Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New jury to weigh death penalty for child killer


By JENNIFER LEBOVICH

After years of legal wrangling, jury selection began Monday for the second sentencing hearing for Howard Steven Ault -- convicted almost a decade ago of killing two young girls and hiding their bodies in his Fort Lauderdale attic.
Ault, who was originally sentenced to die for the crime, appealed, and in 2003, the Florida Supreme Court vacated his sentence because of a mistake during the original jury selection.

Now a new jury will be asked to decide whether to sentence Ault to life in prison or death by lethal injection.

Broward Judge Marc Gold -- who presided over the trial in 1999 -- told prospective jurors that Ault, now 41, had been convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, and other charges including sexual battery and aggravated child abuse.

Gold explained that the mission of the jury is not to review whether Ault is guilty of the crime -- but rather, how he should be punished.

''The punishment for this crime is either death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,'' Gold told a pool of about 50 prospective jurors.

Gold said he planned to complete the jury selection this week. The trial is scheduled to start Aug. 13.

On Monday, prospective jurors were asked if they had heard about the case and their views on the death penalty.

Ault, dressed a button-down shirt in front of prospective jurors, stared blankly through much of the proceedings. Before anyone from the jury pool had entered the courtroom, Ault's attorney, Mitchell Polay, told the judge that his client was on suicide watch at the Broward jail.

The murders of the two girls -- straight-A students who had been homeless, living with their mother at a campsite in Oakland Park -- made national headlines, raising fears about child safety and questions about how Ault, a convicted sexual predator, was able to continue assault young victims.

On Nov. 4, 1996, Ault lured DeAnn Mu'min, 11, and her 7-year-old sister, Alicia Jones, into his truck, offering them a ride home from school.

Instead, he took them to his apartment, where he raped DeAnn while Alicia watched helplessly, then strangled them both.

In vacating the death sentence, the Supreme Court ruled that a prospective juror who stated she was opposed to the death penalty should not have been dismissed. The woman said she would be able to sentence someone to death if the law required it.

The death penalty has been in limbo in Florida, however, since a botched lethal injection in December.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush impaneled a committee to investigate the execution of Angel Nieves Diaz, who took 34 minutes to die after the injection.

State prison officials have since revamped execution procedures and say they are ready to resume executions.

Gov. Charlie Crist signed a death warrant for Mark Dean Schwab -- his first death warrant since the state halted the procedure.

Despite Crist's death warrant, there is an ongoing legal challenge on behalf of Death Row inmates that could halt Schwab's execution.

Neal Dupree, the attorney who heads the South Florida state office that handles appeals for Death Row inmates, said that even if a jury decides Ault should be executed, his case will not be immediately impacted by current attempts to fix the lethal injection process.

''They've got the direct appeal process,'' Dupree said. ``The post-conviction process, the federal appeals. Hopefully by then, the department will have fixed it's protocols.

``The process before a governor would sign a warrant will take several years.''

Victims' families spare killer


He murdered two 26-year-olds in the woods. Their parents pick life.

By JOSE CARDENAS
Published July 31, 2007

Leo Boatman ambushed college students John Parker and Amber Peck with a high-powered rifle in Ocala National Forest last year.

He fired about 10 times, killing Peck with a shot to the head to stop her from screaming. Then he tried to submerge both 26-year-olds in a pond, where Parker's father and sister found them a few days later while helping search.

Despite all that, the victims' families agreed to spare Boatman's life Monday.

Boatman, a 21-year-old Largo resident, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in Marion County Circuit Court in Ocala. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.

With a trial looming, prosecutors were ready to seek the death penalty, but the victims' families wanted to end the case.

In part, they did not want to suffer through a trial and another retelling of the grisly details, some of which were made public for the first time Monday with the release of Boatman's confession.

"He probably would never have been executed in our lifetime," said John Parker's mother, Vicky Parker, who lives in Interlachen in Putnam County.

Amber Peck's parents said their daughter might not have wanted Boatman executed. Peck, who came from Michigan to Florida a few years ago to become a zoologist, was an animal lover without a mean bone in her body, they said.

"I'm not sure that she would have agreed to us taking his life even if he took hers," said Glenda Peck, who is staying temporarily in Silver Springs with her husband. "She was that sensitive to life."

'Spur of the moment'

In January 2006, Boatman boarded a bus from Clearwater to the Ocala National Forest, taking an AK-47 detectives say he stole from a family friend. After a stop in Juniper Springs, Boatman spent three days in the forest.

In the confession, Boatman said he came across the two students from Santa Fe Community College camping near Hidden Pond. He and the students exchanged heys.

A few minutes later, Boatman fired from 30 yards away as the students walked through the vegetation. He told investigators he got closer and fired the last of about 10 shots at close range.

He wanted to stop Peck from screaming, he said. He also was afraid the two students would get up after they were on the ground and attack him.

He told detectives that the shooting "was a spur of the moment" act.

"That's the only thing that, you know, bothered me about the whole thing," he said.

"What went through your mind to make you shoot these people?" a sheriff's investigator asked him.

"I have my little fantasy world and whatnot," Boatman said. "I've read lots of books, you know, and then I probably got onto, like, the murder mysteries. ... They kind of got me into that state of mind."

Boatman said he wanted to turn himself in immediately after the shooting. He checked John Parker's driver's license because he wanted to know who he was. Then he partly submerged both bodies in the pond.

That's where John Parker's father, his younger sister, a cousin and brother-in-law found the bodies as they helped in the search.

The family knew where to look because they knew Parker loved that forest.

"How does a father forget seeing his firstborn son lying dead in the water?" Vicky Parker said in court. "What does a sister feel seeing her brother lying there dead?"

Remembering them

The families said they also wanted to avoid a trial to keep from casting the spotlight on Boatman. Instead, 20 family members and friends who attended the hourlong hearing talked about the victims.

John Parker was an ex-Marine who served two tours in Afghanistan, his parents said. He was studying forestry at the community college and aimed to transfer to the University of Florida. He was looking forward to an internship in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. He left behind a 9-year-old daughter who lives with her mother in Gainesville.

Amber's mother said her daughter had been an animal lover since she was a child. She cried at the zoo because animals were in cages.

Before his sentencing, Boatman also spoke.

"I can't offer an explanation because there is none," he told Circuit Judge Willard Pope.

"He expressed in open court his remorse," said Bill Miller, chief assistant public defender. "He was certainly struck emotionally by the statements of the victims' families."

Boatman was abused by his mother, who drowned when Boatman was 9, Miller said. He spent his youth in foster homes and juvenile facilities.

"He had an absolutely horrific life," Miller said. "No one is making an excuse. It's an enormous offense. He accepted an enormous penalty. Thankfully, it was not the ultimate penalty."

State Attorney Brad King said his office was confident it could obtain death for Boatman, but the families wanted a quicker resolution.

"When a family is faced with that dilemma, if I can oblige their wishes ... I try to do that," said King, whose jurisdiction includes Marion County. "While we did give up the death penalty, he will be in prison for the rest of his life."

Glenda Peck said she struggled with the life or death decision.

"I really had a hard time," Peck said. "I feel like I'm cheating my daughter. But my husband is the one who said she would not have wanted to kill him."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Jose Cardenas can be reached at jcardenas@sptimes.com or 727 445-4224.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Stay of the death penalty


Palm Beach Post Editorial

Monday, July 30, 2007

Florida remains closer to no more executions than to the next one.

On July 18, Gov. Crist signed the first death warrant since former Gov. Bush suspended capital punishment. In December, the Department of Corrections botched the lethal injection of Angel Diaz by injecting drugs into his soft tissue, not his veins. The usual 15-minute execution took more than twice that long. A special panel recommended procedural changes, so the state would not violate the Eighth Amendment ban on "cruel and unusual punishment."

But since medical personnel won't participate in executions, it seemed unlikely that the changes would satisfy the courts. Sure enough, last week a judge in Marion County issued a stay of execution and asked for a rewrite of the state's death-penalty protocols. The case does not involve the inmate whose death warrant the governor signed, but the judge's order may hold up all executions, including the one now scheduled for November.

Support for capital punishment nationwide has been slipping. In Florida, which leads the nation in exonerations from Death Row, more juries are handing down assured sentences of life without parole. There always will be cases that rekindle the spark for the death penalty. But then there's the difficulty of writing a law to cover all cases, and of devising a system to carry out the punishment. Florida is failing in both areas.

New FACDL president has ‘to-do’ list


07/30/2007

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

Russell Smith, who was elected president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in June, wasn’t planning to be a criminal defense attorney when he went to law school.

“Frankly, I saw myself in a traditional civil practice, but there I was fresh out of law school with student loans I had to pay off.”

As fate would have it, a few months after Smith passed the bar exam in 1980, he met Lou Frost, the Public Defender for the Fourth Judicial Circuit. Frost needed to hire someone to replace an attorney about to go on maternity leave, and as Smith put it, “He saw something in me.”

It wasn’t long before Frost’s instincts proved to be right on the money.

“The first time I walked into a misdemeanor court, I knew I had found what kind of law I wanted to practice,” said Smith, who added his training was immediate and intense.

