[Deathpenalty]death penalty news --- USA, NY, TEX.
j_sommer at gmx.net
Wed Dec 15 10:18:32 CST 2004
death penalty news
December 15, 2004
Christian cheers for death penalty?
The article Tuesday in The Republic about Scott Peterson's sentencing had a
paragraph that began, "A cheer went up outside the courthouse as the jury
announced its decision . . . "
It behooves us all to step back a moment and reflect on that statement.
What type of society would condemn a man for killing his wife and child,
then cheer when that man is condemned to death himself? What kind of
mentality cheers at the announced death of a person, regardless of what we
think of that person?
Supposedly this country is in the grip of the Christian right. Now, I
haven't been to church for quite some time, but I recall something in
Christianity about forgiving your enemies, judging others as you would be
judged, casting stones, leaving judgment to God.
And I think I recall something in the Scriptures that was very significant
to this article. If I could only . . . Ah, yes. Now I remember. There was
some brief note in the Bible about thou shalt not kill.
Way to go, Christian America. You should worry more about the true meaning
of your faith and forget about Passions and Da Vinci Codes.
May God forgive the Christians in this country because they have truly lost
Michael J. Perez, Phoenix
(source: Opinion, Arizona Republic)
Death penalty support wavers - Views changing among lawmakers
Nearly 10 years ago, Assemblywoman Sandra Galef was part of an overwhelming
majority of state legislators who voted to reinstate New York's death penalty.
Now, she opposes it. And she said she would vote against it if, as
expected, it comes to a vote in the Legislature next year. For
death-penalty opponents, Galef is the prime example of how thinking on
capital punishment may have changed over that decade.
"I think circumstances do change. I think that views do change," said
Galef, D-Ossining, Westchester County. "We do have life without parole now
(as a sentencing option). The use of DNA has advanced. So I don't believe I
would be supportive this time."
One of the biggest looming battles for New York lawmakers next year is
whether to renew the state's death penalty. There's been a de facto
moratorium since the state's highest court struck down the statute last
summer on a technicality that in theory could be quickly fixed.
The state's highest court said the current deadlock provision, mandating a
life sentence with a chance for parole, could coerce juries into ordering
the death penalty. Many legislators and Gov. George E. Pataki support a
short rewrite that orders a life-without-parole sentence when a jury can't
decide. First-degree murder defendants have always been able to plea
bargain to get a life sentence and avoid execution.
But not all lawmakers want to simply renew the statute, especially in the
Democrat-led Assembly, which kicks off hearings on the issue today.
The Assembly easily approved the capital punishment law in 1995 by a vote
of 94-52. But the chamber has changed dramatically since then. Only 72 of
the members who voted on the law remain in office. That's less than half of
the 150-member chamber.
Of the 72, their original vote was 37 yes, 35 no.
The Assembly is more dominated by Democrats now, 104-46, than in 1995,
94-56. That means the debate starts on different footing, compared to 1995
when there was pent- up demand for a death penalty. Lawmakers had approved
it annually, only to have it vetoed by former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo.
Additionally, some believe support for capital punishment has waned. In a
recent Quinnipiac University poll, New Yorkers preferred, 53 percent-to-38
percent, to impose a life-in-prison sentence over the death penalty.
Even behavior among district attorneys has changed. New York's prosecutors
are pursuing death-penalty cases at half the rate they did when lawmakers
reinstated the death penalty nine years ago, an analysis of state records
shows. During the first four years the law was back on the books,
prosecutors sought the death penalty once for every 13 capital-eligible
defendants. Over the next four years, the rate dropped to one in 27.
Only seven men have been sent to death row. All four who have had their
cases go all the way up the court system have had their death sentences
overturned because of different constitutional flaws in the law.
"Legislators are facing a very different choice than they were in 1995,"
said David Kaczynski, whose brother, Ted, was the Unabomber convicted of a
nearly 20-year spree of mail bombings. David Kaczynski of Schenectady, who
turned in his brother in exchange for a promise not to seek the death
penalty, has since headed the anti-capital punishment coalition New Yorkers
Against the Death Penalty.
"It is fairly divided," Assemblyman Ron Canestrari, R-Cohoes, Albany
County, said of house Democrats. He voted "yes" in 1995 and supports the
death penalty but said the mood of the caucus is: "It was a difficult issue
in 1995 and it's less clear cut now."
Others aren't so sure opinions have changed.
"I don't know that (opponents) have made any new converts," said
Assemblyman Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, who was recently elected to a Senate seat
covering parts of Bronx and Westchester counties. A prime sponsor of the
death-penalty statute in 1995, he hopes a rewrite occurs swiftly "even if
it means pressuring the Assembly."
