[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----N.J., PENN., N.Y., CALIF., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Jul 29 12:13:38 CDT 2004
Eberle suspects could face execution
A Camden County grand jury on Wednesday supplemented its murder indictment
of 2 Camden men charged with the abduction and killing of a woman at a
PATCO Hi-Speedline station in the city, clearing the way for prosecutors
to seek the death penalty.
The supplement charges Ryshaone Thomas and Marcus Toliver with killing
Christine Eberle during her kidnapping and robbery and with attempting to
conceal involvement in the crime.
It is the 3rd time different grand juries have indicted the 2 in the
November 2001 killing of Eberle, who was allegedly forced into a car as
she walked across the parking lot of the Ferry Avenue station. Eberle, 27,
had grown up in Mount Ephraim and moved to Washington Township shortly
before her death.
Reconsideration of the case, and the grand jury's vote on the aggravating
factors to support a capital murder charge, was required after a Supreme
Court ruling in February. Previously the decision to file aggravating
factors supporting a request at trial for capital punishment was made by
county prosecutors' offices.
Thomas' trial will not begin until January at the earliest. Toliver's
trial would be scheduled several months later. The 2 cannot be tried
together because each gave statements to police with details of the
other's involvement in the abduction and killing. Both are charged with
killing Eberle by their own conduct.
After Eberle's killing, her family filed a civil lawsuit against the
Delaware River Port Authority, the Port Authority Transit Corp., the
Camden County Fire and Ambulance Communications Center and several people,
linking the woman's death to inadequate security at the Ferry Avenue
The lawsuit refers to a decision by a 9-1-1 dispatcher against directing
patrol vehicles to the parking lot after another commuter reported he saw
a woman being dragged into a car.
(source: Camden Courier-Post)
Man Sentenced to Die Taken Off Death Row
A man sentenced to die for the murder of a local child, has now been taken
off death row. 23 years ago, Alan Lee Pursell was convicted for the murder
of 13 year old Christopher Brine. Brine was found dead in 1981, in the
woods near the water street rail road bridge in Lawrence Park. Pursell was
scheduled to die 2 years ago, but the death penalty was reversed by a
federal judge, because of mistakes made during the sentencing hearing. To
keep Pursell from getting a new trial, the DA's office and Pursell's
lawyers negotiated and gave Pursell life in prison with no chance of
(source: WSEE News)
No More Death Penalty
That's the decision after lawyers and the judge in this case met Thursday
morning in Broome County Court.
The case has been at a stand still since the state's highest court ruled
the sentencing portion of New York's death penalty law unconstitutional.
That decision put jury selection for Parker's Trial on hold. Lawmakers
vowed to fix the law, but so far, the State Legislature hasn't taken
The court decided not to wait for the legislature to agree on a solution.
Parker is one of 2 men accused of killing Valerie and Devon Spears in
their Binghamton home 2 years ago.
25 potential jurors extensively questioned by lawyers will now be
A pool of 300, only screened for hardships, will now be questioned by
lawyers starting September 9th.
With the hope that a trial could start in mid-September.
(source: WBNG News)
The Trial Outside the Court
There are 2 trials under way here over the killings of Laci Peterson and
her unborn son.
One is the quiet proceeding inside the four walls of the town courthouse
run by Judge Alfred A. Delucchi. That trial is all but bereft of drama and
hard to follow: day after day of dry testimony played out before 12 jurors
in a courtroom only half filled with grieving family members, journalists
and a smattering of the public.
The other trial takes place in the hallways and on the esplanade in front
of the courthouse, where a spin zone relentlessly churns before television
cameras, which are barred from the courtroom itself. This one has drama
and humor and pathos, played out breathlessly almost every day on Court TV
and Fox News, on "Today" and "Larry King Live."
The outcome of this trial was decided long ago, though the courtroom
proceeding is not half finished.
"They're doing the O. J., the rush to justice," Michael Cardoza said in an
interview during a break in the proceedings in late July. Earlier that
day, Mr. Cardoza, a former prosecutor, criticized the San Mateo County
prosecutors on "Today" and then again on "Larry King Live." "I've tried 40
homicide cases," he said. "I know it's not over until the jurors come
back, but this is all but lost." The prosecution, Mr. Cardoza said, is
failing to entertain the jury. "What they're not doing is showing
emotion," he said. "There's no affect at the trial. There's no fire in the
Mr. Cardoza, on the other hand, has plenty of fire in the belly, as do the
half-dozen other legal experts who file before the cameras. Almost all
announce that the prosecution is losing, and that the engaging defense
lawyer Mark Geragos will win an acquittal for the victim's husband, Scott
Peterson, charged with double murder.
