death penalty news—-TEXAS

March 30

TEXAS—-new execution date

Judge Sets Execution Date For Wood County Man

A former Wood County man's date of execution was set after he spent 23
years on death row following his initial capital murder conviction.

On Friday, 402nd District Judge G. Timothy Boswell signed the order, which
scheduled Michael Lynn Riley, 51, to die on May 19.

Riley was convicted of capital murder after he confessed to stabbing
Wynona Harris 23 times before stealing $970 in a store Feb. 1, 1986. After
his conviction, he was sentenced to death, but the conviction was
overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 1991 and remanded to
Wood County for a new trial because a potential juror had been improperly

Riley pleaded guilty to capital murder in September 1995 and his defense
attorneys asked for life in prison, but the jury returned with a death

All appeals were exhausted and Riley was set to die Sept. 22, 2006.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stopped the execution a week before
his scheduled date as his mental capacity was in question.

Under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, a person can not be executed if deemed
mentally retarded.

However, a state expert's witness testified in 2006 that he did not
believe Riley was mentally retarded.

According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, there are 354
people on death row. So far in 2009, 12 have been executed and 6,
including Riley, are scheduled to die before August.

(source: Associated Press)


March 30



Impending Texas execution schedule # since 1982 # under Perry

7 Jose Briseno 436 197
15 Michael Rosales 437 198
30 Derrick Johnson 438 199

19 Michael Lynn Riley 439 200

2 Terry Hankins 440 201


Don't prejudice juries against mentally retarded

This is part of an occasional series addressing bills filed in Austin that
would reform Texas' system of administering the death penalty.

Seven years have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing
the mentally retarded was unconstitutional. Yet the state of Texas has
stubbornly resisted writing guidelines for fairly determining whether a
defendant is mentally retarded.

Long overdue legislation would lay out a process aimed at delivering an
objective assessment of a defendant's mental capacity.

In Texas, defense attorneys don't have the option of seeking a ruling on
this question before or during a capital murder trial. Right now, the
issue of mental retardation is raised during the punishment phase after
the jury has returned a guilty verdict.

By then, the 12 men and women on the jury have spent weeks in the
courtroom immersed in the gruesome details of a deadly crime. Once they've
convicted the defendant, they are asked to make a life-or-death decision
about whether he is mentally retarded.

To expect jurors to make a dispassionate determination after the trial is
unreasonable. Several similar bills filed in the House and the Senate
including HB 1152 and SB 167 would eliminate that inherent prejudice.

Defense attorneys in capital murder cases could request a pre-trial
hearing. A separate jury would be impaneled for the sole purpose of
deciding whether a defendant is mentally retarded, or the defense could
ask a judge to make that ruling.

The legislation would establish that a person with an IQ of 70 or lower is
presumed to be mentally retarded a widely accepted standard. And it would
insert needed objectivity into this part of the judicial process.

What's more, the proposal promises cost savings for the state. Capital
murder trials are necessarily long and expensive proceedings. Jury
selection alone can stretch weeks, even months. If a defendant were found
to be mentally retarded on the front end of a trial, the costs of capital
proceedings could be avoided.

Money aside, the primary objective is to create a process that abides by
the Supreme Court's ruling.

Executing the mentally retarded is cruel and unusual punishment. Adopting
this legislation would add an important and humane safeguard.

(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)


Guns on Campus: Bills would allow guns at college

John Woods sometimes sits in a classroom at the University of Texas and
wonders what would happen if somebody walked in and started shooting.

In April 2007, he was a student at Virginia Tech when his girlfriend and
several other people he knew there were gunned down in the deadliest mass
shooting in modern U.S. history. Thirty-two people died, plus the gunman.

There were times when Woods thought that maybe he should get a gun.

"Then I learned pretty fast that wouldn't solve anything," said Woods, who
is now a graduate student at UT. "The idea that somebody could stop a
school shooting with a gun is impossible. It's reactive, not

Today, Woods is among the leaders in a fight against bills in the Texas
Legislature that would allow licensed concealed gun carriers to take their
weapons to school.

A public hearing is set for Monday in the House Public Safety Committee on
one bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Driver, a Garland Republican.

Supporters say the bills would protect the rights of those licensed to
carry concealed weapons and help prevent a massacre on the scale of what
happened at Virginia Tech and another shooting last year at Northern
Illinois University, where 5 were killed and 18 wounded.

