Archive | jury rejection

05 February 2014 ~ Comments Off

El Paso Jury Rejects the Death Penalty for Christian Martinez

In the first Texas death penalty trial of 2014, an El Paso County jury has determined that Christian Martinez should spend the rest of his life in prison for the 2011 murders of Amalia Flores, 58, and her daughter Jovana Flores, 20. Ten of the twelve jurors agreed that mitigating evidence warranted a sentence other than death.

Martinez was convicted of capital murder last week.  According to the El Paso Times, his attorneys argued prosecutors didn’t provide sufficient evidence that Martinez would be a future danger to society (“Sentencing deliberations resume today in Christian Martinez trial,” February 5, 2014), though jurors disagreed, answering yes to the question of future dangerousness.

Over the last six years, death-qualified juries have rejected the death penalty in more than 20 capital murder trials in Texas.  The last person to be sentenced to death in El Paso County was Fabian Hernandez, convicted in 2009 of the murders of Renee Urbina Hernandez, 28, and Arthur Lee Fonseca, 24.

Read more about the Christian Martinez trial from the El Paso Times.

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24 July 2013 ~ Comments Off

Austin County Jurors Reject Death Penalty

On July 11, 2013, an Austin County jury determined that Maron Thomas should spend the rest of his life in prison for the 2010 capital murders of his brother and sister, Cedric Thomas and Kiana Phearse, in Buckhorn.  The District Attorney’s office had sought the death penalty for Thomas, but the jury decided that there was mitigating evidence in his case that warranted a life sentence.

This was the first of three indictments against Thomas, who pled not guilty by reason of insanity.  He has also been charged with killing his mother and stepfather, Debra and George Washington, and his two-year old niece, Khalilah Chambers-Massey.  Thomas’ case represents the first time in 25 years that the Austin County District Attorney sought the death penalty.  Read more about the trial at The Sealy News.

The jury’s decision is the second rejection of a death sentence in Texas this year.  In February, jurors in Brazos County deliberated for 21 hours before rejecting the death penalty for Stanley Wayne Robertson, who had been convicted of the 2010 murder of Annie Mae Toliver. Read our coverage of that case here.

In 2012, jurors rejected the death penalty during the punishment phase in four capital murder trials, resulting in sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole. In each case, the jury determined that the defendant did not pose a future danger, the first question on the jury instructions. Over the last five years, death-qualified juries have rejected the death penalty in at least 20 capital murder trials. For a more in-depth look at the death penalty in Texas, including its geographical isolation and disproportionate impact , see our 2012 Report.

 

 

 

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27 February 2013 ~ Comments Off

Brazos County Jury Rejects Death Penalty for Stanley Robertson

This afternoon, after more than 21 hours of deliberation, a Brazos County jury determined that Stanley Wayne Robertson should spend the rest of his life in prison for the 2010 murder of Annie Mae Toliver.  The District Attorney’s office had sought the death penalty for Robertson, but the jury decided that there was mitigating evidence in his case that warranted a life sentence.  During the punishment phase of his trial, Robertson’s attorneys presented evidence of his impoverished childhood, as well as expert testimony as to his intellectual disabilities.

According to the Bryan-College Station Eagle (“Robertson case enters third day of sentencing deliberations,” February 27, 2013), jurors indicated on Tuesday afternoon that they were deadlocked on the question of whether Robertson is mentally disabled.   The jury was sequestered for two nights before reaching a final decision that results in a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Read more about the jury deliberations in The Eagle.

Over the last five years, death-qualified juries have rejected the death penalty in more than 20 capital murder trials.  There were four such jury rejections in 2012.  This is the first case this year in which a capital jury has rejected the death penalty; there have been no new death sentences imposed to date in 2012.

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12 December 2012 ~ Comments Off

TCADP Report: Use of Death Penalty Geographically Isolated, Arbitrarily Imposed in Texas

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, December 12, 2012

CONTACT: Kristin Houlé, Executive Director
512-441-1808 (office); 512-552-5948 (cell)
khoule@tcadp.org

Use of Death Penalty Geographically Isolated, Arbitrarily Imposed in Texas,
According to New Report by TCADP

Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex led state in pursuit of the death penalty in 2012

(Austin, Texas) — More than half of all new death sentences were imposed in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex this year, while no new death sentences were imposed in Harris County for the third time in five years, according to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s (TCADP) new report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2012: The Year in Review.

New death sentences in Texas have declined more than 75% since 2002 and remain near historic low levels in 2012.  To date this year, juries have condemned nine new individuals to death in Texas, a slight increase over 2011 and 2010, when new death sentences fell to their lowest number since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Texas’ revised death penalty statute in 1976.  The verdict in a capital murder trial in Brazos County, in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, has been delayed indefinitely pending a legal dispute over jury instructions.

