[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----CONN., N.Y., KY., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Dec 19 12:15:17 CST 2004
End The Death Penalty--Death sentence should not be public policy.
Michael Ross is a symbol of evil. His string of murders of women, some as
young as 14, were brutal and beyond human comprehension. Barring some
unusual circumstance, he may after years in prison become Connecticut's
first executed criminal in decades within the next few months.
Relatives of the victims have endured many years of emotional turmoil and
are heartened by the imminent arrival of the execution. Any father or
mother can understand the families' outrage and the need for retribution.
The instinct for revenge against this vicious murderer of at least 7 women
in two states is overwhelming.
But the question of the death penalty is not about Michael Ross, tempting
as it is to make that connection. Rather, the death penalty speaks loudly
about who we are as a people.
A civilized nation should not adopt as public policy laws that give
prosecutors the right to execute human beings. The act of killing
citizens, regardless of how awful they may be, does not advance the
society. Rather, capital punishment imposes as law a kind of mob mentality
that speaks only to emotional outrage, and not to making society better.
In the heat of anger, individuals may rationalize state-sponsored killing
as a fitting retaliation to those bizarre individuals whose crimes are
particularly heinous. But in calmer moments, the public should see capital
punishment as weakening, not strengthening, society. In putting prisoners
to death, society adopts the misdeeds of the killer. The state thus
becomes a participant in the grisly business of ending another human
There is no justification for taking another person's life, whether it is
one private person attacking another or the state imposing the full impact
of the law on a criminal.
Aggravating and mitigating factors
Connecticut's ambivalence about the death penalty is reflected in the
statutes that define aggravating and mitigating factors. Aggravating
factors include: murder during the commission of a sexual assault;
murdering a police officer; murder during a kidnapping; murder for hire.
Mitigating factors could include a particularly troubled upbringing by
The point is that the state recognized that the taking of a life had to be
carefully considered and established a set of guidelines to measure the
process. But this is nothing more than an attempt to justify
state-sponsored killing. The legislature should reconsider the death
In planning to kill Michael Ross, what is society really doing except
degrading its own definition of civility?
The most important issue is not one of deterring others from heinous
crimes by the threat of the death penalty. Society may argue the
effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent for the next 100 years.
What we as a people cannot dispute is that a policy of killing others
demeans everyone in our society.
Advocates of abolishing the death penalty also argue that capital
punishment sends to their deaths victims whom the latest scientific
evidence might exonerate. This is an important issue, but it is secondary
to the fact that in making death a public policy, the state becomes an
aberration not unlike a twisted, perverted killer.
Chilling public policy
Michael Ross, one can argue, deserves to die. Maybe so, when people merely
react to the horrific nature of his crimes. But it is a far different and
chilling conclusion for a society to adopt killing as a principle of
For 20 years, the victims' families have suffered. They hope for Mr.
Ross's death to end their turmoil. But what peace can there be for them or
for others who will come later when the state says murder is wrong except
when prosecutors and judges apply that action to criminal defendants?
Murdering someone is wrong in all cases. No state laws, no matter how
carefully worded to try to narrow and define the justifications for
capital punishment, can escape the sobering indignity of the government's
taking away another person's life.
The Michael Ross case is a trap. It is so easy, so human, to hate him and
to hate his evil deeds, to want Mr. Ross dead. But even understanding the
enormous evil that resided in him as he killed young women, a just society
cannot and should not adopt a policy that is, itself, evil in its intent.
The people of Connecticut have long shown an enmity toward using the death
penalty. The Michael Ross case and other terrible crimes have infected
public thinking in negative ways that will not make Connecticut better.
End the death penalty.
The legislature needs to act to reaffirm human dignity and the sanctity of
human life. Carrying out death penalties does neither.
(source: Editorial, The Day)
Death penalty a possibility in Noble sentencing
A Louisville man found guilty of 3 murders 18 years ago could get the
Friday night, Sherman Noble was convicted of the killings, which took
place in 1987. Jurors deliberated for more than 9 hours, before coming
back with the verdict.
Noble has been in jail or a state mental hospital since his arrest for the
The trial underwent several delays due to questions about Noble's mental
He insists he is innocent, and says police beat a confession out of him.
