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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: death penalty

Death penalty decision in Carlile murder plot to come in February

A federal judge has given prosecutors until Feb. 10 to determine whether they will seek the death penalty for five of six men implicated in an alleged murder-for-hire plot tied to North Dakota oil fields that left a South Hill businessman shot to death in his home last year.

U.S. District Court Judge Salvador Mendoza set the deadline for the government to make its decision at a court hearing earlier this week. James Henrikson, Timothy Suckow, Robert Delao, Todd Bates, Lazaro Pesina and Robby Wahrer were indicted in September for their alleged roles in the shooting death of Douglas Carlile, who was found dead of gunshots by Spokane Police on Dec. 15. Federal prosecutors have said they may pursue a capital case against all defendants except Bates, who faces conspiracy charges for his alleged role in targeting another business partner of Henrikson's.

Suckow and Henrikson were also indicted for their alleged role in the slaying of Kristopher “K.C.” Clake, an employee of Henrikson's on the Bakken shale oil fields who went missing in 2012. His body has not been found.

Prosecutors say representatives from the U.S. Justice Department in Washington D.C. have traveled to Spokane in recent weeks to review the case and determine if a capital sentence is warranted.

Sixty-two federal inmates are currently on death row, according to nonprofit group the Death Penalty Information Center. Last month, Henrikson's attorney filed a motion with research indicating federal capital cases, when pursued, usually take three years from indictment to a jury's decision.

Report details Gibson’s criminal history

When a man now charged in the 1992 shooting death of a Spokane Valley businessman left prison in the last few years, his brother attended a community meeting defending him. 

Patrick Kevin Gibson's neighbors had been notified of his status as a level 3 sex offender, and Michael Gibson was trying to explain his past crimes and justify his presence in the community.

Michael Gibson told sheriff's detectives he specifically asked his brother if he'd ever killed someone “and Patrick said he had not,” according to a police report.

“Patrick did tell Michael that he was the mastermind of everything he had done and had always acted alone,” the report says. Michael told detectives that his brother liked to flash his money around and may have been attracted to the excitement of robberies.

Patrick Gibson, 60, (pictured) has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. His trial was temporarily halted Monday because of the last-minute discovery by prosecutors that “America's Most Wanted” host John Walsh and an actor had handled the killer's hat after it was left at the scene.

Detectives say Michael was emotional in May 2011 when he learned his brother had been arrested for the nearly 20-year-old homicide.

“His first response was that he would never see Patrick again and that he had placed his own reputation on the line to help Patrick,” according to the report.

Michael said he went to bat for Patrick with concerned neighbors and said he told him if he messed up again, he'd be the first to turn him in, police wrote. Gibson has spent most of adult life in prison.

In August 1978, he fired shots at a Utah highway patrolmen who tried to  stop him for a traffic violation as he drove with his wife and her two children.

In November, he and another inmate escaped from jail, stole a car and traveled to Nevada, where he and an accomplice robbed and raped two convenience store clerks. Gibson was arrested three days later near Vancouver B.C.

He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in May 1979 but paroled in March 1992, about seven months before Cole was murdered.

Police say Gibson worked at a phone company in Stanwood, Wash., as a voice and data man but traveled frequently without his probation officer's permission. He's believed to have committed robberies in Oregon that same year.

The robberies are similar to gunpoint attacks at a clothing store in Coeur d'Alene and Cole's murder, both which occurred on Nov. 7, 1992.

While prosecutors believe Gibson himself got away with murder for nearly 20 years, Gibson  says he's partly responsible for helping convict a major drug lord who nearly got away with the murder of five people in Iowa in 1993, including two girls, ages 6 and 10.

The situation led Gibson to become a member of the federal government's witness protection program and resulted in death sentences for Dustin Lee Honken, 44, (pictured in 2005 by the Associated Press) and Honken's girlfriend, Angela Johnson, 48, though Johnson's sentence was overturned on appeal because of ineffective counsel.

Gibson told Spokane County sheriff's Detective Michael Drapaeu he shared a prison cell with Honken when Honken bragged about killing government witnesses and executing a family that included children.

“I decided to do the right thing,” Gibson told Drapaeu, according to court records. “I just tried to make amends for my past wrongs.”

It's unclear how exactly Gibson assisted in the case, but media reports say authorities placed an experienced jailhouse informant, Robert McNees, in a cell with Johnson who was able to obtain a map of of the grave sites.

A jury recommended Honken be sentenced to death after a lengthy trial in Sioux City, Iowa, in 2004. News reports at the time say the bodies of his five victims, which included two girls, ages 6 and 10, were found in late 2000 after Johnson drew a map and gave it a jailhouse informant.

Honken, who Iowa news reports say introduced methamphetamine to the state in the early 1990s, already was serving a 27-year sentence for drug trafficking when the bodies were discovered. Gibson was serving a 12-year sentence for bank robbery.

