Jeff Landrigan - executed. 

Jeffrey Timothy Landrigan was executed on October 27, 2010. According to the official record he was a cold-blooded killer who never felt remorse for his crime. He was certainly not in line for sainthood, and we will certainly receive criticism for choosing to discuss his case. However, in light of the malfeasance that shows itself in the other cases from December of 1989, and questionable aspects of his as well, Jeff’s story cannot be excluded.
I actually began to get to know Jeff early into my relationship with Eldon. He was in Eldon’s pod and though I did not come to know him well, I did get a sort of feel for the person that he was. Eldon had known him since they were in jail in Phoenix together and Jeff was one of the few around him that Eldon trusted. As a result, Jeff nicknamed me “Texas” not long after I became a part of their world, we exchanged as few letters, and later I also had the occasion to speak to a woman that he was engaged to for a short time and from what I sorted from her nonsense was able to learn more.
One of the first things that I came to believe is that Jeff did have regrets and that among them were what his mother, wife and children suffered for his mistakes. On my wall, there still hangs a picture of Jeff, his former wife Sandy and his two young children who have long since been grown and went on with their lives. Each day, I look at that picture of a smiling attractive young man with those who still held his heart decades later, and realize that I am looking at the only treasures that Jeff ever possessed. Each time, I wonder how the state could have felt that taking his life was somehow worse than his loosing them.
Of course, it is easy for others to deem Jeff guilty. His past record damns him without further investigation in the minds of most, and the media certainly dwelled on his past. After his attorneys at the Phoenix Federal Defender’s Office were done making a joke of his life within the courts, his antagonists even felt there was more reason to believe that he was guilty of the murder, and that he was merely trying to avoid execution by dragging out his appeals. However, there is more to the story which the media, his attorneys and the state have allowed to remain hidden.
Jeff was certainly no saint, with his severely alcoholic and drug addicted at a young age. He was into all of the wrong things, hanging with the wrong people and in all of the wrong places. The result was that he spent time in juvenile facilities which did nothing to improve his behavior. Rather, by the time he was twenty years old his life was out of control, and he had ended up at the wrong party and in a disagreement with those there. The ordeal that was quickly becoming a drunken brawl left Jeff facing not only one angry male, but also his drunken brother-in-law and friends. Jeff was threatened, and in order to escape he fatally stabbed his best friend, Greg Brown. The consequences of the drugs and alcohol he had shared with those who confronted him carried a heavy toll, and Jeff’s life was basically over in those few moments. Though he never fled to escape the consequences of what he had done, nor denied his action, he was sentenced to life.
The petite, pretty, young boy found himself trying to survive general population in prison, but he still saw his wife Sandy and their children, and his appeals left his sentence reduced. The appellate judge determined that there should be a retrial due to the prosecutor’s misconduct, and Jeff accepted a plea deal for second degree murder. Had he been able to stay out of trouble inside, Jeff had a chance to leave his cell before he was too old to salvage anything of his life. However, he was instead involved in a confrontation with an inmate, and charged for a shanking, though the weapon Jeff chose was undoubtedly not too dangerous as the guy allegedly survived fourteen stab wounds. Still, he was back to decades of his life to be lived out within the walls, with no chance of early parole.
Of course, the depiction sounds horrible, but rather than the heartless affair offered by others, the story of the murder as found within the Oklahoma record includes:
The appellant, Jeffrey Timothy Landrigan, was charged with, tried for, and convicted of Murder in the First Degree in the District Court of Washington County, Case No. CRF-82-228. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. We reverse.
Appellant's conviction stemmed from the fatal stabbing of his best friend, Greg Brown, after they and some friends had smoked marijuana and drank whiskey at a trailer park in Dewey, Oklahoma, on August 24, 1982.
According to testimony presented at trial, appellant, accompanied by his wife and son, arrived at the trailer home of Gordon Aiken at about 8 p.m. that evening. Soon after they arrived, appellant, his family and Aiken went to purchase a fifth of whiskey. On their way back to the trailer park, the group picked up appellant's brother-in-law, Robert Martinez. When they returned to the trailer, appellant, the victim, David Detjan and Donna Favier began drinking whiskey and smoking marijuana cigarettes.