Sentencing is scheduled for Monday.
(source: WDRB News)
Our heads, not guts, must rule
We all have moments, don't we, when we have a fleeting feeling that we
know is wrong? And then, if we are lucky, we come to our senses.
When I saw a California jury last week sentence Scott Peterson to die, I
said: Yeah! I am sick and tired of the face of the death penalty being an
ugly black man who has been the victim of a criminal justice system that
did not deliver on its promise of a fair trial before a jury of his peers.
But as some hip-hop kids might say, my bad. Or as my churchgoing
colleagues might put it, I yielded, ever so briefly, to temptation.
Peterson was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and their unborn son
2 years ago. With his boy-next-door good looks, he is quite a change for
the nation's death rows, where most people are not pretty. Moreover, most
death row inmates have had messy lives, and after messing up the lives of
others, they've too often been rewarded with a messy trial process and
Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project have proved that.
Since 1992, they and their colleagues have brought about the exoneration
of more than 150 this-close-to-death inmates. Often thanks to DNA
evidence, the inmates were proved to be innocent of the crimes for which
they were sentenced to die.
Despite my momentary lapse about Scott Peterson, I do oppose the death
penalty, without exception. Even a serial killer like Michael Ross - a man
"repugnant to society," as Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell put it - should
serve life without parole rather than be put to death in the name of the
people of any one of these United States.
In New York, the death penalty is under scrutiny. Gov. Pataki says the
Assembly Democrats who held hearings last week on the future of capital
punishment in the state were being dilettantes. But the convener of the
hearings, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, says he is, like the governor
and Sens. Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, pro-death penalty.
I suspect, however, this is another case of a politician saying what will
win upstate and conservative votes while challenging the fairness of the
system. Silver knows that no one is likely to be executed in this state
for many, many years even if the death penalty is restored. It's called
eating your cake and having it, too.
Just as the state finally came to its senses and softened the draconian
Rockefeller drug laws, it must lay the death penalty to rest. The state
Court of Appeals ruled parts of the law unconstitutional last summer. Let
that be the final verdict on the subject.
"The death penalty does not deter crime," Manhattan District Attorney
Robert Morgenthau, the city's most senior prosecutor, testified during
last week's hearing. "There is no correlation between executions and low
homicide rates." Noting that homicide rates are actually higher in states
with death penalties, Morgenthau added, "The death penalty exacts a
terrible price in dollars, lives and human decency."
Whether you believe that an eye for an eye is the rule of the day or that
the ultimate vengeance belongs to the Lord, in terms of dollars and cents
alone the death penalty is wrongheaded.
Yes, I and many others got a brief rush of satisfaction when Scott
Peterson was sentenced to death. But that was pure emotion. And on a
subject as monumental as life and death, our heads, not our guts, must
(source: Opinion, E. R. Shipp, who has been writing for The News since
1994, was born in Georgia, but considers New York home. She graduated from
Georgia State University with a bachelor's degree in journalism; and has
received advanced degrees in journalism, history and law from Columbia
University in New York City. In 1996, she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in
commentary for her work at The News. But she's not ready to rest on that,
or any other, laurel; New York Daily News)
Falsely Imprisoned Man Campaigns Against The Death Penalty
A man who spent more than a dozen years on death row for a crime he didn't
commit campaigned against capital punishment in New York on Friday.
Juan Melendez served 17 years on a murder conviction in Florida, before a
taped confession from the real killer freed him.
In June, the death penalty in New York was declared unconstitutional by
the state Supreme Court. Melendez says he would like to see all capital
punishment laws stricken from the books in every state.
"The death penalty - the suffering, that's all it brings," Melendez said
at a news conference in Manhattan. "It's all about hate - nothing else.
It's a law that should never exist in this nation. It brings a lot of
suffering on both sides."
Melendez testified earlier in the week at a state Assembly hearing looking
into re-instating the death penalty.
(source: NY1.com, Dec. 17)
Stunning----Ruling a chance to rethink death penalty
Just like that, Kansas no longer has a death row. At least that's one
interpretation of the Kansas Supreme Court's stunning declaration on
Friday that the state's 10-year-old death penalty law is unconstitutional.
