Monday, March 16, 2009

TX Death Sentence Overturned

According to The Daily News, Texas death row inmate Gaylon George Walbey has received a new sentencing hearing from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ("Death-row inmate could get new hearing," March 15, 2009). Here's the full article:

A convicted killer sentenced to die for the 1993 slaying of a college teacher will soon return to Galveston, where attorneys will decide whether to seek a new punishment hearing or permanently remove him from death row.

After 12 years lobbying the courts for his client Gaylon George Walbey Jr., defense attorney Brian Wice won a new punishment hearing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Meanwhile, the National Alliance on Mental Illness continues to lobby against states imposing death-sentences in cases against the mentally ill, a situation that is not unique to Texas, said Ron Honberg, the organization’s legal director.

Walbey, 34, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a child, repeatedly bludgeoned Marionette Beyah — his former foster mother and a Galveston College teacher — inside her island home May 4, 1993, authorities said.

No Supreme Court Review

With the assent of the state’s Office of Solicitor General and Galveston County Criminal District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott decided not to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the appeals court’s decision, said Thomas Kelley, a spokesman for Abbott.

Wice declined to discuss his negotiations with Sistrunk, but said Walbey, who is no longer under a death sentence, would likely return to Galveston soon where a decision on whether to impose a life sentence or hold a new punishment hearing would be forthcoming.

Roger Ezell — who now works for Sistrunk — failed to investigate “a cornucopia of mitigating circumstances about (Walbey’s) horrific upbringing and background that would have led at least one juror to reject a death sentence,” Wice said.

Prosecutors gave Ezell, who defended Walbey, a mass of mitigating material, such as medical records and records from juvenile court, school, child services and health and human services, Wice said.

The records “painted a portrait of Gaylon’s upbringing and background that even the conservative Fifth Circuit described as ‘nightmarish,’” Wice said.

Ezell said a federal judge and lower appellate court upheld the death sentence, but a state district court and federal magistrate ruled in Wice’s favor, ultimately leading to the higher appeals court’s ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court has with previous death-penalty cases raised the question whether mentally ill defendants understand the nature of the death penalty enforced upon them, Honberg said.

Scott Louis Panetti was convicted of capital murder in Texas in the 1992 death of his in-laws, but the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a temporary halt to Panetti’s death sentence and remanded the case for further consideration, saying Panetti was sentenced to die despite a well-documented history of mental illness. Panetti remains on Texas’ death row.

‘Not Unique To Texas’

Panetti represented himself and subpoenaed for his trial Jesus, former President John F. Kennedy and Pope John Paul II, Honberg said.

“This is not unique to Texas,” Honberg said. “We’ve followed cases in Virginia, Georgia, Indiana and other states as well. There are four states, North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana and Kentucky, that have legislation pending or are considering legislation to reduce the application of the death penalty where serious mental illness is involved.”

Brain disorders have a profound impact on a person’s comprehension of reality, Honberg said.

Walbey was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a very young age, although it doesn’t appear that he suffers from it now, Wice said.

Beyah’s Death Remembered

Sistrunk, who tried the case and argued for the death penalty, said he remembered the circumstances surrounding Beyah’s death as if it were yesterday. These cases stay with you, and your victims stay with you, too, Sistrunk said.

“I still remember arguing to the jury how Ms. Beyah was repeatedly beat over the head by the defendant with a fire extinguisher, and that not having killed her, she was then stabbed repeatedly with multiple knives,” Sistrunk said.

One of the knives broke off in Beyah’s back, Sistrunk said.

“The defendant then tried to cut her throat, and that not having killed her, the defendant began choking her with an electrical cord,” Sistrunk said. “Finally he just left her there on the floor of her home, breathing her last breath, as he stepped over her and dug in her purse for her car keys.”

Decision By August

The decision on whether to seek a new punishment hearing for Walbey or to impose a life sentence must be made by mid-August, Sistrunk said.

“We’ve begun our review of the evidence from the first trial and are still awaiting evidence that was offered by defendant’s counsel during the appellate process,” Sistrunk said. “We’ve also contacted the family of Ms. Beyah to begin some discussions on our options at this point.”

Sistrunk could remember only one Galveston County case, that of Santiago Varelas, where a death sentenced was reversed. The case was retried in 2002, and the decision was made not to pursue the death penalty. Varelas was found guilty again and sentenced to life in prison, Sistrunk said.

“Having been personally involved in it and remembering it all, the temptation is to make a quick decision to seek death,” Sistrunk said of Walbey’s case. “But there is no substitute for reviewing everything that is available to us now, and that is what we will be doing over the next few months.”


Connie L. Nash said...

Hi, I don't know where to put this item, so I'll put it here on top. If not appropriate & you need to move somewhere else or leave off, I'll understand. Yet this is surely about prevention.

My co-blogger, Susanne, who live in Germany and works with me on The Journey of Hope blog, just wrote an amazing blog about the recent German tragedy of the school killing. So I wanted some of the readers here to be sure to see it:

KaamilyaWilson said...

I am Ms. Beyah's niece and I don't believe how you let a person of Mr. Wabley stature be even considered to get off of death row and back into society. He doesn’t deserve the opportunity to start life over because my aunt did not have that choice. I remember visiting my aunt in Texas during my childhood years and he never did seem appreciative of the love and the way Ms. Beyah cared for him. I was only blessing he was in her life because if she could of had children of her own, her life would not of end in such a horrible way. I don't understand the justice in lawmaking decisions like this , because if it was one of the law makers' mother , aunt sister or ever a friend they would had seen to it personally the justice would be served appropriately.