[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----USA, KY., CONN., FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Dec 17 14:27:28 CST 2004
Defence Wanting for Death Row Women
An inadequate defence by her court-appointed attorney makes Frances
Newton's story typical of many women on death row in the United States,
says a report by the country's largest civil liberties organisation.
Newton, a 39-year-old black woman, was given a 120-day reprieve by Texas
Governor Rick Perry on Dec. 1, just two hours before her scheduled
A shoddy defence during her 1988 trial led to a death penalty conviction
that might have been avoided with adequate representation, according to
her current lead attorney, David R Dow of the Texas Innocence Network
(TIN) at the University of Houston. He came on as Newton's lawyer several
weeks before her scheduled execution to petition for clemency.
"Frances Newton's case is really extreme," said Rachel King, staff
attorney for the capital punishment project of the American Civil
Liberties Union (ACLU), and co-author of the new report, 'The Forgotten
Population: A Look at Death Row in the United States Through the
Experiences of Women'.
"Frankly if she'd had a decent attorney she may have been acquitted," King
In April 1987, Newton's husband Adrian, 23, and their two children, Alton,
7, and Farrah, 21 months, were shot to death. The state charged the woman
with their murders, allegedly committed to get 100,000 dollars in life
insurance, and she was sentenced to death. Throughout her 16 years on
death row she has maintained her innocence.
Ronald Mock, who had a record of losing capital cases, was the
court-appointed attorney during her trial. Dow said Mock failed to conduct
an independent probe into the murders or even to interview witnesses, and
according to Dow's TIN colleague Jared Tyler, Newton's numerous requests
to have Mock removed as her attorney were denied.
"Mr. Mock has never sat down with me and went over the case in depth at
all," Newton said at a September 1988 hearing, reported the 'Houston
Chronicle' on Jul. 7.
At the time of the trial, neither the police nor Mock followed up on leads
pointing to other possible suspects, says Dow. After 16 years those leads
might well prove dry, but the lawyer told IPS he will try to follow them.
Such lack of quality legal representation for female defendants in capital
cases is par for the course, according to the ACLU's report, especially
for poor women, who make up the vast majority of death penalty cases. When
a defendant cannot afford an attorney, many states supply one at public
expense through a public defender programme, or by appointing a private
"The biggest problem is that we're not as a society willing to invest the
kind of resources needed to put on a good defence. To do a good job is
unbelievably expensive," said King.
A proper investigation in a capital case can mean conducting 500-1,000
hours of research, hiring expert witnesses, and doing forensic testing,
while court-appointed attorneys are rarely paid more than a few thousand
dollars per case, she added.
As a court-appointed death penalty lawyer, according to Dow, "you
basically have to set up a little triage operation from the day you're
appointed and decide what you're not going to do" in preparing a defence.
"It's absolutely not adequate."
Still, he added, the situation had improved since Newton's trial, and
minimum standards for death penalty lawyers' education and training have
been implemented in Texas, the state that leads the country in executions.
TIN is one of many such projects nation-wide, where law students, under
the guidance of faculty and practising attorneys (in this case Dow and
Tyler, the group's staff attorney) investigate cases where prisoners claim
innocence. They may represent defendants in court.
"I see no evidence of innocence," Gov Perry said in a statement issued at
the time of Newton's reprieve. "However, I am granting the additional time
to allow the courts the opportunity to order a retesting of gunpowder
residue on the skirt the defendant wore at the time of the murders and of
the gun used in the murders."
Evidence in the Newton case was originally tested by the Houston Police
Department crime lab, which has since been widely discredited by a laundry
list of problems that include mishandling and loss of evidence and
inadequate scientific procedures. Several convictions hinging on evidence
examined by the lab have since been reversed.
Dow said his strategy will be to 1st re-test the forensic evidence (the
gun, some bullets and Newton's skirt), and then try to pursue the leads to
other possible suspects that were not followed up before the trial,
although he does not have a lot of hope the latter tactic will produce
50 women ranging in age from 22 to 73 now sit on death row across the
United States, about 1.4 % of the total death row population of around
3,500, according to the ACLU report, which was co-authored by the American
Friends Service Committee and the National Clearinghouse for the Defence
of Battered Women.