Still, it's important to remember that even if the decision holds, the
state's condemned murderers, including spree killers Reginald and Jonathan
Carr, are not about to go free. At best, they face the miserable fate of
life in prison.
No place is the 4-3 decision felt more profoundly than in Sedgwick County,
where the Carrs and three others among the seven men on Kansas' death row
committed their murders.
It was the appeal of the 1998 sentence of Wichitan Michael Marsh that
prompted the decision. In ordering that he get a new trial and
invalidating his and other death sentences, the court pointed to wording
in the current law that requires jurors to impose the death penalty when
the reasons for capital punishment equal the arguments against it.
Shock about the ruling quickly gave way to questions: Why didn't the court
come to this sweeping conclusion 3 years ago, when it first cited problems
with the law? What about the will of the Legislature and the juries? What
about the taxpayer dollars spent on these cases, an average $1.2 million
each compared with $740,000 for a non-death penalty case? What about the
victims and their families? Indeed, some would add, what about justice?
Answers are harder to come by at this point, though both Kansas Attorney
General Phill Kline and Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston
say they will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. That seems a
logical next step in the process, considering how much Kansas has invested
in the current law.
The death penalty also suddenly becomes an issue before the 2005
Legislature, which likely will try to correct the problem with the law to
allow for its future use.
This editorial board also hopes, however, that legislators won't just rush
to rewrite the law, but will take a hard look at its troubled 10-year
history. The high costs and problems on appeal are making it harder all
the time to see why the death penalty is worth having in Kansas.
(source: For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman, Wichita Eagle)
HISTORY OF THE DEATH PENALTY IN KANSAS
- February 1863: The Kansas Territorial Legislature passes the state's 1st
death penalty law and makes hanging the method of execution. 9 men are
executed between then and August 1870.
- Jan. 30, 1907: The Kansas Legislature abolishes the death penalty. Gov.
Edward Hoch approves the bill.
- 1931: Gov. Harry Woodring vetoes an attempt to reinstate the death
- March 13, 1935: Gov. Alf Landon signs a law providing for capital
punishment if ordered by a trial jury, or a sentence of life in prison
without eligibility for parole. The law gives the governor the power to
modify a life sentence to a determinant number of years.
- March 10, 1944: First prisoner is executed by hanging under the 1935
law. 8 more will follow over the next decade.
- 1954-60: There are no state executions in Kansas, mainly because of the
actions of Gov. George Docking: "I just don't like killing people."
Docking is defeated for re-election in 1960 in a race that centers on his
opposition to the death penalty.
- April 15, 1965: Richard Hickok and Perry Smith are hanged for the 1959
murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, the crime which served as the
basis for Truman Capote's book "In Cold Blood."
- June 22, 1965: James D. Latham and George R. York are hanged, marking
Kansas' last executions.
- 1972: The U.S. Supreme Court rules the death penalty as carried out at
that time unconstitutional.
- 1976: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that capital punishment itself isn't
unconstitutional and that states can pass death penalty laws if they
follow certain procedures, including two phases of jury trial -- with
separate proceedings for conviction and penalty -- and automatic appeals
of death sentences.
- July 1, 1994: Kansas' new death penalty law takes effect, passed by the
Legislature the previous April and neither approved nor vetoed by Gov.
- Dec. 28, 2001: The Kansas Supreme Court rules that the state's death
penalty law is unconstitutional but that it can be corrected through
instructions given to the jury at trial.
- Dec. 17, 2004: The Kansas Supreme Court rules the death penalty law is
unconstitutional on its face.
(Sources: Kansas Department of Corrections, Kansas Coalition Against the
Death Penalty, Kansas Supreme Court records)
(source: Wichita Eagle)
End death penalty, make 'em work
Since death by injection amounts to deliverance from incarceration through
euthanasia, the death penalty should be abolished. However, wasting tax
money providing comfort and protection for prisoners is insufficient
punishment as well.
Instead of receiving free housing, meals and medical care, criminals
should be put to work on farms, roads, construction sites, etc., to earn
In addition, all privileges (conjugal visits, Internet access, education)
must be withheld. Until these changes occur, prison is preferable to being
(source: Letter to the Editor, Modesto Bee)
Life or death is Gods department, not courts
A California jury was forced to play God and to decide whether Scott
Peterson should live or die.
