Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Impending Execution of Jesse Joe Hernandez

Jesse Hernandez sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Texas on 28 March. He was convicted of killing an 10-month-old boy by striking him in the head with a flashlight. I provide a summary of the case by excerpting from the adverse appellate decision in Hernandez v. Quarterman (2008). I have substituted Hernandez' name for each instance of "appellate" in the decision. I have removed the legal citations.
The evidence at trial showed that at the time Karlos and Melodi were assaulted, Misty Leverett, [ten-month-old] Karlos, and [four-year-old] Melodi, were living with Hernandez, his wife Mary Rojas, their young son, Joshua, and Gilbert Gomez. On the day of the assaults, Leverett went to work and left the children in the care of Hernandez and Rojas. Rojas testified that after Leverett left for work around noon, she stayed home with the children while Hernandez and Gomez left to run errands. When Hernandez and Gomez returned about two hours later, Rojas left for her sister-in-law's house and was gone approximately thirty to forty-five minutes. Rojas testified that when she got home, she heard Hernandez screaming at Joshua. She picked him up and took him to the room she shared with Hernandez. Rojas asked where Karlos and Melodi were, and Hernandez replied that they were sleeping in the next room. Rojas then went into her room and relaxed with Joshua. Later, when she heard Hernandez preparing a bottle, she told Hernandez she was going to go into the room where Karlos and Melodi where sleeping. Hernandez instructed Rojas not to enter the room for fear she would wake them up. Despite having seen blood stains on Hernandez's shirt, Rojas waited until Leverett got home from work to check on the children. 
Levertt testified that when she arrived home, she went into the dark room she shared with the children and found Melodi complaining that her head hurt. Rojas and Leverett took Melodi out into the kitchen and saw that her head was swollen with "red splotches. Alarmed, Leverett decided to take Melodi to the hospital. After they left, Rojas checked on Karlos and noticed his lips were swollen. She determined Karlos was badly hurt and took Karlos and Joshua down the street to her sister-in-law's house to call an ambulance. 
When Leverett and Melodi arrived at the hospital, hospital workers asked Leverett if she had any other children. When she replied that she did, the hospital workers instructed her to return home and get her son immediately. Leverett testified that when she returned home, Hernandez was alone and he told her that Karlos was at his sister's house. Leverett asked Hernandez to take her there but he refused. Moments later, police arrived and informed Leverett that Karlos had been rushed to Children's Hospital by ambulance. 
In addition to this evidence, Hernandez stated in his voluntary written statement that he was babysitting Melodi and Karlos and "they were being very bad by crying a lot for nothing." Hernandez continued that he "just exploded and hit them with the back of my hand not realizing I was hurting them[.]" ... 
When police began investigating the assault on Karlos, they went to Hernandez's home where he and his wife had been babysitting Misty Leverett's ten-month-old son, Karlos, and Karlos' four-year-old sister Melodi. They discovered that Hernandez had some outstanding warrants, arrested him, and transported him to the police station. While there, Detective Warren Breedlove spoke with Hernandez to obtain some general information and inquire about the injuries to the children. At a pre-trial hearing regarding the voluntariness of Hernandez's written statement, Breedlove testified that Hernandez was not a suspect at that time so he was not informed of his Miranda rights. Hernandez gave an affidavit denying any knowledge of what happened to Karlos and Melodi and was later transported to the county jail. After police spoke with Karlos' doctor and with Melodi, Hernandez became a suspect in the assaults. Breedlove met with Hernandez, read him his Miranda warnings and began an interview. Over approximately an hour and a half, Hernandez repeatedly admitted and then denied striking the children. Breedlove asked Hernandez about a flashlight found at the scene and Hernandez admitted he may have hit Karlos with the flashlight. 
Detective Lesher took over the interview after Hernandez became upset with Breedlove....Lesher asked Hernandez to make a written, voluntary statement. After speaking with his wife and using the restroom, Hernandez agreed. In his statement, Hernandez admitted hitting Karlos and Melodi because they cried for no reason, because he was upset over recently losing his grandmother, and because he had a bad day with his wife. He added that he was sorry for hitting them. There was nothing in Hernandez's written statement about hitting Karlos with a flashlight.
I oppose the execution of any person who is factually innocent of the crime for which he is to die, or has a reasonable chance of being factually innocent. In other cases, take no position on the propriety of the execution. In the case of Jesse Joe Hernandez of Texas, I stand mute.