[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----PENN., USA, N.Y., IND., VA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Dec 6 10:12:24 CST 2004
Psychiatrist says death row altered killer's mental state
A renowned forensic psychiatrist testified 21 years ago that George Banks
may have been mentally ill when he shot 13 people to death, but he was not
Among the documents given to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court before it
halted Banks' execution last week was an analysis by the same
psychiatrist, Robert Sadoff, that there were "strong grounds" to question
Banks' competency for execution. Sadoff, who did not examine Banks, made
his recommendation after examining decades of records chronicling the
prison behavior of Banks, one of the state's worst mass killers.
Banks' attorneys say Sadoff's most recent analysis of their client is
evidence that someone found competent to stand trial is not necessarily
competent to be executed years later.
"There is a specific standard that says you have to be aware that you are
being executed and understand why," said Michael Wiseman, a lawyer with
the Philadelphia Federal Defenders Project. "It's fluid; competency can
Banks, 62, was scheduled to die by lethal injection on Thursday for
killing his 5 children, their 4 mothers, and 4 others in a 4-hour rampage
in Wilkes-Barre on Sept. 25, 1982.
On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court ordered a lower court to determine
whether Banks is mentally competent.
Sadoff, who testified for the prosecution at the 1983 trial and now works
as a consultant for the defense, said that 22 years confined on death row
can have deleterious effects on an individual's mental health, especially
on a person diagnosed with mental illness.
"A lot of stuff in the records suggest someone ought to take a look at him
before they put him to death," he said.
But prosecutors involved with the Banks case say he is just one of many
condemned inmates seeking a way out.
"Everybody loses competency on death row," said Jonelle Eshbach, a
Pennsylvania deputy attorney general. "People on death row deserve to be
The question of competency in death penalty cases has been a source of
national controversy since 1986, when the U.S. Supreme Court in Ford v.
Wainwright determined that putting an incompetent person to death violates
the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
"There is no question that there are a lot of people on death row with
mental illness, but the standard for incompetency is very high," said
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information
Center, a neutral, nonprofit group in Washington.
He said that although many death row inmates may try to make competency an
issue in the days or weeks before their execution date, only a handful of
death penalty cases have been altered because of mental illness.
The majority of cases move forward, including an Arkansas case this year
in which murderer Charles Singleton was forcibly medicated to make him
competent for execution.
Gary Heidnik - the Philadelphia man who tortured and killed two women in
his basement and was the last person to be executed in Pennsylvania - was
found competent before his 1999 execution.
At his trial, Banks' defense was based on an insanity plea. No one
disputed that he slaughtered 13 people, but his lawyers argued the former
prison guard was a paranoid psychotic who suffered from delusions of
The prosecution said Banks, the son of an interracial couple, knew what he
was doing when he attacked his victims, many of them as they slept in
their beds, with an AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle. He said he did it
to protect his children from the racism he had suffered.
A Luzerne County jury found Banks guilty on 13 counts of murder and
sentenced him to death.
Attorneys representing Banks say Department of Corrections reports show
that Banks' condition has deteriorated in prison even though he has at one
time or another taken 14 different medications, including antipsychotic
"These medications have had pretty much no effect. His mind is gone," said
Albert Flora, a Luzerne County lawyer who has represented Banks for 22
During his years on death row, most recently at Graterford Prison, Banks
has attempted suicide 4 times and held hunger strikes that have required
him to be force-fed, court documents say. Banks has said that the "state
of Pennsylvania was controlled by Islamic religion" and that he "engaged
in a private war with President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky."
Jim Jordan, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally
Ill, Pennsylvania, said that his group does not advocate for every death
row prisoner with a mental illness but that details of the prison reports
suggest Banks does not meet the court-defined standard of competency.
In a letter asking Gov. Rendell to commute Banks' sentence to life without
parole, Jordan wrote: "It is senseless and cruel to execute individuals
who suffer from brain disorders as severe as the condition suffered by
Former Luzerne County District Attorney Robert Gillespie, who prosecuted
Banks, said that keeping him on death row for 22 years is cruel and
unusual punishment in itself.
