death penalty news—-TEXAS

May 19

TEXAS—-re: foreign national loses appeal

Condemned murderer in Waco case loses appeal

A Texas death row inmate convicted of strangling and raping a teenage girl
in Waco more than 20 years ago lost an appeal Monday before the U.S.
Supreme Court, moving him closer to execution.

The justices refused to review the case of Mexican-born Ramiro Rubi
Ibarra, 53, who had been claiming he was denied legal assistance from the
Mexican consulate following his arrest, a violation of Geneva Convention

The Supreme Court in March rejected that claim in another Texas case
involving condemned prisoner Jose Medellin. He and Ibarra are among 14
Mexicans on death row in the state.

Ibarra does not have an execution date. A federal district judge had
issued a stay for Ibarra pending the outcome of the Medellin case. State
attorneys said the outcome of that case should allow the stay to be

Ibarra's lawyer, Russell Hunt Jr., said Monday an appeal focusing on
claims that Ibarra is mentally retarded and not eligible for execution
under Supreme Court guidelines is included in additional federal appeals.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals last September rejected that claim.

In a state court hearing in 2006, Ibarra's lawyers argued the former
construction worker had an IQ of 65, below the retardation threshold of
70. The judge conducting the hearing denied the claim after the only
evidence of Ibarra's retardation came from an unsworn affidavit from a
psychologist in Puerto Rico.

The question of Ibarra's mental retardation never was an issue at his
trial in Waco in 1997, a decade after the slaying.

According to prison records, 16-year-old Maria Zuniga was looking after
two young nephews at her family's home in Waco when she was attacked by
Ibarra, a family acquaintance. She was beaten, raped and strangled with an
electrical cord. Ibarra was arrested the day her body was found.

Hair and blood sample evidence taken from him were thrown out by a judge
after Ibarra's lawyer, John Segrest, showed the search warrant used by
police was improper. Ibarra was released.

A change in state law in 1995 allowed police to go back into the case,
obtain another warrant and get evidence to tie Ibarra to the slaying. He
was arrested in October 1996.

Segrest later was elected district attorney in McLennan County and recused
his office from the trial.

(source: Associated Press)


Death row cop killer tries for another appeal

Sunday marked the 30th anniversary of the murder of Austin Police
Department Officer Ralph Ablanedo. The man convicted of killing him in 3
different trials still sits on death row.

David Lee Powell was first found guilty and sentenced to death in 1978. He
got two new trials in 1991 and 1999, with the same results.

Police said he shot Ablanedo 10 times with a semi-automatic weapon during
a routine traffic stop in 1978.

Recently, Powell won the right to appeal again arguing that his rights
were violated because prosecutors did not disclose evidence to defense
attorneys in a timely manner. Also, attorneys said Powell wasn't read his
Miranda rights after his arrest.

Ablenado's sister said the latest move is an insult to her brother's name.

"If we keep going, there's never going to be an end to this and it should
have ended a long time ago," said Irene Ablanedo, Ralph's sister.

Powell's next appeal hearing is June 3 in New Orleans. If the justices
rule in his favor, he can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. If they rule
against him, an execution date will be set.

(source: Associated Press)


Andre Latallade—-Walk the Line; Ex-con takes steps to save death-row
inmates, reform prisons

After spending eight years of his life locked up, Andre Latallade still
lives like a prisoner.

He feels paranoid in social situations. Too much sunlight makes him edgy.
His home in Newark is a cell-like basement apartment with no windows, no
carpet and no kitchen.

But 2 months ago, Latallade, 43, began a 1,700-mile walk to protest the
death penalty. Next week, he vows, he'll be in Texas.

"When I was in prison, everyone forgot about me," says Latallade, a rapper
whose stage name is Capital X. "I want to show inmates on death row that I
won't forget about them."

The walk began on March 31 in Trenton — where, in December, New Jersey
became the 1st state in 4 decades to abolish the death penalty — and will
finish in Huntsville, Texas, the state with the most executions.

Of more than 3,000 prisoners on death row, Texas executed 27 last year,
more than 60 percent of the national total.

"I'm not always up on all the statistics," admits Latallade, whose beat-up
Air Jordans have lasted throughout the walk. "But I know what's immoral."

Latallade (he pronounces it La-tah-LAH-day) turned his life around six
years ago, after doing time on drug and aggravated assault charges. Since,
he has built a name for himself as an activist for prisoners' rights,
affiliated with national and international groups that are fighting
capital punishment.

For Latallade, death row is the last stop in a system that brutalizes
inmates and makes rehabilitation nearly impossible. Even if they manage to
break the cycle of crime and punishment, it leaves mental and physical
scars that never heal, he says.

"You committed a crime, you get removed from society and you pay your
debt," says Latallade. "But these are environments that just make people
worse, and society pays for that . My purpose is to speak for human beings
that are being treated like non-human beings."

Events in Texas

When he arrives in Texas, the state Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
will hold rallies, vigils and other events to publicize Latallade's
message, including a protest outside the governor's mansion in Houston.

His "Walk for Life" has received support from Amnesty International and
other abolitionist groups in the U.S. and Europe, including Senza Voce
("Voice of the Voiceless"), an Italian group that is co-planning the
events in Texas.

"What he's doing is quite a feat," says Bill Pelke, co-founder of Journey
of Hope, a national group that helps murder victims' families fight
capital punishment. "It shows that people can change and do good things. I
think he reaches an audience that isn't always reached by the movement."

Pelke, of Alaska, fought a well-publicized battle to get his grandmother's
killer off death row in 1986. He joined Latallade for part of his walk
near Washington, D.C.

Death penalty advocates, however, have questioned the credibility of
ex-cons turned crusaders, like Latallade.