Appellant and the victim began calling one another a "punk," and began arguing whether appellant could beat the victim in a fight. As appellant started to leave, the victim pushed him against the trailer wall, and told appellant, "if you want to settle the argument, we can take it outside." The victim went outside, followed by the appellant. According to Aiken's testimony, appellant was holding a knife behind his back. Aiken testified he rushed to a bedroom to find his rifle. In the meantime, however, appellant lunged at Brown and stabbed him in the chest. Aiken returned to the living room with the rifle. Detjan took the rifle, pointed it at appellant and told him to "back up or I'm going to blow your head off." Appellant escaped between two cars as his victim collapsed on the ground.
Appellant ran to the machine shop of Alvin Burns and told Burns that he had "wasted a guy." He later told Washington County Undersheriff Jim Eppler, "Jim, I tried to kill the m____ f____. I don't take that shit off nobody. I cut him twice. I think I cut him twice."
Appellant testified on his own behalf that as the men continued to drink, he could see that what began as friendly teasing was now making the victim angry. Appellant testified that, as he was leaving, the victim grabbed him by the throat and threatened to "whip my ass." Appellant said the men went outside. He also testified that he attempted to go back into the trailer, but someone inside pointed the shotgun in his direction. Appellant jumped at Brown, but did not know he had a knife in his hand when he hit the victim. However, Brown did have a knife as he approached appellant, according to appellant's testimony.
The trial court issued instructions on both murder in the first degree and the lesser included offense of manslaughter in the first degree.
Appellant raises three assignments of error in his brief-in-chief. We agree with appellant that two of these assignments of error have merit, and we accordingly reverse and remand this conviction for a new trial.
In one assignment of error, the appellant asserts the trial court committed error by commenting on the credibility of three key state witnesses. Each of the three witnesses — Aiken, Detjan, and Favier — had previously testified the gun Detjan pointed at appellant was unloaded. Later in the trial, they recanted this testimony and admitted the gun was loaded.
It has long been the rule of this jurisdiction that a trial court cannot indicate its opinion, either expressly or impliedly, intentionally or otherwise, as to the credibility of a witness. See Winters v. State, 545 P.2d 786 (Okl.Cr. 1976), citing Holcomb v. State, 95 Okl.Cr. 55, 239 P.2d 806 (1952). Accord Black v. State,
Although the admitted perjury was on a collateral issue, the balance of their testimony was the State's proof of "external circumstances" needed to establish the pivotal element of malice aforethought for murder in the first degree. We have held that the credibility of witnesses is a jury determination as fundamental and sacred as the question of guilt or innocence. Holcomb v. State, supra. The whole manner in which the perjured testimony was handled was prejudicial to the rights of this appellant.
Of equal concern to this Court is the prosecutor's comments on summation, which we believe also contributed to a denial of appellant's right to a fair trial. The prosecutor argued that "[i]t needs to be shown to Mr. Landrigan that the people of this county will not condone homicide, even if it's convicted criminal drug users." We will not condone language which plays on societal alarm. Jones v. State, 554
P.2d 830 (Okl.Cr. 1976). Furthermore, the prosecutor appealed to the jury to remember appellant's criminal record in considering the verdict. These comments also were improper. See O'Brien v. State, 540 P.2d 579 (Okl.Cr. 1975).
Accordingly, based on the above-noted errors, we REVERSE and REMAND this case for a new trial.
BRETT, J., concurs.
BUSSEY, J., dissents.
Jeff had been at a party and things got of hand, he was in an extremely threatening situation, with people he knew would carryout their threats, and trying to leave to avoid the confrontation. He finally reacted in the same way that many men would have. From the evidence that his attorney attempted to present at sentencing, some of the same menacing crowd had again made threats when he later stabbed the inmate. It also has to be noted that with Jeff certainly out of general population two weks later when the same inmate who was stabbed was found hanged in his cell.
Ironically, it was during his time in the Oklahoma prison that Jeff who had been adopted as a toddler found his biological father, Darrell Hill who ended up on Arkansas death row. An inmate who had served time with Hill recognized the resemblance between the two, and Jeff and Hill began writing. From the contact, Jeff also learned that his biological mother who was half Native American was in Arizona. Jeff finally knew where he had came from, and he ended up formulating a plan to go looking to renew his connection with his mother as well.
Consequently, the plan for a prison break was carried out, with Jeff’s good behavior literally leaving the door open for him. In fact, Jeff’s record on the inside had been good enough that he was placed on a minimum-security work crew that was taken outside the unit. It was even reported within the media smear campaigns that he found the opportunities to have sex with a woman that he met in a park. Then, on November 11,1989 while working outside the gates, Jeff merely walked away, and headed for Yuma in search of his past.
