[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, N.Y., OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Jul 15 12:29:44 CDT 2004
URGENT ACTION APPEAL
UA 222/04 Death penalty / Legal concern
July 15, 2004
Robert Aaron Acuna (m), Latino, aged 18
At a trial about to begin in Harris County, Texas, the
prosecution is intending to seek a death sentence against
Robert Acuna for a crime he is alleged to have committed
when he was 17 years old.
International law, recognized by almost every government
in the world, prohibits the use of the death penalty against
those who were under 18 at the time of the crime.
Robert Acuna is charged with the murder of Joyce Carroll
and her husband James Carroll, aged 74 and 75
respectively. Both were shot dead in their home in
Baytown, near Houston, on 12 November 2003.
Jury selection for Robert Acuna's trial began this week.
The trial proper is scheduled to begin on 2 August 2004.
The lead prosecutor is Assistant District Attorney Renee
McGee. Her co-prosecutor is Assistant District Attorney
Vic Wisner. The District Attorney of Harris County is
Charles A. Rosenthal.
The United Nations Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors
requires, among other things, that prosecutors "be made
aware of...human rights and fundamental freedoms
recognized by national and international law". The
Guidelines state that prosecutors must "respect and protect
human dignity and uphold human rights" in peforming their
Recognizing that the immaturity of young people and their
capacity for growth and change renders the death penalty a
singularly inappropriate punishment in such cases,
international law bans the execution of child offenders,
people who were under 18 at the time of the crime. The
Geneva Conventions, the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the
Child (ratified by 192 countries), the American Convention
on Human Rights and the United Nations Safeguards
Guaranteeing Protection of the Rights of Those Facing the
Death Penalty, all have provisions exempting this age
group from execution. The Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights has found that the prohibition on the
execution of anyone who was under 18 years old at the
time of the crime is now a peremptory norm of
international law (a jus cogens norm), from which no
country can exempt itself.
Since 1990, Amnesty International has documented 36
executions of child offenders in eight countries - the
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iran, Nigeria,
Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the USA, China and Yemen. The
USA carried out 19 of the executions, more than all other
countries combined. It is the only country which claims for
itself the right to carry out such executions in its normal
criminal justice system. The DRC has abolished the special
military courts which led to the execution of a child offender in
2000; Yemen, Pakistan and China have abolished the death
penalty against child offenders (although there are some residual
problems in enforcing the law in the latter two countries); Saudi
Arabia and Nigeria now deny such use of the death penalty; and
Iran appears to be in the process of abolishing the death penalty
Nineteen of the 38 death penalty states in the USA set 18 (at the
time of the crime) as the minimum age for death penalty
eligibility, and another 12 states are abolitionist. Thus 31 US
states, as well as the federal government, do not use the death
penalty against child offenders. Of those states that do, Texas is
by far the leading perpetrator, accounting for a third of the
country's condemned child offenders, and 13 of 22 executions of
child offenders carried out in the USA since 1977. Six of the last
seven such executions were carried out by Texas executioners.
More than a third of the child offenders on death row in Texas
and approximately one in seven of those currently condemned
nationwide, were prosecuted in Harris County, where Robert
Acuna is facing the death penalty. No whole state in the USA,
apart from Alabama (and the rest of Texas), has more child
offenders on death row than this single Texas jurisdiction.
In its October 2004 term, the US Supreme Court will revisit its
1989 decision allowing the execution of offenders who were 16
or 17 at the time of the crime. Its decision is expected in early
2005. In 2002, four of the nine Supreme Court Justices described
the execution of child offenders as "shameful" and "a relic of the
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive
as quickly as possible:
- expressing sympathy for the family and friends of Joyce and
James Carroll, and explaining that you are not seeking to excuse
the manner of their deaths, to minimize the suffering caused, or
to express any opinion on the guilt or innocence of the accused;
- explaining that you are deeply concerned that the Harris
County District Attorney's Office is intending to seek a death
sentence against Robert Acuna if it obtains his conviction,
despite the fact that he was under 18 years old at the time of the
- using any of the above or other information as you see fit in
explaining your concern;
- urging that the District Attorney's Office drop its pursuit of the
death penalty in this case.
Assistant District Attorney Renee McGee
Harris County District Attorney's Office
1201 Franklin Street, Suite 600,
Houston, Texas 77002-1923
Fax: 1 713 755 5469
Salutation: Dear Assistant District Attorney
District Attorney Charles A. Rosenthal
Harris County District Attorney's Office
1201 Franklin Street, Suite 600
Houston, Texas 77002-1923
Fax: 1 713 755 6865
You may also write a brief letter of concern (not more than 250
Letters to the Editor
P.O. Box 90
Baytown, TX 77522
Fax: 1 281 427-6283
c/o Houston Chronicle
P.O. Box 4260
Houston, Texas 77210
Fax: 1 713-362-3575
Email: viewpoints at chron.com
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the
Colorado office, if sending appeals after 30 August 2004.
Amnesty International is a worldwide grassroots
movement that promotes and defends human
This Urgent Action may be reposted if kept
intact, including contact information and stop
action date (if applicable). Thank you for your
help with this appeal.
Urgent Action Network
Amnesty International USA
PO Box 1270
Nederland CO 80466-1270
Email: uan at aiusa.org
Phone: 303 258 1170
Fax: 303 258 7881
END OF URGENT ACTION APPEAL
Leaders Urged to Go Slow In Amending Death Law
The League of Women Voters yesterday joined a growing chorus urging the
Legislature to avoid a quick fix to the state's death penalty statute.
The Court of Appeals last month shot down an unseverable provision that
required judges to advise deliberating juries that failure to agree
unanimously on either death or life without parole would result in a
parole-eligible sentence. Governor George E. Pataki and lawmakers appear
poised to address the Court's 4-3 ruling in People v. LaValle, 71,
possibly as soon as next week.
