death penalty news—-TEXAS

April 18


Austin killer wants quick execution—-Selwyn Davis tells judge he's
'certain' of his decision to skip appeals.

Sentenced to die for the 2006 killing of his girlfriend's mother, Selwyn
P. Davis told a judge in Travis County on Friday that he wants to waive
most of his appeals because he is guilty and he doesn't want to spend his
life in prison.

"I'm certain of what I want," Davis told state District Judge Julie
Kocurek. "The quality of life is not, basically, to my standards, you know
what I am saying? Basically, jail sucks."

Davis wrote to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals after his October
capital murder conviction in Travis County saying that he wanted to waive
his appeals. His lawyer, Ariel Payan, advised him that he would get an
automatic appeal to Texas' highest criminal court, but could waive further
appeals challenging the constitutionality of his confinement.

The Court of Criminal Appeals ordered Kocurek to determine whether Davis
really wants to waive any rights, and whether he does so knowingly and
intelligently. She said she would send her findings to the court next

Through a series of questions by his lawyers, prosecutors and Kocurek,
Davis said he was aware of what he was requesting and would cooperate on
the direct appeal, but didn't want further efforts. That could shorten the
time he spends on death row before execution from the average of just more
than ten years to as few as two, Payan has said.

Davis, 26, was convicted of fatally stabbing Regina Lara, 57, in her 38
Street apartment Aug. 22, 2006. Lara worked at an East Austin day care and
was a mother of three and grandmother of eight. Prosecutors said that
Davis was angry that she didn't want him to be with her daughter, Linda

The killing capped a two-day crime binge that started when Davis accused
Martinez of cheating on him. The day before the killing, Davis beat
Martinez at the apartment they once shared off East Riverside Drive,
fracturing her eye socket and jaw, slicing her leg, pouring rubbing
alcohol over her head and threatening to set her on fire, according to

He went to his uncle's South Austin house later that night, sliced him
with a knife and took his aunt's car and purse, according to testimony.
Davis then went on a drug binge before going to Lara's apartment, and
sexually assaulting a teenage girl in the home, according to testimony.

Davis' aunt, Latreese Cooke of Bastrop, said after Friday's hearing that
Davis was dehumanized at his trial and only acted so brutally because of
the influence of drugs. She said she thinks he decided to waive his
appeals because he is haunted by his crimes.

At the opening of Friday's hearing, a court-appointed mental health expert
testified that Davis has no mental disease or defect that would cloud his
decision-making. Then Davis took the witness stand, shackled at his hands
and feet.

He talked about death row in Huntsville: He is confined 23 hours a day to
a tiny cell, can't watch television and hasn't had any visitors since he
arrived last year. He said a life of listening to the radio, writing
poetry, reading and corresponding with a few pen pals does not appeal to

Davis said that since he's been back in Travis County, he read in the
newspaper about a death row inmate who was executed though some think he
may have been innocent.

"I'm guilty of my crime," he said. "They did not let him go; why would
they let me go?"

(source: Austin American-Statesman)


Minister decries death penalty as 'unjust'

On nearly 100 occasions spanning 15 years, it fell to the Rev. Carroll
Pickett to provide whatever comfort he could summon to Texas prison
inmates in the hours before their death.

He did not visit them on their sickbeds or after traumatic injury.
Instead, he met them in the holding cell just 10 steps from the execution
chamber in Huntsville and stayed by their side while they were given the
drugs that would end their lives.

At the outset, when Pickett walked alongside Fort Worth killer Charlie
Brooks to the first-ever execution by lethal injection in 1982, the
Presbyterian minister believed he would witness the proper administration
of justice. But by the time he accompanied Ronald Keith Allridge, another
condemned inmate from Fort Worth, to the executioner's gurney a decade and
a half later, Carroll was dispirited, disillusioned and convinced he was
playing a part in a series of state-sanctioned murders.

"In the beginning, I favored the death penalty," said Carroll, 75, in a
telephone interview from his home near Lake Conroe. "I'm from Texas, and
Texans are supposed to be in favor of it. But the more I saw of it, the
more I began to see it as unjust and dishonest. I came to believe that we
were executing people who were innocent and other people who really didn't
need to be executed."

Pickett, who retired as chaplain of the Texas Department of Criminal
Justice in 1995 but still preaches and performs weddings, said he was
chagrined by Wednesday's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that lethal
injection did not violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual

And he is the central figure in the upcoming film At the Death House Door.
The documentary will be telecast by the Independent Film Channel on May
29, but has been shown at several recent film festivals, including South
by Southwest in Austin where it premiered last month.

