Sept. 16


State to help Coryell County in capital murder trial, set for August 2018

The Texas Attorney General's office is providing a prosecutor to assist the Coryell County district attorney's office with a capital murder case against Chet Michael Shelton, 27, of Gatesville.

However, the trial won't begin until August 2018 - which will be almost 3 years after 2-year-old Makai Brooks Lamar was allegedly beaten, sodomized and killed by Shelton, Coryell County District Attorney Dusty Boyd said Tuesday.

The date was set so far in the future because of the logistics of scheduling 3 different offices in the death penalty case - the attorney general, Boyd's office and Shelton's regional public defender, Anthony Odiorne, located in Burnet, Boyd said.

Odiorne, one of Shelton's attorneys, said Tuesday that the regional public defender's office has a policy of not talking about pending cases.

Regional public defenders, contracted by individual counties, defend only in death penalty cases and travel a lot. Finding a date without conflicts was a challenge, Boyd said.

Utilizing the services of Lisa Tanner from the attorney general's office will not cost Coryell County taxpayers anything. Tanner will assist Boyd, he said Tuesday.

Boyd requested the assistance because a child's death is a unique case and Tanner has a lot of experience with those cases and in prosecuting crimes where a baby's death is involved, he said.

Tanner's experience will help the DA's office handle the type of case "we don't necessarily see very often," Boyd said.

Boyd has never prosecuted a case involving a child's death, he said, although he has handled cases involving aggravated sexual assault of a child.

"Anytime a baby dies, it is catastrophic to any community, no matter the community's size," Boyd said. "It's tough for a community to go through."

The district attorney's office will seek the death penalty against Shelton, Boyd said.

An autopsy showed Makai died from blunt force trauma and had many injuries to his head and internal organs. The autopsy results also said Makai was sodomized, according to an arrest affidavit.

Shelton told a Gatesville Police Department investigator that he was baby-sitting Makai for his girlfriend, who was Makai's mother. The mother reportedly came home for a short period of time and then went back to finish a double shift at a local restaurant, the affidavit said.

After eating, Makai fell asleep on the couch, Shelton said. He added that he moved Makai to the child's bedroom and went outside to smoke. He came back inside, checked on Makai and found he wasn't breathing, the affidavit said.

Shelton said he started CPR and it wasn't working, so he carried Makai to a neighbor, a Coryell County deputy sheriff, for help.

EMS reports said Makai was found naked on the floor. Marks were found on the 2-year-old that weren't consistent with any emergency treatment. Those injuries were on the head, face and abdomen, and his extremities had various bruises and burns. At least 3 lacerations seemed to indicate Makai was hit multiple times on the right side of the head with an object, the affidavit said.

A quarter-size stain of blood was found on Makai's pillow and a larger blood stain was found on the comforter.

Shelton admitted to the investigator that he'd used methamphetamine during the 48 hours before he baby-sat Makai, according to the affidavit.

(source: Copperas Cove Herald)


22-year-old on trial for his life in Feltonville shootout that killed 1, wounded 4

It's a case with the elements of a tragedy all too common on Philadelphia streets. It's about young men with guns, and with grudges that began in their teens, and indiscriminate shots that killed an innocent bystander and wounded four other people.

Among the wounded: the alleged target, who now says police concocted his identification of his boyhood friend as one of the shooters.

It is titled Commonwealth v. Siddiq Shelton, and its namesake, now 22, could end up with a death sentence.

Assistant District Attorney Deborah Watson-Stokes told a Philadelphia jury in her opening statement Thursday that the evidence would prove that Shelton and a never-identified 2nd gunman fired 15 shots at a group of people sitting on the front porch of a Feltonville rowhouse at 12:19 a.m. July 29, 2014.

The shooters' target was Michael Benjamin, a childhood friend of Shelton's against whom Shelton bore a simmering grudge, according to Watson-Stokes. Benjamin was wounded in both legs and in his scrotum.

