[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----CALIF., USA, TENN., MICH.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Jul 13 10:32:28 CDT 2004
Testimony in Peterson Trial Takes Turn
Testimony in Scott Peterson's trial has taken yet another abrupt turn as
prosecutors question witnesses about evidence collected during searches of
San Francisco Bay and at the Petersons' home.
Two weeks ago, the focus was on Peterson's affair with massage therapist
Amber Frey - his alleged motive, they say, for the murder of his pregnant
wife, Laci, and the couple's fetus.
Then last week, testimony hung on witnesses who described where the bodies
were discovered and their decomposed state, as prosecutors showed jurors
photographs of the corpses and of tissue and bone.
In another shift in direction, police officers testified Monday about the
extensive search for Laci Peterson's remains in the bay and of numerous
items collected as evidence, among them a blood-stained comforter seized
from the Petersons' home.
Modesto police Detective Ray Coyle testified that he examined the home for
"blood spatter and blood drops" after search warrants were served on Dec.
26 and Dec. 27, 2002.
Coyle said he found small spots that appeared to be blood on a comforter
on the couple's bed, but did not elaborate.
Detective Rudy Skultety said other items seized as evidence included two
hair brushes, shotgun shells, a camera, a vacuum cleaner and samples of
Scott Peterson's hair.
Skultety testified that the FBI used Luminol in the home - a chemical that
can detect unseen traces of blood and body fluids. He did not say whether
anything was found.
However, on cross-examination Skultety acknowledged that brown stains
found in the kitchen and on a hot water heater tested negative for blood.
Coyle also testified he tracked down 285 of the 309 registered sex
offenders and parolees living in the area, but said nothing led him to
believe any of them were involved in Laci Peterson's disappearance.
Defense lawyer Mark Geragos then showed jurors a list of the offenders
provided by Coyle that showed most of them had not been eliminated as
suspects. Coyle said the list had simply not been updated.
Police officers testified no evidence connected to the case, including no
further human remains, was found in the bay after the bodies of Laci
Peterson and her fetus washed up in April 2003.
Sgt. Rick Armendariz testified he was involved in water searches that
stretched into September 2003, but that nothing of value turned up.
Laci Peterson's body - just a torso - and that of the fetus washed ashore
just 2 miles from where her husband, now charged in the deaths, claimed to
have been fishing alone on the bay the day she was reported missing - Dec.
Prosecutors are still making their case that Peterson killed his wife in
their Modesto home on or around Dec. 24, 2002, trucked the body to San
Francisco Bay in a large tool box and plunged it overboard from a small
Defense lawyers maintain someone else abducted Laci Peterson as she walked
the dog and held her captive before dumping her body to frame her husband.
Peterson, 31, could face the death penalty if convicted.
(source: Associated Press)
THE PETERSON TRIAL -- Police testify about exhaustive searches -- Jurors
get first look at couple's home -- on videotape
A series of Modesto police officers testified Monday that they conducted
painstakingly thorough searches of everywhere Scott Peterson said he'd
been the day he reported his wife missing -- combing through his home,
truck, warehouse and even the bottom of the bay.
2 days after Laci Peterson disappeared, investigators seized dozens of
items from his home, ranging from his vacuum cleaner to the cover of his
boat and a comforter with two small spots of blood -- and later pulled up
everything from the bottom of the bay that looked even remotely
suspicious, including a beer can and plastic bag.
Although prosecution witnesses have yet to reveal whether analysis of the
items yielded incriminating results, Peterson attorney Mark Geragos has
said the forensic testing of the articles turned up nothing.
Peterson is on trial in Redwood City on charges that he murdered his wife,
Laci, and the couple's unborn son. He says he was fishing on the bay near
the Berkeley Marina the day his wife, who was in her 8th month of
pregnancy, disappeared on Dec. 24, 2002. The bodies washed up on a
Richmond shore 2 miles from the marina almost four months later.
>From the couple's home, police took 60 items, including the baby's
sonogram, 2 pairs of black maternity pants, blue jeans, a bucket and 2
mops, dirty rags, a large blue tarp, gold and diamond jewelry, carpet
samples, financial records, phone bills and gun shell casings.
>From the warehouse where Peterson ran his business, police confiscated a
14-foot aluminum fishing boat that investigators believe he used to dump
his wife's body into the bay. They also seized the boat's contents,
including fishing gear, a roll of black electrical tape, 3 bungee cords, a
life vest and 2 blue seat cushions.
