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DNA in death row case to get new analysis

The long court fight over DNA testing for death row inmate Hank Skinner grew lengthier Wednesday when the state's highest criminal court ordered that a new analysis be performed on DNA tests that might have produced questionable results.

The Court of Criminal Appeals ruling was the latest response to a notice, sent last year by the FBI, alerting members of the criminal justice system about potential mistakes in the way DNA matches were calculated in samples that included DNA from multiple people.

The process, known as "DNA mixture interpretation," produced results that could overstate the reliability of a match, which is typically presented as accurate to within a minuscule fraction of a percent, the FBI warned last May.

Skinner, sentenced to death for the 1993 murder of girlfriend Twila Busby and her two adult sons in the Panhandle city of Pampa, had long pressed for DNA testing that wasn't available during his 1995 trial, saying the results would bolster claims that he was too incapacitated by alcohol and codeine to have beaten Busby and stabbed her sons to death.

However, tests of blood found on a knife recovered from the scene showed Skinner's DNA mixed with that of Busby's sons -- Elwin Caler, 22, and Randy Busby, 20. Along with other DNA tests, the findings prompted state District Judge Steven Emmert to rule that the new results wouldn't have been enough to change jurors' minds about Skinner's guilt.
+DNA in death row case to get new analysis photo
Rob Owen, a law professor at Northwestern University, is Hank Skinner's appellate lawyer.

Skinner's lawyers challenged the judge's interpretation of the DNA results, telling the Court of Criminal Appeals in a November 2014 filing that the findings undermined key aspects of the prosecution's theory of the murders.

But while the court was weighing Skinner's latest appeal, the FBI issued its memo on DNA mixtures, prompting the Texas Forensic Science Commission to advise prosecutors and defense lawyers to have such DNA results reassessed so a new match probability could be calculated.

The Texas Department of Public Safety crime lab announced last year that it had stopped using DNA mixture standards that had been in place since 1999. The DPS also agreed to issue new findings in Skinner's test results but first needed to rewrite laboratory procedures and acquire specialized software, according to court records.
+DNA in death row case to get new analysis photo
Hank Skinner was sentenced to death in three 1993 murders in Pampa.

The new lab procedures will begin March 18, the DPS said Wednesday.

In its 8-1 ruling Wednesday, the Court of Criminal Appeals returned Skinner's appeal to the trial court to "ensure that the recalculation is performed in a timely manner" and ordered the judge to submit new conclusions, if warranted, about the meaning of the test results.

The appeals court also said it wanted the matter resolved within 90 days, but it indicated that the deadline could be extended.

"They're willing to let DPS take the time they need to accommodate us with the other cases they're obviously going to be looking at as well," said Rob Owen, Skinner's lawyer and a law professor at Northwestern University in Illinois.
Texas inmate who killed 5 in 1997 rampage blames slain ex-wife for Wednesday death sentence

From The Associated Press

LIVINGSTON -- Texas prisoner Coy Wesbrook is realistic about the likelihood that he'll be executed Wednesday for a Houston-area shooting rampage more than 18 years ago that left five people dead.

"I'm very optimistic they're going to kill me," Wesbrook said from a visiting cage outside death row. "Yeah, there ain't no doubt."

That's set to happen Wednesday evening in Huntsville, when Wesbrook, 58, is scheduled for lethal injection for the 1997 shooting rampage during a party at his ex-wife's apartment in Channelview, just east of Houston.

"The main thing in my case is five victims, five shots, five bodies, and everybody died," he said. "There was nobody left alive and that pretty much cinched it, you could say."

Among the five victims was Wesbrook's ex-wife, Gloria Jean Coons, 32. Others killed were Coons' roommate, Diana Ruth Money, 43, and three men: Antonio Cruz, 35; Anthony Ray Rogers, 41; and Kelly Hazlip, 28.
In this May 27, 2008 file photo, the gurney in Huntsville, Texas, where Texas' condemned are strapped down to receive a lethal dose of drugs. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)

"You hear all your life if you catch your old lady in bed with somebody, don't just shoot her but shoot her lover too," Coy Wesbrook told "60 Minutes" on Sunday. "In her case, there was a bunch of lovers. I just took care of my business."

