Sept. 22


Law firm recommends system for initial capital case appeals

A law firm that's been representing Texas death row inmates for more than 2 decades is recommending the state establish a system for condemned prisoners to have better legal help during the initial appeal that follows their trial.

The Texas Defender Service this week released a report that examines what's known as direct appeals in death penalty cases. It cited "systemic weaknesses" in the way those appeals are handled, contending lawyers are overwhelmed by caseloads and underpaid for the time they spend on these cases, that some attorneys who do accept the cases are inadequately prepared and that no entity in the state is devoted to training or consulting with lawyers handling direct appeals.

"The direct appeal framework for Texas death penalty cases is fraught with structural weaknesses," the legal group concluded in its report, adding that those weaknesses heighten the likelihood that convictions and death sentences will be upheld when the appeals are reviewed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court.

In direct appeals, attorneys review the trial court record for potential errors.

The legal firm is calling on the Legislature to consider establishing a statewide capital appellate defender office to represent death row convicts in their direct appeals, a statewide appointment system with caseload controls and uniform pay rates, and appointment of 2 lawyers - rather than 1 now required - to handle direct appeals.

"Deficient representation squanders scarce criminal justice resources, undermines the integrity of the Texas criminal justice system and warrants immediate attention from stakeholders," the 56-page report said.

The group's recommendations are based on a review of documents from the 84 direct appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeals during the 7-year period ending Dec. 31, 2015.

In its study, the Defender Service said it found the direct appeal attorneys had inadequate resources, excessive caseloads, inadequate briefing and showed "routine avoidance" to filing reply briefs and applying for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Capital murder defendants in need of legal help - most of whom are indigent - already have a regional public defender for trials in most rural areas of the state. State lawmakers in 2009 created the Office of Capital Writs to handle later appeals. The Defender Service is recommending such formal legal availabilities be extended to the direct appeals process, where it argues the quality of representation has remained "unexamined."

Roe Wilson, who heads the Harris County District Attorney's Legal Services Bureau, which handles capital case writs in the county that has sent the most inmates to death row, questioned the need for 2 defense attorneys to handle a direct appeal.

"In a direct appeal, you're limited to the record itself, there's no outside investigation," Wilson said Wednesday. "It literally comes down to reading the record, identifying claims, doing the legal research and writing. I don't know why it would take 2 people to do that."

The report, however, pointed out that county prosecutors have more ready access to resources, such as auxiliary staff. Of the 84 cases in the study, 2/3 were handled by solo practicing attorneys. None of the 84 convictions was overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeals. The death sentence was overturned in 3 of them.

Wilson said defendants have better chances later in the appeals writ process because factual claims outside the trial record can be presented and investigated.

"It's very difficult to get any case, not just a capital case, overturned on direct appeal because you are limited to exactly what???s in front of you," she said.

(source: Associated Press)


Capital Punishment should be controlled by state

It has been just over 5 months since Texas last executed someone. This is the longest stay in executions since 2008, when the Supreme Court was on recess and states could charge people with the death penalty but couldn't execute anyone. With this stay, Texas has only executed 6 people this year, meaning this could be the 1st year since the death penalty was reinstated in 1974 that Texas' execution count doesn't reach double digits. This has caused many to wonder about the future of the death penalty, instead of highlighting the true issue - that the death penalty is enacted differently throughout the 254 counties in Texas.

Leading the states, Texas has carried out 537 executions since 1982. But not all counties handle the death penalty in the same way.

"If Harris County was a state, it would be 2nd only to Texas [in number of executions]," Jim Marcus, clinical professor at and co-director of the UT Law School's Capital Punishment Clinic, said. "But there are 254 counties in Texas, and over a hundred of them haven???t used the death penalty."

If you are prosecuted in Travis County and cannot afford your own lawyer, the county is responsible for funding and appointing your defense lawyer. These appointments are often corrupt, with local judges choosing lawyers who aren't versed in defending capital punishment cases without state oversight. Other states have statewide indigent defense systems, where the defense lawyers are funded by the state - not the county - and are trained to handle capital punishment cases. In these states, each appeal is overseen by a state office.