“They just handed me a stack of about 45 files, that’s how I got started. I started working for Judge Louise Walker and she told me if at any time I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, just say so and we would stop and figure it out.”

Smith left the Public Defenders office for private practice in 1984 and has since represented defendants in death penalty, DUI and suspended drivers license cases among others. He was one of the attorneys appointed in 2000 to represent Karl Waldon, a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Deputy accused of robbing and killing a store owner in the back of his police car. It was the first federal death penalty prosecution in the Middle District of Florida in more than 50 years, and after a nine-week trial, the jury returned a verdict rejecting the death penalty.

“I also represented an honors student from Florida A&M University who was arrested for resisting arrest without violence when a security guard at Regency Square tried to make my client’s companion turn his baseball cap around so the bill was facing forward. When my client objected and pointed out that other people nearby were also wearing their caps backwards, he was arrested.

“I worked on that case just as hard as I worked on Karl Waldon’s. If you have the right to be free from government interference in your life, then you have to be free from that interference.”

Smith said he wants to contribute his passion for the concept of justice for all people to the FACDL during his term as president, and there are three issues that he considers should be the organization’s priorities.

Legislation enacted and signed by Gov. Charlie Crist, SB 1088, has changed the way people who can’t afford to hire a defense attorney are represented, Smith said, and he believes the new “Regional Office of Conflict Counsel,” is flawed.

“The system is underfunded and there aren’t enough attorneys to represent the people who are accused,” he said. “The state is trying to save some money, but it’s being done in a way that will compromise the quality of representation. Innocent people will go to prison because of what this legislation has done.

“As an association, we have to advocate to ensure every citizen who is accused of a crime – whether they can afford representation or not – receives fair treatment from the criminal justice system. What’s currently in place won’t work, so we need to use the association’s influence to either fix it or replace it with something that will work,” said Smith.

Another issue Smith said he’d like the FACDL to tackle is legislation to require mandatory recording of police interrogations in their entirety. He said Florida jurisdictions should join thousands of others across the nation in enacting such laws, many of which are modeled after measures the association has supported for more than 10 years.

“Other states, including North Carolina just this month, have adopted bills modeled after the one we adopted, but we can’t even get a hearing here in Florida because whenever the matter is on the calendar, law enforcement agencies bring all the pressure they can to kill the bill,” he said.

The third priority is to make changes in the law that will allow many people with suspended drivers licenses to have their license restored.

“Twenty years ago, there were about 100,000 people in Florida with suspended drivers licenses. Since then it has increased more than twenty-fold,” he said.

“People have had their licenses suspended for failing to pay child support, and minors have had their licenses suspended for getting caught smoking cigarettes,” Smith added. “There are more than 2 million people in Florida with suspended licenses. That means they can’t carry liability insurance and they’re more likely to flee police than pull over and get a ticket. Both issues put other drivers at risk.

“I think we should advocate a change in the law that would allow those charged with misdemeanor driving with a suspended license to be given the opportunity to be brought back into the system. We want every driver in Florida to be licensed and insured.”

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ault Death Sentence Vacated by Court


Nov 6, 2003 6:01 pm US/Eastern

The Florida Supreme Court overturned death sentences given to a convicted pedophile who confessed to strangling two young sisters in Broward County in 1996.

The high court ruled in Thursday's unanimous opinion that a potential juror who opposed capital punishment was wrongly dismissed.

The decision came in the appeal of Howard Steven Ault, who killed 11-year-old DeAnn Mu'min and her 7-year-old sister, Alicia Jones, after raping one of them.

The murders led to a new state law expanding public access to information on convicted sexual predators.

Ault, 37, will get a new sentencing hearing on his two murder convictions. The decision does not affect the life prison term he is serving for another conviction in the case, sexual battery on a child under 12.

Ault was on supervised community release for a 1988 sex crime when he befriended the girls' mother and picked the children up from school one day, promising them candy.

He confessed two days later and told police the would find the girls' bodies amid the clutter of his attic.

In Thursday's unsigned opinion, the court wrote that the trial judge made a significant error by dismissing a juror who said she was against capital punishment but would be able to set aside her personal views.

``Prospective jurors may not be excused ... simply because they voice general objections to the death penalty,'' the unsigned opinion reads.

The key test, the high court added, is whether the juror would be able to set aside personal views and act impartially as required by the law. In a capital case, that means being able to recommend a death sentence if aggravating factors in a case outweigh mitigating circumstances.

In the Ault case, the juror said that she could ``be fair in the guilt and penalty phases even thought she opposed the death penalty,'' the Supreme Court wrote.

Lawyers on the case didn't return Thursday afternoon phone calls.

A 1997 law passed in reaction to the murders provided several new measures, such as a toll-free number to find out information on sexual offenders. Photos of offenders are provided on request.

The law also combined resources of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the state Department of Corrections and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles in keeping track of sexual offenders and predators.

Fort Lauderdale child killer to learn fate


On Monday, a panel of jurors will be selected to decide whether to sentence convicted child killer Howard Steven Ault to life in prison or death by lethal injection.

At a Friday hearing, Broward Judge Marc Gold ordered jury selection to proceed -- despite a request from the defense attorney to hold off.

''I'm not delaying this anymore,'' Gold said from the bench. ``We're going to trial.''

Ault, 41, was sentenced to die in 2000 after he was convicted of killing two sisters, ages 11 and 9, and stuffing their bodies in his Fort Lauderdale attic. In 2003, the sentence was overturned on appeal.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Missing Woman's Body Found At Airport

Body Discovered In Trunk Of Car In Parking Garage

POSTED: 8:04 am EDT July 24, 2007
UPDATED: 6:37 am EDT July 25, 2007

MIAMI -- A body discovered Tuesday in the trunk of a car parked in a garage at Miami International Airport is that of a missing Sunrise woman, Broward Sheriff's Office homicide detectives have confirmed.

An airport employee was collecting luggage carts on the fourth level of the Dolphin parking garage when he smelled a foul odor coming from a black Audi and called police.

BSO homicide detectives later confirmed the car belonged to Linda Renee Innocent, who had been missing since July 15. The 34-year-old woman was last seen leaving her job as a hospice nurse shortly after 8 p.m. and was on her way to meet her boyfriend for dinner. Her family said the mother of four never made it home.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A hood doesn't mask our failures


By SUE CARLTON
Published July 27, 2007

Given the latest in our off-again on-again death penalty, here's a question from left field:

Why does the person carrying out the absolute punishment get his identity hidden by the state?

Historically, executioners have worn hoods. (Ku Klux Klansmen, too, but that's another story.) Maybe this was symbolic, to show that society, and not just the hangman who had to do the dirty work, decided the fate of the doomed.

Our own Department of Corrections says keeping the executioner's identity secret - state law, by the way - protects the person from retribution by extremists or an inmate's friends or family. (Surely there's little fear about anti-death penalty types, who tend to be against that whole eye-for-an-eye thing.) The doctor and doctor's assistant present at executions have worn hoods as well.

Critics have a different view. They say this secrecy is born of shame, or ambivalence about killing even killers, or because even for true believers, there are grim realities to actually taking a life.

For now, let's skip the real question of right or wrong and talk process. We have a history of horror shows: flames erupting from men's heads during electrocutions, a face dripping blood. "They butchered me back there," killer Bennie Demps said just before he was executed in 2000, saying they cut and injected his groin and leg in search of a vein. We have struggled to consistently impose death with even the dignity we give to euthanizing stray dogs.

When convicted murderer Angel Diaz took twice as long as normal to die from lethal injection, with drugs injected into his flesh instead of his bloodstream, Gov. Jeb Bush rightly halted executions. (Please, hold the chorus of no-punishment-is-too-cruel-or-unusual. Surely we're better than that.)

An appointed commission looked at what went wrong, the DOC agreed to recommendations, and the death penalty was back on.

Which brings us to convicted killer Ian Deco Lightbourne. Like others on death row, he had appealed on cruel-and-unusual grounds. Judge Carven Angel (what a name in a death case) questioned, among other things, the experience and competence of the hooded executioner who administers the lethal dose.

(Job requirements: picked by warden. Must be 18. Must get training. Pay: $150.)

The judge talked about whether any 18-year-old under the gun of a governor's warrant and a world watching would "have enough experience and competence to stop an execution when it needs to be stopped." Good question. Add mine: Why hide his identity? Shouldn't we know his qualifications, his history?

"When you become a public employee, you should not be able to hide behind a black hood," said a Florida lawyer who in the 1990s unsuccessfully sued to unmask executioners.

Truth is, even if we exposed the identity of the man or woman at the switch, syringe or whatever our current instrument of choice, I doubt we would lack for applicants.

A DOC spokeswoman confirmed my suspicions. "Any time the death penalty comes up in court or an execution is looming," said Gretl Plessinger, "we get a dozen e-mails to this office saying, 'I'm interested in being an executioner.' "

These days, I'm guessing a hood wouldn't make a whole lot of difference.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

In court this morning: Does Ocala ruling on death penalty have weight in other case?


BY MABEL PEREZ
Star-Banner

TITUSVILLE -- A judge said today that he is still unsure what impact, if any, the recent ruling in Ian Lightbourne case has on the upcoming death case against convicted pedophile and murderer Mark Schwab.

