Oct. 14


Defense attorneys: Lloyd Welch Jr. should not face death penalty if convicted of killing Lyon sisters

Defense attorneys say the man accused of killing 2 sisters should not face the death penalty.

Lloyd Welch Jr. is charged with murdering the Lyon sisters in 1975.

His attorneys say Welch should not face the death penalty now, because it was not legal until several months after the alleged crime.

A hearing is scheduled for next week in Bedford.

(source: WDBJ news)


Andrew Warren seizes on death penalty report that slams Mark Ober's office

Considering that he's the underdog running against a 4-term incumbent, it would be political malpractice for Andrew Warren NOT to make hay out of a damning national report released Wednesday that calls out Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober's office as being plagued by "persistent problems of overzealous prosecutors, ineffective defense lawyers, and racial bias."

The Harvard Law School's Fair Punishment Project's report lists Hillsborough County as just 1 of 16 in the nation - or 1/2 of 1 % - that imposed 5 or more death sentences between 2010 and 2015. It criticized Hillsborough for "systemic deficiencies" and "structural failings" that lead to "the wrongful conviction of innocent people, and the excessive punishment of persons who are young or suffer from severe mental illnesses, brain damage, trauma, and intellectual disabilities." It also found that the "legacy of racial bias lingers" in Hillsborough's use of the death penalty.

Ober has blasted the report, saying it is nothing more than a "position paper" written by a group that opposes the death penalty.

"It makes no attempt to be fair and balanced. Instead of attempting to consider all the relevant factors in each case, it simply declares the death penalty to be broken, and criticizes prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, and jurors based on its own arbitrary criteria and false assumptions," he said on Wednesday.

Naturally, Warren disagrees.

"This is yet another example of an independent agency giving our current state attorney a failing grade in a critical area of criminal justice," he said on Thursday. "To be singled out as one of the worst counties in the country is embarrassing and unacceptable. As state attorney, I will fix this and make sure our use of the death penalty is constitutional."

Ober said that in every death penalty case, his office makes sure to carefully review the evidence and the facts surrounding the case. "We carefully consider all the aggravating and mitigating factors in determining whether it is appropriate to have the jury and judge consider the death penalty as a sentencing option," he said. "We do not take lightly our responsibility to charge accurately in any case, especially a death penalty case. We seek justice one case at a time. We do not make decisions based on arbitrary standards that a special interest group opposing the death penalty establishes."

The report spotlighted the case of Michael Mordenti, who was originally prosecuted for murder by Ober's predecessor. But after the Florida Supreme Court reversed Modenti's conviction by finding that prosecutors had withheld evidence, Ober's office tried him with 1st degree murder charges 2 more times, despite the fact he said he was innocent and there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Ober's office ultimately offered Mordenti a 2nd-degree murder plea, which would allow him to go free. The report says none of the 3 juries heard from the victim's husband, Larry Royston, who told his attorney prosecutors had charged "the wrong man" before Royston eventually committed suicide. Mordenti spent 17 years in prison.

Warren says he finds those facts "disturbing."

"The death penalty should be reserved for the most egregious cases - not where there are mitigating factors such as mental illness," he says. "And it should not be used unfairly as leverage to coerce pleas. A person's life is a not a bargaining chip."

There is now less than 4 weeks to go in the state attorney's race.

Ober has raised slightly more than $300,000 in the race as of Sept. 30, and has more than $190,000 cash-on-hand.

Warren has remained extremely competitive, having raised $276,858, with more than $162,000 cash-on-hand.

(source: stpetersblog.com)


3 years later, convicted killer charged in north Alabama slaying

Nearly 3 years after Eric Monte Watkins was fatally shot in Florence, police believe they finally have his killer in custody.

Authorities had to travel hundreds of miles this week to bring the suspect, Justin Antonio Butler, back to the Shoals to face trial.