Prosecutors showed the jury a videotape taken of the inside and outside of
the Petersons' home before the search to show both the thoroughness of the
investigation and that no one had broken into the home and abducted the
27-year-old woman. The lengthy video showed no plants that appeared
trampled and no doors or windows pried open.
"There were no signs of forced entry," said Modesto police Sgt. Adam
McGill, who took the stand for the prosecution to explain the videotape.
The video, which was shown on a large screen in the courtroom, also gave
jurors their 1st glimpse into the couple's home and their lifestyle.
The footage documented what would otherwise seem to be a normal holiday
tableau -- unopened gifts around a decorated Christmas tree, icicle lights
strung along the house's exterior and an evergreen wreath hung on the
front door. A chalkboard near a back entrance read simply, "Merry
Scott Peterson showed no emotion as he watched the video from his seat at
the defendant's table.
In the video, the baby's nursery, decorated in a nautical theme, appeared
ready for its new arrival. The crib was neatly made and above it hung a
life preserver with the words, "Welcome Aboard," painted on it.
Sharon Rocha, Laci Peterson's mother, sat in the front row of the gallery
and quietly cried, wiping tears from her eyes as she watched the tape.
Detective Ray Coyle, who was among the 15 officers and FBI agents to take
part in the search, testified that he found two small spots of blood on
the comforter covering the couple's bed. Witnesses have not yet testified
about who the blood belonged to or how it might have gotten there.
Coyle said police also discovered a canvas boat cover in a shed in the
Petersons' side yard. The cover, which prosecutors have intimated is the
same one first spotted in the back of Peterson's truck on the night he
reported his wife missing, was found doused with gasoline.
Prosecutors believe that in the weeks before his wife disappeared,
Peterson bought the fishing boat so he could dispose of her body.
Prosecutors have suggested that Peterson put his wife's corpse in the
boat, which he took to the Berkeley Marina on a trailer, using the boat
cover to hide the corpse.
Peterson's lawyers say the boat was examined for traces of Laci Peterson's
blood and fluids and that none was found. They suggest that she was
abducted -- possibly by three men seen in a van -- while walking her dog
in her neighborhood and then kept alive for several weeks before being
killed. Her body and that of her baby were later dumped in the bay by
someone who wanted to pin the murders on Peterson, defense attorneys
Earlier in the day, Sgt. Rich Armendariz testified about a search of the
bay for anything that could be linked to the murder. Armendariz joined
divers from other law enforcement agencies on two days in September 2003,
5 months after the bodies of Laci Peterson and the couple's baby washed
Although investigators were able to pinpoint and collect items as small as
a beer bottle and a 2-foot-by-3-inch piece of wood, they did not locate
several cement anchors prosecutors believe Peterson used to tie his wife's
body down in the bay. Nor did they find any remains of Laci Peterson,
whose head, arms and legs were missing when her body washed ashore.
"As far as you know, you didn't find anything of evidentiary value,
correct?" Geragos asked.
"On the boats I was on, correct," Armendariz said.
DAY 21 -- Tracking down other possible suspects?
Detective Ray Coyle testified that he was given a list of 309 parolees and
sex offender registrants to look into during the investigation of Laci
Peterson's disappearance. Of that list, 285 have been contacted. The
remainder have either died, are in prison, have moved out of the state, or
police have been unable to locate them. Coyle produced a list in court
that defense attorney Mark Geragos said he'd never seen, as required under
discovery law. After a testy exchange and a brief meeting with prosecutors
in the judge's chambers, Geragos said he will resume his cross-examination
Thursday, presumably after he's had time to review the list and
information about the status of the parolees who are on it.
A meeting of 2 sides
Judge Alfred Delucchi said lawyers from the two sides will need several
hours to discuss a motion outside the presence of the jury Wednesday
morning. Although Delucchi did not say what the motion is, he told jurors
and alternates they will not need to come to court that day until at least
after 11 a.m. Legal observers watching the trial speculated that the
motion may have to do with the testimony of Detective Al Brocchini of the
Modesto Police Department.
(source: San Francisco Chronicle)
State Supreme Court upholds 2nd death penalty in officer's slaying
6 years after overturning his conviction, the state Supreme Court upheld a
2nd death sentence Monday for a man who spent 16 years on death row for
killing a Garden Grove policeman.
John George Brown, 56, was convicted of first-degree murder with special
circumstances by an Orange County jury in February 2000. The panel
recommended the death penalty.
The Supreme Court upheld his conviction and rejected an appeal by Brown's
attorney to reduce his sentence to life in prison without parole.