Wesbrook would be the eighth convicted killer put to death this year nationally and the fourth in Texas, which carries out capital punishment more than any other state. Two Georgia inmates have been executed so far in 2016, along with one each in Alabama and Florida.

Wesbrook's attorney, Don Vernay, said appeals have been exhausted and that no last-ditch efforts to save him are expected.

Rejected appeals focused on claims that Wesbrook had deficient legal help at his trial and that an undercover informant was used improperly to obtain incriminating information for his trial. More recently, courts refused arguments that Wesbrook was mentally impaired and ineligible for the death penalty under U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

The former security guard and delivery driver married Coons in 1995. They divorced the following year but continued seeing each other and began living together until he moved out in August 1997. They had lunch on Nov. 12, 1997, and talked about reconciling. When he showed up that night at her apartment, he found a party in progress.

He testified at his 1998 capital murder trial that Coons humiliated him by having sex with two men while he was there.

"You hear all your life if you catch your old lady in bed with somebody, don't just shoot her but shoot her lover too," Wesbrook said from prison. "In her case, there was a bunch of lovers. I just took care of my business.

"I made her a promise," he said. "If you keep on pushing me, I might push back."

In an interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday, Wesbrook said he blamed his slain ex-wife for him being on death row. He told interviewer Bill Whitaker that he's a victim like everyone else involved. His portion of the interview begins around the 5:25 time mark.

"It sounds like you don't quite get the gravity of your crime, when you call yourself a victim as well," Whitaker said. "You're still here. They are not."

Wesbrook responded that he won't be here much longer.

"I'll tell you what. If you got a pill I'll take it right here in front of ya, and we'll get it over with right now," Wesbrook said.

He went on to say that he didn't think Texas should have a death penalty.

Wesbrook testified that when he tried to leave the party, Cruz grabbed the keys to his truck and joined others in taunting him. He said he "lost it," walked out, grabbed a 30.06 rifle he kept in the truck and returned, shooting each person once. Coons was the final victim.

Court records show the five shots were fired within 40 seconds. Wesbrook testified that he shot Money after she threw a can of beer at him, Rogers and Cruz as they rushed toward him, then Coons and Hazlip as they were engaged in sex.

Neighbors who heard the gunfire and called police saw Wesbrook emerge from the apartment, place the rifle in his truck and then stand calmly by the tailgate to wait for sheriff's deputies to arrive.

"I'm sorry it happened," he said from prison. "But I'm not going to sit here and boo-hoo about it."

Two more Texas inmates are set to die later this month, followed by another in April.
Chat Notices / Re: Kelly Gissendaner...I am in
September 29, 2015, 11:36:07 PM
Me too...
Yeah, he's not having a whole lot of fun being locked in the little metal box. Frequently the little angel does something to piss off the staff and they <ahem> correct the behavior. Here's an excerpt from, far and away, my favorite attitude adjustment session as described by Hank:

This is from Hank's "Hell Hole News" #34:


