Texas Death Penalty News

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DA seeks death penalty for man charged with killing estranged wife

Saturday December 1, 2012

The McLennan County District Attorney's Office will seek the death penalty against a Port Arthur man charged in the shooting death of his estranged wife and the kidnapping of her daughter less than five months after his release from prison.

District Attorney Abel Reyna told Judge Ralph Strother at Petetan's formal arraignment Friday morning that his office will seek the death penalty. Reyna declined to specify what factors were considered in making the decision.

"We feel confident that that evidence will come out at trial," he said.

Police found Kimberly Petetan dead inside her apartment at The Landing complex. She suffered multiple gunshot wounds.

The indictment against Petetan alleges he committed murder during the course of a burglary of a habitation and while kidnapping the victim's 9-year-old daughter.

Witnesses told police Kimberly Petetan was seen earlier that day arguing with her husband.

Bryan police arrested Petetan after spotting his car later that night. The victim's daughter, who is not Petetan's biological daughter, was with him in the car, police said.

A neighbor of Kimberly Petetan's said she moved into The Landing complex in late August.

Carnell Petetan stayed there with her and her daughter for the first two weeks and the couple fought constantly, the neighbor said.

He left, but on the day Kimberly Petetan was killed, the neighbor heard fighting again and a bullet came through her wall, she said.

Kimberly Petetan attended McLennan Community College and wanted to be a social worker, her friends said.

Petetan was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1993 for attempted murder. He was released in April.

Reyna's announcement in Petetan's case comes three weeks after a Waco jury returned a death sentence against Rickey Donnell Cummings in the shooting deaths of two men at the Lakewood Villas apartment complex in March 2011.

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Death row inmate returns to court to request new trial
By Craig Kapitan
Updated 8:58 a.m., Saturday, December 1, 2012

When Noah Espada was found guilty of a double-slaying seven years ago, the first person called to testify as the punishment phase of his death penalty trial began was former jailer Christopher Nieto.

But the guard -- who since has garnered a felony theft conviction and raised suspicions of perjury -- could cast doubt on the process that landed Espada on death row, the inmate's appellate attorneys argue.

Espada returned to a Bexar County courtroom Friday to ask visiting Judge Bert Richardson for a new trial.

Testimony for the ongoing hearing will continue later this month, and Richardson, who oversaw the original trial while an elected judge, isn't expected to issue a recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals until next year.

Nieto, who reluctantly took the stand Friday after the judge threatened to hold him in jail if he didn't show up to court, contributed significantly to the prosecution's case for lethal injection, appellate attorney Michael Gross has alleged in court documents.
Related slideshow: Death row inmates from Bexar County

The former guard testified that Espada was found with drugs in his cell and had gotten into a fight with another inmate within two months of his arrest, contributing to the argument that he would be a future danger to society even if sentenced to life.

But inmate Apolinar Soto testified Friday that Nieto planted the drugs and set up the inmate fight.

Nieto had been suspended after a fellow Bexar County sheriff's deputy had reported he overheard him tell Espada, "You're the badass that killed two people. You better hope I don't work here (in Espada's unit at the jail) on a Saturday."

Nieto acknowledged Friday that he didn't appeal the suspension but denied having ever said those words.

Those issues weren't brought to the jury's attention, but what Nieto did testify to was true, he initially said Friday.

He admitted to quitting the Sheriff's Office after a small amount of marijuana was found in his car that had been left there by his brother-in-law. He passed a urine test and polygraph test following the incident, he said at the time.

"Pertaining to the (testimony about) the polygraph test, that was false. Nothing else," Nieto conceded Friday, explaining that he never took one. "They were trying to get it lined up ... is what I meant."

Nieto was joined by more than half a dozen other jailers during the trial, who said Espada was an aggressive, problem inmate.

Espada, 29, was convicted of targeting Luther "Luke" Scott in February and March 2004 after Scott fired him from Polly Esther's, a now-defunct River Walk nightclub.

After following Scott home one night, Espada broke into the wrong apartment and suffocated resident Sandra Ramos with a plastic bag tied over her head so there would be no witnesses, authorities alleged.

Days later, he found the right apartment and shot Scott in the back of the head.

Nieto, whose testimony was cut short Friday when he requested an attorney, is expected to return to the stand.