Tarrant and Dallas Counties each accounted for two new death sentences and Johnson County accounted for one.  Dallas County now leads the state in new death sentences since 2008, accounting for nearly 20% of sentences imposed in the last five years.  Dallas County also led the state in executions, accounting for 5 of the 15 executions carried out this year.

“While most of Texas is moving away from the death penalty, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex was a major outlier both in new death sentences and executions this year,” said Kristin Houlé, Executive Director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.  “2012 exemplified the arbitrariness that pervades the death penalty system in Texas.  Not only does it remain geographically isolated to just a few jurisdictions statewide, but it continues to be applied in a haphazard and unfair way, particularly when it comes to individuals with intellectual disabilities or severe mental illness and people of color.”

Seven of the new death row inmates in 2012 are African-American, one is Hispanic, and one is a white female.  Over the last five years, nearly 75% of death sentences in Texas have been imposed on people of color – 46% African-American and 28% Hispanic.  In Dallas County, this pattern is even more pronounced – of the eight men sentenced to death there since 2008, five are African-American and two are Hispanic.

Of the 15 men executed in Texas this year, seven were African-American, four were Hispanic, and four were white.

“Although Texas is using the death penalty less, the state still uses it disproportionately on people of color,” said Kathryn Kase, Executive Director of the Texas Defender Service.  “This is a recurring problem and Texas’ failure to fix it demonstrates how broken its capital punishment system is.”

Troubling questions also persist regarding the arbitrary determination of who receives the ultimate punishment.  Cases involving individuals with comparable backgrounds or who presented similar legal arguments received vastly different treatment by the criminal justice system this year.

As one example of this arbitrariness, several death row inmates with diagnosed severe mental illnesses were scheduled for execution this year.  The executions of Steven Staley and Marcus Druery were halted pending unresolved issues related to their mental competency, while the execution of Jonathan Green, who reportedly suffered from schizophrenia, proceeded on October 10, 2012 after significant legal wrangling.

This disparate treatment was also evident in terms of issues related to intellectual disabilities.

Two inmates with recognized intellectual disabilities received reduced sentences and were removed from death row this year: Roosevelt Smith, convicted in 2007, and Anthony Pierce, who spent more than three decades on death row.  On the other hand, Marvin Wilson was executed on August 7, 2012 despite being diagnosed with an IQ of 61, well below the threshold of 70 for mental impairment.  His case created an international uproar and starkly illustrated the woefully inadequate and unscientific standards used by the State of Texas to determine which defendants with intellectual disabilities are protected from execution.

Other highlights of Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2012: The Year in Review:

  • The State of Texas accounted for more than a third of U.S. executions this year, a smaller percentage than in the past but nearly three times as many as any other state.  Texas has executed a total of 492 people since 1982 – 253 executions have occurred during the administration of Texas Governor Rick Perry (2001 – present), more than any other governor in U.S. history.
  • Six inmates scheduled for execution in 2012 received reprieves.  In addition, three execution dates were withdrawn.
  • Death-qualified juries rejected the death penalty in the sentencing phase in four trials this year and instead opted for life in prison without the possibility of parole.  In all four cases, the jury determined that the defendant did not pose a future danger.  Over the last five years, death-qualified juries have rejected the death penalty in at least 20 capital murder trials.
  • According to research by TCADP, the Texas death row population stands at its lowest level since 1989.  As of November 16, 2012, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice counted 289 death row inmates, which includes 10 women.

“Attitudes toward the death penalty are shifting as public confidence in the ultimate punishment continues to erode,” said Houlé.  “As we approach the start of the 83rd Texas Legislature, TCADP urges concerned citizens and elected officials to confront the realities of this irreversible punishment and reconsider the efficacy and cost of the death penalty as a means of achieving justice.”

TCADP is a statewide, grassroots advocacy organization based in Austin.

Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2012: The Year in Review is available online at www.tcadp.org/TexasDeathPenaltyDevelopments2012.pdf.  Contact report author Kristin Houlé at khoule@tcadp.org to receive a copy directly via email.  See the report for tables illustrating Texas’ highest-use counties from 2008-2012, the race of defendants sentenced to death in the last five years, and additional graphs depicting recent trends.

See http://tcadp.org/2008-2012-new-death-sentences/ for a map of new death sentences by county from 2008 to 2012.

See http://tcadp.org/1976-2012-county-map/ for a map of death sentences by county from 1976 to 2012.

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24 October 2012 ~ Comments Off

Another Bexar County Jury Rejects the Death Penalty

Earlier this week, a “death-qualified” jury in Bexar County (San Antonio) rejected the death penalty for James David Morrison, who was convicted of capital murder in the deaths of Krystle Moten and her mother Laura Moten in 2009.  Both women were related to Morrison’s ex-girlfriend Candice Moten, who survived the shooting but miscarried her unborn baby, who she named Angel.

