Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Soon to be Impending Execution of Jason Reeves

Jason Reeves sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Louisiana. Though most recently scheduled for execution on 15 August, three days prior to the date of this post, he has been given a stay based on the requests of his new attorneys.

I write of his case now to be done with it. While each case I write of is horrible in its own way, this one is one of the worst. I am not being coy when I suggest you may simply want to let this one be. I much prefer that you spend your time familiarizing yourself with the wrongful impending execution of Preston Hughes III. Links abound on my homescreen.

From State v. Reeves (2009)
On December 13, 2001, a Calcasieu Parish grand jury indicted the defendant, Jason Reeves, for the first degree murder of a four year old girl, identified as M.J.T., which occurred on November 12, 2001, in violation of La. R.S. 14:30. Reeves' first trial began with jury selection on October 27, 2003, and ended in a mistrial on November 9, 2003. 
Reeves' retrial commenced with jury selection on October 12, 2004. On November 5, 2004, the jury returned a unanimous verdict of guilty as charged. After a penalty phase hearing, the same jury unanimously recommended a sentence of death after finding as aggravating circumstances: (1) the defendant was engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of aggravated rape; (2) the victim was under the age of twelve years; and (3) the offense was committed in an especially heinous, atrocious or cruel manner. On December 10, 2004, after denying post-verdict motions, the trial court imposed the sentence of death in accordance with the jury's verdict. ... 
On November 12, 2001, at approximately 3:15 p.m., the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office (CPSO) received a complaint of a suspicious vehicle at a school in Moss Bluff, Louisiana. The vehicle was described as a blue four-door, older model vehicle which may have been an Oldsmobile Cutlass. The driver of the vehicle, who was described as wearing a maroon t-shirt and blue jeans, was loitering in the parking lot of the school and conversing with two young female students. The complaint included the license plate number of the suspicious vehicle. A check on the license plate revealed that the defendant, Jason Manuel Reeves, was the owner of a blue Oldsmobile Cutlass, with the same license plate number, and that he had a criminal history of sexual offenses with minors. 
Shortly thereafter, at 5:02 p.m., the CPSO received a 911 call from the mother of a four-year old girl, M.J.T., who had disappeared from McFatter Trailer Park in Moss Bluff. The trailer park is located 3 miles from the school where the suspicious vehicle had been reported. The young girl's mother, C.T., told sheriff's deputies that she had seen a suspicious, older model, blue vehicle circling the trailer park prior to the time she realized her daughter was missing. She also remembered a red sticker in the vehicle's rear window. C.T. later identified Reeves' vehicle as the one she saw in the trailer park on November 12, 2001. 
That evening, CPSO deputies went to Reeves' home and obtained permission from him, and his mother with whom he lived, to search his vehicle and home. After finding no evidence connecting Reeves to the missing girl, the deputies informed Reeves of his constitutional rights and asked him to go to the sheriff's office for further questioning. Reeves agreed and followed the deputies in his own car to the CPSO because he did not know where the sheriff's office was located. 
Reeves arrived at the CPSO at approximately 10:20 p.m., was informed of his constitutional rights, and signed a form waiving them. He was initially questioned from 10:45 p.m. until 12:40 a.m. Thereafter, Reeves was taken to an interview room in the detectives' area, which is a secure area. Reeves was again informed of his constitutional rights and was questioned throughout the night with regard to his whereabouts and activities on November 12, 2001. 
Reeves told the officers that he had finished work at approximately 3 p.m., purchased a drink at a gas station, and driven home, arriving at approximately 4 p.m. Judy Doucet, the defendant's mother, told sheriff's deputies that she specifically remembered her son arriving home around 5:00 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. Throughout questioning, Reeves continually denied any involvement with the missing girl. These statements were not recorded. 
From the time M.J.T. was reported missing until sometime on November 13, 2001, individuals assisting in the search for M.J.T. recovered evidence from a creek located approximately 15 minutes from McFatter Trailer Park, near a wooden bridge on Charles Breaux Road. The victim's mother identified a pair of a child's white tennis shoes and a pair of girl's purple pants as having been worn by M.J.T. at the time of her disappearance. 
