death penalty news—-TEXAS

August 19

TEXAS—-stay of impending execution

Court stays El Pasoan David Leonard Wood's execution

The Texas Criminal Court of Appeals this evening stayed the execution of
convicted serial killer David Leonard Wood.

The court ordered the district court in El Paso to hold the hearing on
Wood's claim that he is mentally retarded, said Sian Schilhab, general
counsel for the court, said today.

Wood was scheduled to be executed Thursday in Huntsville, Texas, for the
murders of 6 young women in 1987.

(source: El Paso Times)

******************* A water utility worker digging in the desert northeast
of El Paso made the first grisly discovery a hand sticking out of the
ground. The decomposed remains belonged to one of several missing women
and girls.

The same day in September 1987, police found a 2nd body buried nearby.
Over the next weeks they would employ dogs and heat-sensing tools to find
3 more bodies in shallow graves within a 1 1/2-mile area. People
collecting aluminum cans in the desert 5 months later stumbled over a 6th
victim. All the dead women were between the ages of 14 and 23.

On Thursday evening, David Leonard Wood, a repeat convicted sex offender,
was set to die in Huntsville for the slayings. He'd be the 17th condemned
prisoner executed this year in the nation's busiest death penalty state.

El Paso authorities looking for a serial killer focused on Wood after a
prostitute came forward, telling police she'd been raped in the same
desert area where the bodies were turning up. She survived after being
left naked and tied to a tree when her assailant fled because he heard
voices nearby.

Wood received 50 years in prison for her attack. It was at least his 3rd

When 2 of Wood's cellmates said the El Paso man told them he was
responsible for the desert killings, Wood was indicted for capital murder
3 years after the 1st body was found.

"These were 2 jailhouse-snitching rats," Wood, 52, proclaiming his
innocence, told The Associated Press recently from a tiny visiting cage
outside death row.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year refused to review his case after lower
federal courts rejected an appeal of his conviction and sentence. Lawyers
made no clemency bid for him to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Wood, in 1992, was the 1st defendant to be prosecuted under a new serial
killer provision in the Texas capital murder law. Under the provision, a
jury only had to find him guilty of the slaying of the first victim listed
in the indictment and at least one other of the victims to become eligible
for the death penalty.

The former construction worker was prosecuted for the slayings of Rosa
Casio and Ivy Williams, both 23; Karen Baker, 21; Angelica Frausto, 17;
Desiree Wheatley, 15; and Dawn Smith, 14. Casio, whose body was the 1st to
be discovered, was from Addison, a Dallas suburb. All the others were from
El Paso.

3 other women reported missing at the same time have not been found.

"I think the evidence was strong on one of them and had we found her body,
we probably would have put that in the indictment," said Karen LaRose, an
El Paso County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Wood. "I feel
for the families of those that were not found."

Prosecutors said Wood generally offered his victims a ride in his truck or
on his motorcycle.

Wood insisted he wasn't responsible, calling himself a "scapegoat" so
investigators could say they solved the disappearances that terrified El
Paso for months beginning that summer 22 years ago.

He blamed his death sentence on his previous convictions and his combative
behavior. At one point he had to be removed from the courtroom at his
trial, which had been moved nearly 600 miles from El Paso to Dallas
because of publicity about the case.

"I am hostile," Wood said from death row. "I lost my temper a couple of
times. It was a well-known fact I have extreme prejudice toward law

"He was not helpful in his defense," recalled Dolph Quijano, one of Wood's
trial attorneys. "I don't know if it was deliberate on his part. That's
just the way it was.

"It was difficult enough as it was without that… I don't think the jury
had much sympathy for him."

Besides testimony from his cellmates, prosecutors showed jurors orange
fibers retrieved from a vacuum cleaner belonging to Wood. The same fibers
were found on clothing in the shallow grave of Desiree Wheatley and came
from a blanket Wood kept in his pickup truck.

"The fiber was a joke," Wood said. "It was a setup. The whole thing was a

LaRose said witnesses also were able to place Wood with the victims before
they disappeared.