Gibson told Drapeau he would need to be isolated at the jail because he is a protected witness. Drapeau said he informed the jail of that, according to court documents.

Media spar w/ Idaho over executions

BOISE - As Idaho’s news media spar with the state in federal court over limits on access to executions, the case has turned a spotlight onto Idaho’s long and consistent history of media witnesses attending its state executions to serve as the eyes and ears of the public. In fact, media witnesses have been present for all but one Idaho execution since 1901, and published detailed accounts of them.

“The body swung not to the right and left, the rope made not a single twist, but facing the sun in the eastern sky, like one standing erect, all that was mortal of Ed Rice was there before his fellows, while the tide of life fast ebbed away,” the Idaho Daily Statesman reported in 1901, recounting the first state execution held at Idaho’s state prison.

Read the rest of Betsy Z. Russell's story here.

Duncan wants to appeal death penalty

BOISE - Notorious multiple murderer Joseph Duncan was back in a Boise courtroom on Friday morning, as lawyers and a federal judge wrangled over setting a date for a new hearing into whether Duncan was mentally competent when he waived appeals of his triple death sentence for torturing and murdering a 9-year-old North Idaho boy.

Duncan, brought to Boise from federal Death Row in Terre Haute, Ind., his hair close-cropped and graying and wearing a baggy white T-shirt, left all the talking to his attorneys on Friday morning. But in December of 2010, he submitted a hand-written, two-page letter to the court saying he now wants to appeal after all.

Read the rest of Betsy Z. Russell's story here.

Duncan due in court in Boise tomorrow

Condemned child killer Joseph Duncan will be in court in Boise today - two days after the seven-year anniversary of his murderous rampage just east of Coeur d'Alene at Wolf Lodge Bay.

Duncan (pictured in April 2011) was to be transported from federal death row in Terre Haute, Ind., to Boise this week. He's to appear before U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge at the courthouse in Boise Friday morning.

The hearing is to consider a motion to appoint San Francisco attorney Michael N. Burt to represent Duncan during his competency hearing, which has not yet been scheduled. Burt specializes in mental health and competency issues, according to the motion.

Duncan represented himself during his death penalty trial in Boise in 2008, though a team of top anti-death penalty attorneys, including high-profile attorney Judy Clarke, stood by to assist. They filed this motion on his behalf.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last July that Duncan should have been given another competency test before being allowed to to act as his own attorney and waive his right to appeal. This move means he'll undergo another one. If he passes, his death penalty stands. If he doesn't, prosecutors may have to retry him. But he's passed competency tests before.

A jury sentenced Duncan to death for the kidnapping, torture and murder of 9-year-old Dylan Groene.

Duncan was sentenced to life in prison for the May 16, 2005, hammer murders of the boy's mother, Brenda Groene, her boyfriend, Mark McKenzie, and 13-year-old Slade Groene. Dylan's sister, Shasta, then 8-years-old, also was kidnapped by Duncan, but was rescued at a Coeur d'Alene Denny's on July 2, 2005, where Duncan was arrested.

By that time, Dylan already was dead. Duncan, a fugitive convicted sex offender, shot and killed him in front of Shasta at a remote Montana campground after filming himself torturing the boy.

The case shook the Inland Northwest and prompted bumper stickers that read “Kill Duncan.”

Read a blog from Duncan's death penalty trial here.

Past coverage:

July 15, 2005: Duncan a charmer, exploiter
  

Torture dungeon trucker pleads guilty

By MICHAEL GRACZYK,Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas trucker who kept a torture dungeon in the cab of his long-haul rig has avoided the death penalty by accepting life prison sentences for murdering a hitchhiking couple two decades ago.

 Robert Ben Rhoades, who already is serving a life sentence for killing a 14-year-old girl in Illinois, pleaded guilty to two counts of capital murder when he appeared before a West Texas judge this week. He has no chance of parole.

Described by authorities as a sadistic killer, Rhoades was charged with the 1990 abductions and slayings of newlyweds Douglas Scott Zyskowski, 28, and Patricia Walsh, 24. Authorities said the couple left Seattle in November 1989, and were hitchhiking to Georgia to preach the Christian gospel when they accepted a ride from Rhoades near El Paso.

Zyskowski's body was found in January 1990 along Interstate 10 east of Ozona, about 320 miles east of El Paso. He'd been shot, and his body wasn't identified until 1992. The remains of his wife were found in October 1990 by deer hunters in central Utah, but they weren't identified until 13 years later by dental records.

Police believe Rhoades held the woman captive for about a week, systematically torturing and assaulting her before shooting her several times.

Rhoades was initially charged in Utah with her death, but he was later extradited to Texas where authorities said the kidnappings took place. Prosecutors in Ozona said they would seek the death penalty, but his trial was repeatedly delayed since 2009.

