Saturday, September 14, 2002


Michael Passaro

The Skinny: In the midst of a custody dispute, Passaro parked the family minivan in front of his estranged wife's Myrtle Beach condominium, doused the inside of the van with gasoline and set it on fire with their 2-year-old daughter, Maggie, strapped in her car seat. Passaro planned to die in the blaze, too, but jumped from the van when it exploded.
Firefighters who rushed to the scene asked Passaro if anyone was inside, but he refused to answer. A letter later salvaged from the van indicated that he burned the child to death to punish his estranged wife, Karen.

I AIN'T GOIN' STAY NO MO: Michael Passaro could have stopped his execution any time because he has never appealed his sentence. Passaro's court-appointed lawyer, Joe Savitz, sat outside the Broad River Correctional Institution with a cell phone, ready to file an appeal if Passaro changed his mind. Passaro was so determined to die he even personally appeared before the justices in May, asking them to let him go to his death without a judge ever reviewing his case. That hasn't happened since the state renewed the death penalty nearly 25 years ago. The justices granted Passaro's request, noting that 12 percent of the 302 inmates executed in the United States between 1973 and 1995 waived at least some of their appeals.

THE END: Passaro smiled, blew kisses at his family then told them he loved them and that it was over. He let his final few breaths out as his eyes slowly closed.

FACTOIDS: Passaro, a Navy veteran and former nurse technician with no other violent crimes on his record, was the third man executed in South Carolina this year, and the 28th person executed since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1977. No other executions are imminent.

Friday, September 13, 2002


Stayner Lawyer Argues Sanity Phase

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - The lawyer for the man convicted of killing three Yosemite tourists urged jurors to find her client insane Wednesday, saying his mind was such a jumble of ailments that experts could not agree on what was wrong with him.

In wrapping up her case in the sanity phase of Cary Stayner's trial, Marcia Morrissey said the motel handyman showed symptoms of schizophrenia, psychosis and obsessive compulsive disorder — but that the sickness was greater than the sum of the parts.

"It's just a function of the fact that Mr. Stayner has so many other problems," Morrissey said. "It's hard to say exactly what."

The jury was expected to begin deliberations Thursday after prosecutors present their closing argument and Morrissey offers a rebuttal. Prosecutors were expected to argue Stayner was well aware of what he was doing when he killed Carole Sund, 42, her daughter, Juli, 15, and their friend, Silvina Pelosso, 16, in February 2000.

Stayner was convicted last month of first-degree murder. If the jury agrees with the prosecution, the trial will move to a penalty phase in which the same jurors will weigh whether he should be put to death.

An insanity decision would keep Stayner in prison for life, a sentence he is already serving for murdering nature guide Joie Armstrong in July 1999.

On Wednesday, Morrissey said Stayner, 41, was formed by a tangled family history of mood disorders, obsessive behavior and child molestation.

"We've talked about the incredibly sad family history in this case," Morrissey said. "You see it on both sides of the family, it gets handed down and handed down and handed down."

The heart of the defense case lies in Stayner's claims that he heard voices and messages from television that told him to "do the job."

Thursday, September 12, 2002


Female Serial Killer to be Executed

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Gov. Jeb Bush signed a death warrant Thursday for Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute who killed six men along Florida highways and was one of the nation's first known female serial killers. Her execution was set for Oct. 9.

The governor also ordered the Oct. 2 execution of death row inmate Rigoberto Sanchez Velasco, who was condemned for the 1986 murder of a Hialeah girl.

With Bush seeking re-election in November, some death penalty critics accused the governor of making capital punishment a political issue.

Abe Bonowitz, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, called the death warrants "a transparent and crass political move at a time when Mr. Bush knows that the courts will issue stays in both cases." He referred to legal challenges to Florida's death penalty that are pending before the state's Supreme Court.

But stays for Wuornos or Sanchez appear unlikely: Neither has attorneys since both dropped their appeals. Bush spokeswoman Katie Muniz said both confessed more than 10 years ago and have volunteered for execution.

Wuornos, 46, was convicted of fatally shooting six middle-aged men who picked her up as a hitchhiker in 1989 and 1990. Her story has been portrayed in two movies, three books and an opera.


Convicted child killer running out of time

As Robert Buell's appointment to die draws closer, his attorneys have begun what promises to be a flurry of court filings to save his life.

Buell has been on death row for 18 years. Public defenders concede that his appeal avenues have hit a dead end and inroads to a stay of his execution within the next two weeks are narrowing.

All that remains is a clemency request and a motion for a new trial. There is no appeal that will guarantee a delay.


Appeals court clears Crips founder for execution

SAN FRANCISCO - Convicted killer Stanley Williams, the co-founder of the Crips gang of Los Angeles and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, has been cleared for execution by a federal appeals court.

He could be executed by lethal injection as early as next year if the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declines to reconsider his appeal and if the U.S. Supreme Court does not intervene.

