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Juan Ignacio Blanco

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Arturo Eleazar DIAZ

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery - Drugs
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: March 25/April 3, 1999
Date of birth: December 27, 1975
Victims profile: David Anthony Nichols / Michael Ryan Nichols, 25
Method of murder: Stomping on his head and bludgeoning his face beyond recognition with a hammer / Stabbing with knife 94 times
Location: Hidalgo County, Texas, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on February 20, 2000. Executed by lethal injection in Texas on September 26, 2013
 
 

 

United States Court of Appeals
For the Fifth Circuit

 

Arturo Diaz v. Nathaniel Quarterman, Director

 
 

 
 
Name TDCJ Number Date of Birth
Diaz, Arturo Eleazar 999345 12/27/1975
Date Received Age (when Received) Education Level
02/20/2000 24 7
Date of Offense Age (at the Offense) County
04/03/1999 23 Hidalgo
Race Gender Hair Color
Hispanic Male Black
Height Weight Eye Color
5' 8" 200 Brown
Native County Native State Prior Occupation
Hidalgo Texas Laborer
Prior Prison Record

#706353 on a 7-year sentence for Criminal Mischief and Theft; on 11/24/97 released on Mandatory Supervision.
 
Summary of incident


On 04/03/99, in the nighttime, in McAllen, Texas, Diaz and one co-defendant, murdered one male by stabbing him 94 times in the upper chest with a knife at the victim's apartment and stabbed another male, who was also at the apartment, two times in the face.

Diaz and the co-defendant went to the apartment trying looking for drugs and also intended to rob the victim. Diaz and the co-defendant robbed the victim of an unknown amount of money and fled the scene by vehicle.
 

Co-defendants
Cardova, Jose Luis
Race and Gender of Victim
(Race unknown) male
 
 

 
 

Arturo Diaz Executed In Texas For Murder Of Michael Nichols

By Michael Graczyk - Associated Press

HuffingtonPost.com

September 26, 2013

HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- A South Texas man was put to death Thursday for a slaying 14 years ago in which the victim was bound with shoelaces and strips of bedding, stabbed 94 times and robbed of $50.

The execution of Arturo Diaz, 37, was carried out after the U.S. Supreme Court refused a last-ditch appeal to block his lethal injection. It was the 13th execution this year in Texas, the nation's most active capital punishment state.

Diaz smiled and blew a kiss to several witnesses watching through a window, including his mother and grandmother.

He then turned to the father of his victim, watching through an adjacent window to the death chamber. "I hope this can bring some relief for you and your family," he told him.

He spoke in Spanish to his own friends and relatives, telling them: "I am with God."

He also added that he hoped his fate "serves as an example for some youngsters. ... Think about it before you do drugs."

He was pronounced dead 17 minutes later, at 6:30 p.m. CDT.

"It was way too easy," Forrest Nichols, whose son was murdered in 1999, said as he stood watching Diaz.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials have used pentobarbital as the single execution drug for more than a year, but Diaz became the first in the state given the sedative procured from a vendor or manufacturer the prison agency has declined to identify.

Diaz's reaction to the drug was similar to other Texas inmates who have been executed with pentobarbital. He took several deep breaths, began snoring and ceased movement in less than a minute.

The expiration date of the department's existing inventory passed this month, possibly diluting its potency. Like other death penalty states, Texas officials needed to go to nontraditional sources because the usual suppliers bowed to pressure from capital punishment opponents and refused to make their product available.

In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Diaz's attorney, James Terry Jr., argued recent high court rulings allowed another look at previously unsuccessful appeals where inmates had shoddy legal help. Diaz had deficient counsel at his 2000 trial in Hidalgo County and early in the appeals process, his attorney said.

Diaz, from Las Milpas, a small town between McAllen and the Mexican border, was convicted of the April 1999 slaying of Michael Nichols, 25, at Nichols' apartment in McAllen. Diaz also was given two life terms for attempted capital murder and aggravated robbery of another man who survived.