Under the plea agreement accepted Monday, the life prison sentences in Texas would keep him behind bars if he somehow gets out of prison in Illinois. The 66-year-old also agreed to waive any rights to appeals and parole. It's unclear whether he'll stay in a Texas prison or be returned to Illinois.

FBI spokeswoman Shauna Dunlap in Houston said agents couldn't comment on the case because investigations involving Rhoades are continuing. District Attorney Laurie English was not available Thursday, and messages left with Rhoades' lawyers were not immediately returned.

Rhoades' Illinois conviction stems from the abduction and slaying of Regina Walters, a 14-year-old runaway from Pasadena, Texas. She disappeared in February 1990 with an 18-year-old boyfriend who told friends they planned to hitchhike to Mexico.

Her body was found months later at an abandoned farm near Greenville, Ill. Her companion has never been located.

By the time Walters' remains were found, Rhoades was in custody — after authorities discovered what was inside his truck.

A state trooper near Casa Grande, Ariz., stopped on I-10 to check on a tractor-trailer with blinking lights in April 1990. He discovered Rhoades inside the cab with a hysterical naked woman who had been chained and shackled to a wall.

She later told investigators that she'd been tortured and whipped, that Rhoades told her he was known as “Whips and Chains” and had been involved in such activity for years.

Houston police found another woman who'd managed to escape from Rhoades and told a similar story of torture. FBI agents called into the case searched his Houston apartment and found torture devices and photos of a teenage girl handcuffed and shackled and in various poses at a barn. The girl subsequently was identified as Walters, who had been strangled with bailing wire attached to a piece of lumber.

Rhoades was convicted and sentenced in Arizona on aggravated assault, sexual assault and unlawful imprisonment charges stemming from the woman being held in his truck, then was charged with the Illinois slaying. He pleaded guilty.

No death penalty for racist double killer

EVERETT, Wash. (AP) — A man pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of aggravated murder in the deaths of his father and stepmother after a prosecutor decided not to seek the death penalty.

David”Joey” Pedersen, 31, is set to be sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole, the only other possible sentence, The Daily Herald reported (http://is.gd/oCxIAI ).

Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe has not yet announced a decision on whether to seek the death penalty for Pedersen's girlfriend, Holly Grigsby, 28, who also was charged with aggravated murder in the September killings of 56-year-old David “Red” Pedersen and 69-year-old Leslie “DeeDee” Pedersen.

The prosecutor said he declined to pursue the death sentence for Joey Pederson after police turned up significant and credible evidence that his father had sexually abused his children and others decades ago. Joey Pedersen said the abuse was the reason he chose to kill his father.

Joey Pedersen and Grigsby, who have white supremacist ties, also are accused of killing 19-year-old Cody Myers in western Oregon because his name sounded Jewish, and Reginald Clark near Eureka, Calif., because he was black. Those crimes potentially could result in federal prosecution because of civil rights issues.

Red Pedersen was shot once in the back of the head while he drove the suspects to a bus station in Everett after a visit. His son was accused of firing the fatal shot. Investigators believe the suspects then returned to the couple's home to kill DeeDee Pedersen.

Investigators found her bound with duct tape with her throat slashed. The evidence suggests Grigsby wielded the knives, court papers said.

DeeDee Pedersen was not married to Red Pederson (pictured right) at the time of the alleged child abuse and was in no position to prevent or even know about it, Roe said.

Family members of the victims did not agree with the prosecutor's decision against seeking the death penalty, even though Roe said it would have been appropriate.

“They were disappointed, but I believe understand my decision and my reasons for it,” Roe said in a statement.

Joey Pedersen was an aspiring mixed martial arts fighter. He grew up in Salem, Ore, and spent more than half of his life in prison, including an 11-year stint for threatening to murder a federal judge in Idaho. He was released in May.

After the homicides, investigators said he and Grigsby drove to Oregon in Red Pedersen's Jeep and ditched the vehicle with the slain man still inside off a logging road. Authorities believe they crossed paths with Cody Myers, who had left home to attend a jazz festival near the Oregon coast. Myers, a devout Christian, turned up dead from multiple gunshot wounds.

Investigators believe the couple continued to Eureka, where Clark, a disabled black man, was killed.

The suspects were arrested Oct. 5 north of Sacramento.

ast coverage:

Feb. 12: Murder spree suspeect wants Coco Puffs

Oct. 10: 4th victim identified in alleged murder spree

Oct. 6: Racist in murder spree threatened to kill Idaho judge

Oct. 5: Couple in NW. manhunt arrested in Calif.

Oct. 5: Body found in manhunt may be that of teen

Texas ends special meals in executions

By MICHAEL GRACZYK,Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) — Texas inmates who are set to be executed will no longer get their choice of last meals, a change prison officials made Thursday after a prominent state senator became miffed over an expansive request from a man condemned for a notorious dragging death.

