Feb. 13


DA's office to mull death penalty in 2006 Donna murder

The Hidalgo County District Attorney's Office requested more time Monday to decide whether they will again seek the death penalty against a man who won a new punishment trial on appeal.

Douglas Armstrong was sentenced to death in 2007 for the previous year's murder of Rafael Castelan in Donna.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Armstrong, 47, a retrial for the punishment phase in November 2017, and the assistant district attorneys trying the case were expected to announce their decision Monday.

District Judge Noe Gonzalez granted the state's request for additional time, telling Armstrong the state has "a very complex decision to make."

Gonzalez gave the DA's office until March 19 to determine whether to seek the death penalty, and thus go to trial, or have Armstrong re-sentenced to life in prison without parole, the automatic sentence for a capital felony in Texas.

Both parties will return to court for a pre-trial hearing that day.

(source: Brownsville Herald)


Inmate Awaits His Punishment Next Month

The punishment phase for a death row inmate accused of killing a Donna man in 2006 is underway.

In 2007 a jury decided on the death sentence for 47-year-old Douglas Armstrong for the death of 60-year-old Rafael Castelan. In November 2017 Armstrong won a new punishment trial.

Today a judge granted state prosecutors in the case more time to decide if they'll seek the death penalty.

If they choose not to Armstrong will be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Douglas Armstrong is scheduled to return to court on March 19 for his sentencing.

(soruce: rgvproud.com)


Shooter outside O'Halloran's could face death penalty, DA says; 2nd person of interest identified

What started out as a simple disagreement in a Lancaster city bar turned deadly when the 4 men involved were asked to leave the premises.

Once outside, according to police, Marcus McCain, 29, and his brother Travis, 20, started walking away.

That's when 34-year-old Alexander Cruz pulled a handgun and fired "multiple shots," killing Marcus and wounding Travis, acting city police Chief Jarrad P. Berkihiser said at a press conference Monday morning.

Cruz, he said, was apparently the only person with a gun at the shooting, which occurred outside O'Halloran's Irish Pub & Eatery, in the 100 block of Fairview Avenue, shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday.

"This wasn't a shootout," Berkihiser said. "It was a senseless act of violence."

Police recovered 11 .380 caliber shell casings at the scene, according to the affidavit.

Marcus McCain "sustained multiple gunshot wounds to his torso" and was pronounced dead at Lancaster General Hospital, the affidavit says.

His death was ruled a homicide after an autopsy Monday by Lancaster County Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni. McCain died of multiple gunshot wounds to his body, Diamantoni said.

Travis McCain "sustained multiple gunshot wounds to this legs" and "underwent emergency life saving medical treatment" for his injuries, according to the affidavit. He remains in stable condition, Berkihiser said Monday.

Police identify victim, arrest Lancaster man for fatal shooting Saturday morning outside O'Halloran's Pub

Death penalty an option

Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman joined Berkihiser in lauding investigators, who "worked nonstop" since the shooting to identify and locate 2 persons of interest - both of whom were captured on video inside the bar.

Cruz was identified after media circulated video footage, which Berkihiser said led to numerous calls from the public within minutes of its release.

Cruz, whose last known address is in the 700 block of South Lime Street, was located early Sunday morning at an Ephrata Township home and arrested.

He was charged Sunday with 1 count of criminal homicide, 1 count of attempted homicide and 2 firearms violations before District Judge Adam Witkonis.

He is being held in Lancaster County Prison. He was denied bail due to the homicide charge, according to court documents.

Cruz, according to the affidavit, is prohibited from possessing a firearm because of a robbery conviction in 1999. According to court and newspaper records, he pleaded guilty that year to participating in the armed robbery of a city grocery store.

The district attorney's office may pursue the death penalty in this case, Stedman said, although it's still too early to say for sure.

Investigators have not uncovered any history between the shooter and the victims prior to the disagreement at O'Halloran's, Stedman added.

2nd person identified

The 2nd person of interest in the video has been "identified and located," Berkihiser said. "He has been spoken to."

The 2nd man is not being identified by police because he has not been charged with a crime, the acting chief said.

