Laura and Bill
lkb4003 at labs.tamu.edu
Tue Mar 26 18:02:06 CST 2002
CRITERIA FOR DEATH PENALTY HELD UP FOR SCRUTINY BY SMITH COUNTY LAWYERS
A judge ruled Friday that 9 East Texas district attorneys must appear
in a Smith County courtroom to explain their criteria for seeking the
death penalty in capital murder cases.
9 East Texas district attorneys must appear in a Smith County courtroom
to explain their criteria for seeking the death penalty in capital murder
cases, a judge ruled Friday.
The Smith County District Attorney's Office wants the county's latest
capital murder defendant condemned to Texas's death row, but his lawyers
are questioning the constitutionality of the death penalty.
In a rare move, Gregory Russeau's defense team has subpoenaed 10 district
attorneys and 10 county judges from across East Texas in an effort to
prove the death penalty is arbitrarily sought and inconsistently applied.
Assistant Smith County District Attorney Ed Marty, in a hearing Friday,
accused the defense lawyers of "pestering" and "harassing" elected
officials by forcing them to travel to Tyler with information that is
either irrelevant or can be obtained by the lawyers themselves.
In a compromise, 241st state District Judge Diane DeVasto ruled the county
judges do not have to appear to avoid "unnecessarily disrupting county
She also excluded Cherokee County District Attorney Elmer Beckworth
because the subpoenas are for a Monday court proceeding. Cherokee County's
grand jury meets Monday and the district attorney does not have anyone to
replace him in his absence.
Judge DeVasto quashed parts of the subpoenas that would compel the
officials to bring documents from capital murder cases, written criteria
for seeking capital punishment and census information breaking down their
counties' populations according to race and economic status.
The judge said the information could be ordered by the judge presiding
over Monday's hearing, and the witnesses could provide a time frame of
when it would be available.
State District Judge Louis Gohmert, who is overseeing the Russeau case,
was on vacation this week but is to return for Monday's proceeding.
Referring to the subpoenas as a whole, Marty suggested Judge DeVasto
"quash this frivolous thing," and said it appears Russeau's lawyers want
to "harass public officials."
"We need the elected officials here to ask them, 'when do you seek the
death penalty?,'" argued Clifton Roberson, lead counsel in the Russeau
case. "Without the hearing, we don't know that."
Marty took offense to Roberson's referral to race as a factor in seeking
the death penalty.
"I object to him making that statement as if he knows it's the truth,"
In addition to Smith County District Attorney Jack Skeen Jr., prosecutors
from Wood, Gregg, Harrison, Van Zandt, Upshur, Anderson, Rusk and
Henderson counties are to appear in Gohmert's court Monday.
Russeau, 31, is to go to trial in May for the fatal beating and robbery of
his friend, 75-year-old James Syvertson. He was killed at his auto repair
shop in Flint. Russeau was arrested in Gregg County where he was caught in
the victim's vehicle.
The defendant's attorneys, Roberson and Brandon Baade, want Judge Gohmert
to rule out the death penalty as a possible punishment if Russeau is
convicted. The lawyers claim capital punishment violates the U.S.
Constitution because prosecutors arbitrarily seek the death penalty
according to economic feasibility and other factors.
Roberson wrote the defense motion, alleging state law "fails to provide a
method by which ... the state determines the death worthiness of the
"This failure," Roberson wrote, "eliminates the rationality and
consistency in the decision to seek death and violates the defendant's
right to due process set out in the 14th Amendment ...."
Date: Tue, 26 Mar 2002 14:43:57 -0600 (CST)
From: Rick Halperin <rhalperi at post.cis.smu.edu>
Subject: death penalty news----TEXAS
JUDGE QUASHES SUBPOENAS FOR DEATH PENALTY HEARING
A judge Monday dismissed an entourage of East Texas district attorneys
after ruling a capital murder defendant's lawyers abused their subpoena
powers and could potentially obstruct justice statewide.
Nearly a dozen district attorneys from throughout the region were
subpoenaed to state District Judge Louis Gohmert's court in Tyler and
were to testify about their criteria for seeking the death penalty.
The strategy attorneys for Gregory Russeau hoped would prove capital
punishment is unconstitutional never got off the ground.
Gohmert said he would not "open the door to the interruption of justice"
all over Texas, and possibly the U.S., by forcing district attorneys to
"That would bring justice in Texas to a halt because DAs would be
subpoenaed every week," Gohmert said.
The judge noted the Supreme Court has ruled it is up to a district
attorney, on a case-by-case basis, to decide whether to seek lethal
injection for capital murder defendants.
Russeau's lawyers, Clifton Roberson and Brandon Baade, contend the
hearing was needed to prove there is no standard for seeking the death
penalty, and its arbitrary, inconsistent enforcement makes capital
Gohmert said he assumed the attorneys wanted Monday's hearing to provide
evidence of why they believe Russeau is not a candidate for the death
The judge said ruling every district attorney must work under the same
standard would "bring down the level of the most conscientious DAs to the
level of the lowest, laziest in the state."
"To rule in that favor means no DA should be able to be more aggressive,
or have lower standards for seeking the death penalty than a lazy DA who
does not go to the trouble to pursue such a difficult task," Gohmert
added. "That's a dangerous thing that sets a nation on a downward spiral."
There are currently 10 men on death row for capital murders in Smith
County. 5 others have been executed since 1999.
Roberson argued, "There is no standard, no uniformity whatsoever in the
254 Texas counties and each has its own criteria for seeking the death
penalty. It could be economics, race - we don't know that. We are
entitled to a hearing."
Gohmert, in his ruling, restricted the defense lawyers to focus on the
Smith County District Attorney's office "to see whether there is any
"You will not be permitted to examine DAs from other counties," Gohmert
said. "The question should be, 'is the death penalty being properly
pursued in this case?' To compare DAs across the board is a very, very
Gohmert quashed subpoenas for district attorneys who came to Tyler
prepared to testify Monday. They represented Anderson, Gregg, Wood,
Harrison, Rusk, Van Zandt and Upshur counties.
Jack Skeen's subpoena was not quashed and the hearing was continued for a
later date so the defense can prepare their questions.
Russeau, 31, is set to go to trial in May for the fatal beating and
robbery of his friend, 75-year-old James Syvertson. The victim was killed
at his auto repair shop in Flint, and Russeau was arrested in Gregg
County where he was caught in Syvertson's vehicle.
(source: Tyler Morning Telegraph)
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