"I think the circumstantial evidence was very good," she said. "I have no
doubt. I feel very comfortable with the jury's verdict."

The women began disappearing from El Paso in February 1987, a month after
Wood was paroled from a 20-year sentence for raping 2 teenagers. He'd
served 7 years. In 1980, he served 3 1/2 years of a 5-year term for
indecency with a child.

"I have a past," he acknowledged, blaming his previous convictions on
alcohol abuse.

"I was drunk," he said emphatically. "I never hit anybody. I never
threatened to kill anybody."

Marcia Wheatley, whose daughter was among the murder victims, told the El
Paso Times she planned to be in the death chamber to watch Wood's

"This is not revenge," she said. "This is justice."

Wood is among at least 10 Texas prisoners with execution dates in the
coming months. Scheduled next is Stephen Moody, 52, set for lethal
injection Sept. 16 for the fatal shooting of Joseph Hall, 28, of Houston,
during a home robbery in 1991.

(source: Associated Press)


Texas AG: Wood not mentally retarded

The Texas Attorney General's Office said a last-minute appeal from David
Leonard Wood's attorneys to delay his execution is without merit.

Wood's attorneys argued that Wood should not be executed because he is
mentally retarded. The motion was filed Tuesday.

Wood is scheduled to die by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas, at 5
p.m. MDT on Thursday for killing 6 girls and young women in the summer of
1987 and dumping their bodies in the Northeast El Paso desert.

The Attorney General's Office responded that "a person afflicted with
mental retardation could never have carried out a crime of this
magnitude." They also argued that Wood's claim could have been presented
earlier. Wood's attorneys cite IQ scores from 1980.

Dolph Quijano, Wood's attorney during his 1992 trial, said the topic of
his client's mental capacity came up in court. He said the jury heard
testimony stating Wood has an IQ below 70.

"We put all the evidence before the jury. We had an expert from San
Francisco come in and talk about his mental disability and the jury
considered that," Quijano said.

The motions from Wood's attorneys and the Attorney General will be
considered by the state Board of Pardons and Parole, which will issue a
recommendation to Gov. Rick Perry, who would be the one to call for a stay
of execution.

(source: KIVA News)


Suspect Takes The Stand In Christy Estates Murder Case

In Corpus Christi, jury deliberations have begun in Charles Orr's capital
murder trial Wednesday.

He's accused of fatally shooting Jose Guadalupe Vasquez, 31, last August
during a robbery at the Christy Estates apartments.

An emotional Charles Orr, 38, took the stand Wednesday, once again,
claiming the shooting was an accident. In a last attempt to save himself
from a possible death sentence.

Orr became visibly upset at one point when his defense attorney asked him
to positively identify the victim.

"Do you recognize that person in the…is that Jose Guadalupe Vasquez in
that picture?" Defense Attorney Eric Perkins said.

Orr replied, "Yes."

On the stand Orr described the events of Aug. 3, 2008 when he admitted
going to Christy Estates with a shotgun, but he said he never meant to
kill anyone.

Orr claimed he went to the apartments to ask that a hit out on his life be
canceled. Orr said Vasquez didn't become part of the equation until he
knocked on the door.

He said he pointed a gun at Vasquez because he thought Vasquez had a gun
and everything that happened after that was an accident.

"I had the gun, and all of a sudden he just went down and he grabbed it. I
don't know if he did it with one hand, two hands, but there was a tug,
there was a tug on the gun. It was low like this. I pulled it up, it
pulled up and away and I kind of pulled back and it just, it went off,"
Orr explained.

Orr said after the shooting he fled to California fearing he was even more
of a target now for contract killers. Orr said he blames most of his
trouble with the law on his lifelong addiction to meth and that it is hard
to live with what happened.

"Are you sorry for what happened to Mr. Vasquez?" Perkins asked Orr.

He replied, "Yes."

He maintained his innocence throughout his testimony.

