Dec. 1


Oklahoma inmate exhausts appeals; executions still on hold

13 Oklahoma inmates are now eligible for execution dates after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a man convicted in 1999 double slaying.

But executions remain on hold in the state as officials rework Oklahoma's death penalty protocol, and there's no indication on when they may resume. According to The Oklahoman, inmate James Chandler Ryder became the 13th inmate eligible for execution after the nation's highest court declined Monday to review his appeal.

Ryder was sentenced to death for the killings of Daisy Hallum and her adult son, Sam Hallum, in Pittsburg County.

Oklahoma last executed an inmate in January 2015, and an autopsy showed that officials used a drug in that lethal injection that wasn't part of the state's execution protocol.

(source: Associated Press)


Nebraska Finds New Route to Death Drugs

State voters having approved a ballot measure restoring capital punishment, Nebraska on Monday announced the process it will use to change its policies and procure the drugs it will use to execute its 10 inmates on death row.

"Nebraskans were decisive in their choice to maintain the death penalty and it is now our duty as elected officials to carry it out," Gov. Pete Ricketts said in a statement.

"These proposed changes in protocol balance appropriate inmate notification with the flexibility to utilize various constitutionally approved drugs, so political maneuvers at the federal level can???t circumvent the will of the people," said Ricketts, a 1st-term Republican.

Previous procedures required 3 drugs - sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride - to be administered in precise order and dosage.

The new protocol will remove any restrictions on what drugs can be used for lethal injection, provided that "the substance or substances can be intravenously injected in a quantity sufficient to cause death without the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain," Department of Correctional Services Director Scott Frakes said in a statement.

Prison officials must notify the condemned inmate of the drugs to be used at least 60 days before an execution warrant is issued by the Nebraska Supreme Court.

Officials will not be required to publicize who manufactured the lethal drugs, an important factor, domestic pharmaceutical firms have refused to produce some lethal injection drugs, and the Food and Drug Administration has banned the importation of some lethal drugs.

Under the revised protocol, "substances may be directly purchased or obtained through the department pharmacy or obtained through any other appropriate source." The director of Correctional Services will have the discretion to keep records confidential if they identify the source of lethal injection drugs.

This lack of transparency promises to be a sticking point for opponents of the death penalty, and the subject of future litigation.

"The ACLU of Nebraska stands ready to fight against any effort to cloak Nebraska's broken death penalty in secrecy," ACLU of Nebraska executive director Danielle Conrad said in a statement.

"Regardless of how people feel about the death penalty we should all agree that Nebraskans value government transparency and accountability in all matters. In fact, inscribed right on our state Capitol is 'the salvation of the state is the watchfulness of the citizens.' As citizens, we can't complete that duty if the government only offers us selective information, editing out all the ugly parts."

The state has had a tumultuous recent history with the death penalty. Nebraska last executed a man in 1997, when Robert Williams went to the electric chair. That method of execution was declared unconstitutional by the Nebraska Supreme Court in 2008. The state changed to lethal injection by legislative action a year later, only to see 2 of the 3 necessary drugs expire before they could be used.

In 2015, the issue was a persistent thorn in the side of Gov. Ricketts, who watched as the Legislature voted to abolish capital punishment, then overrode his veto a week later. Ricketts has repeatedly sought to obtain the 3-drug cocktail, but one of the drugs is no longer produced in the United States. Ricketts and corrections officials contracted with a small pharmaceutical broker in India to import the drug, despite objections from the ACLU and warnings from the FDA that it is illegal to import sodium thiopental.

The FDA subsequently blocked shipment of the $54,400 order from India, as it said it would.

Undeterred, Ricketts was the main financier of the pro death penalty group Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, donating more than $300,000 of his own money, to put an initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot that restored capital punishment in the state.

Referendum 426 was approved with 60 % of the votes, setting the stage for the latest step: procuring the deadly drugs.

A hearing and forum for public comment on the revised execution protocol is set for Dec. 30 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the state office building in Lincoln.

For written submissions to be part of the record, they must be received by the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services on or before Dec. 27.

They can be mailed to NDCS, PO Box 94661, Lincoln, NE 68509 or emailed to

(source: Courthouse News)

CALIFORNIA----new death sentence

Jury sentences Cheary to death

The sentence:

A Tulare County jury decided Wednesday that convicted killer Christopher Cheary should die in prison.

The sentence came as the clock struck noon and after 1 day of deliberations.

Some audience members gasped. The defense sat nearly motionless.

The judge applauded the lawyers in the case.

"There is no more stressful case that a human being can do," Judge Joseph Kalashian said to the attorneys. "I commend you."

He also thanked the jury, who condemned the Exeter man.

It's the 1st death sentence in nearly 8 years for Tulare County, which ranks among the top of the list of counties that sends prisoners to death row. There are currently 15 living inmates on death row from Tulare County.

A death penalty prosecution costs up to 20 times as much as a life-without-parole case, according to a Loyola Law Review.

