Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

California: Jury recommends death penalty for serial killer

Andrew Urdiales
A jury in Orange County, California, recommended the death penalty for convicted serial killer Andrew Urdiales on Wednesday, according to multiple reports. 

The 53-year-old was convicted in late May of killing five women in Southern California from 1986 to 1995. Urdiales was already serving a life sentence for three killings in Illinois when he was connected to the murders in California. 

In the late 1990s, it was Urdiales himself who told Chicago prosecutors they should ask him about killings in California, prosecutors said, according to KNBC. He was brought to California in 2011 to be tried for the murders. 

The defense argued that Urdiales, a former Marine, had a troubled life and showed signs of brain damage, potentially from fetal alcohol syndrome. But, according to KNBC, Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy argued the gruesome murders and the victims outweighed any such concerns—specifically referencing the horrific experience of a woman who managed to escape Urdiales. 

"She went to hell for the entertainment," Murphy said, according to KNBC. "This is his hobby. He's doing this for fun."

The father of Urdiales's first victim, Robbin Brandley, described in May—when Urdiales was convicted—the feeling of seeing his daughter's killer in a courtroom.

"When they showed the picture of Robbin laying by her car, and then they showed the picture of Robbin's face with the eyes open, and then there's the other picture where her dress was pulled up with a bloody hand," Jack Reilley told KTLA. "I've never hated anybody before, ever in my life, but boy, sitting there looking at him I felt pure hate."

Urdiales had a grisly modus operandi of driving women to secluded areas and sexually assaulting them before killing them. He had previously been sentenced to death for the murders in Illinois, but his sentence was lessened to life in prison after the state abolished the death penalty.

Charles Erwin, the father of victim Tammie Erwin, advocated for the death penalty at the time of Urdiales's conviction in California. 

"Because of the nature of his crime—the way he did the girls like they were just trash, just throw them away—I think he deserves it," he told KTLA. 

Source: Newsweek, Tim Marcin, June 13, 2018

Orange County jury recommends death penalty for man who killed 5 women

SANTA ANA – A jury on Tuesday recommended the death penalty for Andrew Urdiales, an eight-time killer recently convicted of murdering five women in Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties.

As each death-penalty verdict for the five Southern California victims was read Wednesday morning, Urdiales, now 53, watched a court clerk impassively; at times dropping his gaze to jot something down. Jurors deliberated for several hours before reaching their decisions.

Family members, some who had waited more than 30 years for the trial of their loved one’s killer, embraced and wiped away tears as they sat in the packed gallery of the Santa Ana courtroom. A juror dabbed her eyes with tissue and sniffed quietly.

“It was a long haul, but we got justice today,” said Charles Erwin, whose daughter Tammie was killed by Urdiales in Riverside County. “He is never going to hurt anyone again, and that is what we wanted.”

Jennifer Asbenson, the only woman to escape Urdiales, in 1992, said she had fantasized about his getting the death penalty while he was attempting to choke her to death after kidnapping and sexually assaulting her in a remote Riverside County desert (While the Southern California News Group does not normally identify victims of sexual assault, Asbenson has spoken extensively about her experience in public forums).

“If they chose life without parole, I would have felt someone had sympathy for him, and he would get sense of hope,” Asbenson said of jurors just outside the courtroom. “And he doesn’t deserve hope.”

Urdiales, shortly after his 1997 arrest, confessed to killing one woman in Orange County while stationed as a U.S. Marine at Camp Pendleton; four women in Riverside and San Diego counties while stationed at Twentynine Palms; and three women in Chicago while working as a security guard after leaving the military.

During closing arguments in Urdiales’ Orange County trial, Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy described him as a “misogynistic, sadistic monster.”

After the verdict, Murphy said Urdiales “genuinely deserves to die for what he has done. …

“He obviously didn’t have remorse, otherwise he wouldn’t have done it over and over again,” the prosecutor said. “He did it because he liked it.”

Attorney Denise Gragg, who represented Urdiales, countered during closing arguments that her client was born with brain damage and suffered a childhood marked by emotional, physical, sexual and psychological abuse. She noted that law enforcement likely wouldn’t have tied Urdiales to the Southern California murders had he not confessed to them after his Chicago arrest.

Last month, the Santa Ana jury found Urdiales guilty of killing Robbin Brandley in 1986 in a Saddleback College parking lot in Mission Viejo, and of the murders over the subsequent seven years of Julie McGhee, Tammie Erwin and Denise Maney in Riverside County, and Mary Ann Wells in San Diego.

A Chicago jury previously convicted Urdiales of killing Laura Uylaki, Cassandra Corum and Lynn Huberand. He had been given the death penalty there for the three deaths, but two of those sentences were commuted to life in prison by the then-governor, who did the same to other inmates as well. The third sentence was commuted when Illinois abandoned the death penalty.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg L. Prickett will make the final decision as to whether Urdiales will be sent to Death Row. The sentencing hearing is set for Aug. 31.

Jack Reilley, Brandley’s father, said the lengthy wait to trial – more than 30 years since Brandley’s murder, and 20 years since Urdiales’ confession – was difficult for the family. Reilley became active in the victims’ rights movement after his daughter’s death.

“To me, he is like a mad dog,” Reilley said of Urdiales. “He just needs to be put down.”

Other family members described the verdict as a weight taken off of their chests.

“I felt like for the first time in 30 years that my mother’s life mattered,” said Steve Wells, who was 13 when his mother, Mary Ann Wells, was killed. “It was a good feeling.”

Source: The OCR, Sean Emery, June 13, 2017

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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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