According to the story told by the prosecution, it was just a few days later that Jeff who was on the run and broke accidentally met the eventual victim of murder, Chester Dean Dyer. Dyer, who is said to be a homosexual known for his flashing large sums of money around allegedly found Jeff at a hamburger joint and offered to help him out. Jeff who was no doubt in need of a bath, clean clothes and a meal suddenly had a place to lay low, drink beer and use amphetamines for a few days.
However, the claim was that on December 13th Dyers was murdered, with his body not found until two days later, and Jeff’s fate was set in stone by the discovery. Notably, however, it does not seem that he was initially sought out as a suspect. Instead, Jeff was only arrested, when he along with an accomplice he was caught trying to steal a car after leaving an abandoned house. At that point, the escapee who was twice convicted of stabbing someone was somehow associated with Dyers, and his shoe said to match a print found not in the blood, but in a pile of spilled sugar in Dyer’s kitchen.
From that point, with detective Mike Chambers on the case, things just fell into place to assure conviction, and by the time that Jeff made it to court his attorney, Dennis Farrell, sat idly by as Deputy Prosecutor Jeffrey Sandler created a drama involving a homosexual love affair gone bad and a subsequent murder. The detectives allegedly had the shoe print in the sugar, Jeff’s fingerprints in an apartment where he had previously been, and they also discovered a sort of eyewitness. Notably, however, the friend of Dyer never actually saw Jeff at the apartment on the thirteenth. Rather, the victim supposedly called “in the middle of sexual intercourse” to announce that he was with Jeff. It is a stretch of the imagination, but, using blood and semen that ostensibly provided a match to Jeff, the tale was substantiated.
Collectively, it was conclusive enough to persuade a jury that Jeff had lost it, killed Dyers and then robbed his apartment. However, had Jeff’s defense attorney did his job, there were holes in the theory. To start, an expert would have refuted the forensics evidence, and very likely the time of death. Plus, two years later a shoe print was deliberately altered by an expert in the prosecution of Ray which raises the likelihood that the print in sugar was not so perfect as claimed. The attorney might have even concentrated on how outrageous the phone witnesses’ statement was, and his relationship to the victim who had by the prosecutor’s account thwarted the witness’ attentions in favor of hanging out with Jeff.
It was also notable that though allegedly alone with Jeff, drinking and having sex to die in a lover’s quarrel or even for Jeff to suddenly decide to take his drugs and money, Dyer was discovered “fully clothed, face down on the bed, with a pool of blood at the head. An electrical cord was around his neck and he had sustained lacerations to the face, and puncture wounds to the body. “An ace of hearts from a deck of cards depicting men in sexual poses, was carefully propped on Dyer’s back and the rest of the deck was strewn across the bed. The apartment had been ransacked, and there were drops of blood on the bedding, kitchen sink and the bathroom counter top.” Someone had clearly taken their time killing Dyer, as if they were familiar enough with his lifestyle to expect not to interrupted. But, at the same time, they trashed the apartment either looking for whatever they wanted to steal or creating the appearance of a robbery to cover their tracks. If it was Jeff, he lost an ally in the city and left himself looking over his shoulder more than he already was. If it was someone else, they had an easy patsy for the crime, with Jeff an escaped convict.
The defense counsel might have looked into the possibility of police considering a jealous “friend” a suspect, before that friend provided the only connection between Jeff and the victim on the night of the murder. Or even the incredible nature of his tale which included that as being romantically involved with Jeff, the victim stopped paying attention to his lover not only as having sex in order to call and brag, but also as they were drinking beer and working up to sexual relations to call. Then he allegedly called again just after in order to inquire as to whether or not the friend could get Jeff a job. The story was far-fetched, but still uncontested despite its dubious nature.
There is no question that Jeff’s trial was a thinly veiled facade just like all of the others, and by sentencing he had lost all patients with his attorney. Having told Farrell that he did not want his family submitted to the trauma of having to testify about his past, he discovered that there had been no other investigation and that he was to be sentenced with his prison record almost the only evidence presented at a hearing designed to allow him to offer mitigation evidence. Even the investigator who spent thirteen hours on the case never spent any time gathering material for the sentencing hearing, and expressed frustration concerning the attorney not communicating with him.