Lawrence Russell Brewer, who was executed Wednesday for the hate crime slaying of James Byrd Jr. more than a decade ago, asked for two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound of barbecue, three fajitas, a meat lover's pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts.

Prison officials said Brewer (pictured) didn't eat any of it.

“It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege,” Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, wrote in a letter Thursday to Brad Livingston, the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Within hours, Livingston said the senator's concerns were valid and the practice of allowing death row offenders to choose their final meal was history.

“Effective immediately, no such accommodations will be made,” Livingston said. “They will receive the same meal served to other offenders on the unit.”

That had been the suggestion from Whitmire, who called the traditional request “ridiculous.”

“It's long overdue,” the Houston Democrat told The Associated Press. “This old boy last night, enough is enough. We're fixing to execute the guy and maybe it makes the system feel good about what they're fixing to do. Kind of hypocritical, you reckon?

“Mr. Byrd didn't get to choose his last meal. The whole deal is so illogical.”

Brewer, a white supremacist gang member, was convicted of chaining Byrd, 49, to the back of a pickup truck and dragging him to his death along a bumpy road in a case shocked the nation for its brutality.

Whitmire warned in his letter that if the “last meal of choice” practice wasn't stopped immediately, he'd seek a state statute to end it when lawmakers convene in the next legislative session.

It was not immediately clear whether other states have made similar moves. Some limit the final meal cost — Florida's ceiling is $40, according to the Department of Corrections website, with food to be purchased locally. Others, like Texas, which never had a designated dollar limit, mandate meals be prison-made. Some states don't acknowledge final meals, and others will disclose the information only if the inmate agrees, said K. William Hayes, a Florida-based death penalty historian.

Some states require the meal within a specific time period, allow multiple “final” meals, restrict it to one or impose “a vast number of conditions,” he said.

Historical references to a condemned person's last meal go as far back as ancient Greece, China and Rome, Hayes said. Some of it is apparently rooted in superstition about meals warding off possible haunting by condemned people once they are put to death.

The Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based anti-capital punishment organization that collects execution statistics, said it had no data on final meals.

Since Texas resumed carrying out executions in 1982, the state correction agency's practice has been to fill a condemned inmate's request as long as the items, or food similar to what was requested, were readily available from the prison kitchen supplies.

While extensive, Brewer's request was far from the largest or most bizarre among the 475 Texas inmates put to death.

On Tuesday, prisoner Cleve Foster's request included two fried chickens, French fries and a five-gallon bucket of peaches. He received a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court but none of his requested meal. He was on his way back to death row, at a prison about 45 miles east of Huntsville, at the time when his feast would have been served.

Last week, inmate Steven Woods' request included two pounds of bacon, a large four-meat pizza, four fried chicken breasts, two drinks each of Mountain Dew, Pepsi, root beer and sweet tea, two pints of ice cream, five chicken fried steaks, two hamburgers with bacon, fries and a dozen garlic bread sticks with marinara on the side. Two hours later, he was executed.

Years ago, a Texas inmate even requested dirt for his final meal.

Until 2003, the Texas prison system listed final meals of each prisoner as part of its death row website. That stopped at 313 final meals after officials said they received complaints from people who found it offensive.

A former inmate cook who made the last meals for prisoners at the Huntsville Unit, where Texas executions are carried out, wrote a cookbook several years ago after he was released. Among his recipes were Gallows Gravy, Rice Rigor Mortis and Old Sparky's Genuine Convict Chili, a nod to the electric chair that once served as the execution method. The book was called “Meals to Die For.”

High court asked to halt Texas execution

By MICHAEL GRACZYK,Associated Press
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Attorneys for a black man set to die Thursday evening for a double slaying in Houston 16 years ago appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and Texas Gov. Rick Perry to block the execution because a question about race was asked during the punishment phase of his capital murder trial.

 Duane Buck, 48, (pictured right) faces lethal injection for fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend and a man in her apartment. In an appeal to the Supreme Court on Thursday and a letter to Perry, Buck's lawyers said a psychologist testified that black people were more likely to commit violence.

 “The State of Texas should not condone any form of racial discrimination in the courtroom,” attorney Katherine Black wrote Perry, urging the governor to use his authority to issue a one-time 30-day reprieve for Buck. “The use of race in sentencing poisons the legal process, undermines the reliability and fairness of the sentence, and breeds cynicism in the community toward the very institution entrusted with protecting the rights of all persons equally.”

Buck's case is one of six convictions that then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn — a political ally of Perry who is now a Republican U.S. senator — reviewed in 2000 and said needed to be reopened because of the racial reference.

In the other five cases, new punishment hearings were held and each convict again was sentenced to die. State attorneys contend Buck's case was different from the others and that the racial reference was a small part of larger testimony about prison populations.

