Harbor.

Mann's death ended a 32-year quest for justice that has tormented her family.

"Thank God it's over," said Katy DeCarolis, Elisa's cousin.

Mann, one of the longest-serving inmates on Florida's death row, was put to death by lethal injection and pronounced dead at 7:19 p.m. at Florida State Prison in Starke, according to Melissa Sellers, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott's office.

The condemned man answered "Uh, uh, no sir," when asked if he had any last words before the procedure began.

Mann's final written statement, released by the state Department of Corrections about an hour after his death, was a Bible verse, Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

There were 28 witnesses to the execution, including media and corrections personnel, and a group of Elisa's relatives sat in the front row wearing buttons with her photo on them.

The family sent out a statement, also through the Department of Corrections, written by Elisa's brother, Jeff Nelson.

"It is glaringly apparent that there is something fundamentally flawed with a justice system that takes over 32 years to bring to justice a pedophile who confessed to kidnapping and murdering a 10-year-old-girl," the statement reads.

"There are no winners here. His death does not bring Elisa back, nor does it end our sorrow, but we will no longer be tortured by his defense attorneys' endless legal wrangling."

"Larry Mann alone made the decisions that dragged us all into this hell," Nelson writes toward the end of the 5-page statement, which includes colorful photos of Elisa with family, playing baseball and cheerleading - a few of the things she loved.

"We certainly did not ask to be a part it. He alone set in motion the wheels of his own destruction. The world is now a better place without him."

The death sentence was carried out more than an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court denied Mann's latest appeal.

Mann's lawyers appealed to the high court on Monday, arguing that his death sentence should be overturned because the jury that recommended it wasn't unanimous. They also argued that Mann's constitutional rights were violated because Scott used a secret and standardless process before signing his death warrant.

Shortly before the 59-year-old former oil well driller from Dunedin was scheduled to be executed, roughly a dozen people gathered at an anti-death penalty vigil at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg.

People sang hymns, listened to readings and prayed - that the killer's life would be spared.

Outside the prison, there were 43 people gathered in favor of the execution and, in a separate area, 38 people were protesting the death penalty. In 1981, Mann was convicted of killing Elisa, who was last seen riding her bike to Palm Harbor Middle School on Nov. 4, 1980. She had a note in her pocket explaining she was late because of a dentist appointment.

Mann kidnapped her near the school, took her to an orange grove, cut her throat and then beat her head with a pipe that had a concrete base attached to it. Then he went home and tried to kill himself, later telling police officers he had "done something stupid."

On Nov. 8, Mann's wife was getting his glasses out of his pickup and found the note Elisa's mother had written. It had blood stains on it.

Last week, the state Supreme Court unanimously rejected the argument that Mann shouldn't be executed because the jury that recommended the death sentence wasn't unanimous.

Mann's 1981 death sentence was overturned once because the trial court made a legal error. He was resentenced to death, and the Supreme Court then affirmed that punishment.

Former Gov. Bob Graham signed Mann's 1st death warrant in 1986, after which he filed numerals appeals in state and federal court.

Elisa's murder wasn't Mann's first brush with the law. He molested a 7-year-old girl several years before Elisa's death, prosecutors said. And at the time of Elisa's murder, he was on parole for a 1973 rape in Mississippi, where he told his victim if she didn't comply with his sexual demands, he'd "get what he wanted" from an 18-month-old baby in the next room.

At the prayer service at the Cathedral of St. Jude, St. Petersburg Bishop Robert Lynch asked people at the prayer service to take a moment and pray for the Nelson family. Then he spoke out against the death penalty.

"We take as articles of faith that even one who has fully violated the Fifth Commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill,' should have their life taken by anyone other than the author of all life, the lord God," he said.

"After over 200 years of the exercise of the death penalty in this nation that we love, there is still no valid evidence that it reduces crime, that murders diminish and that the people live in a greater security."

"That same heart and mind which abhors the horror of abortion should logically abhor the state deciding who it is who will live and who will die," the bishop told the group, which had grown to 21 by the end of the half-hour prayer vigil.

Of the more than 400 inmates on Florida's death row, 25 were convicted in Pinellas and 25 in Hillsborough County. More than a dozen of the inmates on death row have been there longer than Mann.

A spiritual advisor and 2 attorneys were the last people to visit him.

Mann was calm and somber in the hours leading up to his execution, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Ann Howard.

Mann becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Florida and the 75th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1979.

Mann becomes the 7th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1327th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

(sources: Tampa Tribune & Rick Halperin)

OHIO----impending execution

Mercy rejected for Ohio man who killed 6-month-old

The Ohio Parole Board has recommended against mercy for a condemned killer who says he intended to rape his girlfriend's 6-month-old daughter but not to kill her.

Attorneys for death row inmate Steven Smith say evidence shows the baby died because Smith was too drunk to realize his sexual assault was killing the child.

The Ohio Parole Board on Wednesday turned down Smith's request for clemency, which included the argument that a death sentence must involve an intent to kill.

Prosecutors call the 1998 death of Autumn Carter the purposeful murder of a helpless baby girl.

Gov. John Kasich gets the final word on the fate of the 46-year-old Smith, who is scheduled to die May 1.

(source: Associated Press)


Death penalty to be sought in Autobee killing

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 3 months after the slaying, pleaded guilty to first-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.

(source: Pueblo Chieftan)

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