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Will the Supreme Court Kill The Death Penalty This Term?

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Will the U.S. Supreme Court add the fate of the death penalty to a term already fraught with hot-button issues like partisan gerrymandering, warrantless surveillance, and a host of contentious First Amendment disputes?
That’s the hope of an ambitious Supreme Court petition seeking to abolish the ultimate punishment. But it runs headlong into the fact that only two justices have squarely called for a reexamination of the death penalty’s constitutionality.
Abel Hidalgo challenges Arizona’s capital punishment system—which sweeps too broadly, he says, because the state’s “aggravating factors” make 99 percent of first-degree murderers death-eligible—as well as the death penalty itself, arguing it’s cruel and unusual punishment.
He’s represented by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal—among the most successful Supreme Court practitioners last term. Hidalgo also has the support of several outside groups who filed amicus briefs on his behalf, notably one from a group including Ari…

Texas: Pablo Lucio Vasquez set to die Wednesday for 1998 killing

Pablo Lucio Vasquez
Pablo Lucio Vasquez
Pablo Lucio Vasquez remembered getting drunk and high on an April evening in 1998 before leaving a party with his 15-year-old cousin and his cousin's 12-year-old friend.

Vasquez later would tell detectives that as they reached a wooden shed, he started hearing voices telling him to kill the younger boy, David Cardenas. So he hit the 7th-grader in the head from behind with a pipe, cut his throat and lifted the still-conscious victim so blood would drip on the 20-year-old Vasquez's face.

"Something just told me to drink," Vasquez said in a videotaped statement to police in Donna, a small town in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.

"You drink what?" a detective asked. "His blood," Vasquez replied.

Vasquez, now 38, is set for lethal injection Wednesday for what police speculated at the time may have been an attempted satanic cult crime. 

Evidence of that nature, however, didn't surface at Vasquez's 1999 capital murder trial or in appeals, where courts as recent as last month rejected arguments that Vasquez was mentally ill and should be exempt from the death penalty.

His execution would be the 11th this year nationally and the 6th in Texas.

Vasquez's lawyer, James Keegan, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the punishment so the justices can consider arguments that several potential jurors were excluded improperly at Vasquez's trial because they either were opposed to the death penalty or not comfortable making such a judgment.

A death sentence shouldn't be carried out if it was reached by a jury that rejected members "simply because they voiced general objections to the death penalty or expressed conscientious or religious scruples against its infliction," Keegan told the high court, which did not immediately rule on the appeal.

18 years ago this month, Cardenas, who lived with his sister about 5 miles from Donna, was spending the weekend with Vasquez's cousin, 15-year-old Andres Rafael Chapa. Both went to a party on April 18 and were seen rolling marijuana cigarettes; Vasquez also attended.

Police received an anonymous tip about the slaying that led them to Chapa and eventually to Vasquez, who was arrested in Conroe, a Houston suburb more than 325 miles north of Donna. 

Authorities found the body - missing some limbs - 5 days later under scraps of aluminum in a vacant field. A blood trail showed it was dragged to the site, including across a 4-lane main street in Donna.

"They decided they were going to try to take his head off with a shovel and didn't realize that it was a lot more difficult to cut someone's head off," Joseph Orendain, the lead trial prosecutor, recalled last week. "It was a mutilated body left behind. ... It was really horrendous."

Vasquez, who said he took a gold ring and necklace from Cardenas, told police that Chapa participated in trying to decapitate the boy. "The devil was telling me to take [the head] away from him," Vasquez said, adding that "it couldn't come off."

Chapa pleaded guilty to a murder charge for his involvement and is serving a 35-year prison term. 

Three other relatives of Chapa and Vasquez received probation and a small fine for helping cover up the slaying. One of them was deported to Guatemala.

Vasquez declined an interview request from The Associated Press as his execution date neared. His statement to police fueled speculation about satanism, but Orendain said he had no idea whether that connection could be made.

"He was really just a sociopath," Orendain said.

Source: Dallas Morning News, April 5, 2016

Via Gloria Rubac, TCADP: On Wednesday night the state of Texas will execute Pablo Vasquez. He is from the Rio Grande Valley and his family is in Livingston but they have no gas and no money and don't even know how they will get home after the execution. This GoFundMe page is for anyone that would like to help with the funeral arrangements of Pablo Lucio Vasquez.

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