Apparently, Circuit Judge Carven Angel's ruling in Ocala doesn't mandate how the Brevard County judge should move forward and whether he should grant Schwab a stay of execution.

"The fact that we have Lightbourne out there doesn't slow anything down or stop anything as far as I'm concerned," said 18th Circuit Judge Charles M. Holcomb.

"As I see it, I don't think any other circuit can affect what we do."

In an oral ruling on Sunday, Angel said the Florida Department of Corrections must rewrite portions of the execution protocol manual to reflect more details about the execution team, especially members’ training and experience. The ruling came after 11 continuous days of hearings in Ocala.

Corrections officials have until Aug. 17 to submit their updated execution manual. Five weeks after that, Judge Angel will hold a hearing to listen to other testimony and issue a final ruling about Florida's lethal injection.

The Florida Supreme Court scheduled arguments in the Lightbourne and Schwab case in October.Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Nunnelley told the Titusville judge today that he was concerned with having to hold the same type of hearings in the Schwab case as he did in the Lightbourne case. In Ocala, DOC officials and other witnesses to the botched execution of Angel Diaz in December talked about what they saw."I don't think we need to replow the ground that has been so finely plowed in the Lightbourne case," Nunnelley said.

At the same time, Nunnelley told the court that Angel's ruling had "no binding" in the different jurisdiction. Angel is in the 5th Judicial Circuit, which covers Marion, Citrus, Lake, Sumter and Hernando counties.

Attorneys representing dozens of death row inmates filed a petition the day after the Dec. 13 Diaz execution, claiming the penalty was "cruel and unusual."

The Florida Supreme Court handpicked the Lightbourne case to hear lethal injection arguments.It took 34 minutes - twice as long as normal - for Diaz, 55, to die after an unusual second injection of the three chemicals used in the procedure.

Then-Gov. Jeb Bush suspended all Florida executions in December after a medical examiner said prison officials botched the insertion of the needles.Just last week, Gov. Charlie Crist signed the first death warrant since Diaz. Schwab's is scheduled for execution on Nov. 15.

A state commission reviewed DOC policies early this year and the execution protocol was updated in May 2007. Angel ruled more changes needed to be made.

Schwab, 38, was sentenced to death in 1992. He kidnapped, raped and killed 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez, of Cocoa, by smothering or choking the boy. Lightbourne, 47, was sentenced to death in 1981 for the murder of Marion County horse breeder Nancy O'Farrell, the daughter of a prominent horse farming family.

For more on this story and other local news, revisit ocala.com and read Thursday's Star-Banner.

Judge's ruling may assist killer's case


An Ocala challenge to lethal injections may affect Mark Dean Schwab's sentence.

Laurin Sellers

Sentinel Staff Writer

July 26, 2007

TITUSVILLE

Attorneys representing Mark Dean Schwab said Wednesday they hope an Ocala circuit judge's objections to the state's updated lethal-injection procedures will help the condemned killer.

"We are hoping that will provide some relief in Schwab's case, but one ruling by a circuit judge is not binding on another circuit judge," said Daphney Gaylord, one of Schwab's state-appointed attorneys. Gaylord is with the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, an agency that represents death-row inmates in final appeals.

Last week, Gov. Charlie Crist ended a seven-month moratorium on executions in Florida when he signed Schwab's death warrant for the 1991 kidnap, rape and strangulation murder of 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez of Cocoa.

Circuit Judge Carven D. Angel ruled Sunday that Ian Lightbourne, 47, cannot be put to death for the 1981 slaying of Nancy O'Farrell until the Florida Department of Corrections revises its procedures.

Angel outlined what he characterized as several problems with the new protocols Florida officials adopted after the botched Dec. 13 execution of convicted killer Angel Diaz.

Department of Corrections Secretary Jim McDonough didn't think the legal challenge could again freeze executions.

"I really don't see it as a big roadblock," McDonough said. "I think what the court is seeking is a rational explanation of the criteria involved."

Crist, however, hedged when asked this week about Schwab's fate.

"Whether it will affect the warrant that I signed last week, I think is yet to be determined," Crist said, referring to the death warrant he signed for Schwab. "I'm hoping it doesn't."

During a hearing Wednesday before Brevard County Circuit Judge Charles Holcomb, Gaylord said she plans to file a motion Aug. 13 asking Holcomb to consider Angel's concerns.

In signing his first death warrant, Crist said he felt confident lethal injections could continue in line with constitutional bans on cruel and unusual punishment.

During the weekend hearing in Ocala, Angel said the new procedures were not clear enough or were inadequate, noting that the only qualification of the executioner is that he or she be at least 18.

The "execution team" should be trained and the "objective is to carry out a process that is consistent with evolving notions of the decency of man," Angel said, according to a transcript obtained by the Orlando Sentinel on Wednesday.

"It is not going to involve unnecessary lingering or unnecessary or wanton infliction of pain or lingering death."

No death warrant has been signed in Lightbourne's case, but both his and Schwab's case are scheduled to be reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court on Oct. 11, Gaylord said. The higher court's decision on one case could affect the other, she said.

The ban on lethal injections came after Diaz took twice as long as usual to die and required double the normal dosage.

John Kennedy contributed to this report. Laurin Sellers can be reached at lsellers@orlandosentinel.com or 321-795-3251.

State might not seek death penalty in Wildwood killing case

By BENJAMIN ROODE, DAILY SUN

BUSHNELL — The state attorney trying to convict a Wildwood man in the May killing of the man’s aunt does not anticipate seeking the death penalty in the case, he said Wednesday.

That all could change, however, if and when 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Pete Magrino sees information on possible juvenile offenses committed by defendant Maurice Stephens, 18, during time spent in Tennessee, Magrino said.

“Because of the facts of the offense and because of his age,” the case did not fit criteria set forth by the Florida Supreme Court as a potential capital murder case, the prosecutor said.

“The only thing subject to change would be the information from the state of Tennessee,” Magrino said. He did not discuss the case further.

Judge William Hallman III arraigned Stephens Wednesday morning in a Bushnell courtroom and reviewed a “not guilty” plea entered by Stephens’ court-assigned attorney, Cliff Travis of Citrus County, who was not present at the hearing. Hallman set the next pretrial hearing in the case for 1:30 p.m. Sept. 26.

Documents obtained by the Daily Sun from the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County, Tenn., show Stephens has been jailed at least twice in that state as a juvenile on charges of false imprisonment, domestic assault, aggravated burglary and arson.

Juvenile authorities in Tennessee also placed Stephens in the custody of his aunt, JoAnn Wade, who he is accused of killing last May in the home the two shared with other relatives just west of Wildwood. Sumter County sheriff’s deputies found a bloody hammer and a pair of sneakers, which witnesses identified as belonging to Stephens, in one of the home’s closets after another relative found Wade’s body in the house.

Last week, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed the state’s first death warrant of his term, effectively ending a seven-month moratorium on the death penalty imposed by former Gov. Jeb Bush. The December lethal-injection execution of convicted murderer Angel N. Diaz took more than a half-hour, prompting Bush to order a stop to the executions and a review of the state’s lethal-injection procedures and policies.

Benjamin Roode is a writer with the Daily Sun. He can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9224, or benjamin.roode@thevillagesmedia.com.

Killer's execution moves forward


Brevard judge says Lightbourne ruling in Marion won't halt process in Schwab case

BY MABEL PEREZ
STAR-BANNER

Lawyers for condemned killers argue that Florida's lethal injection procedures are unconstitutional.

WHAT'S NEW?
A Brevard County circuit judge said Wednesday that Marion County Circuit Judge Carven Angel's objections to the state's execution policies do not prevent him from moving forward in considering the death warrant against Mark Schwab.

WHAT'S NEXT?
In October, the Florida Supreme Court is expected to make its decision on the death penalty process. The justices' ruling could turn on Angel's view in the case of Ian Lightbourne and affect Schwab's scheduled Nov. 15 execution.

TITUSVILLE - A judge said Wednesday that he is still unsure what impact, if any, Sunday's ruling in Ian Lightbourne's death-penalty case has on the scheduled execution of child-rapist and killer Mark Schwab.

Circuit Judge Charles M. Holcomb said that Circuit Judge Carven Angel's ruling in Marion County does not mandate how he should move forward and whether he should grant Schwab a stay of execution.

"The fact that we have Lightbourne out there doesn't slow anything down or stop anything as far as I'm concerned," said Holcomb, of the 18th Judicial Circuit in Brevard County. "As I see it, I don't think any other circuit can affect what we do."

That means that attorneys are going to do what they do best - file dozens of motions in the Schwab case by an Aug. 13 deadline. An evidentiary hearing is set Aug. 20 and Holcomb expects to issue any rulings by Aug. 31.

In an oral ruling on Sunday, Angel said the Florida Department of Corrections must rewrite portions of the execution protocol manual to reflect more details about the execution team, especially members' training and experience. The ruling came after 11 continuous days of hearings in Ocala.