Gillespie said he hasn't had any contact with Banks in 20 years and
therefore cannot evaluate his current mental state. But he said Banks has
"cleverly" manipulated psychiatric exams in the past. "He has shown he is
capable of feigning insanity to protect himself from execution."
(source: Philadelphia Inquirer)
Proponents, opponents reconsider death penalty
William Nieves lost 6 years on Pennsylvania's death row.
Accused of killing 21-year-old Eric McAiley, Nieves was convicted of
murder in 1994 largely on the testimony of a crack co-caine addict and
prostitute. A Philadelphia divorce attorney represented Nieves during his
2-day capital murder trial.
The lawyer, handling his 1st death penalty case, was paid $2,500.
In 1997, the state Supreme Court ruled Nieves was inade-quately
represented and granted a retrial. John McMahon Jr., a former prosecutor,
agreed to argue his case.
During Nieves' second trial, McMahon discovered the district attorney who
originally prosecuted his client had withheld evidence of his innocence -
an eyewitness swearing they had the wrong man.
6 years after that 1994 con-viction, a Philadelphia jury found Nieves not
guilty. He re-joined society a week before his 35th birthday.
"I'm of the opinion that the death penalty is a system that is broken. It
cannot be fixed," Nieves told the state Senate judiciary committee in July
2002. "You could sit here and you could try to create a perfect system,
but I'm here to tell you that you will never be able to perfect the death
"You are always going to con-tinue to have human error, and as long as you
have the human error in the criminal justice system, you are going to risk
executing the innocent."
More people have been freed from death row than executed in Pennsylvania
since the Legislature re-enacted capital punishment in 1978.
Illinois Gov. George Ryan cited a similar imbalance when he issued an
execution moratorium in January 2000.
A commission studying the state's capital punishment system since 1999 has
reported widespread racial and economic bias and pushed Gov. Edward G.
Rendell to halt the death penalty.
In 2003, a Philadelphia man became the 1st death row inmate exonerated by
DNA evidence in Pennsylvania.
Citing moral certitude, science and scripture, death penalty op-ponents
statewide continue to push for an end to capital punishment.
Even some death penalty proponents concede the system needs reform.
There are 224 people, including 5 women, currently on Pennsylvania's death
row. Only California, Texas and Florida have larger condemned populations.
Despite the swollen ranks of death row, executions in Penn-sylvania have
stalled. Scheduled to die Dec. 2 at the State Correctional Institution at
Rockview in Centre County, Wilkes-Barre mass murderer George Banks
received a stay of execution Dec. 1 from the state Supreme Court.
His 1982 rampage killed 13 people, including 7 children - 5 of his own.
Rendell signed Banks' 3rd death warrant Oct. 5. He would be only the
fourth death row inmate to die at SCI/Rockview since the death penalty
returned to Pennsylvania in 1978.
Questions about capital punishment and its application have triggered
declining execution rates in dozens of states, said Richard Dieter,
executive director of the Death Penalty Informa-tion Center in Washington,
"The death penalty hasn't worked much as a deterrent," said Dieter.
"Perhaps if it were carried out with high regularity and swift and sure,
so to speak, the numbers might differ. The death penalty we have now
doesn't seem to work that way."
It shouldn't be working at all, according to the Commission on Racial and
Gender Bias in the Justice System.
Commissioned by the state Supreme Court, the group spent thousands of
hours studying Pennsylvania's court system.
In a 550-page report, the com-mission crafted 23 recommenda-tions for
legislative, judicial and executive branch officials. A moratorium on
executions sat at the top of the list. According to the study, as of March
- Race plays a major, if not overwhelming, role in the impo-sition of the
death penalty in some Pennsylvania counties.
- Low-income defendants in capital murder cases received woeful legal
- Pennsylvania's minorities make up 11 % of the state population and 68 %
of the death row population, 2nd only to Louisiana.
"The danger is we're going to execute an innocent man because of color,
economic difference or because he doesn't have a well-trained lawyer to
represent him," said Ernest Preate Jr., a former state attorney general
who now opposes the death pen-alty. "It really causes you to pause and
think about the value of human life. Once the guy's locked up, he's not
going to hurt society."