On November 13, 2001, at 9:16 a.m., deputies obtained Reeves' permission to obtain his bodily substances for testing, then transported him to a local hospital where the requested samples were obtained. A nurse collected blood samples, oral swabs, pubic hair combings and fingernail scrapings from Reeves. A physical examination of Reeves at this time showed scratches on the inside of his left upper thigh, on his nose, and on his arms. He also had abrasions on both knees. 
Around 11:40 a.m. on November 13, 2001, Reeves was placed under arrest on an outstanding warrant from another parish. At that time, Reeves was again informed of his constitutional rights, interrogated further, and then placed in the jail. During this interview, a detective made the statement that only two people knew what really happened to M.J.T. Reeves replied, "Yeah, me and the good Lord." Despite making this statement, Reeves continued to deny involvement with the disappearance of M.J.T. 
On November 14, 2001, at approximately 11 a.m., deputies took Reeves from his jail cell to the detectives' interview area where he was again Mirandized. Reeves continued to deny involvement with the missing girl but further details which had emerged in questioning were now preserved on videotape. While still maintaining he finished work around 2:30 p.m. or 3:00 p.m., he related that he had driven in the direction of the Chardele Trailer Park to visit his cousin, but turned around when he realized he did not know his cousin's trailer number. Reeves then headed back in the direction of Moss Bluff, stopping at a convenience store to purchase a Mountain Dew soft drink. He claimed he traveled along a highway toward his grandfather's house, but remembered en route that his grandfather would not be home. Reeves then claimed he turned around in the parking lot of a Moss Bluff school, speaking briefly to a woman there. He continued traveling and stopped along the way at McFatter Trailer Park to see an old friend, Kurt Leger, with whom he had worked offshore. He asked a group of children at the trailer park if they knew where his friend Kurt lived. Reeves then claimed his car overheated, so he waited for the vehicle to cool down before driving home, where he claimed to have arrived by 4:00 p.m. This statement concluded when lunch was brought to Reeves at 12:40 p.m. 
At approximately 2:30 p.m. on November 14, 2001, the body of M.J.T. was found in a secluded area in some woods, 10-15 yards off a trail next to LeBleu Cemetery. The cemetery is located approximately 8.2 miles from McFatter Trailer Park. A Mountain Dew soft drink bottle was recovered approximately 25 feet away from where the body was found. The little girl's body, clothed only in a purple shirt pulled up halfway and naked from the waist down, had been stabbed multiple times. M.J.T. was found lying on her back with her legs bent, with signs of sexual abuse evident. Before evidence was gathered or the body was touched, law enforcement officers videotaped the crime scene. 
Interrogation of Reeves began again around 8 p.m. Former FBI Agent Don Dixon confronted Reeves with photographs of M.J.T.'s body taken at the murder scene. As a pre-arranged strategy, Agent Dixon told Reeves that a latent print found on a palmetto leaf tied him to the murder scene. At 9:25 p.m., detectives began videotaping the interview, during which Reeves confessed to having the girl in his car and taking her to the cemetery. He walked with her into the nearby woods, where they sat down and watched a rabbit. Reeves whittled a piece of wood with his pocket knife. Reeves then claimed he blacked out and does not remember doing anything else to the little girl. The next thing Reeves remembers was walking toward his car parked in the cemetery's parking lot, stopping at his sister's grave, saying good-bye and that he was sorry. When he reached his car, he noticed his pants were unzipped and his knife was missing. 
Reeves had requested to speak with his mother. At 10:40 p.m., the videotape was stopped when Reeves' mother arrived at the sheriff's office. One of the detectives monitored Reeves' conversation with his mother and heard Reeves say, "I did this thing. I don't know why, but I did it." 
