Editorial: In a civilized society, not even the most vicious crimes justify a death sentence

It is soul-bruising to contemplate the torture that 10-year-old Anthony Avalos endured in his Lancaster home for more than a week before dying last year. Whippings with a looped cord and belt. Repeatedly held upside down then dropped on his head. Getting slammed into pieces of furniture and against the floor. Hot sauce poured on his face and mouth.
The road map of the abuse stretched from head to toe on his small malnourished body — bruises, abrasions, scabs and cuts visible on the outside. Traumatic brain injury and soft tissue damage on the inside. All allegedly perpetrated by his mother, Heather Barron, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva.
RELATED | California: Prosecutors seeking death penalty in Anthony Avalos torture case
If ever a set of circumstances called for the death penalty, this would be it. Few were surprised when Los Angeles County prosecutors said Wednesday that if the couple is convicted of the torture-murder, the jury will be asked to recommend a death sentence.
Such ca…

Texas executes Licho Escamilla

Licho Escamilla
Licho Escamilla in 2002
Texas executed its 12th Texan this year when it sent Licho Escamilla to the gurney on Wed., Oct. 14.

Licho Escamilla was pronounced deat at 6:31 p.m.

As they were leaving the Huntsville prison where the execution was carried out, witnesses and family members were cheered by the police officers in attendance.

Escamilla becomes the 24nd person executed in the U.S. in 2015 and the 1,418th person executed in the post-Furman era.

Escamilla was convicted of capital murder in the Nov. 25, 2001, shooting death of 34-year-old Christopher Kevin James, an off-duty policeman carrying out secondary employment as a security guard at Dallas' Club DMX.

The 19-year-old was already wanted in Dallas in the fatal shooting of a neighbor when he got involved in a brawl outside a club, pulled out a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun and opened fire on police as they tried to break up the fight.

Licho Escamilla's bullets twice struck Christopher Kevin James, among 4 uniformed Dallas officers working off-duty security that 2001 Thanksgiving weekend, knocking him to the ground. Escamilla then calmly walked up to James and pumped 3 more shots into the back of his head before running and exchanging shots with other officers, witnesses said. A wounded Escamilla was arrested as he tried to carjack a truck.

On Wednesday night, Escamilla is slated to become the 24th convicted killer put to death this year in the United States — with Texas accounting for 1/2 of the execution.

The U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to review the 33-year-old's case, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday decided against a reprieve and recommending clemency and no new appeals were in the courts Tuesday.

"He's a really bad guy," trial prosecutor Fred Burns said Tuesday. "I think what happened is the guy already committed one murder and figures that's what (officers) were coming after him for."

Protesting Escamilla's execution in Huntsville
Protesting Escamilla's execution in Huntsville, TX.
A warrant had been issued for Escamilla in the shooting death of a West Dallas neighbor nearly three weeks before James' death on Nov. 25, 2001. 

Escamilla's trial attorneys told jurors he was responsible for James' slaying but argued it didn't merit a death sentence because James was not officially on duty, meaning the crime didn't qualify as a capital murder.

As the judge in October 2002 read his death sentence, Escamilla threw of pitcher of water at the jury, started kicking and hitting people and hid under the defense table until he was subdued by sheriff's deputies.

"It was a real scene," Wayne Huff, Escamilla's lead trial lawyer, said. "I don't think there was any real doubt he was going to be found guilty."

Testimony showed Escamilla bragged to emergency medical technicians who were treating his wounds that he had killed an officer and injured another and that he'd be out of jail in 48 hours. 

Dallas officers awaiting the execution of Licho Escamilla. (Twitter)
Dallas officers awaiting the execution of Licho Escamilla.
They are holding a picture of slain officer Kevin James.
He also admitted to the slaying during a television interview from jail.

James, 34, had earned dozens of commendations during his nearly 7 years on the Dallas police force after graduating at the top of his cadet class. 

He was working the off-duty security job to earn extra money so he and his new wife could buy a house. A 2nd officer wounded in the gunfire survived.

According to court documents, Escamilla and some older brothers were involved in gang activities and sold and used drugs from an early age. 

He was involved in 2 high-speed police chases and an assault on an assistant principal in school, where he dropped out after the eighth grade.

Escamilla becomes the 12th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Texas and the 530th overall since the state resumed capital punishment on December 7, 1982. 

 He is the 12th condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas since Greg Abbott became Governor in Jan. 2015.

Escamilla becomes the 24th condemned inmnate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1418th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Sources: Associated Press, Rick Halperin, DPN (Twitter Feed), October 13-14, 2015

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