Perry (pictured left) is a capital punishment supporter and as frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination his actions now are coming under closer scrutiny. During his 11 years in office, 235 convicted killers in Texas have been put to death. His office said he has chosen to halt just four executions, including one for a woman who later was executed.

Buck, 48, was convicted of gunning down ex-girlfriend Debra Gardner, 32, and Kenneth Butler, 33, outside Houston on July, 30, 1995, a week after Buck and Gardner broke up. Buck's guilt is not being questioned, but his lawyers say the jury was unfairly influenced and that he should receive a new sentencing hearing.

A third person, Buck's stepsister, Phyllis Taylor, also was wounded, though she has since forgiven Buck and sought for his death sentence to be commuted to life in prison.

Gardner's 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son were among those who witnessed the shootings. Officers testified that Buck was laughing during and after his arrest, saying Gardner deserved what she got.

The psychologist, Walter Quijano, was a defense witness and the testimony at issue came in response to a question from a prosecutor. Jurors in Texas must decide on the future danger of an offender when they are considering a death sentence.

Buck's attorneys went to the Supreme Court after losing appeals in lower courts. A clemency request to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, all of whom are Perry appointees, also failed.

Assistant Attorney General Edward Marshall told the Supreme Court Buck's appeals were attempts to relitigate claims that every court, including the Supreme Court, already rejected.

“The record in Buck's case reveals that no constitutional violation occurred during his sentencing trial,” he told the justices.

If courts continue to reject Buck's appeals, only Perry could delay the lethal injection by invoking his authority to issue a one-time 30-day reprieve for further review.

Perry was not in the state Thursday, meaning any final order to delay would technically come from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. However, Perry's office frequently points out that he remains the governor and in contact with Austin while traveling.

Mike Walz, communications director for Dewhurst, said Thursday he would not comment “while any legal actions are still pending.” Perry generally has adhered to the same policy.

The lead prosecutor who tried the case, Joan Huffman, now a Republican state senator, said this week she had no concern about asking Quijano the question about race. She noted her question came in reference to a report he prepared for the defense and the issue was raised just once.

The execution would be the second this week and the 11th this year in Texas. Two more Texas prisoners are set to die next week.

‘West Memphis Three’ free in murder case

Damien Echols, left, Jessie Misskelley, Jr., center, and Jason Baldwin sit at a table before a news conference at the Craighead County Court House in Jonesboro, Ark., Friday after the three were released after pleading guilty to the 1993 deaths of three West Memphis, Ark., children. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

By JEANNIE NUSS,Associated Press
JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) — Three men convicted in the nightmarish slayings of three Cub Scouts went free Friday, nearly two decades after they were sent to prison in a case so gruesome it raised suspicions the children had been sacrificed in a Satanic ritual.

Doubts about the evidence against the trio had persisted for years and threatened to force prosecutors to put on a second trial in 2012.

Instead, the so-called West Memphis Three were permitted to plead guilty to murder in exchange for time served, ending a long-running legal battle that had raised questions about DNA and key witnesses — and attracted support from celebrities such as Eddie Vedder.

The men entered the pleas under a legal provision that allowed them to maintain their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict them.

“Although I am innocent, this plea is in my best interest,” Jessie Misskelley said.

Damien Echols had been on Arkansas' death row and in 1994 came within three weeks of execution. He remained defiant Friday, accusing prosecutors of using innuendo and faulty evidence to convict them.

In the event of a new trial, “they knew there would be more people watching, more attention on the case, so they wouldn't be able to pull the same tricks,” Echols said.

Read the rest of the story by clicking the link below.

Doctor accused of killing partner, son

By GENE JOHNSON,Associated Press
SEATTLE (AP) — A doctor who failed to show up for his new job at a Seattle hospital was charged Tuesday with killing his partner and their young son, days after a hospital manager who went to his apartment to check on him discovered the grisly scene.

Louis C. Chen, 39, faces two counts of aggravated first-degree murder in the deaths of Eric A. Cooper, 29, and Cooper Chen, 2, last Thursday. He remains hospitalized with undisclosed injuries, and it was unclear if he had an attorney.

The endocrinologist recently moved to Seattle from Durham, N.C., where he had completed a fellowship at Duke University. On Thursday, he was to begin work at Seattle's Virginia Mason Medical Center by meeting with a manager there for orientation, a detective wrote in a probable cause statement.

Chen didn't show up for his 7:50 a.m. Thursday meeting, and when the manager, Madonna Carlson, received a worried call from Chen's sister an hour later, she went to Chen's high-rise apartment to check on him. The building's property manager accompanied her.

Carlson heard some rustling noises and knocked several times, and finally Chen opened the door — nude, covered in dried blood, with his right eye swollen shut. He held a box in front of himself, and inside Carlson could see a man's body on the floor in boxer shorts.