Charges are still a possibility, he said. The investigation is ongoing.

"I'm quite confident we're going to have justice in this case," Stedman said. "It was really, truly senseless."

Berkihiser said O'Halloran's is "not what we consider a problem establishment in the city." It's a quiet neighborhood, he said, and police have been called for occasional noise complaints.

Police noticed some issues that will be investigated, however; Berkihiser confirmed that Travis McCain, who is only 20, was in the bar prior to the shooting, and he said liquor control will look into the violation.

Although police circulated video from inside the bar, Berkihiser said the shooting outside was not captured by Lancaster Safety Coalition cameras.

This is the county's 1st homicide of 2018. There were 15 last year - up 50 % from 2016's total.

(source: lancasteronline.com)


Jury selection begins in Raleigh murder trial

Jury selection began Monday for a man charged with killing a Raleigh partygoer in 2016. Chad Copley, 39, faces 1st degree murder charges in the shooting death of 20-year-old Kouren-Rodney Thomas.

The case caught national attention as some believe the shooting was racially motivated.

When Copley called 911 that night in August 2016, he told dispatchers there were "hoodlums" outside of his house and that he was going to secure the neighborhood.

In a 2nd 911 call that night, Copley told dispatchers he was trying to protect his family and "fired a warning shot as required by law."

Copley's lawyer said he fired 1 shot from a shotgun through his garage along Singleleaf Lane.

Police say that bullet hit Thomas who was leaving a party 2 doors down.

If Copley is found guilty of 1st degree murder, there's a possibility he could face the death penalty.

(source: spectrumlocalnews.com)


Florida lawmakers looking for leniency in capital punishment cases

Florida lawmakers usually criticize judges for being too lenient, but when it comes to hundreds of death cases, a legislative committee thinks the state's Supreme Court Justices are being too harsh.

Just over a year ago, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that about 1/2 of the people on death row were entitled to be re-sentenced, but the other 1/2 - sentenced before 2002 - were stuck with the sentence they received.

2002 is the cut off, because that's when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled juries must be unanimous in sentencing death.

"These legal distinctions are, while excepted and appropriate, are from a fundamental fairness perspective, spurious," said Mark Schlakman Human Rights Attorney.

In 2001, Jacksonville killer David Miller was sent to death row by a vote of 7 to 5. His case is 1 of 80 opinions released over the past few weeks, telling inmates convicted before that 2002 date that it doesn't matter if their sentence was less than unanimous.

"I think that date of 2002 is arbitrary," said Senator Ronald Bracy (D-Orlando). "And I don't think it's fair."

The court's majority, said in part, litigation must, at some point, come to an end.

2 of the 7 justices think the cutoff date isn't fair, and have repeatedly said so in dissenting opinions.

Now, a State Senate Committee is telling the court the same thing.

"A should equal A when it comes to justice," said Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg). "Setting an arbitrary date doesn't equal justice. I think we need to go back in time and say all of these cases that are similarly situated should be treated the same."

Even if the measure doesn't go anywhere else this year, the fact a legislative committee sought to intervene is a message to the courts that lawmakers are watching.

If the admonition passes the Senate, it will likely die in the house, which has always wanted a 10-2 jury verdict.

The fact a legislative committee sought to intervene is a message to the court that lawmakers are watching.

(source: WCTV TV news)


Sierah Joughin murder trial on schedule for March

When James Worley next appears in court, prosecutors and defense attorneys will begin the lengthy process of selecting a jury to hear his trial on capital murder charges.

Worley, 58, of rural Delta is charged with 2 counts of aggravated murder - both with death penalty specifications - for the July, 2016, slaying of Sierah Joughin, 20, of Metamora.

The University of Toledo student disappeared while riding her bicycle home, and her body was later found in a shallow grave in a cornfield. An autopsy revealed she had been asphyxiated.

At a final pretrial hearing Monday, Fulton County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Robinson confirmed the trial will begin March 5 with interviews of prospective jurors. Testimony in the case is to begin March 12.

"I fully expect when the 5th gets here, we'll be ready to go forward," the judge said.

