Tuesday, August 13, 2002

TEXAS LAST MEAL, Thursday, August 8, 2002

Teen killer does a little beef, chicken and pork....

LAST MEAL: Triple meat cheeseburger with fried bun and everything, French fries, ketchup, four pieces of chicken (two legs and two thighs), and one fried pork chop sandwich

The Crime: Jones, an eighth-grade dropout who was a teenager when he was convicted of killing a man during a carjacking was executed by injection. Jones was 17 when he was arrested with three companions for gunning down 75-year-old Willard Davis, who had surrendered his car to them outside his home in Longview, about 190 miles north of Houston.

WORDS OF REMORSE: T.J. Jones, looking at relatives of his victim, apologized for the 1994 slaying.

"I would like to say to the victim's family I regret the pain I put y'all through. I hope you can move on after this," said Jones, 25, before the Thursday night execution.

"I was very thankful he apologized," the victim's wife, Geraldine Davis, said after watching Jones die. "It's the first time he's ever showed any type of remorse."

PARTNERS IN CRIME LIVE ON: The three teenagers with Jones during the carjacking were convicted of engaging in organized criminal activity and received long prison terms.

AMNESTY SPEAKS: Jones' sentence and his age at the time of the shooting renewed criticism from traditional death penalty opponents. As a teenage offender, Jones "would not be facing this punishment in almost any other country in the world," Amnesty International said in a statement.

Gregg County District Attorney Bill Jennings responded: "He did an adult crime and he deserves to receive an adult penalty, which in this case 12 jurors decided should be death."


White supremacist granted reprieve in Texas; state courts will consider retardation claim
Fri Aug 9, 3:52 PM ET
By JIM VERTUNO, Associated Press Writer

AUSTIN, Texas - A white supremacist convicted of murdering a man he met in a bar was granted a reprieve Friday, four days before his scheduled execution, so hearings could be held to determine whether he is mentally retarded.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest court in criminal cases, ordered Brian Edward Davis' case returned to Harris County for the hearings. Davis was scheduled to die by lethal injection Tuesday.

Davis, 33, a parolee with a history of violence that began in grade school, was sentenced to death for fatally stabbing Michael Foster of Houston in 1991. He inscribed the victim's body with a swastika and initials of a skinhead group.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing mentally retarded inmates is unconstitutional.

Davis did not offer a mental retardation defense during his trial, but Davis' attorney, Greg Wiercioch, said he does not believe that will hurt his appeal's prospects.

"Mental retardation is not something you can waive. You can't execute mentally retarded people," he said.

As defined by the American Association of Mental Retardation, mental retardation has three factors: below average intellectual functioning, usually an IQ of 70 or below; "poor adaptive skills," such as inability to hold a job or communicate with others; and the onset of symptoms before age 18.

Wiercioch said Davis was tested with an IQ of 74 as a teenager and can prove a pattern of poor adaptive skills. He said the IQ test's five-point margin of error could put Davis below the threshold.

Davis becomes the second Texas death row inmate to receive a stay of execution from the state's courts so that claims of retardation could be considered in light of the Supreme Court decision. In a third case, a federal judge ordered that a Texas inmate's death sentence be reconsidered.

In a recent death-row interview with The Associated Press, Davis said he turned to white supremacist groups while in prison to protect himself from beatings by black inmates.

Texas has executed more inmates since the 1970s than any other state: 276, including 20 this year and two just this week.


Sat Aug 10, 1:52 PM ET

GRATERFORD, Pa. (AP) - One of suburban Philadelphia's most notorious murderers, whose killing spree became the basis for the movie "At Close Range," died of natural causes in prison, authorities said.

Bruce Johnston Sr., 63, had been serving six life sentences in Graterford Prison for murdering several of his criminal cohorts and his son's girlfriend.

The Chester County slayings were the basis for the 1986 film starring Sean Penn and Christopher Walken, whose character was based on Johnston.

Johnston was taken to Mercy Suburban General Hospital on Monday for complications associated with liver disease and was pronounced dead Wednesday, officials said.

Johnston and his brothers operated a multimillion-dollar burglary ring in the 1970s, stealing everything from cigarettes to tractors, authorities said.

According to police, Bruce Johnston Jr., who survived the attempt on his life, had begun talking about the gang because he believed his father had raped his girlfriend, police said. The girlfriend and the other victims were killed so they wouldn't cooperate with authorities, police said.

Chester County District Attorney Joseph W. Carroll, who called Johnston one of the county's "most notorious criminals," said he had deserved the death penalty but that was not available at the time.

"It's entirely appropriate that he died in prison," Carroll said.


Fox Asks Texas to Delay Execution of Mexican

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's President Vicente Fox appealed to Texas on Monday to postpone this week's scheduled execution of a Mexican citizen, saying his rights were trampled on after his arrest for allegedly murdering a police officer.