75 % of Pennsylvanians supported a state-wide moratorium while the
legislators studied the system, ac-cording to a 2001 Madonna-Young poll.
The ban never came.
Stories like Nieves' are driving that push for greater examina-tion of
capital punishment, Preate said. And Pennsylvania juries have also taken
notice of the Illinois moratorium and the increasing number of national
exonerations based on DNA evidence, he said.
"What they've seen is too many innocent people being freed," said Preate,
who successfully delivered 5 death penalty sentences as Lackawanna County
district attorney. "Ju-rors are saying, 'Well, death is final, we think we
did the right thing, but we're human, we're fallible, so we won't give him
the death penalty. We can't be 100 % sure.'"
The jurors who sentenced Nicholas Yarris felt certain. The Philadelphia
man was convicted in 1982 of murder and rape. The only physical evidence
produced by prosecutors was semen tested for a blood type shared by 20 %
of the population.
In September 2003, a state court vacated Yarris' death sentence. DNA
technology unavailable at the time of his conviction ultimately proved his
"I don't think that human be-ings will ever be in a position where they
can guarantee an innocent person will not be sen-tenced to death," said
Kurt Ro-senberg, field organizer for Pennsylvania Abolitionists United
Against the Death Penalty. "Mistakes are always going to be made which
will impact whether someone lives or dies at the hand of the state."
Despite the studies and stories of scientific exoneration, the
once-polarizing issue of capital punishment appears to have fallen off the
With generally lower state and national crime rates and foreign policy
issues at a premium, the culturally explosive nature of capital punishment
has waned, said G. Terry Madonna, political science professor and state
pollster at Franklin and Marshall College.
"Maybe people are just resting up for the next round," said Kent
Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Founda-tion,
which supports capital punishment. "Both sides have been fighting. Neither
one has achieved their goals. Maybe it's a bit of fatigue factor, almost
like a stalemate."
Despite the relative silence, 66 % of Americans support the death penalty
for people convicted of murder, according to a Nov. 16 Gallup poll.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll in May 2002 put the figure at 65 %.
About 65 % of Pennsylvanians support capital punishment, said Dr.
"Overall, you'll find very few controversial issues that have the degree
of support consistently over the years that capital punishment does,"
Scheidegger said. "Most politicians would give an arm to have the approval
rating capital punishment does."
But the 2/3 majority slims to about 50 % when respondents are faced with a
choice between death and life imprisonment without parole, according to a
Gallup poll con-ducted in May.
Scheidegger lays out 3 arguments in support of the death penalty: It acts
as deterrence; it fully incapacitates convicted murderers; and it's
sometimes the only fitting punishment.
"The 3rd reason is simply just desserts - that for some crimes, life in
prison is not sufficient punishment," he said. "That's a largely
undebatable proposition. People believe that or they don't."
In Northeastern Pennsylvania, where juries have sentenced at least 12
murderers to die since 1984, residents overwhelmingly favor capital
punishment, said Robert Gillespie, the former Lu-zerne County district
attorney who prosecuted mass murderer George Banks.
Lackawanna County District Attorney Andy Jarbola is currently seeking
death for Brian Aponte Luciano, who in October 2003 raped and murdered a
Marywood student in her Green Ridge apartment.
"I believe that people in support believe it is a deterrent," said
Jarbola, who's sought 2 death sentences during his tenure.
In Northeastern Pennsylvania, a Roman Catholic bastion, religious
obligation should guide jurors away from capital punishment, said the Rev.
William Pickard, longtime death penalty opponent and Lackawanna County
Espousing an ethic of life from "the womb to the tomb," the Roman Catholic
Church for centuries has opposed capital punishment, said the Rev.
Pickard. Today, the church only condones death in extreme, almost ethereal
situations - a society without a penal system would be jus-tified in
killing an offender to protect the greater good.
"In our society, it's nonexistent," said the Rev. Pickard. "You can't
lessen your pain by increasing the pain of someone else. You just make
Rosenberg, the abolitionist, cited the Banks' case, which has dragged
through the criminal justice system for more than 2 decades.