Laci Peterson, eight months pregnant, disappeared on Dec. 24, 2002. Her
remains and those of her fetus washed up on the shores of San Francisco
Bay in April 2003. The prosecution contends that Mr. Peterson killed his
wife and dumped her body into the sea; he faces the death penalty if
The trial was moved here from nearby Modesto, where the couple lived,
because of the widespread news media coverage.
But if the trial is a necessary part of American life - one of a series of
private tragedies that take on public proportions and feed the need for
national spectacle - then the media have found a way to make it reliable
entertainment. Despite all efforts by the judge to maintain decorum even
gum chewing is forbidden in the courtroom - the media maw is insatiable,
and hardly picky about how to feed the beast.
>From the start Judge Delucchi forbade all parties involved to speak about
the case, officially muzzling the prosecution and the defense and all
family members: both Mr. Peterson's parents, who sit in the front row of
the courtroom behind their son, and Laci Peterson's family, which includes
her mother, Sharon Rocha, and stepfather, Ron Grantski, who sit behind the
With no courtroom video and no on-camera comment from the principals,
interest in the trial seems to have dwindled. (The judge will allow
cameras in the courtroom for 10 minutes only on July 29, just to allow
reporters to obtain stock video.) Desperate, the television news pack has
turned to self-proclaimed experts to tell the story of the day, every day.
That spin, many producers said, is usually determined by the first break
in the trial, at 10:30 a.m., almost no matter what happens later.
Some of the experts are on the payrolls of the networks or cable news
channels; others just appear to get a little exposure and troll for
clients. One such expert, Daniel A. Horowitz, a criminal defense lawyer in
Oakland, Calif., handed out something like a curriculum vitae along with a
media briefing on case law.
"We didn't start out to run Hyde Park," said Christine Weicher, a veteran
CBS News producer. "It just happened. I find it odd. I find it not a way
to do journalism. These people are not here to help the press to do their
job. Everything is being filtered down: 'the prosecution is no good; the
defense is winning.'"
But you have to consider the cumulative evidence, Ms. Weicher said. "It's
the drip theory," she added. "You have to look at it every day." Ms.
Weicher recently began insisting that CBS identify Mr. Cardoza as a
"defense advocate" because she had seen him whispering to Mr. Geragos,
though other news outlets have not done so. She has also brought in other
experts, like the San Francisco district attorney, Terrence Hallinan, to
offer what she considers more unbiased opinions.
One day in late July, Mr. Horowitz reminded the cameras that although the
prosecution had brought in detective after detective to prove that the
Modesto police had looked for suspects beyond Mr. Peterson, Mr. Geragos
kept raising the prospect of vagrants, sex offenders and other possible
suspects whose alibis were not thoroughly substantiated. Robert Talbot, a
University of San Francisco law professor, marveled to reporters that the
police had forgotten to put a battery in their tape recorder when they
interviewed Mr. Peterson, but hedged his comment on camera.
"If you put together all the little pieces, nothing is lost at this
point," he said of the prosecution. Richard Cole, a reporter for The Palo
Alto Daily News who has appeared on "Larry King Live," mumbled, "It's a
cottage industry for us all."
Despite the judge's imposed silence, quiet communication goes on between
the principals and journalists through intermediaries and half-gestures.
If no one dares talk about the case per se, the networks and cable shows
are all doing their ingratiating best to prepare for the post-trial "get":
interviews with Mr. Peterson and his parents, or with Laci Peterson's
mother and stepfather.
To that end, any connection is valuable. Stan Goldman, a Loyola University
law professor and commentator for Fox News, who won a measure of fame for
his observations during the O. J. Simpson trial, finds himself in the
unusual position of having taught both Mr. Geragos and one of the lead
prosecutors, Rick Distaso, a senior deputy district attorney.
Mr. Goldman said Mr. Geragos asked him for advice occasionally, on
whether, for example, something qualified as evidence. "People treat me
like a resource," he explained with a shrug.
But Mr. Goldman thought it was better to allow cameras in the courtroom,
as in the Simpson case. "The simple reality is there is just as much
coverage as there would have been if the case had been on TV," he said.
"The public is getting a filtered description rather than seeing it
themselves. The prosecution is going to lose this case, and when they do,
people will talk about changing the law to a preponderance of evidence."
He was referring to the legal standard for conviction: that guilt must be
proved "beyond a reasonable doubt," rather than supported by the
preponderance of the evidence.
Even without cameras, there is instant reporting from the courtroom. Using
wireless modems, some reporters are writing and filing their articles from
behind the trial's closed doors, or furiously exchanging e-mail messages
with colleagues over their BlackBerry wireless devices. Court TV reporters
send real-time accounts of the proceedings direct to their on-air anchor.