Texas issued 73,090 licenses in fiscal year 2008. The state requires
applicants to pass a training course, pass a criminal background check and
be at least 21 years old. Texas campuses are gun-free zones.

"These are individuals who are already licensed and allowed to carry
weapons. What marks the imaginary line of college campuses?" said Katie
Kasprzak, a recent Texas State University graduate and spokeswoman for
Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, a group that claims more than
37,000 members.

If gunfire erupted on campus, "Would you rather sit and just take shot for
shot or would you rather have a chance to fight back?" asked Kasprzak, who
has a concealed weapons license.

State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, sponsor of the Senate bill, said
students, faculty and staff are "sitting ducks" if someone starts

"I have no desire to wake up one morning and read in the newspaper, or
hear on the radio, or watch on television a news report that 32 Texas
college students were gunned down like sitting ducks by some deranged
gunman," Wentworth said.

Opponents say that if guns are allowed on campus, students and faculty
will live in fear of classmates and colleagues, not knowing who might pull
a gun over a drunken dorm argument or a poor grade.

According to the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, similar bills have
been filed in 18 states since 2008 and all have failed, although lawmakers
in a few states are trying again.

Texas is 1 of 7 states currently considering legislation.

"We hope Texas will serve as a leader and have a domino effect," Kasprzak

Of the 150 House members, 70 have signed on in support of Drivers' bill.
In the Senate, 12 of 31 senators signed in support of Wentworth's bill.

The idea has met stiff opposition at the University of Texas, which has
its own history of shooting violence. Charles Whitman's 1966 rifle attack
from the top of the university tower killed 16 people and wounded dozens
more. It was the worst campus shooting until the Virginia Tech bloodbath.

The UT student government, the graduate student assembly and the faculty
advisory council have all passed resolutions against the campus guns

"It's a recipe for disaster," said Brian Malte, state legislation and
politics director for the Brady Campaign.

Woods has helped lead the charge against the bills and filed the student
government resolution opposing them.

Woods, who wore a maroon "Virginia Tech Class of 2007" T-shirt during an
interview, said he hasn't heard from any survivor of the Virginia Tech
shooting who supports guns on campus.

He figures a classroom shooting would be too sudden to stop, even if a
student or teacher had a gun.

"Everything happens too quickly," Woods said. "You either play dead or you
are dead."

(source: Associated Press)


Judge Keller's disclosures omit nearly $2 million in real estate, public
records show

The presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, while seeking
state aid to defend herself against ethics charges, failed to abide by
legal requirements that she disclose nearly $2 million in real estate
holdings, according to an analysis of public records by The Dallas Morning

Sharon Keller has sought dismissal of the charges on grounds that it would
be "financially ruinous" for her to pay private counsel to fight
allegations brought by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct that she
violated her duties in a death penalty appeal.

Keller, the state's highest criminal court judge, faces possible removal
from office if a special master agrees that she blocked a condemned
inmate's last-minute effort to stop his execution in 2007 by refusing to
extend the court's 5 p.m. closing time to allow his lawyers to file their
plea. The inmate, Michael Richard, was executed within hours.

Keller has denied any wrongdoing in the Richard case. She did not respond
to several requests for comment on the property disclosures, made in 2
calls to her Austin office, as well as via her lawyer.

She has also argued that the charges violate her constitutional right to
counsel because the state refuses to allow her current attorney, Chip
Babcock, to represent her at taxpayer expense. Babcock has said he would
represent Keller for almost nothing, but that he believes state ethics
rules prohibit him from doing that. He said he asked the state Ethics
Commission for a clarification in Keller's case, but the commission
declined to give one.

Babcock, a partner in one of the largest law firms in Texas, said that the
proceeding could cost Keller several hundred thousand dollars and that it
could consume most if not all of her income and assets.

He said he based his prediction on the resources Keller listed on her
latest personal financial report to the state and had not asked to see any
other financial statements from his client, a member of a well-known
Dallas family.

Sworn statement

The sworn statement Keller was required to file with the Texas Ethics
Commission last April reflected income of more than $275,000, including
her annual state salary of $152,500. It also showed that she owned at
least 100 shares of airline stock, a home in Austin and one commercial
property in Dallas. County tax records valued the properties at about $1

Keller's statement did not list her ownership interest in seven other
residential and commercial properties in Dallas and Tarrant counties.
Those properties are valued collectively by county appraisal districts at
about $1.9 million.