Death penalty opponents don't condone Banks' actions, Rosenberg said. But
horrific, heinous acts don't justify an equal, life-taking retribution, he
"We just think it's not doing anything for the citizens of Pennsylvania to
kill someone like that," Rosenberg said. "It's certainly not making us any
safer or making our society any more civilized."
Push for reform
Banks and his attorneys now await an expedited hearing regarding the
killer's competency. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice ruled executing the
mentally incompetent violates the Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and
Gillespie finds Banks' 22-year march toward Rockview's death chamber a
cruel form of punishment.
A death penalty proponent, Gillespie wants the entire capital punishment
system to embrace a sense of the expedient. He advocates limiting a
defendant's appeals and taking increased measures to ensure legally
adequate representation is provided.
Gillespie cited the hundreds of appeals and thousands of tax-payer dollars
spent pursuing Banks' death.
"I don't think the death penalty serves a legitimate purpose under the way
it is presently administrated," said Gillespie. "I think a death penalty
could be if (it) was reasonably imposed and reasonably carried out."
In Lackawanna County, Jarbola is still maneuvering through the courts to
enforce the death sentence of convicted murderer Steven Duffey, who
stabbed a 19-year-old co-worker 30 times at Genetti Manor in Dickson City
"There has to be some reform to expedite the appeals process, especially
for victims and families," said Jarbola. "They have to go through torture;
they have to relive it after every hearing."
Dr. Robert Blecker, a New York law school professor and leading death
penalty proponent, espouses a system that executes only the most heinous
offenders. For the "worst of the worst," he argues, society demands
Heaping subcategories and aggravating circumstances onto juries has only
diluted justice, Dr. Blecker said.
"We can disagree on the moral fact of whether the death penalty is right
ever," said Dr. Blecker, adding, as example, that a
robbery-turned-homicide in no way compares to a serial rapist/killer.
"That's not arbitrary, that's not subjective - that's a moral fact.
"It's not the same cruelty, viciousness, callousness. ... That's where you
find evil - in the extremes."
In 1989, Preate argued the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's death
penalty statute before the U.S. Supreme Court. Serving as state attorney
general about a decade after the death penalty returned, Preate said he
started to scour death row statistics in the early 1990s.
The racial and socioeconomic disparities overwhelmed him. He said a few
solid steps toward reform have already been taken.
In October, President George W. Bush signed the Justice For All Act into
law. The legislation includes the Innocence Protection Act, which will
grant $25 million to ensure death row inmates have access to DNA testing
and $350 million to train lawyers for capital cases.
In June, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted new training standards for
defense attorneys in death penalty cases. Effective Nov. 1, the addition
to the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure requires attorneys:
- Have at least 5 years of experience in criminal litigation. - Serve as
lead or co-counsel in a minimum of 8 significant cases which were tried to
verdict before a jury; a "significant case" consists of murder, including
manslaughter and vehicular homicide, or a felony of the 1st or 2nd degree.
- Obtain within the preceding 4 years a minimum of 18 hours of training
relevant to representation in capital cases.
"In many cases, we don't take the necessary steps to ensure that we got
the right person," said Preate, noting Pennsylvania's disparity between
the exonerated and the executed. "That's not a good ratio. There are
probably more innocent people on Pennsylvania's death row right now."
(source: The Citiznes Voice)
Will executions haunt the American public?
Sister Tadea Benz was murdered in 1981. Her killer was caught and, in the
Texas style of justice, executed after his trial and a long wait at death
row. Even if Pope John Paul 2 spoke out on his behalf and asked the
authorities to reconsider. Justice was done. But more than twenty years
after the murder doubts are being raised if Johnny Frank Garret, who ended
up at the wrong end of the execution needle, is the real murderer. New
evidence, a new suspect and the continuing believe of his family members
that he is innocent have given the case a 2nd life, although that option
doesn"t exist for Garret. And it is not the 1st time that questions are
raised if an executed man is possible innocent.
The rape and killing of the aged nun seemed an open and shut case for
everybody, except for the family and friends of Johnny Frank Garret, a
slow boy of 17 in 1981. Even if he confessed to the crime and was executed
12 years ago, more and more people are asking themselves if the confession
wasn't false. A statement made to please the interrogating police officers
by a mentally ill boy who couldn't see the implications of his confession.
