[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, CONN., CALIF., KY.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Dec 6 10:11:02 CST 2004
State may support innocence inquiries
The killer wore a yellow shirt.
Sergio Castillo said his buddy "Tito" was wearing the shirt when a
bystander was shot during a gunbattle in Brownsville. But a jury didn't
believe him and sentenced Castillo in 1994 to 25 years in prison.
Ten years and a dozen attorneys later, Castillo could get another chance
to plead his innocence. His case is one of dozens in Texas that have come
under scrutiny as state officials consider starting a statewide "innocence
project" to dig deeper into inmates' claims.
For inmates and their families, it can't come too soon.
"It has been an odyssey of trial and error that's cost thousands of
dollars," said Jorge Castillo, Sergio's brother. "It almost makes you want
to give up."
After years of being criticized for favoring prosecutors, the Texas Court
of Criminal Appeals is supporting a proposal for the project using law
students to investigate inmates' claims that they were wrongfully
At the center of the project would be a network of "innocence clinics,"
much like those at the University of Houston and the University of Texas
at Austin, that investigate inmate claims.
Appeals Court Judge Barbara Hervey said the court will ask lawmakers to
increase its $20 million fund to teach defense lawyers, prosecutors and
judges about handling innocence claims.
Details on how the innocence network would be funded are still being
worked out, but Hervey has met with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and his
general counsel. She plans to meet with state Sen. John Whitmire,
D-Houston, chairman of the Senate's Criminal Justice Committee, about how
to set up the projects.
"If an innocent person is in prison, the entire system has failed," Hervey
said. "We need to get them out."
The Texas Innocence Network at the University of Houston Law Center, which
opened in 2000, has been credited with helping free James Levi Byrd of
Fort Worth and another inmate.
Byrd, convicted of robbery, spent 5 years in prison before being freed 2
years ago after the law center helped investigate his innocence claim.
Last year, a new DNA test set Josiah Sutton of Houston free after 4 1/2
years behind bars.
UH students, with the help of law and journalism students at St. Thomas
University in Houston and Lamar University in Beaumont, have screened
about 5,000 cases.
Lawyer David Dow, who leads the clinic, said it takes about $150,000 to
run the project, pay for tests and investigate, and for 2 people to
oversee the work of about a dozen students each semester.
Typically, 15 to 20 students are working on cases, he said. Dow said 7,500
or more inmates could be innocent, although other estimates put that
number closer to 100.
"We've identified cases where they [the prosecutors] have made mistakes,
and the consequences of their mistakes is pretty damn significant," he
6 cases are in the pipeline for review.
The Center for Actual Innocence opened at the UT Law School in 2003. About
10 students screened more than 1,000 claims of innocence from inmates
before selecting about a dozen that are now in the early stages of
In both clinics, students re-examine evidence and in some cases conduct
new investigations that can include additional DNA testing, examination of
evidence by expert witnesses and further crime-scene analysis.
"It is in the public's interest that a new dimension be added to the
criminal-justice system," said Bob Dawson, a law professor at UT and a
director at the clinic.
Bill Allison, president of the UT center, agrees.
"No one wants to see an innocent person in prison," Allison said. "When
you do, you don't know where the real perpetrator is, so you have someone
out on the street who could commit the crime again.
"A prosecutor's duty is to see that justice is done."
The innocence projects have attracted the support of defense lawyers and
prosecutors, although both groups remain skeptical.
Defense lawyers are pleased that the criminal-appeals court, which they
say routinely turns a deaf ear to innocence pleas, is willing to accept
that mistakes could have been made.
"I applaud anyone wanting to help the innocent in prison," said Keith
Hampton, legislative director for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers
Association. "It would be an immediate resource for someone to turn to."
Prosecutors say they don't want the clinics to become platforms for
defense lawyers to bash them and campaign for causes such as eradication
of the death penalty.
"I think that prosecutors are guardedly optimistic," said Rod Kepple,
executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.
"If it is done the right way, it can accomplish a great deal."
Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, whose office has put more
people on death row than any other in Texas, questions whether the court
is overreacting to years of criticism.
The court drew national headlines, for example, after refusing to overturn
a case where a defense lawyer slept through a murder trial.
"I know how it feels to be criticized, but I don't know that siding with
an innocence project is the way to do it," Rosenthal said.
Several prosecutors point to the now-closed Texas Resource Center as an
example of a project gone awry. The center, which specialized in
death-penalty cases from 1988 to 1995, became a mouthpiece for
anti-death-penalty forces, they say, and shut down after federal funding
"It is difficult to speak out against [an innocence project], but I don't
want it to become another Resource Center," said Chuck Mallin, chief of
the Tarrant County district attorney's appellate division.