Cregg Thompson, the lead prosecutor at Diaz's murder trial, said evidence showed Diaz tried to steal Nichols' pickup truck but couldn't open a locked gate at the apartment complex. His shoe print was found on the keypad box at the gate, and his DNA was found on a beer bottle at Nichols' apartment.

Diaz said he was high on drugs and alcohol during the attack on Nichols. He also confessed to a slaying that took place a month earlier. In that case, the victim's head was stomped and face beaten with a hammer. Diaz also received a 94-year prison term for aggravated sexual assault for raping a jail inmate.

"You know it's going to take some time for all the appeals and everything to go through," Thompson said this week of Diaz's execution. "But when you say 14 years, that sounds like an awful long time."


Arturo Eleazar Diaz - Texas

The Monitor

Jul 8, 2007

A Las Milpas native convicted of stabbing a man nearly 100 times during a 1999 robbery moved one step closer this week to expected execution.

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court rejected Arturo Eleazar Diaz's challenge to his death sentence for that crime, despite the 31-year-old's claims that his family members were never called to the stand during the penalty phase of his trial.

Diaz has previously confessed to stabbing Michael Ryan Nichols, of McAllen, 94 times in the head neck and chest. But the convicted killer's relatives said Thursday they still believe he is innocent.

"The system has been unfair," Diaz's grandmother, Maria Elena Camacho, said in Spanish. "My grandson is not guilty."

Diaz's relatives argued that his childhood filled with poverty, neglect, violence and self-mutilation may have swayed a jury toward a more lenient punishment. But they were never asked to testify on his behalf, according to sworn affidavits included in his appeal.

But Tuesday, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a federal district judge who had already ruled Diaz's attorneys were following their client's instructions when they did not call family members to testify.

During a 2002 interview with The Monitor, Diaz admitted that he had stabbed Nichols and his roommate John Shepard while high on marijuana, cocaine and alcohol. But he maintained throughout the meeting - conducted at a state prison in Livingston - that he had no idea what he was doing.

"I did it, but my mind says it wasn't me," he said.

Diaz also confessed to killing another man - David Anthony Nichols, of Combes - by stomping on his head and bludgeoning his face beyond recognition with a hammer during a March 25, 1999, fistfight.

The 2 killings were found to be unrelated, despite the last names both victims shared.

Charges in connection with David Nichols' death were dropped because no one came forward to identify the victim.

It was Camacho, who had raised Diaz from the age of 5, who eventually turned her grandson in. After seeing his photo in news reports, she led authorities to his sister's home on April 11, 1999.

Police charged Diaz with capital murder and aggravated robbery for Michael Nichols' death and attempted capital murder for the attack on Shepard, who survived the stabbing.

"I turned him in," Camacho said in 2002. "I told him, 'If you're guilty, you have to pay.'"

At the time, her grandson told her that he killed Michael Nichols in self-defense during a fight over the use of the man's pickup truck. But evidence presented during his trial showed that Michael Nichols' hands and feet were bound shortly before his death.

The stabbing left deep wounds in his liver, kidney, lungs and heart and cuts to his head and neck, prosecutors argued. The tip of the knife broke off in his rib.

Diaz never testified on his own behalf during the portion of his trial that determined whether he was guilty or not guilty of the charges. His attorneys called no witnesses, arguing instead that the case did not merit a capital murder charge.

After an Hidalgo County jury found him guilty, his lawyers only called one witness - a psychologist who testified that Diaz had suffered head injuries during several fights and that those injuries could have impaired his judgment and perception of reality.

But the testimony was undercut by a written report, prepared by the practitioner, that portrayed Diaz as uncooperative and accused him of trying to fake mental illness.

On Feb. 16, 2000, Diaz was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences and the death penalty.

Although he now claims his family's testimony could have helped his case, he expressed discomfort during the 2002 interview with having his relatives in the courtroom during his trial.

"When they sentenced me, it felt weird," he said. "My family was there. I knew it hurt them to hear that."

