[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----CONN., USA, VA., N.C.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Dec 5 21:06:06 CST 2004
Ross To Rell: Keep Out Of It---Continuing Quest For Execution, Killer Asks
Governor Not To Use Power Of Reprieve
"Dear Governor Rell..."
So begins condemned killer Michael Ross' plea to Gov. M. Jodi Rell in a
letter dated Nov. 28. While most death row inmates beg for mercy, Ross
asks that his desire to speed his execution be respected.
He requests of Rell what he asked, in vain, of his former public
defenders: Don't interfere.
Ross implores Rell not to invoke her power to issue a reprieve and suspend
his execution - now set for Jan. 26 - for up to two legislative sessions.
He cites concerns for his victims' families and his gut feeling that any
legislative debate that followed a reprieve "would degrade into a
referendum of whether Michael Ross should live or die.
"You know politics better than I do," he tells Rell in his 5-page,
handwritten letter. "But I believe that fear would rule the political
Ross, through his lawyer, T.R. Paulding, officially locked horns Friday
with the public defenders who no longer represent him, but did for 17
years - advocates who have filed motions against his will to stave off his
Paulding filed an objection to the motions filed in Superior Court in New
London by Chief Public Defender Gerard Smyth and his staff. In it,
Paulding points out that the public defenders no longer represent Ross,
and states that their motions "are contrary to the defendant's wishes or
It is also apparent from the court documents filed Friday that Ross does
not wish to appear in public again. Several weeks after his execution date
was set on Oct. 6, Ross was moved from death row at Northern Correctional
Institution to a cell adjacent to the death chamber at neighboring Osborn
"The defendant wishes to make it clear to this Honorable Court that he has
no desire to appear in open court in order to deal with the issues raised
by the public defenders' motions," Paulding wrote in the motion directed
at Judge Patrick Clifford. He goes on to say that if a hearing were
scheduled, Ross would like to waive his appearance.
"In the alternative, should the court desire to question the defendant,
Mr. Ross would be happy to engage in a telephonic conference call to
accomplish that end."
Ross, 45, is a Cornell graduate who has admitted to kidnapping and killing
8 young women, six in Connecticut and two in New York, between 1981 and
1985. They ranged in age from 14 to 26, and all were strangled. Most were
raped. His death sentences stem in particular from four of those killings
in 1983 and 1984: those of Robin Stavinsky, 19, of Norwich; Wendy
Baribeault, 17, of Griswold; and April Brunais and Leslie Shelley, both
14, from Griswold. Brunais and Shelley were kidnapped together.
In his letter to Rell, Ross said he was asking Rell not to grant a
reprieve for 2 reasons:
First, and most importantly, it is not fair to the families of my victims
who have been waiting for over 20 years for justice to be carried out in
this case. On the day that I received an execution date Mrs. Shelley, the
mother of Leslie Shelley (one of my 14-year-old victims) was on television
and asked if she felt better now that an actual execution date has been
set. As she cried she said (and I am trying to quote as accurate as I
can,) `Every time that we come to court it just tears open our hearts
again. I just want this over with one way or the other.' Governor Rell,
that is what I am trying to do - it is what I have been trying to do for
almost a decade now.
Governor Rell, I have no death wish. ... I am simply trying to do the
right thing by attempting to bring this horrible ordeal to an end. Please
do not exercise your power to grant a temporary reprieve; it is the last
thing these families need.
The 2nd reason he gives is his certainty that a political debate on the
death penalty would hinge on his personal worthiness as a candidate for
A vote for abolition [of the death penalty] would be seen as essentially a
vote to 'save' Michael Ross. And the pro-death penalty people would remind
the anti-death penalty people that a vote to 'save' Michael Ross would be
a huge political liability come re-election time. I'm sure that you
yourself have considered the possible ramifications this decision could
possible have on your own political future.
I truly believe that the best chance for an honest debate on the issue of
the death penalty can only happen after my execution. After all the people
who say that the state of Connecticut is too liberal and will never allow
an execution are proven wrong.
