death penalty news----CONN., NEV., N.MEX., KY., ILL.. OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Dec 14 15:07:14 CST 2004
Death Penalty A Tool Of Moral Bankruptcy
Letters To The Editor:
As a mother, I try to imagine the suffering of the families of Michael
Ross's victims, and I cannot. Nor can I imagine the heartache of Michael
Ross's family. He, too, is someone's son. One can feel only the deepest
sorrow for all who've been touched by this tragedy.
But Michael Ross serves to put a human face on an issue larger than his
particular fate: the place of capital punishment in a civilized society.
Why, one wonders, is the United States one of the few remaining countries
in the civilized world to practice this barbaric ritual? Why is our
understanding of punishment so primitive? The death penalty is a tool of a
morally bankrupt society. It is also impractical: studies have shown
repeatedly that it neither saves money nor deters crime.
The distinction between good and evil does not run between one nation and
another, or one person and another. We are all broken and in need of
In this season when the Christian world marks the birth of the one who
calls us to love our enemies, can we not grow beyond our addiction to
violence and vengeance? Revenge is never a bringer of peace in the human
(source: Letter to the Editor, The Day)
High court ruling may affect state's foreign inmates on death row
Nevada is among the states that have numerous citizens of other countries
slated for execution, so people within or connected to the justice system
here are mulling over the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to take up the
A noted Nevada defense lawyer said the issue of the rights of foreign
nationals, accused in death penalty cases, has been raised in past appeals
but has never been successful.
Michael Pescetta, deputy federal public defender who is an expert on death
penalty cases, said Friday the issue has been pursued on appeal in the
past but we have "gotten nothing but the straight-arm."
On Friday, the nation's highest court agreed to consider the appeal of
Mexican national Jose Medellin, who is on death row in Texas in a case
where the legal rights of a foreigner is at issue.
There are some foreign nationals on death row in Nevada but it is not
clear how many are still citizens of foreign countries.
Pescetta said a foreign citizen arrested in a murder case should be told
of his or her right to contact his country's consulate to seek help if so
desired. Or law enforcement should notify the consulate that the person is
in custody so officials there can decide if they want to assist the
accused with provision of a lawyer or an interpreter or other help.
Avram Nika, 34, would fall into this category.
Nika was a citizen of the former country of Romania and was traveling to
Chicago to catch a plane to be with his sick mother in 1994. The car broke
down about 20 miles east of Reno. Edward Smith of Fallon stopped to help
Nika. They got in an argument and Nika hit Smith with a crowbar and shot
him in the head. He was sentenced to death.
Jose L. Echavarria's case may also be affected by the Supreme Court's
decision. Born in Cuba, Echavarria was convicted of killing off-duty FBI
Agent John Bailey during a bank robbery in 1990 in Las Vegas and was
sentenced to death.
Carlos Gutierrez, 34, is another Nevada death row inmate whose case may
fall under the same category. He was sentenced to death for the torture
killing of his 3-year-old stepdaughter in Reno in 1994.
Another inmate who may be affected by the eventual Supreme Court ruling is
Siaosi Vanisi, a Tongan, who was sentenced to death for the murder a
police officer at the University of Nevada-Reno in 1998 Fernando
Hernandez, 42, may also be able to establish foreign citizenship. He was
sentenced to death for the strangulation-stabbing of his ex-wife, Donna,
in October 1999 in Las Vegas.
All of the cases are presently on appeal in one stage or another.
The International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled earlier this year
that the United Sates should review death penalty cases of 51 Mexicans
whose rights to contact their consular were violated. It said the
principle should apply to all foreigners sentenced to death.
(source: Las Vegas Sun)
Court hears arguments in death penalty case
In Santa Fe, the state Supreme Court heard arguments today in the death
penalty case of a Farmington man convicted of killing a Shiprock woman.
Lawyers for Robert Fry tried to convince the justices that his conviction
and sentencing for the murder of Betty Lee should be reversed.
Lee, a mother of 5, was stabbed and then beaten to death in a remote part
of San Juan County in June 2000.
The murder occurred after Fry and another man picked Lee up outside a
convenience store and offered her a ride home.
Fry also has been convicted in a separate crime, the beating death of an
Arizona man in 1998, for which he was sentenced to life in prison.
He is scheduled to stand trial in a 3rd case, the 1996 killings of 2 men
whose bodies were found at a downtown Farmington store.