Courts around the world have stopped encroaching into the realm of the
divine in such a manner. Capital punishment is following the path of
slavery, a once common practice that nations forsook as its barbarity sunk
Even in the United States, death sentences have dwindled in recent years,
as the realization has spread that humans lack an attribute key to
deciding whether a person is unworthy of life: infallibility.
The ranks of inmates released from death row around America on account of
belatedly proven innocence grew by 5 this year, among them, by way of
example, Ryan Matthews, whom a Louisiana jury had found guilty - beyond a
reasonable doubt, mind you - of a murder that took place in 1997, two
weeks after he turned 17. DNA evidence has exonerated him of the crime.
To tell the truth, I didnt follow the Peterson case, due to an aversion to
junk news. Of course, the killings were tragic, but not any more than many
Milwaukee murders that dont get a flicker of national play. As it turns
out, though, the Peterson case does illustrate a weighty issue: the death
penalty, whose fatal flaw is that it pretends that humans are all-wise and
all-knowing - in other words, are godly.
Ironically, in taking a life as punishment, humans sink to the depths of
common killers rather than soar to the heights of angels.
The theoretical certainty that any death penalty system will include the
innocent among its toll is reason enough to oppose the ultimate
punishment. But the central reason is that humans must avoid taking lives.
Without getting too religious about the matter, thats Gods department.
Remember "Thou shall not kill"?
The death penalty doesnt bring Wisconsin low, thank goodness. This state
wisely scuttled that punishment in the 19th century. Still, all these
years later, the introduction of a bill to revise the penalty seems a
biennial ritual in Madison.
Advocates label it a crime-fighter - which is false advertising. Ample
research shows that the death penalty deters no better than does
imprisonment. The Wisconsin statute book, by the way, features a life
sentence without parole for 1st-degree murder.
For all I know, Petersons guilty as charged and as convicted, and
innocence doesnt figure in. But a death penalty system that gets it right
even 99% of the time isnt good enough. Snuffing out the lives of the
innocent 1% is too steep a price to pay.
The liberation of some death row inmates by new, DNA technology leads to
these sobering conclusions:
- That technology would have cleared a share of inmates put to death
before it was invented.
- If a percentage of inmates for whom DNA technology happens to be
relevant is innocent, then a percentage of inmates for whom DNA technology
is not relevant is also innocent. Trouble is, of course, theres no easy
way to sort out this latter batch of innocents.
In a Dec. 9 article, the Chicago Tribune put a human face on the
theoretical certainty that capital punishment is claiming innocent lives -
the face of Cameron Todd Willingham, whom Texas executed earlier this year
for supposedly setting a fire that killed his 3 daughters. Citing an array
of experts, the Trib said he was convicted on the basis of arson theories
that have since been repudiated by scientific advances. The experts added
that the fire may have even been accidental. Willingham, by the way,
professed his innocence to the end.
In maintaining a system that puts a Scott Peterson to death, a state is
also putting a Cameron Willingham at risk.
The Redwood City jury found Peterson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But
how far beyond? If youre putting a human being to death, 100% certainty
would be nice. Unfortunately, the space between reasonable doubt and
certainty is big enough to have trapped many innocent people.
Shortly before deciding on death, jurors viewed photos of the decomposing
bodies of Laci Peterson and her unborn son.
Scott Petersons lack of emotions spoke a thousand words to 1 juror.
Whats striking is how subjective the choice of death was. Indeed, death
penalty data reflects such subjectivity, showing, for instance, that
killers of whites are far more likely to be put to death than killers of
blacks. (Laci Peterson happened to be of Anglo and Hispanic descent.)
This subjectiveness helps explain the inconsistency in who gets death.
If youre going to play God, you should have divine traits, such as
infallibility and unerring consistency.
(source: Opinion, Gregory Stanford, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Religion far from unified on executions
Knowing he could be chosen as a juror deciding the fate of Scott Peterson,
Tom Marino sought out his priest to ask if it were acceptable to vote for
the death penalty.