Yesterday the League of Women Voters urged policy-makers to take advantage
of the court-imposed hiatus in capital prosecutions and look anew at
myriad issues -- such as geographic diversity and other death
penalty-related issues the Court has yet to address -- that will
inevitably re-emerge if the law is patched.
"We now have a unique opportunity to re-examine the use of the death
penalty in New York," said Marcia A. Merrins, statewide president of the
League of Women Voters.
Ms. Merrins announced yesterday that the organization will hold forums
"from Long Island to Buffalo" throughout the fall to encourage public
dialogue on capital punishment in light of LaValle. She said the
organization will use information gleaned from those forums to arrive at a
consensus and lobbying position.
Ann Brandon, chairwoman of the organization's Death Penalty Study
Committee, said the group yesterday sent a letter to Mr. Pataki and
legislative leaders asking them to participate in the forums.
"We want to urge the governor, the legislators and the public to take a
hard look at the whole death penalty issue, and not just do a quick fix to
the current law," Ms. Brandon said.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Rensselaer County,
and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, are leaning toward
bringing their members back to Albany next week to address various issues,
possibly including the death penalty. Both have indicated they are
inclined to deal with the Court of Appeals' June 24 ruling when they
Yesterday Mr. Bruno's spokesman, Mark Hansen, said the upper chamber
expects to take actino next week and is awaiting a bill from the governor.
The infirmity recognized by the Court of Appeals centered on the so-called
"deadlock provision," which is unique to the state.
New York is the only state that requires judges to warn sentencing juries
that if they do not vote for either life without parole or death, the
court would impose a lighter sentence.
The Court said the provision is inherently coercive, a conclusion that
came as no real surprise to most legal observers. In fact, Mr. Pataki had
earlier urged the Legislature to amend the statute to make life without
parole the default sentence when a jury could not come to a unanimous
But even if the Legislature solves the deadlock problem, scores of other
provisions are under attack.
David Kaczynski, head of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, said there
is little point in patching the statute and said the Legislature should
either take a close look at capital punishment or abandon it.
"This would be a good time to realize that the experiment has been a
failure," Mr. Kaczynski said. "No matter which side of the controversy you
are on, there is no question that the expenditure of $170 million has been
a waste. If you oppose the death penalty, it is money foolishly invested
with vengeance. If you are for the death penalty, it is money invested in
a law we niow know is unconstitutional."
Mr. Kaczynski said that if the Legislature does address capital punishment
next week, his organization will focus its lobbying on the Democratic
Assembly, which is less likely to pass a death penalty bill than the
Republican Senate. Mr. Silver has supported the death penalty, but many
members of his conference oppose it and are eager to delay any
"We have to block legislation, and that means we need to get half of the
Assembly to realize that this law is not only wrong but unworkable and
flawed and ought not to have a future in New York state," Mr. Kaczynski
A leading advocate of capital punishment, Senator Dale M. Volker of
western New York, has predicted that no matter how the Legislature revises
the statute the current Court of Appeals will find a way to shot it down.
He said the key to getting a viable death penalty lies more with replacing
the judges than in revising the statute.
All 4 judges in the LaValle majority are approaching the end of their
terms. Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick will
complete their 14-year terms in 2008.
Judges George Bundy Smith and Albert M. Rosenblatt leave the Court two
The 3 judges in the minority -- Pataki appointees Susan Phillips Read,
Victoria A. Graffeo and Robert S. Smith -- could be on the Court far
longer. Judge Smith will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2014,
the year Judge Graffeo's term will end. Judge Read's term continues
Since capital punishment was restored in 1995, the Court of Appeals has
considered appeals by 3 condemned by 3 condemned murderers. It has
reversed the death penalty in each case.
(source: New York Law Journal)
No clemency for Mink, board urges -- Convicted Union man wants to die
In COlumbus, the Ohio Parole Board recommended Wednesday that Gov. Bob
Taft deny clemency for Scott Mink, the Union man to be executed Tuesday
for killing his parents as they slept.
Taft and his legal staff are reviewing the recommendations and the
governor will decide soon, his spokesman Orest Holubec said.
Mink put up no defense in the Sept. 19, 2000, slayings of William Mink,
79, and Sheila Mink, 72. Mink, 40, acted as his own attorney, pleaded
guilty to the murders in 2001 and told the court he wanted to be executed.
He waived appeals beyond a mandatory one to the Ohio Supreme Court, which
upheld his death sentence.
Mink will be Ohio's 3rd "volunteer" and the second within a week. Stephen
Vrabel of Youngstown was executed Wednesday, also after dropping appeals.
Mink will be the 1st convict from Montgomery County to be executed since
Ohio reinstated the death penalty in 1981. A Montgomery County convict was
last executed in 1940.
Mink's attorney, Gary Crim, said at the clemency hearing Mink was
"consumed with remorse" but did not want to plead for mercy.
The parole board received 2 letters from death-penalty opponents in
Pittsburgh and the United Kingdom asking that Mink's sentence be commuted
to life in prison, according to the clemency report. The letters point to
Mink's confession, waived legal defense, medical history of depression,
suicide attempts and drug addiction.
ink was drinking beer and smoking crack cocaine at a friend's house
Sept.19, 2000, when his father summoned him home, according to the
clemency report. That night, Mink had "a fit of uncontrollable rage" after
finding his parents had hidden his car keys. He beat them, stabbed them,
strangled his mother with an extension cord and hit both parents with
Mink turned himself in to Tipp City police 3 days after his parents'
bodies were found.
(source: Dayton Daily News)
More information about the DeathPenalty