The last execution in Connecticut took place May 17, 1960, when Joseph
Taborsky was electrocuted for a string of robberies and execution-style
killings at various retail stores.
Rell has been mum on whether she is leaning toward or against a reprieve,
saying only that her staff attorneys are researching the reprieve power
vested in her by the state constitution, and whether it has ever been
invoked. Governors in Connecticut do not have the power to commute a
sentence of death. That power rests solely with the Board of Pardons.
Ross could halt his scheduled execution at any time by availing himself of
several avenues of appeal still open to him, but he has chosen to become a
"volunteer" by waiving those appeals and asking to be put to death. His
deadline for appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court will expire Tuesday. On
Thursday, Public Defender John Holdridge shipped to Washington, D.C., a
petition asking the high court to review Ross' case. In it the public
defenders make clear they are still awaiting permission from Clifford to
intervene and wage appeals on Ross' behalf, claiming he is mentally and
emotionally incompetent to make such crucial judgments on his own. They
claim he is clinically depressed, due largely to 20 years' confinement in
a high-security setting.
Paulding said this week that Ross is insulted by their claims that he is
(source: Hartford Courant)
Is death too costly? Costs double for inmates on death row
The state spent $2.6 million from 1984 to 2002 to defend Michael Ross and
6 other inmates on death row, including five men prosecuted in the
Waterbury Judicial District.
Over that period Connecticut dealt with twice as many prisoners sentenced
to life in prison for the same amount of money.
Due to automatic appeals to higher courts, expert witnesses and the
sometimes greater need for forensic analysis, prosecuting capital felony
cases is costlier than other felony proceedings, although numbers are hard
to come by, according to a January 2003 study commissioned by the
Connecticut General Assembly.
And the aggressive tug of war between prosecutors and defense lawyers in a
death-penalty case doesn't even begin to tally incarceration costs.
Death row cells cost $149 per prisoner per day compared to the $83 and $74
at 2 other prisons where most inmates serving life without parole are
All the figures, pulled from various agencies and last year's 77-page
report, offer a glimpse into the economics of the death penalty as
Connecticut begins to debate whether to execute its 1st prisoner since
Michael Ross of Brooklyn is scheduled to die by lethal injection Jan. 26
after waiving all further legal challenges.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who can postpone Ross' planned execution if lawmakers
decide to revisit the state's death penalty, chafed Thursday at the
thought of reducing a public execution to a question of money.
"You're talking about a person's life," she said. "We have to hold the
victims' lives in our thoughts."
The issue of money likely will come up, some said, as supporters and
opponents of the death penalty grasp for arguments to sway public
sentiment one way or the other in coming weeks and months.
"Study after study has shown that winning a death penalty at trial and
executing a person are considerably more costly than life imprisonment,"
said Patrick Culligan, chief of the state Public Defender's capital
defense and trial services unit, which is trying to delay Ross' execution
through legal means.
Waterbury state's attorney John Connelly disagreed.
"It's a spurious argument," Connelly said, adding that capital felony
cases cost no more than any other murder cases. His office has put 6
defendants onto Connecticut's death row. "Every case is appealed. The 6
cases I've done have not cost any more money. Most if not all costs are
fixed costs. Salaries of the judges, salaries of the prosecutors. Jurors
aren't paid more."
Trying to tease out prosecution costs on death penalty cases is difficult.
State prosecutors say they don't differentiate death penalty-related legal
costs from other expenses. Then there's the times when prosecutors must
rely on other state agencies to supply much needed expertise.
Take for example, the Department of Public Safety's Forensic Science
Laboratory, which offers ballistics analysis, fingerprint identification,
DNA work and drug and toxicology reports -- all areas that factor into
many types of felony proceedings, including death penalty ones.
Because investigative work is usually done before prosecutors file
charges, "we don't know it's a death-penalty case," said Elaine Pagliaro,
acting director of the Forensic Science Laboratory. "Even it has been
decided that it will be a death-penalty case, we may not know it."
Settling the question of the true costs of the death penalty, let alone
assessing how it compares economically to other punishments, is a matter
of interpretation, some say.
