March 2012 Executions

Six killers were executed in March 2012. They had murdered at least 7 people.
Five killers were given a stay in March 2012. They have murdered at least 8 people.

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
March 6, 2012 Nebraska James Thimm, 26
Luke Stice, 5
Michael Ryan stayed
During the summer and fall of 1984, Ryan and several other men and women, along with 10 of their children, moved to a farm owned by Ora Richard (Rick) Stice located near Rulo, Nebraska. The group was united by their common interest in the teachings of a certain Rev. James Wickstrom. Group members studied the Bible and referred to God as "Yahweh." The group also believed that Ryan and other members of the group possessed the spirits of archangels and that the infant of a female group member who became pregnant while at the farm was divinely conceived. Members of the group considered Ryan to be the leader and obeyed his orders without question. Ryan sometimes referred to himself as "king." Ryan claimed to hear "Yahweh" speak directly to him and allegedly saw visions in the sky. He further claimed to know what other group members were thinking and to be able to predict things which later came true. Although Ryan was legally married to Ruth Ryan, he also "married" four female group members, three of whom were themselves married to other men, claiming that this was done at the direction of "Yahweh." Every detail of every activity at the farm was determined by consulting "Yahweh" through a method called the "arm test." To perform the arm test, one group member would hold his or her right arm out, and a second group member would place one hand on the shoulder and one hand on the wrist of the first group member, exerting downward pressure on the arm. The second group member would then question "Yahweh." If "Yahweh’s" answer was yes, the arm stayed up; if the answer was no, the arm would yield to the pressure and fall. Group members were permitted to use the arm test only with Ryan’s permission. The group also had strong survivalist and paramilitary characteristics. Large amounts of food, ammunition, and weapons, including fully automatic weapons, were stockpiled on the farm. Each of the men in the group was assigned a military rank and was able to work up to the rank of general. Those men included Ryan’s son, Dennis Ryan, who was 15 years old at the time these incidents occurred, but who was treated as a man. The other men on the farm, in addition to Michael and Dennis Ryan, included Rick Stice, James Thimm, Timothy Haverkamp, David Andreas, and James Haverkamp. Early in 1985, Thimm, Stice, and Stice’s 5-year-old son, Luke, fell out of favor with "Yahweh" for various reasons and were demoted by Michael Ryan to slave status. After their demotion, the three were moved to a separate house on the farm where they were subjected to physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. In March, while Ryan was temporarily absent, Rick Stice escaped from the farm and returned 7 or 8 days later. After that time, the treatment of Stice and Thimm worsened. At night, the two men were sometimes chained and were forced to sleep on a porch. If Stice and Thimm went outside during the daytime, they were guarded by the other men to prevent them from running away. Late in March, after Rick Stice had returned, Ryan shoved 5-year-old Luke Stice, causing him to strike his head and lose consciousness. No medical help was sought for the child, and he died later that evening. Luke Stice was buried on the farm property. Early in April, Rick Stice again escaped from the farm, and he did not return. Ryan’s abuse of Thimm culminated in one final, torturous episode near the end of April. On April 28, Ryan accused Thimm of blaspheming "Yahweh" and of trying to poison the group by putting household cleaner on a wild turkey that was being stored in the refrigerator. Ryan launched into a brutal "discipline" of Thimm dictated by "Yahweh" through the arm test. Michael and Dennis Ryan, Andreas, and Timothy and James Haverkamp all participated in these events. Thimm was taken to a hog confinement building, where, over a period of 2 days, the men took turns sexually assaulting Thimm by penetrating his anus with a shovel handle until his bowel ruptured, whipping Thimm on his back and abdomen, and shooting off the fingertips of Thimm’s left hand. (The trial court stated that Thimm was "sodomized" in reference to the men penetrating Thimm’s anus with the shovel handle, defining sexual penetration as including "any intrusion… of… any object manipulated by the actor into the… anal opening of the victim’s body." Thimm was forced to disrobe for this abuse and was chained or tied with baling wire during much of this time. Michael Ryan also broke Thimm’s arm, permitted Dennis Ryan to break Thimm’s left leg, and directed Timothy Haverkamp in breaking Thimm’s right leg. Michael Ryan then demonstrated to Timothy Haverkamp and Dennis Ryan how to skin a human being by using a razor blade and a pair of pliers to skin part of Thimm’s leg. Ultimately, Michael Ryan stomped on Thimm’s chest, breaking several of his ribs, and Thimm died on April 29, 1985. Thimm’s body was placed inside a sleeping bag and buried in an unmarked grave on the farm. On June 25, 1985, Andreas and James Haverkamp were arrested for stealing a sprayer rig. While in jail, those two men decided to notify the authorities of events which had taken place on the Rulo farm. On August 17 and 18, the farm was searched by a team of law enforcement officers, and the bodies of 5-year-old Luke Stice and Thimm were exhumed. Michael Ryan was subsequently charged with two counts of first degree murder for the killings of Luke Stice and Thimm. Dennis Ryan was charged with first degree murder for the killing of Thimm. Timothy Haverkamp pled guilty to second degree murder before Michael Ryan’s trial and testified for the State in that trial. Andreas and James Haverkamp pled guilty to lesser charges before Ryan’s trial and also testified for the State. Ryan was convicted of Thimm’s first degree murder at a jury trial and was subsequently sentenced to death.
Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
March 7, 2012 Texas Sharon Anne Thurmond, 32
Guy Sean Fernandes, 35
Keith Thurmond executed
Keith Steven Thurmond was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2001 capital murders of Sharon Anne Thurmond, his wife, and Guy Sean Fernandes. Sharon Thurmond separated from her husband a few months before the murder. She took their child and moved across the street to live with Guy Sean Fernandes. The day of the murders, deputies in Magnolia served Thurmond with a protective order and placed his eight-year-old son in the custody of his wife. Thurmond was unhappy that his wife was living across the street with another man. After the deputies left his home with the child, Thurmond became very upset. He donned a black karate suit, paced around his mobile home brandishing a sword and a pistol. A friend and relative suggested that he allow the courts to resolve the domestic issues, but he rejected that advice, and crossed the street. He then shot and killed both victims in front of his eight-year-old son. The boy told investigators that he had seen his father chasing his mother around the yard with a gun while Guy Fernandes ran into the mobile home. The boy said he then say his father shoot his mother "a couple of times and…. then ran into Guy’s mobile home with the gun." The boy then heard several shots and ran to his father’s mobile home across the street. Thurmond returned to the home he shared with his brother and barricaded himself and his son inside. He threatened to kill himself, saying, "I messed up, I messed up!" He later released the boy unharmed but remained inside the mobile home, armed with at least two firearms. Officers persuaded Thurmond to surrender peacefully after a couple of hours. Sharon was shot seven times and Guy was beaten as well as shot. Prior to their separation, the couple had several incidents according to local authorities. The couple was arrested after fighting about drinking all night and passing out. Sharon Thurmond waved a 9 mm automatic weapon at Thurmond and taunted him to shoot her. Thurmond threw his wife to the floor and kicked her after she hit him in the face with the gun. During the punishment phase of Thurmond’s trial, jurors heard testimony from a former girlfriend who said that he had raped her after she ended the relationship. They also were told that Thurmond had threatened a female officer while in jail awaiting his trial. He said, "I can snap her neck. What are they going to do, kill me twice?" UPDATE: Keith Thurmond, 52, a former auto mechanic and air conditioning repairman, went to his death protesting his innocence. "I swear to God I didn’t kill her," he said in a final statement tinged with tears. Looking toward the witness chamber occupied by his victims’ relatives, Thurmond proclaimed his wife had been slain by another man.
Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
March 8, 2012 Arizona Mark Jones, 69 Robert Towery executed
Robert Towery lived with Randy Allen Barker and John Meacham in Scottsdale, Arizona, and shared his bedroom with his girlfriend and her young daughter. On September 4, 1991, Barker and Towery agreed to rob philanthropist Mark Jones, whom Towery had previously met, at Jones’ house. Mark Jones was a Paradise Valley man known for providing dozens of University of Arizona students with scholarship funds. That evening, Towery and Barker drove in Barker’s car to a Denny’s Restaurant and from there took a taxi to be dropped off in Mark Jones’s neighborhood. They knocked on Mark’s door, and Towery asked if they could use his telephone because their vehicle had broken down. Towery said, “Do you remember me? I’m from R and D Automotive.” Mark Jones had been introduced to Towery on a prior occasion when Towery sought counseling about his new business enterprise. Mark invited them in and showed them the telephone. After the two were let in, Barker pretended to make a telephone call, while Towery pulled a gun out of his briefcase. The briefcase also contained gloves, plastic tie wraps, handcuffs and a large veterinary syringe apparently filled with battery acid. Towery told Mark that they were robbing him, both men put gloves on and Barker handcuffed Mark. Over the course of about two hours, Barker kept watch on Mark while Towery rummaged through the house, took Mark’s car keys and collected about $1,200 in cash from his wallet and drawers in the home. Towery loaded Mark’s Lincoln with jewelry, electronics, cameras and other items. Towery and Barker then led Mark to the master bedroom at gunpoint, uncuffing him while he used the bathroom along the way. They asked him whether he expected anyone soon and Mark said no. Towery asked Jones whether he preferred to be tied up or to be injected with a drug that would put him to sleep. Mark chose the latter option and was laid face down on the bed. At his request, Mark’s shoes were removed to make him more comfortable. Towery then tried several times to inject Jones with a large veterinary syringe that Barker believed contained battery acid but pushed the needle all the way through the vein. Believing Jones was pretending to have fallen asleep, Towery created a noose using a set of tie wraps from his briefcase and slipped it over Mark’s head and began to strangle him. Mark did not struggle, but made choking and gagging sounds. After cutting and removing the noose, Towery determined that Mark was not yet dead, made another noose and repeated his previous action. Towery and Barker then loaded a large television into Mark’s other car, a Dodge convertible. While trying to start the Dodge, Barker set off its alarm. Barker and Towery jumped into the Lincoln and Towery drove to the Denny’s to get Barker’s car. Barker threw the syringe out the window into an oleander hedge along the way. They unloaded the goods at their house and removed the compact disk player from the car before they abandoned it in the parking lot of an apartment complex. A security guard at the complex saw the men and later identified Towery in a photo lineup. Mark Jones’s body was discovered the next morning. Towery testified and offered an alibi. He said he dropped Barker off at the Denny’s and saw him get picked up by someone else. Towery then drove Barker’s car to meet Tina Collins at an adult book shop. Towery drove with Collins to another parking lot, where they talked for about two hours. Afterward, not finding Barker at their planned meeting spot, Towery drove home. Barker arrived at the house with Jones’s car and property, and Towery helped him unload the goods and dispose of the car. Towery also claimed that he bought the stolen items that the police found in his possession from Barker. Collins’ videotaped deposition was admitted to corroborate Towery’s story. She said they had first met a couple of weeks earlier and arranged to meet on September 4. She did not talk with Towery again until February 9, when she visited the prison at the suggestion of a friend of hers who happened to be visiting Towery’s cellmate. In his closing argument, the prosecutor suggested that Collins had never met Towery prior to the prison visit and fabricated her testimony to bolster his alibi. Towery and Barker were charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery, first-degree burglary, kidnapping, theft and attempted theft. After their trials were severed, the jury convicted Towery on all counts, and he was sentenced to death. Barker testified against Towery in exchange for a reduced charge of second-degree murder. Barker was released from prison in 2001 after serving about ten years. UPDATE: Before he died, Robert Towery broke down in tears, apologized to Jones’s family and his own family. ‘I would like to apologize to Mark’s family and friends for what I did to them. I would like to apologize to my family,’ Towery said. ‘So many times in my life I went left when I should have gone right and I went right when I should have gone left. It was mistake after mistake.’ He looked at his family and began crying, before adding: ‘I love my family.’
Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
March 8, 2012 Pennsylvania Christopher Burgert, 30
Michael VanKuren, 36
Dustin Briggs stayed
On the morning of Wednesday, March 31, 2004, Dustin Ford Briggs was eating breakfast with his then-girlfriend April Harris Duva at the Bradford County home where he lived with his father, Arlan Briggs. A driveway led to Briggs’ house from Congdon Road, and the house was the first structure a person traveling the driveway from that road would encounter. As the driveway continued past the house, it divided into two parts, with the left fork leading to a barn and the right fork to a stand of pine trees. The majority of the Briggs property behind the house was used as an automotive junkyard and was littered with hundreds of derelict vehicles. Once Briggs finished eating, he left the house to go to work in the junkyard pulling radiators from cars. As April was washing the dishes, Arlan Briggs, who had been out in the junkyard cleaning radiators, entered the house and tried to call his daughter on the phone. As he hung up the phone, he noticed a car parked outside of the house. The car was an unmarked police vehicle driven by Bradford County Sheriff’s Deputies Christopher Burgert and Michael VanKuren, who had come to serve arrest warrants on Dustin Briggs and April Duva. Briggs’s warrant was for non-payment of fines, costs, and restitution, while April’s warrant was for the alleged manufacture of methamphetamine on the Briggs property. Arlan Briggs knew of the existence of these warrants and, thus, told April to hide—whereupon she hurriedly ran to the basement. The deputies knocked twice at the door, but Arlan Briggs stayed out of sight and did not answer. Once the deputies ceased knocking, Arlan Briggs looked out the window and could no longer see their car, so he decided to go back outside. April, who was secreted in the furnace room in the basement, heard Arlan Briggs leave the house through the kitchen door and, thereafter, heard three gunshots. While exiting his house on the way to the barn, Arlan Briggs, who suffered from significant hearing loss, heard the sounds also, but he characterized them as banging noises which, at the time, he attributed to Briggs’s work removing the radiators. Arlan Briggs proceeded to the barn, where he began to sort some of the radiators stored therein with the intent of salvaging the usable ones. After he had found two in acceptable condition, he carried them out of the barn and began walking with them towards the right fork of the driveway. At this point, he noticed the deputies’ car parked in the drive about 200 feet from the house, with Briggs’s Chevy Blazer positioned directly in front of it. After Arlan Briggs had walked further up the driveway into the junkyard to where his own pickup truck was parked he, at that point, noticed Deputy VanKuren prone and unmoving on the ground. He also observed Deputy Burgert lying in the yard nearby, gravely wounded. Arlan Briggs then ran back to his house, called 9-1-1, and urgently requested assistance. He also told April to get dressed and leave the property, as there was "trouble" and the two deputies were dead. According to testimony at Briggs’s trial provided by Bradley Brown, an individual who had been a friend of Briggs for ten years, and who became a cellmate of Briggs after his arrest, Briggs admitted to Brown that he was the one who had shot the deputies. Brown testified that Briggs described to him the manner in which the shooting transpired as follows. Briggs was in the process of pulling a radiator out of a car when the deputies walked up behind him and called his name. Briggs claimed that he had a previous altercation with Deputy VanKuren and, hence, felt he was in fear for his life. As Briggs turned around in response to the deputies’ call, he reached for his hip, on which he had a holstered revolver. After the deputies informed Briggs that he was under arrest, Deputy VanKuren attempted to unholster his own weapon, and Briggs reacted by pulling his gun out and shooting Deputy VanKuren twice. Briggs next pointed his gun at Deputy Burgert and shot him twice, once in the abdominal region and once in the chest. Because of his wounds, Deputy Burgert fell to the ground, and Briggs advanced on him—pressing his now empty gun to Deputy Burgert’s face. Briggs demanded Deputy Burgert throw his service weapon, a.40 caliber "Glock" semiautomatic pistol, to the ground and, after Deputy Burgert complied, Briggs picked it up and pointed it at him. At this point, Deputy Burgert reached up to grab the gun and it went off. Briggs ran from the shooting scene, hastily changed clothes, and left the area. According to the testimony of forensic pathologist Dr. Samuel Land, who conducted the post-mortem examinations of the slain deputies, the autopsy results of Deputy VanKuren showed that he was shot once in the right upper chest, and the bullet passed through his right lung, severed his spinal cord, and came to rest lodged in his spinal column. Dr. Land opined that Deputy VanKuren was immediately paralyzed by this wound and suffered massive bleeding into his chest, which caused his death within minutes. Dr. Land noted that Deputy VanKuren was additionally shot a second time in his right forearm. When this bullet entered Deputy VanKuren’s forearm it fractured it. The bullet then continued