death penalty news—–TEXAS

Sept. 29

TEXAS—-stay of impending execution

Fugitive caught by HPD gets reprieve

A Texas death row inmate won a reprieve Tuesday from a federal appeals
court a day before he was scheduled for execution for a triple slaying in
Amarillo almost 12 years ago.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a brief one-paragraph order
stopping the lethal injection of John Balentine, set for Wednesday
evening, "pending further order of this court." Balentine's appeal to the
New Orleans-based 5th Circuit said lower courts had not properly resolved
his earlier appeals.

The Texas Attorney General's Office was appealing to get the order lifted,
spokeswoman Lauri Saathoff said.

Balentine, 40, would have been the 19th prisoner executed this year in the
nations most active death penalty state.

Balentine was condemned for the January 1998 shooting deaths of Mark
Caylor Jr., 17; Kai Brooke Geyer, 15; and Steven Watson, also 15. Caylor
was the brother of Balentine's former girlfriend, and prosecutors said the
shootings capped a feud between Caylor and Balentine.

Evidence showed all 3 victims were shot once in the head as they slept in
a tiny house where Balentine also once lived.

When he was pulled over in Houston in July 1998 and gave a traffic cop a
false name, the alias was detected as one used by a man wanted in the
shooting deaths of the 3 teenage boys earlier that year in Amarillo, 600
miles to the northwest.

Balentine, who had a lengthy criminal record in his native Arkansas, was
arrested and confessed. He was tried in Amarillo for capital murder, was
convicted and sentenced to die.

In appeals, Balentine's attorneys argued his trial lawyers were deficient
for failing to develop mitigating evidence to show his childhood of
poverty, domestic violence and abuse. They also contended a pool of
state-appointed appeals lawyers to represent death row inmates like
Balentine in initial appeals included unqualified or deficient attorneys.

"The ability of a prisoner to obtain relief is wholly dependent upon the
luck of the draw," Lydia Brandt, a Dallas-area lawyer representing
Balentine, told the U.S. Supreme Court in a petition seeking a review of
the case. "Mr. Balentine was one of the unlucky death-sentenced

She said the claims never were raised earlier, and were blocked now in the
lower state courts, because of a broken system.

"The state corrective process as a whole was ineffective, Brandt insisted.

Texas law provides for appointment of a lawyer in death penalty cases but
"the provision does not create a right to complain" about the outcome of
that legal representation, the Texas Attorney General's Office responded.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has refused to hold that an inmate's
lawyer must be "constitutionally effective" and has declined to turn a
"legislative act of grace" into a constitutional right, state attorneys

In a tape recorded statement to police played at his trial, Balentine said
he moved out of the Amarillo house because of drug use there, then said he
learned later that Caylor was looking to kill him because he had "jumped
on his sister." He slipped into the house and "shot Mark in the head and
shot the other 2 in the head," he said.

"Mark had threatened my life, threatened my brother, girlfriend and the
kids, waving a gun and talking about what he was going to do to me and
whoever else come over there looking for me and stuff," he said.

He also said he didn't know the other 2 victims.

A neighbor heard a gunshot and called police. An officer responding
spotted Balentine walking down a street. Balentine identified himself as
John Lezell Smith, had no identification but a records check showed
outstanding traffic warrants for Smith.

The officer handcuffed him and in a search found an unspent .32 caliber
bullet in his pocket. A police supervisor told the officer since it was
not illegal to be carrying a bullet, Balentine could be released.

Later that day, police were called to scene of the 3 homicides, 50 yards
from where Balentine was questioned.

It would be 6 months before he was picked up in Houston.

Balentine, from Jackson County, Ark., northeast of Little Rock, had
previous prison terms in his home state for burglary, kidnapping, assault
and robbery.

"It was a strong circumstantial case," Randy Sherrod, one of Balentine's
trial lawyers, recalled. "They found evidence that matched the bullet that
was on him a very short time after the 3 kids were shot. The main thing I
remember about that case is we raised enough questions with the
prosecutors that they offered life sentence."

Balentine refused it, went to trial and got death. He declined to speak
with reporters in the weeks preceding his scheduled punishment.

(source: Associated Press)


Segura guilty of capital murder—-Prosecutors are seeking death penalty
for shootings in 2007.

Shortly after a Travis County jury convicted Albert Jesse Segura of
capital murder Monday morning, prosecutors began painting him as a career
criminal and member of a dangerous prison gang.

Prosecutors want the death penalty for Segura, who was found guilty of the
2007 murders of Billy Gene Ferguson, 28, and Ferguson's mother, Patricia
Smith, 51. But jurors could choose instead to give Segura life in prison
without parole.

The punishment phase of the trial began Monday afternoon and is expected
to continue today.

Prosecutors kicked off the afternoon with testimony from law enforcement
officers who detailed parts of Segura's decades-long criminal history,
which includes offenses such as burglary of a habitation, possession of
cocaine and unlawfully carrying a weapon.

