Oct. 16


Murder suspect denies wanting to represent self----Man charged in guard's death files motions without his lawyers' input

A Texas prison inmate accused of beating a Barry Telford Unit guard to death last year was asked at a hearing Friday if he wants to represent himself.

Billy Joel Tracy, 38, appeared Friday afternoon before 102nd District Judge Bobby Lockhart for a pre-trial hearing in his capital murder case. The state is seeking the death penalty for Tracy in the July 15, 2015, death of correctional officer Timothy Davison.

Tracy is represented by Mac Cobb of Mount Pleasant, Texas, and Jeff Harrelson of Texarkana, and the court has approved an investigator and mitigation expert for the defense team at state expense. However, Tracy continues to file motions and pen letters to Lockhart without his lawyers' input.

"I'm going to look you in the eye right now and ask you a question," Lockhart said to Tracy at the beginning of Friday's hearing. "Do you want to represent yourself?"

Tracy quickly responded.

"I have no intention of representing myself," he replied. "But I do want us (Tracy and his lawyers) to be on the same page."

Tracy has filed motions complaining that the state has refused to return personal property, including a hot pot, noodles and a typewriter, since he was transferred from Telford after allegedly beating Davison to death with a tray slot bar. The typewriter is being held as evidence and the food items have been disposed of because of their age, according to prior court discussions.

Tracy has also filed motions requesting a speedy trial, and in a letter he penned last month to Lockhart, he complains about Cobb. Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp said her office is concerned Tracy might be plotting for his appeal in the event of a conviction.

"(District Attorney Jerry) Rochelle wants me to put on the record that the state is ready for trial. We were ready at the last trial setting and we're ready now," Crisp said.

Rochelle asked Lockhart if the court wants the state to respond to Tracy's filings or if the state is only required to respond to motions filed by his lawyers.

"I think he's laying land mines for you," Crisp said of the defense team. "I think he's setting up a claim of ineffective (assistance of counsel) for down the road."

Also discussed at Friday's hearing was Tracy's request for copies of the documents the state has provided to the defense. At earlier pre-trial meetings, the state has handed over boxes containing thousands of pages of evidence and reports. Crisp said it is not uncommon for inmates to have "stacks" of papers in their cells concerning their cases. Inmates are not allowed to have computers or other devices capable of reading electronic media, such as might be stored on a flash drive. Lockhart said he has no intention of ordering TDC to alter its policies to accommodate Tracy's desire for copies of court records. Crisp said she does not object to Tracy having the material so long as sensitive information, such as a witnesses' personal information, is redacted.

The case is scheduled for jury selection in September 2017. Tracy allegedly slipped a hand free of its cuff and grabbed a metal tray slot bar from Davison, which officers use to manipulate the opening in cell doors, wielding it like a baseball bat to strike him again and again in full view of multiple prison surveillance cameras. Davison was transporting Tracy back to his cell in administrative segregation following an hour of recreation when the inmate allegedly attacked.

Tracy has a long history of violence both in and out of prison. Tracy's prison history began in 1995 when he was just 18 and sentenced to a 3-year term for retaliation in Tarrant County, Texas. 3 years later, Tracy was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, plus 20 years for burglary, aggravated assault and assault on a public servant in Rockwall County, Texas. In 2005, Tracy received an additional 45-year term for stabbing a guard with a homemade weapon at a TDCJ unit in Amarillo, Texas. Tracy was sentenced to 10 years in 2009 for attacking a guard at a TDCJ unit in Abilene, Texas.

Lockhart scheduled Tracy's next pre-trial hearing for December.

(source: Texarkana Gazette)


10 years after Briggs' murder, no rush to repeal death penalty

While the wheels of justice are moving slowly, it might not be another 10 years for all appeals to be exhausted for Michael "Stix" Addison, the man convicted of murdering Manchester patrolman Michael Briggs.

