Feb. 14

TEXAS----impending execution

Texas father makes personal plea to spare condemned son's life

With his son's execution 9 days away, Kent Whitaker met Tuesday in Austin with the chairman of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to personally request mercy for the child responsible for ripping his life apart.

Thomas "Bart" Whitaker was sentenced to death for arranging the 2003 ambush that killed his mother and brother and severely wounded his father in their Sugar Land home. Even so, Kent Whitaker has forgiven his son - and he desperately wants Texas officials to honor his request to spare the life of "the last surviving member of my natural family."

"Nobody in my family wants to see him executed, and I'm going to be thrown into a deeper grief at the hands of the state of Texas and in the name of justice, and I just feel there is a more appropriate sentence than execution," Kent Whitaker said after a half-hour meeting with David Gutierrez, chairman of the 7-member parole board.

"Texas prides itself on being a victims' rights state," he said. "But being a victims' rights state should mean something ... even when the victim, as in this case, is asking for mercy and not just revenge."

Whitaker said Gutierrez did not ask questions or react to his message or statements made by his brother, Keith Whitaker, and his 2nd wife, Tanya Whitaker.

"It's extremely rare that a board member will meet with a victim, and we're very grateful that Chairman Gutierrez gave us the time out of his schedule to actually hear our heart and what this coming execution is going to mean to our family and the chaos it's going to put us in," Kent Whitaker said.

"I can't tell you how it went; I don't know," he said. "I have been told that it will be a week from today before the votes are collected, so we're going to be in limbo for at least another week as to what they are going to choose to do."

Last month, lawyers for Kent Whitaker filed a clemency petition asking the parole board to recommend that Gov. Greg Abbott reduce Thomas Whitaker's sentence to life in prison, and they presented an affidavit signed by the inmate that waives parole should his sentence be commuted.

The petition argued that commutation would spare additional grief for Kent Whitaker, the crime's chief living victim, and that Thomas Whitaker's exemplary conduct on death row earned him the right to seek mercy - earning a college degree by mail, encouraging other condemned inmates to get their high school GED certificates and talking an inmate out of attacking a guard.

The petition included affidavits from 4 former and current death row guards who called him a "model inmate" who follows orders, is respectful and easy going, and has been a positive influence on other inmates.

The petition also noted that the shooter, Chris Brashear, was given a life sentence after pleading guilty to murder, while the getaway driver, Steve Champagne, agreed to a 15-year plea deal and testified against Whitaker.

Prosecutors in the Fort Bend County district attorneys office oppose clemency, saying jurors chose to assess the death penalty even after hearing from Thomas Whitaker's father and learning that his accomplices had received lighter sentences.

Knowing he faces long odds in reversing his son's punishment, Kent Whitaker said he hoped that Abbott would see an opportunity for a "win-win situation."

"I know he doesn't want to appear to be soft on crime, and he never has been," Kent Whitaker said. "But some would argue that spending life in prison for the rest of your natural life is a harder punishment than being placed on death row for a short period of time. He could still be tough on crime by inflicting that very hard penalty ... and at the same time honor my rights, as a victim, to mercy in this case. "We're not asking them to forgive him or let him go, we just want them to let him live."

(source: Austin American-Statesman)


Death penalty sought against man charged in Homewood fire that killed 3

The District Attorney will seek the death penalty against a man accused of starting a deadly house fire last year in Pittsburgh's Homewood section that killed 2 adults and a child.

Martell Smith, 41, is charged with 3 counts of homicide for the deaths of Shamira Staten, 21, her 4-year-old daughter Ch'yenne Manning and Sandra Carter Douglas, 58, all of whom died in the fire at their Bennett Street home.

Smith is accused of starting the fire at 2:20 a.m. on Dec. 20 after a bar fight earlier that night in Penn Hills. The altercation was allegedly with someone else who lived in the home. None of those killed were involved in the fight.

"Yep, yep, I did it, they shouldn't (expletive) with me," a witness heard Smith say at the scene while the house burned, according to the criminal complaint filed the day after the fire.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. cited 6 aggravating factors in his decision to pursue the death penalty against Smith, including: the defendant committed a killing during a felony; the defendant has significant criminal history; and the victim was under 12 years old.

In addition to homicide, Smith faces 9 arson-related charges. All charges were held for court late last month.

At least 2 witnesses heard Smith admit to the arson at the scene while the home burned. One reported hearing Smith say, "I heard Sandra was in there ... she's dead ... oh, well, that's life ... they made me do it," according to the complaint.

Tiasa Malloy, 26, was also arrested in relation to the arson, charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest. The death penalty announcement was unrelated to her case.

