Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Impending Execution of Robert Towery

Robert Towery sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Arizona.

Towery has an alleged alibi, and the prosecutor's conduct during the trial was so bad that the appellate court reported him to the state bar for possible sanctions. Towery claims his roommate murdered the victim during an armed robbery, and that he (Towery) wasn't even there. Towery was convicted in large measure based on the testimony of that roommate, who got a sweet deal for testifying.

In other words, this case has many of the elements that make me question a conviction. On the other hand, the armed robbery / murder in question had much the same motis operandi as the multiple other armed robberies Towery had committed, including the use of plastic tie wraps to bind the victim (and in this case) to strangle the victim. Towery also ended up with much of the stolen merchandise, though he claims he purchased it from his roommate.

From Towery v. Shriro (2010)
Robert Towery lived with Randy Barker and John Meacham in Scottsdale, Arizona, and shared his bedroom with his girlfriend and her young daughter. As the Arizona Supreme Court recognized, the case against Towery relied largely on the testimony of Barker, who testified in exchange for a reduced charge of second-degree murder. Unless otherwise indicated, the following facts are based on Barker's account. 
On September 4, 1991, Barker and Towery agreed to rob Mark Jones, whom Towery had previously met, at Jones' house. That evening, the two of them drove in Barker's car to a Denny's Restaurant and from there took a taxi to be dropped off in Jones' neighborhood. They knocked on Jones' door, and Towery asked if they could use his telephone because their vehicle had broken down. Towery said, "Do you remember me? I'm from R and D Automotive." 
After the two were let in, Barker pretended to make a telephone call, while Towery pulled a gun out of his briefcase. Towery told Jones that they were robbing him, both men put gloves on and Barker handcuffed Jones. Over the course of about two hours, Barker kept watch on Jones while Towery collected about $1,200 in cash and loaded Jones' car with jewelry, electronics and other items. 
Towery and Barker then led Jones to the master bedroom at gunpoint, asking him whether he expected anyone soon. Towery asked Jones whether he preferred to be tied up or to be injected with a drug that would put him to sleep. Jones chose the latter option and was laid face down on the bed. Towery then tried several times to inject Jones with a large veterinary syringe that Barker believed contained battery acid. 
Believing Jones was pretending to have fallen asleep, Towery created a noose using a set of tie wraps from his briefcase and began to strangle him. Jones did not struggle, but made choking and gagging sounds. After removing the noose, Towery determined that Jones was not yet dead, made another noose and repeated his previous action. Towery and Barker then drove Jones' car to the Denny's to get Barker's car, unloaded the goods at their house and abandoned Jones' car in the parking lot of an apartment complex. A security guard at the complex saw the men and later identified Towery in a photo lineup. Jones' body was discovered the next morning. 
Towery testified and offered an alibi. He said he dropped Barker off at the Denny's and saw him get picked up by someone else. Towery then drove Barker's car to meet Tina Collins at an adult book shop. Towery drove with Collins to another parking lot, where they talked for about two hours. Afterward, not finding Barker at their planned meeting spot, Towery drove home. Barker arrived at the house with Jones' car and property, and Towery helped him unload the goods and dispose of the car. Towery also claimed that he bought the stolen items that the police found in his possession from Barker. 
Collins' videotaped deposition was admitted to corroborate Towery's story. She said they had first met a couple of weeks earlier and arranged to meet on September 4. She did not talk with Towery again until February 9, when she visited the prison at the suggestion of a friend of hers who happened to be visiting Towery's cellmate. In his closing argument, the prosecutor suggested that Collins had never met Towery prior to the prison visit and fabricated her testimony to bolster his alibi. 
... Barker testified at trial that Towery was the murderer and that, before strangling Jones, Towery had repeatedly and unsuccessfully attempted to inject him with battery acid, using an abnormally large syringe. The County Medical Examiner's testimony also suggested that someone had made multiple, "not too skillful" attempts to inject the murder victim with an unknown substance. Towery contends his counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to introduce evidence that Towery was a skilled intravenous drug user who would not have been so clumsy and would have had access to regular-sized syringes. In Towery's view, this would have impeached the credibility of Barker's testimony and bolstered Towery's alibi, suggesting that Towery was not the murderer. ... 
Even if evidence of Towery's skill with syringes would not have added to the opprobrium flowing from evidence of his drug use already before the jury, it nonetheless might have led the jury to consider it more likely that Towery was the murderer given his use of and access to hypodermic needles, instead of less likely on the theory that a skilled drug user probably would not have used a big needle and miss veins. More importantly, considerable other evidence linked Towery to the murder, including Jones' gold dental crown and car keys found in Towery's briefcase, other stolen items found in Towery's bedroom, Towery's fingerprint found on the housing of the compact disc player that had been removed from Jones' car and Barker's girlfriend's testimony that Barker and Towery split the stolen money evenly and that Towery showed her photographs taken from the victim's home and said "the guy deserved it."
Though I don't know whether Robert Towery or Randy Barker is the person who actually killed Mark Jones, I'm confident they both were involved in the robbery. Since I oppose executions only when I believe there is a reasonable chance the person to be executed might not have been involved in the crime, I stand mute with respect to the execution of Robert Towery.

The Impending Execution of Keith Thurmond

Keith Thurmond sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Texas.  I provide the details of his crime twice, once as reported by YourHoustonNews.com and once as summarized by an appellate court.

From YourHoustonNews.com:
With several unsuccessful appeals behind him, Keith Steven Thurmond, who killed his estranged wife and her boyfriend in 2001 while the Thurmonds’ young son watched, appears to be set for his execution Wednesday evening in Huntsville. 
But Thurmond’s latest appellate attorney stated in an email to The Courier Friday he will file a petition for writ of certiorari Monday in another attempt to stop Thurmond’s execution by lethal injection. 
A Montgomery County jury convicted Thurmond in 2002. The day of the killings, a judge had ordered Thurmond, who lived in the Magnolia area at the time, to stay away from his wife and 8-year-old son. 
Instead, he armed himself and headed to the home of Guy Fernandes, where Fernandes, Sharon Anne Thurmond and the Thurmonds’ son were in a pickup truck. 
The boy told investigators at the time how he had seen his father, with the gun, chasing his mother around the yard while Fernandes, 35, ran into the mobile home, The Courier previously reported. The boy then said he saw his father shoot his mother “a couple of times and ... then ran into Guy’s mobile home with the gun,” according to arrest warrant affidavits. 
The boy then told investigators he heard several shots, and he then ran to his father’s home across the street. 
Keith Thurmond then barricaded himself and his son inside his home. He later released the boy unharmed, but he remained inside the mobile home armed with at least one pistol and another firearm. 
Officers persuaded Thurmond, 41 at the time, to surrender peacefully after a couple of hours. 
Sharon Thurmond, 32, had sought protective orders against her husband twice, including the one issued the day she died.
Now from Thurmond v. Thaler (2011)
Sharon Thurmond separated from her husband a few months before the murder. She took their child and moved across the street to live with Guy Sean Fernandez. The day of the murders, deputies served Thurmond with a protective order and placed his six-year-old son in the custody of his wife. Thurmond was unhappy that his wife was living across the street with another man. After the deputies left with the child, Thurmond became very upset. He then shot and killed both victims.
I oppose executions in which there is some reasonable chance the person to be executed might be factually innocent. In all other cases, I stand mute.

With respect to the impending execution of Keith Thurmond, I stand mute.