"You get the death penalty not for having committed the worst crime, but for having the worst lawyer," Marcus said. "Texas has chronically and systematically underfunded the defense for years."

This underfunding is partially due to the defense council not being funded by the state, as many anti-death penalty advocacy groups will attest. Tuesday the Texas Defender Service released a report that highlighted the many mistakes that have been made with death penalty cases from Jan. 2009 to Dec. 2015, and recommended Texas create a state office to oversee death penalty appeals.

In a state where the penal code allows capital felonies to be their own crimes, and where the jury is asked questions that distance them from the severity of the punishment they so often dole out, having a good defense attorney is a basic and necessary human right. A statewide indigent defense system that is funded by the state and forces every death penalty appeal to be overseen by a state office is the only way Texas can hope to account for the disparity in numbers of executions between its different counties. With a system like this in place, it could mean fewer people sent to death row, and that Travis County and Harris County resemble each other enough in their justice systems to make their being a part of the same state more plausible.

(source: Emma Berdainer is a philosphy junior from Boulder, Colorodo--The (Univ. Texas) Daily Texan)


Law firm recommends system for initial capital case appeals

A law firm that's been representing Texas death row inmates for more than 2 decades is recommending the state establish a system for condemned prisoners to have better legal help during the initial appeal that follows their trial.

The Texas Defender Service, in a report examining what's known as direct appeals in death penalty cases, cites "systemic weaknesses" in the way those appeals are handled. The legal firm contends lawyers are overwhelmed by caseloads and underpaid for the time spent on these cases, that some attorneys who do accept the cases are inadequately prepared and that no specific state entity is devoted to training or consulting with lawyers handling direct appeals.

The group, among its recommendations, is calling for establishment of statewide capital appellate defender office to represent death-sentenced convicts.

(source: Associated Press)


Unusual misstep in Rodney Reed case prompts request for new judge

Rodney Reed wants a new judge to potentially review his request for DNA testing, after an assigned judge appears to have made an "inexplicable" error by simultaneously signing and adopting two opposing orders, according to Reed's attorney.

Assigned Senior Judge Doug Shaver's apparent mistake relates to Reed's request for post-conviction DNA testing on multiple pieces of evidence, which Reed's attorneys say could help exonerate the death-row inmate. A Bastrop jury sentenced Reed to death for the 1996 killing of Stacey Stites. She was found strangled and sexually assaulted on the side of a road outside Bastrop.

The state has opposed further DNA testing. The latest issue arose after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals sent the issue back to Shaver and asked him to make additional findings on Reed's appeal for post-conviction DNA testing.

To argue their cases, both the state and Reed submitted findings of fact and conclusions to Shaver. The state argued against further DNA testing, and Reed argued for it. On Sept. 9, Shaver signed both the state's facts and conclusions against DNA testing, as well as Reed's facts and conclusions for DNA testing.

"This is extremely irregular, and frankly alarming, that a judge would make such an egregious error in a death penalty case. In my seventeen years practicing law, I've never seen a judge make a mistake like this," said Benjet in an email. "None of the experienced lawyers and retired judges I've talked to about this had seen anything like it either. It's really inexplicable how a judge can make diametrically opposite rulings on the same issues, in the same case, at the same time."

In light of Shaver signing both parties' proposed findings, the state has asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to remand the issue back to the convicting court, so it "may clarify which of the parties' findings - all of the State's, all of Appellant's, or certain findings from both - it intended to adopt as its own," according to a state motion.

Reed's attorneys have asked the Appeals court to make a decision on matter. If the Appeals court sends the issue back to the convicting court, Reed wants a new judge to be assigned.

"This court, the parties, and the public can no longer have confidence in Senior Judge Shaver's continued assignment on this case," Reed attorneys say in their opposition to the state's motion to remand.

Reed has maintained his innocence since he was convicted in 1998. In 2015, the Appeals court paused Reed???s execution less than 2 weeks before it was set to occur.

Reed's supporters say the state's original case against Reed has been undermined by multiple new pieces of evidence introduced since his conviction.