TX: Hank Skinner - New Hell Hole News - #34
Mon Jan 23, 2012 15:18

New Hell Hole News - #34
January 10, 2012

Step 1 Grievance filed 12-27-11
Informal resolution

Who did you talk to: Capt. Patrick Dickens.
What was his response? "This is out of my hands. It's the major's call."
State your grievance:
Retaliation by Virgil McMullen, Major. Since 10-17-11 I've filed numerous complaints (on McMullen's illegal
actions, conditions & policy). Answering none, McMullen siccs the skakedown team on me who tell me that
McMullen has a hard on for me and has vowed revenge. On 12-13-11 I filed complaints via letter on McMullen.
On 12-14-11 Prisoners Cobb 467 and Wilkens 533 assaulted staff. McMullen falsely accused me of a vague
"conspiracy" involvement using an inappropriate I-203 process, punishing me with no due process by total
deprivation of all property, leaving me naked for eight days in a feces-contaminated cell despite the fact that both
Cobb and Wilkens loudly proclaimed to the major on the run that I had NO involvement in their actions whatsoever.
Held incommunicado and denied any measure of life's basic necessities my general and legal mail was interdicted
and confiscated after opening and has not been returned to me along with my legal material. (Dictionary and
encyclopedia), fan and Vatican rosary. I was subjected to sleep deprivation by incessant cell "searches" every two
(2) hours, gas purge fans sucking freezing cold air into my cell intermittently, 30 minute interval door beating
"verbal response" checks and lights locked on 24/7. Subjected to these actions and conditions intended as torture I
was left naked in a freezing cold cell without even a roll of toilet paper or a bar of soap. When defecating I was
forced to clean my anus with my hands and water, then use my hands to eat food loaf, on which I was improperly
placed for an imagined offense. Pulled out of my cell naked and paraded naked every two (2) hours before
(sometimes female) officers, during strip searches ordered to put my hands/fingers in my mouth and pull out my

The back wall of my cell is an outside wall and is freezing, my steel bunk anchored to it. Unable, with no mattress or with no mattress or
bedding, to lie down and sleep on the freezing steel bunk, with temperatures in the 30's I was forced to constantly
walk back and forth in the cell to try to maintain my body warmth until after six (6) days I collapsed from
exhaustion. When officers could not rouse me from my fugue-like stupor they threatened to gas me and turned on
the gas purge fans intermittently all night to "freeze that bitch out and wake him up!"


Placed handcuffed (behind my back) in the shower stall and told "this is a use-of-force shower" by Sgt. Mooring.
I was soaked naked with cold water, denied a towel and placed wet and freezing back in my cell. The gas purge fans were
turned on to "blow dry" me when the outside temperature was in the 30's. While Mooring laughed and said "now
that's what I call efficiency!"

No, now that's what I call an attitude adjustment! So I guess Hank isn't having as much fun as he'd like to be having. Doesn't sound like he's too popular with the staff.
So his attorneys announced they would be appealing to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The situation obviously opens up new avenues for delays but it will likely go the way his previous appeals went: nowhere. So my guess is he has another 2-4 years. He's in pretty bad health so it looks like one way or another he's going to live out the rest of his life in a little metal box. I have no problem with this.
All the while Skinner has had to hear about this second hand while sitting in a tiny metal box; his every move controlled by someone else.
At first glance, I thought "they're executing Martin Mull!"
Shouldn't steal cars, now should he?
Michelle Byrom / Re: Michelle Byrom - MS - New Trial
March 31, 2014, 08:54:09 PM
Mississippi death row inmate Michelle Byrom to get new trial

(CNN) -- A new trial has been ordered for Mississippi death row inmate Michelle Byrom, according to a state Supreme Court opinion issued Monday.

Byrom's capital murder conviction was reversed, and the case has been remanded to the circuit court for a new trial, the opinion said.

"We are very grateful that the Mississippi Supreme Court has granted Michelle Byrom's request for relief from her death sentence," said Byrom's attorney, David Calder. "This was a team effort on the part of the attorneys currently representing Michelle, and we believe that the court reached a just and fair result under the facts presented in this case."

Byrom has been on death row since her 2000 conviction for capital murder. The 57-year-old woman was convicted of being the mastermind of a murder-for-hire plot to kill her allegedly abusive husband, a killing her son had admitted to committing in several jailhouse letters and, according to court documents, in an interview with a court-appointed psychologist.

He recanted when he was put on the stand, according to court records.

The Supreme Court opinion noted that the decision "is extraordinary and extremely rare in the context of a petition for leave to pursue post-conviction relief."

The court further instructed that a different judge should be assigned to Byrom's new trial.

Circuit Judge Thomas J. Gardner, who imposed the death sentence on Byrom after her conviction, declined to comment to CNN, saying, "The matter is ongoing."

Attorney General Jim Hood had requested that the 57-year-old death row inmate be executed "on or before (the date of) March 27," but the Mississippi Supreme Court, which has the final say on execution dates, denied Hood's request.

