Ex-con from NY to die for soldier's slaying
Twice-convicted robber Denard Manns says he planned to get a new start
when he was paroled from a New York prison and moved to Texas to join his
It didn't work out.
Within months, Manns was locked up and charged with robbing, raping and
fatally shooting an Army medic at her apartment near Fort Hood in Killeen
in Central Texas.
Manns, 42, was set to die Thursday in Huntsville for the Nov. 18, 1998,
death of Michelle Robson, 26.
He'd be the 17th Texas inmate executed this year and the 2nd of 2 on
consecutive nights this week in the nation's busiest death penalty state.
George Whitaker, 36, was given lethal injection Wednesday evening for
gunning down the sister of his ex-girlfriend and seriously wounding his
victim's mother and another sister at their home in Crosby, east of
Houston, nearly 14 years ago.
Earlier Wednesday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles cleared the way
for Manns' punishment by refusing a petition asking his death sentence be
commuted to life in prison. Other appeals had been exhausted.
"There's nothing in the courts," Manns' lawyer, Jack Hurley, said.
Manns denied involvement in Robson's murder and said DNA evidence tying
him to the crime was wrong.
"I know for a fact they weren't going to give me a fair break anyway,"
Manns told The Associated Press last week from a small visiting cage
outside death row.
"That's impossible," he said of the DNA evidence. "It can't be mine."
"His semen was lifted from her bra," said Murff Bledsoe, the Bell County
assistant district attorney who prosecuted Manns. "And then we had him in
possession of some of her property a ring of hers and some other
Manns was living with a cousin and his half brother a couple of doors away
from the apartment where Robson and her husband lived. Frank Holbrook, one
of Manns' trial lawyers, said if Manns knew Robson, it was only casually.
"If he did do it, he never acknowledged he did," Holbrook said of the
Robson, from Newton, Iowa, had a degree from the University of Northern
Iowa and met her husband, Clay Wellenstein, at Fort Hood, where he also
was stationed in the Army.
"It's been very frustrating waiting," Wellenstein said this week. "It just
seemed so long to get to the trial, but I give the sheriff's department,
the county district attorney, a lot of credit. They didn't want to leave
He said he and his wife, married less than a year, never had any reason to
be fearful in Killeen.
"Our life was just beginning," he said, adding that he was glad the
execution was approaching.
"I think he should have to suffer," Wellenstein said.
Wellenstein was visiting his family in upstate New York when his wife was
found dead in a bathtub, shot 5 times with a .22-caliber pistol.
Manns' cousin, Eric Williams, owned such a pistol, found a bullet on the
floor in his room and turned the gun over to police after learning of his
neighbor's death with a similar weapon. Tests showed at least 1 of the
bullets recovered from the woman had been fired from the gun. Tests also
showed Manns' fingerprint on the weapon. Other evidence showed Manns left
a jacket belonging to Robson at the home of a friend the day her body was
Manns said he got the jacket from a friend and the jewelry belonging to
the victim from a drug addict. He said he took the gun from some friends
who were trying to shoot it, accounting for his prints.
Manns was arrested the following month and tried in 2002. After he was
convicted, he refused to appear in court at the punishment phase of the
trial, where jurors learned he had been indicted in 1992 for 15 counts of
robbery in the Bronx, N.Y. He pleaded guilty to 2 counts.
The Harlem native had numerous other convictions in New York City, where
Holbrook said Manns was known as a subway robber.
"Evidence was shown to us that he'd ride the subway and catch people
riding by themselves and rob them," Holbrook said.
Manns was paroled in early 1998 after serving nearly six years of a five-
to 10-year term for armed robbery, then came to Texas.
3 more executions are scheduled for consecutive nights next week in Texas,
starting Tuesday with Eric Cathey, 37, condemned for the abduction and
fatal shooting of a Houston woman whose boyfriend was reputed to a drug
(source: Associated Press)
Attorney fights to dismiss death penalty
An attorney filed a motion to dismiss the death penalty on the ground that
its capital sentencing procedure is unconstitutional.
David K. Haynes, McKinney attorney representing Bruce Crawford, 18, in the
capital murder trial of a local cab driver, filed the motion in October.
"When we are defending someone with a capital crime, we try to do
everything we can to save their life," Haynes said. "We are attacking
everything about the case, which includes the state's version of the facts
and the evaluation if death is the appropriate penalty."