Butler, 25, was jailed in South Carolina on an unrelated murder conviction when the Lauderdale District Attorney's Office arranged his transportation back to Florence. A Lauderdale County grand jury earlier this year indicted Butler on a capital murder charge, Florence Police Sgt. Brad Holmes said.

Butler, a Florence man, also is known by 2 aliases, "Pop-A-Molly" and "Jona McCoy," court records show.

Watkins, a 32-year-old Muscle Shoals resident, was killed while he was in his vehicle on Marion Avenue near Chisolm Road during the late night hours of Nov. 10, 2013, Holmes said.

The grand jury indictment accuses Butler of "intentionally" causing Watkins' death.

Butler originally is from California, but moved to Florence as an adult, Holmes said. The suspect was living with his family at the time of the killing.

Capital murder is punishable by the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Butler is being held in the Lauderdale County Jail without bail.

(source: al.com)


Lower judge to decide if death row inmate gets new lawyer

The Mississippi Supreme Court says a circuit judge should decide whether a man facing the death penalty needs new lawyers in state court.

Justices ruled Thursday on requests by Robert Simon, convicted of murdering 4 Quitman County residents in 1990.

The court isn't deciding whether Simon should get another state court appeal.

Quitman County raised taxes to pay for the defense of Simon and co-defendant Anthony Carr. Mississippi later created an office to provide death penalty defense. However that office defends Carr and says representing Simon would be a conflict of interest.

Simon's lawyers argue he's too mentally ill for execution, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that claim in March. Lawyers want that court to reconsider. The same lawyers seek to represent Simon in state court.

(source: Associated Press)


Jerman Neveaux to be Jefferson Parish's 5th death penalty case since 2004; here are the others

Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick Jr. said Thursday that he will seek the death penalty for Jerman Neveaux Jr., the man accused of killing JPSO Detective David Michel Jr. That's an option Connick has sought with less frequency since 2004, prosecuting 4 previous capital punishment cases since then, of which 2 resulted in death sentences.

Neveaux, 19, of New Orleans, is accused of shooting Michel three times in the back June 22 after authorities say the deputy stopped Neveaux in Harvey. A witness told deputies Neveaux continued firing while Michel was on the ground.

Connick, in a statement, said the circumstances of the shooting "warrant the harshest penalty."

This marks the 5th time Connick will seek capital punishment since 2004. That's a marked difference from his first 6 years after he took office in 1997. During that 1st term, he oversaw cases that sent 10 Jefferson Parish defendants to death row.

In 2009, Connick told The Times-Picayune that his office's view of capital punishment had evolved. He said prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges "have to do the perfect case" in 1st-degree murder cases, because of the high level of scrutiny during appeals.

"It has to be, in our opinion, the worst of the worst," Connick said then. "The facts of the case have to be heinous."

Here are the 3 most recent capital punishment cases Connick's office has prosecuted, and their outcome, starting with the most recent:

2013: Matthew Flugence

Flugence was charged with first-degree murder in the fatal stabbing of 6-year-old Ahlittia North. The girl was abducted from her mother's apartment in Harvey on July 13, 2013. Deputies discovered a pool of her blood behind an apartment building nearby and finally found her body 2 days later, wrapped in a plastic garbage bag and a blanket and stuffed in a garbage can that had been rolled to the curb. Flugence pleaded guilty last March to 1st-degree murder, in a plea agreement that netted him a life in prison sentence.

2005: Isaiah Doyle

Doyle was accused of carrying out a crime spree that included several West Bank robberies and culminated with the Aug. 10, 2005, killing of Hwa Lee, 26, as the store clerk tended to the cash register in her parents' convenience store in Marrero. Doyle shot her point blank 4 times, prosecutors said. Doyle argued he was forced to participate in the crimes under threat of death by members of the Latin Kings street gang. Jurors convicted Doyle, who in July 2011 was sentenced to death.

