death penalty news—-TEXAS

June 10


Texas death row inmate set for execution in Dallas woman's death

5 years after Felecia Prechtl was raped and fatally shot at her East
Dallas apartment, a thumbprint lifted from a roll of duct tape used to
bind the 30-year-old single mom led detectives to her killer, a former
neighbor on probation for an attempted robbery in Houston.

"I've never said I was innocent," Karl Eugene Chamberlain, now 37, said
recently from death row, where he was sent following his conviction for
Prechtl's slaying. "I've never denied my guilt. I don't want to say the
jury was wrong, that the prosecutors were wrong.

"My greatest regret is that I went down there in the 1st place and didn't
have the courage to kill myself instead."

But Chamberlain, set for execution in Huntsville Wednesday for the 1991
murder, insisted prosecutors, jurors and his trial lawyers ignored the
fact that for most of those five years – while on probation – he managed
to stay out of trouble. And that, combined with what he said was their
failure to consider his abusive childhood, should have defused prosecution
arguments that he posed a future danger – one of the questions jurors
consider when deciding whether to impose the death penalty.

"There was so much from my childhood and my life the jury never heard," he
said, saying he was molested repeatedly, raped at age 5 and frequented
hippie camps and communes with his mother, who later married a strict
Muslim who berated him as a "son of Satan."

He said after his arrest and while jailed in Houston, "I realized the
horror I was causing in my life. I was blaming others. I had blamed my
mom… It was my own stupidity."

Prosecutors characterized the Plano East High School graduate as a sexual
predator. Prechtl's slaying was an example of his continuing danger, they
told jurors.

"That's what the jury caught – the predatory nature of the crime," said
Toby Shook, the former Dallas County assistant district attorney who
prosecuted the case. "He waited and watched and pounced on the victim."

Relatives had taken Prechtl's 5-year-old son to a video store to get a
movie while she got ready to go out with friends. Chamberlain knocked on
her door and asked to borrow some sugar. She gave him some sugar, but then
he returned with a rifle and the roll of duct tape, attacked her and shot
her in the head.

When Prechtl's son and babysitters returned home, they found her body in a

"It was a highly planned crime," Shook said. "There was cruelty involved
in the murder itself. And the fact that this poor 5-year-old boy had to
find his mother. That image is hard to forget."

"I had kind of like a slip into delusion," Chamberlain said. "It makes
absolutely no sense… It was like I lost all control."

Chamberlain's lethal injection would be the first in Texas in nearly 9

Executions in the state and elsewhere in the nation were on hold since
late last September after two Kentucky prisoners challenged the
constitutionality of lethal injection procedures. The U.S. Supreme Court
agreed to take the case last Sept. 25, the same day Michael Richard became
the 26th inmate put to death in 2007 in Texas, far more than any other

When the U.S. Supreme Court in April upheld the lethal injection method,
the de facto moratorium was lifted and executions resumed.

Chamberlain would be the sixth prisoner executed nationally. He's among at
least 13 Texas inmates with execution dates in the coming months.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals late Monday refused to stop
Chamberlain's punishment while also lifting a reprieve it gave a week ago
to another Texas inmate, Derrick Sonnier, just 90 minutes before he was
supposed to be executed for killing a suburban Houston woman and her young
son. Sonnier, like Chamberlain, had argued the Texas lethal injection
procedures were unconstitutionally cruel.

Lawyers for both condemned inmates had cited unresolved cases before the
Court of Criminal Appeals that raised the same issues. The appeals court
Monday also dispensed with those cases, clearing the way for executions in
Texas to resume.

By then, Chamberlain's attorneys already had gone to the Supreme Court
seeking a reprieve and a review of his case. In their arguments, lawyers
contended Chamberlain's initial appeals attorney was inept. Since indigent
capital murder convicts have a right to lawyers, the state should "provide
counsel who are both competent and who provide effective legal assistance
to their clients," the appeal to the Supreme Court said.

Meanwhile, Harris County prosecutors said Tuesday they would be returning
to court soon to seek a new execution date for Sonnier.

Another execution is set for next week. Charles Hood is scheduled to die
June 17 for the slayings of Ronald Williamson and Tracie Lynn Wallace at
Williamson's suburban Dallas home in 1989.

(source: Dallas Morning News)


Texas court OKs execution for killer of stalked woman — Court lifts stay
of execution for Sonnier

The Court of Criminal Appeals has lifted a stay of execution for a man who
was to be the 1st executed in Texas this year.

Derrick Juan Sonnier, 40, was almost 2 hours away from entering Texas'
death chamber a week ago when the state's highest criminal court issued a

A new execution date must be scheduled in light of the court's decision to
lift the stay, which was handed down late Monday. The date must be
requested by the Harris County District Attorney. A spokesperson for the
district attorney's office could not be reached immediately for comment.

Sonnier's attorney filed appeals late last Tuesday arguing that the issue
of whether death by lethal injection results in cruel and unusual
punishment had not been determined by the state court.