Thereafter, Reeves indicated that he wanted to finish the interview because his actions had hurt his mother and the victim's family. Reeves was Mirandized again and continued his statement at 11:12 p.m. He expanded his earlier statements and acknowledged that he picked up M.J.T. to "go fool with her." He took her to the cemetery since the cemetery was a secluded place. After visiting his sister's grave and becoming very angry, Reeves took M.J.T. to the woods and started touching her on her bottom. Reeves admitted he told M.J.T. throughout the encounter that he would bring her back home and other things in an attempt to calm her down. M.J.T. became upset and asked him to stop, which further angered Reeves, who was still wielding his knife. Although he claimed he did not remember taking off M.J.T.'s pants or assaulting her, Reeves acknowledged that he was the only person who could have stabbed her. Reeves hurried out of the cemetery, fearing that M.J.T. was not alive when he left her. He does not remember anything about disposing of her pants and shoes. He does remember driving home with dirt and possibly a light smear of blood on his arms. He rinsed off his arms with the outside hose before entering his house and seeing his mother, then took a bath. The statement concluded at 11:48 p.m. Reeves was subsequently arrested for aggravated kidnaping and first degree murder. 
On December 13, 2001, a Calcasieu Parish grand jury indicted Jason Reeves for the first degree murder of M.J.T. Specifically, the indictment states: "JASON MANUEL REEVES committed the offense of first degree murder in that he killed M.J.T., a female juvenile whose date of birth was March 25, 1997, with the specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm upon M.J.T. and was engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of aggravated rape and/or M.J.T. was under the age of twelve years." 
At the guilt phase of this first degree murder trial, the state presented Reeves' videotaped statements to the jurors and evidence discovered through investigation. A maroon t-shirt and jeans, which the defendant had worn on November 12, 2001, were seized from his house. Reeves' mother had washed them before the police seized the items. A picture of Reeves' vehicle, admitted into evidence, shows that the vehicle is a blue four-door, older model Oldsmobile Cutlass with a red sticker on the back window. 
Two girls from the Moss Bluff school testified the defendant tried to talk to them on November 12, 2001. One of the girls, and the after-care provider who spoke with Reeves that day, identified him as the person who had been at the school near where M.J.T. disappeared. 
In addition, an off-duty Lake Charles city police officer testified that he saw Reeves at the cemetery at 4:40 p.m. on November 12, 2001. The officer, who was meeting with a confidential informant at the cemetery between 4:15 p.m. and 4:45 p.m., saw the defendant walking back to his car and leaving the cemetery parking lot. As Reeves drove right next to the officer in leaving the area, the two men came face-to-face with each other. The officer identified Reeves in court as the man he saw at the cemetery at 4:40 p.m. on November 12, 2001. 
The state presented testimony that a man-trailing dog identified the scent of the victim inside Reeves' vehicle. The man-trailing dog also followed Reeves' scent to a wooden bridge off Charles Breaux Road, under which the pants and shoes of M.J.T. were found in a creek. At the cemetery, the man-trailing dog went toward the water, then toward the woods and over the fence from the cemetery to the area where there were wood shavings on the ground. From there, the dog went to the place where the victim was found. At that point, the dog started whining and crying, and refused to go further. At each location, the dog's handler was given no information. 
The state presented expert testimony that the purple fibers from the victim's clothing matched fibers of vacuumed debris evidence from Reeves' vehicle. Hairs identified as dog hairs were found both in the defendant's vehicle and on the victim's clothing. During the recovery of evidence at the crime scene, maggots and an adult fly were recovered from the victim's body. An entomologist estimated that eggs were laid on the victim's body within one hour of her death and that the last time the eggs could have been laid considering their development was at approximately 5 p.m. on November 12, 2001. 