(source: KXAN news)


Rick Perry, Who Oversaw Executions of Over 200 People, Makes It to 2nd Round of Dancing Show

The beautiful thing about the infectiously cheesy Dancing With the Stars is that all the contestants have often fraught, disappointing histories. Many of the "celebrities" haven't had real acting roles in decades; one Olympic swimmer recently peed on a gas station and fled a South American country. One of them has overseen more executions than any governor in modern history. Lives lived, you know!

ABC hit us with a 2-night 2nd week of the 23rd season - 4 hours of beautiful competition between mostly retired adults. Monday evening's show was Television Night, during which competitors had to do a themed dance to an assigned television show (if you were on one, that's the one you were assigned). So, Marilu Henner and Derek Hough danced to the Taxi, Maureen McCormick and Artem Chigvintsev did Brady Bunch with a guest appearance from Florence Henderson, Jake T. Austin (voice of Diego) and Jenna Johnson did an unsettlingly sexy interpretation of children's cartoon Go Diego Go!

Former governor and failed presidential candidate Rick Perry, whose 234 executions equal more than the next 2 highest execution states combined, and partner Emma Slater did a quickstep to the Green Acres theme song. It was goofy, down-homey, and made us forget for a little over a minute that he also vetoed a bill that would've excluded mentally disabled from the death penalty and fought vigorously to be able to execute minors!

Ultimately, Diego-voice Jake T. Austin, who said it was "ironic" that he and his dance partner were both born in 1994, was sent home, probably because his fanbase isn't allowed to use a telephone without parental supervision.

Perry, who is by far the worst dancer on the show, snuck through to the 3rd week - likely with his large contingent of Texas voters who think it's admirable that Perry only met 1 person on death row during his entire tenure as governor who he thought deserved to live! Even among those who forensic experts said were maybe innocent!

Bobby Finger, Jezebel staff writer and Texan, suggested a title for this article: "We Now Know How Rick Perry Sleeps at Night: By Exhausting Himself With Dance."



Supreme Court of Florida could rule on fate of nearly 400 death row inmates----State's method of imposing death sentences ruled unconstitutional

The Supreme Court of Florida could rule as early as Thursday on the fate of nearly 400 death row inmates after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last January that the way in which death sentences are handed down in the state is unconstitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida's method is unconstitutional because the jury doesn't have the final say.

The first question facing Florida courts is what to do with the 388 people on death row. Jacksonville lawyer Richard Kuritz, representing 1 inmate, argued in June that they should all automatically be resentenced to life in prison.

"Absolutely, because when we start drawing a line, that's where the problem is going to be is because the statute has been declared unconstitutional," Kuritz said. "The sentencing scheme, well, it's the same scheme we've been using since the reinstatement of the death penalty case."

The 2nd question facing the court is whether the state's new death sentencing law, which lawmakers passed last spring, goes far enough because it requires 10 of the 12 jurors to agree on a death sentence.

Former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero was in court this week lecturing on the death penalty. He wrote a decade ago that that Florida must adopt a unanimous jury if it wanted to continue to impose death sentences.

"But the Legislature refused to do it, and I think the law has evolved since then, and I think the time has come," Cantero said. "I don't think 10-2 repairs the deficiencies in the statute."

No matter what the court decides, it's likely to face multiple appeals that could take a long time.

Without the 10-2 compromise, lawmakers said there would be no death penalty at all. In the end, not requiring a unanimous jury might have the same result.



The 2 questions SCOTUS has to answer about Florida's death penalty

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled Florida's death sentencing rule unconstitutional, and now the court has 2 questions to answer.

The Supreme Court ruled that the way Florida imposes death sentences was unconstitutional because the jury didn't have the final say.

The 1st question facing Florida Courts? What to do with the 388 people on death row.

In June, Jacksonville lawyer Richard Kuritz, representing one inmate, argued they should all automatically be re-sentenced to life in prison.

"Absolutely, because when we start drawing a line, that's where the problem is going to be is because the statute has been declared unconstitutional," Kuritz says. "The sentencing scheme. well, it's the same scheme we've been using since the reinstatement of the death penalty case."

The 2nd question facing the court is whether the state's new death sentencing law, which lawmakers passed this spring, goes far enough because it only requires 10 of the 12 jurors to agree on death.

