Tenn. says it foils female death row breakout plot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This 2009 photo provided by Tennessee Department of Correction shows Christa Gail Pike. Authorities in Tennessee say two men, including a former prison guard, have been arrested in a plot to break out Tennesseeâ??s lone female death row inmate, Christa Gail Pike. (AP Photo/Tennessee Department of Correction)This 2009 photo provided by Tennessee Department of Correction shows Christa Gail Pike. Authorities in Tennessee say two men, including a former prison guard, have been arrested in a plot to break out Tennesseeâ??s lone female death row inmate, Christa Gail Pike. (AP Photo/Tennessee Department of Correction)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Authorities in Tennessee say two men, including a former prison guard, have been arrested in a plot to break out Tennessee’s lone female death row inmate.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Kristin Helm said Wednesday there was no imminent danger of an escape by Christa Gail Pike, but “there was plan in the works and money changing hands.”

Pike, originally from West Virginia, was sentenced to death in 1996 for the slaying of a fellow Knoxville Job Corps student. Colleen Slemmer, 18, was stabbed and beaten by Pike and Tadaryl Shipp, Pike’s boyfriend at the time, on the University of Tennessee’s agricultural campus in January 1995.

Prosecutors have said the motive for the slaying was a love triangle with the two women and Shipp, who was sentenced to life in prison. The two carved a pentagram into Slemmer’s chest, and investigators claimed Pike, who was 18 at the time, took a piece of the victim’s skull for a souvenir.

New Jersey authorities on Tuesday arrested 34-year-old Donald Kohut of Flemington, N.J., who has frequently visited Pike in prison. He was charged with bribery and conspiracy to commit escape and was being held at the Hunterdon County Department of Corrections on a $250,000 bond and awaiting extradition.

A former correctional officer at the Tennessee Prison for Women, 23-year-old Justin Heflin, was arrested by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and charged with bribery, conspiracy to commit escape and facilitation to commit escape.

Heflin, of Chattanooga, Tenn., turned himself into authorities and was booked into the Davidson County Jail on Tuesday on a $75,000 bond. Heflin was hired in March 2009, but was terminated from his job on March 5 after he was indicted by a grand jury last month.

Tennessee Department of Correction spokeswoman Dorinda Carter said investigators received information about the plot early in the planning stages.

“Our investigators were able to learn about the threat early on fortunately,” she said. “But anytime there is this sort of threat to the prison or the general public, we take it very seriously.”

Carter said Pike, who is 36 faces a disciplinary charge and will likely face criminal charges for the plot.

This isn’t the first time Pike has gotten in trouble while on death row. In 2001, Pike nearly choked inmate Patricia Jones to death with a shoe string. She was convicted of attempted first-degree murder on August 12, 2004.

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Death row inmate wins shot at another sentence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Houston man on death row for 25 years has won an appeal that could get him a new punishment trial or see his sentence reduced to life.

Roger Wayne McGowen was condemned in 1987 for fatally shooting a 67-year-old woman during a Houston bar robbery in March 1986.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholds a lower court’s ruling that instructions given to jurors didn’t provide a way for them to consider his disadvantaged background.

The ruling posted late Monday is in line with other Texas capital cases of that era before the courts refined jury instructions.

The appeals court also rejected arguments that the 48-year-old McGowen is innocent, his trial lawyers were deficient and his long time on death row is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual.

 

http://www.chron.com/news/article/Death-row-inmate-wins-shot-at-another-sentence-3421138.php

Mississippi inmate executed

 

 

 

 

 

 

A death row prisoner was executed by lethal injection today for sexually assaulting and beating his former boss’s wife to death with an axe handle in 1995.

Larry Matthew Puckett, 35, was pronounced dead at 6.18 pm at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, authorities said.

Puckett was an 18-year-old Eagle Scout when he was convicted of the murder of Rhonda Hatten Griffis, a 28-year-old mother of two, who was found dead in her mobile home on October 14, 1995.