In the film and in Thursday's interview, Pickett talked about the role he
played in 95 lethal injection executions in Texas, beginning with Brooks
and ending with Allridge. His mission at first, he said, was to offer as
much solace as necessary to keep the condemned calm from 6 a.m., when he
met them at the death house holding cell, until the midnight execution

Carroll said he witnessed inmates suffering during the execution process,
both when the prison system's tie-down team attempted to insert the lethal
injection needles into their veins and when the chemicals began to flow.

The process, which uses 3 drugs to first induce sleep, then paralyze the
muscles and finally stop the heart, is designed to be relatively
pain-free. The challenge to the process centered in part on whether the
paralyzing agent can inflict undue pain if the sleep-inducing agent is
either improperly administered or given in too low a dose.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who voted with the high court's majority,
wrote that pain alone is not enough to outlaw lethal injection.

"The Constitution does not demand the avoidance of all risk of pain in
carrying out executions," Roberts wrote. "Some risk of pain is inherent in
any method of execution — no matter how humane — if only from the
prospect of error in following the required procedure."

The ruling will likely end the 7-month suspension of executions in place
since the court first indicated it would take up the issue.

Proponents of the death penalty, which has been carried out a
nation-leading 405 times in Texas, have long argued that it is an
appropriate punishment for those who kill in the course of committing
other crimes. And they also say that poll after poll shows that most
Texans support its use.

Carroll counters that most of those arguing for resuming executions have
not seen what he has seen inside the walls of the Huntsville death house.

"If it were up to me, every governor and every Supreme Court justice would
have to go to the death house just one time," Carroll said. "They walk
with them from the holding cell until they were strapped to gurney.

"They'd put their hands on [the inmate's] leg and watch what I call the
murder medicine be injected into their veins.

"Then we'll ask them how the feel about the death penalty."

(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)


Ex-honors student wins OK to appeal '78 cop-killing case

A former high school valedictorian and University of Texas honors student
sent to death row three times for the fatal shooting of an Austin police
officer with an automatic assault weapon almost 30 years ago has won
permission to appeal his case again.

David Lee Powell, now 57, most recently was convicted and condemned in
1999 for the 1978 slaying of Ralph Albanedo, who had pulled over Powell's
girlfriend for a traffic stop near downtown Austin for not having a rear
license tag. Powell was a passenger in the car.

In a ruling from a 3-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals, the judges agreed that Powell may pursue 3 claims of
appeal, including one that could give him a complete new trial rather than
a new punishment trial.

He is claiming his rights to due process were violated because prosecutors
didn't timely disclose documents that showed Powell's girlfriend might
have fired the shots at the slain officer and tossed a hand grenade and
fired at other officers when she was arrested, and that his constitutional
rights were violated when an emergency room doctor didn't provide Miranda
warnings to Powell when he examined Powell following his arrest and
testified for the prosecution at Powell's trial.

"We conclude that those claims present issues that are adequate to deserve
encouragement to proceed further," the court said in a 12-page ruling.

Powell has been on death row since October 1978, the month following his
conviction. Only five other Texas inmates have spent more time there.

Powell's 1st conviction was vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court and returned
to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. After the state court reaffirmed
the conviction and death sentence, the Supreme Court vacated his sentence.

He was retried and condemned following a 2nd trial in November 1991.
Although the high court had only reversed the sentence, Texas law at the
time required a full retrial, not only a punishment retrial. That 2nd
sentence then was reversed by the Court of Criminal Appeals because of
improper jury instructions.

Texas law had changed by then, and a retrial only was needed for
sentencing, which Powell challenged in the appeals courts.

Before the 3rd trial in 1999, his attorneys tried to establish that
Powell's girlfriend was involved and had the officer's body exhumed to
gather forensic evidence of bullet fragments. When a judge refused to
delay the trial because the testing was incomplete, Powell's lawyers
dropped their "2 shooter" theory and instead focused on trying to save him
from death by attempting to show he no longer was a future danger, one of
the conditions jurors must decide before voting to send someone to death

Records of his girlfriend, Sheila Meinert, showed, among other things,
that the officer implicated her in the shooting before he died and that
other officers accused her of tossing a hand grenade at another officer
who responded. She was convicted as a party to capital murder.

Powell was condemned again. It's that conviction the 5th Circuit is
allowing him to proceed with appeals.