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Supreme Court Won't Review Case Of Texas Rapper On Death Row

HOUSTON (December 10, 2012)--The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to review the case of San Antonio rapper Ray Jasper, 32, who was sent to death row for slitting the throat of a recording engineer during a session 14 years ago.

The ruling Monday, without comment, clears the way for Jasper's execution for the November 1998 slaying of David Alejandro, 33.

Evidence showed Jasper hatched a plan to steal equipment from Alejandro's studio to sell it, recruited some partners and was loading gear worth as much as $30,000 when an off-duty police officer arrived at the scene.

Alejandro's throat was slit and then he was stabbed to death, records show.

Jasper fled but was caught days later.

A Bexar County jury in 2000 deliberated for just 15 minutes before convicting Jasper, and then took less than two hours to decide on the death penalty.

He doesn't yet have an execution date.

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Edwards can set Swearingen execution date
Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 11:01 pm

Almost exactly 14 years after her daughter's murder, Sandy Trotter learned the state's highest criminal court denied the latest appeal for Larry Swearingen, Melissa Trotter's killer.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered Wednesday morning that habeas corpus be denied to Swearingen, 41, who was convicted and sentenced to death in June 2000 for the abduction and murder of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter, a student at Lone Star College-Montgomery.

Melissa was last seen leaving the Texas 242 campus Dec. 8, 1998. Her body was found Jan. 2, 1999, in the Sam Houston National Forest.

The CCA upheld 9th state District Court Judge Fred Edwards' findings in October that Swearingen failed to establish his innocence during an evidentiary hearing in February and March. He forwarded his findings and documentation on to the CCA.

The next step is for Edwards to set a new execution date for Swearingen, Assistant District Attorney Warren Diepraam said.

"We believe it clears the way for an execution date," he said. "Bill Delmore (chief of the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office Legal Services Division) is planning to ask Judge Edwards for an execution date. He'll go to court in the near future to ask him to set a hearing to set the execution date."

Swearingen has contended for years that entomological (insect) evidence made it impossible for him to be in the forest during the time Melissa Trotter's body went missing. When found, Trotter's remains were consistent "with a scenario" in which her body was left in the national forest under climate conditions existing at the time from Dec. 7, 1998, through Jan. 2, 1999.

Swearingen has claimed he could not have murdered Trotter because he was in the Montgomery County Jail starting Dec. 11, 1998.

The speed with which the CCA handed down its habeas corpus denial is "pretty significant," Diepraam said.

"It's a testament to the quality of the evidence presented by the state and that the defense evidence was unfounded as to the basis of science.

"The Court of Criminal Appeals and Judge Edwards didn't have too much difficulty deciding it was junk science and not worth the paper it was printed on."

But defense attorney Steve Jackson said he expects the appellate courts to reverse the CCA's decision and find that it was scientifically impossible for Swearingen to have killed Trotter.

"Mr. Swearingen was in jail when Ms. Trotter was killed, and the science proved this," he said.

Nevertheless, the CCA's decision makes Swearingen's execution one step closer, a "real victory" for Melissa and the justice system, Sandy Trotter said.

"It's an appropriate time for Melissa," she said. "It's time to think of Melissa much more than Dec. 8, 1998."

The judicial process has been slow and difficult, Sandy Trotter said, and she is preparing herself for the fact that Swearingen's attorneys will be filing every appeal possible.

"It's past time," she said. "Hopefully they have exhausted all the court appeals. I'm more than ready."

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A Busy Year for the Texas Executioner, but Hank Skinner Eludes Death Again
Posted: 12/18/2012 10:59 am

In the spirit of the holidays, Texas is taking a break from lethally injecting the residents of the Allan B. Polunksy Unit, better known as death row.

Executioners need time off, too, especially after a busy year that reduced the surplus population by 14 -- six executions ahead of its nearest rival, Oklahoma, and one-third of the total state-sponsored killings in 2012.

The Texas killing fields ended in controversy a week before Thanksgiving when Preston Hughes was executed despite compelling evidence of his innocence. Texas will officially welcome in the New Year when Kimberly McCarthy becomes the first woman put to death in two years, barring an unforeseen stay.

Of the 17 executions planned for 2013, eight will be in Texas. And, if Texas has its way, one of the newly departed will be Henry Watkins Skinner, a/k/a "Hank."

