Other article : http://www.trivalleycentral.com/articles/2012/06/23/casa_grande_dispatch/around_arizona/doc4fe6095b7f0fc915124936.txt
Monday, June 25, 2012
Mercy for death-row inmate is denied
By AMANDA LEE MYERS
Published: Saturday, June 23, 2012 11:46 AM MST
PHOENIX — An almost entirely new clemency board voted unanimously to deny a condemned inmate’s request for mercy during a hearing held Friday despite the defense’s objections that the panel was improperly appointed and prejudiced against the convicted killer.
Four board members, three of whom were recently appointed by Gov. Jan Brewer, voted against recommending that the governor reduce Samuel Villegas Lopez’s death sentence to life in prison. They heard more than five hours of arguments from attorneys and the family of Lopez’s victim, Estafana Holmes of Phoenix.
A fifth board member was on vacation and did not participate.
Lopez is set to be executed at the state prison in Florence on Wednesday, three days before his 50th birthday.
He also lost a request with the Arizona Supreme Court on Friday to delay his execution until the state gets a new governor, after his lawyers argued that Brewer and the board were prejudiced against him.
If Lopez’s execution proceeds, he will be the fourth inmate put to death in Arizona this year.
Lopez was convicted of brutally raping and killing 59-year-old Holmes in 1986.
Police found Holmes half-naked with three major stab wounds to her head, one on her face, and 23 in her left breast and upper chest. The 5-foot-2-inch, 125-pound woman had been blindfolded and gagged with her own clothing, and her throat had been slit.
Semen found on her body matched Lopez’s after he was arrested in a separate rape less than a week later.
Holmes’ apartment was in complete disarray, and blood was splattered on walls in the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.
The state Supreme Court in 1993 upheld Lopez’s death sentence, saying that the state of the apartment and Holmes’ body showed “a terrific struggle for life” and called the killing a “grisly and ultimately fatal nightmare.”
Lopez, who was 24 at the time, did not know Holmes, a poor seamstress and grandmother who lived alone and was described by her family as hard-working, loving and deeply religious.
Before voting, board members called Lopez “the worst of the worst” and said the brutality of the crime and Holmes’ heart-broken family members held great sway with them.
Lopez’s defense attorney, Kelley Henry, said after the vote that she didn’t think the board considered her arguments with an open mind.
“This went just exactly as we predicted it was going to,” Henry said. “They weren’t listening to anything we had to say. They didn’t understand, they didn’t get it.”
Henry has sued the board and Brewer over how the governor overhauled the board in April, saying that Brewer appointed three “political cronies” in meetings that were closed to the public to ensure that no high-profile or controversial cases land on her desk. That lawsuit was pending.
Brewer has denied those accusations through her spokesman, Matt Benson, who said the new board members were picked to “bring fresh insight and fresh blood.”
Board chairman Jesse Hernandez also denied that he or the other two new members were picked to ensure that executions be allowed to proceed.
“We’re not political cronies,” he said after the hearing. “There’s no question I came in with an open mind. That’s the right thing to do, to listen to both sides ... We didn’t rush through this.”
His decision was “heart-wrenching... something that, personally, I do not take lightly,” he said. “This is something you lose sleep over.”
Kelley does not dispute Lopez’s guilt, but hinged her arguments Friday on the fact that two separate trial judges did not hear any evidence that Lopez had a horrific childhood. Defense attorneys could have presented that as a mitigating factor that often leads to a life sentence in prison, rather than the death penalty.
She brought in a neuropsychiatrist, George Woods, who told the board that Lopez’s father was a drunk who abused his wife and children before he left the family and drank himself to death. Lopez’s mother kicked her children out of the house after marrying another man who had children of his own.
Woods said that Lopez’s childhood was filled with poverty, neglect, abuse and periods of homelessness during which he often had to sleep in cemeteries.
He dropped out of school in the ninth grade and began sniffing paint, an addiction that continued into his adulthood and caused brain damage, Woods said.
He said that as a child, Lopez experienced night terrors, had visions of a witch chasing him and often would run screaming from wherever he was living.
Board members later said that while Lopez’s childhood was a mitigating factor to the crime, they weren’t convinced by Woods’ testimony because he couldn’t answer whether he believed that Lopez knew what he was doing.