Court records show Powell grew up on a dairy farm, graduated a year early
from his small high school and went into the honors program at the
University of Texas. He never finished school as his life went downhill
after he turned to drugs.

In his time on death row, and off drugs, court records show he has become
a model prisoner.

Records show at the time of the shooting, he had been wanted for
misdemeanor theft and for passing more than 100 bad checks in Austin. His
drug use led him to become so paranoid he began carrying loaded weapons,
including a .45 caliber pistol, an AK-47 and a hand grenade. Those weapons
were with him in the car, along with some methamphetamines.

Evidence showed the officer was shot through the back window of the car
with the AK-47 in semiautomatic mode as he walked toward the vehicle. The
fallen officer tried to get up and Powell opened fire again, switching the
weapon to full automatic mode. The 26-year-old officer was wearing a
bulletproof vest but it wasn't designed to handle that kind of firepower.
Shot 10 times, he died about a hour later.

In another case decided before the 5th Circuit, a man condemned for the
slayings of a 24-year-old Corpus Christi woman, her young son and her
mother lost an appeal, moving him a step closer to execution.

Jose Villegas, who turned 33 this week, had argued his defense lawyers
were ineffective at his trial where he was convicted of capital murder for
the slayings of Erida Perez Salazar, his ex-girlfriend; her son, Jacob, 3;
and her mother Alma Perez, 51.

All were fatally stabbed. Salazar was stabbed 32 times, her son 19 times
and mother 35 times. A television and car also were taken from the home.

Salazar's father, returning home from jury duty in January 2001, found the
body of his wife and had a neighbor call police. He then went back into
the house to find his daughter and grandson also dead.

A neighbor told police she saw Villegas leaving the house about 30 minutes
earlier. Within 15 minutes, police spotted Salazar's car with Villegas
behind the wheel. He led them on a chase, then bailed out on foot before
he was arrested. He was carrying 3 bags of cocaine when he was caught.

Court records show he confessed to the slayings. A Nueces County jury
convicted him in May 2002 and decided he should be put to death.

(source: Associated Press)


Death row inmate appeals case after 30 years

The man convicted of fatally shooting an Austin Police officer in 1978
will again appeal his case.

The Fifth United States Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled
yesterday 57-year-old David Lee Powell could proceed again.

Officer Ralph Ablanedo was killed after he pulled over a car for not
having a rear license tag.

Powell was a passenger in that car. He claimed his rights to due process
were violated.

Powell has been on death row since October 1978.

(source: News8Austin)


Supreme Court ruling puts Texas inmates closer to execution

The question for some condemned Texas inmates lately has not been if they
would face execution, but how.

The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that lethal injection is not
unconstitutionally cruel answered the question of how, and it also brought
execution dates considerably closer for prisoners in the nation's busiest
capital punishment state.

"It's going to be real crazy," Kevin Watts, sentenced to die for the
slayings of three people during a robbery at a San Antonio restaurant 5
years ago, said from a small visiting cage at the prison unit where the
state's 360 condemned men are housed.

Watts, 26, is among dozens of inmates whose appeals have been exhausted
since Sept. 25. That's when the high court decided to take up a challenge
from Kentucky prisoners who contended the lethal injection procedure used
in that state, similar to the one employed in Texas and other states,
violated constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

The justices, in a 7-2 vote announced Wednesday, upheld the process,
clearing the way for capital punishment to resume. In Texas, where 405
inmates have been put to death since 1982, that number could begin rising
as early as a month from now.

Prisoners who had execution dates but whose punishments were stopped for
additional reviews are eligible to die within 30 days. For inmates who
will get their first dates, execution could be held in 90 days.

The Texas Attorney General's Office, which handles capital case appeals
once they get into the federal courts, called the hiatus in executions
since last fall "delayed justice for crime victims and their families."
The office will "take the legal action necessary to bring closure to these
victims," spokesman Jerry Strickland said.

"The way the courts are ruling, I lost all hope," said David Lewis, who
was convicted of killing a Lufkin woman during a burglary 21 years ago.

Like Watts, Lewis in January had his case rejected by the Supreme Court,
clearing the way for his likely death.

"Look at history," he said. "They'd just find something else. We all know

"I'm not concerned if they put a bullet between the eyes," added
70-year-old Jack Smith, the state's oldest condemned prisoner. "Dead is
dead, no matter how you go about it."