Executing Hank Skinner has presented a surprisingly stubborn challenge for Texas lawmen. Convicted of brutally slaying his live-in girlfriend and her two adult sons on New Year's Eve in 1993, physical evidence proved that Skinner was in the home at the time of the crime. Then he showed up, wearing bloodstained clothes, at a neighbor's residence and allegedly threatened her if she called the cops. A Panhandle jury did not take long to find him guilty and recommend the ultimate punishment.

Yet, on death row for 18 Christmases, Skinner has outlived more than 400 condemned men and women. How? Turns out the evidence was not what it seemed.

The case against Skinner began to unravel when the prosecution's star witness -- the neighbor -- recanted her testimony. Skinner was talking gibberish and seemed completely disoriented, she admitted, behavior consistent with his claim that he awoke from a near-fatal overdose of booze and prescription meds and discovered the bodies. (He said the blood on his clothes were from trying to rouse them.) An independent witness saw Skinner passed out on the couch shortly before the crime, and toxicologists said he would not have been physically able to stab three adults, two of whom were bulky young men, and bash in his girlfriend's head with an ax handle.

But the biggest problem for Texas lawmen surfaced when witnesses came forward to implicate the female victim's uncle in the crime. The uncle, now deceased, was seen harassing the young woman at a party the night of the murders. After disappearing for hours, the next morning he suspiciously scrubbed his pickup truck from top to bottom and removed the floorboards. Most telling, a previously unidentified bloodied jacket that police found next to the woman's body was in fact her uncle's, according to a sworn statement by his next-door neighbor.

In the midst of these revelations, Skinner called publicly for DNA tests that would determine whether the uncle was in the home that night, tests on physical evidence that had never been checked -- including the murder weapons. Texas fought the tests, arguing Skinner had had his day in court, but relented briefly -- until they discovered DNA at the scene that wasn't Skinner's or the victims'. That put a halt to further testing for a decade until the U.S. Supreme Court, after Skinner came within an hour of execution, took the case and decided in his favor.

More legal wrangling in the lower courts brought Skinner to within three days of death until both sides finally agreed to DNA testing last summer. The tests would be conducted on all the evidence at Texas' expense. It was a generous gesture, except for one problem: Texas had lost the bloodied jacket. The crucial piece of evidence that might have placed the uncle at the scene had inexplicably vanished. "No one's ever been able to find that thing," shrugged a spokesman for Texas lawmen.

Skinner and his lawyers were outraged, but tests on the surviving evidence continued until just before Thanksgiving, when the Texas Attorney General decided not to wait for the final results. Skinner had been proven guilty, the AG trumpeted in a court advisory. The basis for their claim: Preliminary results showed that Skinner's DNA had been found in several additional places in the home, including on the kitchen knife that was likely used in the murders.

Sounds bad for Skinner. But wait. Wouldn't Skinner's DNA be predictably found in the home where he resided, especially on a household item? And if his DNA was on the knife, why wasn't it on the ax handle? Most important, DNA that excluded Skinner and the victims was also found on the knife and in the boys' bedroom.

"We find it troubling that the Attorney General's Office has seen fit to release partial results of the DNA testing and submit its 'advisory' to the court while the DNA testing is still in progress," said Skinner lawyer Rob Owen. "The partial results... show that at least one person other than Hank Skinner and the victims may have been present in the house on the night the murders took place, and may have had contact with one of the weapons used in the killings."

So the tug of war over Skinner's life continues into 2013, with the next battle centered on further testing of the unknown person's DNA and new testing of hairs -- including one found clutched in the female victim's hand. And, there are fresh skirmishes, as there always seem to be in this case. The Texas A.G. has backed off his promise to pay for the remaining tests, according to sources familiar with the agreement. Even worse, the A.G. has still failed to produce the chain of custody documents about the missing jacket, fueling suspicions about its disappearance.

But these events have not deterred Skinner, who turned 50 this year, from continuing his fight for freedom. He will spend Dec. 25 writing about his case from a 6.5 by 10.5 cell with a narrow slot through which he will be served a holiday dinner. Then he will draft a new dispatch for "Hell Hole News," a website created by his supporters.

Christmas on death row will be just another day to Hank Skinner. But his pace will be more hurried than usual, for the executioner's holiday will be short-lived.