Elisha Bull, 20, who was on the porch visiting three sisters who lived at the house in the 4900 block of North Front Street, was killed. Bull died after being hit twice in the head, twice in the chest, and once each in the left wrist and right ankle.

The sisters were not related to either Bull or Benjamin. 2 of the sisters, both teenagers, were wounded, as was another female friend. An older sister dived to the floor with her 8-month-old baby and escaped injury.

"They didn't care who they shot, as long as they had an opportunity to shoot at Michael Benjamin," Watson-Stokes told the Common Pleas Court jury of 7 women and 5 men.

'Mistaken identity'

Defense attorney Gary S. Server, who is handling the case with David Rudenstein, told the jury that Shelton's arrest a week after the shootings was a case of "mistaken identity."

"Just imagine how horrific it was, how chaotic it was," Server said of what he called "an ambush."

"You have to ask yourself about whether or not the people actually involved - the alleged eyewitnesses - were they really eyewitnesses and did they actually see what they now claim to have seen?"

The so-called no-snitch culture in Philadelphia neighborhoods and witnesses' fear of retaliation will be on display in the trial, which is expected to last two weeks.

Watson-Stokes hinted as much to the jury, saying: "These are real people, and in this case they are young."

4 witnesses came to court only because of bench warrants issued by Judge Glenn B. Bronson. And Bronson warned that they had better be in court Friday or face 5 months in jail for contempt of court.

Benjamin, now 25, has already "gone south" on prosecutors. At Shelton's preliminary hearing in November 2014, Benjamin recanted his statement to homicide detectives identifying Shelton as one of the shooters.

Benjamin testified that he was high when he was shot and that it was too dark for him to see the gunmen.

Plea offers rejected

According to Philadelphia court records, on Aug. 28, Shelton rejected 2 offers from the District Attorney's Office. The 1st would have removed the death penalty if he agreed to a nonjury trial before Bronson. Shelton then declined an offer to plead guilty to 3rd-degree murder in Bull's death and aggravated assault for those wounded.

If the jury finds Shelton guilty of 1st-degree murder, the trial would move into a penalty phase in which the prosecutor would argue for a death sentence and the defense would present evidence supporting the only alternative under state law: life in prison without parole.

Death sentences have become less common in Pennsylvania as prosecutors press fewer capital cases and juries seem increasingly reluctant to impose death.

Pennsylvania prison records show that no juries have imposed death sentences this year; 3 were imposed last year. A Philadelphia jury last sentenced someone to death in 2013.

In February 2015, Gov. Wolf announced that he would delay all executions until a legislative task force completes its report on the future of the Pennsylvania death penalty.

Even before Wolf's action, executions were rare: just 3 since capital punishment was reinstated in 1978, the last in 1999.

Still, 177 people, including one woman, remain on "death row" at five state prisons, in solitary confinement except for 1 hour of daily exercise.



Judge holds bail hearing in case overturning death penalty

A judge is holding a bail hearing for a murder suspect whose case led to Delaware's death penalty being overturned by the state Supreme Court.

Benjamin Rauf is charged in last year's drug-related killing of 27-year-old Shazim Uppal of Hockessin, a fellow Temple University law school graduate.

Prosecutors had planned to seek the death penalty against Rauf, but after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding Florida's death penalty statute, the judge sought a state Supreme Court opinion on Delaware's law, which is similar to Florida's.

A majority of the justices concluded that Delaware's law was unconstitutional because it allows judges too much discretion and doesn't require that a jury find unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant deserves execution.

(source: Associated Press)


DA seeks death penalty in Whiteville stabbing, murder case

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against a man who was arrested in Brunswick County and charged in the stabbings of 2 women last month in Whiteville, including 1 who died of her injuries.

James Edward McKamey, 51, of Whiteville is accused ofstabbing 35-year-old Reshonta Love in the 300 block of West Nance Street on Aug. 29 and 65-year-old Greer in the 900 block of Smyrna Drive minutes later.

Love suffered about 20 stab wounds, but got away from her attacker and drove herself to Columbus Regional Medical Center in Whitevillefor treatment, according to a report in The News Reporter of Whiteville.