The state also spends at least $300,000 for attorneys to represent each capital inmate on appeal. Cheary's case will be automatically sent to appeal within the next few years, however it could be a decade before he ever steps inside a courtroom.

Over the next few months, he will be questioned by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials, processed and transferred to San Quentin State Prison to spend out the rest of his days.

The verdict:

Before the verdict was read, the families waited outside the courtroom.

Cheary's mother, Laura Champahur, sat with her hands covering her face.

Her youngest son was rubbing small circles on her back.

A few feet over was Sam Coronado, Sophia's great-grandfather. He attended every day of the trial.

He discouraged other family members from attending, shielding them from the details of the brutal death.

"I could barely stand it," his voice was quiet. He was trying not to cry.

Sophia Acosta would have turned 8 this year. She would be reading, learning how to multiply and ride a bike.

Her life was cut short on May 7, 2011, when Cheary raped and killed her.

Sophia's last day

Officers arrived at the Exeter apartment in the 800 block of West Visalia Road. They found Sophia lying on the living room floor, motionless and soaking wet.

Detectives discovered that while Sophia's mother, Erica Smith, was buying heroin, Cheary, her live-in boyfriend, beat and raped Sophia.

When Smith returned home, the 2 smoked the drugs but were interrupted when Cheary said he heard a "thump" upstairs.

Sophia was on the ground covered in vomit, Cheary said.

She wasn't breathing. Cheary stripped her down and placed her body under running water. Sophia didn't wake up.

After reaching out to Cheary's mother for help, they called 911. Paramedics arrived within minutes.

Tulare County firefighter and part-time EMT, David Cornett, testified that he remembered seeing the girl's small body lying on the ground while firefighters attempted to find the child's pulse. It was faint.

He was with the child in the ambulance and was the 1st to notice a small puddle of blood under Sophia.

Medical experts found lacerations and bleeding around Sophia's rectum.

The firefighter said he never forgot the scene.

"To be honest, my daughter was the same age at the time," he said. "Out of the 16 years [as a first responder], I took it home. I typically don't and it's stayed with me since."

Justice for Baby Sophia

Sophia later died at Valley Children's Hospital in Madera. The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to her head.

Cheary was arrested on June 7, 2011. He sat behind bars for 5 years and 5 months waiting for Monday's decision. He dressed in a suit, rarely made eye contact with jurors and talked freely to his lawyers.

He showed little reaction as the clerk read the verdict Monday afternoon. He was quickly escorted by deputies back to his cell.

Throughout the trial, Cheary and his defense attorneys maintained his innocence.

During an interrogation, Cheary told detectives he found Sophia covered in feces and vomit. The defense argued that Sophia's injuries were caused by an undiagnosed clotting disorder.

Neuropathologist Hannes Vogel was one of the first to classify the child's injuries as consistent with 'inflicted' and 'non-accidental' trauma.

"There is no way on God's green Earth this pattern of injury could be explained by a clotting disorder," the doctor said.

More than 10 medical experts testified that Sophia's death was caused by extreme force. One likened it to falling off a 3-story building.

Although doctors couldn't definitively say whether the girl had been sexually assaulted. Jurors believed she had been tortured and raped.

Inside the courtroom, Sophia's family gasped and cried when the verdict was read.

Cheary's family sat silent. Champahur quietly wept into her tissue.

One person spoke out, "The system is broke".

Campahur walked away in the arms of family. Outside, defense attorney Angela Krueger hugged her client's mother.

They cried together. Kreuger declined to comment on the verdict.

The wait continues

After a 5-week trial, attorneys finished closing arguments late last week.

For the family of Sophia, the verdict comes as a relief.

Coronado said after 5 years of waiting, there is finally justice for Sophia.

"It's terrible what he did," he said. "Terrible."

(source: Visalia Times Delta)


After oversights, a potential death penalty case restarts.

Sammuel Ejaz is accused of trying to kill his estranged wife, and killing her aunt and uncle and shooting her cousin.

When Sammuel Ejaz was arrested last August in Salinas on suspicion of using a handgun to shoot 4 family members, 2 of them fatally, he told TV reporters he "never wanted to do this." Prosecutors took that as a confession. Ejaz then pleaded not guilty to all counts.

From the outset of the criminal case, prosecutors kept the possibility of
seeking the death penalty against him, and enhancement charges were filed with the death penalty in mind. This would be 1 of 2 death penalty cases in Monterey County in more than a decade.

While prosecutors have not officially announced their intent to seek the death penalty yet, their choice to backtrack and redo key hearings suggests they plan on it. On Sept. 16, prosecutors dismissed then refiled the case - meaning they have to redo the preliminary hearing, laying out their evidence against Ejaz - to correct for the fact that 5 court hearings were held without a court reporter present. That's scheduled to begin Dec. 1.

"There were no secret meetings, it was just an oversight," Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Doug Matheson says. "We discussed things in chambers and then we came out and put it on the record."