(source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)


Lawmaker wants to bring back death by firing squad

A South Carolina state representative has proposed bringing back death by firing squad.

Rep. Joshua Putnam says death row inmates are spending life in prison because the state doesn't have enough drugs to carry out lethal injections, since drug companies aren't selling lethal injections due to public backlash.

Bobby Wayne Stone, who was convicted of killing a deputy in 1996, was supposed to be executed in December. The penalty has been delayed indefinitely.

"When you hear the term 'firing squad,' you think, 'That's barbaric, that's crazy, we're moving back to the 20th century,'" Putnam says. "If you actually look at the data, the research and the court cases, it is actually the most humane way of putting anyone to rest."

South Carolina lets inmates choose between lethal injection and the electric chair.

"Our bill gives 3 options," Putnam explains. "They get to pick lethal injection, electric chair or firing squad."

If an option is unavailable, the inmate must pick from the other 2.

Failing to execute criminals denies victims the justice they deserve, Putnam says.

"We made a promise to the victims' families to carry out that type of justice," he said. "We've got to honor that promise."

Death by firing squad is currently legal in Utah, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

(source: WDSU news)


Handyman could face death for elderly couple's murders

The murders of a retired couple were particularly heinous and cruel. Police say their handyman did it. Now, Michael Herald is charged with 2 counts of murder and could face the death penalty.

John and Nancy Englehart's final moments were violent, according to court documents released in the case.

"They were bludgeoned to death, tortured to death," Rickman explained. "You see them bound. You don't bound someone who's already dead."

The Engleharts were found brutally murdered inside their backyard shed.

Documents show John was found hogtied with severe blows to the head and a cut to his neck.

His wife had suffered head trauma before a plastic bag was placed over it.

Prosecutors say the Engleharts' handyman did it.

Michael Anthony Herald is charged with 2 counts of murder.

Investigators say back in April of 2016, Herald who was hired by the Engleharts to do handy work around their house. They also say he brutally killed the retired couple.

And some of the crime was apparently caught on tape.

The Engleharts' surveilance cameras caught Herald leaving the shed, putting him at the crime scene at the time of the murders.

"One of the other things we have is defensive wounds on the defendant. One of the witnesses say they observed cuts on his hands," said Rickman.

A neighbor reported hearing loud noises coming from the shed that sounded like a metal object, possibly a hammer or pipe.

After the murders, prosecutors say Herald took off in the victims' SUV. He was eventually caught in Kentucky and brought back to Tampa to face murder charges and possibly the death penalty.

No trial date has been set.

(source: Fox News)


Jurors return life verdict in Jefty Joseph death case

Jefty Joseph was sentenced to 3 consecutive life sentences for the murder, robbery and kidnapping of Gustavo Falsetti Cabral.

Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes passed the sentence after a brief sentencing hearing immediately after a jury recommended a life sentence over a possible death penalty in the case.

Before he was sentenced, Joseph reiterated his claims that Kastrenakes was biased against him in a trial that began last month.

The quick verdict came at the end of a day-long penalty phase in the 1st-degree murder trial for Joseph, who jurors last month convicted as charged on the murder, kidnapping and robbery charges tied to Cabral's shooting death. In order for Joseph to have received a death sentence, all 12 jurors would have had to agree that it was an appropriate sentence.

With their verdict, jurors decided that Joseph committed the crime while engaged in a felony, but declined to find that the crime was committed in a heinous, atrocious or cruel manner or that Joseph acted with cold, calculated premeditation.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys declined Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes' offer to poll the jury to see if there was a split in the verdict.

Kastrenakes will likely sentence Joseph immediately.

Assistant State Attorney Aleathea McRoberts, who prosecuted Joseph along with Assistant State Attorney Terri Skiles, reminded jurors before they began deliberating about hours Cabral spent in terror begging for Joseph, Ilmart Christophe and Koral Ben Shimon to spare his life after they lured him to a Pompano Beach hotel with the promise of sex from an ad Ben Shimon placed on Backpage.com.

Cabral's widow, Christiane Rezende, gave tearful testimony earlier in the da about how devastating the loss of Cabral was.

Jurors announced they had reached a verdict in the penalty phase in about 15 minutes.

(source: Palm Beach Post)


Juror's 2nd thoughts 19 years later shouldn't thwart justice in Raymond Tibbetts case

At about 8 p.m. on Nov. 5, 1997, Judith "Sue" Crawford Tibbetts called her sister, Roseann, to tell her she was kicking her husband of five weeks out of her home in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine.