In a related opinion, the Texas court concluded that another death row
inmate's claim that the lethal injection process would violate his Eighth
Amendment rights had no legal merit. The court found that the U.S. Supreme
Court's 7-2 ruling which upheld Kentucky's lethal injection procedure is
"materially indistinguishable from Texas' lethal injection protocol."

David Dow, one of the lawyers who sought the last-minute stay for Sonnier,
could not be reached immediately for comment.

Sonnier was sentenced to die for the 1991 murders of Melody Flowers, 27,
and her son Patrick, 2. Authorities said Sonnier had stalked the single
mother of 5 for months before the slayings.

Tameka Traylor, one of Flowers' daughters, wept last week as she spoke
about the court delay for her mother and brother's killer last week.

"We found out as soon as it happened," Traylor said today, referring to
the court's decision. "The main thing is for us to go on with our lives."

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Texas high court creates a judicial integrity unit

The mandate is to identify problems behind state's sorry record of
wrongful convictions Last month, 9 men stood on the floor of the Texas
Senate and described how they spent years behind bars even though they
were innocent. All were wrongfully convicted. "I'm here to tell you I lost
everything. I am still hurting. I am still broken," said James Giles, who
spent 10 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit. "We can do better in
the justice system. The system failed us."

The system also failed James Waller. He was identified by a rape victim by
his eyes and the sound of his voice. The victim described her rapist as
5-foot-8; Waller is 6-foot-4. He also spent 10 years behind bars. Waller
spoke of his wife, eight months pregnant, who was killed in a car accident
on the way to one of his hearings. "I'm 52 years old and I have no kids,"
he said. "Texas took that away from me."

If the Giles and Waller cases were just rare mistakes, there would still
be cause to be concerned about the state's criminal justice system. But,
sadly and tragically, these mistakes are not rare. Since 1994, 33 men have
been exonerated in Texas after DNA testing. They had served, collectively,
427 years in prison.

Think about that — 427 years lost because of miscarriages of justice. The
state can't restore those lost years and those ruined lives. What it can
do is to try to insure that whatever is wrong with the criminal justice
system be fixed so that there will be no more morally repugnant and
criminally negligent wrongful convictions. Some progress is being made.

Last week, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said it was creating a
Criminal Justice Integrity Unit to study the criminal justice system and
make recommendations. "This is a call to action to address the growing
concerns with our criminal justice system," said Court of Criminal Appeals
Justice Barbara Hervey. "Although we applaud all previous studies and
dialogue, it is now time to act and move for reform."

We applaud the court's action, though the court itself has often been a
parody of justice. In one infamous case, that of Roy Wayne Criner, the
court refused to overturn his rape conviction even though DNA evidence
showed it was not his semen in the woman's body. He was pardoned by former
Gov. Bush "for actual innocence." More recently, Sharon Keller, chief
justice of the Court of Criminal Appeals, refused to keep the court open
for a half hour after the 5 p.m. closing time so Michael Richard's
attorneys could file an appeal. Richard was executed even though the U.S.
Supreme Court had put executions on hold until it could review the
constitutionality of lethal injections.

So Texas' highest court for criminal matters has not been overly concerned
about the rights of the accused. That makes it all the more striking that
this court is taking the lead on the issue of whether the state's criminal
justice system is badly out of whack. The creation of the integrity unit
follows a call by state leaders to create a statewide innocence
commission. The creation of the integrity unit does not take away the need
for a statewide innocence commission. There is enough work here for both.

We anticipate that the integrity panel, when it gets to work, will find a
combination of problems ranging from sloppy police work, criminally
negligent lab work, overzealous if not unethical prosecution, and often
inadequate court-appointed legal counsel.

That 33 men were wrongfully convicted and spent 427 years in prison is a
terrible indictment of Texas' criminal justice system, a system more
concerned about getting an arrest and a conviction than getting the right
man. More frightening is the possibility that this may be the tip of a
very large iceberg. Many of these 33 cases only came to light because of
the outstanding work of Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins. If other
district attorneys in Texas were as diligent about reviewing old
convictions, how many other miscarriages of justice might be revealed?

It's encouraging that Watkins is one of the members of the Court of
Criminal Appeals' integrity unit, along with state Sen. Rodney Ellis,
D-Houston, long a crusader in the Legislature on this issue. Their
appearance on the panel gives it substance and a good measure of integrity
of its own.

(source: Editorial, Corpus-Christi Caller-Times)


Executions back on for Texas

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday cleared the way for
executions to resume in the nation's most active death penalty state when
it turned aside an appeal that challenged the constitutionality of lethal
injection procedures.

In a ruling late Monday, the state's highest criminal court refused to
stop the scheduled execution of Karl Eugene Chamberlain, set to die
Wednesday for the rape-slaying of a woman in Dallas in 1991. The same
issues successfully worked last week for another condemned Texas inmate,
Derrick Sonnier, who avoided the death chamber about 90 minutes before he
would have become the 1st prisoner in Texas executed in nearly 9 months.