Meanwhile, the election this November could hold the key to whether New Hampshire becomes the 21st state and the last state in New England to repeal capital punishment.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court decided last January to unanimously uphold the death sentence for Addison, concluding that the sentence was not "under the influence of passion, prejudice or any other factor."

New Hampshire has among the most narrowly-drawn death penalty laws in the country. The punishment only applies in the murder of a law enforcement officer or judge or a premeditated murder while engaged in a kidnapping, contract killing, robbery, major drug deal, rape or while serving a life sentence in prison. No one has been executed in New Hampshire since 1939.

Then-Gov. John Lynch signed the last expansion of the death penalty in 2011, applying it also to home invasions after the brutal slaying of Kimberly Cates in Mont Vernon.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who as attorney general was the chief prosecutor in the Addison case, said a pivotal part of convincing the jury to apply the death sentence was Addison's long criminal history.

"I made that a key part of my closing, namely that he had committed and been convicted before of so many crimes. On his past alone he could have been charged with a life sentence even if this had not been a death penalty matter," Ayotte said. "I do believe this helped convince the jury that this was the proper punishment."

The jurors agreed there were 13 aggravating factors in this crime that included Addison being found guilty of assault and battery; threatening to commit a crime; assault with intent to kill; assault and battery; possession of a firearm without a permit; armed robbery; and 2 counts of assault and battery with a knife.

In the days leading up to Briggs' murder, Addison and his friend Antoine Bell-Rogers had been on an armed crime spree, robbing the El Mexicano restaurant in Manchester and a 7-Eleven in Hudson. Both were convicted of those crimes.

Addison can, and is considered likely to, pursue his appeals in the federal court system. Lawyers for Addison have already filed several appeals with the U.S. Supreme Court, all of which have been rejected.

The state Supreme Court ruling was the last direct appeal Addison had at the state level. The justices here looked at 10 other cases of police officers killed in the line of duty. In 8 of those 10 cases, the defendant got the death penalty.

Defense lawyers maintained Addison did not purposely intend to kill Briggs and thus should not be put to death.

"We are not persuaded by the defendant's attempt to negate the significance of the death penalty cases relied upon by the state," the court said in its nine-page ruling. "Under New Hampshire law, a defendant is not eligible for a death sentence unless a unanimous jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt both that the defendant is guilty of capital murder for knowingly causing the death of another under 1 of 7 specific circumstances, and that the state has proved 2 statutory aggravating factors, 1 of which is that the defendant acted purposely when committing capital murder."

At the State House, the drive will continue next year to repeal the death penalty, and the race for governor could become a decisive factor.

Democratic nominee Colin Van Ostern of Concord said he would support its repeal but would not want it applied retroactively to spare Addison.

"The murder of officer Briggs was a horrible crime, and his (Addison's) sentence was justly rendered by a judge and jury," Van Ostern said.

Republican nominee Chris Sununu of Newfields feels otherwise and supports keeping the law in place, adding that, as written, it has served the state "fairly well."

Outgoing Gov. Maggie Hassan, now a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, had given the repeal effort momentum as the first New Hampshire chief executive in decades to say she would have signed the law's repeal.

As a state senator, Hassan helped convince the Legislature to create a death penalty commission. The panel deadlocked on whether to repeal the law, but confirmed that it costs taxpayers more to put someone to death than to have them live out a capital murder sentence in state prison.

Hassan only favored the law's repeal if it did not apply to the Addison case.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, had opposed the law's repeal and said the Briggs murder complicated matters.

"Trying to have it both ways was problematic for proponents of the bill - execute 1 person but repeal it prospectively," Bradley concluded.

"That was a bridge too far for a lot of people."

(source: The Union Leader)


Dover death row inmate Sykes sentence stayed in Supreme Court

The case of a death row inmate convicted of a 2004 capital murder in Dover has been stayed until issues in other similar cases are resolved, a Superior Court judge determined on Wednesday in a 6-page order.