Jeff knew what the sentence was going to be from the start, and as a Supreme court judge later agreed, he clearly reacted in anger to what was no more than a show designed to offer the appearance of legality. Jeff spewed venom, as he refuted everything that his attorney had to say, and set about assuring the judge that as the prosecution’s version indicated he was a cold-blooded killer. This included that as his attorney attempted to establish, the facts of the prison incident which indicated that Jeff had been threatened by a friend of the father of Greg Brown and acted to defend himself, Jeff gave a different version of that story as well. He gave the court the worst possible adaptation of every offense, as if presenting evidence for the prosecution. Then, finally he asked concerning his attorney, “Why have him tell somebody else’s story in the first fucking place?”
By the time Jeff was asked if he had anything to say on his own behalf, he was incensed and stood before the judge to boldly state:
Yes, I’d like to point out a few things, about how I feel about the way this shit, this whole scenario went down. I think it is pretty fucking ridiculous to let a fagot be the one to determine my fate, about how they came across in his defense, about I was supposedly fucking this dude. This never happened. I think the whole thing stinks. I think if you want to give me the death penalty, just bring it on. I’m ready for it.”
Jeff stood before the court knowing that he would be sent to death row, and that even if he had escaped that fate, he would have not have left the Oklahoma prison again until he was an old man. There was nothing to look to but death, and his performance in court clearly demonstrates that he expected the state of Arizona to offer him just that after their using what he still avowed was fictitious evidence to convict him. Though ignored by most, Jeff was in that position, after being offered a plea by the prosecutor’s office before his trial. He never had to chance facing execution had his goal been to merely stay alive within prison. However, Jeff pled not guilty and the conviction may have stood, but two decades later the evidence remains questionable to say the least.
Jeff simply had no reason to fight his case after he was sent to the row, nor did he have attorneys who would have cared to take up such an expensive and time consuming battle. Instead, for the last decade or more of his life, he was at the mercy of the attorneys at the Federal Public Defender’s Office. The case was turned into a sideshow that finally earned Attorney Dale Baich who heads FPD in Phoenix a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court and got his name in the paper. In fact, that defeat not only established that a client can refuse to have mitigation presented, but cost the tax-payers dearly for something that Jeff had tried to avoid by dropping his appeals.
By the time they were done, Jeff’s past was used to paint him the horrid monster that others imagine without knowing the details of his cases, and he had spent years more in seclusion. Of course, with it all done to supposedly protect their client, his attorneys walked away unscathed. However, Jeff met the executioner after DNA had proven the semen at the scene was not his three years before his death.
Still, what was done to Jeff is merely typical in death cases. FPD pursued a theory that Jeff was a born killer by attempting to say that because his father was on death row, Jeff’s behavior was encoded in his genes, and they fought to prove that a lawyer is required to use mitigation, regardless of their client telling them that they do not want it used as Jeff had done at his sentencing hearing. In sum, they drug out every piece of dirt on his natural parents, adoptive parents, and Jeff in an attempt to see him sentenced to life in prison, and they did so as ignoring all of the same evidence that pointed away from Jeff as the killer that his defense attorney had disregarded.
They had used so much to try to mitigate him off the row, that one court expressed that Jeff’s problems had caused “disordered behavior that was beyond the control of Mr. Landrigan” and that he “could not function in a society that expects individuals to act in an organized and adaptive manner taking into account the actions and consequences of their behavior.” The same opinion discusses a long list of Jeff’s supposed mental issues, though there is no mention of the time that he had spent in the Oklahoma prison that he was sober, off drugs and well enough behaved to be trusted outside the unit.
There was no mention of any positive attribute that Jeff may have possessed in more than more than two decades. Rather, because of his own attorneys Jeff was depicted as a monster, unworthy of life and certainly unworthy of anyone considering that he had pled not guilty, because he actually did not murder Dyer.
As a result, as it was with my husband, I was likely the first to ever ask Jeff if he had committed the murder. But, I did ask, as once explaining to Jeff what I felt to be wrong in the investigation and prosecution of his and Eldon‘s cases. My question came after his knowing for an extended period the battle we faced with Eldon’s attorneys and his reading no less than a short book from me concerning my discovering that those on the row are allowed no control of their own cases if appointed counsel by the courts. Jeff understood our battle, because he lived it, and so he did not answer me yes or no. Instead, Jeff sent me a copy of an article regarding his father being on death row, a story that his attorneys were responsible for being publicized nationwide against his wishes. He sent me further proof that once condemned, the attorneys are in control and take the case where they want it to go.

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