Corrections officials have until Aug. 17 to submit their updated execution manual. Five weeks after that, Angel will hold a hearing to listen to other testimony and issue a final ruling about Florida's lethal injection policies. He previously told the Florida Supreme Court he will issue his final ruling by Sept. 10.

That gives the court a little more than a month to read transcripts of the Lightbourne hearings, Angel's order, the attorneys' written closing arguments and documents in the Schwab case.

The issue of how lethal injection is administered is coming to a head with Angel's ruling on Lightbourne and expected rulings in the Schwab case. The showdown scheduled in October in front of the Florida Supreme Court will potentially affect future executions - including Schwab's, which is scheduled for Nov. 15.

In the Schwab case, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Nunnelley said Wednesday he was concerned with having to hold the same type of hearings in the Schwab case as he did in the Lightbourne case. In Ocala, DOC officials and other witnesses to the botched execution of Angel Diaz in December testified about what they saw.

"I don't think we need to replow the ground that has been so finely plowed in the Lightbourne case," Nunnelley said.

At the same time, Nunnelley told the court that Judge Angel's ruling had "no binding" in the different jurisdiction. Angel presides in the 5th Judicial Circuit, which covers Marion, Citrus, Lake, Sumter and Hernando counties.

Attorneys representing dozens of death row inmates filed a petition the day after the Dec. 13 Diaz execution, claiming the penalty was "cruel and unusual." The Florida Supreme Court handpicked the Lightbourne case to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the state's lethal injection methods.

It took 34 minutes - twice as long as normal - for Diaz, 55, to die after an unusual second injection of the three chemicals used in the procedure. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush suspended all Florida executions in December after a medical examiner said prison officials mishandled the insertion of the needles.

Gov. Charlie Crist ended that moratorium last week, when he signed a death warrant for Schwab.

A state commission reviewed DOC policies early this year and the execution protocol was updated in May. Angel ruled that more changes needed to be made.

Schwab, 38, was convicted of raping and murdering 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez Jr. of Cocoa. He was sentenced to death in 1992.

Lightbourne, 47, was sentenced to death in 1981 for the murder of Marion County horse breeder Nancy O'Farrell, the daughter of a prominent horse farming family.

Mabel Perez may reached at mabel.perez@starbanner.com 867-4106.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Fla. Ordered to Revise Injection Plan


By RON WORD
The Associated Press
Monday, July 23, 2007; 9:55 PM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A judge has ordered the state to update its lethal injection protocol, a ruling that could delay the state's first such procedure since it halted executions after botching one in December.

Circuit Judge Carven D. Angel ruled that Ian Deco Lightbourne cannot be put to death for the 1981 slaying of Nancy O'Farrell until the Department of Corrections revises its procedures. His execution date was pending while he appeals, but Angel's ruling could affect the case of another inmate set to die in November.

"Our objective is to carry out a process that is consistent with evolving notions of the decency of man. It is not going to involve infliction of pain or lingering death," the judge said at a hearing Sunday in Ocala.

Angel made his ruling after 11 days of evidentiary hearings concerning the Dec. 13 execution of Angel Diaz, who took more than 30 minutes to die after needles inserted into his arm punctured his veins.

Gov. Charlie Crist signed Schwab's death warrant last week, ending a temporary halt on lethal injections that had been imposed after Diaz's death.

Neal Dupree of the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, an agency representing death row inmates in their final appeals, said Angel's ruling could also affect the execution of Mark Dean Schwab, 38, set to die Nov. 15 for the 1992 kidnapping, rape and murder of 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez.

"The judge doesn't think the protocol will produce a painless execution," Dupree said.

Sandi Copes, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said it was too early to determine whether the ruling would affect the Schwab execution, the only one scheduled. A status conference on that case was set for Wednesday.

A corrections spokeswoman said the agency would comply with the judge's order to revise the protocol.

"Our main emphasis is on a humane and dignified death. It is a dynamic document and we are continually working to improve the document," said Gretl Plessinger, a DOC spokeswoman.

Dupree said prosecutors across the state have been telling defense attorneys wanting to challenge the state's lethal injection procedures to wait until the Lightbourne ruling.

Now that the judge has ruled, Dupree said, it could put all those cases in limbo. Dupree said his office represents 75 inmates of the 381 inmates on death row.

© 2007 The Associated Press

Judge Sets Deadlines In Death Sentence Case

POSTED: 11:52 am EDT July 25, 2007
UPDATED: 12:36 pm EDT July 25, 2007

TITUSVILLE, Fla. -- With a death sentence and execution date looming in the case of Mark Dean Schwab, a judge Wednesday in Titusville gave attorneys a set of deadlines to try to keep the case on track.

Schwab, 38, is scheduled to be executed November 15. Schwab was sentenced to death in 1992 for the kidnapping, rape and murder of 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez of Cocoa. He targeted the boy after seeing his picture in a newspaper.

At this point, nothing is expected to delay the execution. However another death penalty case in Ocala could complicate matters a bit. But, with the death warrant signed for Schwab, his case takes priority.

Judge Charles Holcomb held a hearing Wednesday morning in his chambers with attorneys from the state and Schwab's defense attorneys in Tallahassee on the phone. Neither Schwab nor the parents of Rios-Martinez were in the room.

The judge said he called the hearing to try and set timetables for any issues that could come up.

Schwab was convicted nearly 15 years ago for the murder of Rios-Martinez. Just last week, the Governor ended a statewide moratorium on the death penalty and signed Schwab's death warrant.

The defense attorney raised two potential issues, a mental health issue that he did not elaborate on and another death penalty case in Ocala where lethal injection is being challenged.

Prosecutors can't say whether either will ultimately lead to delaying the execution.

"Until we see what is filed here at 4pm on the 13th, it's going to be difficult to say, 'Ok, what is going to be involved here before this court?'" explained assistant state attorney Wayne Holmes.

The judge also said he doesn't believe any rulings in the Ocala death penalty case will directly affect what they do in the Schwab case, especially since a death warrant has not been issued in that case.

Nevertheless, that case is being watched closely since lethal injections in Florida are under the microscope.

Schwab's lawyer recently argued his client's life should be spared so psychologists can study him to better understand pedophiles and prevent them from raping and killing children.

Schwab saw the boy's picture in a newspaper after being released from prison in March 1991 for serving three years on sexual assault charges. Schwab called the family on the phone, claiming he was writing an article on the boy.

Schwab became friendly with the family, even promising to help the boy get a contract to represent a surfing company. The boy's body was found three days after the murder.

Schwab was convicted of first-degree murder, sexual battery upon a child and kidnapping of a child under 13.

The death penalty: Is it time for a national moratorium?

by Charles Hallman
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
Originally posted 7/25/2007

An MSR interview with Georgia death-row inmate Troy Davis

Troy Anthony Davis was all set to join the U.S. military. Instead, he has been locked up in a Georgia prison for almost two decades.

Davis was convicted and condemned to die in 1991 for killing a Savannah, Georgia, police officer. After having exhausted his appeals, Davis was scheduled to die by lethal injection July 17 until the Georgia parole board granted him a 90-day stay of execution for “evaluating and analyzing the evidence provided during the board appointment.”

After he was sentenced, seven of nine witnesses who testified in his trial that he shot Mark Allen MacPhail in 1989 have recanted their testimonies and now say Davis did not shoot the police officer. Davis has contended all along that he is innocent of the crime.

Davis’ account of the incident is as follows: He and a group of friends were outside a Greyhound bus station in Savannah where a man was getting beat up on by Sylvester “Red” Coles. After being told by Coles to get away when they tried to break it up, Davis and a friend then left the scene. McPhail, who was off-duty at the time, then came over to offer assistance and was shot twice. He was White.

A few days later, Davis was out of town preparing to join the Marines when family members called and told him that he was wanted for the shooting. Davis turned himself in. Two years later he was convicted, and he has been on Georgia death row ever since.

In an exclusive interview last May, the MSR asked Davis several questions. The following are his unedited responses:

MSR: Troy, explain how you have kept your composure, patience, sanity, etc. during almost two decades of maintaining your innocence.

TD: I have been able to remain positive and keep my composure due to having a strong family and truly believing that my innocence has to come to light somehow. My mother raised us to believe in God, so I asked God to keep me safe and help me prove my innocence.

It hasn’t been an easy road trying to be patient, but I am a strong-minded person. I see so many traumas, sadness, fear, and many other emotions in the other death-row inmates, and hatred from some of the people that work here.

MSR: Throughout the entire ordeal, why haven’t the authorities heard your side of the story?

TD: The authorities wanted to find a cop killer. Once Sylvester Coles [who testified against him] and his lawyer pointed the finger at me, they made a secret deal agreeing not to charge him if Sylvester gave them what they wanted. They took his word at face value and thought it was an open-and-shut case. In order for the authorities to even entertain my side of the story, they would have to admit to lies, coercion, unethical conduct, and threats they made to me.

[Soon after the McPhail shooting, Coles and his lawyer went to the police and made a statement exonerating him and implicating Davis as the gunman. During the trial, Coles admitted that he carried a .38 caliber handgun, the same type of gun used in the shooting. However, investigators never found the murder weapon.]