Later on Garret withdrew his confession and claimed to be innocent. DNA
testing of hair samples can probably shed light on the guilt or innocence
of Garret. If these samples will be tested will remain to be seem, so a
doubt will stay if not the wrong man was executed.
More and more people question if the population on the several death rows
in the United States, where inmates are housed until the moment the state
extinguishes their lives; don"t contain more innocent Americans than is
believed until now. The last years more than 100 people where released out
of death row because they proved they were innocent or in a retrial their
guilt couldn"t be proved. Some of them came within hours of their
execution. For how many innocent didn"t the dice roll right and they were
executed? Some cases are highly questioned.
With recent developments in the United States more and older cases can
come back to haunt judges, jury members, prosecutors, lawyers and the
American public, not to mention the correction officers who performed the
executions. DNA testing is more reliable and can be used to prove, even
many years after the fact, that someone was on the scene of the crime, or
that he or she is innocent.
Questions are also being raised on the reliability of crime labs, with
scandals in Oklahoma and Texas where evidence was misplaced, handled
incorrectly and even questions were raised if in some cases the evidence
wasn"t falsified to secure a conviction. Lawyers, the press and anti-death
penalty action groups are taking more interest in such cases, because the
proof of an innocent executed, can be the fatal blow to the system. People
like George W. Bush gained political profit from executions and the claim
that this was proof that they are tough on crime, but how would that
change if they let an innocent man go to his death? And with better
technical possibilities and storing capacities evidence can be tested
again for many years to come.
In Great Brittan several hangings occurred in the last century: those were
of innocent men. The cases of these victims of the system were looked at
again half a century after the executions. The United States can look at a
similar development. It"s just a matter of time until a judge orders a
trial to be reopened and the evidence examined again. Most executed are
probably guilty, but what skeletons will come out of their caskets?
Unabomber's brother fights death penalty
David Kaczynski never imagined that the perennial conflict between state
and family obligations would become a personal nightmare.
Yet beginning in 1995, he was forced to question where his loyalty stood
as he realized that his brother, Theodore Kaczynski, was the Unabomber who
had terrorized the nation for nearly 2 decades.
"If I believed in anything, I believed brothers were supposed to protect
each other," he said yesterday, as he spoke before nearly 100 people at
Temple Beth El. "Yet here I was, possibly sending my brother to his
David Kaczynski led FBI agents to his brother's Montana cabin. There,
agents found homemade bombs that a disheveled Theodore Kaczynski intended
to use in his campaign against technology. Kaczynski is currently serving
4 life sentences without the possibility of parole for killing 3 people
and injuring 23.
As David Kaczynski recalled the saga of the trial, he expressed gratitude
that his brother's life was spared. Yet he also expressed disgust that the
Justice Department had attempted to execute his brother, even though he
was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. His disgust endures.
Now David Kaczynski is fighting against the death penalty as the head of
New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, which is based in Albany. His quest
is at a critical juncture. In June, the New York Court of Appeals declared
that the state's death penalty law was unconstitutional. New York has not
had an execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1995.
On Dec. 15 in New York City, the Legislature will hold the 1st of 2
hearings on the statute. The 2nd will be Jan. 25 in Albany.
"The important thing is to try to do the right thing, the just thing, the
humane thing, the compassionate thing. I'm convinced that the death
penalty doesn't promote any of that," he said. "We can protect ourselves
and society more cheaply and effectively by giving people life without
According to the Department of Justice, 56 prisoners were executed in 12
states from Jan. 1 through Nov. 9 of this year.
As she stood with tears streaking her face yesterday, 55-year-old Karla
Shepard Rubinger said she remembers thinking of the Unabomber as a
horrible murderer who "should be wiped off the face of the Earth." Yet
after David Kaczynski's speech, Shepard Rubinger said her image of the man
had completely changed. She said she now sees him as a son and a brother
who needed help.
"If I had a family member who was killed, would that change my conviction?
I hope not," said the health-care philanthropist from Chappaqua. "We need
to be bigger and better human beings."
After discussing the speech with a circle of friends, Howard Pepper said
he opposes the death penalty because the concept of an "eye for an eye" is
morally reprehensible when it comes to people's lives.