Executed: Larry Matthew Puckett, 35, (right) was killed by lethal injection in Mississippi today after he murdered Rhonda Hatten Griffis at her home when he was 18 (left)
Executed: Larry Matthew Puckett, 35, (right) was killed by lethal injection in Mississippi today after he murdered Rhonda Hatten Griffis at her home when he was 18 (left)

Executed: Larry Matthew Puckett, 35, (right) was killed by lethal injection in Mississippi today after he murdered Rhonda Hatten Griffis at her home when he was 18 (left)

Puckett had previously worked as a landscaper for the woman’s husband David Griffis in Hattiesburg, Mississippi but was due to ship out for basic training with the Navy.

The young woman’s mother Nancy Hatten said she had discovered the teenage Puckett in the home with her daughter’s dead body holding a club.

She said Puckett tried to blame the woman’s husband, who arrived shortly afterwards and scuffled with the man. Puckett fled and was arrested two days later.

Puckett’s supporters protested up until the hour of his execution claiming that Mrs Griffis’ husband had killed her in a jealous rage. Puckett had also claimed that he had been having an affair with the woman and her husband caught them.

How the victim’s mother said she found Puckett in the home holding an axe handle, which prosecutors believed was used in the killing.

Retribution: Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps hugs Nancy Hatten, mother of murder victim Rhonda Hatten Griffis, following the execution of Larry Matthew PuckettRetribution: Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps hugs Nancy Hatten, mother of murder victim Rhonda Hatten Griffis, following the execution of Larry Matthew Puckett

Protest to the end: Mary Puckett led protesters last week as they made a last appeal to stop her son's execution in Mississippi Protest to the end: Mary Puckett led protesters last week as they made a last appeal to stop her son’s execution in Mississippi

Nancy Hatten told The Associated Press last week: ‘I caught him in her house with the club in his hand. Her husband wasn’t anywhere on the premises at the time. He drove up later.’

After fleeing the home, the 18-year-old was captured and although he confessed to being at the home to rob it, he always denied killing the mother of two.

Puckett has been sentenced to death on August 5, 1996.

‘My thoughts and prayers are with the victim’s family.’

Governor Bryant who denied a last-minute appeal from Larry Matthew Puckett

Puckett’s mother Mary led supporters to rally against her son’s death sentence at the state Capitol in Jackson and appealed to Governor Phil Bryant to reduce the sentence to life without parole.

Governor Bryant issued a statement last week which read: ‘In light of Mr. Puckett’s having been convicted by a jury of his peers more than 15 years ago and after a review of the facts associated with his case, I have decided not to grant clemency and will not delay the execution.

‘My thoughts and prayers are with the victim’s family.’

In his last hours, Puckett spent time with family and a spiritual adviser.

According to gulflive.com, he ate a last meal of Macadamia nut pancakes, shrimp and grits, ice cream cake, caramel candy and root beer.

Puckett had asked that his relatives and lawyer not be present for his execution but Mrs Griffis’ parents were on the witness list.

Some 4,000 people had signed an online petition set up by Puckett’s mother to try to persuade Governor Bryant to stop the execution.

Last moments: Puckett was killed by lethal injection at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at 6pm in front of his victim's parentsLast moments: Puckett was killed by lethal injection at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at 6pm in front of his victim’s parents

Protest: Demonstrators against the death penalty gathered outside the prison where the 35-year-old was killedProtest: Demonstrators against the death penalty gathered outside the prison where the 35-year-old was killed

Dump the death penalty, ex-senator urges

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Civilised society should abolish capital punishment because it is inhumane, essentially based on a medieval concept of retribution, and risks innocent people being put to death, according to Aquilino Pimentel, a former Philippine senator who played an key role in ending the death penalty in his country in 2006.

Visiting Bangkok at the invitation of Amnesty International Thailand and the Union for Civil Liberty,

the 79-year-old Pimentel urged Thais opposed to capital punishment to keep their “passion” burning, despite hearing that many Thais, including senior Buddhist monks, still support executions.

“A majority of Thais still do not support [abolition of the death penalty],” human rights lawyer Sarawut Prathumraj said. Sarawut told Pimentel that many Thais look back fondly to the 1960s and the era of dictator Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, who was known for summarily executing people accused of committing arson in public areas.