Ambrose L. Sykes, 44, formerly of Hartly, can also amend a 2nd motion he filed for post-conviction relief, which hinges on other case decisions tied to Delaware Supreme Court???s finding that the state's current death penalty is unconstitutional.

On June 27, 2006, Sykes was found guilty of 1st-degree counts of murder and rape of a 68-year-old woman at her apartment in Dover. Other convicted charges included burglary and kidnapping.

Now, a determination in another capital conviction case - Powell v. State - may affect retroactive claims that Sykes could bring in an appeal, according to order.

Derrick Powell - on death row after the murder of a Georgetown police officer in 2009 - earlier filed a motion for post-conviction relief after the U.S. Supreme Court earlier ruled in the Hurst v. Florida case regarding the Sixth Amendment and a jury's role in determining death sentence eligibility, not a judge.

On Aug. 2, 2016, Delaware Supreme Court ruled the state's current death penalty structure was unconstitutional in the Rauf v. Delaware case involving a former Temple University law student charged with a murder in August 2015.

According to the order, Sykes believes he may be retroactively eligible for relief through decisions in the Hurst and Rauf matters, which could be confirmed by a decision in the Powell case.

Also, Sykes argued, a Superior Court judge issued a stay in a similar case, as did the Supreme Court in 2 others.

"Deciding the issue while [the Powell] appeals pending thus holds the potential to waste judicial resources and the time of the parties," Resident Judge William L. Witham Jr. ruled.

"The Court finds it appropriate to follow the same logic that prompted the entry of stays in the other cases cited by the Defendant, and enter a stay until Powell can be decided."

(source: Delaware State News)


Report: Court ruling could change death penalty for deputy's killer

A man sentenced to death for killing a St. Lucie County deputy in February 2013 likely will be resentenced following a Florida Supreme Court ruling Friday, The Post's news partners at WPTV NewsChannel 5 reported Saturday.

Eriese Tisdale was found guilty this year in the slaying of Deputy Sgt. Gary Morales during a traffic stop. A jury this year voted 10-2 for the death penalty, and a judge agreed. The Supreme Court on Friday, however, said death sentences require unanimous juries.

Defense attorneys for Tisdale had argued for a life sentence in prison, in part because the state's death penalty could some day be overturned, said Diamond Litty, the St. Lucie County public defender.

Family members of Morales told WPTV that they were disappointed at the ruling and that they dreaded going through a trial again. Litty, however, said the case likely would require only a sentencing hearing.

Prosecutors declined comment on the Tisdale case, saying they had not yet read the Supreme Court decision.

(source: Palm Beach Post)


State Supreme Court overreaches - again

Florida residents recently witnessed an example of the judicial activism that drives - or should drive - proponents of constitutional boundaries batty.

The state Supreme Court last week ruled that juries in death penalty cases must vote unanimously to issue the ultimate penalty, rendering obsolete the Legislature's efforts from this past spring to accommodate the U.S. Supreme Court's guidelines for fixing the death penalty.

The effect of this new ruling almost assuredly means the end of the death penalty in Florida. Yet whether you cheer that or boo that, all of us should be wary of the Supreme Court's effort to usurp the role of lawmakers and craft new law from the bench.

Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that Florida's methodology for meting out the death penalty was unconstitutional. Since the 1970s, Florida juries that found defendants guilty of capital murder gathered for a second, post-trial period known as the penalty phase. Much like the trial itself, jurors heard and weighed evidence that determined whether execution was warranted. If they agreed to that, a simple majority of 7 jurors could recommend death. The finding was then provided to the trial judge, who handed down the punishment.

This year, the U.S. Supreme Court said that under the Constitution the jury must decide the punishment.

It was unclear why death penalty cases belonged to this special precinct of jurisprudence. After all, in every other criminal case, the jury decides whether a defendant is guilty, and if so, the judge then issues the sentence.

