Monday, June 22, 2009

Recommended Website: Texas Executions

This informative website is must reading for death penalty advocates and foes alike. The story below is one of hundreds from the site that describes the circumstances of previous executions.

Michael Lynn Riley, 51, was executed by lethal injection on 19 May 2009 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder and robbery of a convenience store clerk.

On 1 February 1986, Riley, then 27, entered a convenience store in Quitman in northeastern Texas, carrying a concealed butcher knife. Riley was a frequent customer in the store. Clerk Wynona Harris, 23, told him to help himself to the ice cream he wanted while she counted some money. While Harris had her back turned to Riley, he came up behind her and stabbed her to death. He left the store with a cloth bag containing $1,110 in cash. A customer came in later and found Harris's body behind the counter. She was stabbed 31 times.

A set of bloody footprints led from the store in the direction of Riley's home a few blocks away. Detectives followed the footprints and found the murder weapon and a money bag. Later that day, Riley, who had several felony and misdemeanor convictions and was well-known to law enforcement authorities in Quitman, went to the Wood County sheriff's office after hearing that authorities were looking for him. Riley indicated that he knew something about the murder, but he denied being at the store that morning. He was allowed to leave the sheriff's office, but after a milk delivery driver informed authorities that he had spotted a man in distinctive coveralls hanging around outside the store that morning, he was brought back in for questioning. Riley then led authorities to a pair of bloodstained coveralls hidden under some brush in a field near his house. In one of the pockets was $970 in cash. He then confessed to the crime.

Riley had prior felony convictions and two prior prison sentences. In March 1977, he was sentenced to 2 years in prison for burglary and larceny. He was discharged in November 1978. In January 1980, he was sentenced to 9 years for burglary of a building. He was paroled in July 1983 and discharged in July 1985. He also had several convictions for forgery and writing bad checks.

A jury convicted Riley of capital murder in November 1986 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction in November 1993 on the grounds that a potential juror was improperly struck from the jury. At his second trial, Riley pleaded guilty. A jury then convicted him again of capital murder in September 1995 and resentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in May 1997. All of his subsequent appeals in state and federal court were denied.

Several of Riley's appeals asserted that he was mentally retarded and thus ineligible for capital punishment. In 1973, he was evaluated as having an I.Q. of 67, which is considered a borderline retardation level. This evaluation was admitted at his first trial. In preparation for his second trial, his attorney, William Wright, interviewed Riley's family and examined his school, probation, and juvenile records. Based on this evaluation and his own personal observations of his client, Wright concluded that Riley was not retarded, and he decided not to present the 1973 evaluation into evidence, because he believed doing so could be counterproductive to his trial strategy. Wright also consulted with Dr. Patrick Lawrence, a psychologist, about Riley's mental state. Lawrence evaluated Riley and testified at his trial that he did not pose a future danger to society, but he did not testify as to Riley's I.Q. In March 2004, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Wright's actions were reasonable, and did not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel.

In an interview from death row the week before his execution, Riley said that he turned to crime to support his gambling habit. "Dice took my life," he said. "It's the worst drug habit you can have."

Riley said he was remorseful for his actions and held no ill will toward the jurors or prosecutors who sent him to death row. He also said that he had asked his friends not to pray for him to receive a reprieve. "They're freeing me from this place," he told a reporter. "I'm in Heaven. I can already feel it. Come May 19th, I'll be free."

"I know I hurt you vary bad," Riley said to his victim's family members who attended his execution. "I truly am sorry for the hurt and pain I caused you." He also apologized to his mother, who did not attend, for not being the son she wanted him to be. He reminded his friends and supporters that he was ready to die. He concluded his last statement by urging this fellow death row inmates to "stay strong". Using his death row nickname, he said, "Fleetwood is out of here." The lethal injection was then started. He was pronounced dead at 6:18 p.m.

By David Carson. Posted on 20 May 2009.
Sources: Texas Attorney General's office, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, court documents, Associated Press.

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