[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----OHIO, N.Y., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Jul 23 15:27:04 CDT 2004
It's time for state to stop the killing
Ohio is on a killing spree.
We're on a roll. 2 in 1 week. 6 in one year.
We're 2nd only to Texas this year in the number of executions.
Do you feel safer? Have your taxes gone down? Isn't that what was supposed
to happen once we started killing inmates?
If the death penalty is a deterrent, why do we keep reading about people
shooting their fathers, offing their drug dealers, stabbing their lovers?
Why hasn't the death penalty scared people straight?
Ohio has killed 14 people since a mentally ill inmate volunteered to go
first and the governor let him. Back in 1999, Wilford Berry made
front-page news. Executions have become so routine you have to dig in the
paper to find them.
Ohio killed Scott Mink this week. Call it state-assisted suicide. Mink
dropped his appeals and went willingly. He goes on record as the quickest
sentence carried out since Ohio reinstated the death penalty in 1981.
What a shame.
Ohio is charging full speed ahead, killing off a backlog of inmates on
death row while states across the country have put moratoriums on
executions. Illinois and Maryland suspended their executions to study
flaws in the system. Illinois found 13 innocent people. The governor
commuted the sentences of all 167 inmates on death row.
The governor said: "Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error:
error in determining guilt, and error in determining who among the guilty
deserves to die."
The fact that we haven't examined Ohio's system should haunt us.
Justice isn't foolproof. Sometimes it's full of fools. Investigations
elsewhere have uncovered lawyers who failed to interview witnesses, who
slept during trials, who showed up drunk. One missed an appeal deadline
because he believed his client deserved to die.
Then you have law enforcement officers who mishandled DNA. Add prosecutors
who relied on unrecorded "confessions" after long interrogations with no
attorney present, on a single "eyewitness" or on jailhouse snitches who
got deals to testify.
But our politicians won't stop the killings. Tough on crime gets you
elected. Mercy doesn't.
No, we're putting them to sleep like dogs. It's better than their victims
got, you say. Of course it is - if you're 100 percent sure they're guilty.
Even so, what does it say about us that we'd rather kill a man than keep
him locked up? It says that we're after revenge.
And whom do we execute? Poor guys. Guys with IQs 5 points above retarded.
Guys who suffer from schizophrenia.
We killed Jay D. Scott. A court ruled that he was mentally ill but sane
enough for Ohio to kill him.
We killed John Byrd Jr. He was sentenced to die back when life without
parole wasn't a sentencing option.
We killed Lewis Williams Jr. Guards had to carry him into the death
chamber. One attorney said the evidence against him was questionable, that
prosecutors used jailhouse informants and there were no witnesses to the
"I'm not guilty. Please God help me!" Williams screamed.
What if he was telling the truth?
At last count, more than 100 death row inmates have been exonerated across
Ohio needs a moratorium on the death penalty.
If someone doesn't call for one, we may soon overtake Texas as the
country's most notorious serial killer.
(source: Column, Regina Brett, Cleveland Plain-Dealer)
Perspective: Who Deserves to Die? A Time to Reconsider
The Court of Appeals wrongly declared New York's death penalty
unconstitutional, but rightly declared it in need of reform.
No doubt the Legislature and Governor George E. Pataki can, as they have
announced they are prepared to do, easily remove and replace the
singularly stupid "jury deadlock" provision, which informs a jury split
between life-without-parole, or death, that unless they unanimously agree
on one or the other, the judge must sentence the convicted murderer to an
even less severe life with parole eligibility.
Rather than embrace a quick fix as the Legislature and governor seem
intent on doing, however, we should pause and reflect, deliberate and
debate. This is a rare opportunity to rethink, revise, refine New York's
death penalty so that we may more nearly impose the death penalty on all,
but only those who truly deserve to die.
Abolish Capital Felony Murder (NYPL 125.27 vii):
First, New York should drop the felony-murder aggravating circumstance.
Felony murder--- the most common death penalty situation --- covers many
different types of killers and killings.
Across the United States, robbery (and burglary) have put more killers on
death rows than all other aggravating circumstances.
Instinctively and morally, we feel that killing for money makes a murder
worse. And the statute specifies a "pecuniary motive" as a separate
aggravating circumstance. Robbers almost always rob for money, but they
rarely kill for it. There is nothing about a robbery, alone, that makes an
intentional killing that accompanies it even worse. Where the
felony-murderer truly deserves to die, other aggravating circumstances
such as rape --- properly understood as torture --- will, and should make
that murderer death eligible. But "intentional felony murder" as a capital
offense should be abolished.