During Michelle Byrom's original trial, prosecutors said she plotted to kill her husband, who was fatally shot in his home in Iuka, Mississippi, in 1999 while Michelle was in the hospital receiving treatment for double pneumonia. A jury convicted her based on evidence and testimony alleging that she was the mastermind of the plot.

Byrom Jr. admitted in jailhouse letters that he had committed the crime on his own after growing tired of his father's physical and verbal abuse, and a court-appointed psychologist has said that Byrom Jr. told him a similar story.

On the stand, Byrom Jr. pinned the slaying on one of his friends, whom he said his mother had hired for $15,000.

Following her attorney's advice, Michelle Byrom waived her right to a jury sentencing, allowing the judge to decide her fate. He sentenced her to death.

Prior to Monday's ruling, Michelle Byrom's defense attorneys had filed a motion asking the court for additional discovery so the alleged confession to the court-appointed psychologist could be fully explored.

The defense attorneys also want to depose the prosecutor from her trial, Arch Bullard, regarding his knowledge of Byrom Jr.'s alleged confession to the psychologist.

Bullard has told CNN that he firmly believes Michelle Byrom was the mastermind of the murder-for-hire plot.
Oh and, by the way, if you are innocent of a crime then DON'T CONFESS TO IT!
The bottom line takeaway is that she's guilty of the crime for which she was convicted.  Just because the son opted for a plea deal doesn't affect her guilt or innocence.  Nothing has changed.  There are no surprises and no new last minute evidence.  The facts are pretty much the same as they've always been.  It's just that CNN is spinning them differently--as they usually do.
I stumbled by Hank's website (no, the one run by Wifeaux) and he posted a new copy of "Hank Hole News" back in September.  Seems Hank had a few medical problems...

New Hell Hole News
September 3rd, 2013

To all my friends and pen pals,

On 7/31, I collapsed in the floor in pain so bad I passed out from it after it blinded me. I had no fever, B.P.
normal. The "nurse" said nothing was wrong with me, that I was faking. I refused to go back to my cell and got
rank, took me to Huntsville Memorial Hospital E.R., cat scan. The result: acute pancreatitis, bad case. Pumped
me full of morphine and raced me to John Sealy Hospital in Galveston at 100 mph.

I stayed in hospital for three weeks, almost died twice. Came back to the unit 08.23 and was denied all meds,
relapsed, almost died again. My B.P. was 85/53 and they'd called in my free-world priest to give me the last rites
and extreme unction. No, I'm not kidding. When I left here I weighed 218, I now weigh 174, lost 44-47 lbs in
28 days, puking up my guts everyday and it smelled dead. Couldn't eat the whole month.

Through a miracle I survived. The miracle did not come from TDCJ/UTMB. I'm starting to eat solid food again and
not puking. This ailment usually kills. My priest's niece died of it. The cause is unknown. You can look at
the facts here: read it and you'll understand.

I'm still real shaky and not up to writing y'all my usual epic letters, so y'all write me, ok. Ha/ha. My daughter, I
love you! Laure Kate, got your JPay and card, it kept me going in going in darkness. I'm gone.

Love and more to you all,


Anybody want to wager what the ruling from the court will be?
Debt paid.

Missouri executes Michael A. Taylor for 1989 murder of teenager
February 25
The Kansas City Star

A Kansas City man who kidnapped, raped and killed a Raytown South High School freshman in 1989 was executed by lethal injection early today.

Michael Anthony Taylor, 47, was pronounced dead at 12:10 a.m.

Taylor and co-defendant Roderick Nunley pleaded guilty and were sentenced to death for fatally stabbing 15-year-old Ann Harrison on March 22, 1989, after kidnapping her from in front of her southeast Kansas City home while she waited for the school bus.

In a brief phone conversation with The Kansas City Star just hours before the execution, Taylor said he had written a letter to Ann's parents and that a prison official assured him it would be offered to them. In the letter, Taylor said, he expressed "my sincerest apology and heartfelt remorse."

"I hope that they'll accept it," Taylor said of the letter.

An execution date for Nunley, 48, has not been set.

