death penalty news----USA, TEXAS, KY. MD., PENN., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Nov 14 23:16:04 CST 2004
Death sentences at 30-year low
The number of people sentenced to death reached a 30-year low in 2003,
when the death row population fell for the 3rd year in a row, the
government reported Sunday.
Last year, 144 inmates in 25 states were given the death penalty, 24 fewer
than in 2002 and less than half the average of 297 between 1994 and 2000,
according to the Justice Department.
Death penalty opponents say the report shows how wary the public is of
executions, heightened by concerns about whether the punishment is
administered fairly and publicity about those wrongly convicted. Illinois
emptied its death row in 2003 after several inmates were found to be
"What we're seeing is hesitation on the death penalty, skepticism,
reluctance," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty
Information Center. "I do think there is some concern about the death
penalty and it's reflected in death sentences from juries."
Opponents also point to other possible reasons, including continuing
fallout from Supreme Court decisions requiring that juries be told that
life in prison without parole is an alternative to death.
Dieter said 47 states now offer a life-without-parole sentence as an
option for at least some convictions, compared with 30 in 1993.
Supporters doubt the decline signifies a major shift in public opinion
about the death penalty, which is in effect in 38 states and the federal
"I don't think the numbers mean a lot quite frankly," said Dianne
Clements, president of the victims advocacy group Justice For All. "I
don't think it means a change in death penalty attitudes. I think it means
the numbers change."
At the end of last year, 3,374 prisoners awaited execution, 188 fewer than
in 2002, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Illinois accounted
for 91 percent of the decline, the result of then-Gov. George Ryan's
decision to commute the death sentences of 167 inmates to life in prison
and to pardon 4 others.
Nationally, 267 people were removed from death row last year. That was the
largest drop since 1976, when the Supreme Court reinstated the death
penalty, according to the report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Last year, 65 people, all men, were executed. Texas again was the leader,
with 24, followed by Oklahoma with 14 and North Carolina with 7. No other
state had more than 3.
All but one of those men were killed by lethal injection. The other was
Since 1977, 885 inmates were executed through 2003 by 32 states and the
Federal Bureau of Prisons. 2/3 of them were in 5 states: Texas, Virginia,
Oklahoma, Missouri and Florida.
The report also found:
Of death row inmates, 56 % were white, while 42 % were black. Hispanics,
who can be of any race, accounted for 12 % of inmates whose ethnicity was
States with the largest number of death row inmates were California with
629, Texas with 453 and Florida with 364.
10 people died while awaiting execution in 2003 -- 6 from natural causes
and 4 from suicide.
(ssource: Associated Press)
Death sentences decline
David Sylvester Frances will learn within the next 2 months whether he is
condemned to die for strangling an Orlando woman and her teenage niece 4
If he is, the decision will buck a surprising trend in which death
sentences in Florida have dropped dramatically since the late 1980s and by
50 % nationally during the past decade.
Frances would become the 10th person in Florida to receive a death
sentence this year. A decade ago, 39 people were sentenced to die in
Florida. And 20 years ago, 38 received death sentences.
That's a major shift in a state known for some of the nation's most widely
known executions -- including those of serial killers Ted Bundy and Aileen
Wuornos -- and a death row that's 3rd in population behind California and
There is no single explanation. It could reflect that more violent
criminals are in jail rather than out on the street. More likely, some
experts say, it could represent juror ambivalence about capital punishment
in light of a growing number of wrongful convictions.
There was no ambivalence Nov. 2, when jurors overwhelmingly recommended
death for Frances, leaving the final decision to Circuit Judge John H.
Adams. But their action was rare. Since 1999, only 3 other convicted
murderers in Orange and Osceola counties have received the death penalty
-- and one of them was the retrial and resentencing of an earlier death
"There are concerns about the fairness of the death penalty being voiced
in lots of different places and in lots of different ways," said Michael
Radelet, a former University of Florida professor who has studied
Florida's death penalty system for years. "I think the trend is away from
the death penalty."
Prosecutors, however, say stricter penalties for repeat offenders have
removed many potential killers from society. They insist that helps
explain an increase in life sentences statewide and the drop in death
sentences. And, they add, the death penalty continues to be reserved for
killers considered to be the "worst of the worst."
In the late 1980s, 50 people were added to the state's death row during
one 12-month period. And well into the mid-1990s, it wasn't unusual to see
30 or 40 convicted criminals sentenced to death each year.
But during the past 2 fiscal years, the number of people sentenced to
death in Florida dropped to 9 and 10 per year, respectively.