Former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero was in the court this week lecturing on the death penalty. A decade ago he wrote that Florida must adopt a unanimous jury if it wanted to continue to impose death.

"But the legislature refused to do it and I think the law has evolved since than, and I think the time has come," says Cantero, "I don't think 10-2 repairs the deficiencies in the statute."

No matter what this court decides, it's likely to face multiple appeals that could take a long time.

Without the 10-2 compromise, lawmakers say there would be no death penalty at all. But in the end, not requiring a unanimous jury may have the same result.

(source: WCTV news)


Pence puts politics ahead of fairness for innocent man

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence refuses to pardon an innocent man, apparently because he is so very afraid of offending a single Donald Trump voter.

We have seen how Trump compulsively puts political self-interest before fair play and decency. Now we have to wonder if Pence, his vice presidential running mate, is cut from the same cheap cloth.

Pence's general counsel this week notified a lawyer for Keith Cooper of suburban Country Club Hills that Cooper must pursue a lengthy and pointless legal proceeding - likely to take years - before Pence will even consider a pardon. That might sound reasonable to a non-lawyer, but it is in reality an unnecessary and unjustifiable barrier to ending this case fairly.

Cooper, originally sentenced to 40 years in an Indiana prison for armed robbery, was freed after 10 years in 2006, and the evidence of his innocence is overwhelming. But the felony remains on his record, making it hard for him to work up to better jobs or get compensation for his wrongful conviction and time in prison. No one can give him his 10 years back, but he certainly deserves better.

So what is Gov. Pence doing about that? Ducking.

Pardoning a man who has been convicted of a serious crime - even if the underlying case falls apart and the suspect is freed - is often seen as politically risky by governors. Nobody wants to look soft on crime, even if pardoning an innocent man is hardly being soft on crime.

Here in Illinois, for example, Bruce Rauner is the 3rd successive governor to refuse to pardon Gordon "Randy" Steidl, who spent 17 years in prison - 12 of them on death row - for a 1986 double murder he did not commit. Since being set free, Steidl has been a leading voice for the abolition of the death penalty, and he has helped change legislators' minds in many states. But his request for a pardon goes unanswered.

In Cooper's case, the victims who originally identified him and the Elkhart County prosecutor who originally helped put him behind bars all agree Cooper is innocent. A jailhouse informant who testified against Cooper recanted in 2003. In 2014, the Indiana Parole Board concluded that Pence should pardon Cooper.

And yet, Pence refuses to grant the pardon.

Cooper faced a difficult choice in 2005, when the Indiana Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of his co-defendant in the armed robbery case. The co-defendant eventually was awarded $4.9 million for his wrongful conviction. Cooper at that time was offered a choice between a new trial - with no quick resolution and the outcome in doubt - or walking out of prison immediately while remaining a felon. He chose the latter, partly because his family had been living in a shelter and needed help.

Proof that Cooper's case went off the rails is irrefutable. A key piece of evidence is the DNA from a customized baseball cap with rhinestones. The hat, worn by a perpetrator, fell off during a scuffle during the armed robbery for which Cooper was convicted. But it did not match Cooper???s DNA. In 2004, a 3rd DNA test linked the hat to a different man, who was serving time for a 2002 murder in Benton Harbor, Mich.

Governors can delay action on pardons, or refuse them, as they wish. Like the right of kings, from which this power descends, it is always their call.

But Pence has made a bad call, as best we can see it, and for the worst of reasons - bald political self-interest.

(source: Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board)


Attorneys: Reinstating death penalty could cost millions

The governor wants to reinstate the death penalty after several children and police officers were killed this year.

But, if Gov. Susana Martinez gets her way, the New Mexico Public Defender's Office says it will cost the state millions of dollars.

"(It is) just a tremendous investment of time, trauma and money, and for what? We never actually use it," Jeff Buckels, the office's supervising attorney, said.

He helped abolish the death penalty in 2009.

"The numbers on this were all run through the Legislature in 2009, and I'm certain nothing's changed," he said.

Buckels says death penalty cases are more expensive because more is at stake, so cases usually take more time, require specialized attorneys and a more extensive jury selection.