MSR: Did you do anything to Sylvester Coles that you would think spur him to falsely accuse you?

TD: I have never done anything to Sylvester Coles. Red always has been a very mean-spirited person who felt as if guns were his power. I am assuming he thought I might snitch on him because he had the gun, and he was attacking that man, so he ran to the police station a few hours after the shooting with a lawyer and pointed the finger at me. I did not even know anyone was shot, especially a policeman, until my family told me I was on the news.

MSR: Anything that I didn’t ask that you wish to talk about?

TD: The incident started for me when I tried to stop Red from pistol-whipping and attacking a homeless man over a can of beer. The man was struck by a left-handed attacker, as he testified. I am right handed.

I want people to know [that] I voluntarily turned myself in once I knew I was suspected of the murder. I had nothing to hide, and I thought by telling the truth I would be released.

Once at the police station, the only question was, “Tell us where the gun is and make it easy on yourself.” In their minds, I was already guilty and convicted. They never asked me what happened that night, and from then on my life and the life of my family was forever changed.

My prayers go out sincerely to Mr. McPhail’s family. They hate me because of lies, but until a court agrees to view all the new real evidence of what happened, they’ll never know the truth. They deserve justice, just like I do.

I refuse to hate those who stole my life from me because that is not who I am. I am angry that I have missed so much of my life and my family’s life. I have missed my father’s funeral.

I just want my freedom back. I want justice once and for all.

The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, limits the number of death sentence appeals to three phases, including actions during pretrial and trial proceedings. Davis’ appeals have been denied at each phase, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

Martina Correia, Davis’ oldest sister, has been the leader in the fight for her brother’s freedom. “Martina is a fighter, and every day she wants to do something to help her brother,” said Laura Moye of Amnesty International, a group opposed to the death penalty that initiated a global campaign to support Davis’ case. “It is completely shameful that the courts have not heard the new evidence.”

Correia visits Davis in prison every other week. “He always was a good brother,” she says. “He never was a troublesome child or young man. He was going into the Marine Corps. So, for people to make him out as a monster, this is so far away from Troy.”

The 90-day stay that the Georgia parole board granted him last week is only temporary. If Davis’ lawyers can’t get a new trial, their client still faces execution unless the board commutes his sentence to life in prison, with or without parole.

“Troy had to give up a lot for our family,” Correia concluded. She and the rest of Davis’ family and supporters sincerely hope that does not include his life.

Information from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Associated Press contributed to this article. For more information on Troy Davis, go to Amnesty’s website (www.amnesty.org) and Davis’ website (www.troyanthonydavis.org).

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

Florida - An Arbitrary and Capricious Death Penalty System


The Number of Executions

The information and conclusions contained in the ABA Report make clear that Florida`s death penalty scheme has failed to satisfy the Furman mandate.

Florida`s capital sentencing is still arbitrary and capricious.

Since 1972, Florida has carried out a total of 61 executions; while between 1972 and 1999, there were 857 defendants sentenced to death (obviously since 1999, there have been more death sentences imposed). ABA Report on Florida at 7. Statistics of the number of individuals who committed murder during that time has not been recorded.

Nevertheless, it is clear that few death sentences that are imposed are actually carried out.

Undoubtedly, the percentage of murderers in Florida actually executed since 1972 is minuscule. Furman, 408 U.S. at 293 (Brennan, J., concurring) (Ait smacks of little more than a lottery system@); Id. at 309 (Stewart, J., concurring) (A[t]hese death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual@); Id. at 313 (White, J., concurring) (Athere is no meaningful basis for distinguishing the few cases in which it is imposed from the many cases in which it is not@).

The ABA Report on Florida demonstrates the same flaws and defects condemned in the Furman once again infect Florida's capital sentencing scheme.

Judge: Spell out execution rules


BY MABEL PEREZ
STAR-BANNER

OCALA - The same attorney who handled Ian Lightbourne's death penalty hearings in Ocala will tell a judge today what impact Circuit Judge Carven Angel's ruling has on the upcoming execution of convicted killer Mark Schwab.

On Sunday, Angel granted Lightbourne a stay of execution until Florida of Department officials rewrite portions of Florida's execution protocol manual. The judge wants the manual to be more detailed and spell out each execution team member's job description and training, among other changes.

The ruling also means Schwab's November execution could be delayed because the DOC must change the execution protocol manual before Angel issues a final order on whether the current procedures are "cruel and unusual." More evidentiary hearings are likely to follow in Ocala as the judge, the state attorney general and defense attorneys review policy changes.

Supreme Court arguments in the Schwab and Lightbourne cases also could be delayed because justices want to review hearing transcripts and orders for the Ocala case before they hold their own hearing.

Just last week, Gov. Charlie Crist signed Schwab's death warrant.

Schwab, 38, was sentenced to death in 1992. He kidnapped, raped and killed 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez, of Cocoa, by smothering or choking the boy. Lightbourne, 47, was sentenced to death in 1981 for the murder of Marion County horse breeder Nancy O'Farrell, the daughter of a prominent horse farming family.

Schwab execution's is scheduled to be the first since the botched execution Angel Diaz on Dec. 13.

It took 34 minutes - twice as long as normal - for Diaz, 55, to die after an unusual second injection of the three chemicals used in the procedure. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush suspended all Florida executions in December after a medical examiner said prison officials botched the insertion of the needles.

A day after the Diaz execution, the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel's office, which represents dozens of death row inmates, filed petitions on behalf of all their clients claiming the penalty was cruel and unusual. The same day, on Dec. 14, the office handpicked the Lightbourne case to argue the issue.

On July 17, Angel told the Florida Supreme Court in an order that the Lightbourne ruling would be submitted by Sept. 10. That would have given the high court a little over a month to read transcripts of Lightbourne's hearings, Angel's order and the attorneys' written closing arguments.

But now, DOC has until Aug. 17 to file the updated manual. Five weeks after that Angel wants attorneys back in court to review and argue the changes.

Hearings for the Schwab and Lightbourne cases are scheduled in Tallahassee in October. The Schwab execution is slated for Nov. 15.

Crist said he was confident changes in lethal injection procedures adopted since the Diaz execution, including additional training, will ensure compliance with constitutional bans against cruel or unusual punishment. A new manual came out in May.

Angel thought it wasn't enough.
"Our objective is to carry out a process that is consistent with evolving notions of the decency of man. It is not going to involve unnecessary lingering or unnecessary or wanton infliction of pain or lingering death," he said.

Court transcripts filed Tuesday gives DOC officials detailed instructions on how to modify the death penalty procedures.

Angel wants to leave nothing to the imagination. He wants the manual to state exactly what training and experience each person on the execution team has and spell out minimum qualifications for each person involved.

The judge doesn't think a warden is qualified to sift through resumes and choose qualified medical personnel or staff. Instead, the DOC secretary should provide a warden with a list of qualified people and the warden should choose from that list.

Angel also thinks anyone on the execution team should have the authority to speak directly with the warden about problems and have the execution stopped, and DOC should provide the governor's office with a certificate showing their execution chamber is up to date, the equipment is working and functioning properly, and the team is qualified to handle the execution.

The judge also criticized the vagueness of the executioner's training and background. Florida statutes state the executioner must be 18 and have a high school diploma.

Assistant State Attorney Rock Hooker said it's not likely DOC actually has an unexperienced or young executioner involved in the process, but said the vagueness in the executioner information is to protect the types of people involved.

"They did that intentionally," Hooker said. "They (DOC officials) didn't want to [write it out] . . . because that would narrow down the type of person that would be an executioner."

Florida statutes protect the identity of the executioner and security staff that handles executions.

Gretl Plessinger, a DOC spokeswoman, said Tuesday that the agency wants to provide humane executions.

"We certainly are willing to do anything we can to improve it," she said, referring to procedures. Plessinger also said the department is waiting to get the judge's written order before they rewrite the protocol.

Neal Dupree, of Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, believes Angel's ruling could impact the Schwab Nov. 15 execution.

"The judge doesn't think the protocol will produce a painless execution," Dupree told The Associated Press. "He has ordered the Department of Corrections to revise its protocols."

Kenneth Nunnelley, deputy attorney general, said Sunday the ruling could impact the Schwab execution. He declined to comment on Tuesday, and the Attorney's General press office would not comment on the issue Tuesday.

Mabel Perez may be reached at mabel.perez@starbanner.com or 867-4106.

Ruling clouds death penalty cases


Similar decisions on procedures in other states have put executions on hold.
By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer

Published July 25, 2007

An Ocala judge's unexpected objection to Florida's recently updated execution procedures may send the state down a path that has left other states with executions on hold.

Six other states have issued moratoriums on executions based on criticism similar to those expressed by Circuit Judge Carven Angel.

"It's certainly heightened the likelihood that it will be a long while before someone is executed in Florida," said Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University Law School in New York who tracks death penalty issues.

"It's important," Denno added, "because the more these states try to scrutinize their procedures and improve them, the more we realize how really problematic they are."

The Death Penalty Information Center in Washington says six other states, including California, Maryland and Missouri, have had debates over the protocol involved in lethal injection.