"I think they were out of control, a runaway train," he said.
Rosenthal said such clinics sometimes appear to file lawsuits for their
"nuisance value" and not because there is a legitimate claim.
"I don't mind someone closely grading our papers on death penalty cases,"
Rosenthal said. "I applaud that, and I want to make sure everyone gets
their due process of law.
"I am a little dubious about funding existing projects because I think
they tend to try and do things that are not necessary," he said.
Hervey said she hopes the expected involvement by the criminal-appeals
court will calm those concerns, although the court's role has not yet been
"This is not a statement that the system is broken," Hervey said. "We are
just being realistic and stepping up to the plate to create a safety net
for a good system that is already in place."
Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Mike Keasler said that if it pans out,
Texas could have one of the biggest innocence projects in the country.
"If you have one innocent person in the penitentiary, that is too many,"
Keasler said. "I sure wouldn't want to be there. It has to be your worst
Inmates and their families say it shouldn't be so hard to get an innocent
person set free.
The Castillos plan to ask the Court of Criminal Appeals early next year to
consider freeing Sergio Castillo. Hampton, of the defense lawyers
association, is his attorney.
Sergio Castillo's relatives say they think they've found key evidence that
will get him out of prison -- witness statements backing up his story that
were never revealed at trial.
"We need somewhere to go and get guidance when you know you've been
wronged," Jorge Castillo said. "We didn't know where to go or who to
Outside efforts have also been successful at helping other inmates clear
In October, Ernest Willis was the latest Texas death row inmate to be
freed, after an exhaustive re-examination of the facts led to his
conviction being overturned. A New York lawyer worked for free on the
And relatives of John Michael Harvey, a Bedford man who says he was
wrongfully convicted of molesting a girl in 1992, said they didn't even
know an innocence claim could be filed after other appeals failed.
A local judge recommended that Harvey be set free after the girl recanted
her testimony naming Harvey as her attacker. The Court of Criminal Appeals
heard arguments on the case in September.
The family has spent at least $150,000 on appeals.
Eva Archer-Smith, Harvey's cousin, said that before working on his case,
she, like most Texans, believed that anyone convicted is guilty.
"We were left to our own devices," Archer-Smith said."We didn't know what
to do, and innocence was not a topic."
A statewide innocence project, she said, would "shift the attention to the
position that not everyone in prison is guilty."
"It would bolster people's faith in the system.
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Family: Church Influenced Woman Charged With Murder
Long before Dena Schlosser took a blade to her baby's arms, her parents
had begun to worry.
In the years after she moved to Texas with her husband and children, their
gentle, dependent daughter had become increasingly isolated. And,
according to her stepfather, she was dangerously consumed by a
self-described prophet and his church.
Dena's stepfather, Mick Macaulay, said that although he blames mental
illness for Schlosser's allegedly severing the arms of her 10-month-old
daughter Margaret and leaving her to die, he believes the teachings of
Doyle Davidson also played a role.
"I don't think there's any question that what we saw happen here is
postpartum psychosis," Macaulay said in a telephone interview. "But that
doesn't mean there aren't dynamics in force to push the person toward the
Schlosser, 35, was charged with capital murder after police found her on
Nov. 22 covered in blood in her living room, still holding a knife.
Macaulay said Schlosser had been emotionally dependent on her mother since
childhood, when she had several operations to remove an abnormal amount of
fluid from her brain. After the surgeries, Schlosser's brain functions
seemed normal. She went on to college in Illinois, married her husband,
John, and became a mother.
The Schlossers moved to Texas about five years ago. John soon lost his job
and began working for himself as a consultant. The family had to trade
their spacious home for a small apartment, and a midwife delivered
Margaret because they had no health insurance.
The stress of little money, a new baby and a mother who has Parkinson's
disease affected Schlosser. Child Protective Services investigated her for
neglect in January after she left the newborn alone and her 5-year-old
daughter was seen chasing her mother down the street on a bicycle.
Schlosser received psychiatric treatment for postpartum depression, and
the agency determined she was stable in August.
By then, though, Schlosser's association with Davidson's church had
intensified, Macaulay said.
He said Davidson used violent imagery and told women that they possessed a
rebellious "Jezebel" spirit and that they should submit to their husbands.
"I'm not saying that anybody suggested, 'Go cut your baby's arms off,' "
said Macaulay, a mental health counselor who lives with Schlosser's
mother, Connie, in Canada. "This diminishing of women, this diminishing of
women's powers, women's importance, referring to women as Jezebels, I
think, further undermines an already fragile ego state that Dena's
That's absurd, the minister said.