through the forearm and into his wrist, broke it, and then, finally, came to rest there. Dr. Land also testified that the results of Deputy Burgert’s autopsy showed he was shot in both the chest and abdomen. One of the bullets entered the right side of Deputy Burgert’s chest, traveled through his lungs, piercing them both, and then exited the top of his left chest. The destructive force of this bullet’s trajectory caused Deputy Burgert’s right lung to collapse and his chest cavity to fill with blood which eventually resulted in his asphyxiation. The second bullet which entered Deputy Burgert’s abdomen did not penetrate fully, having been stopped by his bulletproof vest in which it became wedged. Additional autopsy findings indicated that Deputy Burgert suffered a separate bullet wound to the fourth finger of his right hand. The bullet which caused this wound also fractured the index finger of his right hand and traveled through to strike him in the right thigh where it became imbedded. The medical examiner indicated that Deputy Burgert died within minutes from the effects of these multiple gunshot wounds. After the shooting of the deputies, Briggs immediately became the subject of a massive manhunt by police. On the next evening, Thursday, April 1, 2004, Briggs emerged from the woods and walked up the driveway of an acquaintance, Neal Saunders, who was standing in the driveway at the time with his next-door neighbor. Saunders’ home was located within a mile of the Briggs’ property. Briggs asked Saunders for a drink of water, and Saunders allowed him to drink from an outdoor spring. Briggs also requested to use Saunders’ phone to call his brother, and Saunders agreed. Briggs dialed his brother’s number twice and received no response. After Briggs hung up the phone, Briggs asked Saunders what "the word" was in the community, and Saunders told him people were blaming him for killing the two deputies. Briggs then nodded his head. Briggs asked Saunders if he would give him a ride to his brother’s place, but Saunders refused and asked him to leave. Saunders also requested that Briggs turn himself in, and Briggs replied that he would like to, but would prefer to "have a chance with a lawyer" first. After Briggs left, Saunders called police, who converged on the area. Within an hour, state troopers in an unmarked car spotted Briggs crossing a wooded ravine near Saunders’ house; whereupon, they surrounded and arrested him. Briggs, who was wet and cold, was placed in the back of the state police vehicle and covered with emergency blankets to help warm him. One of the troopers, Trooper Vincent Schreffler, gave Briggs Miranda warnings at that time which, according to Trooper Schreffler, Briggs indicated he understood. Trooper Schreffler asked Briggs if he wished to speak with them, and he replied "don’t know." Trooper Schreffler next asked Briggs "where the gun was at," and Briggs offered no response. Briggs was transported to the State Police Barracks in Towanda. At this point, Briggs was released into the custody of Trooper David Pelachick. Trooper Schreffler informed Trooper Pelachick that he had read Briggs his Miranda rights. Briggs was also given a sandwich and drink, which he consumed. Trooper Pelachick, in the company of another state police officer, Trooper James Kerrick, proceeded to advise Briggs of the specific charges against him as listed in the criminal complaint, and Briggs indicated he understood the nature of those charges. Trooper Pelachick testified he told Briggs he would like to "give him an opportunity to explain his actions." According to Trooper Pelachick, Briggs responded that he wanted to talk to the troopers, but also that he wanted his attorney, Art Agnellino, to be present when he did so. The troopers offered to find Briggs another attorney, but he refused the offer, stating he wished to wait for Attorney Agnellino. The troopers called Attorney Agnellino, but failing to reach him, left a message. The troopers discontinued their attempts to interview Briggs that evening, and Briggs was taken to be arraigned—following which he was transferred to the Bradford County Jail. The next day, Friday April 2, 2004, Attorney Agnellino called the State Police barracks in the morning and informed them that he would not be representing Briggs. Later that afternoon, sometime after 4:00 p.m., Trooper Pelachick and Trooper Kerrick went to the jail to speak with Briggs and to tell him of Attorney Agnellino’s decision. Briggs was brought to a medical examination room in the jail where the troopers and two jail correctional officers were present. Trooper Pelachick informed Briggs that Attorney Agnellino had declined to represent him. Trooper Pelachick asked Briggs whether he would like to speak with them without an attorney, or if he would like to find another attorney. Briggs stated that he wanted to talk to the troopers, but reiterated that he wanted an attorney present with him when he did so, and he expressed his desire to get a public defender. Trooper Pelachick testified that, after Briggs had made the request for a public defender, he told Briggs that he would not be able to speak with him that day but would talk to him later, with his attorney. Trooper Pelachick told Briggs he believed he was making "a wise decision" in wanting to talk to them and explain his actions. Trooper Pelachick told Briggs that "just because someone doesn’t talk to us doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be convicted." Trooper Pelachick related that he informed Briggs of the case of another individual, John Kohler, who, in Trooper Pelachick’s words, "never told us his side of the story, but… he ended up getting the death penalty anyway." Trooper Pelachick also told Briggs "it will be your decision whether you tell us or not, but your attorney’s going to probably advise ya’s not to." According to Trooper Pelachick, Briggs responded: "I know the deal, I’ve been through this before." Due to the lateness of the hour and the approaching weekend, Trooper Pelachick inquired whether Briggs wanted the troopers to contact the public defender so that they could arrange a meeting with him on Monday, or, whether he preferred they wait to hear from the public defender. Trooper Pelachick testified that Briggs replied: "no, let’s go ahead and make this, let’s get the ball rollin’, let’s shoot for Monday, you guys make the arrangements." Trooper Pelachick then told Briggs, "well, we’ll see you, I guess we’ll see you Monday, or try to make it, try to… see you on Monday." At this point, Trooper Pelachick and Trooper Kerrick, as well as the two prison guards, started walking towards the door to leave the room but stopped when they heard Briggs sobbing loudly. Trooper Pelachick looked back at Briggs and saw him leaning against a table with his head down and heard him say: "I’m sorry, I’m sorry, tell their families I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to kill them." Upon hearing this, Trooper Pelachick asked Briggs if he would like to talk to them now without an attorney. Briggs answered, "no, no, I want to talk to you… no disrespect, I’m not trying to give you a hard time, but I want to wait until my attorney gets here." Trooper Pelachick told Briggs that they would hopefully see him Monday, after which the troopers departed. Briggs subsequently had no further interviews with the troopers. A little over three months later, on July 7, 2004, two boys pursuing a skunk through the woods within a mile of the Briggs property overturned some rocks in a pile during their search and discovered two guns underneath, one a Smith and Wesson.357 Magnum revolver, and the other Deputy Burgert’s "Glock" service pistol. Additionally, secreted in a cavity underneath the rock were four unfired bullets, three of which were.357 Magnum cartridges and one which was a.38 caliber cartridge—all of which a state police ballistics expert testified were capable of being fired from the Smith and Wesson.357 Magnum revolver. The Glock, which has a fifteen round capacity, had only fourteen rounds in it at the time of its discovery. Subsequent ballistics tests performed on both recovered weapons indicated that the bullet lodged in Deputy Burgert’s bulletproof vest and the one imbedded in the vertebrae of Deputy VanKuren’s lower back came from the Smith and Wesson.357 Magnum revolver. The tests further established that the bullet taken from Deputy Burgert’s thigh was fired from the Glock pistol. In addition, ballistics tests showed that seven Winchester.357 Magnum shell casings recovered from various places on the ground in the Briggs’ junkyard were discharged from the Smith and Wesson.357 Magnum revolver. Prior to the commencement of Briggs’s trial, the then-District Attorney of Bradford County, Stephen Downs, requested, via letter, that the office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General intervene to assume prosecution of the case, and the attorney general agreed. Briggs filed four pretrial motions seeking a change of venue for the trial, a motion to remove the attorney general as prosecutor, and a motion to suppress the statements which he made to the troopers at the prison. Because of the recusal by both judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Bradford County, Senior Judge Barry Feudale, President Judge Emeritus of Northumberland County, was appointed to specially preside over this case. Judge Feudale denied all of Briggs’s motions. Briggs proceeded to a jury trial before Judge Feudale, which began on January 23, 2006. In addition to the evidence the Commonwealth presented, detailed above, Briggs called two witnesses, Sally and Harvey Ferris, who testified that Arlan Briggs had admitted that he shot one of the deputies, and his son, Mark Briggs, shot the other. According to Sally Ferris, who was the mother of Duva, Arlan Briggs told her that he had washed his hands with vinegar to remove the gunpowder residue and, also, that he melted the guns down so the police could not find them; however, by her account, Arlan Briggs later changed his story and told her he hid them in a ravine. Ultimately, the jury found Briggs guilty on February 7, 2006, and the death penalty phase of the trial began the next day, February 8, 2006. On February 9, 2006, the jury—having found, beyond a reasonable doubt, the existence of five aggravating factors and, by a preponderance of the evidence, one mitigating factor, and that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factor, returned a sentence of death, which the trial court imposed on March 15, 2006.
Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
March 16, 2012 Oklahoma Gail Titsworth Garry Allen stayed
Garry Thomas Allen shot and killed his girlfriend, Lawanna Gail Titsworth on November 21, 1986, three days after she moved out with their sons, six-year-old Anthony and two-year-old Adrian. Angry confrontations punctuated those three days, as Allen tried repeatedly to persuade Gail to come back to him. Their last argument occurred when Gail came to pick up their sons at Beulah’s Day Care Center in Oklahoma City. Allen confronted Gail inside the center, and the two moved to an empty room to argue. Allen left just ahead of Gail and the boys. When Gail opened the door of her truck, Allen came up behind her and shut it. She opened it again; again he shut it. This argument ended when Allen reached into his sock, pulled out a.38 caliber snub-nosed revolver, and shot Gail Titsworth twice in the chest. After she was shot, Gail began begging Allen not to shoot her again and then fell to the ground. Allen asked Gail if she was alright. He then lifted up her blouse, apparently attempting to figure out the extent of her injuries. She fell, and he looked under her blouse before walking away. At the time of the shooting, some of the daycare employees were in the parking lot and several of the children were in a van parked a few feet from Gail’s truck. A day care employee ran to Gail to help her into the day care center. Just as she and Gail Titsworth reached the front door, Allen shoved the other woman inside and pushed Gail down on the outside steps. Allen then shot her two more times in the back at close range and walked away. He was captured in an alley less than a block away by the police officer who responded to the 911 call. Officer Mike Taylor of the Oklahoma City Police Department was on patrol in the area and responded to the 911 call within minutes of the shooting. As Officer Taylor was nearing the daycare center, a witness to the shooting directed him to an alley where Allen was apparently hiding. Officer Taylor spotted Allen as he drove into the alley. Officer Taylor drew his service revolver and ordered Allen to stop and remain still. Allen initially complied with Officer Taylor’s order but then began walking away. Officer Taylor followed Allen and reached out to place his hand on him. Allen quickly turned around and grabbed Officer Taylor’s gun. A struggle ensued, during which Allen obtained partial control of Officer Taylor’s gun. Allen attempted to make Officer Taylor shoot himself by applying pressure to Taylor’s finger which was still on the trigger. Ultimately, Officer Taylor regained control of the gun and shot Allen in the face. Allen was rushed to the hospital where a CT scan revealed an air pocket in the front part of his brain and cerebral spinal fluid leaking from his nose and ear. Allen remained in the hospital approximately two months for treatment for injuries to his face, left eye, and brain. As a result of the gunshot wound, Allen lost his left eye and suffered permanent brain damage.

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
March 15, 2012 Oklahoma Trisha Jane Ruddick Stemple, 30 Shaun Stemple executed
Trisha Stemple, murder victimIn October 1996, Trisha Stemple’s body was found near Highway 75 in Tulsa County, Oklahoma. Her death was briefly investigated as a hit-and-run accident, but as the investigation progressed, the Tulsa Police Department began to suspect that Timothy Shaun Stemple had orchestrated the death of his wife. Stemple was ultimately charged in her death with First Degree Malice Aforethought Murder, Conspiracy to Commit First Degree Murder, and Attempted First Degree Murder. At trial, the prosecution put forth evidence that Stemple concocted a plan to murder his wife, mother of his two children, then ages 11 and 6, and collect the proceeds of her life insurance policy, worth almost $1,000,000. Stemple was having an extra-marital affair with Dani Wood. Dani Wood had a sixteen year old cousin, Terry Lee Hunt. According to Hunt, Stemple offered him $25,000 to $50,000 to help kill Trisha (if they collected the insurance money). Hunt recruited another person, Nathanial Helm to assist in the plan. Helm and Hunt went to Wal-Mart where they purchased a baseball bat and plastic wrap. The plastic wrap was wrapped around the bat to keep the bat from getting bloody. On October 10, 1996, Hunt and Helm went to the designated location on highway 75 and waited for Stemple and his wife to arrive. A while later Stemple drove up and told Helm and Hunt that Trisha was ill and he could not get her to accompany him. Two weeks later, Stemple arranged for Hunt to drive Stemple’s pickup to a particular location on highway 75 and leave the hood up. Stemple and Trisha arrived in their black Nissan Maxima. Stemple began working on the truck and Trisha stood next to the truck. Hunt came up behind Trisha and hit her in the head with the bat. The blow did not render Trisha unconscious, so Stemple took the bat and hit her several more times. Stemple and Hunt then placed Trisha’s head in front of the front tire of the pickup and attempted to run over her head, however, the tire would not roll over Trisha’s head so her head was pushed along the pavement. After this, Trisha tried to get up. Stemple grabbed the bat and hit her several more times. The pair then placed Trisha’s body under the truck and drove over her chest. After this Trisha rose up on her elbows, so Stemple hit her again several times with the bat. Stemple then went back to the black Nissan and drilled a hole in the front tire to make it look as if Trisha’s car had a flat. One expert testified that the hole in the tire had spiral striations consistent with drilling. Stemple and Hunt left in the pickup, but decided to turn around to make sure Trisha was dead. When they got back to the spot where they left Trisha, they noticed that she had crawled into the grass beside the road. Stemple then sped up and ran over Trisha as she lay in the grass. Trisha’s body was found later that morning, after Stemple called reporting that she was missing. The autopsy evaluation revealed that Trisha had fractures to her arm, ribs, pelvis, vertebrae and skull. The medical examiner concluded that Trisha died from blunt force trauma to the head. While in the Tulsa County jail awaiting trial, Stemple made numerous notes including confessions, lists of witnesses, etc. Inmates testified that Stemple tried to get them to arrange the death of several witnesses. The inmates also testified that Stemple gave them a copy of his confession. Included in these writings were sample letters for witnesses Terry Hunt and Dani Wood, detailing their involvement and exculpating him from the crime. Hunt and Wood were to be coerced into rewriting and signing the letters by persons hired by the other inmates. Stemple claimed that he was at home when Trisha left during the middle of the night. Stemple testified that he believed that Wood was responsible for the murder of Trisha. Additionally, the prosecutor introduced a five-minute long videotape of an interview Tulsa police officers conducted with Stemple prior to his arrest, during which Stemple stated that he knew “how ugly this looks for me,” summarized the evidence which he believed the police would use against him, and eventually invoked his right to counsel. Ultimately, the jury convicted Stemple on all three counts. During the separate penalty-phase proceeding, the jury found the existence of two aggravating circumstances: (1) Stemple committed the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration; and (2) the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel. The jury therefore recommended that Stemple be sentenced to death on the murder conviction. The trial court sentenced him in accordance with the jury’s recommendations. Hunt pled guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
March 18, 2012 South Dakota Chester Allan Poage Briley Piper stayed