During a lengthy critique from the bench on Sunday, Judge Angel outlined numerous problems with the new lethal injection protocols Florida officials put in place to resolve issues revealed by the Dec. 13 execution of Angel Diaz, which took twice as long as it should have.

The executioner's needle tore through Diaz's vein and sprayed deadly chemicals into his flesh, a mistake some witnesses said caused Diaz to grimace.

In the aftermath, executions were suspended in Florida and then-Gov. Jeb Bush gathered experts to make recommendations to improve the process. Changes were adopted by the Department of Corrections in May, and Gov. Charlie Crist promptly announced he would restart executions.

Last week, Crist ended the seven-month moratorium by signing a death warrant for convicted pedophile and murderer Mark Dean Schwab, 38, of Brevard County.

Then came Sunday's ruling in Ocala.

Angel said the new lethal injection procedures are not clear enough or are inadequate, particularly that the only qualification of the executioner is that he or she be at least 18 years old.

"Our objective is to carry out a process that is consistent with evolving notions of the decency of man," Angel said, according to a transcript. "It is not going to involve infliction of pain or lingering death."

The case before Angel was brought by another death row inmate, Ian Deco Lightbourne, who broke into a house in Ocala in 1981, then raped and shot a woman.

Lightbourne, 47, was one of dozens of inmates who petitioned the Florida Supreme Court the day after Diaz's execution arguing that lethal injection is a violation of the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment.

The state's high court effectively chose Lightbourne -- the first name on the petition -- as the test case and sent it to the 5th Judicial Circuit, where Angel is a judge, for an initial ruling.

Later this year, the Florida Supreme Court is expected to make its decision about the death penalty process. Angel's view could carry weight on the court.

Angel gave the state Department of Corrections until Aug. 17 to respond to his concerns. After that, he will decide if he's satisfied with the response. Either way the case will move on to the state Supreme Court.

Though Angel's ruling surprised some because he has sentenced inmates to death in the past, experts say his concern is not unusual, given objections raised in other states.

While circumstances vary from state to state, "the overriding concern is, is this being done in a way that meets the standards of decency, or is it in a way that may be cruel or unusual?" said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

In each state, the death penalty remains on hold.

"Whenever judges really thoughtfully look at these claims and sit through hearings, they invariably come to the conclusion there are major problems," said death row defense lawyer D. Todd Doss, who represented Diaz's family.

Gov. Crist has reacted coolly to the development, saying he does not think the decision by Angel will affect future cases. "Whether it will affect the warrant that I signed last week, I think, is yet to be determined," he said. "I'm hoping it doesn't."

This morning, Schwab's attorneys are due in Brevard County for a status hearing. They are expected to echo the doubts raised by Angel.

The Attorney General's Office said only Schwab's case is in limbo because his is the only active death warrant among the 381 people on death row.

But death row attorneys who have filed objections across the state since the botched Diaz execution say state attorneys have been arguing that the Lightbourne case should be the guidepost.

"They've put all their eggs in one basket," said Martin McClain, a death row lawyer who has won several exonerations.

So any problems could have consequences. The Department of Corrections said it will work to allay Judge Angel's concern.

"I'm happy to keep improving our system," Corrections Secretary James McDonough said Tuesday. "The whole objective has been to ensure humane and dignified death, and we have kept updating that."

He said the agency would comply with Angel's request to be "a bit more explicit" as to the executioner's qualifications. McDonough also described legal maneuvers by death row inmates' lawyers as "tactics" designed to obstruct the application of capital punishment in Florida.

Tactics or not, a lot rests on how Angel responds to the revisions. If he likes what he sees, Florida's death chamber may be in action once again. But if there are problems, a lengthy court battle could ensue, putting Florida back in limbo.

"It's too early to tell," McClain said. "But states that have had this problem arise have found it much more difficult to fix things than was initially anticipated."

Times Tallahassee bureau chief Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

FAST FACTS: What's next?

By Aug. 17, the state Department of Corrections must respond to concerns raised by Circuit Judge Carven Angel about the rules for executing prisoners. The judge will then decide if the response is sufficient.

On Oct. 11 the Florida Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case Angel considered and ultimately will rule on the state's death penalty procedure.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Orme gets death again


By David Angier News Herald Writer 747-5077 / dangier@pcnh.com

PANAMA CITY

Defense attorney Mike Stone told Circuit Judge Judy Pittman on Monday that the legal system was designed so that everyone could “point somewhere else” as to who’s responsible for the death penalty.

Stone said the 11 jurors who recommended a death sentence in Roderick Michael Orme’s case could be comforted by the fact that it was only a recommendation. The judge, he said, who is required to follow the recommendation, could blame the jury.

Stone never mentioned his client, but Pittman did.

Pittman said Orme “brutally beat, raped and murdered” Lisa Redd on March 3, 1992, when Redd, a Bay Medical Center nurse and Orme’s former girlfriend, answered his call for aid during a drug binge. Redd came to Orme’s motel room and determined that Orme needed help after ingesting crack cocaine and alcohol all day.

“When the victim threw the defendant’s unused cocaine in the toilet, he became angry,” Pittman said. “He beat, raped and murdered her. This act of kindness on her part became a fatal mistake.”

The judge found the murder to be especially heinous, atrocious or cruel, a legal aggravator used to justify the death penalty.

“This was not an instantaneous or painless death,” Pittman said.

She also found that the state had proven beyond a reasonable doubt two other legal factors: that the murder happened during a rape and was done for financial gain. Pittman said Orme stole Redd’s car, money and jewelry after the murder and bought more drugs.

She said any one of these aggravators outweighed all nine of the mitigating circumstances the defense brought out in the May retrial of the penalty phase in this case. The Florida Supreme Court overturned Orme’s 1993 death sentence, but upheld his conviction, in 2005 and sent him back to Bay County for a new penalty phase trial.

The justices said the 7-5 vote for death in 1993 could have been different if jurors knew of Orme’s “bipolar disorder.” The high court returned the case with instructions that more evidence of Orme’s mental health should be presented to jurors.

Pittman said after hearing all the evidence she didn’t believe that Orme has bipolar disorder. She said Orme’s problem was his addiction to drugs, a self-imposed condition.

Orme’s other lawyer, Russ Ramey, said this year’s jury had no choice but to recommend death because Orme would have been eligible for parole in 10 years if he had been sentenced to life, and jurors knew that.

The parole system in Florida was done away with shortly after Orme’s first trial, but a life sentence would have been imposed under the guidelines in place then — meaning the possibility of parole after 25 years in prison.

Prosecutor Larry Basford told Pittman that this jury heard more evidence in Orme’s favor than the first.

“This jury has spoken loudly and clearly that the aggravating factors clearly outweigh the mitigating circumstances,” Basford said. “The death penalty is appropriate.”

Quote on Criminals


We should not seek revenge on those who have committed crimes against us, or reply to their crimes with other crimes. We should reflect that by the law of karma, they are in danger of lowly and miserable lives to come, and that our duty to them, as to every being, is to help them to rise towards Nirvana, rather than let them sink to lower levels of rebirth.

-His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Judge suspends execution


A circuit court questions the "experience and competence" of masked executioners.

By ALEX LEARY and STEVE BOUSQUET
Published July 24, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - Less than a week after Gov. Charlie Crist lifted a moratorium on executions, a judge has halted the process for a death row inmate, raising new questions about the future of Florida's death penalty.

Circuit Judge Carven Angel in Ocala questioned the "experience and competence" of the hooded executioner who's paid by the state to apply lethal chemicals in the death chamber.

The judge, speaking during a court hearing Sunday, also questioned numerous protocols established after it took twice as long as normal for murderer Angel Diaz to die because the chemicals did not enter his bloodstream correctly.

The incident led to a seven-month moratorium on the death penalty in Florida, which ended last week when Crist signed a death warrant for rapist and murderer Mark Dean Schwab.

"Our objective is to carry out a process that is consistent with evolving notions of the decency of man," the judge said, according to a transcript of the hearing.

State officials played down the effect of the judge's actions, but others said it could have far-reaching consequences.

"It's going to hold up everything," said Neal Dupree, one of the attorneys for condemned killer Ian Deco Lightbourne, who initiated the challenge now before Angel.

"The DOC is not ready to proceed. They are absolutely not ready," said Mark Elliott, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, who attended the hearing.

Lightbourne, 47, is on death row for the 1981 murder of Nancy O'Farrell of Marion County. He broke into her home, took some of her belongings and raped her. Authorities say he shot O'Farrell in the face because he knew her and did not want to be identified. No death warrant has been signed in the case.

Dozens of other death row inmates have filed challenges based on the same argument as Lightbourne: The Diaz execution proves Florida's death penalty violates the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

The Diaz execution on Dec. 13 took 34 minutes, twice as long as normal, because the lethal drug cocktail went into his flesh, not his bloodstream. Some witnesses said Diaz, condemned for the 1979 murder of a topless club manager, grimaced and clenched his jaw during the procedure.

The Florida Supreme Court has chosen the Lightbourne case to weigh in on lethal injection. While Angel's decision would only serve as a guide, the high court will use the evidence in making its own ruling.

Erin Isaac, a spokeswoman for Crist, played down the effect the suspension would have on the Schwab case and any future death warrants the governor may consider.