A 1993 North Carolina study widely cited as a model on how to study the
issue said as much: "Even though many experts believe that it costs more
to finance a system in which the death penalty is an option, little
empirical data exist that actually compare the cost of a death sentence
case with a non-death sentence case," the report stated.
What is known in general terms is how much Connecticut's state public
defenders spent over 18 years defending seven men sentenced to die.
By 2002 the off-and-on defense of Michael Ross had soared to more than $1
million, while representation of Robert Breton, who killed his ex-wife and
16-year-old son in Waterbury in 1987, hovered around $340,000.
Richard Reynolds, who in 1992 killed a Waterbury police officer, had cost
the state more than $400,000 while Todd Rizzo's defense was fast
approaching $300,000. The former Marine bludgeoned 13-year-old Stanley
Edwards to death with a sledgehammer in his Waterbury back yard in 1997.
The cost to defend Ivo Colon, meanwhile, was bumping up against $300,000.
Colon was sentenced to die for brutally beating his girlfriend's
2-year-old daughter Keriana Tellado to death July 17, 1998 by ramming her
head repeatedly against a shower wall.
More than $150,000 had been spent to defend Sedrick Cobb, a former
delivery man from Naugatuck convicted of capital felony, kidnapping,
murder, sexual assault and robbery in the Dec. 16, 1989, attack on
23-year-old Julie Ashe of Watertown.
Death penalty costs are generated in part due to the built-in safeguards
in the system.
Each of the 7 men on death row at the time of the study won automatic
appeals of their sentence. In some cases, they won new penalty phases when
a higher court threw out the original sentence.
Of Connecticut death row inmates, Ross has been on it the longest,
arriving in July 1987. Eventually, he won a new penalty phase, as did
Rizzo, who watched his sentence get thrown out last year. He is no longer
on death row.
Defense lawyers for Cobb and others, meanwhile, have challenged the
constitutionality of the death penalty system itself, arguing that it is
racially, ethnically and geographically discriminatory.
Death row got one more occupant -- Robert Courchesne, who was convicted
last year for the Sept. 15, 1998, murders in Waterbury of Demetris Rodgers
and her unborn baby who was delivered by emergency Cesarean section
minutes after her death, but died 42 days later.
A Torrington man may soon join Courchesne and the others. A Hartford
Superior Court judge on Friday scheduled sentencing for Eduardo Santiago
Jr., 25, who was convicted in August of shooting Joseph Niwinski, 45, in
his sleep in 2000 in exchange for a broken snowmobile.
Of course, Connecticut, like the vast majority of states, has a long
history of executing criminals, stretching back to its earliest days.
The 1st person recorded executed for a crime in Connecticut was a man the
record books call Nepauduck. Convicted in 1639 for murder, he was hanged.
A few years later, from 1647 until 1655, 6 people were hanged, 4 for
>From 1894, when the Department of Correction began carrying out
executions, until 1960, a total of 73 men were either hanged or
electrocuted in Connecticut.
The last person executed was Joseph Taborsky, who was electrocuted May 17,
1960, at the old state prison in Wethersfield.
Taborsky, known as "Mad Dog," killed two people Dec. 15, 1956, while
robbing a gas station on Stanley Street in New Britain. The Brooklyn,
N.Y., resident confessed to 8 robbery-murders and 8 holdups that took
place over 8 months from 1956 to 1957.
Ross is the only death row occupant to have a death warrant and an
One lawmaker said there is opposition to executions in Connecticut.
"I don't think people want to see it start up here," said Rep. Michael
Lawlor, D-East Haven, and a co-chairman of the legislature's Judiciary
Committee. Lawlor said the public fits into one of three categories on the
death penalty -- they are supporters, opponents or belong to a "group who
are philosophically OK but generally uncomfortable with doing it."
He thinks that last group will keep Connecticut from executing Ross.
(source: Waterbury Republican-American)
Half century later, Rosenbergs' defender struggles to be heard----Cry of
injustice fades with time
For a quarter of a century, Aaron Katz has spent every weekday in a tiny
Manhattan office surrounded by yellowed papers and Cold War era posters,
diligently making phone call after phone call seeking support for a cause
that is fading into history. Katz, now 89 and hard of hearing, is the lone
volunteer for the National Committee to Reopen the Rosenberg Case, which
aims to clear the names of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, New Yorkers the US
government executed in the 1950s for conspiring to commit espionage.