Officer Donald Reed, 27, was shot to death in June 1980 while trying to
serve an arrest warrant on Brown in a bar. 2 other officers and 2
bystanders also were wounded.
Brown was retried after the Supreme Court overturned his 1st conviction
and sentence in 1998. The panel ruled that the jury should have been told
about a test that indicated the former motorcycle gang member may have
been under the influence of PCP when he shot Reed.
Brown has another appeal pending before the Supreme Court that could be
decided in the coming weeks, prosecutor Robert Foster said.
That appeal includes whether Brown received ineffective counsel from his
original lawyers because they failed to raise an insanity defense or
question whether the fatal shot might have come from a federal agent who
was in the bar.
(source: Associated Press)
Many Denied Right to Counsel, Group Says----A defense attorneys' panel is
launching a committee to address the lack of legal help promised by the
1963 Gideon ruling.
4 decades after the Supreme Court's landmark decision mandating that poor
defendants in criminal cases are entitled to legal representation, a group
of prominent American lawyers says the promise of that ruling remains
"There are still defendants who have not been provided competent counsel
or they have no real representation at all," the Constitution Project and
the National Legal Aid and Defender Assn. said late last month in
announcing formation of the National Committee on the Right to Counsel to
address the issue.
"Even though state and local governments are responsible for ensuring
adequate counsel for defendants who cannot afford to hire their own
lawyers, many people are nonetheless still convicted and imprisoned each
year without any legal representation" or with an inadequate one, the
Washington-based group said.
In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Clarence Earl Gideon
that the right to counsel in criminal cases was necessary to achieve a
fair system of justice.
In his initial trial, Gideon represented himself because he could not
afford an attorney. After his conviction was overturned, he was retried
and his appointed attorney discovered new witnesses and won an acquittal.
Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale is serving as the newly formed
committee's honorary chairman. In 1963, Mondale, then Minnesota's attorney
general, organized 22 state attorneys general to file a friend of the
court brief in favor of Gideon's right to a lawyer.
Gideon's handwritten petition to the Supreme Court is now on display at
the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
Many around the country argue today that the promise of Gideon remains
unfulfilled, even if an attorney has been appointed. The attorney may be
handling hundreds of other cases, have no expertise in criminal law or
have no funds to investigate facts or get DNA tests.
4 years ago, the Justice Department declared that public defense in the
U.S. is in a "chronic state of crisis."
Rhoda Billings, former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court
and one of the 3 co-chairs of the new committee, said examples of problems
"In some instances across the country, courts have upheld convictions even
when the defendants were represented by lawyers who slept through portions
of the trial or were drunk or under the influence of drugs," she said.
"That level of performance is not what the constitutional right to counsel
The other committee co-chairs are Robert Johnson, a former president of
the National District Attorneys Assn., and Timothy K. Lewis, who served a
decade on the federal appeals court in Philadelphia.
"The balance is tipped too heavily in favor of the government when it
comes to prosecution of persons without means who can't afford private
counsel," said Lewis. "We really need to take a look at that. Who are we
as a people if we not giving adequate and equal representation to those
who can't afford a lawyer?"
Lewis also said that although there were many fine public defenders, most
of them "carry a staggering caseload."
Among other members of the committee are Susan Herman of the National
Center for Victims of Crime; Larry D. Thompson, senior fellow at the
Brookings Institution; and Hubert Williams of the Police Foundation.
In the precedent-setting case, Gideon was charged with breaking and
entering a poolroom with intent to steal, a felony under Florida law.
Having no money, Gideon asked that a lawyer be appointed to represent him.
His trial judge denied the request. Gideon conducted his own defense and
was convicted. The verdict was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court.
Gideon then submitted a handwritten petition to the U.S. Supreme Court,
which granted him a hearing and appointed prominent Washington attorney
Abe Fortas, who later served on the high court, to represent him.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Gideon's favor. Writing for the
court, Justice Hugo Black said that "Gideon conducted his defense about as
well as could be expected from a layman." He noted that 31 years earlier,
the high court had ruled that there was right to counsel at every stage of
a death penalty case, but in 1942 the Supreme Court said there was not a
fundamental right to counsel in other criminal cases.
The high court overturned that decision in the Gideon case, saying it was
restoring "constitutional principles established to achieve a fair system
"Reason and reflection require us to recognize that in our adversary
system of criminal justice, any person hauled into court, who is too poor
to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is
provided for him," Black wrote. He noted that "governments, both state and
federal, quite properly spend vast sums of money" to prosecute crimes and
that defendants who had the means hired the best lawyers they could.