(source: Associated Press)
Confessed Killer Seeking Death Penalty Awaits Sentence----Chapman Stabbed
2 Children To Death In 2002
A Kentucky man who pleaded guilty to killing two children will be
Marco Chapman will learn if a judge will grant his request to be executed,
WLKY NewsChannel 32 reported.
Chapman admitted to killing the 2 young children in August 2002 in
Gallatin County. He also was charged with attacking their mother and
sister, who've since recovered.
Even if the judge does sentence Chapman to death, prosecutors said it
could take more than a year for the execution, WLKY reported.
That's because of automatic appeals that even Chapman cannot stop.
(source: The LouisvilleChannel)
Expert discredits bite mark evidence----Report may help exonerate 2 men in
A prominent forensic scientist has discredited the only physical evidence
that linked 2 men to a 1990 murder and sexual assault case in which the
men long have contended they are innocent.
Dr. David Sweet, considered one of the top forensic dental experts in the
world, said in a report sent Monday to defense and prosecution attorneys
that a bite mark on the victim was not suitable for comparison, because
the body had been damaged by a fire apparently set to cover up the crime.
The report is critical to Harold Hill and Dan Young Jr., because it
represents an important step toward their goal of exoneration. It is
particularly significant because the prosecution and defense lawyers
jointly agreed upon Sweet to analyze the evidence, and they agreed to
accept his opinion.
The report rebuts testimony given by Park Ridge dentist John Kenney that
Young and Hill were responsible for marks on the victim, Kathy Morgan, 39,
whose body was found in a South Side building in 1990 after firefighters
were summoned to extinguish a blaze.
At the trial, Kenney testified that he had found, to a "reasonable degree
of medical certainty," that Young left a bite mark on Morgan's left
Sweet, director of the Bureau of Legal Dentistry at the University of
British Columbia in Vancouver, said in an interview that while he
concluded someone had bitten Morgan's breast, he could not compare the
wound with the teeth of either Hill or Young because of the damage to
Morgan's skin from the fire.
Heat and fire can distort skin, making comparison difficult, said Sweet.
"We're not sure what changes have occurred," said Sweet. "But any time the
skin is heated, or any time it suffers a burn, the skin changes."
Sweet is an expert in forensic odontology, which has been employed in the
criminal justice system to identify criminals based on bite marks they
leave on the bodies of their victims.
The case of Hill and Young was featured in the Tribune's recent series on
forensic science in the courtroom, which showed how bite mark testimony
has been advanced as a prosecutorial tool even though there is no accurate
way to measure its reliability.
Unlike two previous analyses by forensic odontologists hired by defense
lawyers, Sweet's analysis did not involve a review of Kenney's work,
although his conclusion suggests that Kenney should not have made his
comparison. Sweet was not provided Kenney's testimony. Instead, he
reviewed photographs of the victim's body, a videotape of the crime scene
and impressions and cases of the injured area as well as the teeth of Hill
"I try to take a very independent approach and not hear about the other
types of analysis that have been done," he said. He noted that it was
possible Kenney had an advantage by being able to examine the body at
autopsy, though that would not eliminate the problems caused by the fire.
Sweet examined the evidence in the case at the request of both the Cook
County state's attorney's office and Kathleen Zellner, attorney for Hill
Life without parole
The 2 men were convicted of the sexual assault and murder in 1994. Both
were sentenced to life in prison without parole.
John Gorman, spokesman for Cook County State's Atty. Richard Devine, said
no decision would be made on the case until further DNA tests have been
completed on clothing that may have belonged to the attacker and that was
found near the victim. He said Sweet's analysis was "another piece of
evidence we are weighing in this case. We've spent tens of thousands of
dollars and thousands of man hours. ... The whole case is being turned
upside down--re-examining witnesses; transcripts are being reviewed."
Zellner praised prosecutors for their work on the case. "Once again Dick
Devine has shown a willingness to get to the truth of a case and to
consider that the wrong people may have been convicted for the crime,"
"It now appears that the key piece of physical evidence against Mr. Hill
and Mr. Young has been discredited," said Zellner. "Dr. Sweet is the
expert that both sides agreed would do an impartial review, and he has
determined that any bite mark comparison that was done would be invalid
because of the condition of the skin.
"We have to complete final DNA testing, but it's safe to say that the case
has unraveled," she said.