Katz and other aging defenders of the Rosenbergs have never wavered in
their belief the couple were completely innocent. Their 2 sons, who spent
much of their lives searching for information to exonerate them, have.
Since secret cables were released in the mid-1990s, Michael and Robert
Meeropol have gradually come to believe it is possible their father was
actually a Soviet spy during World War II and their mother knew about it.
Events over the past year and a half -- the 50th anniversary of the
execution, this summer's documentary by one of the Rosenbergs'
granddaughters, a book by the younger son, and a character based on Ethel
Rosenberg in HBO's award-winning "Angels in America" -- have highlighted
the disagreement between sons struggling to reconcile new facts with their
emotional attachments and true believers still hanging on to their cause.
They do share a belief that the Rosenbergs did not commit the crime they
were executed for -- passing US secrets about the atomic bomb to the
"We believed we were going to prove there was not only a frame-up, but a
frame-up of totally innocent people. That still could be possibly true,
but some evidence can't be dismissed, which leads us to honestly say,
'Well it [the evidence] might be true.' There are plenty of people that
totally disagree," said Michael Meeropol, now 61 and the chairman of the
Economics Department at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass.
"I would have been one of those people who were adamant if you talked to
me in the 1970s," said Robert Meeropol, 58, who also lives in Western
Massachusetts. "But I have lived with the information that has come out. I
realize now they didn't steal the secrets to the atomic bomb, but does
that really prove they didn't do anything? It's quite possible that a
grave injustice was done to them without them being totally innocent." The
Meeropols, who took the surname of their adoptive parents, admit their
ambiguous and evolving views have made some of their parents' long-term
"We believe they were absolutely innocent. I know that goes somewhat
against what the Meeropols have said," said Katz, a Brooklyn resident who
began rallying for the Rosenbergs when they were arrested in 1950. "I
understand the differences in opinion, but I think it should be clear that
both sides, the Meeropols and the National Committee to Reopen the
Rosenberg Case, believe there was a terrible injustice that took place.
The government was aware of the injustice, and yet they allowed the
execution to take place."
The Rosenbergs were Jewish Communists in their 30s when they were charged,
convicted, and then executed in the electric chair at the fabled Sing Sing
Prison in New York on June 19, 1953. Their boys were 6 and 10 at the time.
For decades, leftist activists have insisted the Rosenbergs were wrongly
In 1995, the National Security Agency released decrypted KGB documents
that indicated Julius Rosenberg may have been a Soviet agent nicknamed
"Liberal" whose surreptitious spying had the support of his wife.
But in New York City, doubts about the prosecution live on.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the National Committee to Reopen the Rosenberg
Case buzzed with 10 or so volunteers. Many have since died. Katz spends
part of his days as he has for 25 years: typing letters to supporters
alleging flaws in the old case. Today, Katz will be in Washington to
deliver a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee signed by 2,000 French
citizens requesting the reexamination of the case. Katz said a similar
letter endorsed by 6,000 supporters, including actors Ossie Davis and Ruby
Dee, is being prepared for early next year.
"I think one of the reasons the case still grabs at people, and people
can't let it go, is that this is something that happened to a young
couple, and so people who were young parents at that time, or who were
children, either identified very personally with my parents or with my
brother and myself," said Robert Meeropol, who runs the Rosenberg Fund for
Children in Easthampton, Mass., which provides grants to support the
educational needs of the children of activists.
Supporters of the Rosenbergs say the case symbolized how progressive
politics was placed on trial during the McCarthy era. And they worry that
the government's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is reminiscent of
the Red Scare, when fears of communism led to widespread arrests.
Ivy Meeropol, the Rosenbergs' oldest granddaughter, has traveled
throughout the country showing her documentary, "Heir to an Execution."
She has seen firsthand how her grandparents' legacy still incites passion
among New Yorkers who were contemporaries.