"No one has the right to take anyone's life, regardless of the
circumstances," said the 59-year-old Mount Kisco pharmacist. "Vengeance
doesn't solve anything."
Rabbi Adam Miller echoed this sentiment. He said there is a clear
distinction between revenge and retribution, and the concepts of
compassion and strict judgment must guide people in their pursuit of
"When we find the balance between these two poles, we're able to define
fair justice," he said. "But it's not easy to find where our hearts pull
us and where our heads pull us - especially on the subject of the death
David Kaczynski was awarded $1 million for helping the FBI find the
Unabomber. Minus legal fees, the reward went to the families of his
"Unlike other decisions I've had to make," he said, "this one wasn't
(source: The Journal News)
Murderers death penalty upheld
The telephone call came about 5 p.m. Friday.
Connie and Dale Sutton answered the phone and heard the news they'd been
A Johnson County judge denied Michael Dean Overstreets appeal for a lesser
sentence. He will remain on death row for the 1997 abduction, rape and
murder of their 18-year-old daughter, Kelly Eckart.
Judge Cynthia Emkes upheld the death sentence Friday after nearly 3 months
of reviewing trial testimony, evidence and attorney arguments about the
case that first came to her courtroom 7 years ago.
This is the second appeal Overstreet has lost since Emkes sentenced him to
death in 2000. Indianas Supreme Court upheld his conviction and sentence
in February 2003, and Overstreet then asked for a lesser penalty, known as
Overstreets attorneys spent eight days in September recalling witnesses
and testimony from the trial, including defense lawyers, police officers,
doctors and family members of the convicted murderer.
In an 86-page ruling, Emkes decided that Overstreet's original defense
attorneys provided adequate legal counsel, most appeal arguments were
without merit and the death sentence was appropriate.
Overstreet's attorneys had asked Emkes for a lesser sentence, challenging
DNA evidence and arguing that his original defense lawyers made mistakes
during the trial that should have convinced the judge to reverse the death
But a forensic psychiatrist countered the defense point and said
Overstreet's ability to plot and involve other people in his attempt to
cover up the crime indicates he was aware of what had happened.
Emkes dismissed dozens of the defense claims in her ruling as being
"It is the conclusion of this court...That (Overstreet) was effectively
represented at trial and on appeal, that he did receive a fair trial with
an outcome that this court does have confidence in, and one that was not
undermined by the quality of his representation," she wrote.
Now 38, Overstreet has been on death row for 4 years.
Eckart, a Franklin College freshman from Boggstown, disappeared Sept.
26-27, 1997, on her way home from a job at the Franklin Wal-Mart. She was
raped and strangled to death, and her body was found 3 days later in a
Brown County ravine.
"We're happy this phase is over," Connie Sutton said. "We've believed in
everything that has been presented all along and feel very good knowing
everything was upheld."
The Boggstown parents have endured court proceedings and appeals since
Overstreet was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death, but they expect
more as the convicted murderer exhausts all appeal options in higher state
and federal courts.
Lead defense attorney Tom Hinesley and deputy state attorney general Jim
Martin, who handled the prosecution in the appeal, could not be reached
Friday afternoon after the decision was released.
Both sides have said theyd appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court.
Overstreet can also appeal through federal courts that include the U.S.
7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
The entire appeals process could take years, but the Suttons are ready to
endure the courtroom proceedings.
"However long it takes," Connie Sutton said. "We've been told that each
step that goes our way, the more likely it is to remain in our favor, that
his chances dwindle with each verdict."
Overstreet remains at Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, where all
death row inmates are sent. If the death sentence is carried out,
Overstreet would be executed by lethal injection.
(source: The Daily Journal)
Death-penalty case arguments heard
Convicted murderer Percy Levar Walton is mentally incapable of preparing
for his execution, his lawyer told a 3-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals.
But an attorney representing the state argued that Walton has made
statements indicating he understands that he is going to die for killing
The appeals court panel heard arguments in the case last week. The panel
is under no time schedule to issue its opinion on the arguments. Walton
attorney Jennifer Givens said opinions usually are released in a month or
Givens argued that as Walton's execution date neared last year, he
completed none of the normal practices of condemned inmates when they are
transferred to Greensville Correctional Center's cells adjacent to the
"Only if a defendant is able to comprehend that he will soon be passing
can he prepare for it," Givens said.