Williams and a high school buddy, Raymond Washington, created the Crips in 1971. Hundreds of spinoffs and copycat gangs have since emerged across the nation.

Washington was killed during a gang confrontation in 1979. Williams, "Big Took" to his fellow gang members, continued his violent ways and transformed the Crips into a nationwide enterprise.

Williams, now 48, was convicted of killing four people in 1979. While appealing his death sentence, he spends time writing children's books and coordinating an international peace effort for youths — all from his cell at San Quentin State Prison.

Williams was sentenced to death in 1981 for fatally shooting Albert Owens, a Whittier convenience store worker. He was also convicted of using a shotgun a few days later to kill Los Angeles motel owners Tsai-Shai Yang, Yen-I Yang and their daughter Ye Chen Lin during a robbery in Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco-based court refused to block his execution.

Still, the 9th Circuit Court seemed sympathetic to Williams' plight and suggested that he was a "worthy candidate" for clemency from California's governor.

Williams did not win the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize for his series of children's books and international peace efforts. Williams also has been nominated for the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, which is pending.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Great Court TV story looking at the difference between the life or death for convicted murderer, David Westerfield.


Even if sentenced to die, Westerfield, 50, will spend a dozen years if not decades in a maximum-security prison. With 614 condemned inmates, California's death row is the largest in the nation, but it is also one of the slowest. The federal court's Ninth Circuit, which hears California's death row appeals, is known for taking its time scrutinizing death cases and repeatedly sending them to lower courts for further review.

Since 1977, when the state reinstated capital punishment, only 10 men have been put to death, half the number of those who have died of natural causes during that period. Twelve committed suicide.

Those executed so far spent an average of 13.6 years on death row, but one of every six condemned prisoners has been on death row for more than 18 years, with the two longest-serving men confined since 1978. Every month, on average, death row gets a new inmate, but the Department of Corrections does not have a single execution scheduled.

So regardless of whether Westerfield departs the county jail for death row or a life behind bars, he will face years of monotonous cell life with only a few small differences in daily routine.

Life Without Parole

As a convicted child killer and — at least in the prosecutor's eyes — pedophile, Westerfield would be a likely candidate for a segregated prison unit.

"A lot of inmates have problems with (offenders who victimize children)," said Lt. Velma Swetich of Calipatria State Prison, a maximum-security facility two hours from San Diego. "They have a hard time making it in the general prison population."

It's not unusual for inmates to demand to see the sentencing papers of new arrivals to learn about their crimes and then attack or otherwise intimidate those who have brutalized children — or who will not disclose their offense. Moreover, in Westerfield's case many inmates certainly know from news coverage that he killed a child.

"He's received a lot of publicity, and inmates do watch a lot of TV," said Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the state corrections department.

After the evaluation process, Westerfield would be transferred to a prison like Calipatria and housed in a Special Needs Yard with others who need protection, including pedophiles and gang "dropouts," as well as older prisoners who petition corrections officials to be moved away from younger, more aggressive inmates in the general population. In Calipatria, about 1,000 of the 4,200 inmates do their time in special yards.

The facilities and daily routine in the special yards are identical to those of the general population. Westerfield, who lived in a three-bedroom house worth $450,000, would share a 6-by-8-foot cell with one other person. Inmates with a history of violence against other prisoners get private cells.

Each day, corrections officers wake prisoners at 6 a.m. and march them to breakfast at 6:30 a.m. At 7:30, inmates either go to work, school or the prison yard. The work available to prisoners will be quite different than the complex design work Westerfield in his home- based engineering business. Prisoners manufacture eyeglasses, repair auto bodies and do prison laundry, and are paid minimum wage. A portion of the earnings goes to restitution and to reimburse taxpayers for the prison costs.

Vocational and academic classes are offered to maximum-security prisoners. Westerfield finished high school and earned an associates degree from a junior college in the early 1970s, but many of the prisoners lack basic skills and anyone with a less than a sixth grade education must attend school.

In Calipatria, about 200 inmates mill about the yard. There are chin-up bars and handball and basketball courts, but Californians voted to remove weights from prisons several years ago.

At midday, prisoners return to their cells for a headcount and then are marched to lunch. After several more hours at school, work or the yards, the prisoners eat dinner. They can make phone calls and take showers after dinner. At 9 p.m. everyone is locked in their cells. The inmates are allowed to read, listen to the radio or watch television in their cells.

During weekend visiting hours, prisoners can meet with their family and friends in large prison gathering rooms. They can have physical contact with their visitors, but not conjugal visits.

Death Row

If sentenced to death, David Westerfield would go straight to San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, where all the state's condemned men reside.

Condemned prisoners spend most of their day in these two- person cells on San Quentin's death row.
He would skip the lengthy evaluation process, and instead undergo a brief classification in which corrections counselors would determine whether he needed to be segregated from others on death row.