Despite this week's setback, Diaz's appeal could still be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, and no execution date has been set, Camacho said.

"They did a very bad thing for denying his appeal," she said. "He didn't do it."


Shoddy lawyering can prove fatal in death row appeals

Mysanantonio.com

September 24, 2006

With his client's life on the line, the lawyer appointed to file the death row inmate's final state appeal cobbled together arguments that were incomplete, vague and, in at least one place, just plain wrong.

They perplexed the prosecutor and provoked a 606-page response from the judge.

"Applicant totally misinterprets what actually occurred in this case," State District Judge Noe Gonzalez of Edinburg wrote about one of the attorney's claims.

Appalled by the lawyer's work, a committee of attorneys and citizens formally complained to the agency that polices attorney misconduct, the State Bar of Texas.

The result?

The attorney, Mark Alexander of McAllen, remains on the state's list of 136 lawyers who can be appointed to the cases that challenge convictions and help ensure no one unfairly convicted reaches the execution chamber.

The State Bar dismissed the grievance against Alexander. His former client, Arturo Eleazar Diaz, remains on death row, arguing the courts never really reviewed his case because Alexander botched the appeal.

Confusing as they may have been, Alexander's arguments are the last words Texas courts are likely to hear about Diaz. They remain fixed in the record, an example of a dilemma apparent to observers of all political stripes:

Texas tolerates and even finances questionable legal work in the closing chapters of its death penalty cases the court challenges known as applications for writs of habeas corpus.

"It's a problem. It needs to be addressed," said Judge Cheryl Johnson, a Republican on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. "But I don't think there are any easy solutions to it."

Examples of troubling habeas cases abound, activists say. Just last month, Texas executed Justin Fuller, whose appointed lawyer filed a habeas challenge with rambling claims, glaring typos and incoherent repetitions.

Another execution is scheduled in January for an inmate whose appointed lawyer filed two pages upward of 100 is more common that raised only one claim, and experts say it was fatally flawed.

Yet another habeas attorney failed to show the main witness against his client had recanted. With help from other lawyers, that inmate, Anthony Charles Graves, now is off death row and awaiting a retrial.

The habeas attorney's job is to catch misconduct and mistakes made by the defendant's trial lawyers, as well as the investigators, prosecutors, judges and jurors who touched the case beforehand.

If the state habeas attorney misses a detail, the inmate may never get another chance to raise it. An inmate can try filing in federal court, but, except in rare extenuating circumstances, federal judges won't consider anything that wasn't already raised in state court.

It's an area of law that goes largely unchecked by traditional safeguards against shoddy legal work. For instance:

The State Bar disciplines lawyers who file nothing at all for their clients, but not necessarily attorneys who file worthless paperwork. It leaves those to malpractice lawsuits.

Lawyers who mishandle divorces, employment disputes or other civil matters can be sued by their clients. But not in criminal cases. The law essentially forbids malpractice claims from convicts.

The Court of Criminal Appeals decides who's qualified to handle habeas appointments, but has done little, if anything, to ensure lawyers actually live up to their credentials.

Trial attorneys in death penalty cases must, by law, perform to certain constitutional standards. When, for example, lawyers fail to adequately investigate, their clients can get do-overs. Not in Texas' habeas cases. By contrast, 14 of the nation's 37 states with the death penalty hold habeas attorneys to the same standards as trial lawyers.

"We don't have any watchdog organization that checks for quality control" in capital habeas cases, said Catharine G. Burnett, a South Texas College of Law professor and a member of the committee that complained about Alexander.

A poor track record

Habeas corpus is the Latin term for the centuries-old legal tool that double-checks the fairness of a conviction or punishment. In capital cases, it acts as the executioner's gatekeeper.

Unlike the direct appeals that automatically follow every death sentence and examine what might have gone wrong at trial, applications for writs of habeas corpus dig deeper.

Not confined to what occurred in the courtroom, habeas attorneys are supposed to consider the whole picture, from what detectives did at the crime scene to what jurors discussed in the deliberation room.

