Court grants stay of execution for Sonnier
A motion to stay the execution of 40-year-old Derrick Sonnier was granted
late Tuesday afternoon by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
According to the court order, the motion was filed by Sonnier's attorneys
on the grounds that the chemicals used according to Texas law during
execution by lethal injection would violate his Eighth Amendment right
against cruel and unusual punishment.
Michelle Lyons, Texas Department of Criminal Justice public information
officer, said the order the court issued did not identify the reasons upon
which the stay was granted.
"The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Sonnier a stay of execution,
and the stay is indefinite at this time," Lyons said. "Once a ruling is
decided in Sonnier's case and if the court rules against him, we would
proceed accordingly, and the district court he was originally tried in
would assign him his 3rd execution date."
Following the court's grant of the stay, Sonnier was returned to the
Polunsky Unit in Livingston, where Lyons said he would be housed on death
row until further notice.
Sonnier, who was convicted of the 1991 murders of 27-year-old Melody
Flowers and her 2-year-old son Patrick, would have been the 1st person to
be executed in Texas since September 2007.
Lethal injections were temporarily halted in September after the Supreme
Court agreed to review a Kentucky case questioning whether or not the
method could be more humane.
The April 16 ruling by the court in favor of the method allowed executions
to resume across the country, and had Sonnier's execution been carried
out, it would have been the 4th in the country since the temporary halt
went into effect.
"At around 4:50 p.m., Walls Unit senior warden Charles O'Reilly informed
Sonnier that his stay had been granted," said Jason Clark, TDCJ spokesman.
"Sonnier was very surprised, but he remained quiet and reserved and
declined to make a public comment.
"Soon after hearing the news, he called his family and friends to let them
According to Lyons, Sonniers attorneys Maurie Levin and David Dow
requested a stay because of a case still pending in the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals questioning the constitutionality of lethal injection.
The request, filed Tuesday, claimed Sonnier was entitled to a stay
"because there was a substantial risk that he would suffer irreparable
injury and cruel and unusual punishment if a stay of execution" was
Additionally, Sonnier's attorneys presented information which indicated
that the Texas prison system had adopted changes to its execution protocol
which went into effect May 30.
The request included information about revisions made in reference to the
training and qualifications of the executioner, and said that the new
protocol had not been examined by any court.
According to Lyons, the only changes made to the written protocol which
is not a public document were revisions to provide more clarity to the
protocol already in place.
"The only changes made to the written protocol were revisions to clarify
that protocol," she said. "The chemicals used, the amounts of those
chemicals used and the protocol itself remains the same.
"Basically, we put into writing some of the things we were already doing
but didn't have in writing."
(source: Huntsville Item)
Texas death row inmate tries to void sentence
Attorneys for a former University of Texas honors student who has been on
death row for 3 decades for killing an Austin police officer again asked
an appeals court Tuesday to throw out his sentence.
David Lee Powell, 57, has been sentenced to death 3 times for the 1978
killing of Ralph Albanedo, who had pulled over Powell's girlfriend for not
having a proper license plate on her car. Powell was a passenger in the
Albanedo was shot 10 times by an automatic assault weapon.
Powell has been on death row since October 1978, the month following his
conviction. Only five other Texas inmates have spent more time there.
His case has wound through a long path in the courts.
His original conviction was vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court and returned
to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. After the state court reaffirmed
his conviction and death sentence, the Supreme Court tossed the sentence.
In 1991, he was convicted again and sentenced to death, but the second
sentence was thrown out by the Court of Criminal Appeals because of
improper jury instructions.
By then, Texas law required only a retrial of the punishment phase, which
resulted in a 3rd death sentence in 1999.
Powell's attorneys told a 3-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals on Tuesday that prosecutors did not timely deliver documents that
showed Powell's girlfriend, Sheila Meinert, may have tossed a hand grenade
and fired during a standoff after Albanedo's shooting.
During the 3rd trial, defense attorneys were trying to show that Powell
did not pose a future danger, one of the conditions jurors must decide
before issuing a death sentence.
Attorney Richard Burr said that when prosecutors tried to prove a future
danger, they contended Powell threw the grenade. But he said 11 police
officers, in a letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, opposed
Meinert's later parole on the grounds that she had thrown the explosive.
Meinert served four years of a 15-year sentence for being a party to
Assistant Texas Attorney General Tina Miranda said most letters opposing
parole are signed by people who don't know many of the facts of a case.
She also said the death sentence "hinged on the atrociousness of killing
an officer with a fully automatic weapon and then going to another scene
and shooting again."
Another attorney for Powell, Eric Albritton, said a full new trial should
be ordered because prosecutors did not submit all the needed elements to
the jury for a death sentence to be returned.
But Miranda said Texas law calls for a capital murder charge when a
killing is committed under one of a set of aggravating circumstances such
as the slaying of a police officer.
The panel did not indicate when it would rule.
A number of Austin police officers and family members of Albanedo attended
The slain officer's sister, Irene Albanedo, said it had been a long 30
"3 trials, over 30 years," she said. "I don't understand why we're back
here in New Orleans."
Albenado's partner on the night of the shooting, Bruce Mills, said the
case had taken up his entire career. He said he was about to retire from
the Austin Police Department.
"Now, we're hanging out with grandkids," Mills said.
(source: Associated Press)