"I think Aaron [Katz] is a perfect example of New Yorkers who won't let it
go. As much as I don't want my life completely absorbed in this, I can
respect those people like Aaron who are so committed. . . . I think it
comes from the fact that they are very focused politically and the
Rosenbergs became their issue, and it rolled over from political to
personal," said Ivy Meeropol, 37.
Michael Feldberg, who recently became director of research at the Newton,
Mass., branch of the American Jewish Historical Society, remembered
sitting in his father's DeSoto listening to the execution being announced
on the radio. "My parents said this will be bad for the Jews," he
recalled. "I considered the Rosenberg case a very pivotal time in my own
sense of self. It made me self-conscious to think that Jews had actually
put American survival at risk. I think I always carried around inside me a
sense, almost a preoccupation."
Katz believes the political winds are shifting, citing a number of old
murders from the civil rights era that have been reopened. As the number
of staunch Rosenberg supporters dwindles -- from 12,000 to 6,000 within
the past 4 years -- he is hoping to find a replacement.
"I am desperately looking for someone to take my place," he said sitting
in his office. "I won't be able to do it forever."
(source: Boston Globe)
A racial past in Va. death-penalty cases
A 1972 study in the Virginia Law Review found that before the Civil War,
Virginia divided criminals facing death sentences into 3 classes:
whites, who were subject to capital punishment only in cases of murder,
arson and treason;
free blacks, who could be executed for rape and attempted rape of a white
woman, in addition to the above crimes;
and slaves, who could be executed for all the above crimes plus burglary,
armed robbery and any other crime for which a white could receive 3 or
more years in prison.
In 1866, after the Civil War and the end of slavery, the legislature
adopted race-free laws.
Murder, arson and treason were still mandatory capital crimes. But
lawmakers added burglary, armed robbery and rape, formerly capital crimes
only for blacks, to the list - and made the death sentence optional for
The law review's study concluded that "since the legislature apparently
felt it impolitic to distinguish penalties by race, they made the death
penalty discretionary for these [additional] crimes, and placed their
trust in the judgment of white judges and white juries."
The jury-selection procedure adopted by the General Assembly in 1866 made
it possible to keep blacks off juries. All males age 21 to 60 were
eligible, but the law left it up to local judges to compile the jury
In 1894, the General Assembly added attempted rape to the list of
discretionary capital crimes. According to the Virginia Supreme Court of
Appeals, it was "because of fears that failure to do so would risk the
lynching of persons accused of the crime."
By 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court banned capital punishment, Virginia
and 15 other states - all them Southern or border states - still had rape
listed as a capital crime. In only 1 state - Virginia - could someone be
executed for attempted rape.
Virginia's capital-punishment law was rewritten in the mid-1970s. The U.S.
Supreme Court let executions resume in 1976, and certain types of murder
are now the only crimes punishable by death in Virginia and other states.
For murder to be a capital crime in Virginia today, it must be a
deliberate and premeditated killing committed under special circumstances.
Those circumstances include robbery or attempted robbery, rape or
attempted rape, sodomy or attempted sodomy, abduction with intent to
extort money, murder of a law-enforcement officer, murder for hire, murder
while incarcerated and murder of more than one person in a 3-year period.
The state penitentiary was torn down in 1991, and the same electric chair
purchased in 1908 - with improvements - was moved to the Greensville
Correctional Center in Jarratt, where executions are now conducted.
Most condemned inmates now are executed by injection, an option since
Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore says that "the Virginia of 2004
is not the Virginia of 1964, and that is clearly seen when it comes to
cases of capital punishment.
"A recent independent study by a legislative agency has borne out the fact
that when it comes to the death penalty in Virginia, it is not a matter of
black or white - it is a matter of innocence or guilt," Kilgore said.
Other studies have concluded that race remains a factor in the
administration of the death penalty in Virginia. As in other parts of the
nation, disproportionate numbers of blacks are executed in Virginia, and
the murder of a white makes it more likely a killer will be sentenced to
But while a disproportionate number of blacks are sent to death row,
blacks are convicted of a disproportionate number of murders.