Chester Poage, murder victimOn March 12 -13, 2000, Briley Piper and two others, Elijah Page and Darrell Hoadley, kidnapped and killed Chester Allan Poage so that they could steal property from the home Poage lived in with his mother and sister in Spearfish, South Dakota. Piper, Page and Hoadley, all of whom were friends with each other and with Poage, met up with Poage at approximately 8:00 p.m. on March 12, 2000. Piper had informed another friend that Poage would give him a ride to the Job Corps facilities. Poage complied with the request for the ride, and he, along with Piper, Page and Hoadley, picked the friend up and dropped him off at Job Corps. The remaining four then went to Poage’s house and played PlayStation games. Poage’s mother and sister were on vacation in Florida at this time. While there, Piper, Page and Hoadley convinced Poage to leave his house, and the four left in Poage’s 1997 Chevrolet Blazer. Testimony as to the origin of the plot to kill Poage and steal his property varies. It is unclear whether all three of the assailants planned on stealing items in the house so they could buy LSD, or whether Piper pulled Page outside to inform him he was going to steal stereo equipment from Poage’s vehicle. It is also unclear whether they initially planned to kill Poage, or just beat him up. However, it is clear that the initial discussions as to killing Poage were limited to Piper and Page, and only after it was decided to kill him was Hoadley informed of the plan. All four ended up at the house in which Piper, Page and Hoadley had been staying. Once there, Page exposed a.22 caliber pistol, which he had stolen from Poage’s mother’s room at the Poage residence, and ordered Poage to get on the floor. Once Poage was on the floor, Piper kicked him in the face, knocking him unconscious. While Poage was unconscious, he was tied up with a cord and sat upright in a chair. After he regained consciousness, Piper laid a tire iron across his feet to prevent him from moving, while Page made him drink a mixture containing crushed pills, beer and hydrochloric acid. During this time, Poage begged for an explanation as to why his alleged friends were doing this. In response, Page hit him in the face and told him to “shut up.” While Piper and Page discussed their plan to kill Poage, which included slitting the victim’s throat, Poage pleaded for his life and offered to give them everything he owned in exchange for his release. At this point, Page asked Poage for the personal identification number for his ATM card, and Poage gave it to him. Next, the group escorted Poage to his own vehicle, placed him in the back seat and threatened his life if he attempted to escape. Piper got in the driver’s seat. The group stopped at a gas station, and then Piper drove the group to Higgins Gulch in the Black Hills, a wooded area about seven miles away from the house where Piper, Page, and Hoadley had been staying. Upon arriving at Higgins Gulch, the group forced Poage out of his vehicle into twelve-inch deep snow. Poage was forced by Piper and Page to take off all of his clothes, except his tank-top style undershirt, shoes, and socks in temperatures of about twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit. The three young men then took Poage’s wallet. Thereafter, the three tried holding Poage down and covering him up with snow. Poage was then escorted to an icy creek, just over fifty feet from the road they had driven on to reach the gulch. Page and Piper admitted kicking him numerous times in various parts of his body and head. Page said he kicked Poage in the head so many times it "made his own foot sore." At one point in the 3-hour attack, Poage did try to escape, but upon Piper’s urging, Page recaptured him and continued to beat his near-naked body in the freezing temperatures. Poage was also made to lie in the icy creek water for a lengthy period of time. Piper later stated he had kicked Poage at the gulch a couple of times in the body and a couple of times in the head. Throughout the beatings, Piper laughed and said things like “Ohh… like that would suck” and “Ah, that’s got to hurt.” At one point, Poage asked to be let into his vehicle to warm himself. The record indicates that Poage said he preferred to bleed to death in the warmth rather than freeze to death in the cold. Piper agreed to grant his request, so long as he washed the blood off of his body in the creek. After rinsing in the icy waters, Piper refused to let him warm himself in the vehicle. Instead, they continued beating and taunting Poage. Next, Poage was dragged back into the creek, where Piper and the others attempted to drown the victim. The co-defendants’ stories diverge somewhat on the final fate of Poage. One witness stated that Piper admitted standing on Poage’s neck to help Hoadley drown him, then Piper stabbed him twice or more — once by the ear and then under the chin. Piper’s brief contends he did not participate in the drowning attempts or stabbings, but instead that he went back to Poage’s vehicle. After the drowning attempts, stabbings, beatings and stoning, Poage was still moving. According to Piper, Hoadley threw the final basketball-sized rock that killed Poage, but at that point Piper was not there to personally witness this act. Both Page and Hoadley admitted they jointly dropped large rocks on Poage’s head, actions which they believed finally killed him. Approximately four hours after the three kidnapped Poage, and about three hours after the beatings began at the gulch, Poage was left for dead in the creek. Piper drove the three away from the secluded area in Poage’s vehicle, and they proceeded to discuss how they would divide Poage’s property. They went to Poage’s house and stole numerous items. The group then drove to Hannibal, Missouri, together. There, they visited Piper’s sister, but upon her refusal to let them stay, they headed back to South Dakota. The group returned to Rapid City, South Dakota, using Poage’s ATM card for cash and pawning some of Poage’s property throughout the trip. Records from Poage’s bank show the ATM card was used six times in various locations in South Dakota and Nebraska. Some of Poage’s property was later found at pawnshops in Wyoming and Missouri. When the trio returned to Spearfish, Hoadley’s juvenile girlfriend testified that she saw the three unpack the stolen PlayStation, video games and many other items from Poage’s house. She also testified that Piper confessed the murder to her in detail. She said Piper laughed about the killing as he told her about it, “and thought it was just like a really cool neat thing.” Another friend of Piper’s testified that Piper confessed to him as well and confirmed the nonchalant attitude, stating, Piper acted “a bit cocky” while telling the story of the beatings. Eventually, the three went their own ways. Piper ultimately ended up in his home state of Alaska. On April 22, 2000, over a month after the three left Poage for dead, a woman who owned land near Higgins Gulch spotted what was later determined to be Poage’s remains in the creek. His body was found, clad in a sleeveless t-shirt, socks and shoes. A forensic pathologist from the Clinical Laboratory in Rapid City performed an autopsy on the body. He discovered numerous head injuries and stab wounds. Some examples of the head injuries inflicted included: a stab wound that nearly severed the jugular vein, another stab wound through the skull and into the brain, and a complex, spider-web shaped skull fracture that measured five inches. Poage’s ears were almost torn off from being kicked repeatedly. He determined the cause of death was the “stab wounds and the blunt force injury to the head.” After the body was discovered, Piper became a suspect. Law enforcement from South Dakota tracked him down in Alaska, questioned him and arrested him for first degree murder. While still in Alaska, he gave a detailed statement describing Poage’s murder and his participation in it to South Dakota law enforcement. He was subsequently extradited to South Dakota. Piper was then jailed in Lawrence County, South Dakota. He later pleaded guilty to, and was convicted of, first degree felony murder; kidnapping; robbery in the first degree; burglary in the first degree; and grand theft. The circuit court ruled that the death penalty would be imposed for the first degree murder conviction. Thereafter, co-defendant Page, who had been arrested in Texas, also pleaded guilty to the same charges, and after an extensive sentencing hearing, he was also sentenced to death by the same judge. Hoadley then stood trial in front of a jury on the same charges. He was found guilty of the same charges but the jury sentenced him to life in prison. "The sheer brutality of this crime places it among the worst of the worst," assistant attorney general Sherri Sundem Wald stated in written arguments to the high court. Piper was enthralled when describing the abduction and slaying to fellow jail inmates after he was arrested, deputy attorney general Craig Eichstadt said. Piper feigned remorse only when he felt it would result in a more lenient sentence, the deputy attorney general said. While waiting to learn his fate, Piper tried to recruit inmates to help him kill a guard and break out of jail. Assistant attorney general Gary Campbell said said Page was a merciless killer who inflicted the greatest punishment on Poage. "We’re not talking about a passive follower here." Elijah Page was executed in July of 2007 after dropping his appeals.
Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
March 20, 2012 Mississippi Rhonda Hatten Griffis, 28 Larry Puckett executed
A jury in Mississippi convicted Larry Matthew Puckett of the capital murder of Rhonda Hatten Griffis. On the day of the murder, Rhonda’s husband, David, and their two children made several trips to the home of a neighbor to gather straw for David’s business. While they were gone, Rhonda’s mother, Nancy Hatten, who lived on the same property as Rhonda and David in a house about 150 feet from their trailer, heard a scream and a “thud” coming from the trailer. She went inside to call Rhonda, but got no answer. As she was walking to Rhonda’s trailer, she saw David and their two children pulling into the driveway. Nancy Hatten testified that when she walked into the trailer, Matt Puckett raised a club and started walking toward her. The club was admitted into evidence at trial and identified by one of Puckett’s former employers as the handle from a broken maul that he had seen in Puckett’s truck. After David and the children came through the door, Nancy took the children to her house and dialed 911. She reported that there was an intruder in her daughter’s home and that she had left her son-in-law with him. After Nancy left, David asked Puckett why he was in the house. Puckett said that he had hit a deer on the road and had come for help and to use the telephone. David called for Rhonda, but she did not answer. Puckett told him that she had gone to Nancy’s house. David then called 911, and told the dispatcher that there was an intruder in his house, identifying the intruder as Puckett. David saw that Puckett had a club in his hand that had blood and “white stuff” on it. When David asked him about it, Puckett said the blood was from the deer. Puckett and David started struggling, and David got the club from Puckett, swinging it and hitting Puckett on the shoulder. While Puckett ran away, David went to the back of the trailer to look for a gun. He saw Rhonda on the floor with extensive injuries. She lay in a large pool of blood near the couch, bleeding with several gashes on her head, back, chest and neck and also had several defensive wounds on her hands, arms and elbows. Puckett offered a different recount of the events that day. He claimed that he went to the house to get money for his truck note. According to Puckett, he and Rhonda had a sexual encounter the previous spring, but it had never occurred again, and they had not communicated since. When he knocked on Rhonda’s door, she let him in and led him into the den. Rhonda told him it would be an hour and a half before David returned. Puckett claimed that Rhonda then let him act out a fantasy in which he undressed her while he remained clothed. After he undressed Rhonda, she saw her mother coming. When Rhonda saw her mother walking toward the trailer, she grabbed her clothes, ran into the other room, and told Puckett to get rid of her mother. Puckett admitted he used the club to scare Nancy. He testified that David walked in, realized what Puckett and Rhonda were doing, and began hitting Rhonda with the club, after which he removed her clothes. He alleged that David threatened that he would hurt Puckett’s family if he ever said anything about the incident and hit Puckett with the club as he was leaving. Puckett evaded police for two days. The clothing he was wearing when he was captured tested negative for human blood. There was no evidence of semen on Rhonda’s body, and none of the hairs collected from Rhonda’s body and the carpet where she was found matched Puckett’s. Puckett had injuries consistent with being hit on the shoulder with a club. Testimony presented at trial established that, when Puckett was apprehended but before he was given his Miranda warning, he commented, “This is a lot of law enforcement for somebody who just committed a burglary.” Puckett was later given a Miranda warning, after which he made a similar comment and then refused to make any further statement. Later that evening, after a second Miranda warning, Puckett described how he had evaded law enforcement for two days. He then added that he did not kill anyone, but had gone into the trailer to get money to pay a truck note. At trial, although he denied saying that he was there to burglarize the Griffises, he admitted saying that he had gone there to get money. On cross-examination, the state questioned Puckett at length about why, if he was innocent, he hid for two days instead of reporting the murder immediately. For example, the state said, “And you didn’t go to anybody nowhere on this earth and say, ‘Look, I want to tell you something; I just witnessed David Griffis beat his wife to death.’ You didn’t do that, did you?” After being asked several times, Puckett finally responded that he was afraid and trying to hide from David. The state then questioned him on his pre-Miranda statement that he had committed a burglary. Later, the state asked Puckett why he did not mention the murder when he was arrested and there were policemen to protect him from David. He explained that he did not tell the police then because his mother had told him not to say anything. Finally, the state asked him about his silence, emphasizing the fact that he had waited at least a month before telling anyone, and that he had first told his lawyer rather than the police. After hearing the evidence, the jury convicted Puckett of capital murder and sentenced him to death. Nancy Hatten described her daughter as a woman who deeply loved her husband and children and stayed busy taking care of them. An only child, Rhonda was nearly finished with college when she became pregnant and dropped out to make a home. She hoped someday to finish her degree in social work at the University of Southern Mississippi. "She loved us and helped us and did what she could do for us," Nancy Hatten said. "She was always a joy to us." UPDATE: Cecil and Nancy Hatten witnessed the execution of Matt Puckett for the murder of their daughter, Rhonda. "Today we witnessed the result of a choice made by Matt Puckett," said Nancy Hatten following the execution. "If he had chosen to live as a law-abiding citizen rather than choosing to murder our daughter – our only child – who was a wife and mother, we would not be here today. Nothing will ever fill that void," Nancy Hatten said of the death of her 28-year-old daughter. "It will always be in our lives, the void that Matt caused. There will be closure to this on the side of justice, but there will never be closure for us for our daughter as part of our lives." Nancy Hatten also said, "I know for a fact that he murdered Rhonda. You might ask, how do you know for a fact? I happened to be there. He knew he murdered her. He also knew the serious penalty for murder. He still committed murder, therefore accepting the penalty." She said Puckett’s decision not only caused her family great grief, but his own. "Our daughter was murdered in such a horrendous way, and it is so difficult to comprehend that anyone would ever or could ever do that to her, but we do know she is no longer suffering, that she is at peace and one day we will be with her again," Nancy Hatten said.
Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
March 22, 2012 Mississippi Patty Milliken William Mitchell executed
The last time that Patty Milliken was seen alive was at the conclusion of her shift at 8:00 p.m., November 21, 1995, at the Majik Mart on Popps Ferry Road in Biloxi, Mississippi. She told her co-worker, James Leland Hartley, that she was going outside to smoke and talk to William Gerald Mitchell and that she would return shortly. Before following Mitchell outside, she telephoned her son, telling him she would be home in approximately fifteen minutes. She also left her keys in the safe to initiate a 10-minute time-released unlock and her purse and other personal items on the counter. Patty Milliken’s body was found the following morning under a bridge. She had been beaten, strangled, sexually assaulted, crushed by being driven over, and mutilated. The record shows that on November 21, 1995, Hartley saw Mitchell enter the store three separate times to visit Milliken while she was working her shift. Hartley overheard Milliken refer to Mitchell by the name of "Jerry." At the end of Milliken’s shift that evening, around 8:00 p.m., Milliken and Hartley realized that they had forgotten to document the amount of cash they had placed in the safe that night. Milliken opened the safe and telephoned her son that she would be home in fifteen minutes. At approximately 8:05 p.m. Milliken decided to walk out of the store with Mitchell and told Hartley that "she’d be outside smoking a cigarette if [Hartley] needed her and that she’d be right back." Milliken left her keys in the lock on the safe, cigarettes and lighter on one counter, and her purse on another counter. Hartley testified that it was odd for Milliken to go outside to smoke because employees were authorized to smoke inside the store. Ten minutes after Milliken had gone outside, Hartley walked outside to ask her a question, but she was not there. Her belongings were still inside the store, and her car remained in the parking lot. Hartley telephoned Milliken’s home and learned that she had not been in contact with her family. When Milliken had still not returned by 10:00 p.m., Hartley telephoned the police. When the police arrived, Hartley gave them Milliken’s purse and showed them where she had written Jerry’s phone number. The police cross-referenced the telephone number to a physical address, and proceeded to the house on Croesus Street. The police arrived at the residence at approximately midnight. Officers Matory and Doucet went to the front door, and Officer McKaig "was on the