A neighbor found Greer dead the next morning near a shed in her backyard.

District Attorney Jon David announced during a news conference Wednesday, Sept. 14, his office will seek capital punishment for the crimes.

Earlier in the day, a Columbus County Superior Court grand jury indicted McKamey on charges of felony assault, 2 counts of felony robbery, felony attempted murder and felony 1st-degree murder.

Following the discovery of Greer's body Aug. 30, David said, detectives learned that her 2012 Subaru Outback was missing, and issued alerts nationwide to be on the lookout for McKamey and the vehicle.

Brunswick County Sheriff's Office deputies pulled over a Subaru Outback matching the description released to the public on at 9:15 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, and discovered McKamey driving the vehicle with his wife, 46-year-old Rocky McKamey, who was his passenger. The 2 were booked at the Brunswick County Detention Facility less than an hour after the traffic stop, and were taken to Columbus County by Whiteville police officers Friday, Sept. 2. Following their extradition, Rocky McKamey was released on no charges.

David described Greer's death as a crime of opportunity after McKamey fled West Nance Street, which he said is a few hundred feet away from Smyrna Drive.

"It's been often said since this incident happened that Ms. Greer was in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. "I've heard that from a lot of people, and quite frankly I disagree with that characterization, because she was in her driveway in the middle of the day. Who could possibly say that that???s the wrong place at the wrong time?

"After all, we're dealing with a woman that was in her golden years. She was at a time and place in her life where she should feel most secure. The fact that this incident happened reminds us that evil does exist in the world, and it's the responsibility to vigorously pursue these cases when they do occur."

David said Love is devastated by what happened but has cooperated with authorities. He said while the case is only 2 weeks old, his office felt it was already in a position to bring the case before the grand jury Wednesday morning.

"I have to tell you, as a district attorney, I had to balance out the need to be thorough on one hand, but be as efficient as possible on the other," he said.

David said the 2 possible sentences his office can seek for a 1st-degree murder conviction are life without the possibility of parole or, in extreme cases, the death penalty.

"I will tell you that within my office right now we have upward of 30 pending murder cases, and there's only 1 other pending that's a death penalty case at this point," he said. "I regard the decision to seek the death penalty as being larger than 1 person, and I will tell you that last week I convened a meeting of senior assistant district attorneys within my office to evaluate the facts and the law, and to decide whether or not we wanted to certify this as a death penalty case."

David said his office decided to ask for a Rule 24 hearing, a hearing before a judge in a 1st-degree murder case. He said this hearing should take place in the next 30 days then the state will officially announce its intention to seek the death penalty. The state has contacted McKamey's lawyer, Teresa Gibson of Shallotte, regarding its decision, he said.

At the next hearing, David said, the state will lay out the factors of 1st-degree murder in court, and said if one at least one aggravating factor exists in the state's evidence, the case will certify as a death penalty case. At that point, McKamey would receive a second lawyer and the process will move slower from then on.

David also lamented the loss of Greer, who spent at least 3 decades teaching music in Whiteville City Schools, saying not a day has gone by since her death when people have not told him what a loss it is to their community.

"I've also met with the Greer family, and I can tell you that the legacy of Ms. Greer is best summed up in how she raised her children," he said. "She has 3 children that are productive members of their communities. They were raised right, for a lack of a better word, but her legacy extends far beyond how she raised her own children."

McKamey is being held in the Columbus County Detention Facility without bail because of the 1st-degree murder charge.

A Brunswick County Superior Court grand jury indicted McKamey on July 11 on charges of felony cocaine possession and drug paraphernalia possession. Brunswick County court records also show he pleaded guilty April 28, 2011, to simple worthless check, but his sentence wasn't available.

According to the North Carolina Department of Correction, McKamey received a suspended 12-month sentence in New Hanover County for his March 2 conviction on Aug. 26, 2014, and Sept. 3, 2014, misdemeanor charges of obtaining property by false pretense.

