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.


Nebraska court rejects death row inmate’s appeal








A Nebraska court won’t consider a death row inmate’s appeal raising questions about the state’s new lethal injection method and how the drugs needed for it were obtained.

Michael Ryan, who sentenced to death for cult-related killings in 1985, should have filed a different kind of motion to challenge Nebraska’s execution method, according to a Richardson County District Court ruling on Thursday rejecting Ryan’s appeal. The Nebraska Supreme Court had blocked Ryan’s execution while the motion was pending.

“We’re pleased with this ruling _ it’s time for defense counsel to stop wasting the court’s time and money with frivolous, meritless motions,” Attorney General Jon Bruning said Friday.

Richardson County District Judge Daniel Bryan said that Ryan’s challenge of the execution method couldn’t be raised in a motion for post-conviction relief like Ryan filed. Instead, Bryan suggested Ryan should have based his challenge on federal civil rights laws.

Ryan’s attorney, Jerry Soucie, didn’t immediately respond to a phone message Friday morning.

Ryan was convicted of torturing and killing James Thimm at a southeast Nebraska farm where Ryan led a cult near Rulo in 1985 and beating to death the 5-year-old son of a cult member.

When Ryan was sentenced to death, the electric chair was Nebraska’s sole method of execution. But the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that death via electrocution was cruel and unusual punishment and the state Legislature changed Nebraska’s method to lethal injection.

Ryan’s lawyer argued it was improper and unfair to change the execution method years after Ryan was sentenced in 1986. Soucie also argued Ryan’s sentence should have been commuted to life in prison because Nebraska used questionable tactics to obtain sodium thiopental, a hard-to-find drug for executions.

Sodium thiopental is no longer manufactured in the United States and is in scarce supply worldwide. Soucie cited claims by a Swiss manufacturer of the drug, Naari AG, that the sodium thiopental Nebraska bought was a sample intended only to be used for evaluation purposes in Zambia.

Bruning has defended the state’s purchase of the lethal injection drug as legal.

At the time of the killings near Rulo, Ryan and about 20 cult members lived at the farm and stored weapons in preparation for a final battle between good and evil.

Ryan, known to cult members as the “King,” ordered the murder of Thimm because Ryan believed he had displeased God. Over three days, Thimm was beaten, sexually abused, shot, stomped and partially skinned while still alive. His fingertips had been shot off on one hand.

Alabama Supreme Court Sets Two Execution Dates









The Alabama Supreme Court has scheduled execution dates for Tommy Arthur and Carey Grayson, despite questions about the reliability of their death sentences.

The court set Tommy Arthur’s execution date for March 29, 2012, which is the first execution date in Alabama so far this year.

The court stayed an earlier execution date for Mr. Arthur in 2008 after another person, Bobby Ray Gilbert, confessed that he committed the crime that sent Mr. Arthur to death row.

The Jefferson County Circuit Court then ordered DNA testing of physical evidence that could link Gilbert to the offense, but state officials testified that the DNA sample was destroyed in 1982 based on the advice of prosecutors.

Carey Grayson is scheduled to be put to death in Alabama on April 12, 2012.

In Mr. Grayson’s case, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals refused to even consider any of his arguments by denying him permission to appeal. Mr. Grayson challenged the reliability of his death sentence because his lawyers failed to adequately investigate in preparation for the penalty phase of his capital trial. They failed to find and present to the sentencing judge and jury information about Mr. Grayson’s very tragic background, including that he was severely neglected by his parents, went hungry for years after his mother died when he was 12, developed mental illness as a result of trauma, and the fact that he was homeless at age 15.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently detailed the deficiencies in Alabama’s death penalty system in a case granting relief to an Alabama death row inmate who had been abandoned by his lawyers and unfairly denied appellate review.

Mississippi allows post conviction relief








The Mississippi Supreme Court will allow a death row inmate to go back to Lee County Circuit Court to argue his lawyers failed to do a good job at his trial.

William Wilson cited six issues in a post-conviction petition filed with the Supreme Court. On Thursday, the Supreme Court said Wilson could present evidence that his attorneys didn’t do a good job and that he didn’t understand what he was doing when he agreed to let the judge decide his punishment at trial rather than a jury.

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.

Wilson pleaded guilty in the death of 2-year-old Mallory Conlee and was sentenced to death in 2007 in Lee County. He also received 20 years for felonious child abuse.

At the time of the girl’s death, authorities said they had received a report that a motorcycle fell on the child’s head. An autopsy showed bruises all over her body and third-degree burns to her feet.

Authorities said the bruises were in several stages of healing, indicating they had occurred over a time.

Court records show Wilson agreed to plead guilty in March 2007 in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

However, when questioned by Circuit Judge Thomas J. Gardner III, Wilson said he thought his attorneys could have done a better job. Wilson claimed he hadn’t communicated or seen much of his court-appointed attorneys between his arrest and his plea hearing.

Gardner halted the hearing.

According to the court record, prosecutors withdrew the plea deal and the case continued with Wilson and the same attorneys. Wilson again pleaded guilty and, with no plea bargain, Gardner sentenced Wilson to death.

In an earlier appeal, Wilson argued that allowing the case to go on with the same defense team led to the death sentence when prosecutors declined to reach another plea deal.

Wilson’s petition for a new trial was rejected by a Lee County judge in 2009, and the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2009 upheld Wilson’s capital murder conviction and death sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition to review Wilson’s case in 2010.

Prosecutors contended Wilson’s lawyers worked with the prosecution on the plea agreement and Wilson’s exchange with the judge showed they had explained it fully to him. They said the ineffectiveness issue only came up when the judge asked Wilson if he was satisfied with what had been done for him.

Mississippi sets two execution dates







The Mississippi Supreme Court has set execution dates for death row inmates Larry Matthew Puckett and William Gerald Mitchell.

The court Thursday set an execution date of March 20 for Puckett and March 22 for Mitchell.

Both men had appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court turned down in February. Attorney General Jim Hood said both men are now out of appeals.

The executions will be at 6 p.m. at the state penitentiary at Parchman. Mississippi executions are by lethal injection.

Puckett was convicted and sentenced to death in 1996 for the sexual assault and beating death of a woman in her Forrest County home. Puckett was convicted in the 1995 death of Rhonda Griffis, 28, of the Sunrise community. Authorities said Griffis died from blows to the head.

Mitchell was sentenced to death in 1998 in Harrison County for the killing of Patty Milliken, a 38-year-old store clerk, on the night of Nov. 21, 1995. Authorities said Mitchell took Milliken from the store where she worked, brought her under the north end of the Popp’s Ferry Road bridge and killed her by beating her and driving his car over the top half of her body.

The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected Mitchell’s post-conviction petition. Mitchell had sought a mental evaluation. The justices said the issue of Mitchell’s mental retardation had been rejected by several courts.