2004: Dustin "Shorty" Dressner

Dressner, of Avondale, was accused of the June 6, 2002 murder of Paul Fasullo, co-owner of a Piggly Wiggly store in Gretna and the attempted murder of Fasullo's wife during a bloody home invasion in Marrero. Fasullo's wife, who was stabbed more than 20 times as she held the couple's 2-year-old daughter, survived the attack. Dressner was sentenced to death in 2004.

(source: New Orleans Times-Picayune)


Longtime Tennessee death row inmate to get new hearing

A Nashville judge says a man who has long been on Tennessee's death row will get a new hearing.

65-year-old Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman has been on death row since 1987, when he was convicted of 1st-degree murder and other counts in the fatal stabbing of Patrick Daniels and attack on Norma Jean Norman, who survived, according to reports from the Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/2eaC2h2). Abdur'Rahman has argued that prosecutors discriminated against African-Americans during jury selection but has been unsuccessful challenging his convictions.

However, a new order from Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins will give Abdur'Rahman's lawyer a chance to argue that again.

Watkins wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court case Foster v. Chatman potentially created new precedent that warrants an evidentiary hearing for Abdur'Rahman. In the Foster v. Chatman case, justices found that prosecutors struck all four African-American potential jurors based solely on their race.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held for 30 years that lawyers cannot excuse potential jurors solely based on race.

(source: Associated Press)


Appeals Court Reverses Itself, Says Missouri Execution Drug Supplier Can Stay Secret----After hearing more information from the state and the anonymous supplier, a conservative panel of judges said Missouri's execution drug supplier doesn't have to be revealed.

A federal appeals court ruled on Thursday that the supplier of Missouri's execution drugs can remain secret - a reversal of the 3-judge panel's ruling from last month.

Death row inmates in Mississippi are seeking information on how other states carry out the death penalty. In pursuit of that, the inmates subpoenaed information from the Missouri Department of Corrections, including documents that would identify the supplier of the state's lethal injection drugs.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster's office attempted to quash the subpoena, but a federal district court and a panel of conservative 8th Circuit Court of Appeals judges declined to step in, finding that the state's concerns were "hearsay" and "inherently speculative."

But on Thursday, after the state and the anonymous supplier submitted more information, the panel reversed course and granted the states request to quash the subpoena.

If inmates wish to challenge their executions, they have to argue a better method by which to be put to death. The Mississippi inmates sought out Missouri's supply of pentobarbital - Mississippi uses midazolam, a sedative used in several botched executions over the past few years.

But the supplier, filing under the pseudonym "M7," said that it would stop supplying execution drugs if its identity were revealed.

"[B]ecause M7 would not supply pentobarbital to Mississippi once its identity is disclosed, we conclude that M7's identity has no relevance to the inmates' Eighth Amendment Claim," the panel wrote.

"Second, even if M7's identity had any relevance to the inmates' claim, M7's declaration also establishes that the disclosure of M7's identity will result in an undue burden on" the Missouri Department of Corrections, as the supplier would stop selling the state drugs.

The supplier also argued it feared for its personal safety, something the Mississippi inmates disputed.

"But even if M7's fears are unfounded, that does not change the fact that M7 has already declared a clear intention to cease supplying if M7's identity is disclosed," the panel wrote. "Thus, we conclude that the harm to MDOC clearly outweighs the need of the inmates, and disclosure would represent an undue burden on MDOC."

The pharmacy also argued it has a First Amendment right to sell execution drugs, which it called "an expression of political views, no different than signing a referendum petition or selling a t-shirt." The court made no ruling on that claim.

Jim Craig, a lawyer for the Mississippi inmates with the MacArthur Justice Center, noted that neither Missouri nor M7 challenged the trial court's finding "that the Missouri Legislature did not shield lethal injection drug suppliers from production of information about their sales to a taxpayer-funded agency."

As to Thursday's reversal, Craig told BuzzFeed News, "Litigation is designed to be a search for the truth. But in this case, condemned prisoners like Richard Jordan and Ricky Chase have been denied the basic truth-seeking tools of the legal process. We are studying the Court of Appeals' opinion to determine what steps we should take next."