(source: Brunswick Beacon)


When Juries Say Life and Judges Say Death

If one state best embodies all the irrationality, unreliability and arbitrariness of the death penalty in America in 2016, it is Alabama.

With a population of just under 5 million, and with more than 450 people sentenced to death since 1977, Alabama has by far the highest per-capita death-sentence rate in the country. And yet in nearly 1 in 4 of those cases, the jury voted for life in prison - in some cases unanimously - only to be overruled by the judge.

The state law authorizing these judicial overrides, now the only law of its kind in the country, was passed in 1981, in theory to allow judges to protect defendants from vengeful or careless juries. In practice, the opposite has happened. While Alabama judges have converted death sentences to life in 11 cases, they have rejected the jury's mercy and chosen death in 101, nearly 1/4 of all death sentences handed down in Alabama since 1982.

Now there is evidence that these override cases involve a disproportionate number of wrongful convictions. 3 of the 6 Alabama death-row inmates who have been freed from prison since 1981 were condemned by a judge after the jury voted for life, according to a paper published last month in The Yale Law Journal.

The paper's authors, Patrick Mulvaney and Katherine Chamblee, both capital-crime defense lawyers, call this discrepancy unsurprising. They attribute it to the phenomenon of "residual doubt" among capital jurors, who must decide on guilt and punishment in separate phases of a trial. When jurors are faced with a life-or-death decision, they may be confident enough to convict, but not so confident to vote for execution. Beyond a reasonable doubt, in other words, doesn't always mean no doubt at all.

Studies have found that residual doubt of guilt is the most important factor in capital jurors' decision to spare someone's life - even more than other mitigating factors like childhood trauma - and it may well explain why half of the exonerations in Alabama were cases in which jurors initially voted against death. In each case, prosecutors were found to have withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense. A juror in the trial of Daniel Wade Moore, who was sentenced to death by a judge in 2003 and exonerated in 2009, told the paper's authors that even after voting to convict Mr. Moore, he voted for life in prison because he was "still unsure" about Mr. Moore's guilt. In 2010, the trial judge, Glenn Thompson, said he "didn't think the state had proven" its case, but overrode the jury's vote and sentenced Mr. Moore to death anyway. His explanation? "The jury said that he did it."

Judge Thompson, like all Alabama jurists, was elected to his seat, which only increases the pressure to act tough on crime - as judges themselves openly admit. In 2013, Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed to this problem in her dissent from the Supreme Court's refusal to consider a challenge to Alabama's law. The state's judges, she wrote, "who are elected in partisan proceedings, appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures."

Justice Sotomayor was right to say that the override law undermines "the sanctity of the jury's role in our system of criminal justice." It also appears to increase the risk that wrongfully convicted people will be sentenced to die.

(source: Editorial Board, New York Times)


The Death Penalty Case Where Prosecutors Wrote the Judge's 'Opinion'----Is that fair? The U.S. Supreme Court could soon decide.

When judges make a decision - especially in a death penalty case - we'd like to think they weigh all sides, consider the law and come to a measured, independent conclusion. Not so in Alabama, where a judge's shortcut in the case of Doyle Lee Hamm has shown how often the state makes a mockery of the appeals process.

The U.S. Supreme Court is now considering whether to take up the case of Hamm, an intellectually disabled and possibly brain-damaged man who was sentenced to death in 1987 for killing a motel clerk during a robbery. Doyle went to his fate after a rushed trial marked by an anemic defense and constitutionally murky decisions by prosecutors and the judge. That's sadly common in Alabama.

What happened next also is common in Alabama - but pretty much nowhere else.

12 years after Hamm was sentenced to death, an Alabama judge rejected an attempt by his new attorneys to win another sentencing hearing for their client. The lawyers wanted to present facts from Hamm's grim life that might have convinced a jury not to impose death - so-called mitigation evidence - that Hamm's 1st lawyer failed to unearth during his trial. That, too, happens all the time.

