death penalty news----OKLA., CONN., USA, LA., ILL. CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Nov 8 12:25:25 CST 2004
State battles questions on juvenile death penalty
Oklahoman Sean Sellers is the only person in the United States to be
executed for a crime committed at age 16. No other modern-day killer in
America has been executed for committing a crime at such a young age.
Sellers said he worshipped Satan when he shot his mother, stepfather and a
convenience store clerk in 1985. But the killer who turned to Christianity
in prison sang a hymn as he was put to death in 1999 at age 29.
Teens are old enough to feel the impulses of adulthood -- rage, joy, lust.
But some experts question whether they are mature enough to control their
The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing the case of a Missouri man sentenced to
die for a crime he committed at age 17. The court's ruling could set an
age limit for the death penalty.
Old enough to kill
More than 70 juvenile offenders across the country are sitting on death
Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 22 men have been executed
in America for crimes they committed as juveniles, including Oklahoma
inmates Sellers and Scott Hain, who was executed for a crime he committed
at age 17.
Though juries often find juveniles age 17 and younger mature enough to be
responsible for their crimes, not all juveniles can grasp the severity of
their actions, said Randall Coyne, a University of Oklahoma law professor
and one of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh's defense attorneys
"There is mounting evidence that juveniles as a group are less morally
culpable," Coyne said. "They process information differently. They live in
a different world than they inhabit once they become adults."
But for juror Gary Rowlett, Sellers' crimes overshadowed his young age.
"At that age you're a young man, but you definitely know what's going on,"
Rowlett said. "You know if you murder somebody. You know what you're
Rowlett said the sentence he and 11 other jurors gave was the right one.
Sellers' acts were cold-blooded, he said.
"He took a shower after he shot his mom and (step) dad," Rowlett said.
For Sellers' stepbrother, Lorne Bellofatto, knowing his younger
stepbrother would die was difficult, but the jury was right, Bellofatto
said. Sellers shot Bellofatto's father, Paul.
"If you decide to not pursue a death sentence, then you are saying that
the life of the criminal is more valuable than the life of the victim,"
The Bellofatto home was loving. Sellers' mother adored him. She cut his
hair and sewed his clothes. Sellers was smart, and if he was unhappy, he
didn't have to resort to murder, Bellofatto said.
"You can always leave," Bellofatto said. "20 dollars will buy you a bus
ticket so far away that no one could find you if you were adamant about
escaping your situation."
For or against
An OU poll in the fall showed about 2 in 3 Oklahomans favor eliminating
the juvenile death penalty.
But Oklahoma joined 5 other states supporting the minimum age of 16 when
it filed a report with the Supreme Court earlier this year.
Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, one of the attorneys general
listed on the report, said the death penalty is inappropriate for most
A system of checks is in place to ensure capital punishment is used as a
last resort, Edmondson said. Defense lawyers can request the teen be tried
as a juvenile. District attorneys consider age when deciding whether to
seek the death penalty. Also, juries can account for age when returning a
verdict or sentence.
And most young, serious offenders don't have a history of other major
"There are some instances where all of those tests are met and where a
juvenile offender, by virtue of his record or the nature of his crimes,
convinces everybody that they should be death penalty eligible," Edmondson
Attorney Steve Presson defended both Sellers and Hain during their
appeals. He disagrees with the support Oklahoma has given to the minimum
age of 16.
"Capital punishment for juvenile offenders is immoral," Presson said.
"It's just unconscionable. It's a human rights violation."
Prisoners reflect on their teenage decisions
When Davin Douma was 16, he shot a 21-year-old man at a party. The victim,
Mark Ledford, made homosexual advances, Douma said.
He didn't know how to respond, Douma said, so he killed Ledford. The teen
was sentenced to life in prison.
"Murder is a crime of passion," said Douma, now 37. "You act without
thinking. And I definitely acted without thinking of the consequences."
Though Douma's actions were extreme, experts said knee-jerk responses are
common among teens.
In juveniles, the part of the brain that makes logical decisions is not
fully developed. Teens have the same impulses as adults but might not be
able to respond appropriately, said Marvin Berkowitz, a character
education professor at the University of Missouri at St. Louis.
Most adolescents know the difference between right and wrong, but many
view the world idealistically.
Moral reasoning develops with time. As we age, we are able to solve moral
problems using more complex, flexible ways of thinking, Berkowitz said. As
we escape our teens, we are more capable of self-reflection.
