Juan Ignacio Blanco  


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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Hitchhiking
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 1980
Date of birth: September 3, 1947
Victim profile: Sandra Owen, a young woman with mental problems
Method of murder: Hitting her in the head with a large rock
Location: Tucson, Arizona, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on May 27, 1982. Commuted to life in prison, 2007

United States Court of Appeals
For the Ninth Circuit


opinion 96-99020


Date of Birth: September 3, 1947
Defendant: Caucasian
Victim: Caucasian

Sometime between March 11 and March 14, 1980, Lambright, Robert Douglas Smith, and Kathy Foreman picked up Sandra Owen, a young woman with mental problems, who was hitchhiking in the Tucson area.

Smith raped Ms. Owen twice, and the group took her to a remote area in the mountains outside Tucson.

Lambright and Smith then killed the victim by choking her, stabbing her, and hitting her in the head with a large rock. They concealed her body by covering it with rocks, and the body was not discovered until 1 year later.

Lambright and Smith were tried in a joint trial before two separate juries. Ms. Foreman testified against them in exchange for a grant of immunity.


    Presiding Judge: Michael J. Brown
    Prosecutor: James D. Himelic
    Start of Trial: March 25, 1982
    Verdict: March 30, 1982
    Sentencing: May 27, 1982

Aggravating Circumstances:

    Especially heinous/cruel/depraved

Mitigating Circumstances:



    State v. Lambright, 138 Ariz. 63, 673 P.2d 1 (1983).
    Lambright v. Lewis, 932 F. Supp. 1547 (9th Cit. 1996).




Lambright and Smith were traveling across the country with Lambright's girlfriend, Kathy Foreman. Smith was troubled by the fact that while Lambright and Foreman had intercourse in his presence, he did not have anybody along to satisfy him. For his part, Lambright thought that he "would like to kill somebody just to see if he could do it. " Lambright I, 138 Ariz. at 66, 673 P.2d at 4.

They decided that both desires could be fulfilled, and they set out with Foreman to find a victim. They found Sandy Owen and kidnaped her. Smith raped her on the way to a mountain site where they all got out of the car and Smith raped Owen again as Lambright and Foreman had intercourse. What happened next was that Smith began choking Owen, and Lambright declared that she must be killed. So, "Lambright took Foreman's knife out of its sheath and began stabbing the victim in the chest and abdomen, twisting the knife around inside of her. Smith held one of the victim's arms while she was being stabbed, and Foreman held the other arm." Id. at 67, 673 P.2d at 5.

After that, "Smith unsuccessfully tried to break Ms. Owen's neck by twisting her head. Then Lambright, Foreman or both began cutting deeply into the victim's neck with the knife. . . . The victim remained alive, and was at least semiconscious, as she attempted to raise herself up on one arm. Lambright picked up a large rock and hurled it at her head. Foreman testified that as he threw the rock he yelled `Die, bitch.' " Id.

The three then drove off in a celebratory mood, playing the piece "We Are the Champions" as they went. See id. Once caught, the trio's song changed. Foreman turned state's evidence, was given immunity, and testified against her erstwhile lover and his friend. Lambright confessed, but deemed Smith to be the worst of the three. Smith, too, confessed, but he dubbed Foreman and Lambright as the real killers.



Federal appeals court overturns Arizona death sentence

By Bob Christie -

May 11, 2007

PHOENIX - A federal appeals court on Friday overturned the death sentence of a man convicted of raping and killing a hitchhiker he picked up outside Tucson in 1980, saying the man's defense attorney failed to present evidence that might have convinced a judge to choose a lesser sentence.

Joe Leonard Lambright's lawyer spent only five hours preparing for the penalty phase of his 1982 trial, according to the opinion handed down by a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Lambright, 59, was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault along with his co-defendant, Robert D. Smith, 58, and both were sentenced to death.

Despite knowing about his client's long history of mental health problems, two prior suicide attempts and a related stay in a psychiatric hospital, attorney Carmine Brogna did not present that evidence in an effort to mitigate the crime, the ruling said. He also did not raise Lambright's possible post-traumatic stress syndrome related to his service in Vietnam, his drug abuse problem or the abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of his mother.

Instead, he only called a Pima County jail guard who testified that he had no problems with Lambright during the six months he supervised him and that he had "always been respectful, courteous, and cooperative." Brogna did not ask for leniency, but only asked the judge to impose a life prison term.

The trial judge in the case found only one aggravating circumstance, that the crime was especial cruel or heinous, and said the lack of mitigating factors essentially tied his hands and required the death sentence.

Brogna's performance was both "deficient and prejudicial" and the appeals court ordered a new sentencing phase of the trial to be held.

Brogna, who recently retired after more than 35 years as an attorney, said in an interview Friday that he disputed the appeals court's characterization that the matters were not raised at trial. Much of the information was contained in a psychiatrist's report and brought up in other parts of the trial, he said.

"There was an extensive psychiatric workup done that was presented to the court. There was no basis for a PTSD defense," Brogna said, noting that he traveled to Texas to interview the defendant's family members before the trial.

"I do know that during my interviews with witnesses not an awful lot was gathered that would be helpful," Brogna said. "It's just irksome that 28 years later this thing is still knocking around and comes back."

Lambright and Smith were traveling across the country with Lambright's girlfriend, Kathy Foreman, when they decided to try to find a woman for Smith to have sex with.

They picked up Sandra Owen in Tucson, and Smith raped her in the back seat of their car as they drove into the mountains. Once at the remote site, Smith raped her again and Lambright stabbed her while Smith and Foreman held the woman. Lambright then smashed Owen's head with a rock.

Foreman testified against the men at trial. Both Smith and Lambright remain on Arizona's death row.

A spokeswoman for the Arizona Attorney General's Office said they had not reviewed the opinion and would refrain from commenting. A decision on whether to seek the death penalty again will be made after that review is complete.



Joe Leonard Lambright



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