Isaac noted that a task force carefully reviewed the state's execution procedures and made recommendations that were then adopted by the Department of Corrections. "The governor is comfortable with that process," Isaac said.

Crist, however, anticipated potential legal wrangling and set Schwab's execution for Nov. 15.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to begin oral arguments in the Lightbourne and Schwab cases on Oct. 11.

Schwab's attorney could not be reached Monday, but he is expected to raise the judge's reservations during a status hearing Wednesday in Brevard County.

- - -

After the Diaz incident, a state panel examined what went wrong. In May, the Corrections Department announced it was heeding the panel's recommendations.

The death penalty chamber was enlarged to give the execution team more room to work, videocameras were installed and a team of nearly 20 went through extensive training.

"Our main objective is for a human and dignified death, and we believe the current procedure does that," department spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said Monday.

"But the bottom line is this is a dynamic procedure. It's always moving. We plan to improve it at any opportunity we get."

The changes did not seem to satisfy Angel. He focused largely on the qualifications of the prison system's anonymous hooded executioner, who is paid $150 per execution and whose identity is confidential by state law.

The executioner is defined as "a person 18 years of age or older who is selected by the warden to initiate the flow of lethal chemicals into the inmate."

"I don't think that any 18-year-old executioner with the pressure of a governor's warrant behind him to carry out an execution, and with the pressure of the whole world, the press and the whole world in front of him, and looking at him, is going to have enough experience and competence to stop an execution when it needs to be stopped," the judge said, according to the transcript. "I just don't think that's going to happen."

He was also concerned over "putting too much of the burden" on the warden to pick someone to administer the lethal dose and said job descriptions and qualifications for members of the execution team should be detailed.

The judge suggested a system for allowing "public input" in reviewing the procedures for future executions in Florida.

In his statement from the bench, the judge directed some of his comments at Crist.

"He needs to know that the process is going to be consistent with evolving standards and notions of the dignity of man," he said. "... Well, how can the governor know that ... when he's considering whether or not he ought to sign a warrant?"

The judge gave the state until Aug. 17 to respond to his concerns.

Angel, 64, has been a circuit judge since 1975, serving the 5th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Marion, Lake, Sumter, Citrus and Hernando counties.

He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina and the University of Florida law school.

Staff writer Chris Tisch contributed to this report.

Judge orders halt to lethal injections


THE PALM BEACH POST

TALLAHASSEE — An Ocala judge interrupted a death penalty trial questioning whether the state's lethal injections are cruel and unusual punishment after telling the Department of Corrections its executions protocols are lacking.

Fifth Circuit Court Judge Carven Angel gave the oral order to stop executions on Sunday after abruptly shutting down a week-long hearing in which lawyers for convicted killer Ian Lightbourne questioned Florida's death penalty procedures in the aftermath of the botched December execution of Angel Diaz.

Diaz's execution took more than 30 minutes after being injected with the lethal cocktail used by the Department of Corrections to put condemned prisoners to death.

Questions surrounding Diaz' death prompted then-Gov. Jeb Bush to temporarily halt executions.

Since then, corrections officials have revised execution protocols and Gov. Charlie Crist signed his first death warrant last week after expressing confidence in the new protocols. That death warrant was for Brevard killer Mark Schwab for the brutal slaying of 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez in 1991.

"I am confident that the training, organization and communication processes established by the Commission on Administration of Lethal Injection and adopted by the State of Florida Department of Corrections are consistent with the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution," Crist said in a statement accompanying the death warrant.

But Angel, whose written order is expected to be released this afternoon, criticized the department's revamped execution policy, telling lawyers that they were deficient, according to sources in the courtroom.

The trial is slated to begin on Sept. 21, five weeks after corrections officials are to submit their revised protocols.

The delay could also postpone the scheduled Nov. 15 execution of Mark Schwab and a Florida Supreme Court ruling on the death penalty, scheduled for oral arguments on Oct. 11 in anticipation of a resolution of the Lightbourne case.

It's very significant," Neil Dupree, head of the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel southern region. He was one of Diaz' attorneys and was present during Diaz' prolonged execution during which witnesses later said the convicted killer grimaced in pain and required a second dose of the drug cocktail, apparently for the first time since the state began using lethal injections in 2000.

Dupree and other lawyers for Capitol Collateral Regional Counsel, a state agency that represents Death Row inmates, filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ian Lightbourne and dozens of other clients charging that lethal injection violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment of criminals.

The Supreme Court appointed Angel to hear the case, which began in June. Lightbourne was convicted in 1981 for killing Marion County horse breeder Nancy O'Farrell.

"Obviously, this case was the case everybody was pointing at around the state as being 'the' lethal injection case," said Dupree.

Judge: Injections flawed


Associated Press
A judge hearing arguments on the constitutionality of Florida's lethal injection procedures has ruled that a Death Row inmate cannot be executed unless the Department of Corrections makes changes to its protocol and procedures.

The ruling came in an unusual hearing Sunday before Circuit Judge Carven D. Angel in Ocala in the case involving Ian Deco Lightbourne, condemned for the 1981 slaying of Nancy O'Farrell. The ruling could potentially impact other executions.

Angel made his ruling after 11 days of evidentiary hearings concerning the botched Dec. 13 execution of Angel Diaz, who took more than 30 minutes to die, after IV needles inserted into his arm punctured his veins.

''Our objective is to carry out a process that is consistent with evolving notions of the decency of man. It is not going to involve infliction of pain or lingering death,'' the judge said.

Neal Dupree, the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, an agency representing Death Row inmates in their final appeals, said he believes Angel's ruling could impact the Nov. 15 scheduled execution of Mark Dean Schwab, 38, condemned for the 1992 kidnapping, rape and murder of 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez, of Cocoa.

Child-killer's fate in hands of jury again



By JENNIFER LEBOVICH

When retired detective Dusty Rhodes closes his eyes, he can still see the Fort Lauderdale attic where he found the bodies of two little girls who had been strangled.

It's been more than a decade since Howard Steven Ault raped DeAnn Mu'min, 11, then strangled her and her 7-year-old sister, Alicia Jones, stuffing their bodies in a crawl space above his Fort Lauderdale duplex.

The murders of the two girls -- straight-A students who had been homeless, living with their mother at a campsite in Oakland Park -- made national headlines, gripping South Florida with fears about child safety and questions about how Ault, a convicted sexual predator, was able to continue assaulting young victims.

Ault was sentenced to die in 2000, but his sentence was overturned on appeal three years later. Possibly as soon as next week, a jury will once again be asked to decide whether Ault -- who turns 41 on Thursday -- should be put to death for the murders.

''That was one of the most horrific cases I had to work,'' said Rhodes, who retired from the Oakland Park Police Department in 1997 and now lives in Mississippi.

'The young girls' lives were cut drastically short,'' he said. ``They were going to school and they could have made something of themselves. Then this guy snuffed out their lives. It's unimaginable.''

Their mother, Donna Jones, was homeless and living with the girls in a travel trailer parked at an $18-a-night campsite at Easterlin Park when Ault befriended them.

Ault, who was already listed on the state's registry of sexual predators for a 1994 attack on a 6-year-old girl, helped Jones with odd chores, offering to fix her car and bringing snacks for the girls.

On Nov. 4, 1996, Ault lured the girls into his truck, offering them a ride home from school.

Instead, he took them to his apartment, promising them candy.

In his confession to police, he said he sexually assaulted DeAnn while Alicia watched helplessly, then strangled them both.

When the girls failed to come home, Jones appeared at his house in the 1500 block of Northeast Third Ave., to ask Ault if he had seen them.

He told her he didn't know anything.

He later confessed to police, telling them that after hiding the girls' bodies, he gathered up their school books and DeAnn's bright orange jacket and put them in a Dumpster in West Palm Beach.

Ault was already on community control, or house arrest, for the sexual assault of another girl, and had been suspected in yet another sexual assault of a young girl when he killed DeAnn and Alicia.

Ault likely would have been in jail at the time of the murders if officials in the Broward County Sheriff's Office's sex crimes unit had followed through on a complaint by an 11-year-old girl who reported 10 months before the murders that Ault had tried to assault her.

The case languished in BSO files for months. Internal affairs investigators later recommended that the two investigators who handled the case be dismissed.

Ault was convicted of the girls' murders in 1999. A few months later, the jury voted, 9-3, that Ault should die for the crime.

Broward Judge Marc Gold followed the jury's recommendation and sentenced him to two death sentences in 2000.

Donna Jones could not be reached on Monday. In an interview with The Miami Herald in 1997, she said, ``I never believed in killing people, but we've had to go through so much.''

The prosecutor, Tim Donnelly, declined to comment on the case.

''We're just tying up a few loose ends to bring this to trial,'' said Ault's attorney, Mitchell Polay.

In 2003, the death sentence was reversed because of a mistake during jury selection. Prosecutors asked Gold to dismiss a member of the jury pool who opposed the death penalty even though she said she would be able to sentence someone to death if the law required it.

''Prospective jurors may not be excused for cause simply because they voice general objections to the death penalty,'' the Florida Supreme Court said in vacating the death sentences.