In any case, Virginia, to this day, is the fastest state at executing
those who have been sentenced to death, and it executes the highest
percentage of inmates with death sentences. Virginia ranks second to Texas
in total number of executions.
(source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Actor and activist speaks to, meets with other foes of death penalty at
It shouldn't surprise anyone that Mike Farrell has spent a lot of time
thinking about death.
The now-white-haired California actor is perhaps best known for his part
as Korean War surgeon B.J. Hunnicutt in the groundbreaking TV series
And while the show deftly paired comedy and drama, life and death, it was
the latter that brought Farrell to North Carolina this weekend -- the hope
for an end to state-sanctioned killing via the death penalty.
Farrell was among the highlighted speakers Saturday at the 10th
anniversary statewide conference sponsored by People of Faith Against the
Death Penalty, an interfaith group started in Chapel Hill to put a
spotlight on North Carolina's and other governments' killing of prisoners.
During an interview prior to his evening talk, the actor best known for
his starring roles in "M*A*S*H" and, more recently, "Providence,"
discussed his lifelong obsession with what he perceived as injustice.
"I had a sense of being treated unjustly as a child," said Farrell who,
with his wife, actress Shelley Fabares, has two grown children. "I was not
abused, per se, but my father was a very powerful, frightening man. He
created a sense of impending danger which, at the time, struck me as dumb,
but as I grew up, I saw it as inappropriate."
Farrell said he had come to extrapolate that relationship into a worldview
that required him to do something about injustice or accept the role of
That realization led to Farrell's 30-plus-year fight against the use of
the death penalty -- a battle in which he enlisted long before DNA
evidence began to show major flaws in the criminal justice system. In
fact, Farrell said the "vast majority" of murder cases didn't involve DNA
evidence, so the technology "should not be embraced too broadly as a magic
bullet, pun intended." What's more, if governments push too far in
requiring citizens to provide DNA, said Farrell, it opens the door to
possible violations of basic human rights.
Farrell's involvement in social justice issues led to his service as
president of Death Penalty Focus, the largest membership-based group in
the country working to abolish government killing of prisoners, and as
co-chair of Human Rights Watch in California. He said he believed capital
punishment devalued life. He called it "a significant contributor to the
moral erosion of our society."
Farrell said he was not, strictly speaking, a pacifist. "I believe in the
right of self-defense," he explained. "But I also strongly believe that
the State does not have the right to take a life. 'Thou shalt not kill' is
a moral principle. And just because someone fails to honor it doesn't give
the State the right to take a life. Self-defense, to me, involves a
literal, spontaneous moment. Some would argue that the State taking the
life of a murderer 10 or 12 years down the road is self-defense, but I
believe that's hypocrisy of the worst order."
During the interview, and in remarks prepared for his later speech,
Farrell cited racial and economic injustice as a glaring fault of
America's application of punishment. "Our highest judicial authority once
said black people were only three-fifths of a human being," said Farrell,
"and today juries still find it much easier to condemn a black person to
death than a white person. The vast majority of people on Death Row are
people of color. And in the United States, the death penalty is the
exclusive option of the poor. A rich man can get onto death row as easily
as a camel can get through the eye of a needle."
The daylong PFADP event also included talks by some people who had been
brought back from death row through DNA tests that proved what they'd been
unable to otherwise -- innocence. Alan Gell and Darryl Hunt, who jointly
spent 28 years in North Carolina's prisons and death row for murders they
did not commit, told attendees about the importance they found, especially
during the holiday season, in receiving support mail from strangers as
well as friends and family.
They encouraged the supporters in the audience to remain steadfast in
their effort to get a moratorium on the death penalty in North Carolina,
and to pursue punishment for prosecutors and other public officials who
knowingly refused to provide evidence that might help exonerate people
accused of capital crimes.
Tye Hunter, a public defender from Chapel Hill and one of the founders of
PFADP, said he believed attitudes had been changing about North Carolina's
use of the death penalty during the past decade, especially since the
exonerations of people like Gell and Hunt.