Wednesday's execution was the fourth carried out in Missouri since late November, when it adopted the use of the sedative pentobarbital to execute prisoners.

It came after a day of intense and multifaceted legal challenges to Taylor's execution in state and federal courts that ended when the U.S. Supreme Court denied Taylor's last request for a stay.

Earlier Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon denied Taylor's request for clemency. After the execution, Nixon released this statement: "Our thoughts and prayers tonight are with Bob and Janel Harrison, and the other members of Ann Harrison's family, as they remember the 15-year-old child they lost to an act of senseless violence."

Friends and members of both the Harrison and Taylor families witnessed the execution. Among the state witnesses was retired Kansas City homicide Sgt. Dave Bernard, who was an investigator on the case.

Taylor's death came a little less than a month short of the 25th anniversary of Ann's killing.

Taylor's family issued a statement Tuesday night:

"The family of Michael Anthony Taylor would like to express their gratitude to all of those who supported Michael over the years. It may be a small victory for the State of Missouri but Michael has won in the end. He has struggled for years with the guilt of not stopping a horrendous crime, and has dedicated much of his time in prison to the memory of Ann Harrison through his work with hospice, tutoring and mentoring inside and outside the prison walls. Those heartfelt accomplishments will accompany him into the gates of Heaven where he will be joined by his family and beloved angel."

Ann's father, Bob Harrison, attended the execution, but did not want to make a statement afterward.

Though he was raised in a two-parent, church-going home, Taylor fell into a pattern of petty crimes and drug use that landed him in trouble.

He and Nunley, who grew up in the same central Kansas City neighborhood, were cruising around in a car they had stolen the day before in Grandview when they randomly chose to drive down Ann's street in the early morning light.

They later told police that they had been binging on crack cocaine that morning. Both ultimately confessed, although each portrayed the other as the aggressor in the attack.

After spotting Ann, one attacker got out of the car, grabbed her and tossed her into the vehicle. She screamed and fought, but they threatened to kill her if she did not stop.

They drove her to the home of Nunley's mother in south Kansas City. They forced her into the basement and bound her hands with wire.

In his confession, Taylor said that they both raped her. His DNA was recovered. There was no physical evidence linking Nunley to the sexual assault, and he has always denied that he raped her.

While she was enduring the assault, her family and friends were beginning the frantic search for Ann, whose books, purse and flute case were left neatly piled on the ground.

After raping her, they debated whether to kill her. Nunley said Taylor insisted on it. Taylor said it was Nunley.

A prosecutor later said that it didn't matter, calling them a "sadistic tag team."

Ann refused when they told her to get in the car trunk. She pleaded with them not to kill her and said her parents would pay them if they let her go. They pretended to go along with that idea and said they were going to drive her to a pay phone to call her parents.

Instead, they got knives from the kitchen and stabbed her to death.

They abandoned the car several blocks away.

That night, Bob and Janel Harrison pleaded on television for their daughter's safe return.

It was not until the next night, about 36 hours after Ann disappeared, that her body was found in the abandoned car.

Three months after she was killed, a tipster led police to Taylor and Nunley.

Seeking to avoid death sentences, both men pleaded guilty and chose to have a judge instead of a jury decide their fate.

After a judge sentenced them to death, allegations were made that the judge had been seen drinking at a downtown restaurant before the sentencing.

That led to new sentencing hearings, which again ended in death sentences.

Since then, both men have mounted numerous appeals in state and federal courts.

In early 2006, Taylor came within hours of being executed before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay. Taylor eventually lost that appeal, involving the three-drug execution method, and in 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of that method.

Since then, drug shortages prompted by manufacturers opposed to their products being used to carry out death sentences have forced states to seek alternative chemicals.

That has led to additional legal challenges, including one mounted by Taylor's lawyers over how the drug currently used by Missouri is obtained and manufactured.

Attorneys for the previous three executed inmates in Missouri had also raised those concerns, but the appeals were denied.
Hasta la vista...

Paul Howell Executed for Florida Trooper's Pipe Bomb Death

A drug trafficker who placed a pipe bomb in a gift-wrapped microwave oven in a plot to kill two potential murder witnesses was executed Wednesday for the 1992 death of a Florida highway trooper who became the unintended victim.