She argued that executing someone mentally incapable of preparing to die
is a form of cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Tests over the years have recorded Walton's IQ as anywhere from 66 to
about 90. A person with a score below 70 is considered mentally retarded.
Walton said in earlier proceedings that after his death he would be able
to ride a motorcycle and someone would visit him.
Walton has been abandoned by his family since he pleaded guilty in October
1997 to the murders of Danville couple Jessie Kendrick, 81, and Elizabeth
Kendrick, 82, and Archie Moore, a 33-year-old neighbor of Walton, in
November 1996, Givens said.
Walton made no provisions for his assets, called no family or friends to
visit him and contacted no clergy to counsel him before his execution,
which was stayed three days before he was scheduled to die in the electric
chair on May 26, 2003.
Attorney Robert Harris, who represented the commonwealth, argued that
because Walton had been abandoned by his family and has no friends, he had
no one to draw near to him before he died. Walton owns nothing, so there
are no assets to disburse.
Also, while he was in the death house, Walton told the warden that he
wanted his remains returned to his mother. "Percy Walton . . . has
expressed that he will go to heaven," Harris said. "He has to understand
that he is going to die."
Harris also reminded the court of Walton's statements to his lawyers
before he was sentenced to death. "I am a killer. Killers get the electric
chair. I will get the electric chair," he quoted Walton as saying.
Condemned inmates in Virginia must decide within 15 days of execution
whether they want to die by injection or electric chair. If they refuse to
make a choice, the default method is lethal injection.
Walton told The Associated Press last year he didn't know why he had
chosen the electric chair.
'Martinsville Seven' case drew worldwide attention
The "Martinsville Seven" were black men executed in February 1951 for the
Jan. 8, 1949, rape of a 32-year-old white woman.
The case drew worldwide attention. Never in state history have so many men
been executed for a single crime.
The woman had traveled into the black area of town to collect money owed
her for clothes. She said she was attacked near railroad tracks and then
taken into woods and assaulted again. She was hospitalized for internal
injuries and emotional distress.
All seven men were arrested within two days of the attack and signed
confessions. In appeals, their lawyers never contested their guilt.
The 7 were Joe Henry Hampton, 19; Frank Hairston Jr., 18; Booker T.
Millner, 19; Howard Lee Hairston, 18; Francis DeSales Grayson, 37; John
Clabon Taylor, 21; and James Luther Hairston, 20.
6 all-male, all-white juries - 2 of the accused were tried together -
found the 7 guilty and sentenced them to death. The woman identified each
man at the trials.
She testified that "they kept their hands over my mouth . . . and there
were more after they got me in the woods than there were on the tracks.
Just how many I do not know."
None of the trials lasted more than a day. By May 4, all of the 7 had
execution dates. The appeals pitted Virginia's top civil-rights lawyers -
including Martin A. Martin, S.W. Tucker, Roland D. Ealey, J.L. Williams
and Oliver W. Hill Sr. - against Virginia Attorney General J. Lindsay
Almond Jr., who would later become governor.
An international effort developed to save the men. Despite more than 2,000
telegrams, Gov. John Battle refused to pardon them or commute their
sentences. He described the crime as one of the most atrocious in the
history of the nation.
4 of the men were executed at the Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond
on Feb. 2, 1951, and the other 3 on Feb 5.
False story led to 1931 rape acquittal
At least 1 black man tried for raping a white woman was exonerated.
It happened in 1931 in Portsmouth. A white woman who claimed she had been
raped by a black man turned out to have been in North Carolina with a man
other than her husband at the time of the alleged rape.
The accused, William Harper, was acquitted. His "confession" to the rape,
it turned out, was the result of police brutality. After the case, a March
7, 1931, editorial in The Richmond News Leader asked:
"How often have frightened, undefended Negroes confessed to crimes they
never committed? How many times have they been railroaded to prison or the
electric chair because bad women wanted to cover up their own misdeeds?"
(source for all: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
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