2 decades in prison have given Douma plenty of time to reflect on his
"Mostly, I just see myself as a dumb kid who made a lot of bad decisions,"
Fellow inmate Johnathan Williams also was sentenced to life in prison for
a murder he committed at age 16. He never expected to be sent to prison,
but he said he knows how it happened: "'Cause I didn't listen to my
mother. I was hard-headed."
"When you're young like that, you don't realize your actions weigh on you
for the rest of your life," Williams said.
Williams is eligible for parole in 2010. Douma is eligible in March.
(source for both: The Oklahoman)
State Needs Strong Death-penalty Stand
Letters To The Editor:
Connecticut needs to take a stand on the death penalty. The death penalty
has not been used in Connecticut in more than 40 years. Yet the death
penalty remains clearly intact. With the Michael Ross issue stirring up
controversy, it is time for Connecticut to take a stand. His execution is
scheduled for Jan. 26 and there are a plethora of protesters in
Connecticut. Is it possible to have committed crimes so horrible it is
necessary to take a life as a punishment?
The crimes that Michael Ross has committed are worthy of consideration for
death. 4 women killed in eastern Connecticut, two others in New York and
Windham County. The murders date to the 1980s. Had Michael Ross committed
his crimes in Southern states such as Texas or Florida, the death penalty
would be imposed, most likely, while other states such as Illinois outlaw
the penalty. Connecticut is one of those borderline states. It is not fair
for the people to be in the middle of a divided issue like this.
Connecticut needs to pick a side, stand by it and let the people know what
side the government is on.
Not only does Connecticut need to take a stand, but the United States as a
whole does too. This was a question not only posed in local debates but in
the presidential debates as well. If a crime is a crime, should it matter
what state it is committed in?
Kevin Miller - Salem
(source: Letter to the Editor, The Day)
New death penalty case allows for further limits
Joe Elton Nixon wanted a new lawyer.
To make his point clear, he stripped to his underwear in his cell and
refused to enter the courtroom, forcing a visit from the judge.
Nixon, a Florida man who had been charged with the brutal murder of a
woman in 1984, waived the right to attend his own trial.
Had he gone, he would have heard his own lawyer tell the jury that Nixon
was to blame for the woman's "horrible, horrible death." And he would
later have learned that he would be found guilty and would be sentenced to
2 decades later, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether a death
sentence can be imposed on someone who has had legal representation in
The high court has been refining its position on the death penalty of
late, and there is a chance that it could continue down that path with the
case it heard on Election Day.
Nixon had not agreed to let his lawyer choose a defense that was no
defense at all. His lawyer admitted guilt and threw his client's future
before the court, hoping for the best. And he got the worst.
Last year, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Nixon, in a
5-2 vote that cited both the ineffectiveness of his defense and his own
refusal to accede to his lawyer's intentions. That is a reasonable
decision, and one that we would hope the nation's high court upholds.
We have consistently opposed the death penalty in this space and we
continue to look forward to a time when it is no longer imposed in this
nation. But until that day, we hope that the Supreme Court continues to
lessen the application of the death penalty in the numerous cases it has
2 years ago, the court ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute
someone who is mentally retarded. It has since heard a case on whether
teenage offenders can be put to death. In both cases, the court is
considering evolving standards as they apply to the imposition of the
The court's willingness to limit prisoner executions has been a welcome
development. We hope that justices continue to be open-minded when they
decide the case of a man who was sentenced to die without the benefit of
having had any real or worthy legal representation.
(source: Editorial, The Republican)
Group to play Santa for children of death row inmates
[To help----Donations may be sent to Angels of Mercy, P.O. Box 762,
Monroe, LA 71210-0762. Call (318) 325-1253 or send e-mail to
angels1203 at aol.com for more information.]
Christmas is nearing, but for Gloria Wooten and her 3 grandsons it'll be
sooner than Dec. 25.
The Wooten household will celebrate the holiday Dec. 4 at Louisiana State
Penitentiary at Angola, where the children's father is on death row.
Thanks to an organization derived from a Monroe prison ministry, the
children will receive the clothes, games, radios and bicycles on their
holiday wish list and visit with their dad during an early Christmas
Angels of Mercy, the organization, assists the children of men serving
time on death row at Angola, and they hold the annual gala for 40
families, roughly 100 children.
