Michel Escoto Trial: Terence Lenamon Gives Closing Arguments as Defense Counsel, No Longer on "Stand By"

In the Michel Escoto trial in Miami, Terence Lenamon has changed hats from being "standby counsel" for the defense as Escoto represented himself, to official defense counsel for defendant Michel Escoto.  

Terry Lenamon gave closing arguments for the defense in the case.  

For details, check out the Miami Herald coverage like this article by reporter David Ovalle, "Miami man planned new wife’s murder to collect $1 million in life insurance."

Also, stay tuned:  Terence Lenamon has been interviewed by national news media regarding this case and he will be seen in the Michel Escoto trial coverage by both Inside Edition and Dateline. 

Dates and times yet to be announced.

Update:  Today, the jury found Escoto guilty of murdering his newlywed wife, Wendy Trapaga.  


Lenamon Continues as Stand-By Defense Lawyer for Michel Escoto In Florida Murder Trial

 This week, Terence Lenamon remains in trial in the unique role of "stand by counsel" to defendant Michel Escoto, who represents himself in his murder trial this week.

The prosecution rested its case last week (read about that here).

Escoto now presents his defense case, with a DNA expert taking the stand for most of yesterday.

Stand-by counsel isn't the norm in a criminal case, but Mr. Escoto has chosen to exercise his right to represent himself in this trial and Terry Lenamon sits at the defense table without acting as trial attorney in this case. 

This case is getting more and more media coverage including national news coverage and you may recognize it as the "Newlywed Murder Case." 

See Terry:

You can see Terry Lenamon sitting as stand-by counsel in the Escoto trial in this video coverage of the case, on the day where Escoto was held in contempt of court, here. 

Supplier of Lethal Injection Drugs in Texas Execution Protected as US Supreme Court Denies Writ

It's not over, this argument regarding the drugs being used in lethal injection executions in this country -- but it is over for Texas Death Row inmate and convicted serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells who died last night in Huntsville, Texas, as his death penalty was carried out.

The United States Supreme Court denied Sells' petition for writ of certiorari yesterday and Sells was executed shortly thereafter.  (Read the succinct order of denial here.)

As for the arguments involved in Sells' last appellate argument - that the State of Texas should reveal the supplier of the drugs to be used in the execution (and which did get a stay for a period of time), here is the Opinion of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacating the stay and allowing the privacy of the drug manufacturer to remain secret:

Fifth Circuit Opinion April 2014 Removing Sells' Stay of Execution Re Secret Supplier of Lethal Execut...

Tennessee Executions In Secret? Great Article on Lethal Injection Drug Supply Crisis

 There is a good overview of the current state of lethal injection executions published in The Tennessean (and picked up by USA Today) which goes into detail regarding the current dilemma in this country regarding lethal injection executions.

Different states are approaching their Execution Schedules differently -- Texas and Florida, of course, are going forward with lethal injection executions.  Texas has a new and secret supplier of pentobarbital so its execution schedule shouldn't be thwarted by a lack of supply.

Not so for other states.  

Tennessee has reacted by bringing down the curtain down its executions and there's a lawsuit brought by Death Row inmates seeking to change that -- one question, who is the state's drug supplier?

It's a big question - who is supplying the drugs to the state executioners?  

And do these companies have a legal right to wear a hooded mask of sorts, hiding their identity from the public as manufacturers of a drug that is used to kill people?  


Florida Executes Robert Lavern Henry and Texas Executes Ray Jasper While Oklahoma Halts Execution

On Oklahoma's Death Row, two men who were set to die either this week or next week have had their executions extended because the State of Oklahoma has not been able to find the necessary drugs for the lethal injection executions.

Meanwhile, the State of Texas went ahead with its lethal injection execution of Ray Jasper yesterday. Texas also has another execution planned for March 2014 -- and next week's execution will be the last lethal injection execution before Texas starts using a different supplier's pentobarbital product -- a mysterious supplier whose identity remains unknown as state officials have denied media access to the supplier's identity under arguments that doing so would endanger the company or its personnel.

And today, just a few hours ago, the State of Florida executed Robert Lavern Henry by lethal injection at Florida State Prison for murders that happened over 26 years ago. 

Terence Lenamon is "Stand By Counsel" in Michel Escoto Defense in Miami Newlywed Murder Trial

Right now, Terence Lenamon and Melissa Ortiz of Lenamon Law are in trial in Miami, Florida -- a murder trial that is expected to run for around two months in the courtroom of Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez.

However, Terry Lenamon and his associate are acting as "stand by counsel" for the defendant, because the defendant in this case, Michel Escoto, has chosen to exercise his constitutional right to represent himself in his criminal trial - which started today.  