"The way they represent harsh conditions can be much distorted," says
Robert Blecker, a professor at New York Law School who favors capital
punishment and had never heard of Latallade.

According to Blecker, inmates awaiting execution receive some of the best
treatment in the prison system, no matter how heinous their crimes.

"Even a lot of death row inmates support the death penalty, for others if
not for themselves," he says. "I've seen guys on death row in Tennessee
saying, 'It's a joke, this other inmate is out their playing basketball
and he killed 3 kids.'"

Latallade's walk — he hopes to complete 35 miles a day over 54 days —
comes at a time when a record number of Americans are in prison. According
to a study released by the Pew Center on the United States in February,
more than one in 100 adults is now incarcerated, the highest number in
U.S. history and a figure that tops every other nation in the world.

Rikers Island blues

It's a process Latallade calls "prisonization." For him, it began when he
was sent to Rikers Island after being arrested on a drug charge at 17, 3
years after he dropped out of school.

"That was the 1st time I saw a prisoner get killed. I hadn't even made up
my bunk yet. These guys were arguing over the phone, one just started
shanking the hell out of the other," he says.

Latallade witnessed scores of stabbings, beat-downs and rapes in jails and
prisons in New York and New Jersey, he says.

The subtlest slight — or perceived slight — could trigger an attack,
from failing to return a borrowed cigarette to holding eye contact for too
long, a sign of disrespect. Guards also beat inmates, he claims.

For protection, Latallade, whose parents are Puerto Rican, joined the
Latin Kings gang. "I stayed with the Latinos. I had to," he says. "You had
to find a group, and the groups were all segregated."

He learned why prison gangs inspire such loyalty. "You have guys telling
you you're a king when you're used to people telling you you're nothing,"
contends Latallade, who says he is no longer an active member of the gang.
"If that's all you hear all day, it can destroy you."

At his apartment in Newark, Latallade wears a black T-shirt stamped with
the name of a Anthony Haynes, a death-row inmate who was convicted of
murdering a Houston police officer in 1998.

As an homage to Johnny Cash, Latallade dresses in dark colors. His
bookshelves are filled with prison memoirs, like "In the Belly of the
Beast," alongside contradictory tomes like Marx's "The Communist
Manifesto" and Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grow Rich."

His tattoos also tell a story. On his left bicep is an illustration of the
gurney on which prisoners are strapped for lethal injections. The word
"Freedom" is written across his upper chest. His prison number, 305375, is
tattooed on his shoulder blades. It's also the name of the nonprofit
corporation he founded to fight the death penalty.

Becoming X

Latallade was born in Brooklyn but spent most of his childhood in Morris
County. In 4th grade, his family moved to Mine Hill, where he was the only
Puerto Rican kid in town. Classmates threw rocks at him and called him
"spic," he says. He went on to write a song called "The Spic in Black," a
play on the famous Cash tune.

"I didn't even know what the word meant, but I knew it was bad," Latallade
remembers. With the song, he says, he was trying to transform a slur into
a badge of honor.

In his teens, he developed a PCP addiction and was dealing drugs when his
criminal record began. It ended when he sought treatment for substance
abuse. He was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder and Meniere's disease,
an inner-ear condition that has eroded his hearing and triggers episodes
of vertigo.

In Mine Hill, his parents worked hard to make a new life for themselves
and were at a loss to help him adjust, he says. One person he could turn
to was his older sister, Mary.

"She was my anchor not to jump over the edge," he says. "When I was in
high school, she kept handing me self-help books, like (M.) Scott Peck's
"The Road Less Traveled," telling me to read these books. I was one of the
only cats on the street doing illegal activity, but with a book in my

Mary was a college graduate who gave him "tough love" when he kept landing
in prison, he says. Now a stay-at-home mom in North Carolina who processes
disability claims for the state, she let him know that, until he changed,
she couldn't help him.

But the biggest incentive to stay out of jail was his daughter, Sheana,
now 18. Latallade's marriage to an exotic dancer in the early 1990s ended
after several years, but he formed a close bond with his daughter, whom he
raised as a single father in Budd Lake for several years after his ex-wife
moved to Texas.

"When I got custody, I told her, 'I'm not pushing you to be an adult, but
we're going to be a team.' It was tough, but I learned a lot and so did
she. I learned how to be patient and flexible."

His daughter, who now lives with her mother in Texas, will join him on the
walk, too.

Ex-con and activist

After his release from prison in 2001, Latallade got a degree in sound
technology from the County College of Morris and was about to start an
internship for a major music label, but his prison record prevented him
from being hired, he says.

That's when he began speaking out against the prison system and started
corresponding with inmates on death row.

His stalled rap career picked up after he began writing about his beliefs.
He got a slot on the Warped Tour in 2004, which led to gigs in Italy and
other European countries, sponsored by Senza Voce.

"His mission is to bring the truth to light," says his manager, Timothy
Kostenko, a rapper and financial advisor with Morgan Stanley whose stage
name is "Tim Grins."

Kostenko, who grew up in the Sussex County town of Vernon and now lives in
Annapolis, Md., is funding Latallade's walk, despite the fact that he's
uncertain about the death penalty. "Sometimes I look at a guy that killed
4 people, 3 cops, and I think, 'Why should this person be allowed to
live?,'" he says.

But he believes in Latallade.

"What he's doing is important. I've seen kids who are the result of 3, 4
generations of poverty. He's an example to them that, listen, you don't
have to choose this route. I can see it in his eyes that he's on a
mission. I've told him, 'Why don't you convince me?'"

Additional insight:

Favorite rapper: Melle Mel of Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five

Favorite singer: Mary J. Blige

Need to walk to Texas: Lots of prayer and focus

First thing he did when he got out of prison: "Spent time with my

(source: Neward Star-Ledger)