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Judge recommends 'Suitcase Killer' Rodriguez's latest appeal be denied
Darnell rejects claims of juror misconduct, inadequate counsel
Posted: January 4, 2013 - 4:22pm  |  Updated: January 5, 2013 - 12:38am

A Lubbock judge has recommended the state's highest court deny "Suitcase Killer" Rosendo
Rodriguez III's latest appeal to avoid execution for the 2005 murder of a Lubbock prostitute and her unborn child.

District Judge Jim Bob Darnell said in an 83-page document he found no new information or issues of merit in Rodriguez's plea to set aside his capital murder conviction on 21 different grounds, primarily based on contentions of juror misconduct and that he received inadequate legal representation from his arrest through his court appeals.

He also claimed his attorneys should have stopped him from reneging on a plea deal -- that would have resulted in a life sentence -- by providing details about the disappearance of a 16-year-old Lubbock girl in 2004, whose body was later found stuffed in a suitcase and buried in a landfill.

Darnell's recommendation will go to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for a final review and ruling.

If the state appellate court agrees with Darnell's findings, Rodriguez's last option is a federal habeas corpus petition to review the case.

A jury in Canyon convicted Rodriguez in 2008 of capital murder in the death of Summer Baldwin, 29, in a Lubbock hotel room while he was in town for Marine Corps Reserve training. Evidence at trial showed Rodriguez bought a suitcase at Wal-Mart.

He stuffed Baldwin's pregnant body in the suitcase and put it into a commercial trash bin.
Rodriguez told investigators he'd been defending himself from Baldwin when she died. He admitted they'd had consensual sex, and told detectives she then began smoking crack. He said he took the pipe away from her and she attacked him with a pair of knives.

He said he then put her in a chokehold.


Rodriguez's contentions he received poor advice from lawyers began with the initial investigation and extended through the appeal to the state's Court of Criminal Appeals.

His contentions included suggestions that his lawyers should have kept him from confessing to police, and prompted him to accept prosecutors' offer of a deal.

With regard to the confession, Darnell noted Rodriguez seemed to be determined to make a statement, rather than staying silent.

Rodriguez's initial attorney, Albert Rodriguez, had contacted Lubbock police and given them Baldwin's knives and arranged for his client to give that version of the story. Rodriguez's father, Wichita Falls attorney Rosendo Rodriguez Jr., retained Albert Rodriguez to represent his son. Albert Rodriguez is not a member of the family.

The plea deal was arranged by another attorney, Jeff Blackburn, who Darnell noted agreed to take the case with the intention of putting a plea agreement together rather than going to trial.

Under that deal, Rodriguez would tell what he knew about the 2004 disappearance of a 16-year-old Lubbock girl, Joanna Rogers. If the body was recovered, Rodriguez would get a life sentence.

Rodriguez told investigators he'd had sex with Rogers, and when she asked him for money, he choked her to death. He then put her body in a suitcase and put it in a Dumpster.

Sheriff's deputies searched the city's landfill for about two months before finding a suitcase with a body inside.

Rodriguez's attorney notified lead prosecutor Matt Powell that his client was backing out of the deal on the day the plea was scheduled to be made in Darnell's court.

Powell withdrew the offer and took the case to trial.

"The applicant (Rodriguez) must bear the consequences of rejecting the favorable plea deal," Darnell wrote, adding it was wrong for Rodriguez to try to blame the attorney for the outcome of his own "voluntary but failed gamble."

Juror issues

Rodriguez's petition also contended there had been problems with juror misconduct, including information about Rogers' death and the breached plea deal being discussed during deliberations in the guilt phase of the trial.

Darnell noted that 11 of the 12 jurors provided sworn statements, taken in different times and places, stating there was no misconduct during the trial.

Family issues

Many of the hearings on Rodriguez's habeas corpus petition last summer dealt with testimony regarding his upbringing and his father's abuse and alcoholism.

His petition criticized his trial attorneys for not presenting more of that evidence as a mitigating factor in his punishment.

But Darnell set the issue aside by saying the additional testimony offered in the habeas hearings really added nothing new to what had been presented in the 2008 trial.

He also noted that several of those witnesses presented contradictions that undercut Rodriguez's position. For example, he noted that Rosendo Rodriguez Jr's. legal assistant testified that working for him sometimes was like being a "battered wife," yet she worked for him for 18 years.

What may be next

If the state Court of Criminal Appeals reverses Darnell's position, it could order a new trial or a new punishment phase hearing.

If the state high court agrees with Darnell, Rodriguez's attorneys could ask for a reconsideration.