"How do you feel about the fact that you caused the death of Jose
Guadalupe Vasquez?" Perkins asked Orr.

Orr sobbed, "I don't feel good at all."

"Taking the life of a human being is a serious thing. Mr. Vasquez has
family," Perkins stated.

Orr said, "Believe me, I know."

Orr was the last witness to testify.

Next, are closing arguments from both sides, then the case will go to the

If convicted, Orr could be sentenced to death. Also, three others were
arrested in the robbery and murder.

Heather Warden and Andrea Mitchell, who testified against Orr this week,
entered guilty pleas for their role in the crime and were sentenced to 20
years each.

Joseph Sharpe is also charged with capital murder for Vasquez's death. His
trial is pending. He also faces the death penalty.


Judge stands by closing ahead of death-row appeal

An embattled Texas judge stood by her decision to close her court before a
death row inmate's last-minute appeal was ready, saying at her misconduct
trial Wednesday that she would do the same thing again.

Judge Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals, didn't hesitate on the witness stand when asked if she would make
the same choice today as she did in the hours leading up to Michael Wayne
Richard's execution in 2007.

"Yes, that is correct," Keller said.

Testifying with her career on the line, Keller said there was no
legitimate reason to keep her clerk's office open past 5 p.m. despite
knowing an appeal was in the works. She said refusing to keep the office
open late should not have prevented Richard's attorneys who were
responding to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that morning from filing
their appeal directly with a judge on the nine-member court.

"You declined to allow any grace period?" asked Mike McKetta, the
prosecuting lawyer for the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.

"I declined to keep the clerk's office open past closing time," Keller

Misconduct charges that she denied Richard access to the court, Keller
said, were wrong.

"It is false in every way," Keller said.

Keller stepped off the stand after 2 days of testimony her first time
speaking publicly about the case since the night of Richard's execution.
The ethics trial was expected to conclude Thursday.

Four hours before Richard's execution, Keller received a phone call at
4:45 p.m. informing her that Richard's appeal was running late and that
his attorneys wanted to keep the court open past 5 p.m. She said no twice
in the conversation.

Under court rules, after-hours pleadings can be filed directly to a court
member. David Dow, Richard's attorney, testified earlier in the week that
he felt he was out of options after being told the clerk wouldn't take the
appeal after 5 p.m.

Nicknamed "Sharon Killer" by critics and death-penalty opponents, Keller
finished her testimony by blaming Richard's legal team for stoking the
controversy surrounding the case by spreading a distorted narrative of the
hours leading up to the execution.

"I don't think we would be here today if that never happened," Keller

Richard was executed for the 1986 rape and slaying of a Houston-area nurse
and mother of 7. On the morning of his scheduled lethal injection, the
U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a separate case that challenged
whether a 3-drug combination Kentucky used in executions was

Texas uses a similar lethal cocktail. Lawyers for Richard, who was
convicted twice and had numerous appeals denied, sought a reprieve based
on the Supreme Court's decision.

Keller said she knew about the move by the high court. Asked if she held a
general view that last-minute pleadings in death-row cases are often less
substantial, she agreed.

"They do tend to be voluminous and meritless," Keller said.

Keller was relayed the request to keep the court open from Ed Marty, the
court's former general counsel. During a 3-hour videotaped deposition
played in court, Marty said he did not think Keller would have said no
given the Supreme Court decision earlier in the day.

"I thought it would be something other than no," Marty said.

But on cross-examination, Marty said he didn't think Keller acted

Keller is facing five counts of judicial misconduct that could lead to her
removal from the bench. She is the highest-ranking judge in Texas ever put
on trial by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Among those watching Keller testify was Richard's sister, Betty, who drove
in from Houston with two family members.

"She was just trying to put the blame on everyone else," Betty Richard
said. "Who else was in charge? She was the top judge."

At the end of the trial, a state district judge presiding over the hearing
will submit a report to the state's judicial conduct commission. That
panel will have the choice to dismiss the charges, issue a censure or
recommend Keller's removal from the bench.

(source for both: Associated Press)