It's a daunting responsibility, and many qualified attorneys steer clear of it, partly because they say the amount the state will pay up to $25,000 won't cover what's required for the sizable task. Comparable cases in federal court normally pay up to $35,000 in legal fees alone, not including investigative expenses.

Texas started supplying habeas lawyers for death row inmates in 1995. Seven years later, a nonprofit monitor of capital cases, the Texas Defender Service, looked at what the state was getting for its money.

Reading all but a dozen of the 263 habeas applications bankrolled by Texas, the nonprofit found nearly 40 percent had fatal technical flaws and provided "nothing for the courts to consider."

Since the study, "nothing has improved," said Andrea Keilen, director of the Defender Service.

Mark Alexander was preparing a habeas application around the time the Defender Service completed its study. His client, Arturo Eleazar Diaz, had been convicted of stabbing his victim dozens of times during a 1999 robbery in McAllen.

Filed in 2002, Alexander's petition crammed 19 separate arguments into 35 pages. Its brevity came at the expense of clarity.

When Alexander complained the prosecutor had made inflammatory remarks to the jury, he never cited specifics. Judge Gonzalez responded with a shrug, writing: "It is practically impossible to discern which particular comment, if any, he believes had been objectionable."

When Alexander criticized the trial attorneys for failing to discover potentially significant evidence, specifically "the tape" and "all the witnesses," he never identified the tape. Or the witnesses.

Two paragraphs long, his final assertion was that jurors hadn't been told how long parole laws would keep Diaz locked up if he received a life sentence crucial information for any jury weighing between prison time and lethal injection.

"Simply not true," the judge stated in his order rejecting all Alexander's claims. The record showed the jury had been given precisely that information.

What Alexander's petition failed to include was Diaz's contention that his trial lawyer spent only 15 minutes discussing the plea bargain offered by prosecutors.

Had Diaz better understood the plea and the risks of trial, the inmate says, he would have accepted a life sentence. When he tried raising this issue in federal court, the judge there said it was too late.

No way to grade quality

By chance, Diaz's case caught the attention of a State Bar group concerned about the quality of appointed counsel, the Committee on Legal Services to the Poor in Criminal Matters.

Alarmed by the Defender Service's study, committee members decided to look at random habeas petitions. Overall, they weren't impressed. One case especially disturbed them.

The committee's minutes show the group voted 8-1 to file a grievance.

Committee members wouldn't name in interviews the subject of their complaint, but court documents identified Alexander as the target and, although he says it was unjustified, he acknowledged the grievance.

Three months ago, committee members learned the State Bar's disciplinary office had dismissed the complaint against Alexander without a hearing. By its standards, his work didn't violate the bar's rules.

"It was frustrating to us," said Michael K. Moore, a committee member and political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. "It never saw the light of day."

Reached by phone, Alexander said the grievance, together with the heart attack he survived about a year ago, have convinced him to steer clear of capital cases.

Alexander said his medical problems have blurred his memory so that he no longer remembers enough to explain every assertion in Diaz's case. But, he insisted he labored long and dutifully on the case.

The $13,040 bill he submitted to Hidalgo County listed 326 hours of work, the equivalent of two months. Primarily, Alexander said, he knew the habeas represented Diaz's last chance to present new claims.

As a result, Alexander said he alleged things he couldn't prove simply to put them on the record. That way, if someone eventually found evidence to bolster them, the issues could be resurrected in federal court.

It wasn't a perfect legal brief, Alexander concedes, but in his defense he says it was only his second habeas case. "I was learning," he said.

"It wasn't like I just neglected it or whatever," he added. "I had reasons for what I did. I think my reasoning was sound."

Neglecting a case would violate ethical rules for attorneys. The State Bar regularly disciplines lawyers who collect fees and then file nothing or abandon a case before it's over. But if attorneys file glaringly bad claims, the bar typically does nothing.