The priest told him the rules of God are separate from the rules of man
and that he could vote for execution, said Marino, of San Carlos, during
The spiritual struggle of the 55-year-old retired postal worker
illustrates the intersection of faith and civic duty in a nation that
allows the death penalty but whose religious faiths espouse a variety of
views on capital punishment.
Some faiths claim all life is sacred; others justify an "eye for an eye."
Still others define a difference between faith and courts of law.
Taking a third life will compound the tragedy, said the Rev. Joseph Illo,
pastor at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Modesto. Illo performed the
private funeral service in Modesto for Laci and Conner Peterson.
"This will not make the hurt of the family go away," Illo said. "It is
just going to hurt another family. Killing Scott is not going to bring
Ahmad Kayello, assistant imam at Islamic Center of Modesto, said that if a
judge finds someone was killed senselessly, the death penalty can be used
Lutheran doctrine says authority and legislative and enforcement
responsibility are "bestowed by God upon the ruler," and that "Christians
are obliged to be obedient and respectful to the state so far as their
conscience permits," said Paul Bodin, pastor of Modesto's Emanuel Lutheran
Marino was the last holdout of the 11-member panel in recommending life in
prison without parole for Peterson, who was convicted of killing his wife
and their unborn son, other jurors said.
On Monday, Marino - who became known as Juror 2 - changed his position and
voted with other jurors to recommend the death penalty for Peterson.
"I'm not against the death penalty," Marino said earlier this week in an
interview with The Bee. But Roman Catholic teachings about the sanctity of
life gave him pause, he said.
Catholics generally against death penalty
A 2001 survey by the Pew Forum and the Pew Research Center showed that 42
% of those who oppose the death penalty do so because of religious
beliefs. Only 15 percent of death penalty supporters said they do so
because of religious beliefs.
Catholic teaching is that capital punishment can only be used if it is
impossible to contain the perpetrator - unlikely in the modern age in a
developed nation, Illo said. Killing another is only condoned in
self-defense, he said.
Illo cited the fifth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," as well as Jesus
on the cross telling the thief crucified near him that "today you will be
with me in Paradise."
"All 3 of them had the death penalty," Illo said. "That's an indication
that even someone who has been condemned to death is worthy of Paradise."
Pope John Paul II has appealed to Catholics to join efforts to abolish the
death penalty. "It's hard to imagine the death penalty being anything but
vengeance," Illo said. "And vengeance perpetuates vengeance."
Bodin said Lutheran theology does not oppose the death penalty, though it
is concerned about unequal application of the penalty, such as among
There are no restrictions on the death penalty, when it is properly
exercised by the state, with due process, in accordance with the law and
as a decision of civil authorities, he said.
"I would say that if the death penalty is a legitimate punishment, then
the jury applied the criteria correctly (in the Peterson case)," said
Bodin, adding that some members of his congregation knew Laci Peterson.
"If any case qualifies, this one does."
According to its Web site, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
neither promotes nor opposes capital punishment, regarding the issue as
"to be decided solely by the prescribed processes of civil law."
The National Association of Evangelicals and Southern Baptist Convention
have passed resolutions supporting the death penalty.
A Southern Baptist Convention resolution adopted in 2001 states that "God
forbids personal revenge (Romans 12:19) and has established capital
punishment as a just and appropriate means by which the civil magistrate
may punish those guilty of capital crimes (Romans 13:4)."
Someone must step in to protect those who could be victimized,
Pastor Wade Estes of the nondenominational First Baptist Church of Modesto
said he believes the Bible is clear that certain offenses demand a death
"It's not vengeance, it's not a lack of respect for human life," said
Estes, who read Scriptures at a public memorial service at his church for
Laci and Conner Peterson. "It is an appropriate result of a heinous crime
God holds a high view of human life, Estes said, "but - if you
intentionally murder someone else, biblically, you forfeit your life."
Koran advocates death penalty
In Islam, murder can be punished by death, or - if family members don't
insist on death as retaliation - payment of "blood money" to the family.
"This is a merciful dispensation from your Lord," the Koran says. "He that
transgresses thereafter shall be sternly punished" (2:178-179). The same
punishments apply to the death of an unborn child in the commission of a
crime toward the mother.