Refine the Witness-Killing Aggravator (NYPL 125.27 v): Many
robber/murderers intentionally kill their victims to eliminate them as
witnesses. Rightly New York's law specially condemns killing a witness.
The current statute categorically makes death-eligible a person who
intentionally kills a witness (or a member of the witness's family) in
order to prevent future testimony, or as "retribution" for previous
testimony. At first blush this provision seems morally supportable, either
as an added deterrent or to punish the calculating selfishness by which a
killer marginally increases his odds of escaping lawful punishment at the
price of an innocent citizen's life. But the statute makes no distinction
between the innocent, unresisting victim of a robbery who peacefully
surrenders his wallet and is killed to prevent his possible future
testimony, and the co-felon (or paid informant) who "flips the script,"
violating the street code, cooperating with the government to pin it on
his fellow criminal, often his partner in crime. It does not distinguish
between the innocent witness and the snitch. The snitch deserves witness
protection, but his killer does not thereby deserve to die. If we are to
confine the death penalty to the worst of the worst, the statute should be
narrowed to the intentional killing of an "unresisting innocent witness."
Redefine Torture (NYPL 125.27 x): Unquestionably, a sadist who tortures
his helpless victim to death, just for the fun of it, is among the worst
of the worst, and absent compelling mitigating circumstances, deserves to
die. Torture provokes near universa condemnation, even among killers
themselves, providing us retributist advocates of the death penalty our
strongest case. But New York overly restricts torture, by requiring proof
that the killer "relished" or "took pleasure" in the infliction of extreme
This definition shifts the focus from the victim. In the street, they
sometimes kidnap a victim, chop off body parts and mail them to the family
to extract ransom. While not taking pleasure, this coldly calculating
selfishness can be as frightening and vicious as passionate sadism. At one
point Governor Pataki proposed expanding New York's death penalty statute
to include "extreme pain" imposed "to extract information," and I would
add or "to obtain anything of value." In short, a killer who rapes,
mutilates or kills in a drawn-out painful procedure has tortured his
victim, whether or not he takes pleasure.
Add Depraved Indifference Recklessness (Amend 125.27 i): Cruelty --- the
essence of what we most condemn --- has long since meant not only taking
pleasure, but at the other extreme, a cold callous indifference to human
life. A person who shoots a machine gun into a crowd with no particular
target, not caring who, or how many innocent people live or die; a
pharmacist who dilutes patients' chemotherapy to make extra money,
callously indifferent as to whether those denied their treatment live or
die an agonizing death; a man who rapes three children 9, 7, 5 while he is
HIV positive and knows it, not caring whether they live or die, all should
be condemned as the worst of the worst. The U.S. Supreme Court
specifically held that such a depraved indifference recklessness may be
sufficiently heinous to warrant death. New York's current death penalty
statute, however, rejects this, specifically requiring an intent to kill.
New York's Legislature should include a killer's knowingly subjecting a
victim to a grave risk of death, combined with a depraved indifference to
human life as a culpable mental state sometimes deserving of death.
Refine Killing From a Pecuniary Motive: Eliminate Class Bias (125.27 vi):
Like most every other state with a death penalty, New York specifically
condemns paid assassins, and those who hire them. And they should. But do
we thoroughly condemn killing as a business decision? We never execute,
and rarely prosecute corporate executives, no matter how callous and
lethal their actions. In order to deter such deadly behavior, and diminish
class bias, but mostly because they deserve it, New York should
specifically condemn corporate safety directors and other executives ---
"red collar killers" I call them --- who, with a depraved indifference to
human life, run deadly workplaces or manufacture deadly products,
knowingly and recklessly exposing unsuspecting employees, consumers or
local residents to a grave risk of death which kills them, all from the
'best' of motives --- the profit motive.
Rethink Killing to Prevent Law Enforcement (125.27 i, xii): Most states
single out cop killers for capital punishment. Supporters point out that
the police put their lives on the line for us, that those who would kill a
cop would kill anyone, and that an attack on law enforcement is an attack
on law itself and threatens the whole criminal justice system. Those who
kill police because they are police do make war on the People and deserve
to die. But an armed robber who does not initiate the gun battle, and
intentionally shoots a pursuing police officer who is shooting at him,
although a murderer, is not the worst of the worst, and without more, does
not deserve to die.