Raymond Tibbetts had been smoking crack cocaine in the apartment that she rented from Fred Hicks, 67, a retired electrician suffering from emphysema. Sue, who also served as Hicks' caregiver, told her sister she wanted Raymond out, and promised to call back later that evening.

When Roseann Crawford became worried and telephoned a couple of hours later, Raymond answered and said his wife couldn't come to the phone.

The following day Crawford found out why. Tibbetts had taken a baseball bat and beaten Sue with it in their upstairs bedroom, then stabbed her 21 times, leaving a knife in her neck. She had been clubbed in the head four times, breaking open her skull, and suffered numerous broken bones, including her left arm -- likely as she tried to fend off the blows from the bat.

Raymond Tibbetts then went downstairs, where Hicks was lying in a recliner, and stabbed the ailing man 12 times, leaving 4 knives sticking out of his body.

Within days, he was arrested for the brutal attacks, and in August 1998, he was convicted of aggravated murder. Fittingly, the judge sentenced him to die on the 1-year anniversary of the killings.

That was 19 anniversaries ago.

Meanwhile, Tibbetts has languished on death row, as the state has agonized over how to painlessly and humanely dispatch a man who beat his wife to death with a baseball bat and stabbed the life out of a helpless man as he lay in a recliner.

The original verdict was appealed, and unanimously affirmed by the Ohio Supreme Court in 2001. Last May, the Ohio Parole Board denied clemency in an 11-1 vote, and, at long last, the state scheduled Feb. 13 for Tibbetts' date with the hereafter.

Then, last week, Ross Geiger and Gov. John Kasich stepped in.

Geiger had been part of the jury that found Tibbetts guilty and recommended the death penalty way back in 1998. But over the intervening years, he came to believe that when he cast his vote to put Tibbetts to death, he did not have enough information regarding the man's rough childhood and drug addiction, and would have voted differently if he had.

So, after learning that a date had been set for the execution, the Cincinnati man composed a passionate op-ed column, imploring Kasich to commute Tibbetts' death sentence to life imprisonment. The column appeared Feb. 5 in the opinion section of Cleveland.com, and was published in last Wednesday's Plain Dealer Forum section.

Gov. John Kasich should commute Ray Tibbetts' death sentence and stay his Feb. 13 execution since mitigating information was withheld at trial that would have caused me to vote against death, writes Tibbetts juror Ross Allen Geiger.

And on Thursday Kasich ordered a stay of Tibbetts' execution until Oct. 17 - eight months from now - instructing the parole board to consider the juror's concerns. That would be the same parole board that less than a year ago considered the elements of Tibbetts' difficult background as part of his plea for mercy, and almost unanimously found them unpersuasive.

Geiger, however, has been persuaded.

"I had faith in the system in which I made my vote for death, but Ohio's criminal justice system failed me and Mr. Tibbetts," wrote Geiger. "The system failed to provide me with the information I needed to make an accurate and fair determination."

"Mr." Tibbetts, eh?

I'd say if the justice system has failed anyone, it's been Sue Tibbetts and Fred Hicks, because it has kept the animal who clubbed and stabbed them to death safe and warm and fed for the last 20 years, long after he should have gone to whatever reward he has waiting for him.

Geiger's sympathy is with Tibbetts, however.

"Imagine my shock," he wrote, "when I recently read the now publicly available clemency report as well as supporting documentation. I saw pages of relevant information concerning details of the abandonment, foster abuse, and reabandonment, and that it began before Ray Tibbetts was even two years old and continued throughout his childhood."

I read the report and was shocked too, but not for the same reason Geiger was. Go ahead and read it yourself. You'll see a long accounting of the disdain for the law and other people's possessions that marked Tibbetts' life. You'll see grisly details of his attack on his wife and landlord. And you'll see a note from one of Fred Hicks' nephews, who himself was brought up in foster home squalor but somehow managed to not become a drug addict and murder 2 people.

In the end, it shouldn't matter what circumstances led Tibbetts to that fateful night in 1997. It matters only that he killed two people, and should have been long in the grave himself as a result.

It is an outrage that Raymond Tibbetts has been allowed to live in relative comfort two decades longer than his victims.

It is equally outrageous that Kasich has allowed a juror, 19 years after the fact, to goad him into pulling the plug on Tibbetts' richly deserved punishment.

Gov. John Kasich has pushed back the execution date for Raymond Tibbetts so the Ohio Parole Board can consider a juror's concerns about Tibbetts' trial.

If Geiger has had a crisis of conscience, that's his business. Kasich shouldn't allow it to thwart justice.

(source: Ted Diadiun is a member of the editorial board of cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer)

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