right side of the house approaching the rear." McKaig saw Mitchell, and Mitchell asked, "Who’s that?" McKaig identified himself as a police officer and explained that he wanted to speak to him. Mitchell ran, and a pursuit on foot followed. Captain Anderson responded to assist with the foot pursuit. Captain Patterson, arriving to assist with the foot pursuit, spoke with Booker Gatlin, Mitchell’s grandfather and owner of the residence on Croesus Street. Gatlin indicated that "Jerry" was William Gerald Mitchell, and that he drove a blue Grand Am. When the foot pursuit proved unsuccessful, the Biloxi Police Department issued a be-on-the-lookout ("BOLO") for Mitchell and his vehicle. Shortly thereafter, an officer spotted Mitchell getting gas at a Shell station located on U.S. Highway 90. When Mitchell noticed the police car, he threw down the gas nozzle he was using and sped away in his vehicle. Patrolman Sonnier took part in the pursuit of Mitchell. That evening he had a television camera crew riding with him, and they were able to film most of the pursuit. Sonnier testified that Mitchell was the driver of the vehicle and that Curtis Pearson was his passenger. The high-speed chase ended in Mitchell being arrested for various traffic violations. Mitchell’s passenger, Pearson, testified that, during the chase, Mitchell stated 2-3 times that he "got that bitch." Officer Heard of the Biloxi Police Department discovered the mutilated, almost naked body of Patty Milliken under the Popps Ferry Bridge at 7:14 a.m. the following morning. Officer Robert Burriss arrived at the scene at approximately 7:30 a.m., and worked the scene until 2:00 p.m. Burriss testified that he found Patty’s body on its back. She had part of a shirt sleeve around her right arm and part of her bra around her left arm, with only a pair of white socks clothing her body. Her body was bruised and scraped, and her head was "burst open" with the brains "spilling out of the skull, scattered about on the yard, and there was also some of the brain matter stuck on her back." There were "numerous" tire tracks "back and forth all over that area;" tracks that were similar to the ones found on Milliken’s body. Testing would ultimately show that the tire casts from the area matched three of the four tires on Mitchell’s car with regard to tread design, size and "overall width." Later that day, pursuant to a search warrant, Burriss also collected evidence from Mitchell’s car. Burriss made a diagram of the car indicating where he found "various pieces of blood and hair on the automobile." Burriss found hair and blood on the passenger door; blood underneath the fender and body of the car, as well as on the catalytic converter; and blood spatters in three of the wheel wells. Patty’s broken lower dentures were also found in Mitchell’s car. After Mitchell’s arrest for traffic violations, he was taken to the Biloxi Police Department. Mitchell was initially interviewed by Sergeant Torbert and Investigator Thompson. Later, Officers Newman and Peterson interviewed Mitchell at 1:07 p.m. on November 22, 1995, the same day Patty Milliken’s body was found. At the time of this second interview, Mitchell had not been arrested or charged with murder, but was in custody for the traffic violations. Mitchell said that he was the only one to use his vehicle that night. Mitchell claimed that Patty was alive when he left her, though he did admit that he had hit her hard enough in the nose that "blood just flew everywhere." A redacted version of Mitchell’s second interview was admitted during the trial. The tape was edited and redacted at the point before Mitchell made any statement that he killed or was responsible for the death of Patty Milliken. After Mitchell’s second interview, Mitchell was booked on the charge of murder and transported to the Harrison County Jail. Prior to his transfer, a suspect rape kit was performed on Mitchell at the Biloxi Regional Medical Center. Later, search warrants were secured and executed on Mitchell, Mitchell’s car, and Mitchell’s residence at 323 Croesus Street in Biloxi. Dr. Paul McGarry performed the autopsy on Patty Milliken’s body. According to McGarry, Patty was strangled, beaten, sexually assaulted, and repeatedly run over by a vehicle. McGarry stated that the damage to the larynx cartilages and hemorrhagic airway proved that she had been strangled. There were also semicircular marks from her attacker’s fingernails on her neck. She was beaten to the point that her lower denture was broken and expelled. Her face was swollen and purple which "would evidence that hard blows had been delivered to the head." Analysis of the genital area displayed "the kind of injuries that are produced by stretching and tearing of the delicate lining of the vagina" which McGarry "interpreted as forceful penetration enough to damage the tissue and tear and rub off surfaces of the tissue, to stretch the opening. The anus was even more so damaged." McGarry confirmed that Patty Milliken’s sexual injuries occurred while she was still alive. McGarry also testified to finding five tire tracks across the victim’s body. According to McGarry, Patty Milliken apparently lived long enough to experience the crushing injuries that ruptured her kidney, liver, and spleen; broke almost every rib; broke her spine; broke her collarbone; and, tore open her lungs and heart vessels. Patty Milliken was killed when her "brain [was] blown out by crushing and squashed out." The brain was expelled up to four feet from an opening at the top of her head measuring eight inches in diameter. At the time of Patty’s savage murder, Mitchell had been paroled for approximately eleven months from a sentence of life in prison for murder.
Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
March 28, 2012 Texas Karlos Leverett, 10 mos Jesse Hernandez executed
Misty Leverett and her children, Karlos, 10 months old and Melodi, 4, were living with Jesse Joe Hernandez, his wife Mary Rojas, their young son, Joshua, and Gilbert Gomez. On the day of the assaults, Leverett went to work and left the children in the care of Hernandez and Rojas. Rojas testified that after Leverett left for work around noon, she stayed home with the children while Hernandez and Gomez left to run errands. When Hernandez and Gomez returned about two hours later, Rojas left for her sister-in-law’s house and was gone approximately thirty to forty-five minutes. Rojas testified that when she got home, she heard Hernandez screaming at Joshua. She picked him up and took him to the room she shared with Hernandez. Rojas asked where Karlos and Melodi were, and Hernandez replied that they were sleeping in the next room. Rojas then went into her room and relaxed with Joshua. Later, when she heard Hernandez preparing a bottle, she told Hernandez she was going to go into the room where Karlos and Melodi where sleeping. Hernandez instructed Rojas not to enter the room for fear she would wake them up. Despite having seen blood stains on Hernandez’s shirt, Rojas waited until Leverett got home from work to check on the children. Levertt testified that when she arrived home, she went into the dark room she shared with the children and found Melodi complaining that her head hurt. Rojas and Leverett took Melodi out into the kitchen and saw that her head was swollen with “red splotches." Alarmed, Leverett decided to take Melodi to the hospital. After they left, Rojas checked on Karlos and noticed his lips were swollen. She determined Karlos was badly hurt and took Karlos and Joshua down the street to her sister-in-law’s house to call an ambulance. When Leverett and Melodi arrived at the hospital, hospital workers asked Leverett if she had any other children. When she replied that she did, the hospital workers instructed her to return home and get her son immediately. Leverett testified that when she returned home, Hernandez was alone and he told her that Karlos was at his sister’s house. Leverett asked Hernandez to take her there but he refused. Moments later, police arrived and informed Leverett that Karlos had been rushed to Children’s Hospital by ambulance where he later died. When police began investigating the assault on Karlos, they went to Hernandez’s home and discovered that Hernandez had some outstanding warrants, arrested him, and transported him to the police station. While there, Detective Warren Breedlove spoke with Hernandez to obtain some general information and inquire about the injuries to the children. Hernandez gave an affidavit denying any knowledge of what happened to Karlos and Melodi and was later transported to the county jail. After police spoke with Karlos’ doctor and with Melodi, Hernandez became a suspect in the assaults. Breedlove met with Hernandez, read him his Miranda warnings and began an interview. Over approximately an hour and a half, Hernandez repeatedly admitted and then denied striking the children. Breedlove asked Hernandez about a flashlight found at the scene and Hernandez admitted he may have hit Karlos with the flashlight. Detective Lesher took over the interview after Hernandez became upset with Breedlove….Lesher asked Hernandez to make a written, voluntary statement. After speaking with his wife and using the restroom, Hernandez agreed. In his statement, Hernandez admitted hitting Karlos and Melodi because they cried for no reason, because he was upset over recently losing his grandmother, and because he had a bad day with his wife. Hernandez stated in his voluntary written statement that he was babysitting Melodi and Karlos and “they were being very bad by crying a lot for nothing.” Hernandez continued that he “just exploded and hit them with the back of my hand not realizing I was hurting them.” He added that he was sorry for hitting them.
Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
March 29, 2012 Alabama Eloise West
Troy "Junior" Wicker, 35
Tommy Arthur stayed
In 1977, Thomas Douglas Arthur was charged with murder and assault with intent to murder after the Marion County shooting earlier that year of Eloise West and Charlotte Harbin. Eloise, the sister of Arthur’s common-law wife, Shirley Dodd, was shot once in the right eye and killed. Charlotte Harbin, a cousin, was injured by a single shot that struck her left arm and side. The shooting occurred at a mobile home supply company in Bear Creek. Authorities said Arthur walked into the building and shot the women while searching for his estranged wife. The women refused to call his wife, so Arthur pulled guns from each pocket and started shooting. Arthur initially would plead not guilty by reason of insanity. He later changed that plea to guilty on what would have been the first day of his trial. He was sentenced to life in prison. By 1982, he was in a Decatur work release center. Arthur was sentenced to death in February of 1982 for killing 35-year-old Troy Wicker of Muscle Shoals. Troy’s wife, Judy Wicker, testified that she began a sexual relationship with Arthur after he committed to killing her husband and that she paid him $10,000. Tommy Arthur, who was serving time for murdering a woman in 1977 in Marion County, shot Troy Wicker in the face as he lay in bed on February 1st, 1982. Earlier at her own trial, Wicker testified that a man burglarizing her home raped her, knocked her unconscious and then shot her husband. She was convicted as an accomplice and was released after serving 10 years of a life sentence. Arthur has been sentenced to death in this case three times. The custodian of records at the Decatur Work Release Center where Arthur resided testified that on February 1, 1982, Arthur had signed out for work at 6:00 a.m., and that at 7:10 in the evening Arthur had called for a ride back to the center, and that Arthur returned to the center at 7:50 p.m. As a part of his work release program, Arthur was assigned to work for at Reagan Mobile Homes. Joel Reagan, an old acquaintance of Arthur’s, admitted that he did not keep track of Arthur’s daily whereabouts, and “did not know Arthur’s whereabouts on the day of the murder.” Patricia Green testified that Arthur frequented a local bar called Cher’s Lounge “four or five times a week,” sometimes in the company of Joel Reagan, where she worked part-time as a bartender. Debra Phillips, the operator of Cher’s Lounge, likewise testified that Arthur came to the bar four to five times a week. Phillips and Arthur had a romantic relationship and even discussed the possibility of marriage. Pat Halliday, a shift supervisor at the Decatur Work Release Center in 1982, “testified there was a discrepancy between the number of hours Arthur was away from the center and the number of hours he was actually paid for working in February and March of 1982.” On the afternoon before the day of the murder, Arthur, while at Cher’s Lounge, took Patricia Green into the kitchen to speak with her out of hearing range of other bar patrons. At Arthur’s request, Green sent a friend across the street to purchase.22 caliber mini magnum long rifle bullets. After Green’s friend purchased the bullets and brought them back to her, Green gave them to Arthur. Brent Wheeler, an expert in firearm identification, testified that the bullet removed from the victim’s body was a.22 caliber long rifle consistent with a CCI brand bullet. The four shell casings found near the body were CCI brand.22 long or long rifle casings. As the federal district court that addressed Arthur’s habeas petition correctly stated, the above evidence tended to show that “Arthur had the opportunity and means to kill Troy Wicker.” Furthermore, other evidence corroborated Judy Wicker’s testimony. Joel Reagan saw Judy Wicker and Arthur together at the mobile home business. Judy Wicker stated that, on the morning of the murder, she took her sons to school, drove back and forth on Avalon Avenue a couple of times and then picked Arthur up at the airport. This testimony was consistent with the testimony of Sergeant Eddie Lang, a Muscle Shoals police officer who was serving as a school crossing guard on Avalon Avenue that morning. Lang observed Judy Wicker twice pass by the crossing before 8:00 a.m., when he left his post. Judy also testified that Arthur wore an Afro wig and makeup to disguise himself as a black man. Joseph Wallace, an evidence technician with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, removed an Afro wig from the car that Arthur used to make his getaway. Judy testified that Arthur shot Troy Wicker one time and ransacked the house. Mr. Wallace, the evidence technician, testified that he found the Wicker home in disarray. Dr. Josefino Aguilar, a forensic pathologist, testified that the autopsy performed revealed that the victim had been shot one time. Judy testified that on the day of the murder Arthur was carrying a gun and a garbage bag. Debra Phillips testified that Arthur was supposed to meet her for lunch on the day of the murder, but he was late and, instead of going to lunch, they rode to a bridge over the Tennessee River where Arthur stopped the car and threw a garbage bag, that was half-full and bulky and wrapped in a sheet, into the river. As he disposed of the garbage bag, Arthur said he was “trying to get rid of some old memories.” Consistent with Judy Wicker’s testimony that Arthur was paid $10,000 for murdering her husband, Arthur had a large amount of money in his possession after the murder. Pat Halliday, an employee with the Decatur Work Release Center, testified that Arthur was transferred to the Morgan County Jail after the discovery of the discrepancy between the number of hours he was away from the center and the number of hours he was actually paid for working. Upon routine inspection of his effects before the transfer, twenty one hundred dollar bills were discovered in an envelope in Arthur’s overcoat pocket. Arthur was his own lead counsel at his trial, but was also represented by Harold Walden, and Walden’s son served as stand-by counsel. Arthur conducted the majority of voir dire questioning, examination of witnesses, argument to the jury, and argument to the court. In fact, Arthur cross-examined virtually every one of the prosecution’s 13 witnesses, often at length. Arthur presented four witnesses in his defense. Bruce Coan, a police detective, testified about his observations of the crime scene. Two of Arthur’s four witnesses were called in an apparent attempt to offer an explanation of how, as a prisoner, he came to possess $2100. Bruce Carroll, a friend and fellow inmate, testified that he lost $6500 to Arthur in a poker game. Gene Moon, who resided in the Cullman County Jail at the time of his testimony, said that another inmate gave him an envelope with $2000 in it and that Moon put it in Arthur’s coat. The fourth and final witness, Ronald Spears, an inmate at West Jefferson prison, stated that Patricia Green told him that the police were forcing her to lie about Arthur asking her to buy some bullets for him. The record also reveals that Arthur was searching for witnesses to provide him with an alibi. During cross-examination of Joel Reagan, Arthur asked: “…Do you remember Larry Whitman telling you that he saw me the morning that Mr. Wicker was murdered over in Muscle Shoals?” There are no references in the trial record to either Alphonso High or Ray Melson, the two individuals (of which more later) who signed affidavits filed in the federal district court stating they talked to Arthur around the same time Troy Wicker was being murdered, having seen Arthur on the day of the murder. At the penalty phase, the lawyer who assisted Arthur, Harold Walden, argued that the jury should recommend a sentence of life without parole because of several mitigating factors. First, Walden argued that Arthur had been a model prisoner and had spoken to high school groups as a part of correctional programs to deter young people from committing crimes. Walden also argued that Arthur’s punishment was disproportionate in relation to the other persons that had involvement in Troy Wicker’s murder. He told the jury that Judy Wicker, who was just as culpable as Arthur, was soon to be released from prison and that Rowland and McKinney had never been prosecuted for their roles. Arthur followed Walden and argued to the jury that he should be sentenced to death. Arthur said that Walden was morally opposed to the death penalty and urged the jury to disregard Walden’s argument. Arthur told the jury that he didn’t have a death wish; in fact, he said “I wouldn’t dare ask you for it if I thought for a minute that I would be executed.” Arthur argued that a death sentence would allow him to have more visitations from his children, and to have more privacy in his death row cell as opposed to living in general population, and would allow him to have more control over his appeals. Arthur told the jury that he had already managed to overturn his capital murder conviction on two previous occasions and that, if the jury sentenced him to death, he would be in a better position to overturn his latest capital murder conviction. In 1986, while waiting for a retrial on an earlier successful appeal, Arthur broke out of the Colbert County Jail, shooting a jailer in the neck in the process. The event caused one of his former attorneys to go into hiding, fearing Arthur might come looking for him. Arthur fled to Knoxville, Tenn., where he would mastermind a bank robbery in which he made off with more than $9,000. That scheme included the abduction of a 56-year-old woman while stealing her vehicle. Arthur was captured outside a hotel in Knoxville, wearing an all-white suit as he was getting into another car that had been reported stolen, authorities said. He was found guilty of the robbery in Tennessee, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. In July 2008, the Alabama Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote stayed Arthur’s scheduled execution after an alleged confession by another inmate surfaced. The court narrowly granted the emergency stay of execution requested by Arthur’s attorney, Suhan Han. Voting for the stay were Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, and justices Champ Lyons, Tom Woodall, Patricia M. Smith, and Glenn Murdock. Dissenting were Justices Harold See, Lyn Stuart, Michael Bolin and Tom Parker. Arthur was scheduled to die on July 31, 2008 but an inmate in St. Clair prison said that he, not Arthur, killed Wicker over 25 years ago. In an affidavit, inmate Bobby Gilbert said, "I used a.22 sawed-off rifle and shot him in the face." He added, "She paid me $2,000 for killing her husband." Judy Wicker sent her own affidavit saying, "None of Gilbert’s allegations are true. I do not know anyone named Bobby Gilbert." Wicker was sentenced to life in prison and released on parole after 10 years. The new allegations were presented in a hearing in Birmingham. Gilbert testified the confession was true, but when asked more questions he pleaded the Fifth. He would not answer any specifics about the murder. Gilbert is serving a life sentence for an unrelated murder conviction. UPDATE: A federal appeals court has granted a stay for Tommy Arthur while he challenges the state’s execution protocol. Alabama Attorney General Troy King said, "Sometimes, doesn’t the continued delay of justice result in the denial of justice for the victims? In so many ways, this is indicative of a system that is not perfect. The system promises they are going to give them justice. But the victims and their families continue to wait and wait and wait for justice and become victims of the system. They become jaded and victims all over again. Twenty-five years is too long to wait for justice to be done, especially in a case as cold-blooded and calculated as this. This just magnifies a system out of balance." He said someone should remain on death row for as long as it takes to be certain of their guilt. Three juries have done so, and that should suffice, King said. "A person shouldn’t be allowed to manipulate the system and prolong victims’ agony," he said. "In my judgment, the time has come to deliver justice in this case."

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