In his appeal, Chamberlain argued the chemicals used by Texas prison
officials during lethal injections "would violate his Eighth Amendment
right against cruel and unusual punishment," according to the court

"We have reviewed (Chamberlain's) subsequent application and find that it
should be dismissed," the court said.

2 of the court's 9 judges dissented.

Similarly, the court denied at least 2 other appeals and a motion for a
stay of execution.

David Schulman, an attorney for Chamberlain, said Monday evening he hoped
the issue could be pursued in the federal courts but was uncertain whether
he would file such an appeal. "We'll see what happens (Tuesday)," he said.

Other lawyers for Chamberlain already had appeals raising other issues
before the U.S. Supreme Court even before the Texas court ruled on the
lethal injection claim.

Monday's ruling also would appear to clear the way for a new execution
date to be set for Sonnier, condemned for the slaying of a suburban
Houston woman and her young son some 17 years ago. Chamberlain was
arrested 5 years after Felicia Prechtl was raped and fatally shot at her
East Dallas apartment after his thumbprint was lifted from a roll of duct
tape used to bind the 30-year-old single mom. He lived in the same
apartment complex at the time. Chamberlain's fingerprints got into a
police database after he was arrested for a robbery in Houston and wound
up on probation.

Chamberlain, whose confession to police was part of the evidence against
him, has not denied his involvement in the woman's death.

"I'm not trying to excuse my crime or justify my actions," Chamberlain,
who would turn 38 later this month, said recently from death row. "It was
a horrible mistake.

"My greatest regret is going down there and not killing myself."

Prechtl's brother and his girlfriend had taken her 5-year-old son to a
video store to get a movie while she got ready to go out on a date.
Chamberlain knocked on her door to borrow some sugar. Then he returned
with a rifle and attacked and shot her. When Prechtl's son and babysitters
returned home, they found her body.

Executions in Texas and elsewhere in the nation were on hold since late
September after two Kentucky prisoners challenged the constitutionality of
lethal injection procedures. Then when the Supreme Court in April upheld
the method, the de facto moratorium was lifted and executions were allowed
to resum, although Sonnier's set for last week in Texas was halted with a
reprieve from the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Sonnier's appeal cited a then-unresolved case before the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals in seeking his reprieve.

Chamberlain's execution would be the 6th this year nationally. He's among
at least 13 condemned Texas prisoners with execution dates in the coming
few months.

(source: Associated Press)


Dallas County's chief public defender resigns amid questions over

Dallas County Chief Public Defender Brad Lollar resigned early this
afternoon in the wake of concerns from county officials about the
management of his office.

County officials declined to say whether Mr. Lollar was asked to resign.

But Commissioner John Wiley Price said the office was not being managed
efficiently. He said he has been accumulating data during the past 8
months about all aspects of the office and was not pleased with the

The office provides legal representation to criminal defendants who cant
afford their own lawyers.

The review included a look at the number of cases public defenders
received, the kind of cases they were getting, and how long it took for
them to contact a defendant. Some lawyers in the office were not pulling
their weight, Mr. Price said.

"The Public Defenders Office is not a retirement home for lawyers who dont
want to work," Mr. Price said. "You can't treat it as if it's a part-time

Mr. Lollar could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mr. Price said he expects additional personnel changes in the office. He
said there are no immediate plans to dissolve the office but didnt rule it
out as a future measure if results dont improve. Its also possible the
office could be scaled down, he said. Commissioners have already agreed to
dissolve the offices appeals division as a cost saving measure.

Lynn Richardson, Mr. Lollar's chief deputy, was appointed interim public
defender and will be a given a chance to turn the office around and become
the permanent replacement, Mr. Price said.

During the past several weeks, commissioners have focused on the public
defenders office while looking for cost savings to close a $34 million
budget gap. Mr. Lollar has spent considerable time in closed session
discussions after regular commissioner meetings.

Mr. Price said that when Mr. Lollar was being questioned about the
management of his office, Mr. Lollar said 90 % of the defendants are
guilty. "That mentality got us in trouble in the first place," Mr. Price

Mr. Price also said he pulled a years worth of emails generated by the
office, which he said indicated Mr. Lollar had been notified about
performance issues and failed to fix them.

Dallas County formed the state's 1st public defender's office more than 2
decades ago to offer inexpensive and efficient representation for the

During the past several years, Dallas Countys criminal court judges had
been using public defenders less than before, relying more on
court-appointed lawyers, who generally cost the county more money per

In 2006, criminal district judges assigned just 38 % of cases to public
defenders. Misdemeanor court judges, however, used them more.

But in the past year, many of the new judges have requested more public
defenders for their courts.

When some of the judges complained about their public defenders, the
lawyers were simply moved to another court, Mr. Price said. That's perhaps
why some judges relied more heavily on court-appointed lawyers, he said.

"It doesn't matter if you are a medical examiner or a lawyer, you have to
perform," Mr. Price said.

(source: Dallas Morning News)