Archive | death penalty

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Penalty Blocks

United States v. Jacques, No. 11-2142-cr (2d Cir. July 9, 2012) (Winter, Chin, Droney, CJJ)

In this capital case, the district court entered an order excluding some evidence that the government intended to offer at the penalty phase. On this, the government’s interlocutory appeal, the circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part.


Michael Jacques was charged with the kidnaping, rape and murder of a young girl. In the death notice, the government included aggravating factors that it would seek to prove at the penalty phase: allegations of prior rapes, and an attempt to obstruct justice by influencing the testimony of a victim/witness. The district court permitted evidence of two of the prior rapes – one of a juvenile and one of an adult – but struck three of the prior rape allegations, all of which involved juveniles (J2, J3 and J4), finding that the conduct was …

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Categories: death penalty, Sixth Amendment, Uncategorized

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Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Penalty Phase Two

United States v. Wilson, No. 07-1320-cr (2d Cir. June 30, 2010) (Jacobs, Miner, Livingston, CJJ)

An Eastern District jury convicted Ronell Wilson of capital crimes for the murder of two NYPD detectives during a botched undercover gun buy; it also unanimously voted to sentence him to death. On appeal, a divided panel vacated the death sentence and remanded the case to the district court for a new penalty phase.

The majority identified two errors that occurred during the penalty phase, both relating to Wilson’s statement of remorse, which he was permitted to read to the jury without being subject to cross-examination.

First, the prosecutor argued that Wilson had not until “last week” accepted responsibility for his offense; while he had “an absolute right to go to trial,” he could not “have it both ways” – go to trial and then “say I’m sorry only after you prove I did it.” …

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Categories: death penalty, Uncategorized

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Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Lethal Rejection

United States v. Fell, No. 06-2882-cr (2d Cir. June 27, 2008) (Walker, Cabranes, Parker, CJJ)

Donald Fell was not having a good day. During a card game, he killed his mother’s boyfriend, while his buddy, Charles Lee, killed Fell’s mother. Together, they then carjacked a car from a Vermont grocery store, drove to New York, and killed the car’s owner. Eight days later, they were arrested in Arkansas.

After Lee “accidentally[?]” hanged himself in prison, Fell faced a capital trial alone. He did not seriously contest his guilt, and was convicted. After a two-week penalty trial, the jury sentenced him to death, and Judge Sessions imposed that sentence. On appeal, Fell raised a series of challenges to the death sentence, all of which the court of appeals rejected.

Jury Selection

Fell’s primary complaint was that the district court improperly rejected for cause three potential jurors who were in fact qualified …

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Categories: death penalty, Uncategorized

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Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Two For The Price Of One

United States v. Douglas, No. 06-0581-cr (2d Cir. May 13, 2008) (Kearse, Katzmann, CJJ, Rakoff, DJ)

Douglas was convicted of killing a Brink’s employee while attempting to steal money from Citibank ATMS that were serviced by Brink’s. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Douglas had originally been appointed a federal defender. But, once he was indicted on a death-eligible charge, the federal defender requested the appointment of a second attorney, “learned counsel” under 18 U.S.C. § 3005, and the court granted the request. About six months later, the government announced that it would not seek the death penalty, but Douglas asked the court to keep both attorneys on the case. The court rejected the request, but allowed Douglas to choose the attorney he wanted. On appeal, he renewed the claim that he was entitled to two attorneys under 18 U.S.C. § 3005.

The circuit disagreed. The statute, which provides …

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Categories: counsel, death penalty, Uncategorized

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Thursday, February 7th, 2008

Dismembers Only

United States v. Pepin, No. 06-1462-cr (2d Cir. February 6, 2008) (Walker, Calabresi, Sack, CJJ)

Humberto Pepin is awaiting a capital trial in the Eastern District of New York, where he is charged, inter alia, with murdering two individuals who crossed him, in ways real or imagined, in the course of his drug dealing enterprise. In a series of pretrial rulings, Judge Weinstein (1) precluded from the penalty phase evidence that Pepin had abused his girlfriend’s children and (2) precluded from both the guilt and penalty phases evidence that Pepin dismembered his victims after he killed them. The government appealed, and the circuit affirmed on the child abuse, but reversed on the dismemberment.

Child Abuse

Judge Weinstein held primarily that the evidence of the child abuse, a non-statutory aggravator, was not relevant to future dangerousness, the theory relied on by the government in the death notice. The judge reasoned that, …

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Categories: death penalty, evidence, Rule 402, Uncategorized

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