Nonetheless, state lawmakers complied and revised the law so that juries must vote for death. Under the new methodology, the jury must unanimously agree on one of the prosecutors' reasons for seeking death, and if they reach that point, then a defendant could be ordered to die if 10 of the 12 jurors voted for that.

Barely 2 months after reaching that compromise, a Miami judge decided he knew better. "A decedent cannot be more or less dead. An expectant mother cannot be more or less pregnant. And a jury cannot be more or less unanimous," Judge Milton Hirsch glibly wrote in his order in May in dismissing the new protocol. "Every verdict in every criminal case in Florida requires the concurrence, not of some, not of most, but of all jurors - every single one of them," Hirsch added. Again, he did not explain why in every other case the judge and the jury have different roles in the sentencing process.

Last week, though, the state Supreme Court reiterated Hirsch's view, agreeing in 5-2 vote that the 10-2 requirement was constitutionally insufficient.

"Requiring unanimous jury recommendations of death before the ultimate penalty may be imposed will ensure that in the view of the jury - a veritable microcosm of the community - the defendant committed the worst of murders with the least amount of mitigation," the Supreme Court majority said in its ruling.

"This is in accord with the goal that capital sentencing laws keep pace with 'evolving standards of decency,'" the ruling added.

Public opinion polls suggest those "evolving standards" are resonating with the public. For the 1st time since the death penalty was reinstituted, a majority of Americans have voiced opposition to capital punishment, based on a recently released opinion poll. News reports say as many as 57 % of Floridians now oppose capital punishment.

But the minority in the recent decision by the state's high court - Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston - was more on point: the majority was "unnecessarily disrupting" the administration of capital punishment in Florida.

In other words, the Legislature had already made the changes and, lest we forget, lawmakers wrote into the new law a provision for a unanimous decision to sentence a defendant to death.

Murder remains largely a state crime, and the penalty for it should be left to the states, and more specifically to state lawmakers. Judges should not interject their biases into the system. If the people of Florida, as the poll suggests, now oppose the death penalty and want change, then let's litigate that at the ballot box. After all, it seems opposing the death penalty would be a winner with voters.

But we think Florida House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, said it best: "Those impacted most by this miscarriage of justice are the families as they watch the perpetrators of some of the most heinous and vicious murders and tortures continue to live the days their loved one were denied," he said in a statement. "This decision is indicative of a court that comes to a conclusion, then seeks a judicial pathway, however tortured, to achieve its desired result. That is antithetical to the rule of law and dangerous for our state."

(source: Editorial, The Ledger)


Warren County highway slaying suspect wants specifications dismissed----New attorneys for an Illinois man charged in the 2014 fatal shooting of his ex-girlfriend on Interstate 75 in Warren County want death penalty specifications dismissed because of where the victims were killed.

A new motion by attorneys for 42-year-old Terry Froman argues death penalty specifications for Froman that allege he killed more than 1 person should be tossed because 1 of the slayings occurred outside Ohio.

Froman faces charges in the September 2014 kidnapping and slaying of ex-girlfriend Kimberly Thomas. He's also charged in the slaying of Thomas' son, 17-year-old Eli Mohney, in Kentucky.

Froman has pleaded not guilty to charges in the slayings.

The Warren County prosecutor says Ohio law doesn't require that multiple homicides be committed in one state to apply the specification.

Froman's next court hearing is scheduled for Oct. 22. A new trial date has not been set.

(source: Associated Press)


Man who killed Gary officer in 1981 to be released

The verdict still stands that he murdered city Police Lt. George Yaros during a bank robbery 35 years ago - a crime punishable by death.

He said he has seen some of his closest friends on Indiana's death row marched off to the prison execution chamber.

But Zolo Agona Azania has avoided 3 of his own death sentences, and on Feb. 8 he is scheduled to be freed. He says he is entering a changed world as a changed man.