Thailand’s Human Rights Master Plan for 2009 to 2013 states that the Kingdom aims to abolish capital punishment by the end of the period, but the goal seems far removed from reality, as there is no visible movement towards that end at present.

Pimentel met and addressed the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, chaired by appointed Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn. Members of the committee exchanged differing views with Pimentel, with one member defending execution by lethal injection – the method practised in Thailand today – as “humane”, and another saying that the death penalty was needed to rid society of its scourges.

Another member told Pimentel that it was not uncommon for some convicts who are sentenced to death to have their sentences commuted and to eventually walk free after a decade or so in prison.

Pimentel argued that the death penalty doesn’t give condemned criminals the opportunity to reform themselves, while the risk of even one person being wrongly executed was too high for a civilised society to bear.

Pimentel said the notion of “an eye for an eye”, also known as the Lex Talionis principle of Roman law, was medieval and not suited for modern society.

“If Lex Talionis were to be used to justify the imposition of the death penalty as an act of retribution, then in those cases of murder or rape, before the criminals are executed, they should first be subjected to the indignities or outright tortures that had been inflicted on the victims so that the criminals undergo the same level of pain as that suffered by the victims,” he said.

The former Philippine senator also cited various works showing that the death penalty had no deterrent effect on criminality.

Somchai said after the meeting with Pimentel that the committee was interested in continuing to debate capital punishment, but added that “some people see the need for the death penalty to deal with those who are beyond [redemption].” He added that a compromise could eventually be struck, such as replacing the death penalty with long prison terms without parole, as is practised in the Philippines today.

Pimentel said that since the death penalty was abolished in his country, heinous crimes that would once have drawn a sentence of death were now punished by imprisonment for 20 to 40 years without parole. Some argue that long jail terms are an even worse punishment than death, he said.

One member of the Senate panel argued that it was better to kill a bird than keep it in a cage without letting it see the Sun, which was cruel and inhumane, like a long prison sentence. Pimentel said he couldn’t answer on behalf of the bird, however.

 

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/politics/Dump-the-death-penalty-ex-senator-urges-30177684.html

Appeals Court upholds Haley Barbour pardons

 

 

 

When juries convicted four murderers and sent them to prison they never dreamed Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour would pardon them.  Especially the jurors who convicted Joseph Ozmont for shooting a helpless man in the face as he crawled toward him for aid.

Several Wichita Falls citizens were disappointed today to hear an appeals court  in Mississippi upheld the pardons as valid Thursday.

Ozmont of course did not share their disappointment.  He could be heard heaving a huge sigh of relief all the way from Wyoming where he now is free to roam the highways and byways of that state or any other state including Texas.

Rick Montgomery was a 40-year old store clerk in 1992 when three men brazenly entered his business and shot him twice.  Not realizing Ozmont was one of the group that robbbed him, he crawled across the floor toward him for help after he’d been shot twice by the accomplices.  In one of the more brutal murders in recent history Ozmont shot him in the face.

A relative of the clerk was outraged at news of the pardon and admitted members of his family were now in fear for their lives.

One local law enforcement official said that at least with Rick Perry as governor in Texas, Wichitans didn’t have to worry about wholesale pardons of violent criminals convicted in Wichita Falls courtrooms.

Former Governor Barbour defended his some 200 pardons including the four murderers when he left office on January 10, 2012.

 

Part of his justification was that sudden passion killers are not likely to be a future danger to society.

Wichita Falls police officers would not agree with that.  It is common knowledge domestic violence calls are some of the most dangerous law enforcement men and women are called upon to handle.

One of the convicted murderers Barbour pardoned shot his ex-wife in the head as she held their baby in her arms.  Randy Walker, who was standing near Tammy Gatlin, said pardoned David Gatlin shot him after shooting his wife.  The bullet which killed Tammy missed Gatlin’s baby by inches.

 

All four of the pardoned murderers worked as trustees at the Governor’s Mansion.