"I'm an apostle, and I'm a prophet," said Davidson, 72. "I only teach
what's in the Bible, and that's what makes them mad."
Davidson, a former veterinarian, said God told him to start Water of Life
Ministries in suburban Dallas in the early 1980s. His sermons, based on
literal interpretations of the Bible, are available on his Web site and
are broadcast on TV and radio in several states.
Davidson acknowledges that his teachings are unconventional. He said he
avoids violent imagery, but he does teach that women are weaker and should
submit to their husbands.
Macaulay said Schlosser, who spoke to her mother in Canada almost daily by
phone, talked incessantly about Davidson, urging them to listen to sermons
on his Web site. Macaulay said they listened to about 60 hours of sermons,
which fed their concern.
(source: Washington Post)
Legislators may review execution -- Not all want to keep state's death
Michael Ross, who killed 8 young women in Connecticut and New York, is
scheduled to be executed Jan. 26.
He would be the 1st person executed in the state since 1960.
But it's possible his life may be spared, at least for the time being, by
Connecticuts General Assembly.
There is a growing movement among lawmakers to re-open debate on
Connecticut's death penalty law. Some legislators, including Rep. Michael
Lawlor, a West Haven Democrat who is co-chairman of the Judiciary
Committee, say they have no sympathy for Ross, but they nevertheless want
the death penalty abolished.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican and death penalty supporter, said she
would consider postponing the execution if the legislature intends to make
"serious effort" to address the matter. She stopped short, however, on
describing what constitutes a "serious effort."
Lawlor said Rell's willingness to revisit the issue illustrate how
uncomfortable some officials are about the state resuming executions.
"Even legislators I've talked to who support (the death penalty) in theory
hope it never happens," Lawlor said.
Under the state constitution, the governor does not have the power to
pardon or commute a death sentence. But Rell can postpone a sentence until
after the next legislative session.
So if she decides after the Jan. 5 opening of the upcoming session to
postpone the execution, the earliest Ross could be put to death would be
May 2006, after the end of next year's session. That also might make his
execution an issue in the 2006 gubernatorial election campaign.
Rell said last week it is her responsibility to review all the facts of
the Ross case. She said staff attorneys are reviewing the law surrounding
Connecticuts death penalty as far back as 1673.
"There has not been an execution in this state, carrying out the death
penalty, in over 40 years, Rell said. "And I think the decisions
surrounding the events right now should not be taken lightly."
12 states and the District of Columbia have no death penalty. 6 other
states, including Connecticut, have not executed anyone since the U.S.
Supreme Court reinstituted capital punishment in 1976. The bulk of the
nations 336 executions since 1976 have been in southern and western
states. Capital punishment has been in the national spotlight in recent
years. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of mentally
retarded people. In Illinois in 2003, the outgoing governor commuted the
sentence of everyone on death row after DNA tests and other new evidence
showed that several condemned men had not committed the crimes of which
they were accused.
Earlier this year, the New York high court declared the states death
penalty unconstitutional. The New Jersey Supreme Court ordered that state
to change the procedure in how death sentences are carried out.
New Hampshire is the only other New England state with the death penalty,
but that state has not executed anyone since the 1930s. Legal experts say
Connecticuts law is written in such a way that its difficult to get
murderers sentenced to death.
Generally, only people who murder a law enforcement officer, participate
in murder-for-hire schemes, murder more than one person, kill while
committing another felony or kill in a "heinous, cruel and depraved way"
can be sentenced to die. Juries are permitted to weigh "mitigating
factors" - such as good deeds a person may have performed during their
lives. They can also factor in "aggravating factors," such as the
brutality of the crime.
In truth, most people convicted of murder in Connecticut are sentenced to
prison, not to die by lethal injection.
Sen. Andrew McDonald, the Senate chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said
he would consider doing away with the death penalty only if it were
replaced by a law allowing a sentence of life in prison with no
possibility of parole.
But Rep. Arthur O'Neill, R-Southbury, wants to keep the death penalty law.
ONeill said there are safeguards in Connecticut law to stop an innocent
person from being executed.
"The death penalty in Connecticut is going to be very rare and is imposed
only in very extreme cases," O'Neill said.
House Majority Leader James Amann, D-Milford, who is expected to become
the new House speaker, said he is "puzzled" why Rell would even consider
postponing Ross execution. He said the death penalty has been debated
enough over the years and lawmakers always voted overwhelmingly to keep
it. However, Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn,
and Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, back Rell's
decision to at least review the matter.