"They are truly angels sent from heaven and they have become part of my
family," Wooten, 65, said. "I thank the Lord for these people. I don't
know what I'd do if it wasn't for them and their kindness and
Wooten became legal guardian of the boys, ages 13, 14 and 18, about 7
years ago, when her son was sentenced to death. The boys' mother isn't
active in their lives, leaving Wooten with full responsibility. And for
her, things have been tough. She's on a fixed income and her funds are
used to make ends meet.
"By law, these are my kids now. And there is so little I can do with the
money that I get each month. Angels of Mercy has been helping me ever
since he has been down there. All I can say that they are a blessing," the
The children send a Christmas list, not any one gift over $50, and the
organization tries to get everything on the Christmas list. Group members
provide transportation for the children to attend the party. And the gifts
are mailed to the children who can't attend, said Dot Brown, program
organizer and director.
The group also helps Wooten and other families all year. In its seven
years, Angels of Mercy has provided school supplies, uniforms and other
things the children need. The group strives to make sure the children have
everything needed for Christmas, Easter and back-to-school, Brown said.
Brown, a member of Jesus the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Monroe,
started Angels of Mercy after working in the Angola prison ministry for
four years and seeing the children of inmates each time she traveled to
"After visiting down there and meeting the families, you'll hear about the
needs and the struggles the families have. The families still have to
provide money for the inmates to buy personal hygiene, etc. But most
important are these children; they can't help what their parents did, but
they still pay a high price for the crimes," Brown said.
Most children whose parents are incarcerated live with a relative in tough
financial circumstances or at or below poverty level, according to Brown.
In most cases, like Wooten, it's a grandparent.
Angels of Mercy seeks sponsors and donations to help provide a decent
Christmas to the nearly 100 children. Donations to the charity are
received all year and those who want to can sponsor a child, Brown said.
But Angels of Mercy has seen donations decline this year, which is
unusual. Brown guesses that it's because of the economy or the word just
isn't getting out.
Angels of Mercy has about four Shreveport families on the list.
"These children are the forgotten victims of crime," Brown said, "and are
five times more at risk than any group of kids in our society."
(source: Shreveport Times)
Former governor advocates death penalty repeal
The state of Illinois must repeal the death penalty because the system is
faulty, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan said Friday to about 90 people at
Northwestern's Chicago Campus.
"If you're going to take someone's life under a system that's not perfect,
then you shouldn't have that system," Ryan said.
Ryan spoke to Chicago-area residents, as well as NU students and faculty,
in the Law School's Lincoln Hall.
His speech was part of a free, day-long symposium on the death penalty,
sponsored by the law school's student-run Journal of Criminal Law and
Other aspects of the symposium included the presentation of research
papers on the death penalty by professors and scholars from throughout the
Before he left office in January 2003, Ryan commuted the sentences of all
167 of the state's death row inmates to life in prison without parole.
Ryan reflected on his choices Friday, in the same room where he made that
announcement nearly 2 years ago.
Students from the Medill School of Journalism worked in 1999 to exonerate
death row inmate Anthony Porter, who served almost 17 years on death row
for a double homicide. 2 days before Porter's scheduled execution, he was
granted a reprieve. Students proved Porter's innocence in a later hearing.
Ryan said he watched on television as Porter was released from prison and
asked his wife how innocent people could be jailed in America. At that
point, Ryan said on Friday, the governor did what he thought was right. He
called a moratorium, pending a thorough review of the state's capital
The 2002 the release of a report on Illinois' death penalty illuminated a
"There was no doubt in my mind -- the system I supported and believed in
throughout my life was a bad system," he said.
Ryan added that the death penalty is not the answer to getting justice for
"We can extract justice for crimes by locking up the perpetrators for
crimes," Ryan said. "That's a fate worse than death."
The symposium marked a personal milestone for Sue Gauger, whose husband,
Gary, is an exonerated death row inmate.
Gary Gauger was charged in 1993 with the murder of his parents and spent
3.5 years in prison. Wrongfully convicted, he was released in 1996 and
pardoned in December 2002, Sue Gauger said.
Sue Gauger said she attended Ryan's commutation speech almost 2 years ago
and came back Friday to hear his reflections.
"He has still kept this very strong conviction that there's a better way
to do it than executing people," she said.
For Gauger, the death penalty topic affects her family on both sides -- as
the family of murder victims and as the family of an innocent man who
served on death row. But Gauger said the death penalty gives little
comfort to a family.
"It's not going to bring (Gary's) parents back," she said.