The bar's investigators find it difficult to prove that someone who worked on a brief for more than 100 hours neglected the case, said Betty Blackwell, chairwoman of the State Bar's Commission for Lawyer Discipline.

Grading the quality of legal briefs is another challenge.

"Are you going to discipline somebody for a C, D or F?" she said. "The rules don't really address that."

Blackwell, like many others, believes the job of watchdog belongs to the Court of Criminal Appeals, the tribunal that reviews every habeas application and vets the list of attorneys who can be appointed to capital habeas cases.

Members of the court, in turn, want the State Bar to take the lead.

Cheryl Johnson, one of two judges at the court who vet the list of habeas lawyers, said the nine judges there disagree about what to do with attorneys who submit abysmal habeas petitions.

Some believe that only a formal reprimand from the State Bar would justify yanking a lawyer's name from the roster. That was the issue with at least one attorney whose name, Johnson said, doesn't belong on the list.

"I've been trying to get him off since I reached the court in 1999," she said, "and I cannot get any support for it because he has no disciplinary history with the bar."

A check on the system

As with anything involving the death penalty, personal biases cloud the discussion of habeas cases.

Judges and lawyers comfortable with capital punishment won't necessarily be troubled by a habeas application that fails to make any reasonable arguments.

In their eyes, lousy arguments in a habeas case are likely the sign of a defense lawyer grasping at straws because the conviction was fair and just.

"I'm not aware of and I don't believe there are cases where there's gross injustices based on ineffective assistance at the post-conviction writ stage," said Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, who once worked at the Court of Criminal Appeals.

By contrast, opponents of the death penalty believe reasonable claims can be found in most capital cases. To them, superficial habeas applications signal a lack of effort or ability.

"In every case I know of ... where someone didn't do their duty as a habeas lawyer and someone else came along and did it, there were new claims that were found," said Jim Marcus, a lawyer with the University of Texas Capital Punishment Clinic.

Marcus can point to such a case in Bexar County. As much as any, it demonstrates why the quality of habeas counsel matters.

Ricky Eugene Kerr was sentenced to death in 1995 for the murder of his new landlady and her 42-year-old son after they cut off his water and moved to evict him.

His appointed habeas lawyer, Robert A. McGlohon Jr., had three years' experience as a lawyer and, though he had been a staff attorney for the Court of Criminal Appeals, he never had handled a death penalty case.

Suffering from a debilitating illness and a serious misunderstanding of habeas law, McGlohon filed a single, generic claim critiquing habeas law. Nowhere did his brief say anything about Kerr's trial.

The trial court, State District Judge Sharon MacRae, rejected the petition. So did the Court of Criminal Appeals.

A few months later, Marcus, then with the Defender Service, interceded. He took the case to federal court, where he showed how McGlohon had mishandled Kerr's habeas application. The federal judge was appalled.

Concluding that Kerr never had a fair habeas petition, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia kicked the case back to the state courts. Confronted by the judge's ruling, the Court of Criminal Appeals relented and made an unusual exception. It allowed him to refile his habeas petition.

The second time around, Kerr was represented by Marcus and Kathryn Kase, an attorney with the Defender Service. They had plenty to say about Kerr's trial.

They showed that Kerr's trial attorneys had never shown jurors a full picture of the man on trial. The defense team had been so confident it would win, it only started preparing for the punishment phase after the guilty verdict.

By then it was too late to complete the detailed research expected in capital cases. Kerr's relatives testified, but the jury never heard several potentially mitigating details about the tattooed defendant with a history of domestic violence and petty crimes.

Kerr had endured an abusive childhood and had helped care for two brothers with mental retardation and an ailing grandmother. He had a history of head injuries, drug abuse and learning disabilities, possibly because of fetal alcohol syndrome.

At least one juror said the new information might have convinced her to spare Kerr, and Judge MacRae revised her previous findings. Earlier this year MacRae sent her conclusions to the Court of Criminal Appeals, where they are under review.

This time, she urged the court throw out Kerr's death sentence.



Arturo Eleazar Diaz

 

 

 
 
 
 
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