The coroner testified that the approximate time of M.J.T.'s death was 4:30 p.m. The cause of death was found to be multiple incised stab wounds of the neck and trunk. M.J.T.'s neck had been cut nearly two-thirds of the way around. In total, the victim had sixteen stab wounds, with fourteen on the front of her body and two on her back. Six of the stab wounds were in the area of the heart, while the heart itself was stabbed five times. The wounds to M.J.T.'s heart and back occurred while she was alive, although the stab wounds around her liver and mid-section occurred following death. There were long scrapes along the entire length of the victim's legs, which showed M.J.T. could have been dragged along the ground. Injuries on M.J.T.'s right hand were consistent with defensive wounds, showing that the little girl attempted to protect herself. Although she had been stabbed in the heart, the coroner believed M.J.T. would have survived for some time and would have suffered throughout the attack. 
M.J.T.'s body also showed she had been brutally sodomized while she was alive. Three visible scrapes and blood were visible on her anus. The forcible widening or opening of her anus was approximately three-fourths of an inch in circumference. Her body showed blue bruising around her bottom, which the coroner stated could only occur when blood is pumping and the victim is alive. Semen was found in the victim's anus. An expert forensic analyst matched the semen obtained from a rectal swab of the victim to Reeves' DNA profile. The expert testified the probability of finding the same DNA profile from another Caucasian individual other than Reeves was calculated as 1 in 256 trillion. 
After the state presented its evidence in the guilt phase, the defendant called, as a witness, an expert forensic psychologist, who testified as to his opinions regarding the reliability of the defendant's confession. 
After deliberating, the jury unanimously found that the state had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Reeves committed the first degree murder of M.J.T. After allowing the statutorily-required time period to elapse, the penalty phase of the trial began. 
At the penalty phase, the state introduced Reeves' prior criminal record, which included two juvenile adjudications for simple burglary and two adult convictions for indecent behavior with a juvenile, in 1996 and 1997, respectively. The victim of the 1996 conviction, N.T., testified that when she was 15 years old, the defendant drove her in his truck to a park. He pulled her pants down as she struggled against him. N.T. stopped his assault only when she bit Reeves on the shoulder so hard that he bled. The record of the 1996 conviction shows that Reeves' victim, S.D., was a 7 year old child. 
Further, the state presented testimony from a young girl, W.H., who described her encounter with Reeves on November 8, 2001, four days prior to M.J.T.'s disappearance and murder. W.H. stated that she was 13 years old on that date. She was walking to the office at Moss Bluff Middle School near the end of the school day when Reeves, walking past her in the opposite direction, grabbed her bottom. She ran quickly to the school's office to get help. 
The state also presented the testimony of Detectives Zaunbrecher and Primeaux of the CPSO. Both detectives testified that on December 10, 2001, Reeves had stated, in their presence, that he would not serve life in prison. While making a slitting motion across his neck, Reeves told the detectives that he would make them wish they had given him the death penalty if he did not get it. Reeves stated, "What are they gonna do, give me the—give me life in prison twice?" Further, Deputy Mandy Taggert, a CPSO transportation deputy, testified that Reeves told her that if he got out of jail, he would find another child and would kill again. Deputy Taggert stated that Reeves then began smiling and laughing after making that statement. 
The defense presented testimony from an expert in forensic psychology who asserted that Reeves suffers from major depression and mixed personality disorder, with borderline and anti-social personality traits. The defense expert testified that Reeves exhibits signs of dissociative amnesia stemming from chronic post traumatic stress disorder. The expert claimed that Reeves developed these disorders after witnessing his sister's death and being sexually assaulted as a young boy. Additionally, another defense expert determined that Reeves has an aggressive attitude and is prone to verbal and physical aggression. That defense expert testified, further, that the defendant also exhibits emotional instability, volatile interpersonal relationships, anger, mood swings and impulsivity. The defense expert did not find Reeves to be psychotic, schizophrenic, delusional or prone to hallucinations, or otherwise suffering from a mental illness. 
The state's forensic psychology expert countered that, from a psychiatric or psychological standpoint, he did not see a causative trigger which resulted in Reeves' criminal behavior. He did not feel that Reeves' actions in raping and murdering M.J.T. were a result of a post traumatic stress disorder. Rather, the state expert asserted that Reeves possessed the ability to discern and appreciate right from wrong. The state expert also discounted the defense expert's diagnosis of dissociative amnesia. According to the state expert, dissociative amnesia relates back to the traumatic events occurring previously in a person's life rather than to current memory lapses. 