According to 2009 legislative documents, court administrators said seating a jury typically costs about $8,000, but in a death penalty case, it's closer to $25,000.

Buckels also says a lot of convictions are often appealed.

He believes life without the possibility of parole is an appropriate alternative: less expensive, and "it doesn't involve killing someone who in the end could be proved innocent after they're gone," he said.

Senate Democrats and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe have also voiced their opposition.

(source: KOAT news)


Reject Martinez call for NM death penalty

We, the Catholic bishops of New Mexico, find the decision by Gov. Susana Martinez to place the reinstatement of the death penalty on the agenda of a special legislative session to be irresponsible.

The Legislature spent a decade debating the issue, ending with a bipartisan vote that ended the practice of a state-sanctioned death penalty. This was a definitive decision and had ample discovery of evidence and debate. That decision should remain final.

The abomination of taking a life, the death penalty, needs to be addressed in a general session where full debate, in front of numerous committees, can examine all the facts and legislators can hear all public comment.

New Mexico faces the crisis of children being abused. Our utmost priority must be to work together to protect and prevent harm to our children, not reinstating state-sanctioned violence. Violence does not end violence.

The death penalty does not prevent the death of children. The current financial crisis of the state damages the ability for state programs to deliver critical prevention services. These are the issues at hand for a special session.

It is evident that the governor has chosen to use the deaths of police officers and children to drive a politically motivated action to place the death penalty on a very short special session purely for the purpose of politics and campaign jockeying.

We call on the governor to recant her call for placing this on the agenda of the special session. We also call on the legislators to reject this proposed agenda item in the special session.

Pope Francis has called for a world-wide end to the death penalty. We oppose the reinstatement of the death penalty in New Mexico.

If there were to be a debate on this, the integrity of the process should be protected by all. This irresponsible move by the governor is ignoring the immensity of the issue.

The national trend is to end the practice of using the death penalty. The evidence of innocent persons unjustly convicted and on death row that has been brought to light by DNA, for example, illustrates the unethical and problematic use of the death penalty.

The governor is attempting to create a distraction from the numerous crises taking place in New Mexico. The financial and social crises of the state need the full attention of our legislators.

(source: Guest Column; The Most Rev. John C. Wester / Archbishop Of Santa Fe The Most Rev. James Wall / Bishop Of Gallup And The Most Rev. Oscar Cantu / Bishop Of Las Cruces----Albuquerque Journal)


Wozniak to get death sentence on Friday

Convicted double-murderer Daniel Wozniak, a community theater actor from Costa Mesa, is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, a judge determined on Wednesday.

Judge John D. Conley could follow a jury's recommendation that Wozniak be sentenced to death, after more than 6 years of court hearings.

The case was delayed as Wozniak's defense attorney, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, alleged systemic misconduct by Orange County prosecutors and sheriff's deputies involving the use of jailhouse informants.

Sanders was able to persuade a judge to removed the entire District Attorney's Office from the penalty phase for Scott Dekraai, who pleaded guilty to shooting 8 people at a Seal Beach salon in 2011 and awaits sentencing, in another one of his cases. The ruling is under appeal.

In the Wozniak case, Conley found no evidence of misconduct and cleared the way for the trial to begin last year.

On Wednesday, the judge denied Sanders' final effort to delay sentencing so he could respond to accusations by Prosecutor Matt Murphy.

"I'm only interested in the case of Mr. Wozniak," he said. "I think the bickering between you 2 has clouded your judgment."

Wozniak, 31, was convicted in December of killing 2 friends for money to pay for his wedding and honeymoon.

On May 21, 2010, Wozniak lured Sam Herr, 26, to the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos and then shot and killed him. The actor returned the next day and cut off Herr's head, a hand and a forearm and tossed the body parts in Long Beach's El Dorado Park.

In an attempt to throw police off of his trail, Wozniak used Herr's cellphone to lure Juri "Julie" Kibuishi, 23, to Herr's apartment. Prosecutors said Wozniak then shot and killed her.

Many friends and family members, including fellow Army veterans who served with Herr in Afghanistan, are expected to attend the hearing. Those closest to the victims will give statements in court before the sentence is handed down.