"For a long time, I think, people tended to think that part of the
criminal justice system was faultless," he said, "which is ironic, since
they didn't necessarily have that kind of confidence in other parts of
Saturday's PFADP workshops addressed other aspects of the death penalty
milieu -- from recent findings that North Carolina's system of lethal
injection may be a form of torture to the potential for evolving
"restorative justice" to address the needs of crime victims and society in
Some 200 people gathered for the event, "This Far By Faith: Building
Communities of Justice and Hope," at the N.C. Mutual Life Insurance
Building downtown. The event, named for a gospel song, focused on racial
disparities inherent in applications of capital punishment in North
Carolina and elsewhere.
During a dinner ceremony, state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird was presented PFADP's
2004 Rev. Robert E. Seymour Award for her work on a state moratorium on
executions in North Carolina. Seymour, pastor emeritus of Binkley Memorial
Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, is among the founders of PFADP.
Durham's Watts Street Baptist Church got the organization's Faith in
Action Award for the congregation's work on restorative justice. And the
Community Service Award was presented to the Father Charlie Mulholland
Catholic Worker House, led by Patrick O'Neill and Mary Rider, as "pillars
in the abolition movement."
(source: The Durham Herald Sun)
Backers of death penalty bill hold hope----A bill to halt executions for 2
years has a chance of passing next year, proponents say
Supporters of a 2-year moratorium on the death penalty in North Carolina
said Saturday that they have the momentum and are optimistic they'll get a
bill passed through the General Assembly next year.
Leaders in the state's moratorium movement urged the 210 participants in
the People of Faith Against the Death Penalty's conference to push harder
now that the chance of victory is greater.
They cited the Democrats' retaking the majority in the General Assembly,
the high-profile exoneration of two death row inmates and, just this past
week, a jury's decision not to impose the death penalty in the murder of a
Wake County sheriff's deputy and the state Supreme Court decision to
uphold a stay of execution.
"The whole mood has changed," said state Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham
Democrat. "The exoneration of Darryl Hunt, the exoneration of Alan Gell
have had a tremendous impact on the public and a tremendous impact on
The moratorium bill would halt executions for 2 years while a study is
conducted on how the death penalty is applied.
Both Hunt, who was not on death row but was exonerated in February of a
1984 murder conviction, and Gell, who was released from prison in February
after a new trial found him not guilty of a 1995 murder, spoke at
The annual conference, in its 10th year, gives people from a variety of
religions and faiths a chance to hear from speakers and organize around
ways to abolish the death penalty.
Moratorium supporters have been steadily building support. The Senate
passed a moratorium bill in 2003, but it died when House Co-Speaker
Richard Morgan, a Moore County Republican, refused to bring it up for a
vote this year.
Now that Democrats have a majority in the House, Luebke said he expects a
bill to pass.
State Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a Carrboro Democrat, said support should still
be strong in the Senate, where no supporter of the moratorium was defeated
in the November elections.
"We know it's not a political mark or liability," Kinnaird said. "It can
happen without having political consequences."
If the moratorium passes through the General Assembly, it will be up to
Gov. Mike Easley to decide whether to sign the bill.
Luebke said moratorium supporters need to contact Easley and legislators,
especially if they live in rural areas that are often more likely to
support the death penalty. He said supporters can cite disparities in how
He argued that prosecutors are less likely to seek the death penalty
against white, middle-class defendants. He cited the examples of Mike
Peterson, a Durham novelist convicted of murdering his wife, and Ann
Miller Kontz, who is charged with fatally poisoning her first husband when
they lived in Raleigh.
Tom Lock, the district attorney for Johnston and Harnett counties and an
opponent of the moratorium, said it's unreasonable to expect uniform
results among counties. The key, he said, is whether the rules are applied
Lock also said moratorium supporters shouldn't count on victory,
especially after a bill was passed this year giving defense attorneys
access to prosecution files in felonies. He said that law should take care
of concerns that prosecutors, such as those in the Gell case, will
withhold information that could set defendants free.
"The Democrats have a slim majority," Lock said. "There are plenty of
moderate and conservative Democrats who oppose the moratorium."
(source: News & Observer)
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