Michel Escoto maintains he is innocent of this crime. 

Those in the Miami area may recognize Michel Escoto's name as the man accused of killing Wendy Trapaga, his newlywed wife, with the prosecution alleging that Escoto killed his bride in order to collect on a life insurance policy.  

For more details, check out the Miami Herald's coverage of the case, including today's article by David Ovalle, "Husband on trial in death of his newlywed wife in Miami-Dade."

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments Today in Hall v. Florida

 Today, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Hall v. Florida, where Florida death row inmate Freddie Lee Hall argues that it is unconstitutional for the State of Florida to use a specific IQ score (i.e., 70) as the basis for allowing execution of anyone whose intellectual capacity measures above that number. (Precedent does not use the phrase "lack of intellectual capacity," but instead "mental retardation" as a basis for denying capital punishment as it would be cruel and unusual punishment.) 

Read the transcript of the oral argument here.

For background on the case, check out our prior posts:

 U.S. Supreme Court Deciding Major Death Penalty Case Regarding Intellectual Ability and Capital Punishment: the Case of Freddie L. Hall

Florida Death Penalty Case Re Low IQ as Mitigating Factor in Death Penalty Case before USSCt: Will Florida Statute Be Found Unconstitutional?




Florida's Electric Chair: Will We Return to This?

From the Florida Department of Corrections:

The electric chair is made of oak and was constructed by Corrections Department personnel in 1998. It was installed at Florida State Prison in Starke in 1999, replacing the chair constructed in 1923. It should be noted that the only aspect of the current electric chair that is new is the wooden structure of the chair itself. The apparatus that administers the electric current to the condemned prisoner is the same that has been used in recent years. It is regularly tested to ensure proper functioning.

From the Death Penalty Information Center, some very horrible photos of the last Florida execution in this very electric chair (in 1999), did you know about all the blood that goes with an electrocution?  Remember, it's a cruel and unusual punishment standard ....




Carl Hiassen's Op-Ed Regarding Florida Death Penalty Worth Your Time to Read

Maybe you've read some of Carl Hiassen's thrillers over the years - or maybe your kids have read some of Carl Hiassen's children's books (like Flush, Chomp, or Scat).  

If you haven't, then you just might like to check out (and have a great laugh or two) how Florida is portrayed in Sick Puppy, Skinny Dip, or Bad Monkey.  

Then there's Carl Hiassen's column published by the Miami Herald.  Maybe that's how you recognize his name.

The big thing this week, however, isn't his regular piece in the paper, or any of his books -- it is Carl Hiassen's op-ed piece on capital punishment in this country, particularly in the State of Florida.

It's online to read for free, entitled "Let's put an end to the executions" and it's worth your time. 

And if HIassen's words leaving you wanting more, there's a good summary of where we are with all those drugs being used in the Lethal Injection cocktails in the Tampa Tribune, written by James Rosica, entitled "Secrecy shrouds state's lethal injection drugs." 

Scary stuff, what is happening in lethal injection executions in this country today.  Very, very scary. 

Washington State Halts Executions Because the Governor Will Block Them

Up in Washington, there isn't going to be any executions for awhile because the current governor, Governor Jay Inslee, has announced that he's against the death penalty and he's going to use his power to issue reprieves to stop executions in that state.

This means that defendants can still face the death penalty in trials, and capital punishment can still be assessed -- but if there is an execution set up, then the state governor in Washington is going to block it.  

Why?  From Gov. Jay Inslee (click the link to read the full release):

“Equal justice under the law is the state’s primary responsibility. And in death penalty cases, I’m not convinced equal justice is being served.  The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred.”

“In death penalty cases, I’m not convinced equal justice is being served,.... The use of the death penalty is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime is committed.”

Execution List 2014

The Death Penalty Information Center keeps track of executions in the United States and you can review the list, which includes name, date of death, which state executed the person, and more online here (click on the image):

Execution Methods: Will We Return to Gas Chambers, Electric Chairs, and Firing Squads?

The United States Supreme Court has stayed the execution of Herbert Smulls by the State of Missouri, but the argument isn't because Missouri is doing some strange new combination of untested drugs in a lethal injection method - no, the argument surrounds whether or not the identity of the supplier of pentobarbital must be revealed.

Obviously, lots of people would like to know who is providing pentobarbital to Missouri, since the lack of supply of this drug for lethal injections in other states has led to Ohio and Florida and other states finding new alternative drug cocktails in order to execute people.

(For more information, read our earlier posts regarding the recent Ohio, Oklahoma, and Florida execution processes.)

Meanwhile, news is that other states are considering other forms of execution as lethal execution methods get so difficult based upon drug supply issues.