That shift, while favoring speed, leaves little room for error or context.
It is often not clear why witnesses have been called, as the prosecution
has been laying out its evidence without drawing many connections. Just as
often, Mr. Geragos finds a way to mock or undermine prosecution witnesses,
providing a sound bite for the next courtroom break.
"We've overdosed on 'Law & Order,'" observed Peter Shaplen, a freelance
producer who acts as a liaison to the court for all the networks. "This
case is more complex, more labored than that. It doesn't fit into a
(source: New York Times)
In Rare Union, Documentary Finds Itself on NBC
Early this year a group of struggling documentary filmmakers who had just
completed a film about capital punishment borrowed money from family and
friends and used frequent flier miles to buy plane tickets to Park City,
Utah, to enter the Sundance Film Festival.
Katy Chevigny, the co-director and co-producer of the film, "Deadline,"
said, "We tried to make the best film we could, but we actually didn't
know if anybody would ever see the film outside of Sundance."
Ms. Chevigny and her colleagues don't have to worry.
In a highly unusual move for a broadcast network, NBC has purchased the
2-hour documentary for an undisclosed price and will present it on Friday
on "Dateline NBC." Although HBO and other cable networks buy documentaries
at film festivals like Sundance, it is rare for a broadcast network like
NBC to buy a documentary and present it in its entirety, because these
networks have news units themselves. The filmmakers said that about 10
minutes of the documentary had been trimmed, mostly to make room for
What makes the current documentary perhaps even more unusual is that it
was purchased at the behest of Robert Wright, now chairman and chief
executive of NBC Universal.
According to the filmmakers, after the first screening, on a snowy Friday
afternoon, Mr. Wright came up to a producer of the movie, Dallas Brennan,
introduced himself and gave her his card. The filmmakers said they did not
fully grasp who the speaker was. The next day Mr. Wright came up to them
again at a brunch and said he found the documentary so compelling that he
wanted to put it on NBC.
The filmmakers said they were floored. "It was absolutely beyond our
wildest dreams," said Kirsten Johnson, the co-director and cinematographer
of the movie. "Imagine! Six to 10 million people seeing our film in one
night. Clearly the public is hungry for independently made films."
The film itself is a straightforward chronicle of the emotional and legal
drama surrounding the transformation of Gov. George Ryan of Illinois from
a pro-death-penalty Republican to a firm opponent of the death penalty. In
2000 Mr. Ryan imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois, and
three years later, days before leaving office, he commuted the death
sentences of 163 men and 4 women to prison terms and freed 4 other men,
citing the high number of wrongful convictions in the state. The evidence
was initially gathered by undergraduate journalism students at
Northwestern University and reporters from The Chicago Tribune. (Mr.
Ryan's tenure was shadowed mostly by a corruption scandal.)
Mr. Wright said in a statement: "'Deadline' is an exceptional,
thought-provoking look at one man's struggle with controversial issues
surrounding our criminal justice system. It's about life and death and the
power of one decision."
David Corvo, the executive director of "Dateline NBC," said he and Neal
Shapiro, president of NBC News, agreed that "Dateline" was the best place
for the documentary. Mr. Corvo said he could not recall a broadcast
network purchasing a documentary and presenting it in its entirety,
although there have been cases on "Dateline" where portions of
documentaries have been used in news stories.
Mr. Corvo said his staff saw independent documentary filmmakers not as
competitors but as different voices for the program.
"My people have plenty of opportunities to tell the stories they want to
tell," he explained. "Most people on the staff endorse this idea. They
think it's very worthwhile."
Mr. Corvo said of the documentary: "This is not a journalistic report.
It's more personal. It's their style. It speaks with a more personal
voice, not a collective voice."
Like the filmmakers, Mr. Corvo said that NBC's interest in "Deadline" was
not an isolated event. "This comes in an era where documentaries are
blossoming like never before," he said. "There's a real interest in
documentaries of all sorts."
That interest is not likely to wane anytime soon. "We'll be back at
Sundance next year," Mr. Corvo said.
The filmmakers said they did not know the exact cost of making their film,
but estimated it at less than $500,000, raised partly from foundations and
donors. They declined to say how much NBC had paid for it. Their New
York-based company, Big Mouth Productions, has focused on social issues
and made films on transracial adoption, the criminal justice system and
As is true of many documentary filmmakers in New York, Los Angeles and
elsewhere, they seem to operate on a shoestring. Of the NBC deal, Ms.
Chevigny said, "I can't quite believe it happened."
(source: New York Times)
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