But in turning down the appeal, the judge exposed the entire process as a sham. He signed an 89-page order written entirely by the Alabama Attorney General's Office - and did it within 1 business day of receiving it. He didn't even take the time to cross off the word "Proposed" in the title, "Proposed Memorandum Opinion." Hamm's attorneys allege the judge never read the opinion before signing it, and no state attorney has ever refuted that.

Many judges across the country routinely sign perfunctory orders drafted by lawyers, usually 1- or 2-page documents. But only in Texas and Alabama, evidently, is this done with substantive opinions on which appellate judges later rely.

In the Hamm case, the "opinion" is the lynchpin of Alabama's decades-long defense of its conviction and death sentence. It has been cited as gospel over and over again since 1999 by state and federal judges to justify their refusal to give Hamm a new sentencing hearing. Over and over again, the argument justifying this practice has been the same: it doesn't really matter who wrote the opinion or even whether the judge who signed it ever read it because Hamm hasn't proven that the contents of the order were wrong.

No one disputes Hamm's culpability in the murder of Patrick Cunningham. 2 accomplices, who at first claimed they had been kidnapped by Hamm, agreed to testify against him. But prosecutors probably didn't need them. Hamm confessed after a lengthy interrogation. The statement was read for the jury, which took just 50 minutes to come back with a guilty verdict.

It was the next phase of Hamm's trial - the sentencing phase - that raises the questions now on appeal to the Supreme Court.

Hamm's trial attorney did virtually nothing to try to spare his client's life and called only 2 witnesses in his 19-minute defense: Hamm's sister and a bailiff. When prosecutors improperly introduced evidence of Hamm's prior convictions in Tennessee - convictions that may have been based on flawed procedures - Hamm's attorney did nothing to correct the error. It took the jury just 45 minutes to come back and recommend a death sentence.

Jurors were never told that Hamm had been diagnosed as borderline mentally retarded as early as 1969, nearly 2 decades before the crime. They were not told about a school record that repeatedly cited his intellectual deficits. Nor were jurors given any expert evidence about Hamm's lengthy history of seizures, head injuries and drug and alcohol abuse. The fuller portrait of Hamm's life was that of a barely literate, brain-damaged man with little impulse control, someone who might have been perceived as having diminished criminal responsibility.

Alabama prosecutors maintain that information would have made no difference in his sentencing. The 1999 opinion naturally took a took a dim view of the relevance and timeliness of the evidence presented by Hamm's new defense attorneys. The opinion states the evidence wasn't "new" but "cumulative" - essentially, repetitive - a legal standard that makes a difference in winning a new hearing. How evidence that was never introduced at trial could be considered "cumulative" 12 years later was a question left unanswered.

No judge evaluating this case has ever declared the "Proposed Memorandum Opinion" invalid. The closest anyone came was last year, during oral arguments before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, when an incredulous Judge Adalberto Jordan questioned Alabama attorneys about the appearance of partiality created by the "opinion." Wouldn't you be hollering if the judge had rubber-stamped an 89-page ruling drafted by defense attorneys, the judge asked state lawyers? And isn't there something fishy about such a detailed opinion being signed on a Monday after being submitted on the previous Friday?

The state had no good answer to those questions, but it didn't matter. Jordan, like all the judges before him, shrugged and joined 2 other appellate judges in denying relief to Hamm.

Both in and out of court, Alabama has defended both Hamm's sentencing hearing and the ghostwriting episode. The "Proposed Memorandum Opinion" is sound no matter who wrote it, state lawyers argue, and there is no reason to think it unreasonable that the judge who signed it did so without considering its contents.

It would be one thing if the ghostwriting scenario that took place in the Hamm case was a one-off event. It is not. In support of Hamm, a group of former Alabama judges and past state bar presidents told the justices in Washington that it is routine practice in Alabama for prosecutors to write proposed orders for judges in capital cases. In 2003, a study found that in 17 of 20 recent capital cases the judge had denied relief in orders written entirely by prosecutors.