Cooper, Chen's longtime partner, had been stabbed well more than 100 times, including wounds to his face, back, neck chest and hands, authorities said.

Police arrived to find Chen slumped down by the front door. In the bathroom tub off the master bedroom, they saw the couple's son, Cooper Chen, obviously dead.

The officers were about to leave the apartment when they noticed Dr. Chen moving his head and eyes. One nudged him and asked Chen for his name, according to the charging papers, and the following conversation ensued:

“Who did this?” the officer asked.

“What?” Chen answered.

“Stabbed you and him.”

Chen looked at the officer. “I did,” he said.

Friends told police they had not heard from Chen since Aug. 8, and a review of the electronic keys assigned to the apartment revealed that they had not been used since that afternoon.

Five large kitchen knives that might have been used in the attack were found in the apartment — including three on the bed in the master bedroom that were stained with blood, the charging papers said.

Aggravated murder is punishable only by life in prison without release or execution. Chen's arraignment is set for Aug. 29. The prosecutor will then decide whether to seek the death penalty.

Duncan’s death penalty NOT overturned

BOISE – The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ordered convicted child-killer Joseph Duncan back into court in Idaho, saying a federal judge should have ordered a competency hearing before allowing Duncan to waive his appeal of his death sentence.

The high court ordered U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge to hold a “retrospective” competency hearing, exploring whether Duncan was competent in November 2008 when he told Lodge he didn’t want to appeal his triple death sentence for the kidnapping, torture and murder of a North Idaho boy. If he’s found competent after the hearing, the death sentence would go forward.

Read the rest of Betsy Z. Russell's story here.

Man executed despite White House pleas

By MICHAEL GRACZYK,Associated Press
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Texas executed a Mexican citizen Thursday for the rape-slaying of a teenager after he and the White House pleaded in vain for a Supreme Court stay, saying he was denied help from his home country that could have helped him avoid the death penalty.

 In his last minutes, Humberto Leal (pictured) repeatedly said he was sorry and accepted responsibility.

“I have hurt a lot of people. … I take full blame for everything. I am sorry for what I did,” he said in the death chamber.

“One more thing,” he said as the drugs began taking effect. Then he shouted twice, “Viva Mexico!”

“Ready warden,” he said. “Let's get this show on the road.”

He grunted, snored several times and appeared to go to sleep, then stopped all breathing movement. The 38-year-old mechanic was pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m., 10 minutes after the lethal drugs began flowing into his arms.

After his execution, relatives of Leal who had gathered in Guadalupe, Mexico, burned a T-shirt with an image of the American flag in protest. Leal's uncle Alberto Leal criticized the U.S. justice system and the Mexican government and said, “There is a God who makes us all pay.”

Leal was sentenced to death for the 1994 murder of 16-year-old Adria Sauceda, whose brutalized nude body was found hours after he left a San Antonio street party with her. She was bludgeoned with a 30- to 40-pound chunk of asphalt.

Leal was just a toddler when he and his family moved to the U.S. from Monterrey, Mexico, but his citizenship became a key element of his attorneys' efforts to win a stay. They said police never told him following his arrest that he could seek legal assistance from the Mexican government under an international treaty.

Read the rest of the AP story by clicking the link below.

Man flips off Casey Anthony prosecutor

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Courtroom cameras captured a 28-year-old waiter extending his middle finger toward a prosecutor during the Casey Anthony murder trial, and the man was promptly sentenced to six days in jail.

Matthew Bartlett also was ordered to pay a $400 fine after he was photographed making the obscene gesture toward prosecutor Jeff Ashton on Thursday.

Bartlett, who had been watching the trial from the courtroom gallery, was immediately escorted out by deputies and was brought back inside to face Judge Belvin Perry once the jury was sent home for the day. He was assigned a public defender.

Bartlett apologized for his actions during a brief hearing and was then sentenced by Perry. He was taken to jail by deputies.

Perry says Bartlett will have six months to pay his fine.

The defense rested Thrusday in Anthony's first-degree murder trial. She faces a possible death penalty if convicted. Read a full story on the case by clicking the link below.

Mobster ‘Gorgeous’ avoids death penalty

By TOM HAYS, ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK (AP) — A combative, fashion-conscious mobster already serving a life prison term dodged a death sentence on Wednesday for ordering a gangland hit while taking control of a once-fearsome crime family.

An anonymous jury deliberated less than two hours before rejecting the government's longshot bid to have Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano (pictured) put to death and giving him another life sentence at the penalty phase of his trial in federal court in Brooklyn.

The jury had previously found the former acting boss of the Bonanno crime family guilty last month of murder, racketeering, conspiracy and other charges. Prosecutors said he had orchestrated the killing of mob associate Randolph Pizzolo.