Those actions, Black said, "are the strongest indications of the
widespread belief that lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not
Among the problems with the system cited by the National Assn. of Criminal
Defense Lawyers in a study last year:
-In Wisconsin, more than 11,000 people go unrepresented annually because
anyone with an annual income of more than $3,000 is deemed able to afford
to pay a lawyer.
-In Lake Charles, La., the public defender's office had only 2
investigators for 2,550 new felony cases and 4,000 new misdemeanor cases
assigned to the office each year.
-In Bucks County, Pa., the public defender's office handled 4,173 cases in
1980. 20 years later, with the same number of attorneys, the office
handled an estimated 8,000 cases.
The study said that caseloads of many public defenders throughout the
country exceeded American Bar Assn. standards, which limit caseloads to
150 felonies a year per lawyer.
Those heavy workloads mean that "for many people the right to counsel
means nothing more than a hurried conversation with a court-appointed
attorney before entering a guilty plea or going to trial," said Stephen B.
Bright, director of the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights,
who has played a key role in efforts to upgrade indigent representation in
Georgia and other states.
In recent years, the center has filed five major lawsuits contending that
various Georgia counties had failed to provide proper representation for
poor defendants. Last year, after a blue-ribbon commission issued a report
saying Georgia was failing to meet its constitutional duty to protect the
rights of poor people accused of crimes, the state enacted a law designed
to remedy the problems, including the creation of a statewide public
defender system. And this month, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill to fund
the new system.
Elsewhere, the news is less promising. The Minnesota State Board of Public
Defense said recently that 1/4 of the state's public defenders would be
laid off in August because of a shortage of money. Lawsuits are pending in
other states, including Michigan and Montana, about problems with their
public defense systems.
On the whole, California is considered to have one of the best systems of
indigent defense in the nation. Still, public defenders in rural areas
lament funding problems and fear that local governments may decide to
scrap existing programs and replace them with lawyers who bid on a
contract. Such low-bid systems have been widely criticized by legal
experts because studies have shown that to make a profit, the contractor
has to spend as little time as possible on a case.
The National Committee on the Right to Counsel plans to do field research
and make reports but has not set a timetable for its work yet. The
committee's oldest member, Abe Krash, 77, who worked with Fortas on the
Gideon case, said the group faced a formidable challenge.
"When you ask yourself who is the constituency for this issue, it's poor
people, frequently badly educated, living on the fringes of society with
almost no political clout. Our present system is not a true adversary
system. 90 % of the accused plead guilty, often without adequate
investigation of their cases," Krash said.
"There is no question that there has been improvement since 1963, but the
great hope of Gideon has not been achieved," Krash said.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Death penalty trials more costly
Death penalty trials in Tennessee cost an average of $46,791, which is
48.6 % more than the $31,494 average cost of trials that seek penalties of
life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.
The report released Monday by the Tennessee Comptroller's Office of
Research also found that district attorneys general do not follow uniform
standards when they are seeking the death penalty.
"Some prosecutors interviewed in this study indicated that they seek the
death penalty only in extreme cases or the 'worst of worst.' However,
prosecutors in other jurisdictions seek the death penalty as a standard
practice on every first-degree murder case that meets at least one
aggravating factor," the report finds.
While court costs may be higher in death penalty cases, executions save
more than $770,000 in prison housing costs compared to incarcerating
inmates sentenced to life without parole. In comparison with cases where
the sentence was life with the possibility of parole, executions saved
taxpayers more than $680,000.
The report recommends state legislators create standardized guidelines for
prosecutors in determining when to seek the death penalty. Legislators
could also require better accountability for the time spent on 1st-degree
murder cases to provide better cost information.
Tennessee currently has 97 inmates on death row.
(source: Nashville City Paper)
Report finds inconsistent use of death penalty -- Study suggests
legislature set down guidelines
Tennessee prosecutors are inconsistent in their pursuit of the death
penalty, with some asking for execution in all 1st-degree murder cases and
others reserving it for extreme cases, a state comptroller's report says.
Other prosecutors like to seek the death penalty as a bargaining chip to
get the accused to make a plea, the report found.
The study, which also looks at the costs of death penalty trials,
recommends that the legislature establish guidelines so defendants can get
The report, which was released yesterday, found that prosecutors in Shelby
County are the most likely to ask for the death penalty in 1st-degree
murder cases. However, prosecutors in Nashville are more inclined than
their counterparts across the state to seek life in prison without parole
in those cases, said Emily Wilson, a senior legislative analyst with the
Wilson said Davidson County has a death penalty protocol system that the
legislature might consider adopting throughout the state.