"Will it be harder to get a majority? Probably. Is it impossible? No," said
Assemblyman Will Stephens, R-Brewster, Putnam County, a capital punishment
One legislator who has been lobbied heavily is Assemblyman Tom Kirwan,
R-Newburgh, a conservative Catholic. He has "had long talks" with Kaczynski
and last Friday with a local bishop who urged him to change his vote and
oppose the death penalty.
"I'm not quite as ardent a supporter as I was," said Kirwan, a retired
state trooper. "DNA has exculpated a lot of people who are innocent. Having
said that, I'll still vote for the death penalty because there are some
crimes that are so outrageous that you have to have it."
The hearings continue next month in Albany; it's not clear when any form of
a rewrite would be ready for a vote. Kirwan's prediction: any bill that
passed by the Assembly will have "less teeth" than the 1995 statute.
Lupardo plans open mind on death penalty
Donna Lupardo doesn't believe in the death penalty. But the soon-to-be
assemblywoman from Broome County is willing to listen to the arguments for
and against it.
"I'm anxious to look at all the facts," said Lupardo, who will take a seat
in January in the state Assembly representing Binghamton and the towns of
Union and Vestal. "It's not always about your own personal view."
Lupardo, a 50-year-old Endwell resident, unseated Robert Warner, R-Vestal,
an 11-year veteran state lawmaker, in an upset victory in November in the
126th Assembly District. She'll be a member of the Assembly's majority
party where her vote on the matter will count.
Lupardo won't be at today's Assembly-sponsored hearing on the future of the
death penalty, which was ruled unconstitutional by New York's highest court
But she plans to attend a second hearing in January. Lupardo's concerns
include whether appropriate safeguards will ensure innocent people aren't
convicted. She also wants to study the resources consumed by the state's
former death penalty law.
Since the death penalty was re-enacted in 1995, taxpayers spent more than
$100 million prosecuting, defending and housing defendants. In the same
period, only seven received a death penalty sentence from New York juries.
Three had their convictions overturned before the court ruled the law
unconstitutional this summer.
That ruling had an effect in Broome where jury selection in the death
penalty trial of Vernon E. Parker Jr. was under way.
The high court said Parker, and six other New York defendants facing death
sentences at trial, could be tried on first-degree murder charges, but
without the death penalty as a possible punishment.
Parker was convicted by a jury in October of murdering Valerie and Devin
Spears in their South Washington Street home. Parker killed the Binghamton
mother and daughter because they were going to testify against him at a
sexual molestation trial in Baltimore County, the jury said.
The maximum penalty Parker faces at sentencing in March is life in prison
The case would have been Broome County District Attorney Gerald F. Mollen's
first death penalty trial. Mollen said he supports the death penalty in
very limited circumstances. That's a position he's held since the law went
into effect in 1995, eight years after he became DA.
As DA, he's sworn to uphold the law. Changing the law, or doing away with
the death penalty is up to legislators, he said. But if the law is
salvaged, Mollen wants it to be usable.
He said many prosecutors in 1995 had reservations about the law being
impractical, expensive and cumbersome, making it difficult to use.
The law sets up expectations on punishment for the families of murder
victims, but it only applied to a tiny amount of murder cases.
"You were almost creating more frustration with the criminal justice
system," Mollen said. "You were creating an expectation that cannot be met."
Charles Lloyd wanted the death penalty at first for Parker, who killed
Lloyd's sister and 14-year-old niece on July 20, 2002. But as time went on,
he said, he felt that life in prison without parole was more fitting in
That's because he came to believe death was too easy a punishment for Parker.
"I wanted him to spend the rest of his life thinking about what he had
done," he said.
Lloyd still supports a death penalty law. And he believes that Valerie
Spears would have forgiven her son-in-law, Vernon Parker. Devin Spears
would have done the same, Lloyd said.
"I take a bit of solace in knowing that," Lloyd said.
(source for both: pressconnects.com)
AI-Index: AMR 51/182/2004
Further information on UA 44/04 (AMR 51/024/2004, 06 February 2004) and
follow-up (AMR 51/035/2004, 18 February 2004)
Edward Lewis Lagrone (m), black, aged 46
Bobby Ray Hopkins (m), black, aged 36
Cameron Todd Willingham (m), aged 36
A journalistic investigation into the murder conviction of Cameron
Willingham, who was executed in February, has produced new evidence that
the case against him was seriously flawed.
Cameron Willingham was convicted in August 1992 of the arson murders of his
three young children, Amber Kuykendall, Karmon Willingham and Kameron
Willingham. The three died of smoke inhalation in a house fire on 23
December 1991. Cameron Willingham escaped the fire.
Cameron Willingham was executed in Texas on 17 February 2004. The Texas
Board of Pardons and Paroles voted against clemency, and Governor Rick
Perry refused to intervene. In his final statement before being executed,
Cameron Willingham said: "The only statement I want to make is that I am an
innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted
for 12 years for something I did not do.
