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Texas Should Not Have Executed Robert Pruett

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Update: Robert Pruett was executed by lethal injection on Thursday.
Robert Pruett is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas Thursday. He has never had a chance to live outside a prison as an adult. Taking his life is a senseless wrong that shows how badly the justice system fails juveniles.
Mr. Pruett was 15 years old when he last saw the outside world, after being arrested as an accomplice to a murder committed by his own father. Now 38, having been convicted of a murder while incarcerated, he will be put to death. At a time when the Supreme Court has begun to recognize excessive punishments for juveniles as unjust, Mr. Pruett’s case shows how young lives can be destroyed by a justice system that refuses to give second chances.
Mr. Pruett’s father, Sam Pruett, spent much of Mr. Pruett’s early childhood in prison. Mr. Pruett and his three siblings were raised in various trailer parks by his mother, who he has said used drugs heavily and often struggled to feed the children. Wh…

Utah parents could face death penalty in death of their 3-year-old daughter

Miller Costello, left, and Brenda Emile, right.
Miller Costello, left, and Brenda Emile, right.
OGDEN — In 2nd District Court Thursday, Weber County attorney Christopher Shaw told a judge that Miller Costello and Brenda Emile will require attorneys certified to handle death penalty cases.

Ogden couple accused of killing 3-year-old may ask for leave to attend funeral

Police responded to a 911 call on July 6 and found 3-year-old Angelina Costello dead. They observed that the girl appeared malnourished and had injuries consistent with prolonged abuse, according to the probable cause statement against her parents.

“Officers on scene immediately recognized the child victim had bruising, contusions, lacerations, burns, open sores and abrasions all over her face, hands, legs, head and neck,” the probable cause statement says.

Emile told officers she found the girl, who is the couple’s biological daughter, dead around 12:20 p.m. Thursday when she called police. 

Court documents say the 3-year-old appeared to be “extremely malnourished,” “cold to the touch and stiff with an apparent onset of rigor mortis,” the stage of death where the body’s limbs begin to stiffen. 

A Medical Examiner’s Office investigator removed the girl’s clothing and found a large burn on her chest along with small circular burns, bruises and cuts on her back, legs and feet, court documents say. 

Officials said some of the girl’s injuries appeared to be recent while others were in various stages of healing. 

Investigators searched the couple’s cellphones and found several pictures and videos, ranging from January 2016 to June 2017, showing the girl’s deteriorating health conditions. 

The videos allegedly show both Costello and Emile “taunting the child victim with food by presenting it to her and then removing it from her and disciplining her,” court documents say.

Another video allegedly shows Costello using an infant’s feet to kick the girl in the face. 

Police and the Utah Division of Child and Family Services removed an older and a younger sibling from the home after Costello and Emile were taken into custody, according to Ogden Police. 

In an interview with investigators, Emile said she had covered the girl in makeup to “conceal some injuries ‘so they didn’t look as bad,’” according to the probable cause statement.

Costello told officials he knew the girl’s health was deteriorating and that she needed medical attention or she would die. He said various times when he returned home from work, he saw new injuries on the girl, who was in Emile’s care during the day, but did not seek medical attention or inform police. 

Costello said Emile “told him the child victim had been struck or otherwise injured by siblings in the house or had fallen down,” the court document says.

Emile also told investigators she knew of the girl’s injuries but didn’t attempt to prevent her from falling down or stop the other children from striking her. According to the probable cause statement, she said she didn’t get medical attention because she didn’t “want a police investigation or to have her children taken from her.”

The family has only lived in Ogden for only a short amount of time, a release from Ogden Police said. Court documents say the couple has “self-proclaimed ties to a transient Romanian gypsy community.”

Costello told investigators he buys scrap metal at auctions across the country for a living and made $150,000 last month, and he and Emile also had large amounts of cash and cashiers checks in their possession.

Costello, 25, and Emile, 22, are charged with aggravated murder in the death of their daughter. Aggravated murder is the only crime subject to the penalty of death under Utah law.

Costello and Emile appeared separately in court Thursday, and District Court Judge Michael DiReda informed them that he had spoken by phone with the attorneys who had expected to be retained to represent them individually. Because the funds that could be used to retain the attorneys are still tied up in the investigation, neither Costello nor Emile are presently represented.

Both Costello and Emile answered affirmatively when DiReda asked if they needed a public defender appointed in the interim. Weber County attorney Shaw advised the judge that a “Rule 8 certified” public defender would be necessary.

Rule 8 applies when the death penalty is a potential punishment for an indigent defendant. It sets forth qualifications for the complicated and expensive ordeal of defending a client in a death penalty case, requiring that the state provide for at least two attorneys with at least five years’ experience, who “can dedicate those resources to the representation of the defendant ... with undivided loyalty.”

Attorney Michael Bouwhuis is the coordinator of indigent defense services for Weber County. He said that he spoke with the county prosecutors Thursday, and they have not yet made a decision regarding the death penalty in Costello’s and Emile’s cases. The state is not required to declare its intention until after a preliminary hearing.

“We have to assume they are pursuing the death penalty, for the purposes of providing representation and protecting the rights of our clients,” Bouwhuis said.

A report on the status of the couple’s counsel is scheduled for Aug. 3. They are currently being held in the Weber County Jail without bond.

Source: Standard-Examiner, Nadia Pflaum, July 29, 2017

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