(source: Orange County Register)


Judge says evidence supports death verdict in murder case

Wednesday morning, an Alameda County Superior Court judge said the "overwhelming weight" of the evidence against convicted double murderer Darnell Williams Jr. "supports the jury's verdict of death" from earlier this year.

The hearing is ongoing and is slated to continue after lunch with victim impact statements from individuals tied to the case. The official sentencing has not been handed down.

The jury's recommendation earlier this year was the 1st death penalty sentence in Alameda County under the leadership of District Attorney Nancy O'Malley.

Williams, 25, of Berkeley was convicted by a jury in May, after nearly a month of testimony, of 2 fatal shootings in 2013. The victims were 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine and 22-year-old Anthony "Tone" Medearis III, a father of 3.

Wednesday, Judge Jeffrey Horner appeared poised to uphold that sentence and said the aggravating factors were "so substantial" that "death is warranted." He said the jury's ruling appeared appropriate due to the extensive evidence and testimony presented in the case.

Authorities said Williams killed Carradine in Oakland in July 2013 as retribution for the fatal shooting earlier that day of his longtime friend Jermaine Davis in Berkeley.

Carradine was a guest at a sleepover at the home of the wife and children of the man authorities say killed Davis. According to court testimony, Williams went to that home and opened fire, intent on exacting revenge by killing the former girlfriend and children of the man believed to have killed his friend.

Medearis' killing took place following a fight at a dice game in West Berkeley less than 2 months later. According to authorities, Williams planned to rob Medearis and wanted to kill him because of allegations he had "snitched" to police during an earlier incident.



Decades-old photo links serial killer Rodney Alcala to yet another slaying, this one in Wyoming, prosecutors

Nearly 4 decades after a pregnant woman's body was found on a Wyoming ranch, prosecutors have connected her death to one of California's most prolific serial killers, Rodney Alcala.

On Tuesday, prosecutors in Sweetwater County, Wyo., charged Alcala with the 1977 killing of Christine Ruth Thornton after discovering a photo that Alcala had snapped of her before her death. The aging photograph was found among Alcala's possessions by Huntington Beach police, but it was only recently that the dead woman's sister recognized Thornton among the images.

The photo was among several publicized by Huntington Beach detectives after Alcala was sentenced to death in 2010 for killing 4 women and a 12-year-old in the late 1970s. The photo was spotted by Thornton's relatives in 2013.

Known as the "Dating Game" killer because he appeared on the popular television program decades ago, the former photographer has also been convicted of killing 2 women in New York. Investigators believe the 73-year-old is responsible for scores of other deaths. They made some photos public in the hope that they would produce leads.

Prosecutors confronted Alcala with the photo at California's Corcoran State Prison. Alcala told prosecutors that he did indeed take the picture, but insisted that Thornton was alive when he left, Erramouspe said.

When asked if he killed the 28-year-old Thornton, Alcala responded: "You're crazy."

"But he said some things that help tie him to the murder," Erramouspe said. "He likes to talk."

Prosecutors say Alcala met Thornton, who was from Texas, during a road trip and buried her in a remote area. She was 6 months pregnant at the time.

Thornton's family never knew what happened to the expectant mother, but contacted Huntington Beach police when they saw her photo. 2 of Thornton's siblings submitted DNA samples to a national missing person's database, which also contained DNA from the Wyoming body, which had remained unidentified for decades. In July 2015, the database connected the samples and alerted Wyoming authorities that the deceased was likely Thornton.

So far, DNA recovered from the body also includes that of a Latino male, according to prosecutors. Erramouspe said samples are being sent to an FBI lab for further testing to see if they belong to Alcala.

The prosecutor said he is seeking to bring Alcala to Wyoming to get justice in the 1977 killing, but no timeline exists for the move.

Alcala's crimes stretch back to 1968, when he raped and beat an 8-year-old girl - crimes he was convicted of 4 years later.