"I know what suffering is," Azania said in a telephone interview with The Times from the Miami Correctional Facility near Bunker Hill, Indiana, where he is finishing his 35th - and last - year of a 74-year sentence.

He said, "I've learned some things I wouldn't have, if I had not gone through this. I've seen people just give up on life. I dealt with the situation as it faced me. I never gave up hope. I try my best to be a positive individual, to have something positive to say. Perhaps I can help someone."

To the family and friends of the fallen police officer, he remains Rufus Averhart, the name Gary police knew him as when they were chasing him with guns blazing Aug. 11, 1981, after the 57-year-old police veteran died in the line of duty outside the Gary National Bank branch near 37th and Broadway.

Averhart had the courts change his name to Zolo Agona Azania in 1991.

They are still galled by his public-relations campaign from his death-row cell, in which he has claimed his conviction was a racist conspiracy, and the court decisions that invalidated jury and judicial recommendations that Azania be put to death.

"I feel like I failed my dad," Tim Yaros, a son of the fallen officer, said recently. "My wife and I and kids have been fighting this for years at his trials and hearings. Now, he's going to walk the streets."

"He doesn't deserve to be on the street," Philip Pastoret, a retired 30-year Gary police veteran said.

Azania said, "I know I'm innocent." He declined to recount the day of the crime or return to his fiery indictment of the criminal justice system that convicted him, simply observing, "Human-made laws aren't infallible."

His extensive court records begin with a 1972 conviction for the manslaughter of Leonard Wick, 69, of Gary. It was overturned many years later, but he served several years in prison. On his release he graduated at the top of his Martin Luther King Academy class and won a scholarship to Purdue University.

The late Ernie Hernandez, a local reporter, did a feature story on Azania's release from prison and rehabilitation, which was published only days before the fatal bank robbery.

Pastoret, the retired Gary police officer, said the day Lt. Yaros died "is imprinted on my mind."

Yaros' journey

"It was a sunny day. I was working traffic," Pastoret said.

"I saw Yaros that morning driving on Ridge Road when an alarm went off at the Gary National Bank. Yaros was about a minute and a half, maybe 2 minutes, ahead of me. As I turned up at the bank, I could hear gunshots in the back."

Police and prosecutors said the robbers, wearing plastic masks and gloves, disarmed the security officer, looted the teller drawers and were leaving the building when Yaros confronted them about noon that day.

Wally DeRose, another retired Gary police officer, said, "I had stopped at a restaurant and was a 1/4 of a mile away from the bank when I heard the call that there was a chase on and a shooting at the bank."

DeRose, who wasn't an eyewitness but did conduct an initial investigation into the crime, said, "The bank's alarm went off all the time. But when George got there he called out that it was real this time. He did everything right. He got behind his squad car, they came out and shot through his car and wounded him, and then went over and finished George off."

Pastoret said, "I saw the 2-tone blue Ford LTD coming out of the drive-up window going the wrong way and drove past me. I took off after them."

He said the high-speed chase continued northwest through Gary. "Averhart was wearing a powder blue suit. He and his buddy were leaning out the back windows of the car shooting back at me," Pastoret said.

"Because it was a hot summer day and my air conditioner was broke, my windows were down on my car, so I had a chance to fire back at them until my gun was empty. Averhart jumps out of the car and runs. There are 2 more in the car in the front and the back. I took off after them.

"They tried going into the Delaney (Housing) Projects. I came right up onto their rear bumper and floored it and drove us right into a tree and jammed their doors," Pastoret continued.

"The driver was trying to climb out the passenger window. I jump out of my car and run around there, pulled him out. He was struggling. I said, you better hold still or I'll blow your brains out. But I didn't have a gun. I handcuffed him.

"Little did I know the guy in the back seat was about to shoot me in the back with a .44 magnum, and Officer Ron Flournoy, had seen me chasing them and just like in the movies, puts a gun to that guy's head and told him, 'pull that trigger and you are dead.' That is how we got those 2."