This wouldn't be so hard to do as some might think:  many states have valid laws on the books for executions by firing squad, gas chamber, electric chair, and hanging.  See our earlier posts for details. 

Image above:  Gas Chamber used for Executions

Terence Lenamon in Trial: Death Penalty Cases in Florida Don't Need All Jurors to Agree on Death

Image: Terence Lenamon in foreground, with client Andrew Castor and Terry's co-defense counsel, LenamonLaw's Melissa Ortiz, during trial. Photo by Marisa Kendall / The News-Press


Pictured above is Terry Lenamon at work during the recent trial of Andrew Castor over in Cape Coral, Florida.  The death penalty was taken off the table early on in the case; the jury came back with a guilty verdict last week. 

For Terry, this latest trial is just one more in his list of criminal cases going back many years.  He's adept at trying cases, and he has built a practice out of defending people facing the death penalty - particularly, those facing capital punishment in the State of Florida.

Florida is about as well known as Texas for executing people and sentencing folk to death.  Needless to say, Terry is a busy man.

However, what lawyers in Texas and lots of other attorneys and members of the general public may not know is that Florida gives Terry an even bigger burden than his colleagues in other states might face.

What's the big deal about Florida death penalty defense?  Well, it's the juries.  In Florida, it is not necessary to have 100% agreement of all the jurors in order for someone to be sentenced to death.  Nope.

Florida does not require the entire jury to support the death penalty for the death penalty to be sentenced in a case. 

This summer, Florida State Senator Thad Altman proposed legislation to the Florida Legislature that, if passed, would have required Florida juries to be unanimous before the death penalty could be imposed.  Altman's bill never made it out of committee.

Which means, for Terence Lenamon and others in the position of setting at a Florida defense table, as he's doing in this photo, the defense has the job of convincing most of those jurors, not just one or two (like in Texas where an unanimous agreement among jurors for death penalty is required). 

Ohio Execution of Dennis McGuire With 2-Drug Combo Results in 10 Minutes of Horror

Dennis McGuire was executed by the State of Ohio using a new two-drug combination that had never been used in an execution in Ohio, or anywhere else for that matter.  Many warned about the possibility that this lethal injection method would be the very cruel and inhuman type of death that the U.S. Constitution prohibits.

Ohio went ahead anyway. 

Now, media reports are quoting witnesses to the execution that Dennis McGuire didn't pass away on that gurney quickly or quietly.  For 10 minutes, witnesses watched as McGuire choked for breath, gasping and straining against the restraints, struggling for air.

Included among those witnesses were his federal public defenders, his daughter, son, and daughter-in-law. 

Watch Columbus Dispatch reporter Alan Johnson's recounting of what he saw here.

Of course, McGuire had been convicted of a violent crime - but comparing the death for which he was convicted with the death he had to endure in his execution is missing the point here.

Constitutional protections exist to prevent inhumane executions by the government and in states like Ohio and Oklahoma (remember Wilson's "I feel my whole body burning" last week"?) where these untried drug combinations are being used in capital punishment - well, it's beyond shocking and no one should be surprised that there are calls now for an immediate moratorium on the death penalty in Ohio now.

As for his children?  They are reportedly suing in federal court for the wrongful death of their father in this execution. Watch the Johnson video above for details here.

Oklahoma Execution of Michael Lee Wilson: "I feel my whole body burning" While Florida Executes Thomas Knight This Week

The State of Oklahoma executed Michael Lee Wilson yesterday by lethal injection.

News media reports are that almost immediately after the injection process began (within 20 seconds), Wilson said, 'I feel my whole body burning'  yet his body didn't react in such a way that any of the witnesses could see his body reacting to the drugs.

According to the State of Oklahoma's site, the drugs used in Oklahoma executions are:  (1) Sodium Thiopental or Pentobarbital - causes unconsciousness; (2) Vecuronium Bromide - stops respiration; and (3) Potassium Chloride - stops heart.

Thomas Knight Executed Using Midazolam Hydrochloride by State of Florida

Just the day before, the State of Florida executed Thomas Knight after he lost his fight against the lethal injection execution method used by Florida executors which involved a new drug, midazolam hydrochloride, because Florida had run out of pentobarbital. 

Knight's lawyers argued that the lethal injection method was unconstitutional because these new drug cocktails have not been medically and scientifically shown not to be cruel and unusual means of executing people. 

Ohio Fight Over 2-Drug Execution Method for Dennis McGuire Lethal Injection

Meanwhile, in Ohio, there's a fight because Ohio wants to use the drug that Florida used in the Knight execution, midazolam hydrochloride, with one other drug -- a TWO drug cocktail -- to execute Dennis McGuire.  Medical experts and attorneys are fighting in federal court on the constitutionality of this new lethal injection method. 

Does any of this bother you? 

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