The report also said that capital trials cost 48% more than those where
the accused face life in prison without parole.
Death penalty trials on average cost about $46,791, according to the
It also found that nearly 1/3 of all death penalty cases are reversed on
Researchers found that the state Court of Criminal Appeals overturned 29%
of all capital cases from 1977 to 1995 for errors made during the trials.
The comptroller's office did not call for an end to executions and did not
take sides on the issue.
It compiled the data after Rep. Frank Buck, D-Dowelltown, asked in October
2002 for a report detailing the costs of the death penalty to the
"Having supported the death penalty for many years, I am aware of how
strong the feelings are on both sides of this issue," Buck wrote in a
letter requesting the report on behalf of the House Judiciary Committee.
"It is important that the public and the General Assembly know the real
The study found that while it costs more to prosecute death penalty cases,
executions save taxpayers $773,736 in prison housing costs that come with
incarcerating someone for life with no parole.
Those savings, however, do not account for the cost of appeals.
One local lawyer who has represented defendants in death penalty cases
says one of the faults of the report is that it does not account for many
of the costs of the death penalty.
"This report simply does not give a picture of what the death penalty
costs in Tennessee," Brad MacLean said. "All kinds of aspects of a death
penalty case are not covered by the report."
Researchers acknowledged that they lacked some information including how
much time judges and attorneys spent working on cases. The report called
for lawmakers to create a time line for a statewide integrated criminal
justice information system to better track cases and their costs.
One of the conclusions that should be drawn from the report is that the
state doesn't have information to know the true costs of the death
penalty, said MacLean, who thinks it's much more expensive than the report
"Anybody that is directly involved in the death penalty system, either as
a prosecutor or a defense attorney, knows that this system is
extraordinarily expensive and costly." he said.
(source: The Tennessean)
Dealing justice----Death penalty petition misses deadline, capital
punishment should remain banned in Michigan
State Rep. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township, is right - we need to do
something to deter murder. As long as people have been killing people,
however, the question has loomed as to how murder can be circumvented and
how the next one can be prevented.
Institutionally, The State News has championed and supported Michigan's
ban on the death penalty. We're proud that our state has been a long-time
adversary of capital punishment - 158 years and counting - and we're
satisfied that a petition to potentially reinstate the death penalty
failed to meet its July 5 deadline. We sincerely hope that we'll be able
to report the ban as 159 years and counting this time next year.
Motivated by the Feb. 16 killings of Detroit police officers Matthew
Bowens and Jennifer Fettig, the petition called for the use of capital
punishment when a law enforcement or corrections officer has been killed.
The drive to file 317,747 valid Michigan signees stalled, and Michigan
voters will not see the death penalty on a state ballot until, at least,
Last March, Jennifer Fettig's mother Kathy told The State News that the
death penalty was the only true form of justice in murder cases. We cannot
begin to fathom the tremendous sense of loss that accompanies any
senseless murder, be it the grief of the victim's loved ones or the
bereavement which faces the accused. What we can do is argue that the
death penalty does not deter murders from occurring, nor is it an
effective method of prevention.
In 2002, the FBI reported that the murder rate in southern states
increased by 2.1 percent, while the murder rate in northeastern states
decreased by nearly 5 percent. Southern states account for 82 percent of
capital punishment deaths since 1976 - northeastern states account for
less than 1 percent of those deaths. Of the 12 states in the union that do
not employ the death penalty, the northeast is home to 4 of them. There is
no single state in the South with a ban.
In aggregate, the death penalty is ineffective in deterrence. There are
many like Kathy Fettig who believe it to be a true form of justice, but in
the scales of balance, the death of one is never adequately justified by
another form of murder. Innocent people have been put to death for crimes
they did not commit. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "an eye for an eye and soon
the world will be blind."
With further specification, we also find this particular petition to be a
debasing assessment of the value of life. If only cop killers can be put
to death, does that suggest the murder of a child inflicts less harm on
society? A life is a life, a spirit is a spirit and a loss is a loss. No
single life is more important than another, despite profession or
propensity to serve society.
Residents of Michigan should be proud to live in a state that does not
contribute to an unjust measure of punishment. We will not live to see a
society clean of needless loses of life, but we should all take solace in
the fact that until that happens, Michigan is fighting the good fight.
(source: The State News)
More information about the DeathPenalty