The jury spent less than two hours determining that Morrison did not pose a future danger to society, which is the first question on the jury instructions.  Morrison was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, the trial  spanned five weeks of jury selection and more than three weeks of testimony (“Jury rejects death sentence,” October 23, 2012).  In the punishment phase, Morrison’s attorneys presented mitigating evidence, “including testimony by video deposition Monday from a retired Gary, Ind., police officer who found Morrison, as a baby, in a gas station trash can in 1979.”

Read more from the Express-News.

This is the fourth case since 2009 in which a Bexar County jury has rejected the death penalty; it is also the fourth jury rejection statewide to date in 2012.  In August, a Bexar County jury rejected the death penalty for Lorenzo Thompson, who was convicted of the 2010 capital murder of Vanessa Pitts, an Air Force basic training graduate he had robbed at a gas station.  In that case, the jury also determined that Thompson did not pose a future danger.

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24 August 2012 ~ Comments Off

Bexar County Jury Rejects Death Penalty

Earlier today, August 24, 2012, a jury in Bexar County (San Antonio) rejected the death penalty for Lorenzo Thompson, who was convicted of the 2010 capital murder of Vanessa Pitts, an Air Force basic training graduate he had robbed at a gas station.  According to the San Antonio Express-News (“Jurors quickly reject death penalty for Thompson,” August 24, 2012), it took the jury less than 30 minutes to determine that Thompson did not pose a future danger to society.  He will serve a sentence of life without parole for the crime.

Here’s more from the Express-News:

Thompson, 23, was arrested days after the incident and told police repeatedly he never intended to kill Vanessa Pitts, who jumped on the outside of his stolen truck at the gas station. Witnesses said he then peeled out of the gas station with Pitts still hanging on and screaming.

She was ejected from the side of the vehicle after Thompson hit another truck — an act prosecutors, and ultimately jurors, believed was intentional.

Bexar County, which has sentenced the third highest number of people to death in Texas overall, has not imposed any new death sentences since 2009.  Death-qualified juries have rejected the death penalty in at least four Bexar County cases since 2009 (including one that was moved to Victoria County).  Two of those cases involved the botched robbery of a convenience store.

This is the third time this year that a death-qualified jury in Texas has rejected the death penalty and opted for a sentence of life without parole.  Over the past five years, juries have rejected the death penalty in at least 17 capital murder trials.

Read more coverage of the case in the San Antonio Express-News is available here and here.

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03 April 2012 ~ Comments Off

Angelina County Rejects Death Penalty for Kimberly Saenz

Yesterday, April 2, 2012, a jury in Angelina County, Texas rejected the death penalty for Kimberly Saenz, a former nurse, and instead sentenced her to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  They reportedly deliberated for less than an hour.  Last week, the jury convicted Saenz of killing five patients at the DaVita Dialysis Clinic by injecting their IV lines with bleach in April 2008.  According to the Associated Press, “she also received three 20-year terms for aggravated assault in the cases of five other patients who were deliberately injured at the facility in East Texas.”

During the sentencing phase, consultant Frank Aubuchon, a 26-year Texas Department of Criminal Justice retiree, described for the jury what prison life will be
like for Saenz. He testified that she will be one of 28 women serving life in prison without parole, a sentencing option that went into effect in Texas in September 2005.

This is the second time this year that a death-qualified jury has rejected the death penalty and opted for a sentence of life without parole.  Over the past five years, death-qualified juries have rejected the death penalty in at least 16 capital murder trials.  Last year, new death sentences in Texas remained at a historic low level, with just eight sentences statewide.

Read more about this case from the Associated Press and the Lufkin News.

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15 February 2012 ~ 2 Comments

Williamson County Jury Rejects the Death Penalty

On February 14, 2012, a jury in Williamson County rejected the death penalty for Bobby Ray Burks Jr., who was convicted last week of murdering Raul Vizueth Torres.  The jury deliberated for almost four hours Tuesday before issuing their verdict. According to the Austin American-Statesman, outside the courtroom, Chrisha Jackson, the mother of one of Burks’ children, spoke of the relief she felt when she heard the issue verdict. “All I can say is thank you,” she said. “Some people have a heart.”

Allan Williams, the defense attorney in this case, also said he was pleased with the verdict. Williams also pointed out that the “vast majority” of people convicted of capital murder in Texas have received life sentences. He said that there are more than 2,000 people in jail for capital murder and only about 300 people on death row to illustrate his point.

This is the first case in 2012 where a death-qualified jury has rejected the death penalty and instead chosen the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.  Over the last four years, death-qualified juries have rejected the death penalty in at least 14 capital murder trials.

Read more in the Austin American-Statesman.

 

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