Sure, the criminal justice system would move more quickly if prosecutors ghostwrote appellate decisions in capital cases. No defendant ever would win an appeal. No conviction or sentence would ever be adjudged unfair or unjust. Judges could knock off early. But that's not how our system works, at least not beyond the borders of Alabama. Hamm may be a convicted murderer. But that doesn't mean the state can subvert his rights in such a blatant fashion.

This shouldn't be a tough call for the Supreme Court. The case presents a straightforward opportunity to send a clear message to lower court judges: whatever else due process means, whatever else federal habeas corpus rules mean, they require a judge to at least pretend to carefully consider the evidence before rendering judgment in a capital case. If the Supreme Court does this and no more in the Hamm case, it will be furthering the interests of justice.

(source: Andrew Cohen is the commentary editor for The Marshall Project. He oversees the site's analysis and commentary section and helps provide daily coverage of legal events and issues. A recovering attorney, he is the legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for


Stacey Gray to face death penalty in death of Nancy Renee Eldridge

The man accused in the death of a 25-year-old Columbus woman will face the death penalty, the Chambers County, Ala., district attorney said on Thursday.

Stacey Demar Gray, 46, is charged with 2 counts of murder in the death of Nancy Renee Eldridge, whose body was found July 7, 2015, in Osanippa Creek in Valley. Gray was indicted in February.

District Attorney E. Paul Jones said Gray was in the courtroom when his office made a final determination on whether it will seek the death penalty.

"We are going to seek the death penalty," he said.

Gray's next appearance in court won't come until early next year, possibly in April, for a status conference.

"There won't be anything else this year on this one," he said.

Eldridge was reported missing during the 4th of July weekend in 2015 after her mother returned to their home on 46th Street and found her daughter's bedroom in disarray. 3 days later, a body was found in Osanippa Creek and it was identified as Eldridge. She died of blunt-force trauma to the head.

Gray was developed as a suspect before he was taken into custody on July 13, 2015, in a yard on Lily Lane in Notasulga.



Hearing set for man charged with killing 2 nuns

A man charged with killing 2 nuns in Mississippi is scheduled for a court hearing Friday, where prosecutors will present some evidence before the case goes to a grand jury.

Rodney Earl Sanders, 46, of Kosciusko, is charged with capital murder in the slayings of Sisters Margaret Held and Paula Merrill, who worked as nurse practitioners in one of the poorest counties in the nation.

Holmes County District Attorney Akillie Malone-Oliver said Thursday that at least 1 investigator will testify during the hearing, and Sanders' attorneys will have a chance to respond.

Merrill and Held, both 68, were found stabbed to death Aug. 25 in their home in the small town of Durant after they failed to show up for work at a clinic in nearby Lexington. The hearing Friday is taking place in Durant municipal court.

The nuns' relatives and colleagues have said they oppose the death penalty, including for Sanders. Malone-Oliver told The Associated Press on Thursday that she still has not decided whether to pursue the death penalty for Sanders.

Under Mississippi law, capital murder is a killing that occurs with at least 1 other felony, and it is punishable by lethal injection or life in prison. Sanders is charged with 2 counts of capital murder, 1 count of burglary and 1 count of grand larceny.

Sanders was arrested Aug. 26 and is being held without bond in the Holmes County jail. He confessed to the killings but gave no reason, Holmes County Sheriff Willie March has said. March was briefed by Durant police and Mississippi Bureau of Investigation officials who took part in Sanders' interrogation.

Marie Sanders, the suspect's wife, told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper that he had left their home in Kosciusko days before the killings and he had been staying with relatives who live across the street from the nuns' home.

Sanders' attorneys did not immediately respond to calls from The Associated Press seeking comment Thursday.

Malone-Oliver said it would be unusual for someone charged with capital murder to enter a guilty plea during a probable-cause hearing such as the one set for Friday.

"He can, but it is very rare," she said. "We would definitely accept it." The nuns' funerals were Sept. 2. Merrill was buried in Kentucky, where she belonged to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. Held was buried in Wisconsin, where she was a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee.

(source: Associated Press)

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