Rep. Robert Godfrey, D-Danbury, agreed that "the governor's interest
changes the debate."
Godfrey, a member of the Judiciary Committee, where the initial debate on
the law would take place, said he supports the death penalty, particularly
for Ross, who has decided not to appeal his case any further and would die
by lethal injection.
"Committing mass rape and murder is heinous," Godfrey said. "I have little
sympathy for Michael Ross."
Virtually no one does. Still, said Sen. David Cappiello, R-Danbury, if
Rell postpones the execution to give the legislature time to act,
lawmakers would inevitably revisit the Ross case.
"We would not only debate the issue of the death penalty itself, but we
would also be debating the life or death of Michael Ross," said Cappiello,
a capital punishment supporter and a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Cappiello is not totally against postponing Ross execution because he
thinks the death penalty law is worthy of discussion. He would consider
He believes even if the legislature decided to do away with capital
punishment, it would have to pass a separate measure to stop the execution
of Ross and the 7 others already on death row.
Sen. Andrew Roraback, a Goshen Republican whose district includes New
Milford and Brookfield, supports postponing the execution to allow
discussion on the matter.
He opposes the death penalty. "As a legislator, I think a vote for the
death penalty is tantamount to having my finger on the trigger," Roraback
said. "I would be voting for the death of a human being, and I can't do
The debate, if it comes, is likely to be contentious.
David Reynolds, legislative liaison for the Connecticut Catholic
Conference, which plans a major lobbying effort, said it is essential to
delay the execution so the legislature will have time to act.
"Having somebody on death row does make it a more pressing issue,"
Reynolds said. "It would be wrong to execute someone in January and 3
months later abolish the death penalty in Connecticut."
Maureen Keegan, executive assistant states attorney, defended keeping
state law intact.
"The Connecticut scheme is an eminently fair one," Keegan said. "A jury
verdict indicates the community has spoken and based on the crime and the
person, that it is an appropriate punishment. I don't think we should
second guess that."
Rep. Janice Giegler, R-Danbury, is no stranger to how violent crimes
affects families. Her own grandfather was murdered, and she said it was
difficult to watch the killer get out of prison after just 7 years.
Even so, she said she has reservations about imposing the death penalty.
She believes Rell should postpone Ross execution to give the legislature a
chance to conduct a meaningful debate.
"I support the death penalty if the crime warrants it," said Giegler, a
member of the Judiciary Committee. But "we need to be 100 % sure the
individual is guilty. I will listen to arguments and wont let my own
experience cloud my decision."
(source: The News-Times)
Peterson Defense Working to Create Doubt
Defense lawyers are trying to persuade jurors to spare Scott Peterson's
life with testimony about his childhood and how a death sentence would
affect his family members' lives.
As the penalty phase of the trial began last week, Peterson's friends and
family described the convicted murderer accused of killing his pregnant
wife, Laci, as a loving son and generous person, someone who never laid a
hand on anyone.
After losing its bid for an acquittal, Peterson's defense team was
expected to call at least 20 additional witnesses to testify in the next 3
days, beginning Monday.
Legal experts say Peterson's defense is using a well-planned strategy to
persuade jurors to spare his life by sentencing him to prison without
"I think they're basically asking the jury to identify not with Peterson
but with the people who care about him," Loyola Law School professor
Laurie Levenson said.
But a former prosecutor says the strategy could backfire.
"In the end, if jurors really believe he did it, then every day the
defense puts on evidence of him being harmless and kind and patient, it
makes Laci look like an even more vulnerable victim," said Jim Hammer, a
former San Francisco prosecutor who has been following the murder trial.
Peterson was convicted in November of 1st-degree murder in the death of
Laci and 2nd-degree murder for the death of her 8-month-old fetus.
Prosecutors claim Peterson smothered or strangled Laci in their Modesto
home on or around Christmas Eve 2002, then dumped her weighted body into
San Francisco Bay.
The remains of Laci and the fetus were discovered about four months later
along a shoreline a few miles from where Peterson claims to have been
fishing alone the day his wife vanished.
(source: Associated Press)
Man asks for death penalty
In what experts say is a rare occurrence, a man accused of murdering 2
children and attacking their mother has asked a judge to let him plead
guilty and to sentence him to death.
"I only wish the judge to sentence me to death so no one can feel
responsible for another's death, including mine," Marco Allen Chapman
wrote in a letter to Judge Tony Frohlich read in court in October.
Chapman, 32, is due back in court tomorrow, when a doctor is expected to
testify about his mental state and whether he understands what a guilty
plea and death sentence would mean.