Rhodes said he's been frustrated by how long it's taking for justice to be served. But he's ready to come back and testify.

''This case needs to get its final closure,'' Rhodes said.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Florida Judge Imposes Stay On Lethal Injections


OCALA, Fla. -- A judge hearing arguments on the constitutionality of Florida's lethal injection procedures has ruled that a death row inmate cannot be executed unless the Department of Corrections makes changes to its protocol and procedures.

The ruling came in an unusual hearing Sunday before Circuit Judge Carvin D. Angel in Ocala in the case involving Ian Deco Lightbourne, condemned for the 1981 slaying of Nancy O'Farrell. The ruling could potentially impact other executions.

Angel made his ruling after 11 days of evidentiary hearings concerning the botched Dec. 13 execution of Angel Diaz, who took more than 30 minutes to die, after IV needles inserted into his arm punctured his veins.

"Our objective is to carry out a process that is consistent with evolving notions of the decency of man. It is not going to involve infliction of pain or lingering death," the judge said.

Neal Dupree, the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, an agency representing death row inmates in their final appeals, said he believes Angel's ruling could impact the Nov. 15 scheduled execution of Mark Dean Schwab, 38, condemned for the 1992 kidnapping, rape and murder of 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez, of Cocoa.

"The judge doesn't think the protocol will produce a painless execution," Dupree said. "He has ordered the Department of Corrections to revise its protocols."

Kenneth Nunnelley, a deputy attorney general, said the ruling could impact the Schwab execution.

It could "potentially impact the death warrant case which is set on the same briefing track as this case," Nunnelley said in court. "So I guess what I'm hearing is that we need the DOC to get their thing done as quickly as they can, so we can come back, argue the matter, whatever, to allow the court to review the protocols."

Sandi Copes, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, said it was too early to determine whether the ruling would affect the Schwab execution. She said a status conference on that case is scheduled Wednesday in Titusville.

"It is too early to know. It would be premature and just speculation," Copes said.

Maximillian J. Changus, a DOC spokesman, indicated in court that the DOC was willing to revise its protocols.

Gretl Plessinger, a DOC spokeswoman, said, "Our main emphasis is on a humane and dignified death. It is a dynamic document and we are continually working to improve the document."

The judge expressed concern that the executioner did not have the power to stop an execution when something was going wrong.

"I don't think that any 18-year-old executioner with the pressure of the governor's warrant behind him to carry out an execution, and with the pressure of the whole world ... in front of him and looking at him, is going to have enough experience and competence to stop an execution when it needs to be stopped," the judge said.

"And it seems pretty clear that what happened in the Diaz case is that is exactly what happened, that we experienced a circumstance that is one of those 101 circumstances that couldn't have been anticipated."

Plessinger said the judge was referring to the protocol that requires the executioner to be at least 18 years old and have the equivalent of a high school education.

Gov. Charlie Crist has not set an execution date for Lightbourne, but the Florida Supreme Court scheduled hearings in his case to coincide with the Schwab case.

Dupree said prosecutors across the state have been telling defense attorneys wanting to challenge the state's lethal injection procedures to wait until the Lightbourne ruling.

Now that the judge has ruled, Dupree said, it could put all those cases in limbo. Dupree said his office represents 75 inmates of the 381 inmates on death row.

Mark Elliott, a spokesman for Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said Floridians should be alarmed at "this new judicial vote of of 'no confidence."'

"Secrecy, denial and deception have been business as usual for Florida executions," he said.

Sunshine State Executions


Florida announced it is resuming executions, the next scheduled for Nov. 15.

That is unfortunate. Civilized societies should not be strapping human beings down and killing them.

Florida, a capital punishment leader, suspended executions after one was botched last December. A first dose of chemicals failed to kill Angel N. Diaz. He moved, squinted, tried to mouth words. He received a second dose and took 34 minutes to die.

An autopsy showed that when inserting the lethal needles the executioner missed the veins, causing the slow death.

Barbaric.

Sentencing in Orme murder trial expected today


Staff Report

Roderick Michael Orme is to be sentenced this afternoon, and the death penalty is what he's facing.

Eleven jurors told Circuit Judge Judy Pittman on Thursday, May 17, that Roderick Orme deserved death for a 1992 murder.

That was far more decisive than Orme’s first jury in 1993 that voted 7-5 for the death penalty.

Victim impact statements and matters of law still must be addressed before Orme can be sentenced. It is unlikely that Pittman would go against the jury’s recommendation.

Orme, 45, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die in 1993 for the murder, rape and robbery of Lisa Redd, a Bay Medical Center nurse.

Redd’s body was found on a Lee’s Motel room floor on March 4, 1992. Investigators said Orme, Redd’s former boyfriend, lured her to the motel, where he raped and strangled her because she had broken up with him.

In February 2005, the Florida Supreme Court overturned Orme’s sentence, but upheld his conviction, and returned him to Bay County for a new penalty trial. Justices decided that Orme’s original jury should have heard more about his bipolar disorder, which could have swayed the close vote.

Jury selection was complicated by the fact that Orme would be eligible for parole in 2017 if he received a life sentence. Parole, which has since been eliminated, was still an element of the sentencing structure in 1992 and Orme would have been sentenced under the guidelines in place at the time of the murder.

Autopsy photos of bruises to Redd’s head, chin, neck, chest, arms and hands were shown in court Monday, reducing a female juror to tears.

Redd’s body was found when Orme appeared at a drug rehabilitation center apparently suffering from an overdose. He scribbled “Lee’s Motel Rm 15” on a scrap of paper and police went to the room.

Important Court Victory in Florida!


Friends,

Important Court Victory in Florida!

Sunday, July 22, Fifth Circuit Court Judge Carven Angel issued a temporary injunction barring the State of Florida from carrying out the execution of Death Row inmate Ian Lightbourne. The Judge stated that it would be improper for the Governor to consider taking up a Death Warrant at this time.

After hearing sworn testimony in the first courtroom review of the December 13, 2006 botched execution of Angel Diaz and the subsequent proposed changes to Florida's lethal injection protocols, Judge Angel found that the Dept. of Corrections and the State of Florida are unprepared to carry out an execution of Death Row inmate Ian Lightbourne.

Judge Angel said that the Governor must have confidence that Florida's execution process is compatible with evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society and the dignity of man. The judge further stated that executions should be carried out in a manner that does not result in the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain and lingering death.

Testimony was heard in 5th Circuit Court that included a new eyewitness account that Diaz was "tortured to death", that both IV needles were never inserted in his veins and that then-Gov. Bush's office dictated the false official account read to the press following the execution. The court reporter was ordered to have transcripts prepared by 5PM on Monday.

The Lightbourne appeal is the first courtroom challenge to Florida's lethal injection protocol and procedure since the botched Diaz execution. It has not yet been announced how the judge's final order will affect the Death Warrant signed last week by Gov. Crist, setting a November 15, 2007 date for the execution of inmate Mark Schwab.

Judge Carven Angel is to issue his final order on August 10. The D.O.C. is to submit new protocols on August 17. Hearings will be scheduled in Judge Angel's courtroom 5 weeks from that date. The Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing arguments in this case on October 11.


Changes Judge Angel called for include:

Necessary and minimum qualifications of execution personnel with job descriptions and up-to-date training certification.

Current certification from the D.O.C. that all necessary equipment, facillities, heart monitors are evaluated and in place.

Certification that facilities are properly maintained and evaluated for improvements.

Formalized standards and process for legal and medical review with public input on the protocols including public announcements of the review process.

D.O.C. must provide a list of qualified medical personnel for Warden to pick from.

A complete procedural checklist must be submitted to the court.

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It is interesting to note that on Wednesday, July 18, D.O.C. officials testified, under oath in the 5th Circuit Court, that Florida's new execution procedures were not yet finalized and construction work on the death chamber was not completed. On that same day, Gov. Crist signed his first Death Warrant and the official D.O.C. Spokesperson announced that "the state's execution team has now been trained under the new procedures. Physical changes to the death chamber at Florida State Prison are also complete, she said. 'We are ready to go.'" ---Gainesville Sun, July 19.

This is the same D.O.C. Spokesperson who made the now-discredited official statements to the press, immediately following the botched Angel Diaz execution, that "nothing happened that was not unanticipated", that they were aware that Diaz had a "liver condition that slowed the absorption of drugs" and accounted for the lengthy execution, that the state expected to use additional drugs to kill Diaz, and that he appeared peaceful and was snoring during the procedure. These statements are now known to be false.

Secrecy, denial and deception have been "business as usual" for Florida executions. This is representative of the harsh operational realities of our fatally-flawed, expensive and unnecessary Death Penalty system. Following the American Bar Association's scathing report on Florida's Death Penalty system and Florida's national record for having the greatest number of wrongfully convicted people on Death Row, our new Governor and all Floridians should be alarmed at this new judicial vote of "no confidence."

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It is not about what they did...it is about what we do.

Mark Elliott
Director, Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, FADP.org

2840 W. Bay Drive, Belleair Bluffs, FL 33770
(727) 215-9646
mark@fadp.org