3rd-year law student George Luce said Ryan's speech indicated the former
governor believed strongly in what he did.
But Ryan's argument against the death penalty on the basis of a high error
rate is flawed because there are errors inherent in other areas of the
justice system, Luce said.
"I thought he was a little bit disingenuous on that matter," Luce said.
"It was more of a question of emotional distaste rather than executing
innocent people," he continued.
(source: The Daily Northwestern)
Panel Denounces Death Penalty -- Amnesty International hosted speakers,
including "Providence" actor Mike Farrell, to speak out against the death
A panel of speakers addresses an audience in Crystal Cove Auditorium on
Nov. 3 denouncing the United States implementation of the death penalty.
The event was hosted by Amnesty International.
On Nov. 3, Amnesty International presented a lecture featuring six
speakers on the death penalty, including actor Mike Farrell and Johnnie
Stokes, sister of Kenneth Clair, currently on Death Row in California for
a murder he committed in Orange County.
Katie Falbo, president of UCIs chapter of Amnesty International, began the
event by asserting that the death penalty violates Article Three of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has the
right to life regardless of background or crimes committed. The United
States is one of only five countries, including China, Iran, Nigeria, the
Dominican Republic and Congo, to implement the death penalty for
Falbo claimed that the death penalty in the United States is racially
biased, an assertion that would be reiterated throughout the night.
According to Falbo, 1 of every 3 people executed since 1977 has been
The 1st speaker at the event was former aerospace engineer Richard
Carlburg, who showed a film titled "Interview With an Executioner." The
film focused on a Mississippi State Prison wardens perspective. One man
discussed in the video was Edward Johnson, who was executed despite the
publics belief of his innocence.
Even Kim Miller, a first-year mechanical engineering major who supports
the death penalty, appreciated the video as a persuasive tool.
"The video was very effective," Miller said. "I liked that they showed the
wardens point of view, because that is not the one you often hear.
Usually, you hear the victim or the criminal."
The 2nd speaker was Wayne Sandholtz, a professor of political science who
is currently teaching a seminar at UCI titled "The Death Penalty: An
Sandholtz noted that the United States has signed none of the
international protocols forbidding the death penalty. According to
Sandholtz, in 2003, four countries accounted for 84 percent of known
executions worldwide. Among them was China, with at least 726, Iran with
108, the United States with 65 and Vietnam with 64.
Mike Farrell, appearing on the TV show "M*A*S*H*" and the more recent
"Providence," was the 3rd guest who spoke about his views on the death
Farrell, who has visited prisoners on death row for 30 years, has found it
difficult to contain himself when considering the situation imposed on
many "innocent" inmates in the prisons located in the 37 states that
currently impose the death penalty.
"Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe," Farrell said.
The 4th speaker, K. Bandell, spoke about the suspicious conditions under
which Kenneth Clair was arrested for the murder of a 25-year-old woman in
Santa Ana in 1984. She claimed that although Clairs trial resulted in a
guilty verdict, the trial was tampered by jury misconduct, corruption,
suppressed evidence and a misrepresentation of the law.
Of the 637 people on death row in California, 49 of them are here in
Orange County. Since 1992, 3 of the 10 people killed in California were in
The events climax was a speech from Johnnie Stokes, Clairs sister. Stokes
began by describing the size of the six-by-nine-foot prison cell in which
6-foot Clair stature was crammed. She read to the audience, which included
Clairs wife in the front row, a letter written by her brother that morning
thanking the audience for attending the event.
The final speaker was Renny Cushing, whose father was murdered in front of
his mother 16 years ago. Even after this tragedy struck his family, his
position on the death penalty remained firm. He explained that both he and
the son of his fathers killer lost a father that day: one to the grave and
one to prison. According to Cushing, expanding the pain to more families
and killing another human are the only products of the death penalty.
Nika Bagheri, a 2nd-year biological sciences and mathematics major, agreed
on the success of the speakers to convey their positions articulately.
"It was a very well organized event," Bagheri said. "It is imperative that
the student body take an active role in making themselves aware of the
While the event reinforced Jardines anti-death penalty stance, the
speakers functioned as another factor in pushing Bagheri from supporting
the death penalty to opposing it.
However, Miller, a supporter of the death penalty, maintains that "[the
event] hasnt completely changed my opinion on the whole issue, but it did
bring me to consider why I was opposed to it. I understand why people
would be against it."
(source: New University)
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