Prosecutors also spent time calling witnesses to discuss the Texas
Syndicate, a prison gang. A former corrections officer testified that
Segura was thought to be a member of the gang because of letters Segura
sent while in prison.

Austin police Detective Armando Balderama testified that the agency's gang
unit also thought Segura was a member of the gang. That assumption was
partly based on his affiliation with known Texas Syndicate members, he

But Segura's lawyer Ira Davis challenged that conclusion, suggesting
police did not have hard evidence that proved Segura's status as a gang

"You never arrested him with gang-related criminal enterprises?" Davis
asked Balderama.

"No, sir," he answered.

Throughout last week's trial, prosecutors and witnesses described the
night of the murders as one marked by drug use and conflict.

Mario Rivera who had been close friends with Segura since they met in
2003 at the Travis County Jail testified that on Nov. 17, 2007, he
invited Segura to his southern Travis County home to do drugs. Rivera
lived at the house with Ferguson, Smith and another woman.

When Segura and his friend David Valdez arrived, the three injected and
smoked cocaine, Rivera testified.

Then a mutual friend arrived and told Segura that Rivera, "who you think
is your homeboy, is calling you a snitch," Rivera testified. Segura and
Valdez did more drugs, then left, Rivera told the jury.

Rivera said he invited Segura back to do more drugs. But when Segura
returned after midnight, he came in the bedroom alone, wearing gloves and
armed with a handgun, and opened fire on him and Ferguson, Rivera said.

Rivera survived being shot in the chest and legs. Ferguson was pronounced
dead at the scene.

Valdez, meanwhile, testified in court that he had no idea that Segura
planned to shoot anyone. But when they arrived at the house, Segura told
him to park on a side street and wait in the car, Valdez testified. Then
Segura came to the car holding a gun to Smith's head, Valdez testified. He
testified that he was afraid of Segura because he thought Segura was a
member of the Texas Syndicate.

Valdez said that the 1985 Oldsmobile he was driving ran out of gas between
Kyle and San Marcos. Segura marched Smith into a nearby field covered with
tall grass and emerged a short time later without her, Valdez said.

Smith's body was found in a Hays County field about three weeks later. She
had been shot in the neck.

Prosecutors are expected to call more witnesses today. The defense will
likely put on its witnesses Wednesday, and closing arguments are
tentatively scheduled for Thursday.


Women testify that Devoe held gun to their heads—-At start of capital
murder trial, 2 tell how they survived.

Paul Devoe put the gun to Sharon Wilson's head that day in August 2007
after she told him to leave her Llano County house, Wilson testified

"He said, 'If you want to play (expletive) games, we'll play (expletive)
games," Wilson said.

Glenda Purcell told a Travis County jury she never saw the gun when Devoe
walked into a Marble Falls bar a short time later that night, put his
hands over her eyes and stuck it to her head.

The gun clicked twice but did not go off, Purcell testified. "It wasn't
the trigger being pulled back; it was the pin."

The accounts of both women came Monday at the start of Devoe's capital
murder trial in Travis County. Prosecutors say that after the
confrontations with Wilson and Purcell on Aug, 24, 2007, Devoe went on to
kill 6 people in 2 states before he was arrested in his native Long
Island, N.Y., three days later.

Devoe pleaded not guilty. His lawyers reserved their opening statement
until later in the trial.

The 46-year-old carpenter and painter is on trial in the deaths of
Danielle Hensley, 17, and Haylie Faulkner, 15, at a Jonestown house. If
convicted, he would receive the death penalty or life in prison.

Devoe is also accused of killing bartender Michael Allred, 41, in
O'Neill's Sports Tavern in Marble Falls. Authorities say he then drove to
the Jonestown house of his ex-girlfriend, Paula Marie Griffith, 46, where
in addition to Danielle and Haylie, Devoe fatally shot Griffith and her
boyfriend, Jay Feltner, 48.

On his way to Long Island, Devoe had car problems and killed Betty Jane
DeHart, 81, after seeing her car at her Greencastle, Pa., house, according
to a criminal complaint.

Prosecutor Gary Cobb told the jury that the evidence is strong against
Devoe and that he used the same gun throughout the spree a Jennings .380.
Devoe stole that gun from his friend Bill Brinlee of Burnet, Cobb said,
and had it with him when he was arrested.

Purcell said Devoe was with Brinlee in January 2007 when she first met
Devoe. The pair came into a salon where she worked as a massage therapist.
They were trying to drum up clients for a construction business, she said.

Devoe returned twice for massages, and in February the pair began a
romantic relationship, Purcell said.

They lived together in her house near Marble Falls until June 2007.
Purcell, 47, told the jury she had a protective order taken out against
him about a month later. Court documents show that she wrote in an
application that "Paul is a heavy drinker with a short fuse and I fear for
my safety."