Among Keller's unlisted properties are 2 homes valued together at just
over $1 million in the family's compound across from the Dallas Arboretum.
Keller is listed as sole owner under Sharon Batjer, her married name. She
was divorced in 1982.

The other omissions include two Keller-owned properties valued at about
$823,000: a vacant commercial site in Euless and an occupied commercial
property next to Keller's Drive-In on East Northwest Highway, a landmark
hamburger restaurant operated since 1965 by the judge's father, Jack. Also
not disclosed are 3 properties valued at $114,000 and owned by Keller's
27-year-old son, a law student whom she claims as a dependent.

The Texas Government Code requires state officeholders to disclose "all
beneficial interests in real property" held by the official, a spouse or
any dependents. Failure to comply could subject the officeholder to civil
and criminal penalties.

The Texas Ethics Commission does not routinely check the accuracy or
completeness of financial disclosure reports, only that they have been
filed, said Tim Sorrells, the commission's deputy general counsel.

The judge's assets

Keller's lawyer, Babcock, said he was not aware of the extent of her
holdings until told about them by The News.

Babcock then acknowledged that Keller might be able to sell enough
property to pay her legal bills. But he said the amount of Keller's assets
should not alter their legal position that she should be allowed to
benefit from reduced attorney's fees or be provided his legal services at
state expense.

"The argument ought to be the same whether you came to the bench after
having amassed substantial assets or you inherited it, or you don't have
any assets," he said.

Keller's assets, including those she is not required to disclose to the
state, could reveal that she is even wealthier.

Her 2008 statement to the ethics commission did not list about $3 million
in real estate held by three family corporations or trusts, in which she
has an interest. State law requires that officeholders list any
corporations in which they are an officer or director. Keller did not do
so for the three family-run entities, although she did acknowledge earning
income of at least $25,000 from a trust in her father's name.

State law does not require asset disclosure if the officeholder does not
have at least a 50 percent interest. Records do not show Keller's
percentage holdings, and neither she nor her lawyer would comment on any
details of The News' findings. Keller also did not list two properties
worth about $796,000, owned by a family corporation in which her dependent
son is an officer, as she is required by law to do.

Officeholders are also required to list outstanding debt over $1,000;
Keller listed none on her latest report to the ethics commission.

Last year, Keller bought a residential property in Hunt County, valued on
tax rolls at $251,000. She will not have to report that property until
this year's filing.

'Extremely outrageous'

Andrew Wheat, research director of Texans for Public Justice, the
Austin-based watchdog group that monitors officeholder finances, decried
Keller's omissions as an "extremely outrageous" betrayal of the public

"It leaves one speechless to see so much left out of her personal
financial statements on the one hand and then on the other hand to see her
making her claims that hiring a private attorney would be financially
ruinous," he said.

While it is possible that some of the properties might be exempt from
disclosure, Wheat said, the majority of omissions appear to fall within
the law's requirements.

"Is this an insane amount of carelessness year after year, in which case
should this person be our highest criminal judge?" he said. "Is it willful
hiding of assets, in which case that person probably isn't fit to be our
top criminal judge? I don't know."

The News compiled a list of properties owned solely by Keller, her son,
Temple, or in partnership with her parents or siblings and compared them
with the sworn financial statements she filed with the state ethics
commission between 2005 and 2008.

Keller omitted the same seven properties in each of her sworn reports, the
review showed.

Judges, like all other state officeholders, are required to disclose their
personal finances to allow the public to know their backgrounds and spot
conflicts of interest that may require them to be disqualified from
participating in a particular case.

In 1999, Keller transferred her ownership of one commercial property near
Keller's Drive-In to another family-run corporation after The Dallas
Observer reported the judge was the landlord for a strip club that
occupied her property. The property is now occupied by a pawn shop.

One of the commercial properties Keller did not disclose involves a lease
to a gas drilling company. The 2nd property is leased to a rental car
company. The family businesses in which she has an interest involve a bank
in Arlington, a barbecue restaurant in Arlington and a medical clinic in

Chuck Herring, an Austin lawyer who specializes in legal ethics, said the
ethics commission takes seriously the failure to comply with disclosure

"Sure, that's a problem," he said. "And it potentially can reflect upon
the judge's performance of his or her duties and simply the openness of
government that we require."

(source: Dallas Morning News)