If that is refused, a federal writ of habeas corpus is the last appeal option open to Rodriguez before Darnell is asked to set an execution date.

Similar to the state habeas corpus process, Rodriguez would be eligible for a hearing in U.S. District Court, which would likely be followed by appeals to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and potentially the U.S. Supreme Court.

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East Texas man on death row loses at Supreme Court

Posted January 14, 2013 at 9:47 a.m.

HOUSTON (AP) -- The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review the case of an East Texas man on death row for a robbery a decade ago where three people were abducted and shot, one of them fatally.

The high court Monday without comment rejected the case of 28-year-old Richard Cobb.

Cobb was 18 in 2002 when evidence showed he and a companion, Beunka Adams, walked into a convenience store in Rusk and announced a holdup. They took two female clerks and 37-year-old Richard Vandever from the store and drove to a remote area where one of the women was raped. All three captives were ordered to kneel and were shot. The women survived and one was able to summon help.

Adams was executed last year. Cobb doesn't yet have an execution date.

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Henrik - Sweden

According to the TDCJ website offender #999530 Roosevelt Smith JR was removed from DR 10th of January 2013 because his sentence has been commuted to LWOP.

In October 2005 Smith - then 43 years old -  murdered 77 year old Betty Blair in her own home during a robbery. He had no prior prison record, at least not in Texas.


Death Penalty Sought Against Brothers In Texas Triple Slaying

SAN ANTONIO (January 23, 2013)--San Antonio brothers Conrad Ochoa, 32, and Baron Ochoa, 37, who were already facing sexual exploitation counts, have been charged in the stabbing deaths of Conrad Baron's 10-year-old daughter, the girl's mother and a friend.

Prosecutors say the bodies were found in 2011 after authorities responded to a house fire a few days before the brothers faced court appearances related to alleged abuse of the girl.

A grand jury Tuesday indicted the brothers on capital murder counts.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

The victims were identified as Samvastion "Sammie" Ochoa, her mother Rebecca "Veggie" Gonzales, 29, and their roommate Pamela Wenske, 41.

Conrad Baron was previously charged with possession of child pornography and his brother was charged with continuous sexual abuse of a child.

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Waco death row inmate Parr eligible for execution date
Friday January 25, 2013

Carroll Joe Parr, known in his Waco drug-dealing days as "Outlaw," is eligible for an execution date for his role in the death of a Waco man during a 2003 drug-related robbery.

McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna said Thursday that his office was notified by the Texas Attorney General's Office that Parr is eligible to have an execution date set.

The AG's office handles federal appeals from death row inmates.

Parr was convicted in McLennan County in the shooting death of 18-year-old Joel Dominguez during a drug deal on North 25th Street in Waco.

The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, declined to consider Parr's appeal on Jan. 7, said Parr's attorney, Stan Schwieger. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Parr's appeal in May 2012.

Schwieger said he next will file an appeal with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which already has affirmed Parr's conviction and death sentence.

A week after the 5th Court's latest ruling, Parr wrote a letter to 54th State District Judge Matt Johnson telling him that he wanted to end his appeals and be executed.

He later withdrew that request.

"There's no reason to continue wasting tax payers (sic) funds in this fight that I knew I'd lose even before it started," Parr wrote the judge. "But to be frank, I want to drop my appeals and end my suffering."

Reyna said Thursday that his office will consult with Texas prison officials to coordinate a date for Parr's execution.

Parr will be brought back to Waco in coming weeks so Johnson can formally set an execution date, Reyna said.

Depending on the prison's schedule, the judge could set Parr's execution execution date within weeks or months of the hearing, Reyna said.

"We are pleased that we can move one step closer to the fulfillment of justice for the Dominguez family," Reyna said.

Texas executed 15 inmates last year and has eight scheduled for this year in dates beginning this coming Tuesday and ranging through July 31.

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Inmate Convicted Of Killing Texas Tech Dean Loses Death Row Appeal

HOUSTON (February 6, 2013)--Texas death row inmate Vaughn Ross, 41, who was convicted of killing a Texas Tech University dean and an 18-year-old Lubbock woman 12 years ago, was a step closer to execution Wednesday after losing a court appeal.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Ross' appeal Tuesday.

He was sentenced to die for the shooting deaths of Douglas Birdsall, 53, and Viola McVade, whose bodies were found in a car in a ravine.