Kayello said such cases ideally would be handled by judges familiar with
Islamic laws, who thoroughly investigate the accusation. In addition to
serving as punishment, the death penalty sends a message to others, he
Rabbi Paul Gordon of Modesto's Congregation Beth Shalom declined to
comment on the Peterson case, but said according to Jewish law and
tradition, "Capital punishment is allowed, but has been regulated and
legislated to make it almost impossible to carry out."
For example, a person would have to be warned immediately before he or she
committed an act that it would be eligible for the death penalty.
"According to Jewish tradition, a court that would sentence someone to
death once in 70 years was considered a murderous court," Gordon said. "It
is discouraged as much as possible in Jewish tradition and law because
life is sacred."
Capital punishment takes away someone's ability to repent, improve
themselves or make the world a better place, Gordon said.
Some mainline Protestant churches have publicly opposed the death penalty,
and called upon Christians to respond to violent crime restoratively
rather than violently.
Erin Matteson, pastor at Modesto Church of the Brethren, said she was
disappointed in the jury's recommendation of death for Peterson.
"In our denomination, we say, 'Why do we kill people to show people that
killing people is wrong?'" said Matteson, whose church is one of the
historical "peace" churches, including Quakers and Mennonites. Her
denomination stands against the death penalty.
"(Our denomination) doesn't believe it is in line at all with the
teachings of Jesus Christ," Matteson said. "We believe as people of faith
we are called to an accountability to something beyond the law."
Jesus, she said, had compassion and love for all people, believing that
all are capable of transformation. Following Jesus' example, Matteson
said, "is a way of deep compassion and a love that is deep and beyond
anything that we can know and imagine."
Violence only begets violence, she said, adding that she doesn't believe
humans are called to make the decision on which lives are lost.
"If (Peterson) did it, I think it's abominable and there needs to be
accountability," Matteson said. "But to kill him - I think that is awfully
bold - and I think it goes against many of the things we teach our kids."
RELIGIOUS VIEWS OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
CATHOLIC: Does not exclude death penalty if it is the only way to defend
lives against a perpetrator, but nonlethal means are "more in keeping with
the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human
person." -- Catechism of the Catholic Church
ISLAM: Death penalty is justified in cases of unjust and proven murder.
Life is sacred, but justice must be applied to those who have done
injustice. -- Pew Research Center
BUDDHISM: All have potential to commit crimes, a tendency not overcome by
executing people. Capital punishment is a severe form of punishment that
deprives a person of the opportunity to change or compensate. -- Dalai
CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS: Capital punishment is an
appropriate penalty for murder, but proper only after an offender is found
guilty in a lawful public trial. -- www.lds.org
LUTHERAN-MISSOURI SYNOD: Capital punishment is in accordance with the
Scriptures. Government has the authority to apply the death penalty.
Christians should exert a positive influence on the government's
responsibility to "bear the sword." -- www.lcms.org
REFORM JUDAISM: The Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Union
for Reform Judaism are formally opposed to the death penalty. The CCAR
says the death penalty is not an effective deterrent to crime. URJ: "We
believe that there is no crime for which the taking of human life by
society is justified, and that it is the obligation of society to evolve
other methods in dealing with crime." -- Religious Action Center of Reform
SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: Southern Baptists believe there is biblical
support for capital punishment. All people are conceived with the right to
life, but some forfeit that right. -- www.bpnews.net
UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST: Capital punishment is inconsistent with human
life, and is retributive, discriminatory and a nondeterrent. "As a
community of faith promoting justice, equity and compassion in human
relations, we call for an end to the death penalty." -- Unitarian
(source: The Modesto Bee)
A time to cheer?
When the TV camera switched to the crowd outside the Redwood City
courthouse, the cheer from the crowd was unmistakable.
It apparently was not as loud as it had been a month earlier -- but it was
What macabre instinct makes people applaud a jury's decision to put a man
to death? Shouldn't we be somber even if the crime involved was
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that just minutes after it was
announced that a jury had recommended the death penalty for Scott
Peterson, newspaper hawkers were handing out 0editions headlined "Death"
and that shouts of "Good job!" greeted jurors leaving the courthouse.