It examined the lives of 66 women, including the 56 on death row between
April 2002 and December 2003 and the 10 that have been executed since
More than 1/2 of the women were victims of abuse during childhood and
adulthood, the report found. This information, which can be a mitigating
factor in a jury's consideration of whether to impose the death penalty,
was often not presented during trial.
1/5 of the women said they had been victims of assault or sexual
harassment while in jail, often at the hands of guards. The report
suggests allowing more direct legal redress to such women, who now must
first exhaust a prison's grievance system, making them vulnerable to
retaliation by guards they see each day.
Texas has put to death 336 of the 944 prisoners executed nationally since
1976, according to the website of the Death Penalty Information Centre.
But in the past year, appeals from 4 of its death row inmates have been
heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Each one challenged the fairness of the
court proceedings by which the defendants were sentenced, and, in the t3
cases that have concluded, the high court reversed lower courts'
(source: Inter Press Service News Agency)
Analysis: Foreign law, U.S. sovereignty
Like it or not, we are entering an age when international law and
international court rulings will have a growing effect on domestic law,
alarming those who see a threat to national sovereignty.
First Britain, and now the United States.
Across the water, the United Kingdom suffered a major setback in the war
against terror Thursday when the nation's highest court in the House of
Lords ruled 8-1 that the darling of the Blair government -- the
Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001 -- violated the larger
European human-rights laws.
The antiterrorism law was enacted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001,
terror attacks in the United States, which the Law Lords called
"atrocities on an unprecedented scale."
British authorities used the law to detain foreign terror suspects
indefinitely without trial. This was much like the Bush administration's
policy before Supreme Court rulings last June said foreign terror suspects
had the right to have their cases reviewed by U.S. courts.
The British policy violated a domestic law, the Human Rights Act of 1998,
which was enacted by Parliament to implement the European Convention on
Human Rights, the Law Lords said.
One of the articles of the British act says, "Everyone has the right to
liberty and security of person."
The Law Lords said "everyone" in that context means "everyone within their
jurisdiction." Since indefinite detention was applied only to foreign
terror suspects and could not be applied to British nationals, it was
Therefore, foreign nationals could be held without trial only so long as
it takes to process them for deportation, the lords said.
British officials, like their U.S. counterparts, do not want open trials
of foreign terror suspects because much of the evidence against them
consists of sensitive intelligence. Such intelligence is usually solid,
but because of the way in which it is gathered it might not stand up under
The Blair government has said it will not release the detainees until
Parliament has a chance to amend the law.
On this side of the water, the Supreme Court of the United States also is
getting ready to deal with the consequences of international law, in
particular its effect on the executions of foreign nationals who have
committed brutal slayings in this country.
The justices have agreed to hear argument this spring on whether an order
by the International Court of Justice at The Hague -- "the principal
judicial organ of the United Nations" -- is binding on U.S. courts.
The United States was an avid proponent of the Vienna Convention when it
was formulated in 1963, mainly because it wanted to protect U.S. nationals
overseas. Article 36 of the convention allows consuls in foreign countries
to protect the interests of their nationals who are detained in those
U.S. diplomats signed the convention in April 1963 -- diplomats from 165
other nations did the same -- and President Richard Nixon sent it to the
Senate, where it was finally and unanimously approved in 1969.
Moreover, the convention has been more than an idle stack of papers. The
United States itself has brought 10 cases before the International Court
of Justice to enforce its protections.
In 2003 it was Mexico's turn to go before the international court and ask
for relief. The International Court of Justice ruled for Mexico, rejecting
a 219-page U.S. counterclaim, in 2004.
Specifically, the international court ruled in the case of "Avena and
other Mexican nationals" that the United States had violated Article 36 of
the convention by failing to inform 51 Mexican nationals on U.S. death
rows that they had a right to tell the Mexican consular office of their
detentions at the time of their arrests.