Stepping into a growing diplomatic controversy just two days before Javier Suarez Medina was due to die by lethal injection, Fox said he wanted to speak personally to Texas Gov. Rick Perry to try to at least push back the execution date.

"Mexico has requested the suspension of the execution. I hope that in the coming days we can talk personally about this urgent issue, which has aroused deep concern in Mexico," Fox said in a letter to Perry.

He said Suarez's rights were "flagrantly violated" by Texas authorities because he was not told at the time of his arrest that he was entitled to assistance from the Mexican consulate.

Suarez, 33, was sentenced to death in 1989 for killing undercover police officer Larry Cadena in Dallas during a drug bust the previous year.

Fox's government has actively lobbied Washington and sought international support in the case. Mexican officials say 11 countries -- eight in Latin America and three in Europe -- have pleaded for a stay of execution and more are expected to join the campaign.

Mexico, which does not have the death penalty, says 54 of its nationals are on death row in the United States and four Mexican nationals have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976.

The right to consult with a consulate was the basis of a recent Oklahoma ruling in favor of Gerardo Valdez, another Mexican sentenced to death.

However, several previous protests of U.S. executions of Mexican citizens, on grounds that the consulate was not advised, have failed.

Monday, August 12, 2002



Court Dismisses Guilty Plea in Baby's Death

MONTGOMERY, Ala., Aug. 11 (AP) — A state appeals court has thrown out the guilty plea of a retarded man in the death of a newborn who may never have existed.

In a ruling from the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals on Friday, three of the five judges said "a manifest injustice" had occurred in the case.

The man, Medell Banks, with his estranged wife, Victoria Banks, and her sister, Dianne Tucker, had pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of Victoria Banks's baby.

A fertility expert later testified that it was impossible for Victoria Banks to have been pregnant because of surgery she had to prevent conception. Defense lawyers contended that the three are mentally retarded and pleaded guilty out of fear they could face the death penalty.

In its opinion, the appeals court also expressed concern over the three-day interrogation of Mr. Banks without a lawyer for him present.

Ms. Tucker was released from prison on July 17 after serving one year of a 15-year sentence, which was changed partly because of the new medical evidence. Mr. Banks refused the same deal and continued to press his appeal to withdraw his guilty plea, seeking vindication.

"The court ruling was an answer to so many prayers," said his lawyer, Rick Hutchinson.

Victoria Banks had told the police she was pregnant in 1999 so she could get out of jail while awaiting trial in a separate case. A doctor confirmed her pregnancy. Later, when no baby was seen, the Bankses and Ms. Tucker were arrested on suspicion of capital murder and all agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter for a reduced sentence.

After Mr. Banks's plea, a fertility expert examined Victoria Banks and said that she could not have been pregnant because of a tubal ligation she had in 1995.

Prosecutors said Victoria Banks could have become pregnant despite the procedure. District Attorney Robert Keahey, who has also disputed assertions that the three are mentally retarded, said he would appeal the ruling to the Alabama Supreme Court and that Mr. Banks would remain behind bars.


TACOMA, Washington - Robert Lee Yates, who has already admitted murdering 13 people, is fighting for his life as he goes to trial for two additional killings.

Yates, 50, has confessed to 13 murders dating to 1975. Ten of the dead were Spokane-area women involved in drugs and-or prostitution who disappeared in 1996-98. The other three were a couple and a woman killed elsewhere in the state.

In exchange for a guilty plea two years ago, Yates was sentenced to 408 years in prison rather than the death penalty.

But Pierce County prosecutors refused to sign off on the plea bargain. Former prosecutor John Ladenburg was "adamantly opposed" to allowing Yates to bargain away the death penalty.

Like the 10 Spokane women killed in the same period, Mercer and Ellis were killed with a single gunshot wound to the head. Like most of the Spokane victims, their bodies were left in remote areas, their heads swaddled in plastic garbage bags.

Yates' DNA was found in semen samples retrieved from Mercer, and Ellis' blood was found inside a van he owned.

In both cases, forensic scientists found bullet fragments and matched them to a .25-caliber Raven model semiautomatic pistol. Court documents showed Yates owned two pistols of that caliber and model.


Yemeni beheaded in Saudi for rape, armed robbery

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - A Yemeni man convicted of rape and armed robbery was beheaded Monday, the Interior Ministry said.

Mohammed bin Hassan bin Ali was found guilty of breaking into several homes, threatening their residents with a knife, raping women and stealing their jewelry, a ministry statement said.

It said the execution was carried out in the holy city of Mecca in western Saudi Arabia, bringing to 30 the number of people executed this year in the conservative kingdom. About 81 people were beheaded last year.

Saudi Arabia is home to Islam's holiest shrines and follows a strict interpretation of Islam. It imposes the death penalty for murder, rape, drug trafficking and armed robbery. Minor crimes, such as pick-pocketing, are punished by hand amputation.

Executions are carried out publicly by a sword to serve as a deterrent.