Texas: Rodney Reed granted indefinite stay of execution

Stay of execution came just hours after parole board unanimously recommended 120-day reprieve
The Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed was granted a stay of execution on Friday, 5 days before he was scheduled to be put to death for a murder he insists he did not commit.
The Texas court of criminal appeals blocked the execution indefinitely and sent the case back to the trial court in Bastrop county, where Reed was sentenced in 1998 for the murder of Stacey Stites two years earlier.
The court had previously rejected multiple appeals, but Reed’s lawyers argued that fresh evidence bolstered his claim of innocence. 
They said in a statement that they “are extremely relieved and thankful … this opportunity will allow for proper consideration of the powerful and mounting new evidence of Mr Reed’s innocence”.
Millions of people, including a clutch of celebrities, have rallied behind Reed’s cause, helping to generate momentum and public attention as the execution date of 20 November loomed an…

Texas executes Juan Castillo

Juan Castillo
Texas executed Juan Castillo, who said he was innocent, for 2003 San Antonio murder

A Texas death row inmate was executed Wednesday — his 4th execution date in a year. Though advocates and his attorneys insisted on Juan Castillo's innocence, he lost all his fights in court and was put to death for a 2003 San Antonio murder.

Juan Castillo was put to death Wednesday evening, ending his death sentence on his 4th execution date within the year.

The 37-year-old was executed for the 2003 robbery and murder of Tommy Garcia Jr. in San Antonio. 

The execution had been postponed three times since last May, including a rescheduling because of Hurricane Harvey.

Castillo's advocates and attorneys had insisted on his innocence in Garcia’s murder, pleading unsuccessfully for a last-minute 30-day stay of execution from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott after all of his appeals were rejected in the courts. 

The Texas Defender Service, a capital defense group who had recently picked up Castillo’s case, asked Abbott for the delay to let its lawyers fully investigate claims they said discredited the prosecution’s evidence against Castillo — including recanted statements and video of police interrogations that contradict testimony at trial.

But with no action from the governor, Castillo was taken into the death chamber in Huntsville, and at 6:21 p.m., injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital, according to the Texas Department of Justice. 23 minutes later, he was pronounced dead.

“To everyone that has been there for me, you know who you are,” Castillo said in his final words. “See y’all on the other side.”

A Houston Chronicle reporter who attended the execution said Castillo added: “Shit does burn."

Prosecutors said Castillo and 3 others lured Garcia to a secluded area in 2003 to rob him by promising him sex with one of Castillo's female accomplices. When Garcia tried to run, Castillo shot him, according to the accomplices. Castillo was convicted and sentenced to death in 2005.

A man who bunked near Castillo in the Bexar County jail, Gerardo Gutierrez, also testified that Castillo had confessed to him about the murder. The matching testimonies were enough to satisfy a jury, and Castillo was convicted of capital murder. The 3 others involved in the crime all received lesser charges and sentences — 1 woman is out on parole, and the other 2 got 40-year sentences and are eligible for parole within the next 6 years, according to criminal records.

Prosecutors at the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office remain fully confident that Castillo was the triggerman in Garcia’s murder. Assistant Criminal District Attorney Matt Howard said the death penalty is always a heavy decision to weigh but that Castillo is deserving of the ultimate punishment.

“Understanding the evidence, this was one of those cases where I think the jury came to the right conclusion” of a death sentence, Howard said.

Castillo’s 1st execution date was set for last May, but it was rescheduled for September, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The September execution — set about a week after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas coast — was also delayed at the request of Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood, since some of Castillo’s legal team lived in Houston.

It was moved to December, and that time the courts took action after the jailhouse informant changed his story.

In 2013, Gutierrez signed an affidavit saying that he lied in his testimony against Castillo “to try to help myself.” The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stopped Castillo’s December execution because of the affidavit, telling the trial court to look into the issue of false testimony.

3 days later, the Bexar County court issued its decision: Gutierrez’s new statement saying he lied wasn’t credible since his original testimony so closely matched that from the others who testified against Castillo.

“Gutierrez's 2013 affidavit makes no explanation for how he, while incarcerated in the Bexar County Adult Detention Center, independently manufactured a version of events consistent with multiple other witnesses,” wrote Judge Maria Teresa Herr in her quickly produced opinion.

The Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the ruling earlier this year, and Castillo was given an execution date of May 16.

Castillo’s attorneys admonished the trial court for denouncing Gutierrez’s affidavit without holding an evidentiary hearing or getting information from Castillo or Gutierrez, claiming the courts denied their client meaningful consideration on the issue. But the prosecution said the court already had “extensive background” about the affidavit before it officially reached the court, which accounted for the rapid decision to reject it, according to Howard.

Texas' death chamber
Still, Castillo filed a new appeal with claims that the prosecution withheld evidence and presented false or misleading testimony. The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected it on procedural grounds without reviewing the merits of his claims, leaving Castillo’s attorneys to turn to their last shot, Abbott.

In the defense’s letter to the governor Tuesday, Marzullo wrote that her organization has recently discovered new evidence that contradicts the original testimony given at Castillo’s trial — specifically, a video of woman who previously claimed Castillo confessed to her telling police that he had never told her he was the triggerman and a new statement from a man who now says he inaccurately testified that Castillo confessed to him. Marzullo also mentioned a lack of physical evidence connecting Castillo to the murder and the unreliability of testimony from accomplices and jailhouse informants.