In death penalty cases, all court hearings must be held on record, and not in a judge's chambers without a court reporter. This creates a complete written record of the case, important in case there's an appeal.

"That did not happen at the beginning," Matheson says. "We don't always do things exactly right in court, sometimes we make mistakes. Once we see that we tend to correct them."

Ejaz's attorney, Joy McMurtry, did not respond to requests for comment by the Weekly's deadline.



Connell woman could face death penalty for Kennewick kidnapping, murder

The husband of a Kennewick woman kidnapped and shot to death earlier this month believes the woman accused of murdering her acted alone.

"I feel that Theresa Wiltse acted independently in this hideous crime against my lovely wife of 30 years, who I loved very dearly, and is the most horrible loss anyone could imagine," Randy Harris told reporters after a court hearing Wednesday.

The Kennewick pawn shop owner said it was chilling to sit with family and friends just feet from the Connell woman in court, still believing her to be a stranger with no connection to his wife, Sandra.

"I've got to be strong," he said. "My wife would want me to be strong, and I've got to go on."

Wiltse, 49, pleaded innocent to aggravated 1st-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping and her trial for the potential death penalty case was tentatively set for Jan. 30.

In the meantime, the Connell Police Department has reopened an investigation into an assault six months ago in which Wiltse was questioned as a possible suspect.

After Wednesday's brief hearing in Benton County Superior Court, Randy Harris said he is going to leave everything in the hands of Prosecutor Andy Miller and his deputy prosecutors to get justice.

The couple celebrated their wedding anniversary on Nov. 16, 2 days before Sandra called to say she'd been kidnapped and the suspects wanted $250,000.

The 69-year-old grandmother's body was found Nov. 20 along a rural Benton County road. She'd been shot several times.

"I have to rebuild my life," said Randy Harris, who owns Ace Jewelry & Loan. "This has been horrible. I've lost lots of sleep ... but I've got to move forward."

The murder includes the aggravating circumstance that it happened "in furtherance of, or in immediate flight from" the kidnapping. Both charges also include allegations that a gun was used.

A conviction for aggravated murder carries only 2 possible sentences: life in prison or death.

Prosecutors now have 30 days to decide whether to file notice of a special sentencing proceeding if she's convicted as charged.

The court can grant an extension or the defendant can waive the time requirement for the decision.

Miller did not raise the issue of capital punishment Wednesday, but a death-penalty qualified attorney, Michael Iaria of Seattle, was appointed to assist defense attorney Sam Swanberg.

The defense attorneys will work on a mitigation package in which they attempt to sway prosecutors to show leniency for their client.

Also Wednesday, in an unusual move, Judge Vic VanderSchoor agreed with Swanberg's request to ban the media from photographing Wiltse's face. The judge said he'll schedule a hearing for arguments on allowing photos in a public courtroom of the murder suspect.

Wiltse - who formerly worked as a corrections officer in Walla Walla's Washington State Penitentiary for 2 years - is being held in the Benton County jail without bail.

She was arrested late Nov. 18 after allegedly trying to collect the ransom. A gun, ammunition and blood were discovered in her rental car, court documents show. The ammunition reportedly was consistent with the bullets that killed Harris.

Court documents do not give a motive or show how Harris and Wiltse may have known each other. Randy Harris said his wife "would not have recognized this lady, no way, no how."

Sandra Harris was a caring, loving, private person who worked for 40 years as head accountant with Boise Cascade, said her husband. She retired 8 years ago, and enjoyed spending her free time with her "little animals" and grandchildren and messing with her garden.

Wiltse has claimed she had accomplices in the kidnapping and slaying of Harris, but has not identified anyone.

Under state law, the death penalty can't be applied to an aggravated murder suspect if there is another person who is more culpable in the crime.

There has been a moratorium on the death penalty in Washington since February 2014. The order by Gov. Jay Inslee was for as long as he's in office, which is through 2020.

Miller has told the Herald that he won???t take the death penalty off the table from consideration if the circumstances warrant it, because another governor may assume office while the case is still working through the judicial system.

Miller is the only active prosecutor in the state who has seen a death penalty case all the way through to execution. Jeremy Sagastegui died by lethal injection for the 1995 killing of a child and 2 women in Finley.

Wiltse's alleged involvement in the Kennewick death has Connell police reopening the assault case.

In May, a grocery store clerk said a masked woman pointed a gun and threatened to kill her when she arrived at work at 5:50 a.m. Connell Police Chief Chris Turner said the 34-year-old victim was able to get away and the suspect ran off.

"We had the victim think about the different people that frequent the store and she specifically mentioned Theresa," he told the Tri-City Herald. "She could only see (the suspect's) eyes. It could be her, the victim wasn't for sure."

Wiltse was the only person questioned by police, and she denied any involvement.

Turner said it has been an inactive case because they didn't have enough evidence. Now, he said, the department is looking at it again to see if they missed anything and may try to re-interview her in jail


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