Previously, defense attorney Mark Berling said the prosecutor had presented a potential plea agreement that called for dismissal of the death penalty specifications, but there was no mention of a possible plea at Monday's hearing.

Fulton County Prosecutor Scott Haselman did ask the court to dismiss 2 counts of aggravated robbery, which Judge Robinson did. Mr. Haselman did not give an explanation for dropping those charges in court and declined to comment afterward.

The attorneys and judge went over a number of issues during the 20-minute hearing. From an original pool of more than 300 prospective jurors, several more were excused because of medical issues, vacations, or age.

The judge also asked each side to let the court know how many family members would be attending the trial.

Mr. Haselman said 24 representatives of Ms. Joughin's family planned to attend. Merle Dech, co-counsel for Worley, said he would advise the court at a later date of how many relatives would be there for his client.

In addition to the aggravated murder charges, Worley is charged with four counts of kidnapping, 2 counts each of murder, abduction, felonious assault, and having weapons while under disability, and 1 count each of possessing criminal tools, gross abuse of a corpse, and tampering with evidence.

(source: Toleldo Blaze)


The death penalty: Is it cheaper? Why does it take so long from sentencing to execution?

With the recent slaying of 1 Westerville police officers, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said he would pursue the death penalty against the suspect, Quentin Smith. The USA TODAY Network's Bethany Bruner answers some questions about how the death penalty works in Ohio.

Q: What does a death penalty indictment mean?

A: A death penalty indictment means a person who is charged with aggravated murder could possibly be sentenced to die by lethal injection if found guilty. Ohio law has seven "aggravating factors," at least one of which must be present for a death penalty indictment to be filed. Those factors include the killing of a law enforcement officer, killing someone during another felony crime like arson, rape or aggravated robbery or committing terrorism. Such an indictment had not been filed against Smith as of Monday morning. Quentin Smith

Q: Will the court process be different in a death penalty case?

A: The short answer is yes. If the case were to go to trial, there are essentially two separate trials that happen in that same case. The first phase determines if the defendant is guilty or not guilty of aggravated murder.

If the defendant is found guilty, the case will then go to a penalty phase, where lawyers from both sides will present evidence as to why or why not the death penalty should be imposed.

Q: A death sentence means the case will be cheaper because the defendant dies, right?

A: Wrong.

Death penalty cases are often much more expensive than a "regular" murder case. Ohio law requires defendants in capital cases to have 2 attorneys, both of whom are specially qualified to handle these types of cases. If the attorney is court-appointed, that means taxpayers are paying twice the amount of legal bills.

Death penalty cases also involve lots of experts, hired at public expense. These include experts in death penalty arguments to try and save a defendant's life, experts to examine evidence and testify in court and investigators.

Also, the law requires a number of appeals to be filed at the local, state and federal levels in death penalty cases. All of those appeals require attorneys to work on the case, hearings and lots of hours.

The costs for a death penalty case have been estimated to be 2 to 3 times that of other murder cases.

Q: How long after a death sentence being imposed will a person be executed?

A: Because Ohio requires a variety of appeals, it is usually decades before a person is executed. The Ohio Supreme Court only schedules a small number of executions a year and some of the executions scheduled in the last few years have not happened because of disputes and lawsuits over the type of drugs used in the lethal injection.

With more than 160 people on Ohio's death row right now, it could be 2040 or later before a person sentenced to death in 2018 is executed.

Q: Does the jury or the judge decide if a person gets a death sentence?

A: A defendant has the option of having a jury trial or a trial before a panel of 3 judges. If they pick a jury trial, the selection of jurors is handled differently than in any other case.

Only jurors who would be willing to sentence a person to death can serve. This does not mean they will impose the death penalty, just that they would be willing to if they feel the death sentence is appropriate.

If the jury were to determine a death sentence is appropriate, the judge for the case will typically follow that recommendation, however, they could impose a sentence of some other type.

If a jury determines a death sentence is not appropriate, the judge is not able to sentence them to anything more than life in prison without the possibility of parole.

(source: Bethany Bruner, Newark Advocate)

A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu

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