Pastoret said Officer Chuck Oliver arrested Averhart, who was on foot, about the same time, nearby.

Tim Yaros remembers, "I was working at a brick factory on Martin Luther King Drive. It was a hot day. I heard over the intercom, 'Tim, you have an emergency phone call.' My boss handed me the phone. It was my wife, and she said something happened to dad."

He said as he arrived at the old Gary Mercy Hospital, at 5th and Polk Street, "I saw all these police cars. A police officer came up to me and said, 'Tim, I don't think he made it.' 16 minutes later, they told me he passed away. You could see the powder burns. They shot him at point-blank range."

DeRose said of Yaros, "He was in World War II, as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne. He jumped into France on D-Day, he jumped into Holland in August. Then he was in the Battle of the Bulge. He was wounded, and in a field hospital that was captured by the Germans - and then to die in the streets of Gary."

Azania's journey

Azania and 2 co-defendants were originally charged with murder and murder in the perpetration of a robbery in Lake County Criminal Court in Crown Point. The trial was moved to Fort Wayne's Allen County Court after Averhart's defense lawyer argued he couldn't get a fair trial in Lake County because of pretrial publicity.

A jury heard 7 days of evidence before finding the 3 men guilty of robbery-murder and recommending Averhart's execution on state's evidence he shot Yaros at point-blank range.

Former Allen Superior Judge Alfred Moellering imposed the death sentence a month later. The accomplices each received 60-year prison terms, which they completed several years ago.

The Indiana Supreme Court upheld Averhart's murder conviction in 1993, but overturned his death sentence on grounds Azania's trial lawyer failed to present compelling testimony or arguments why his client's life should be spared.

The high court also ruled the prosecution withheld from the defense inconclusive gunshot residue tests. The tests showed no residue on Averhart's hands. Although Averhart was wearing gloves, the court said residue might have collected on his hands through holes in those gloves.

Three years later, the death penalty phase was retried and the 2nd jury condemned Averhart to death again.

The Indiana Supreme Court overturned the 2nd sentence in 2002, because of a computer glitch in Allen County that caused blacks to be underrepresented on his jury.

Shortly before a 3rd death penalty trial was to begin in 2007, the Yaros family agreed to let the Lake County prosecutor drop the capital punishment request in return for Azania accepting a 74-year sentence the Yaros family had hoped would be tantamount to a life sentence.

The sentence was shortened, because Azania earned credit for the prior years he had served for good behavior in prison.

Azania, now 61, said, "I wanted to go back to school, but I need a livelihood to support myself. I want to work with computers. I'm in a computer class in career development training. I'm learning how to do resumes and job applications on the computers and how to do banking."

Hernandez wrote 35 years ago that Azania's accomplishments were an argument against capital punishment.

"They never retracted that," Tim Yaros said.

"Ernie Hernandez was right," Azania said.

(source: nwitimes.com)


Indiana, putting mentally ill to death is indefensible

Indiana, if you commit a crime while suffering from serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, the state may sentence you to death. This is not justice; it is not morally right.

Now, the Hoosier Alliance for Serious Mental Illness Exemption (HASMIE) is joining with leading mental health experts in opposing the use of capital punishment for those with serious mental illness.

In legislation to be introduced in the 2017 Indiana General Assembly, those who are proven to be seriously mentally ill at the time of the crime will be exempted from consideration for the death penalty. This does not exclude a defendant from being found guilty or receiving a sentence of life without parole.

Hoosiers have already decided that people with intellectual disabilities and juveniles are ineligible to receive the death penalty largely due to their inability to understand the consequences of their actions. We should protect the seriously mentally ill from execution as well.

We encourage all Hoosiers to visit HASMIE.org and support this important legislation.

Matthew Ellis, Project Director, HASMIE

(source: Letter to the Editor, Indianapolis Star)

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