“I am sure that your office is inundated with defense counsel pleas for mercy,” she wrote to the governor. “Yet, this is a request that I do not enter lightly. From the moment of his arrest through clemency, Juan has had a litany of lawyers who did not fully examine serious questions regarding his guilt.”

Abbott usually takes no part in death penalty cases, letting the court’s rulings stand, but he did grant a rare commutation of sentence for Thomas Whitaker earlier this year, stopping his execution minutes before it was set to proceed and changing his sentence to life in prison. But that decision came after an even rarer unanimous decision by the state’s parole board to grant clemency and change Whitaker’s sentence.

On Monday, that parole board unanimously voted to reject Castillo’s clemency petition, and following Abbott’s silence on the issue, he became the 6th person executed in Texas this year, and the 551st overall since the state resumed capital punishment on December 7, 1982. Castillo becomes the 33rd condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas since Greg Abbott became governor in 2015.

Castillo becomes the 11th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1476th overall since the nation resumed executions on Janaury 17, 1977.

Currently there are 2 executions in the USA set in June, and both are in Texas; Clifton Williams is scheduled to be executed on June 21, and Danny Bible is set to be executed on June 27.  There are 4 more executions scheduled in Texas between July 17 and September 27.

In 2017, there were 21 executions carried out in the USA, and the 11th was done almost exactly 1 year ago, when John Ledford III was executed in Georgia on May 17.

Source: Texas tribune & Rick Halperin, May 16, 2018

Texas executes "Lovers' Lane Killer," who has maintained innocence since 2003 slaying

The Walls Unit, Huntsville, where Texas carries out its executions.
A Texas inmate who insisted he wasn't involved in a San Antonio "lovers' lane" killing more than 14 years ago has been executed for the slaying. 

Juan Edward Castillo received a lethal injection Wednesday evening for the fatal shooting and robbery of a 19-year-old man that testimony showed was carried out by Castillo and several friends on a secluded road where the victim was enticed by the promise of drugs and sex.

Castillo became be the 11th convicted killer executed this year in the U.S. and the 6th in Texas.

He gave a brief final statement before receiving the lethal dose of pentobarbital, thanking "everyone."

"You know who you are. I love you all," Castillo said. "That's it."

As the powerful sedative took effect, he lifted his head off the gurney and used an expletive to say he could taste the drug and that it burned. He took several quick breaths that became snores and then stopped all movement.

Castillo was pronounced dead 23 minutes later at 6:44 p.m. CDT.

The victim's mother and stepmother were among the people watching through a window. After a doctor pronounced Castillo dead, one of the other relatives exclaimed: "We've got justice. Thank you."

Castillo lost appeals earlier this week at the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest court. No last-day appeals were filed in the courts to try to block his punishment and Gov. Greg Abbott declined a request from his lawyers for a 30-day reprieve.

Castillo, 36, denied any involvement in the slaying.

"I didn't do it," Castillo told the AP last week in an interview outside death row. "I was so positive I'd get the case dismissed I refused to plead guilty. So I go to trial."

He said he rejected several plea offers that would have removed the death penalty as punishment, knew the woman, Debra Espinosa, who testified against him and who was in the car with Garcia, but denied her assertion that she was Castillo's girlfriend.

Castillo's appeals lawyers contended no physical evidence tied him to the slaying of Tommy Garcia Jr. and argued in appeals that trial testimony from witnesses who said he either told them about the slaying or they heard Castillo talk about committing the crime was false or misleading.

Texas' death house
At his trial, 2 eyewitnesses testified they saw Castillo shoot Garcia, 3 people said they heard him talk about the killing and another witness testified he was wearing jewelry that belonged to the victim, prosecutors said.

Castillo in an interview last week from outside death row denied any involvement in Garcia's Dec. 3, 2003, killing and said he had "no idea" who fatally shot the San Antonio rapper with a reputation for carrying a lot of cash and wearing flashy jewelry.

"I was offered a plea bargain 3 times," Castillo told The Associated Press. "I refused to plead guilty. ... I don't want to die but at the same time I would hate myself every day if I did that."

Testimony at Castillo's 2005 trial showed Castillo's girlfriend, Debra Espinosa, offered Garcia drugs and sex if he'd take her in his car to a San Antonio lovers' lane. Garcia didn't know he was being set up.

Once they were parked, testimony showed Castillo smashed a car window with the butt of his pistol, opened the door and demanded Garcia's money. But Garcia, also known as rapper J.R., refused and was shot.

Espinosa and Francisco Gonzales, who authorities said accompanied Castillo to the ambush, accepted 40-year prison terms in plea agreements. A 4th person, Teresa Quintero, pleaded no contest to a robbery charge and received 20 years. Testimony showed she was the driver who took Castillo and Gonzales to the dark San Antonio road for what was supposed to be a simple robbery.

Relatives said Castillo talked about the killing and a witness said she saw him a day later wearing a distinctive medallion on a thick gold chain that had belonged to Garcia. Castillo said last week from prison the jewelry was his, not Garcia's, and said Espinosa was not his girlfriend.

Castillo was 22 and already had been in prison on a 2-year sentence for deadly conduct with a firearm when he was arrested for Garcia's killing. At his trial, the mother of Castillo's son told of repeated domestic violence incidents. Other witnesses linked him to shootings, robberies, assaults and drug dealing.

Source: Associated Press, May 16, 2018

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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