In an article published on 9 December 2004, the Chicago Tribune, whose
investigations of the flaws in Illinoiss capital justice system were cited
by former Governor George Ryan when he commuted the death sentences of all
on Illinois death row in January 2003, revealed that it had asked four
fire experts to review the case. The four concluded that the investigation
into the Willinghams house fire had been seriously flawed and had used
techniques which have since fallen into disrepute. They concluded that the
fire may have been accidental.
One of the experts said: Theres nothing to suggest to any reasonable
arson investigator that this was an arson fire. It was just a fire.
Another said that it made him sick to think this guy was executed based on
They executed this guy and theyve just got no idea
at least not scientifically if he set the fire, or if the fire was even
intentionally set. Another said: There was no evidence to support a
conclusion that the fire was intentionally set. One of the jurors from the
original trial, after learning of the new evidence, said: Did anybody know
about this prior to his execution? Now I will have to live with this for
the rest of my life. Maybe this man was innocent.
Prior to his 1992 trial, Cameron Willingham had turned down a life prison
sentence in return for a guilty plea because he said he was innocent. At
the trial, the state presented evidence that he had confessed to another
jail inmate that he had set the fire, and evidence that he had not tried
hard enough to rescue his children. Among the states scientific evidence
of arson was that of crazed glass in the house. This was presented as an
indicator that the fire had become especially hot as a result of an
accelerant being applied. However, it has since been shown that crazed
glass can be created as a result of hot glass being sprayed with water
when the fire is being put out. The four experts called other aspects of
the investigation into question.
On 6 October 2004, Ernest Ray Willis was released after 17 years on death
row in Texas. He was sentenced to death in 1987 for the 1986 murder of two
women who died in a house fire that was ruled to have been arson. After a
court granted Willis a new trial in 2004, the county prosecutor hired an
arson specialist to review the original evidence. The expert, one of those
now saying that the Willingham arson evidence is unsafe, concluded that
there was no evidence of arson, and that the accelerant" initially
suspected of causing the fire was in fact "flashover burning," consistent
with electrical fault fires. The prosecutor dropped all charges, saying
that Willis "simply did not do the crime
I'm sorry this man was on death
row for so long and that there were so many lost years."
Texas accounts for 336 of the 944 executions carried out in the USA since
1977. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases,
regardless of guilt or innocence. Since 1973, 117 people have been released
from US death rows after evidence of their innocence emerged. Others have
gone to their deaths despite serious doubts about their guilt.
FURTHER RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as
possible, in English or your own language, in your own words, including
Willinghams former prisoner number #999041 in your appeals:
expressing deep regret at the execution of Cameron Willingham on 17
noting new evidence that Cameron Willingham was convicted on the basis of a
seriously flawed fire investigation, and that four arson experts have
concluded that the house fire could have been accidental;
noting the case of Ernest Willis, and that Cameron Willingham had
consistently maintained his innocence, including in his final statement
before being killed by the state;
calling for a full independent inquiry into this case, and for the results
to be made public;
calling on the addressees to support a moratorium on executions in Texas.
Governor Rick Perry, Office of the Governor, PO Box 12428, Austin, Texas
Fax: 001 512 463 1849
Salutation: Dear Governor
The Honorable Greg Abbott, Attorney General, PO Box 12548, Austin, TX
Email: greg.abbott at oag.state.tx.us
Fax: 001 512 475 2994
Salutation: Dear Attorney General
Rissie Owens, Presiding Officer, Board of Pardons and Paroles, 1300 11th
St., Suite 520, P.O. Box 599, Huntsville, TX 77342-0599, USA.
Fax: 001 936 291 8367
Salutation: Dear Ms Owens
Elvis Hightower, Board Member, Board of Pardons and Paroles, 1300 11th St.,
Suite 520, P.O. Box 599, Huntsville, TX 77342-0599, USA.
Fax: 001 936 291 8367
Salutation: Dear Mr Hightower
Charles Aycock, Board of Pardons and Paroles, 5809 S. Western, Suite 237,
Amarillo, TX 79110, USA
Fax: 001 806 358 6455
Salutation: Dear Mr Aycock
Linda Garcia, Board of Pardons and Paroles, 1212 N. Velasco, Suite 201,
Angleton, TX 77515, USA
Fax: 001 979 849 8741
Salutation: Dear Ms Garcia
Juanita Gonzalez, Board of Pardons and Paroles, 3408 S. State Hwy. 36,
Gatesville, TX 76528, USA
Fax: 001 254 865 2629
Salutation: Dear Ms Gonzalez
Jose L. Aliseda, Board of Pardons and Paroles, 1111 West Lacy St.,
Palestine, TX 75801, USA
Fax: 001 903 723 1441
Salutation: Dear Mr Aliseda
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY.
(source: Amnesty International)
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