The request is based on the Capital Jury Project, where more than 1,200
jurors made life and death sentences in 354 capital trials.
CJP, funded by the National Science Foundation, spent more than 10 years
analyzing how real juries go about making real capital sentencing
The study cites a 1987 Supreme Court case, McClesky v. Kemp, which found
that race was a factor in 3 out of 9 death penalty cases.
Robert Schuwerk, University of Houston Law professor and co-author of the
"Handbook of Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics," said the study was
categorized on 9 levels. The 3 top-level cases are the most aggravated
cases, followed by three middle levels and 3 lower levels.
Schuwerk said there was no significant difference on both the 3 highest-
and lowest-level cases due to race.
"If you are on one of the three highest levels, it did not make a
difference what the race was, the individual got the death penalty,"
Schuwerk said. "Race also did not matter in the three lower levels. The
jury did not impose the death penalty in any of the lower cases."
Schuwerk said both the race of the victim and the race of the defendant
played a major part in the middle category.
"This study showed this particular person [McClesky] was affected by
racial bias," Schuwerk said. "But the Supreme Court did not believe it was
sufficient claim to validate. The Supreme Court concluded race has to be a
factor in each particular case."
Haynes said the prosecutors intended to seek the death penalty and have
worked on investigating the case for many months.
"We did not seek out the responsibility of defending this man, but we are
appointed," Haynes said. "Having been given the job, I may not know what
the outcome will be, but I'm resolved, and if subjected to the death
penalty it won't be because his lawyers dropped the ball."
The study suggests juries are misled when abdicating the responsibility of
returning a death verdict.
Schuwerk said he believes it's an extraordinary burden for jurors to make
the decision between life and death, but he said it is better for a jury
to make that decision as opposed to a judge.
"There is no better way than to have a jury do it," Schuwerk said. "A
judge does not have the opportunity to deliberate in a group. A judge's
decision could also be swayed for political reasons. They may not want to
show mercy as opposed to a jury."
Schuwerk said he believes the key in a capital case is to have an
extremely good defense.
"There has to be rigorous defense whether the individual did it or not,
but the defense should try to humanize the defendant to the jury,"
Schuwerk said. "The jury may believe the terrible act needs to be
punished, but they are the only ones who can make the decision whether the
defendant's life should be taken for that punishment."
Haynes said the death penalty is a controversial topic.
"Views are held strongly on both sides of the divide," Haynes said. "It's
one thing to be at a cocktail party talking about whether you support the
death penalty and be a juror and one of the 12 people who decides if this
person lives or dies. The approach is an extremely serious matter."
Haynes said the trial judge takes an oath to support the law and the
constitution of the state of Texas.
"He can't decide to disagree with the law and get rid of the option,"
Haynes said. "He has to follow the law. The right decision with a legal
matter is complex and difficult. Judges and prosecutors wrestle with it
(source: Lewisville Leader)
Texas death row search reveals another phone, drugs
Just hours after the end of a prison lockdown prompted by contraband cell
phones, a death-row inmate was found with a cell phone, a charger and a
trace amount of a green, leafy substance believed to be marijuana, a
prison system spokeswoman confirmed today.
The items were found Wednesday and turned over to the prison system's
office of inspector general, said Texas Department of Criminal Justice
spokeswoman Michelle Lyons.
"They will be looking into how he got these items," she said.
Lyons added that prison officials have not ordered a new lockdown for now.
The items were in the possession of death row inmate Mark Stroman when a
TDCJ sergeant conducted a cell search, she said.
Stroman was placed on death row's most restrictive custody level as a
result, Lyons said.
The lockdown was instituted last month after it was discovered that 10
death row inmates had made nearly 2,800 calls from a cell phone, including
calls to a state senator. The lockdown ended Wednesday morning.
Before Wednesday's incident involving Stroman, officials during the
lockdown had found in the death row area alone 12 cell phones, 9 chargers,
3 cell phone batteries, 7 SIM cards and 2 weapons, Lyons said.
Stroman was sentenced to death for the Oct. 4, 2001 slaying of a Mesquite
gas-station attendant who was of Indian descent. He also was accused in
the slaying of 1 Pakistani man and the wounding of another in shootings
that he said were in retaliation for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Police said Stroman told them he committed the attacks "to retaliate on
local Arab Americans, or whatever you want to call them . . . I did what
every American wanted to do but didn't."
(source: Houston Chronicle)