Smith, on death row for some 31 years for a fatal shooting during a
Houston robbery, said lethal injection would always provoke controversy
and was merely the progression from other methods.

"You had the electric chair, hanging at the gallows, now this," he said.
"They're always going to try to find another method."

Smith lost his appeal before the justices in February.

"I'll contest them any day of the week," said Smith, who maintains his
innocence of the slaying where authorities said $90 was taken in the
robbery. "The courts, the D.A., they can squash your case and sit on it
hoping I'll die of old age."

That may not happen.

Harris County Assistant District Attorney Roe Wilson, who handles capital
case appeals for the state's most active death penalty county, said
Thursday that Smith is likely to among several Harris County inmates to
get an execution date imminently.

One problem may be the volume of cases and coordinating them with the
attorney general's office, she said.

"We're just going to have to get the dates and stagger them," she said.

Besides Smith, others are likely to include Derrick Sonnier, who was
scheduled to die in February for the 1992 rape-slaying of an Humble woman.
Sonnier won a reprieve because of the Kentucky case. Another is Jose
Medellin, condemned for the rape-slayings of 2 Houston teenagers 15 years

Medellin and Cesar Fierro were among seven Mexican-born inmates on Texas
death row who last month lost their bids for appeal before the Supreme
Court in a case where the justices said President Bush overstepped his
authority trying to reopen their cases.

"If I die, this could be the best thing to happen to me," said Fierro, 51,
convicted of the 1979 robbery-slaying of an El Paso taxi driver. He's been
on death row more than 28 years but says he's innocent.

"Nobody cares," he said bitterly. "It doesn't matter. Death is the best
chance to get out of this place."

Watts said he'd be expecting an execution date, which would be a "real low

"I don't put my trust in no judge," he said. "They make mistakes, just
like we do. … I don't believe the state of Texas has the right to murder

Smith was equally critical of the justice system.

"They're all crooks," he said. "If you show me one honest one, I'll show
you 10 that ain't. it's all a buddy system. And when you get hung up in
it, there's not much you can do. They're hoping I'll keep my mouth shut
and die, but since I'm about dead anyway, I won't shut up."

Smith, whose fellow inmates call him "Old Man," also said the ruling
wasn't all bad news.

"I've been blessed in a way," he said, "I could have been out on the
streets and been run over.

"I'm old. I'm ready."

(source: Associated Press)


The executions and the questions shall continue

Virginia's governor wasted no time in restarting his state's execution
machine once the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that injecting inmates with a
3-drug lethal cocktail does not violate the constitutional prohibition of
cruel and unusual punishment. Texas will soon follow suit.

The ruling was a disappointment but not a surprise, given the court's
philosophical makeup. We note, however, that Justice John Paul Stevens,
long a death penalty supporter, quoted a 1972 Supreme Court opinion that
called the ultimate punishment a "pointless and needless extinction of
life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public

Our opposition to the death penalty is long-standing, but until the Texas
Legislature abolishes it – which isn't likely in the foreseeable future –
we urge that it be imposed fairly and as humanely as possible. There is no
honor to be found in turning the state into the same ruthless killer it
says it is executing every time a condemned inmate is strapped to a

We have noted in the past that Texas' lethal injection cocktail is not
scientifically derived and is administered in a dose that does not take
into account an inmate's size or physical condition. We have also noted
that state law prohibits veterinarians from using pancuronium bromide –
one of the drugs that makes up the execution cocktail – to euthanize
animals because of its potential to cause unnecessary pain and suffering.

Chief Justice John Roberts dismissed the appellant's complaints that the
Kentucky procedure – essentially the same as the one used in Texas – may
be painful.

"Simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident
or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not establish the sort of
objectively intolerable risk of harm that qualifies as cruel and unusual,"
Roberts wrote.

The decision's focus was narrow: whether the method of execution passes
constitutional muster. We now have an answer to that, but Stevens raises
questions that should be considered in the future about just what society
accomplishes when it kills.

It was neither a clean nor a satisfactory ruling, but it should be enough
balm on the consciences of death penalty proponents who are claiming a
significant victory. It is, but one haunted by Stevens' questions and
others associated with the death penalty.

The death penalty is not applied evenly. Texas criminal defendants have a
greater chance of facing the death penalty in Harris County than in Travis
County for the same offense. And, certainly, defendants in Texas have a
higher chance of facing execution than criminal defendants in any other

Those issues, obviously, will have to be taken up another day. They should

(source: Editorial, Austin American-Statesman, April 17)