He'd have the opportunity to be placed in a special yard with other "compatible" murderers, according to Vernell Crittendon, San Quentin's public information officer. Even among death row inmates, there is a hierarchy of heinousness. Child killers like Westerfield or serial killers, for example, might be targets in the general condemned population, so they are placed in special yards with 40 to 50 others like them.

Inmates on death row have individual cells that are 5.5 feet by 9 feet. Like maximum-security prisoners, they can have televisions, radios and books in their cells, but whenever they leave their cells, they are bound in full restraints and attended by several corrections officers. They eat all meals in their cells.

On death row, there are no work programs, no school classes. Some inmates take "cell" courses with state- certified teachers who visit the jail and meet individually with inmates.

Each day, prisoners eat breakfast at 6:20 a.m. and they enter the yard at 7:30 a.m. They can do sit-ups or chin-ups, walk or play basketball, card games or dominoes. At 1 p.m., they return to their cells where they remain for the rest of the day. Lights out is at 10 p.m. each night.

Death row inmates can receive visitors seven days a week although two days are solely for visits by lawyers. A maximum of four visitors are locked with inmates into small cubicles within a larger visiting room. Visits are a minimum of two hours and can be extended if the family lives more than 200 miles away.

About 90 of the 601 men on death row are considered "grade B," meaning they have been violent or threatening since their incarceration. These prisoners are not permitted in the yard with others. Instead, they exercise in a tiny private yard three days a week and are not eligible for contact visits.

Whether condemned or spared, Westerfield's life will be a mirror opposite of the existence he enjoyed before his arrest for the murder of his 7-year-old neighbor, Danielle van Dam. Then, as a single man and an entrepreneur, he set his own hours, had ample spending money and had to answer only to himself. One of his most prized possessions was his 35-foot recreational vehicle which allowed him to go where he wanted, when he wanted. Those days are over.

Spare the Head and Spoil the Child

Man Beheads Daughter Thinking She Was Raped

TEHRAN (Reuters) - An Iranian man cut off his seven- year-old daughter's head after suspecting she had been raped by her uncle, the Jomhuri-ye Eslami newspaper said on Sunday.

A post-mortem, however, showed the girl was still a virgin.

"The motive behind the killing was to defend my honor, fame, and dignity," the paper quoted the father as saying.

Rape often goes unreported in Iran where the conservative society sees it as bringing shame on the victim and family.

Local people have called for the man, who has been arrested, to be hanged, but under Iran's Islamic law only the father of the victim has the right to demand the death sentence.

The paper said the father, named as Khazir, has three wives.

TEXAS LAST MEAL, Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Oh, that Texas Death Row Fried Chicken!

LAST MEAL: French fries, five pieces of fried chicken and three (3!) Dr. Peppers.

The skinny:
Walker was condemned for raping and murdering Virginia Simmons at her home in the northeastern Texas town of Daingerfield on May 23, 1992. He confessed to killing her husband, 82-year-old Willie "Bo" Simmons in the same attack, but was not prosecuted for the murder.

Walker, who lived nearby and knew the victims, told police he went to their home under the pretense of having a beer, when his real intent was to steal money so he could buy cocaine. He beat both of them to death with a board and a cane, sexually assaulted Mrs. Simmons before and after killing her and took cash from Mr. Simmons' wallet.

Good Seats Available: Attendance for Walker's execution was sparse, with no witnesses from the family of the victims or from Walker's family. The only media representatives were from the Associated Press and The Huntsville Item.

Fashion Trend-Setter??? Walker, clad in a light blue dress shirt and dark blue slacks, was not covered by a sheet as is customary for most executions.

Nine Minutes: Start to Finish: He struggled with his emotions during his final statement, which he began at 6:07 p.m.

After thanking friends in Switzerland and Great Britain, Walker became emotional when speaking of his family.

"And to my family..." he said before breaking into a sob. After composing himself, he said to "Walls" warden Neill Hodges, "That's all."

As the fatal dose began to flow at 6:08 p.m., Walker began to recite the Lord's Prayer. He reached the phrase, "Thy kingdom come" before being overcome by emotion.

Addressing Texas Department of Criminal Justice chaplain Richard Lopez, Walker said, "Help me, Chaplain." Lopez continued the prayer as Walker gasped and lost consciousness, shedding a tear as his eyes shut. He was pronounced dead at 6:16 p.m.

Remorse: In a written statement, Walker apologized for the crime.

"I wish to tell the family how sorry I am about what I done. I know that nothing I say will bring Mr. and Mrs. Bo Simmons back."


Walker, 36, was the 24th person put to death this year in Texas, which leads the nation in capital punishment. Another four Texas inmates are scheduled to die this month.

He was the 280th person executed in Texas since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982, six years the Supreme Court lifted a four-year national ban on the death penalty.

Walker served two years (2!) for a previous murder conviction before being released in the early 1980's.

Texas' next execution is set for Sept. 17, when Jessie Patrick was scheduled to receive a lethal injection for raping and killing an 80-year-old woman in 1989.