Neither attorneys nor death penalty activists and researchers could
provide statistics on how often someone pleads guilty to a capital crime
and seeks a death sentence. But attorneys and activists agree it is rare.
The last time an inmate in Kentucky did so, he later changed his mind -
but lost his appeal.
"If you plead guilty, you waive your right to appeal," said Roberta
Harding, who teaches capital punishment law at the University of Kentucky
Chapman confessed to killing Cody Sharon, 6, and his sister, Chelbi
Sharon, 7, on August 23, 2002, in their home. He also admitted to tying up
and repeatedly stabbing their mother, Carolyn Marksberry.
She recovered, as did her daughter Courtney, who also was stabbed but
survived by playing dead.
Harding said people like Chapman who seek execution are using the state to
fulfill a death wish.
Diane Clements, director of Justice for All, a pro-death penalty group in
Houston, said a case like Chapman's isn't one of "suicide by state".
"Pleading guilty and accepting responsibility for the crime committed is
unusual," Clements said.
"The case will dictate the punishment, not the killer."
(source: Associated Press)
No relief, justice in death penalty
After the election, many people declared "moral values" to be the reason
for their votes. No doubt, most people who voted were implicitly or
explicitly voting for moral values.
As Paul Prather's Nov. 20 column in the Herald-Leader indicated, the
values receiving much explicit press during the campaign were labeled
pro-life (abortion and stem-cell research) and anti-gay marriage.
But there are other moral and pro-life values, including economic issues;
transportation access, specifically in our community; health care access
and affordability; racism; sexism; war; and the death penalty.
Now, Gov. Ernie Fletcher has signed a death warrant for Thomas Clyde
Bowling, convicted of murdering Edward and Tina Earley. The State Office
of Public Advocacy, the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty,
the Catholic Conference and other religious and civic groups are working
to prevent the execution of a man who may be innocent and whose mental
capacities are borderline at best.
We have heard over and over the arguments against the death penalty. It
has not been a deterrent to violent crime. More than 115 Death Row
prisoners have been exonerated in 30 years, which raises the question
about the possibility of executing an innocent person. Locking up violent
offenders protects society from them and from making a fatal mistake.
But shouldn't victims' families receive justice?
Justice requires, to the extent possible, the restoration of what has been
wrongly taken or its equivalent. In the case of murder, however, the life
taken cannot be restored. Is there really justice in taking a life for a
life? Can executing a murderer satisfy the victim's bereaved family?
That is an extremely difficult question.
I understand the grief and anger of the Earley family. I know their need
for satisfaction, but I cannot say what would satisfy their need. I can
offer only my own experience.
A few months ago, a member of my extended family was brutally murdered.
This, the third death of a close relative within 10 months, was a
40-year-old married man, father of 4. My cousin, his mother, cries out in
unnameable pain. His killer died by his own hand, but his death does
nothing to assuage her grief. It does not satisfy justice -- nothing can.
It promotes no healing. If the killer had lived to be convicted and
executed by the state, how would that offer any relief?
The question of Bowling's mental competence poses a possible legal
impediment to his execution. And even if Bowling is guilty, his level of
competence raises questions about complicity. Would a man unable to make
simple decisions, a man unable even to make change in a simple monetary
transaction, kill two people of his own volition? Although a heavy
drinker, Bowling was not a violent man. He had no criminal history and no
reason to kill the Earleys. (Others did, but their reasons and identities
are shrouded in mystery in the Fayette County justice system.)
I have empathy with the Earley family. The grief within my own family is
not untouched by anger. I also share the grief of Bowling's relatives,
anticipating the loss of the son, brother, nephew whom they love and
believe to be innocent. (He never admitted guilt.) What further pain
should we inflict on this innocent family?
A country whose citizens vote on the basis of moral, pro-life values might
well examine its stance on the death penalty. We might ask about the
brutalization of society by our demand for justice, which is, in fact, a
cry for revenge. Can revenge ever satisfy?
In the book of Luke, Jesus cries to God for forgiveness of his
executioners. His executioners were the state. Let us hope that our state
will not need forgiveness because it will not put to death someone
innocent, even someone guilty.
In the same chapter of Luke, we learn of forgiveness as Jesus promises a
guilty prisoner, hanging on a cross nearby, that he will be in paradise
with him that day.
We plead with Fletcher to consider his role as physician, to be
compassionate, to alleviate pain rather than to inflict it and to rescind
the lethal prescription he has written for Bowling, a prescription to
commit revenge in the name of us all, the citizens of Kentucky.
Mary Alice Pratt
(source: Letter to the Editor, Lexington Herald-Leader)
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