Paul Augustus Howell, 48, was pronounced dead at 6:32 p.m. following a lethal injection at the Florida State Prison in Starke, the office of Gov. Rick Scott said in an email.

Howell was condemned for the killing of Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Jimmy Fulford on Feb. 1, 1992, when the package exploded during a traffic stop.

Howell's lawyers had filed an unsuccessful appeal Tuesday to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that a new drug Florida uses for executions wasn't tested for that purpose. This was the fifth execution in the state using the new drug, midazolam hydrochloride, as part of a three-drug mix.

The Supreme Court rejected Howell's final appeals Wednesday afternoon.

The death of Fulford saved others, giving some comfort to his family as the execution of the man convicted of killing him approached.

Fulford died in February 1992 along Interstate 10 in Jefferson County when a booby-trapped package exploded during a routine traffic stop.

The bomb was intended for a Marianna woman who lived in an apartment complex with her baby. Another woman and other children lived in the next unit over and the bomb was powerful enough that it would have blown out windows, doors and walls if it was detonated in an enclosed area, according to court records.

"I'm sure there would have been a lot more people killed besides her," said Tim Fulford, the trooper's brother. "That is a comfort. He did die saving other people's lives."

The man who built the bomb that killed Fulford is scheduled to die by injection on Wednesday, exactly one year after the original execution date set in a process that has been held up by appeals. The time it's taken for Paul Howell's sentence to be carried out has been painful for Fulford's family, especially having to be reminded of the circumstances as Howell's lawyers successfully delayed the execution the past 12 months, Fulford's brother said.

"It's something our family will never get over. This process is too long," Fulford said. "Closure will never come. The only way that would happen is if my brother walked through the door and we both know that won't happen."

Fulford is remembered as an excellent officer and strong family man. It was his dream to become a trooper when he was growing up in Madison County. He was first assigned to a troop in Bradenton, where he met his wife, Keith Ann. He eventually was assigned to patrol the area where he grew up and the couple was raising a son and a daughter in Monticello when Fulford died. He was 35.

"It was just a dream come true for him and things were working really well," said Madison County Sheriff Ben Stewart, who grew up with Fulford and was serving as a deputy when Fulford died.

Fulford was active in his church, singing in the choir and teaching Sunday school. He liked fishing and hunting and spending time with his family. He was always helping neighbors, Stewart said.

"Jimmy was just a really good guy. He was one of the best officers I've ever known. He was very kind-hearted and he very much believed in enforcing the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law. He just believed in helping people," he said. "Just a strong Christian guy and just a country boy, but he always wanted to be a trooper."

Howell, a native of Jamaica, was a drug trafficker living in Fort Lauderdale when he built the bomb. He was trying to kill two potential witnesses in another drug-related murder. Howell paid Lester Watson to drive a rented car from Fort Lauderdale to deliver the gift-wrapped box that contained a microwave oven with a pipe bomb inside that was set to explode when the door was opened. One of the women had told Howell she needed a microwave oven to heat her baby's formula.

Fulford stopped Watson for speeding in Jefferson County. Watson was driving a car rented in Howell's name and gave Fulford a false name and birthdate. A dispatcher called Howell to ask if Watson had permission to drive the car. Howell said yes, but told the dispatcher he didn't think Watson was leaving Broward County. He didn't mention the bomb in the trunk.

"This was evil intent. It was meant to kill somebody. And they didn't care. These guys had an opportunity once they were arrested, to say 'Look, don't open the thing,'" Stewart said.

Two Jefferson County deputies assisted Fulford by taking Watson and his passenger to the county jail. While they were gone, Fulford opened the package setting off a massive explosion that left a depression in the highway.

"If Jimmy had not intercepted that bomb, a woman and innocent kids would have all been killed and that was the sacrifice that Jimmy made," said Florida Highway Patrol Major Mark Welch.

A state and federal investigation after the death led to and the dismantling of a drug ring based in South Florida and the indictment of 28 people.