The three jurors who stayed behind to talk with some 100 reporters said
they felt neither relief nor happiness. The 6-month trial battered them
emotionally, and they talked about their decision in solemn tones, as the
Deciding that the government should take a person's life in exchange for a
crime -- in Peterson's case, the death of his wife and unborn son --
should be the most sobering task that a citizen can undertake on behalf of
society. Even when it represents justice done, it shouldn't be treated
with the levity of a sporting event.
Not unless we've become bloodthirsty barbarians.
(source: Opinion, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dec. 18)
Jurors strive to reclaim their lives -- Death cases cause stress, health
One juror was so rundown she ended up in the hospital. Another anguished
over being called a murderer by children at his son's school. A 3rd has
suffered from what her therapist diagnosed as post traumatic stress.
The trial of Scott Peterson is over, the verdict is in, but for those who
sat in judgment the turmoil has not ended. The jurors, who watched and
took notes through 6 months of often wrenching testimony, saw photos
outside the range of what they could have imagined and were twice
sequestered before sentencing Peterson to die for the murder of his wife
and unborn child, are left with the remnants of a profound and disturbing
experience. Now, as they return to carpools, office work and holiday
plans, some talked in recent days about how hard it is to reclaim their
"There are a lot of things going on right now," said juror Gregory
Beratlis. "I have a son in a public high school who is daily being told
his father is a murderer. I've had threatening messages. At work, everyone
says, 'That's you. You're that guy.' My anonymity is gone. I should have
realized it, but it's kind of scary. My life is not normal, not yet."
Most experience stress
And jurors on other high-profile cases say it might be a while before it
is. Psychologists and court experts agree that little is done to prepare
jurors for what they might encounter at the end of a capital case. The
vast majority of people on death penalty juries -- 86 % according to one
survey done by the National Center for State Courts -- experienced stress
while on the jury. Almost half who responded to the same survey said they
continued to have disturbing memories more than three weeks after the
Richelle Nice, a member of the Peterson jury, said she feels numb and
"clouded." She said the trial and post trial frenzy left her so physically
rundown from lack of sleep and food that she developed a kidney infection
and ended up in the hospital. Now she's trying to tackle a list that
includes finding a job and straightening out her health insurance. Until
the Peterson trial, she had never spent a night away from her four sons.
What she wants most, she said, is just to be able to take them to school
"Being a juror is almost a sick process," she said. "They expect you to be
robots. We are humans. We have emotions and thoughts. No one has offered
Psychologists know that witnessing violence second-hand can cause or
exacerbate anxiety, sleep disturbances and depression in some people. Most
people are resilient, experts say, and will recover quickly with few
lasting effects. But those who are most vulnerable -- particularly those
who have other stresses such as the recent loss of a spouse, a health- or
work-related problem -- may have a harder time recovering.
Joseph Rice, a clinical psychologist and jury consultant who is president
of Jury Research Institute in Arizona, said he's seen layers of reactions
after lengthy trials. Most jurors feel pent-up anxiety and energy when the
trial ends. Those on death penalty cases also may feel emotionally drained
and, particularly if they were sequestered, isolated. Then there is the
public scrutiny, from media, co-workers or strangers in a store.
Recognized at Costco
"I was with my daughter at Costco in dark glasses and people recognized
me," said Frances Gorman, who was removed from the Peterson jury before
deliberations began, then had to put up with public speculation about why,
without being able to explain her side of the story. She was kicked off
after she briefly looked up a tidal chart online, something she thought at
the time was minor and would help clarify some testimony. She was
unprepared for the reaction, and felt helpless, she said. She had trouble
sleeping and eating. "I didn't want to read the paper or see the news
accounts," she said. "5 or 6 days later I had a meltdown. I was
embarrassed to go back to work."
Now that the gag order is over and she can talk publicly, she said, she's
feeling better, but still can't drive by the San Mateo County courthouse
in Redwood City, where the trial took place, without averting her eyes.
"I'm sure in some way this will always be with me," she said.
Jurors in other high-profile cases say much the same thing. Some said they
resumed their lives with little trouble, slipping back into the comfort of
routine, but others had problems readjusting. A juror in the 1991 King
beating case, himself a psychiatric technician, said he was so depressed
that he needed therapy and medication for almost a year afterward.