The International Criminal Court rejected Mexico's request that the
sentences of its nationals on U.S. death rows be annulled, but it did
order a halt to the executions pending review in the U.S. courts of each
of the Mexican cases, regardless of any procedural obstacles.
So much for international law. Now for the specific case before the
Supreme Court, which as usual is ugly and brutal.
Jose Ernesto Medellin was 18 when, while participating in an initiation
for the "Black and Whites" street gang in Houston, he was among those who
raped and killed 2 teenage girls in a particular heinous way, a jury
In a petition to the Supreme Court, Medellin's court-appointed lawyers
contend he told arresting officers he was born in Laredo, Mexico, and was
not a U.S. citizen. Nevertheless, the International Court of Justice
found, he was not told of his right to contact the Mexican consul, who
could have offered translation as well as legal help.
Convicted and sentenced to death, Medellin lost his state appeals and
asked for constitutional review of his case in the federal courts in
Houston. A federal judge and, later, a federal appeals court, rejected his
When Medellin tried a 2nd time for review in the federal courts, using
Vienna Convention grounds, his application was rejected. His attorneys
then successfully asked the Supreme Court for review.
Mexico, of course, has filed a brief supporting Medellin's claims before
the high court. So have the 25 countries in the European Union, joined by
the Council of Europe, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
Perhaps the most intriguing brief in support of Medellin to arrive at the
high court comes from former U.S. Ambassador Bruce Laingen, who was the
highest-ranking hostage during the Tehran crisis in 1979-81.
Laingen is joined in his brief by Billy Hayes, a filmmaker and writer who
spent 5 years in a Turkish prison during the 1970s, and wrote the book
"Midnight Express," which was made into a film.
Laingen, Hayes and others are "U.S. citizens who have benefited from
consular assistance abroad or have suffered in its absence." They say they
take no position on the death penalty, only on the Vienna Convention.
"Every year, a significant number of United States citizens traveling or
living overseas find themselves ensnared in the criminal justice system of
a foreign government," their brief said. "Consular assistance provides a
vital service to these Americans, providing a desperately needed link to
the outside world, and helping them navigate and understand an unfamiliar,
and perhaps hostile, legal system."
In other words, consular notification is not just a nuisance in the
prosecution of U.S. law. It also protects U.S. citizens overseas.
When the Medellin case is heard by the Supreme Court, it will be a
struggle between the right of Texas to execute murderers and the power of
international law, which once ratified by the Senate has the effect of
U.S. law under the Constitution.
It's too early to predict the outcome of the case, though at least one
member of the Supreme Court, Justice Stephen Breyer, has publicly said
that the high court eventually must come to terms with the impact of
Breyer might reasonably be expected to lead those members of the Supreme
Court who feel the Vienna Convention means what it says.
As the public becomes more aware of the case, it is reasonable to assume
that those who see it as a threat to U.S. sovereignty will make their
opinions known as well.
It is just as reasonable to expect grumblings of extreme displeasure from
conservative members of Congress, and from the White House, if the high
court rules for Medellin before it recesses for the summer in late June.
(source: Michael Kirkland, UPI Legal Affairs Correspondent, for World
NATIONAL COALITION TO ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY PRESS RELEASE
CONTACT: David Elliot, NCADP Communications Director
202-543-9577, ext. 16 ---- delliot at ncadp.org -- www.ncadp.org 920
Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, D.C. 20003
KANSAS SUPREME COURT STRIKES DOWN DEATH PENALTY LAW; 16 STATES NOW WITHOUT
Dec. 17, 2004 - The Kansas Supreme Court Friday struck down that state's
death penalty law, making 14 states free of capital punishment, the
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty said today.
Earlier this year, a New York state court took similar action. Kansas and
New York are the 2 most recent states to reinstate the death penalty, with
Kansas reinstating it in 1994 and New York in 1995. Neither state has
executed anyone since reinstatement. Today's ruling vacates all 6 death
sentences in Kansas.