Basciano, 51, cracked a slight smile and nodded at the jurors as they exited the courtroom.

Moments later, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis told defense lawyers they could meet privately with the jury and Basciano eagerly asked if he could tag along. The judge's blunt response: “There's not a chance in the world of that.”

Prosecutors used the unprecedented testimony of former Bonanno boss Joseph Massino to try to portray Basciano as a stone-cold killer who deserved death. Massino — the highest-ranking member of the city's five long-standing Mafia families to ever take the witness stand for the government — recounted a conversation about the possibility of knocking off an assistant U.S. attorney while the prosecutor dined at his favorite Manhattan eatery to avenge an onslaught of criminal cases brought against the family leadership.

“Let me kill this guy when he comes out of the restaurant,” Basciano said, according to Massino, who by mob rules had to sign off on the killing.

The prosecutor, Greg Andres, had “pretty much destroyed the Bonanno family,” Massino testified.

The government also sought to convince jurors that life behind bars wouldn't prevent Basciano from trying to use visitors to sneak orders to his underworld crew — a tactic he'd used in the past.

“Even with a life sentence, he will not be stopped,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Argentieri said in closing arguments. “His mind will always be in the street. … The defendant has earned the ultimate punishment.”

Defense attorney Richard Jasper argued the former owner of the Hello Gorgeous hair salon would pose no threat if imprisoned with other notorious gangsters and terrorists in the fortress-like lockup in Florence, Colo., “the biggest, baddest house in the federal system,” where “everybody is in lockdown.”

He urged jurors to follow their consciences and “suspend the work of death until Vincent Basciano dies in a federal prison by himself — in God's time, not man's.”

The jury indicated on their verdict sheet that it didn't buy prosecutors' argument that Basciano posed a future threat. Ten of the 12 jurors wrote their decision also was based on the fact that other mobsters who “have admitted to an equal or greater number of serious crimes … are not facing the death penalty.”

Throughout the capital case, Basciano was a colorful presence in the courtroom. He had won Garaufis' approval to wear a wardrobe of five different suits — one for each day of the week — and always kept his full head of gray hair carefully coiffed.

He also gave regular pointers to his lawyers and even sparred with the judge at length over whether he could introduce new evidence while testifying on his own behalf.

“I can't properly defend myself,” he complained in one rant before deciding not to take the stand.

Last year, the judge asked the Department of Justice to reconsider bringing a death penalty case — which at the time had already cost taxpayers more than $3 million — against a defendant who was already serving life without parole for a 2007 conviction. The U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn also was defying modern history: There's been only one federal defendant — convicted police killer Ronell Wilson — sentenced to death in the city since 1954, and that decision was overturned on appeal.

But prosecutors decided to press ahead anyway and showcase the straight-talking Massino at the guilt and penalty phases of the trial.

Massino, 68, broke his family's sacred vow of silence and began talking with investigators after his 2004 conviction for orchestrating a quarter-century's worth of murder, racketeering and other crimes as he rose through the ranks of the Bonannos. The bloodshed included the shotgun slayings of three rival captains and the execution of a mobster who vouched for FBI undercover agent Donnie Brasco in the 1980s. Brasco's story became a movie starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino.

While imprisoned together in 2005, the former Bonanno boss agreed to wear a wire and betray Basciano by recording their jailhouse banter.

Jurors heard one recording of Basciano boasting, “I'm a hoodlum. I'm a tough guy. Whatever happens happens. Let's go.” In another, a wistful Massino mused about the demise of the family.

“We was OK until I got pinched,” he said. “We was on top of the world.”

Jury seated in Casey Anthony trial in Fla.

As expected, the Casey Anthony child-murder trial in Florida is a complete circus.

The defense recently added a mitigation expert who left her high-society, powerhouse lawyer husband for a serial killer on death row, and jury selection is taking longer than most trials in Spokane County Superior Court do.

TV pundit Nancy Grace, who has covered the case since the beginning and has apparently been in the courtroom, refers to Anthony only as “Tot Mom.” The Orlando Sentinel has the best coverage, including a live video feed from the courtroom.

Jury selection continued Friday with a self-described mentally ill woman interrupting the proceeding to scream “She killed somebody, anyway.” Seriously. She was ordered to serve two days in jail.

Here's the story by Associated Press writer Kyle Hightower:

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — Nine women and eight men were sworn in as jurors Friday for the murder trial of a Florida mother accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter.

The swearing in concluded an exhaustive selection process that lasted nearly two weeks and was hampered by several delays, including an outburst in the courtroom Friday.

Casey Anthony, 25, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of her daughter Caylee. Anthony has pleaded not guilty and has said a baby sitter kidnapped the child.

The girl's decomposed body was found with duct tape over the mouth of her skull in December 2008, not far from where she had lived with her mother.