New York also specially condemns killing a judge, but only "because such
victim was, at the time of the killing, a judge." Why not also include
prosecutors? And by the logic that condemns attacks on the criminal
justice system, killing a juror to prevent a guilty verdict or in
retaliation is worst of all. Only a few states aggravate for killing
jurors; New York should be among them.
Add Especially Vulnerable Victims: Many states but not New York single out
other victims --- children, the elderly, the handicapped --- whose
intentional killing especially deserves to be condemned. Are the lives of
some victims more valuable than the rest? No. Perhaps we imagine greater
pain attaching as a helpless victim experiences his own helplessness.
Ultimately, however, we advocates of a generic "especially vulnerable
victim" aggravator, support it not because the victims' lives are more
valuable, but because their deaths reveal the cowardly and despicable
nature of killers who prey on them. Retributively, advantage taking ---
extreme selfishness combined with extreme cowardice --- qualifies as the
worst of the worst. Besides, the universal innocence and unrealized
potential of childhood does make most of us feel it somehow worst to kill
Eliminate the Lifer who Kills (125.27 iv; ix): New York along with many
but not all death penalty states singles out a prisoner serving a life
sentence (and separately a convicted murderer) who kills again. Supporters
justify this aggravator 1 of 2 ways: Either they claim lifers have nothing
left to lose and are therefore a uniquely undeterrable group. A threat of
death, and only a threat of death will keep them in check. Or, supporters
claim, a lifer by this latest intentional killing demonstrates that
killing is not an aberration, but an essential part of his character.
These arguments are out of touch with reality. Thirteen years inside
Lorton prison interviewing convicted killers who serve life sentences and
do not kill the unarmed guards they hate has taught me that lifers develop
the best hustles and the relatively good life inside.
Lifers have the most to lose and are most deterrable by a simple threat:
transfer to a supermax. The lifer aggravator should be dropped.
Nor does the lifer or convicted murderer who kills again demonstrate he is
the worst of the worst. Inside Central, a lifer worked in the kitchen
delivering trays of food to other prisoners on lockdown. Without informing
or consulting him, another prisoner had laced peanut butter sandwich with
cocaine to be delivered to his buddy by the unsuspecting lifer. Someone
else in the kitchen snitched. Busted for transporting drugs, the lifer was
himself locked down, stripped of his job and other perks he had worked
years to acquire. When he paid to have the drug smuggler killed, he
committed intentional murder. He deserved to be punished --- transferred
to a more punitive setting --- but he did not deserve to die. A lifer who
kills again should not, for that reason alone, be eligible for death. The
aggravator should be eliminated.
Now Is the Time
This discussion has barely scratched the surface of reform. More can and
should be done. Besides, it will be years before a condemned killer's case
reaches the state's highest court, and by that time perhaps we will have a
majority who will honestly feel constrained to defer to the people's
representatives to better identify in advance the worst of the worst and
proceed to execute those who most deserve to die.
(source: Robert Blecker, professor at New York Law School, spent 13 years
interviewing convicted killers, New York Law Journal)
Hamza could face death penalty
Radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza could still face execution in the US where
he is wanted on terrorism charges, his lawyers said today.
Britain cannot send any suspect for trial to a country where they might be
sentenced to death and an assurance had been given by the US Government
that Hamza would only face a jail sentence.
But a recent US Supreme Court decision means that assurance does not bind
state courts, Hamza's counsel, Edward Fitzgerald QC, said.
If a state court found grounds to prosecute Hamza following his
extradition then he could still be put to death.
Mr Fitzgerald told Belmarsh Magistrates' Court: "If there is any evidence
that the state courts could try then that would be something we submit
would be a bar to extradition."
He also argued that Hamza could not receive a fair trial in the US where a
New York grand jury has drawn up 11 charges alleging involvement in
hostage taking in Yemen, establishing a terror training camp in Bly,
Oregon and sending a follower to fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Mr Fitzgerald said evidence from a key witness against Hamza was tainted
because he had "done a deal" with US prosecutors allowing him to walk free
3 years into a 25-year prison sentence for conspiring to help the Taliban.
The witness was referred to in court as CC1 but is understood to be James
Ujaama, 37, who is alleged to have been involved in setting up the Oregon
Ujaama attended Finsbury Park mosque, where Hamza was imam, in the late
1990s and ran the Egyptian-born cleric's Supporters of Sharia website.
The court heard that after becoming ill in Afghanistan Ujaama called Hamza
and shortly afterwards was visited by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of
Egyptian Islamic Jihad and believed to be Osama bin Laden's right hand
man, who told him to take honey and black seeds.
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