The panel's ruling is likely to complicate death row inmates' efforts to challenge their executions. Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, they have to argue a feasible and readily available alternative. But courts have so far been strict in limiting discovery or allowing subpoenas in furtherance of finding an alternative.

(source: BuzzFeedNews)


Missouri appeals court 'punts' on man's claim of innocence in 1982 St. Louis killing

Had Rodney L. Lincoln been sentenced to death for the 1982 slaying of JoAnn Tate and the slashing of her 2 daughters in a Hyde Park apartment, his most recent claims of innocence may have been handled differently by the criminal justice system.

Lincoln, 71, who was convicted for manslaughter and 2 counts of 1st-degree assault, is serving 2 life sentences at Jefferson City Correctional Center for the crimes.

He now argues that the trial was inadequate because expert analysis of hair that placed him at the scene has been discredited by DNA and because a then-7-year-old daughter of the victim, now in her 40s, has recanted damning eyewitness testimony.

He argues that records about the young witness's being coached and making impeachable statements were withheld and that his trial attorney was ineffective at exposing the matter.

These claims, however, didn't sway the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District.

On Tuesday, the appeals court ruled that it will not examine Lincoln's "actual innocence" claim unless the Missouri Supreme Court clearly states that such claims will be examined in non-death penalty cases.

"Because the Missouri Supreme Court has not recognized a freestanding claim of actual innocence in cases where the death penalty has not been imposed, we are not at liberty to expand Missouri habeas jurisprudence to permit consideration of the claim in this case," Appellate Judge Cynthia L. Martin wrote in the ruling.

Sean O'Brien, one of the attorneys representing Lincoln in the appeal, called the ruling "scary."

"The literal holding of the court is that innocence is not a good enough reason to release a prisoner," said O'Brien. "In other words, this is not a miscarriage of justice to sentence an innocent person to die in prison of natural causes?"

Greg Mermelstein, deputy director of the Missouri Public Defender System, said the case raised the issue of whether the Constitution protects the right to a fair trial or the innocence of people who have been wrongly convicted.

"The Western District is more concerned about procedural fairness than fair outcomes," Mermelstein said. "Even if the petitioner is actually innocent, the court won't give him relief, because the court is concerned only about procedural fairness and finality of convictions.

"Where is the finality for innocent people who sit in a prison cell every day of their life hoping someone will look at the outcome of their case? To say that your trial was procedurally fair, but reached a wrong and non-correctable result, is little consolation."

Rodney Uphoff, of the Missouri Supreme Court Criminal Procedure Committee, said he was surprised by the ruling and viewed it as a punt to a higher court.

"Normally, one would think that the DNA evidence would raise some real concerns about the reliability of the conviction," said Uphoff, professor emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Law. "The case is ripe for a potential injustice because of what we know about the fallibility of eyewitness testimony."

The appellate court upheld a June 16 ruling by Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Green, who believed Lincoln had fair trial in 1983 and upheld the judgment. According to Green's ruling, Lincoln didn't make "a clear and convincing showing of actual innocence that undermines confidence in the correctness of the judgment."

Green did not find credible the daughter's recantation, triggered 33 years after the initial trial by a television program suggesting another culprit, serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells, who was executed in Texas in 2014.

Martin wrote in Tuesday's appellate ruling that the court did an "exhaustive review" of the petition records. "Because the jury convicted (Lincoln) based primarily on (the young daughter's) testimony, and not on the now discredited expert witness testimony (of the hair), (Lincoln) cannot establish that his conviction violated his due process to a fair trial."

Martin wrote that a review of the trial transcript shows that that the young witness was "thoroughly cross-examined" at trial.

O'Brien said he and an attorney with the Midwest Innocence Project would soon seek to have Lincoln's case appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Lincoln had dated Tate about a year before her death. Lincoln had served prison time before her murder for killing a man in a drunken dispute in 1973.

(source: stltoday.com)

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