Brett Favre’s brother was among the pardoned.  He was convicted of manslaughter for driving his car in front of a train while he was intoxicated.  The passenger in his automobile was killed.

The appeals court in Mississippi ruled Governor Barbour was within his rights to determine who should be pardoned.

American presidents and governors have long made a habit of pardoning murderers, drug dealers, rapists and other assorted criminals on the day they leave office.  That way they don’t have to face the wrath of voters in future elections.

Victims and relatives of victims have no recourse other than to express their frustration and anger in the wake of pardons.

The only solution is for legislative bodies to pass laws limiting the powers of presidents and governors to pardon criminals.

 

 

 

Mississippi denies Jeffrey Havards appeal

The Mississippi Supreme Court has denied – for the second time – a post-conviction appeal from convicted murderer Jeffrey Keith Havard.

The court said Thursday that Havard had raised no new issues that deserved consideration. Havard’s first post-conviction petition was denied in 2008.

Havard was convicted in 2002 of capital murder and sentenced to death in Adams County for killing a 6-month-old girl.

Inmates use a post-conviction petition to argue they have found new evidence – or a possible constitutional issue – that could persuade a court to order a new trial.

Havard was convicted of killing Chloe Madison Britt of Ferriday, La., the daughter of his girlfriend. Prosecutors say the infant’s injuries were consistent with shaken baby syndrome, but she also had suffered from sexual abuse.

Two new executions set for Alabama Death Row inmates

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Alabama Supreme Court has set a new date for Tommy Arthur’s execution to be on March29, 2012. This is the fifth time his execution date has been set. Arthur, now 70, was convicted of the murder-for-hire killing of Troy Wicker, businessman of Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 1982 and was placed on Death Row in 1983.

The story of Arthur is rather bizarre. It began on February 1, 1982. Muscle Shoals, Alabama police received an urgent call to the home of Troy and Judy Wicker. When they arrived, they found Troy Wicker dead in his bed and found 4 expended .22 caliber cartridge shells on his bed. Judy Wicker was lying on the floor with traces of blood on her head while her sister, Teresa Rowland knelt beside her.

Judy told police that she had driven the children to school and upon returning home she found a black man there who had shot her husband and that he knocked her unconscious and raped her.

However, she was subsequently charged with her husband’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. Tommy Arthur was implicated as the hit man, but the case was not certain without the testimony of Judy Wicker. So a deal was made with Wicker for an early release for here testimony.

Wicker explained that her husband Troy was physically violent with her, and that Rowland and Troy often argued when Troy threatened to turn Rowland in to the police for the arson on her home which he had committed for her.

She also testified that she had known Arthur since they were both young and worked at Tidwell Homes. She revealed that she, Rowland, and Rowland’s boyfriend, Theron McKinney had discussed killing Troy beginning in early 1981.

Arthur was hired to kill Troy and Judy testified that when Arthur went in to the house, she heard a shot and that he then hit her and knocked out some teeth and lacerated her lip. Much more evidence was shown at his trial. He was convicted and sentenced to death. After over 25 years on death row and numerous appeals, he has had 5 dates set for his execution. Barring any unexpected delays or stays, however, it is highly likely that he will be executed this time on March 29, 2012.

The other death row inmate who’s execution was set, is that of Carey Dale Grayson which is now set for April 12, 2012.

Grayson, who was 19 years old in 1994, with 3 other teenagers was traveling on Interstate 59 in north Alabama when he picked up a lady hitchhiker. Vicki DeBlieux, 37 was enroute from Chattanooga, Tennessee to West Monroe, Louisiana to see hr mother there. They promised to take her to her mother’s home, but rather drove to a wooded area where they attempted to have sexual relations with her. When she rebuffed their sexual advances, they beat her with beer bottles, kicked and stomped her and threw her over a cliff. Later, three returned and disemboweled her and cut off her fingers to try and hide her identification. They kept the fingers as souvenirs. They were soon caught when the youngest one began showing others one of her fingers. Grayson and one other were sentenced to death and the other two were given life imprisonment. Grayson is now due to be executed on April 18.