death penalty news—-TEXAS

Jan. 28

TEXAS—-impending execution

Execution set for Wednesday for convicted killer

Neighbors watched in horror while a gunman repeatedly shot 27-year-old
Veronica Fuentes as she fell to her knees in the front yard outside her
trailer home in Brazoria County, south of Houston.

The carnage would get worse.

"Anybody that saw these 2 little kids, laying out like cordwood with a
bullet in their heads, shot for no reason that sort of sticks with you,"
Dale Summa, a former Brazoria County district attorney, recalled.

In all, 4 people were gunned down in the October 1996 shooting frenzy.

On Wednesday, Virgil Martinez, 41, a former Houston security guard, was
set to die for the killings.

Martinez would be the 4th Texas inmate executed this year and the 1st of 2
on consecutive nights this week in the nation's most active death penalty

David Dow, a University of Houston law professor, said he hoped to get the
lethal injection delayed so lawyers can be certain Martinez is competent
to be executed.

"He seems to us to have some potentially significant mental illness
issues," said Dow, who works with the Texas Defender Service, a legal
group that represents death row inmates.

Don Vernay, a New Mexico lawyer who had been representing Martinez in
federal court appeals, argued unsuccessfully that temporal lobe epilepsy
suffered by Martinez caused the shooting spree.>

"The problem was, it was a bad crime," Vernay said.

Martinez declined to speak with reporters in the weeks preceding his
execution date.

He was picked up by police in Del Rio, more than 300 miles to the
southwest, ranting about voices telling him to kill and was taken to the
Kerrville State Hospital for a mental evaluation. 2 weeks later,
authorities determined he had given them a false name and that he was the
man wanted for the 4 slayings.

His ex-girlfriend, Fuentes, had been shot 14 times. Her 5-year-old son,
Joshua, was shot 5 times; his sister, Casandra, 3, 3 times; and a
neighbor, John Gomez, 18, 8 times. Gomez had been helping the woman watch
her kids. Before dying, he identified the gunman as Fuentes' former

Just before his sentencing at his 1998 trial, Martinez told the court:
"God knows my heart. I'm innocent."

At trial, Martinez was defended by Jeri Yenne, who later was elected
district attorney in Brazoria County. She declined to elaborate on her
involvement in the case, which was taken over by the Texas Attorney
General's Office after she became district attorney.

"I did everything we could from an advocacy perspective," she said of her
defense. "We also want to make sure the system properly reviews it. I
don't think I should talk about the particulars."

In 2004, a federal appeals court ordered a hearing to look into Martinez's
claims defense lawyers didn't present enough evidence about his medical
condition being responsible for the shootings. Lawyers said pursuing that
strategy would have contradicted Martinez's assertion going into the trial
that he didn't do the shooting.

Witnesses testified they saw Martinez shoot Fuentes. Her two children were
found dead in their beds, both shot in the head at point-blank range.
Gomez was gunned down as he ran to Fuentes' aid.

Prosecutors combined all four slayings into a single capital murder
charge. Police concluded a single 9 mm gun fired all the bullets. Police
recovered a holster for the gun in Martinez' car and a box designed to
house the same caliber weapon in his mother's Houston home, where he
lived. The murder weapon, however, never was recovered.

The shootings occurred a short time after Fuentes had ended a relationship
with Martinez.

On Thursday, Texas prisoner Ricardo Ortiz was set to die for the
retaliation killing of Gerardo Garcia, 22, a fellow inmate at the El Paso
County Jail in 1997. Garcia died of a lethal injection of heroin.

(source: Associated Press)


US death row inmate battles conviction after execution halted

Prosecutors fought back Wednesday against evidence offered up by a death
row inmate who says he was in jail when the victim he is accused of
killing died, one day after his scheduled execution was halted.

A federal appeals court on Tuesday suspended the execution in Texas of
Larry Swearingen, 37, for the murder of a 19-year-old student, and allowed
his attorneys time to present new evidence.

Melissa Trotter went missing December 8, 1998 in Texas, and her body was
found in a wooded area on January 2, 1999. At that time, a forensic expert
dated her death 25 days before she was found, evidence that led to
Swearingen's conviction and his death sentence.

However Swearingen's attorneys on Monday rolled out 5 forensic medical
counterarguments, including a revised one by the 1st forensic expert in
the case.

They all said that Trotter died 2 to 15 days before the body was found,
placing it days after Swearingen was arrested on drug charges.

But on Wednesday, Montgomery district attorney Brett Ligon said in a
statement that the new evidence related to how long the body had been
outside, not when she died, and was therefore irrelevant.

"One of the world's leading authorities in forensic entomology has
determined that capital murder victim Melissa Trotter was killed prior to
the date that convicted murder Larry Ray Swearingen was placed in
custody," Ligon said in a statement.

"Dr. Neal Haskell's definitive opinion should end the irrelevant debate
between defense experts regarding the degree of decomposition of Ms.
Trotter remains," he argued.

Haskell found that "larval insect development observed during examination"
of Trotter's body "remains was consistent with her body having been left
in the forest no later than December 10, 1998, the day before Swearingen
was arrested," the statement read.

The defense kept up its barrage against the prosecution's evidence.

"The entomology can't tell anyone where that body was. It is ludicrous to
think that entomology can do anything for the state in this case," said
defense lawyer James Rytting.

"The use of entomology is completely and thoroughly illogical."

Swearingen had a prior conviction for rape, and has maintained his



Plea spares life of elderly Pasadena woman's killer—-Beaumont man is the
2nd hurricane evacuee convicted in the case

A Beaumont man facing the death penalty for strangling a Pasadena church
worker who helped him after Hurricane Rita pleaded guilty on Tuesday to
capital murder in exchange for life without parole. Jimmy Hoang Le is the
2nd defendant convicted in the Oct. 28, 2005, murder and robbery of Betty
Blair, 77.

Le stood emotionless as state District Judge Jim Wallace sentenced him a
week before his trial was scheduled to begin.

Le; his girlfriend; Stephanie Jacobo, both 18 at the time; and Roosevelt
Smith rented a Houston apartment in the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane.

In October 2007, Smith, 47, a Napoleonville, La., resident who fled
Hurricane Katrina, was sentenced to die for his part in the scheme to tie
up the schoolteacher and community leader before ransacking her home.

Blair, an active member of St. Pius V Catholic Church, took the trio in,
giving them money and odd jobs and helping them get GEDs, prosecutor Brad
Hart said.

He said the woman had been hit in the head with a vase and strangled,
first by hand, then by a telephone cord.

Her body was discovered by a daughter, who told police her wedding ring,
jewelry, purse, computer, television, video equipment and 2000 Buick were

Using a locating device in her car, police arrested the three at a toll
booth on the West Sam Houston Parkway.

Hart said charges are still pending against Jacobo, who had offered to
testify against Le.

(source: Houston Chronicle)