Wilson, 62, told the jury she met Devoe through her daughter while Devoe
was having problems with Purcell and agreed to let him live with her in
exchange for his doing some construction work on her house. But on Aug.
24, 2007, Wilson said she found Devoe with a handgun, saw him going
through her purse and suspected him of emptying a gas can she had just

After finding the gas can empty, Wilson approached Devoe while he was
sleeping, tapped him on the shoulder and said: "Paul, you need to get up.
You need to leave."

Wilson said that Devoe went from the bed to an adjacent living room, where
he retrieved a gun from underneath a sofa cushion and put it to her head.

Wilson said she pushed the gun away and said, "Paul, you don't want to do

After Devoe put the gun to Wilson's chest, she said, "he just started
firing shots." He fired into the sofa, the walls and the floor, Wilson

Devoe stopped firing and said he was going to a utility trailer he kept on
Wilson's land to get more guns, Wilson testified.

When he did, she ran into the brush near her house toward a neighbor's
house. When she heard Devoe coming, she hid in a cactus patch.

She told prosecutor Dayna Blazey that she thinks Devoe knew she was there
because he drove her pickup nearby and revved the engine. Then Devoe left,
and Wilson scaled a razor wire fence and hid in a neighbor's goat barn
before going for help, she said.

"I had thorns this long in my head," she said, holding her fingers a few
inches apart. "I had tried to burrow up under" the cactus to hide.

Devoe drove Wilson's truck to O'Neill's in Marble Falls, prosecutors said.

Purcell said she was sitting in her regular spot between the bar and the
jukebox when she saw him come in "completely decked out in his motorcycle
attire" leather chaps over jeans, a leather cap and a black leather vest.

"He came up to me, and he put his hands over my eyes, and he held a gun to
my head," she said.

Purcell said that when the gun did not fire she ran to the back of the bar
looking for bartender Michael Allred, who was in the men's room making a

When Allred stepped between the two, Purcell said, she ran next door to
the Marble Falls police station. She said there were no officers, only
dispatchers, in the building.

Barbara Phillips, who was at the bar that day, later testified that Allred
told Devoe: "You don't want to do this. Please put the gun down. Please
put the gun down."

Then Devoe shot him in the chest and walked out the door, Phillips said,
and "got in the truck right in front of the police station and drove off."

(source for both: Austin American-Statesman)


Texas trial begins for man accused of killing 6

A man accused of killing 6 people in 2 states called a friend the night of
the 1st 5 killings and said he had "done something bad and there was no
going back," the friend testified Monday as the man's murder trial began.

Bill Brinlee said that Paul Devoe was upset but calm and in control when
Devoe called him repeatedly the night of Aug. 24, 2007.

"He said that he was on the run, he had done something bad and there was
no going back. … He'd done something he wished he wouldn't have done. It
was hard for me to believe," said Brinlee, whose gun Devoe allegedly stole
and used in the killings.

Devoe, 46, has pleaded not guilty to capital murder in the deaths of
Haylie Faulkner, 15, and Danielle Hensley, 17. Prosecutors are seeking the
death penalty.

Travis County prosecutor Gary Cobb told jurors during his opening
statement Monday that they would have no doubt after all the evidence is
presented that Devoe murdered the 2 girls.

Prosecutors say Devoe fatally shot 41-year-old Michael Allred at the bar
he worked at in Marble Falls, then drove to the home of his ex-girlfriend,
Paula Griffith, in Jonestown and shot her, her 48-year-old boyfriend, Jay
Feltner, her daughter, Haylie Faulkner and Haylie's friend, Danielle

Devoe is only on trial for the girls' killings. It's common in Texas for
prosecutors to split multiple charges into separate trials. Prosecutors
can still seek trials for the remaining killings.

Brinlee testified that Devoe told him he'd gone to the bar to kill another
ex-girlfriend, but his gun jammed and the bartender got in his way.

Another witness, Sharon Wilson, said Devoe had been her house guest in the
weeks leading up to the killings, but that he "snapped" when she asked him
to leave. She said he held a gun to her and to his own head, and then
began shooting up her house. She said she fled with her dog and hid in a
cactus patch.

Devoe, became visibly upset in court and dabbed his eyes with a tissue as
Wilson described his relationship with Haylie.

"He cared very much about her," Wilson said.

Prosecutors say after the killings, Devoe fled Texas for Long Island,
N.Y., where he grew up and where his mother lived. They say he had car
trouble near State Line, Pa., shot and killed 81-year-old widow Betty Jane
Dehart and stole her car.

Devoe, who had worked as a handyman on painting and carpentry jobs, was
arrested in Shirley, N.Y., on Aug. 27, 2007.

Defense attorneys declined to make opening statements Monday.

Cobb said he expected to offer up "several dozen witnesses," including
some from New York and Pennsylvania. He said the trial would take at least
2 weeks.

Devoe spent several weeks in a Texas psychiatric hospital before being
declared competent for trial in March.

(source: Associated Press)