After deliberation, the jury unanimously recommended that Reeves be sentenced to death, finding the victim was under 12 years old; the murder was committed during the perpetration or attempted perpetration of an aggravated rape; and the offense was committed in an especially heinous, atrocious or cruel manner. After denying post-verdict motions, the trial court formally sentenced the defendant to death on December 10, 2004.
LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — A new execution date has yet to be set for a former Ragley man convicted of raping and killing a 4-year-old girl in 2001. 
Convicted in 2004 of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Mary Jean Thigpen, Jason Reeves was scheduled to be put to death on Wednesday. 
Reeves' death warrant was signed on May 31 and any post-conviction relief was to be filed within 30 days. Judge Mike Canaday said there was a change in Reeves' counsel, and the state received a call in June from his attorneys requesting more time to file. ... 
Reeves now has until Sept. 11 to file for post-conviction relief.
I stand mute.

The Impending Execution of John Balentine

John Lezell Balentine sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Texas on 22 August 2012. Given that his case has already been turned down by the U.S. Supreme Court, I suspect he will not survive the day.

From Balentine v. State (2002):
John Lezell Balentine was convicted of capital murder on April 19, 1999. ... 
Officer Timothy Hardin of the Amarillo Police Department testified that he was dispatched on a shots-fired call at 2:26 a.m. on Wednesday, January 21, 1998. When Hardin arrived, the complainant stated that he thought he had heard .22 caliber shots to the east of his residence. Hardin looked around and found nothing in the complainant's backyard or the alleyway behind the house. Two other officers then arrived and offered to assist Hardin by searching the area in their vehicle. After the officers left, Hardin noticed a man, later identified as Balentine, walking down the street two houses away from the complainant's residence. 
Hardin testified that when he first saw Balentine, Balentine had his hands in his pockets, appeared to be nervous, and was constantly looking over his shoulder in Hardin's direction. In addition, Balentine was walking away from Hardin at a brisk pace. Hardin ordered Balentine to stop and raise his hands in the air. Hardin then approached Balentine, and conducted a pat-down "Terry frisk" because he "didn't know if [Balentine] might be the person who had fired shots" and that he "wanted to make sure that there was no weapon on [Balentine] while I was speaking to him." Hardin did not feel any weapons. 
Nevertheless, Hardin suspected that Balentine may have been involved in the reported gunfire and he escorted Balentine to the back seat of his patrol car for questioning. When Hardin asked Balentine why he was in the area, Balentine stated that he was walking from a WalMart, which was approximately five miles away, to his sister's house, which was located several miles across town. Balentine identified himself as "John Lezell Smith" and told Hardin that he was staying with his sister. Balentine initially stated that he did not know his social security number but later told Hardin five of the digits. He then stated that he had planned to visit a friend in the area and agreed to let Hardin ask this friend to identify Balentine because Balentine did not have a driver's license or an identification card. 
Hardin drove Balentine to his friend's residence. Balentine's friend identified him as "John" and stated that he lived a block away, which contradicted Balentine's story that he was staying with his sister several miles across town. Balentine explained that his friend was unaware he had moved. When Hardin asked Balentine to show him where he used to live, Balentine gave Hardin an address that turned out to be an empty lot. 
Hardin asked Balentine if he had ever been arrested in Amarillo and Balentine replied that he had not. Hardin contacted the police dispatcher to run a records check. According to the police dispatcher, "John Lezell Smith" had been arrested for traffic warrants. Hardin again became concerned for his safety because he felt that a subject who would lie to him during questioning might "commit some type of unsafe act or conceal a weapon." 