Birdsall was associate dean of libraries at Texas Tech.

Ross, a former Tech student from St. Louis, had been dating McVade's sister.

The victims were found shot in the head Jan. 31, 2001, inside Birdsall's car.

DNA evidence tied Ross to the deaths.

Ross' unsuccessful appeal contended deficient legal help early in his appeals prevented him from pursing appeals that his trial attorneys also were deficient.

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Honduran man on Texas death row loses appeal
Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 10:34 am

A man from Honduras on Texas death row for the rape-slaying of a 15-year-old girl in Houston has lost an appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court, without comment, refused Tuesday to review the case of 34-year-old Edgardo Rafael Cubas.

He was sentenced to die for the 2002 fatal shooting of high school sophomore Esmeralda Alvarado. Cubas and a second man, Walter Sorto, were charged and given death sentences related to a series of slayings that terrorized Houston's East End.

Prosecutors said Alvarado was abducted by Cubas and Sorto, who took turns raping her in their car. Cubas later told police he shot the girl in the head. Sorto, from El Salvador, received a death sentence for the slayings of two waitresses four months later.

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Call for a New Execution Date Revives Race Debate
February 18, 2013

Updated noon, Feb. 18: The Harris County district attorney's office agreed Monday morning at a hearing in a state district court to give attorneys for death row inmate Duane Buck 30 days to file with an application, asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to review his sentencing trial. The application, said Kate Black, one of Buck's attorneys, will include arguments that Buck was unfairly sentenced to death after testimony suggested that he was more likely to be dangerous because he is black. If the state's highest criminal court rejects the application, the district attorney's office will again move to set an execution date.

"Buck is a very faithful person," Black said of her client's reaction to the news, adding that he was concerned for the well-being of the victims' families as the controversy continues. "He doesn't want to put any additional stress on the victims' families."

Original story: During Duane Buck's 1997 capital murder trial, a defense witness, psychologist Dr. Walter Quijano, told the jury, "It's a sad commentary that minorities, Hispanics and black people, are overrepresented in the criminal justice system."

Sixteen years later, those words and their effect on Buck's death sentence have been fiercely debated in appeals courts and in the U.S. Supreme Court and by lawyers, lawmakers and scholars. On Monday, the debate will continue when Buck's case returns to a state district court in Houston. The Harris County district attorney's office will ask a judge to set a new execution date for the inmate. Buck's lawyers will renew their calls for a new sentencing hearing, arguing that his race -- Buck is black -- played a role in his death sentence.

Defense lawyers often argue that their clients were subject to racial prejudice. And last month, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said he planned to advocate for a law making it easier for criminals to appeal convictions and sentences in cases where race was a factor.

Buck admits that on July 30, 1995 he broke into his ex-girlfriend Debra Gardner's home in Houston and shot and killed her and a friend, Kenneth Butler, as Gardner's children looked on. He also shot his step-sister, Phyllis Taylor, who survived.

For a jury to sentence someone to death in Texas, according to a 1973 statute, they must decide that the person is likely to be a "continuing threat to society." Buck received the death penalty after Quijano suggested to the jury that he was statistically more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black. "You often see race in these cases," said Christina Swarns, one of Buck's lawyers, who works for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. "But it's not so often that it is this explicit."

During the testimony, Quijano, a witness hired by Buck's trial lawyers, said there were several "statistical factors we know to predict future dangerousness," including age, sex, race, socioeconomic status, employment stability and substance abuse history. When asked about race specifically by the defense, Quijano said, "It's a sad commentary that minorities, Hispanics and black people, are overrepresented in the criminal justice system."

Quijano also said that Buck would be less likely to be dangerous because he had not been violent in prison and because the victims were people he knew.

On cross-examination, the prosecutor asked Quijano, "You have determined that the sex factor, that a male is more violent than a female because that's just the way it is, and that the race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons; is that correct?" Quijano answered, "Yes."

In October 2011, the Texas Youth Commission (now the Texas Juvenile Justice Department) ended a contract with Quijano over the controversy surrounding his testimony.

Two days ago, Quijano explained that he never said Buck would be a continuing threat to society, and that the statements about race were meant to show that there was a "relational" connection between race and dangerousness, not a "causal" connection. "The statement doesn't mean that because you are a certain race you are more likely to commit a violent act," he said.