If convicted, Casey Anthony could face the death penalty. 

Jury selection was held in the Tampa Bay area because of intense pretrial publicity.

More than 200 potential jurors were questioned, many of them excused.

A juror purposely talked to a reporter in order to be dismissed, an entire panel of 50 prospects was tainted by a potential witness and Anthony's lead defense attorney missed a day for personal reasons.

The oddest distraction may have when a woman sitting the courtroom yelled: “She killed somebody, anyway” in the direction of Anthony while the judge was questioning a prospective juror.

The woman, Elizabeth Rodgers, was quickly escorted out by deputies and Judge Belvin Perry sent the potential juror to a holding room.

Rodgers, 29, was crying and hyperventilating when she was brought before the judge a few minutes later.

With tears and mascara rolling off her cheeks, she attributed her actions to being bipolar and said she was on medication.

“I never meant to hurt nobody,” she said. “… Please don't punish me … I may have made a mistake, but I'm not a bad person.”

Perry held her in contempt of court and sentenced her to two days in jail.

The potential juror was excused, and a visibly upset Perry slammed his hand down in frustration.

The trial is set to begin Tuesday.

Duncan returns to federal death row

A man who tortured and killed two boys in California and Idaho has been returned to death row in federal prison.

Federal prison officials say 48-year-old Joseph Edward Duncan III — who spent more than two years in a Riverside County jail — arrived at a federal prison in Indiana Wednesday.

Duncan was sentenced Tuesday for killing Anthony Martinez, who was kidnapped in 1997 as he played near his Beaumont home. Duncan confessed to the crime after his arrest in Idaho.

He was convicted of kidnapping, raping, torturing and killing a Coeur d'Alene boy, Dylan Groene, in 2005 and beating to death the boy's older brother, mother and her fiance with a hammer.

He will await execution in Terre Haute, where the nation's federal death row inmates are held.

Read past coverage here.

No death penalty in triple murder case

CHEHALIS, Wash. (AP) — The Lewis County, Wash., prosecutor won't be seeking the death penalty in the case of a man accused of killing three people last August in the town of Salkum.

KOMO-TV reports that Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer has filed court papers indicating he won't seek capital punishment. John Allen Booth Jr., who was arrested in Spokane, is charged with aggravated first-degree murder.

Life in prison without parole is the only other punishment in Washington for conviction on that charge. Authorities have said they believe the shooter in the Aug. 21 triple killing may have been trying to collect on a drug debt.

Booth was arrested three days later in Spokane at 1911 W. Gordon St.

Killed were 52-year-old David J. West Sr. and his 16-year-old son, David Jr., along with 50-year-old Tony E. Williams, of Mineral. A woman was injured.

Death penalty sought in guard’s slaying

EVERETT, Wash. (AP) — Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe says he'll seek the death penalty if Byron Scherf is convicted of aggravated murder in the death of Monroe prison Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl.

In announcing his decision Tuesday in Everett, Roe said jurors “should have the opportunity of imposing the ultimate punishment if they see fit.”

Biendl was strangled Jan. 29 in the prison chapel.

The 52-year-old Scherf is already serving a life sentence as a three-strikes convicted rapist. His final conviction occured in Spokane County after he kidnapped and raped a real estate agent.

Roe said he met Monday night with Biendl's family and it believes the death penalty should be sought. Roe also said he met with senior prosecutors and considered mitigating information about Scherf.

A jury also will be asked to consider mitigating information in a death penalty decision if Scherf is found guilty.

Past coverage:

Feb. 11: Officer's alleged killer asked for prayers

Ariz. suspect could get Duncan’s lawyer

A well-known anti-death penalty lawyer tapped to represent alleged Tucson, Ariz., shooter Jared Loughner led child-killer Joseph Duncan's defense team during his 2008 trial in Boise.

Judy Clarke, formerly federal defender for Eastern Washington and Idaho, has also defended Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, child-killer Susan Smith and domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Eric Robert Rudolph.

Clarke (pictured in 2007) was present during Duncan's death penalty trial in Boise, where he represented himself as his team of court-appointed lawyers stood by. They had earlier tried to leave Duncan's case, saying their participation would violate their professional ethics.

“We are not gunslingers who do the bidding of someone who does not have a rational understanding,” Clarke told U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge.

Lodge declined Clarke's request.

Clarke currently is a lawyer in San Diego, where she has also been a federal defender.

She was called on over the weekend to defend Loughner, who is accused of shooting U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords during an event in Tucson on Saturday. He's also accused of killing six others, including U.S. District Judge John Roll.

Clarke worked in Eastern Washington and Idaho from 1992 to June 2002. Her husband, Speedy Rice, was an instructor at Gonzaga Law School. She has twice argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and named one of her dogs in honor of former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas.

Read an in-depth profile on Clarke from 1996 here.

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