The women and 1 girl he has been convicted of killing in California are Jill Barcomb, 18, who was sexually assaulted, bludgeoned and strangled before her body was dumped in the Hollywood Hills in November 1977; Georgia Wixted, 27, who was sexually assaulted, strangled and beaten to death in her Malibu home a month later; Charlotte Lamb, 32, who was found dead in her El Segundo laundry room after she was raped and strangled with a shoelace in June 1978; Jill Parenteau, 21, who was strangled to death and left in her Burbank apartment in June 1979; and Robin Samsoe, 12, who disappeared near Huntington Beach Pier in June 1979, and whose body was discovered days later in the Sierra Madre foothills.

After his sentencing, Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas declared: "Rodney Alcala is the poster child for the death penalty."

Many of the detectives who worked the case believe Thornton won't be the last victim tied to the killer.

"Him being behind bars since 1979 probably saved a lot of lives," said Cliff Shepard, a retired cold case detective with the Los Angeles Police Department.

(source: Los Angeles Times)


Motion denied to separate trial for man accused of Sierra LaMar's disappearance from attempted kidnappings

A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge has denied a motion from a 25-year-old man to hold separate trials on charges of kidnapping and murdering 15-year-old Sierra LaMar in 2012 from 3 attempted kidnappings in Morgan Hill years earlier.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Vanessa Zecher denied a motion brought by Antolin Garcia-Torres to hold separate trials on charges surrounding Sierra's disappearance from the attempted kidnappings outside Morgan Hill Safeway grocery stores in March 2009.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Garcia-Torres, whose trial is expected to start later this year.

"Although there may be some potential prejudice to the charges remaining joined, the defendant has not made a clear showing of prejudice to support the granting of the Motion of Severance," Zecher wrote in a written order issued Tuesday.

Defense attorneys for Garcia-Torres argued in their motion that the Safeway parking lot incidents didn't show a link with Sierra's disappearance or indicate if the same person carried out the crime.

One of the women drove away as the suspect tried to open her car door and the other 2 victims were assaulted as they were either entering or exiting their vehicles, according to the defense attorneys.

Garcia-Torres was identified as a suspect through a latent fingerprint on a stun gun battery left behind in one of the attempted kidnappings, but the 3 victims didn't identify him as a suspect, according to the defense attorneys.

In response to the defense's motion, prosecutors argued that the alleged crimes showed a common scheme and shared themes of intending to kidnap, stalking and assault.

The jury should determine if there's enough evidence to show Garcia-Torres' role in the other crimes, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said they anticipate that the Safeway victims' testimony at trial will make the attempted kidnapping charges equal to the ones in Sierra's case.

On March 16, 2012, Sierra was last seen at her home in unincorporated Morgan Hill and didn't make the bus stop for school. The girl's clothing and cellphone were found days after she went missing.

Garcia-Torres was arrested about 2 months after Sierra disappeared after her DNA was found in his red Volkswagen Jetta, prosecutors said.

Many organized searches have taken place in the 4 years after she was last seen, but her body hasn't been found.

(source: KRON news)


Polls: Voters favor legalizing pot, outlawing capital punishment ---- A majority of Californians support a proposition to legalize recreational marijuana and a plurality support repealing the death penalty, according to 2 polls released Thursday. A poll by the Public Policy Institute of California also showed support for 2 tax measures on the November ballot.

Ballot initiatives that would make smoking marijuana for recreation legal for all adults and outlaw the death penalty have jumped out to big leads, according to 2 new polls released Wednesday night.

Prospects look especially strong for Proposition 64, the marijuana initiative, which has the support of 60 % of likely voters, a poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California shows. The measure is opposed by 36 % of respondents, while only 4 % said they were undecided.

Proposition 62, which would replace the death penalty with lifetime imprisonment without parole, has a tougher road to passage, according to the Field Poll, done in conjunction with UC Berkeley's Institute of Government Studies.

The measure, which faces a competing state initiative, has the support of 48 % of likely voters, while 37 % oppose it and 15 % are undecided. The pollsters cautioned, however, that a nearly identical proposition 4 years ago enjoyed a similar lead before being defeated by an electorate that wasn't ready to soften sentences for some of the state's most violent criminals.

"The default position on any crime policy initiative is hard-line because criminals are not terribly popular in public opinion," said Frank Zimring, a UC Berkeley criminal justice professor who studies the death penalty.