"I had bad dreams. It was quite intense," said Gerald Miller, who also
suffered from an ulcer after the trial.
"It's almost a post traumatic stress disorder," said Karen Fleming-Ginn, a
psychologist who is a jury consultant based in Walnut Creek. "People don't
understand what they've been through. ... I've spoken to probably 1,000
jurors after the fact and people don't know what impact it will have.
People are waking up in the middle of the night years after a case. They
are vividly remembering the look in a witness' eyes. There is a lot of
inner turmoil that doesn't get a chance to manifest itself in a place
where it's acceptable."
Support from group
The members of one Santa Clara County jury found support in each other.
Almost four years after sentencing Wesley Shermantine Jr. to die for four
murders, they still meet at least twice a year.
"I will never, ever forget it," said Dorothy Stern, a Shermantine juror.
"It's something you live with, like a car accident or a death in the
family. It feels like it was just yesterday."
David Allcott, the jury foreman, said he's been tempted to send the
Peterson jurors a note saying, "You did great and I am proud of you." He
said he's certain there must be parallels to his post-trial experience.
Allcott, a software consultant in San Jose, said he was drained after the
Shermantine trial ended. One of the toughest things, he said, was being a
liberal and deciding to vote for the death penalty, then having to discuss
it later with his friends. But, he said, it made him clarify how he felt.
Although he was in his early 40s at the time, he describes the experience
like a coming of age where he seriously started pondering the true meaning
of values like justice and truth.
"The case didn't continue to trouble me but it woke me up to how casually
I had been observing violence," he said. "Now it's much more personal. I
realize that it's a real cost someone is paying."
Whenever he can, he goes to the jury reunion. So does Stern, who said that
after the trial she temporarily asked for a less stressful job at the firm
where she'd worked as a satellite systems engineer. What stayed with her
the longest, she said, was testimony from victims during the penalty phase
who talked about horrific sexual assaults.
Studied victim's face
She became, she said, hyper-cautious about her own young daughter. She
repeatedly went to a Web site devoted to one victim, one of two girls
whose bodies were never found. She stared at the girl's face and then she
looked at a picture of Shermantine. She learned that other jurors did that
too. "I was mad at him for (forcing me) to decide whether he lives or
dies," she said. After a year, she returned to her former job and life
settled down, she said. But "the jury staying close was our best therapy."
Just recently Stern removed the word "Jury" from the e-mail communication
they send each other. Now it just says, "Friends."
Allcott said that, despite the stress, he felt proud of the work done by
the Shermantine jurors. Peterson jurors said they felt the same way.
"It was so emotional to have to come up with the decision we did," said
Peterson juror Beratlis. "We really thought about it and anguished over
this. What we did makes me feel good."
All those who responded in the National Center for State Courts survey
also said they were proud, but many thought help should be offered to
those who suffered from stress -- which few counties do.
"This is where the system sells jurors short," said Rice, the jury
consultant. "We've put them in a surreal experience, then we just walk on
to the next case. I think it is unfair to jurors."
(source: San Francisco Chronicle)
It's wrong to kill
How disappointed I am that the jury has handed down "murder" as Scott
Peterson's punishment. At this point, it is not a question of guilt or
innocence. It is about punishment. I am against the death penalty 100 %.
It is wrong.
Study after study has shown that execution is not a deterrent to murder.
It didn't stop Scott Peterson or any of the other 640-plus people on death
row in California (or the more than 3,400 nationwide) from killing. The
death penalty is a medieval instrument, out of place in a modern society.
Will killing Mr. Peterson bring back his wife and child? Nope. Will it
change anything? Nope. It is simply a sad revenge. I don't think that he
should be let off the hook, but I think that to murder him is doing us all
an injustice, not to mention the financial aspects of it. An execution,
including the prison stay and legalities of it all, could cost taxpayers
millions of dollars, while life in prison could cost less than $500,000.
We should strive to be a society that is better and smarter than our worst
instincts for revenge. It's wrong to kill - for everyone.
Jennifer Bentley, Clearfield
(source: Letter to the Editor, Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 18)
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