Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Impending Execution of Samuel Lopez

Samuel Villegas Lopez sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Arizona. He is scheduled to die on Wednesday, 16 May 27 June. His execution may did not proceed as scheduled due to arguments over whether the State's clemency board was properly populated and trained.

I summarize the crime by excerpting from the adverse appellate decision State v. Lopez (1990).
On October 29, 1986, sometime around 11:00 a.m., a Phoenix police officer made a "check welfare" call at the apartment residence of the murder victim. The check was in response to a call from the victim's fellow employees expressing concern that the consistently prompt victim inexplicably failed to arrive at work. 
Approaching the apartment, officers noticed a broken window next to the front door. Entering the apartment, they discovered the partially nude body of the victim. Overturned and broken furnishings in the blood-splattered apartment indicated that a tremendous struggle took place prior to the murder. A scarf had been stuffed into the victim's mouth, and she had been blindfolded with her pajama pants. An autopsy revealed that her throat had been slashed, and she had been stabbed twenty-three times in her left breast and upper chest and three times in her lower abdomen. Seminal fluid was found in both her vagina and anus. 
Samuel Lopez had been seen in the neighborhood the night of the crime. He was also seen in the early morning after the murder walking down the street, soaking wet, as if he had recently washed himself. Several days after the murder, the police were questioning defendant about an unrelated matter when he mentioned something about a woman who had been stabbed and whose throat had been slashed. 
The information that the victim's throat had been slashed had never been released to the public. Realizing that only the murderer would know of the slashing, the police focused their investigation upon Lopez. A check of his fingerprints matched those found at the victim's apartment and his body fluids matched those obtained from the victim's body. 
A jury convicted Lopez of first degree murder, sexual assault, kidnapping, and burglary. After a sentencing hearing, the trial judge found two statutory aggravating circumstances: (1) the defendant had a prior conviction for resisting arrest, which was considered a death-qualifying conviction ... and (2) the murder was committed in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner ... In support of mitigation, defendant argued that his capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was significantly impaired. The trial court found that defendant did not prove this mitigating factor by a preponderance of the evidence. Finding no other mitigation, the trial judge sentenced defendant to death for the murder and to aggravated, consecutive terms of twenty-one years for each of the other convictions.
I find no suggestion that Samuel Lopez might be factually innocent of raping and murdering 59-year-old Estafana Holmes. I oppose all execution in which a person might be factually innocent of the crime for which he is scheduled to die. With respect to all other executions in this country, I stand mute.

I the case of Samuel Villegas Lopez, I stand mute.

ADDENDUM: Samuel Lopez was executed by the people of Arizona on 27 June 2012.

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