In 2000, then-Attorney General John Cornyn said that the state had made a mistake in Buck's case and six others by using Quijano's testimony. In the case of Argentinian Victor Hugo Saldano, Cornyn filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court in which he wrote that a new sentencing trial was needed.

"Despite the fact that sufficient proper evidence was submitted to the jury to justify the finding of Saldano's future dangerousness," Cornyn wrote, "the infusion of race as a factor for the jury to weigh in making its determination violated his constitutional right to be sentenced without regard to the color of his skin."

Buck's lawyers said they see no reason why the Harris County district attorney's office has singled out Buck for an execution date. "Texas made a promise; Cornyn made a promise," said Christina Swarns. "They've done a complete about-face."

Cornyn's office declined to comment, saying he would wait to see if the judge would set a new execution date.

The office of current Attorney General Greg Abbott sent its last filing to the U.S. Supreme Court in September 2011, and it stated, "The State acknowledges and agrees that it is inappropriate for it to raise an issue such as race for the jury to consider when assessing a defendant's guilt or punishment." But, it continued, "Buck's constitutional rights were not violated because Buck himself presented the testimony about which he complains." That is the factor, they argue, that distinguishes his case from the others in which Quinjano testified.

It is also the reason the Harris County district attorney's office is now seeking a new execution date. "Mr. Buck's claim has been thoroughly reviewed," said Lynn Hardaway, the assistant district attorney in charge of post-conviction appeals.

When Buck faced an execution date in September 2011, Linda Geffin, one of the prosecutors in the original case, sent a letter asking Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to halt the execution and allow a new sentencing trial. "It is regrettable that any race-based considerations were placed before Mr. Buck's jury," she wrote. State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, released a statement calling for a stay. Buck's step-sister, Phyllis Taylor, also wrote a letter asking that he not be executed. The pardons board denied clemency.

On the evening of his scheduled execution, after Buck had eaten his last meal, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay to review his case. In Nov. 2011, two months later, the court denied the appeal. Justice Samuel Alito wrote that although Quijano's testimony was "bizarre and objectionable," his statement that black people are statistically more likely to engage in crime was not a reason to order a new sentencing since it was elicited by the defense. In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that the testimony was revisited by the prosecution "in a question specifically designed to persuade the jury that Buck's race made him more dangerous."

After the stay of execution in 2011, family members of Buck's victims told the Houston Chronicle that media accounts of the appeals process "victimized us all over again."

Burnett Clay, a minister from Kirbyville who has visited Buck since 2002 and sees him "as a son," said that when she last spoke with him in early January, he was "not expecting an execution date" and had recently gotten married. "He talks a lot about the Lord," she said. "I tried to encourage him to be strong. He's a strong little fella."

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Valley man on death row for Donna massacre loses appeal
Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 10:45 am

HOUSTON (AP) -- The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a Rio Grande Valley Texas street gang member sent to death row for the fatal shooting of four women 10 years ago in Donna.

The high court without comment Tuesday refused to review the case of 30-year-old Robert Garza.

Evidence showed he fired at least 50 times into a car, killing the women who authorities described as illegal immigrants from Mexico working at a rundown cantina in Donna.

Garza was identified as belonging to the Tri-City Bombers and was carrying out a gang-ordered hit on women who testified against a gang member.

Evidence also showed the hit was botched and the victims weren't involved in the other case.

He does not yet have an execution date.

I apologize for my not perfect English. Hopefully you understand what I mean. If not - ask me. I will try to explain.


Man on death row for 1984 SMU slaying loses appeal
Published: 06 March 2013 10:06 AM

HOUSTON (AP) -- The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld the death sentence of a 64-year-old man convicted of the 1984 rape-slaying of a Southern Methodist University student at her off-campus condo.

The state's highest criminal court, ruling Wednesday in the case of Donald Bess, rejected 52 claims of error at his 2010 trial, including challenges to jury selection and instructions, expert testimony and sufficiency of the evidence.

Bess already was serving life in prison for a 1985 Harris County rape when DNA testing in 2008 matched him to the long-unsolved murder of Angela Samota. Samota's sorority sisters from SMU had asked police to re-examine her death.

The DNA technology wasn't available at the time of her slaying.

Bess does not have an execution date and still can appeal to federal courts.

I apologize for my not perfect English. Hopefully you understand what I mean. If not - ask me. I will try to explain.

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