Kenney, reached in Hawaii where he is working to help identify remains of
soldiers killed in Korea, World War II, and Vietnam, said, "I have the
greatest respect in the world for Dr. Sweet. I think he's written a very
fair and good report."
Earlier this year, Kenney said in an interview that he remains confident
in his analysis. But he also expressed concern that Hill and Young may
have been wrongfully convicted.
The subjectivity of forensic odontology, he said, leaves room for
misleading testimony. "You get pushed a little bit by prosecutors, and
sometimes you say OK to get them to shut up," he said, adding that he
wishes he had tempered his testimony in the case. "I allowed myself to be
A spokesman for Devine's office has said previously that Kenney was not
Defense attorneys at the 1994 trial of Hill and Young did not call an
expert in forensic odontology to testify against Kenney.
Hill, now 31, and Young, now 44, contend they are innocent and are seeking
a new trial based on the dental examination as well as previous DNA tests
that failed to link them to the crime. The DNA tests that have been
completed to date have identified the genetic profiles of 2 other unknown
The only other evidence linking Young and Hill were alleged confessions to
detectives. Those confessions have been questioned because police at the
time said a third man, Peter Williams, had confessed as well. After police
learned Williams was in jail at the time of the crime, he was released.
Hill, who was 16 when Morgan was killed, was arrested on unrelated charges
about 18 months after the slaying. Chicago police detectives Kenneth
Boudreau and John Halloran obtained a confession from him saying that he,
Young and Williams all took part in the crime.
2 days later, detectives arrested Young, who court-appointed doctors said
had an IQ of 56, which is 14 points below the most commonly used benchmark
for determining retardation. Young said police beat him.
Williams was the last to be arrested. He gave the most detailed
confession, but he later said he was handcuffed to a radiator for hours
and urinated on himself because he was not allowed to use a bathroom.
The detectives denied they abused the men.
A December 2001 Tribune investigation showed that Boudreau helped to get
confessions from more than a dozen defendants in murder cases in which the
charges were dropped or the defendant was acquitted.
(source: Chicago Tribune)
Ohio's 7 executions trailed only Texas' 23 -- Capital punishment is being
questioned by more U.S. people, annual report says
Ohio bucked a national trend this year, executing seven killers at a time
when executions nationally declined.
The state was second in the country to Texas, with 23 executions,
according to an annual report by the Death Penalty Information Center, of
Washington, D.C., a nonprofit organization. Oklahoma and Virginia had 6
and 5 executions, respectively.
Ohio also bucked the national trend of a declining population of condemned
prisoners. The state has 205 men and one woman on death row, a number that
has not changed significantly for several years.
Across the country, a 40 % drop in executions and fewer death sentences
during the past 5 years represents a sea change in capital punishment,
according to Richard Dieter, executive director of the national center.
"The public's confidence in the death penalty has seriously eroded over
the past several years," Dieter said. "Life without parole offers the
public a better alternative without all the risks and expense."
There were 59 executions nationally in 2004, with no more scheduled before
the end of the year. That compares with 65 last year and 98 in 1999.
Ohio executed 7 men this year, including 2 from Franklin County - John
Glenn Roe and William D. Wickline. That was the most since 1949, when 15
were put to death.
Ohio had 3 executions in 2003, tied for fourth in the nation behind Texas,
Oklahoma and North Carolina. There have been 15 executions here since
capital punishment resumed in 1999 after a 36-year hiatus.
The Death Penalty Information Center report also cited five new
exonerations from death row this year, bringing the total to 117 since
capital punishment was reinstated nationally in 1973.
2 Columbus men, Timothy Howard and Gary Lamar James, are on the national
exoneration list. They were released from prison last year after serving
26 years - including time on death row - for a 1976 East Side bank robbery
and murder. The courts concluded that newly uncovered evidence and facts
not presented to juries 2 decades ago were sufficient to reverse their
Ohio Public Defender David Bodiker said he doesn't think Ohio is
necessarily speeding up the pace of executions and that the number will
vary from year to year.
"I don't think we're moving very fast. The 7 this year was probably not
typical," Bodiker said.
"We obviously have a reservoir of convictions which makes it possible for
any year to have a substantial number of executions."
Bodiker noted that the number of death sentences statewide continues to
decline, from 18 in 1996 to 5 this year.
(source: Columbus Dispatch)
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