"Today's development should not surprise anyone," said NCADP Executive
Director Diann Rust-Tierney. "Our experience in looking at the death
penalty teaches us that it is exceedingly difficult to craft a system that
is both procedurally fair and mistake-free. Without the death penalty, we
hope Kansas will be able to focus its resources on providing more support
for crime victims as well as crime prevention efforts."
The Kansas Supreme Court struck down the state's death penalty law on a
4-3 vote because it said the law gave the state an unfair advantage over
defendants during the sentencing process. Rust-Tierney noted that Kansas
has a history of antipathy toward the death penalty; the state abolished
capital punishment in 1907, brought it back in 1935 and then observed a
moratorium in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the Republican governor
at the time said, "I just don't like killing people."
One year ago, Kansas officials released a cost study that showed the
state's death penalty system costs approximately 70 % more than comparable
non-death penalty cases. The study found that the median cost of a death
penalty trial and appeals was $1.26 million while non-death penalty cases
cost a median of $740,000.
(source: NCADP; The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty was
founded in 1976 and is the only fully-staffed national organization
devoted specifically to abolishing the death penalty. NCADP is comprised
of more than 100 local, state, national and international affiliates.
Supreme Court orders new jury to decide Colon's death penalty
The state Supreme Court on Friday ordered a new jury to decide whether a
Waterbury man should die for beating and torturing a toddler in 1998.
The high court upheld Ivo Colon's conviction. But it unanimously ruled
that a jury cannot recommend the death penalty unless the jury finds
beyond a reasonable doubt that aggravating factors in the murder outweigh
factors that may mitigate its seriousness.
The court based its decision on that case of another Waterbury child
killer, Todd Rizzo. The high court in Rizzo's case ruled that, because a
death penalty jury is entrusted with the legal system's most important
question, jurors must determine beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant
deserves to die.
Colon's jury was not instructed about that responsibility, the court ruled
Colon, 24, was 18 when he bludgeoned a Waterbury boy to death with a
sledgehammer in 1997. According to testimony at the trial, he bashed
2-year-old Keriana Tellado's head against a shower wall until she died.
Witnesses said Colon began abusing the girl weeks before her July 19 death
because Keriana was slow to potty train.
The jury found that the heinous nature of the crime - an aggravating
factor - outweighed mitigating factors, such as Colon's young age.
The court rejected Colon's argument Friday that the state's death penalty
laws are unconstitutional. Connecticut has not executed anybody since
1960, but serial killer Michael Ross is scheduled to die Jan. 26 at Osborn
Correctional Institution in Somers.
Hollywood man convicted for murdering 2 seniors during robbery
Pressing a palm to his scalp, Edward Stryker slumped forward and stared at
jurors Thursday as they told a Broward Circuit Judge, one by one, that
Stryker was guilty of slaying a Holocaust survivor and her roommate during
a robbery at their Hollywood home.
Stryker, 45, of Hollywood, was convicted of 1st-degree murder,
second-degree murder, robbery and burglary for the June 3, 2001 attack
that left Anna Warsaw, 73, dead and John Zajemski, 79, severely beaten.
Zajemski died five months later from the injuries.
A sentencing hearing was not yet scheduled Thursday. Stryker could face
the death penalty.
Prosecutors said Stryker and his friend, David Ruiz, 42, of Tamarac,
ransacked the home in search of crack cocaine. Warsaw was found facedown
on her bedroom floor. Zajemski, who had prostate cancer, also was severely
beaten and his catheter was ripped out.
"All they got were trinkets," Assistant State Attorney David Frankel said.
"Mrs. Warsaw's wedding band, a couple of other rings, but not much more.
Stryker was caught trying to sell some food he stole out of the house."
Ruiz is still awaiting trial.
The victims' families, who mostly live in New York, did not come to see
the 6-week trial, Frankel said.
"They couldn't bear it," he said. "They're just destroyed."
Zajemski's niece had been taking care of him and Warsaw at the home on
Wilson Street. Stryker lived nearby, and Ruiz had once lived in the
Defense lawyers declined to comment outside the courtroom after Stryker
(source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
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