Hardin placed Balentine in handcuffs, had him exit the vehicle, and conducted a second, more thorough pat-down search. When he patted down the outside of Balentine's front pants pocket, he felt what he thought was a small pocket knife. Hardin put his hand in Balentine's pocket and felt that the object was actually a lighter. While Hardin was feeling the lighter, his hand touched an object that he immediately recognized as a bullet. He removed the object from the pocket and saw that it was a .32 caliber bullet. Balentine told Hardin that he had recently been on a hunting trip and forgotten the bullet in his pocket. Hardin again placed Balentine in the patrol car and called a supervisor who told Hardin to complete a field interview card and then release Balentine because possession of a bullet was not against the law. 
Hardin returned the bullet to Balentine and offered him a ride to his sister's house, which Balentine accepted. The trip took five to ten minutes and Hardin dropped Balentine off at the residence at 3:36 a.m. Hardin returned to the area where he had detained Balentine to have another look around but found nothing. Later that day, officers for the Amarillo Police Department were called to the scene of a triple homicide that had occurred at a residence fifty yards from where Officer Hardin encountered Balentine. The police identified Balentine as a suspect the day the victims were discovered. Balentine was eventually arrested in July of 1998 in Houston. ... 
In addition, the State introduced evidence that the three victims were killed by .32 caliber bullets and that three spent cartridge shells found at the scene of the murders were marked identically to the bullet found on Balentine. ... 
Sergeant Paul Charles Horn, an investigator with the Special Crimes Unit in the Amarillo Police Department, was assigned to investigate the homicides. He testified at the suppression hearing that acquaintances of the victims identified "John Balentine" as a possible suspect. Investigators for the Unit also determined that "John Balentine" was the same individual as "John Lezell Smith," whom Officer Hardin encountered earlier that morning. They learned that Balentine had been staying in a building owned by Mr. Michael Means, located at 308 North Virginia Street in Amarillo. 
When Lieutenant Edward William Smith arrived at 308 North Virginia Street the following day, Means told him that he was not renting the residence to Balentine but that he had given him permission to stay there as a "guest" because "he felt sorry for him." 
[Footnote from the decision: Balentine had been living with his former girlfriend, Misty Caylor, who was the sister of one of the victims, Mark Caylor, in the residence in which the murders took place. That residence was  also owned by Means and Balentine came to know Means in the time he lived with Misty Caylor. Balentine contacted Means a few days before New Year's Day of 1998 and told Means that he had been thrown out of Misty Caylor's house.] 
Means gave written consent to search the residence. The police then searched the residence and found a receipt for the purchase of .32 caliber ammunition from a local K-Mart store. 
In his fourth point of error, Balentine challenges the admissibility of the taped confession that he gave after being arrested in Houston on July 24, 1998. 
... Finding no reversible error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
From Austin's Statesman:
Balentine, 41, was condemned for the 1998 slayings of Mark Caylor Jr., 17, and 15-year-olds Kai Brooke Geyer and Steven Watson. Caylor was the brother of Balentine's former girlfriend, and prosecutors said the slayings capped a feud between Caylor and Balentine. 
Evidence showed all three were shot once in the head as they slept at an Amarillo house where Balentine also once lived. ... 
Balentine was pulled over in Houston in July 1998 and gave a traffic officer a false name, but the alias was detected as one used by a man wanted in the shooting deaths of the three teenage boys six months earlier in Amarillo. 
In a tape-recorded statement to police played at his trial, Balentine said he moved out of the Amarillo house because of drug use there, then said he learned later that Caylor was looking to kill him because he had "jumped on his sister." He slipped into the house and "shot Mark in the head and shot the other two in the head," he said. 
"Mark had threatened my life, threatened my brother, girlfriend and the kids, waving a gun and talking about what he was going to do to me and whoever else come over there looking for me and stuff," he said. 
He also said he didn't know the other two victims.
I oppose the execution of any person who might be innocent of the crime for which they are to be executed. Regarding the propriety of all other executions, I stand mute. I neither support them nor oppose them.

In the case of John Lezell Balentine, I stand mute.

ADDENDUM (23 August 2012):
John Balentine was granted a last moment stay of execution by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.