While voters in recent years have appeared to be moving leftward when it comes to criminal justice issues, they seem increasingly stingy when it comes to giving the state a bigger line of credit. PPIC found that only 47 % of likely voters back Proposition 51, a $9 billion school facilities bond that Gov. Jerry Brown is opposing as fiscally reckless.

Bond measures have historically started with about 60 % support, said Mark Baldassare, PPIC's president and CEO.

"The governor has really stressed fiscal caution," he said, "and we're seeing some fiscal caution in terms of how people are reflecting on school bonds."

Likely voters, however, appear to be more receptive to approving taxes that won't affect most of them.

(source: Mercury News)


End the death penalty in California

On the ballot this Nov. 8 in California is Proposition 62.

This proposition would repeal the death penalty in our state and would make life in prison without parole the maximum punishment that could be imposed for crimes of murder.

My brother bishops and I in the California Catholic Conference are supporting this effort.

It is time for us to end the death penalty - not only in California but throughout the United States and throughout the world.

The Catholic Church has always taught that legitimate governments have the right to impose the death penalty on those guilty of the most serious crimes. This teaching has been consistent for centuries - in the Scriptures, in the writings of the Church Fathers and in the teachings of the popes.

But in recent years, there has been a growing consensus that the use of the death penalty can no longer be accepted. This consensus is reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the teachings of bishops??? conferences around the world and in the teachings of Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis.

On his final visit to our country in 1999, St. John Paul called the death penalty "cruel and unnecessary." And it is true.

The reason is that every life is sacred and every person has a dignity that comes from God. This is true for the innocent and it is true for the guilty. It is true even for those convicted of the most violent crimes.

The Church has always opposed abortion and euthanasia because it involves the direct and voluntary killing of innocent human beings. Obviously, the death penalty is different. Those guilty of violent crime are not innocent.

But in opposing the death penalty we are also witnessing to the sanctity of life. We are saying that even the most sinful and guilty lives are precious to God and should not be taken by others.

The death penalty denies God's plan of mercy and justice. It violates the condemned person's dignity and deprives him of the chance to change his heart and make amends for his crimes.

In seeking an end to the death penalty, we never forget the victims of crime and their loved ones. We entrust them to the Father of mercies and we pray that he grant them healing and peace.

But we recognize that killing the criminal does not bring justice to the victims. Our country has far more effective ways to bring murderers to justice and to keep society safe from violent criminals.

Rather than condemn them to death, as Christians, we should pray for their conversion and encourage their rehabilitation and ultimate restoration to society.

For some criminals, this will never be possible. Their hearts are too damaged, too cruel and hardened. But we know that conversion and repentance is God's work, not ours.

We are encouraged by the witness of saints like St. Therese of Lisieux to continue to pray for and work for the conversion of those on "death row." We know that life belongs to God alone and we believe that there is no one who cannot be touched by God's mercy and changed by his love.

The Church is not changing her teaching. Governments will always have the justification to use the death penalty if it is necessary to carry out its task of ensuring social order. What the Church is urging is that the government use its discretion to show instead mercy as a testimony to the sanctity of human life and to the possibility that every person can find redemption and rehabilitation.

In this, we are following some of the great doctors of the ancient Church, such as St. Ambrose and St. Augustine. In their times, they also urged government authorities to show mercy in capital cases.

And, of course, we have the witness of Jesus Christ, who pardoned the woman caught in adultery - a crime at the time that carried a mandatory death sentence.

Something else I've been thinking about. We have a strange appetite for violence in our popular culture. We allow children to play violent video games and listen to music that demeans human dignity. For "entertainment," we watch movies and shows in which fictional criminals take other people's lives and commit unspeakable acts.

In this cultural context, I do not see how the death penalty can ever again express society's ultimate value for human life. In this cultural context, the death penalty can only function as 1 more killing.

In a culture of death, I believe mercy alone can be the only credible witness to the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person.

I urge all of you to continue to pray and reflect on this complicated issue. We have established a website with resources to help in your reflection -

Pray for me this week and I will be praying for you.

And may our Blessed Mother Mary help all of us to be faithful citizens and witnesses to the culture of life in our time.

(source: Archbishop Jose Gomez,

A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law

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