Florida's trend mirrors national statistics released in September by the
Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, or DPIC, which
reported a 50 % drop in death sentences nationwide from the 1990s to the
2000s. In Florida, the group found a 53 percent drop during that period.
"The 1st reason is the public's awareness of the mistakes the death
penalty system has made," said Richard C. Dieter, the organization's
executive director. "That has caused a skepticism."
Beyond an increased awareness that some innocent people have ended up on
Death Row and a possible shift in public sentiment about capital
punishment, Dieter said, the costs of prosecuting death cases and later
defending death sentences figure into the trend as well.
"Prosecutors are seeing death penalty cases are going to cost an enormous
amount of time and money," he said.
The expanded use of DNA testing to prove someone's guilt also has played a
significant role in the decrease, according to the group's study.
Nationwide, 116 people have been freed from death row after new evidence
surfaced or other legal challenges succeeded. Florida leads the nation in
the number of people sentenced to death and later exonerated or released,
with at least 21.
Though most Americans continue to support the death penalty, a growing
number appear willing to consider as an acceptable alternative life in
prison without parole, the DPIC study concludes.
While judges still have the final say in determining a death sentence, a
U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2002 gave juries much more power in the
decision-making process. Judges should go along with a jury's "advisory
sentence" and may not override a jury's life recommendation with a death
sentence. Before the ruling, they could.
Radelet, the former UF professor now teaching at the University of
Colorado, said a combination of Florida's life-without-parole law, the
high costs involved with prosecuting death cases and news of the
exonerations have all contributed to the drop.
"The trend is toward restriction, if not abolition," he said.
As the state's death sentences have dropped, the number of life sentences
has increased from 388 in 1995-96 to 489 in 2002-03.
(source: Orlando Sentinel)
Killer's time may run out -- Kunkle has exhausted his appeal options
At this point, Nolan and Mary Horton still are not convinced the execution
of the man who killed their son two decades ago will take place as
scheduled on Thursday.
Last week, they waited in their Corpus Christi house for a telephone call
from the state telling them 38-year-old Troy Kunkle's execution will not
go ahead as scheduled.
But as of Friday, no call came.
The last call came in July, when Kunkle was 1st scheduled to be executed.
A state victim's coordinator told the family the execution would not occur
because the U.S. Supreme Court had stepped in.
Now, with a new date looming, the Hortons count down until Thursday
night's execution. They still cannot help but think that something else
could happen to put it off.
"We don't know where to turn," Nolan Horton said. "Our best bet is to
continue with our regular life's routine."
Kunkle's last execution date was July 8, but the Supreme Court issued a
stay as the justices considered a writ filed by Kunkle's lawyers. The writ
asked the justices to decide if Texas courts have been applying an
unconstitutional standard that did not allow juries to consider mitigating
circumstances, such as mental illness, during capital murder trials.
The Hortons were disappointed after the stay. Mary Horton said at the time
that she wished the state would hurry up and carry out the sentence.
"I don't think he is getting what he should get," she said in July. "I
don't think he should be able to talk his way out of murder."
When the Supreme Court lifted the stay last month, Texas Department of
Criminal Justice officials scheduled him to die by lethal injection.
Since the lifting of the stay, Kunkle has exhausted all his appeals. Gov.
Rick Perry still could stay the execution, but if history is any
indicator, he will not.
The Hortons will not attend the execution, if it goes forward as
scheduled. Doctors said it would be too much of a strain on the couple,
who are in their 70s.
According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Kunkle, who was 18
at the time, and his friends, Lora Lee Zaiontz, Russell Stanley and Aaron
Adkins, were visiting Corpus Christi from San Antonio in 1984. They saw
Steven Horton, 31, walking along Paul Jones Avenue and offered him a ride.
They demanded his wallet, which contained $13.
Kunkle, according to the state's report, then told Stanley to kill Horton.
When Stanley refused, Kunkle took the .22-caliber pistol and shot Horton.
At the time of the killing, Kunkle reportedly quoted lyrics from heavy
metal band Metallica's song "No Remorse," from the album "Kill 'em All,"
when he said, "Another day, another death, another sorrow, another
All four reportedly had taken LSD and were drinking. They were eventually
convicted of murder. Besides Kunkle, only Zaiontz remains incarcerated,
prison officials said. The others were released.
Mary Horton said the memory of the day her son died is still clear.
"It's something we'll never forget," she said. "It's on my mind all the
Nolan Horton said he and his wife just "want to get it over with and put
it behind us."
Kunkle has never had any contact with the Hortons, they said. He also
declined several interview requests with the Caller-Times.
While Mary Horton said she eagerly wants the state to execute Kunkle, she
said she would grieve for his family afterward.
Christa Kunkle, Kunkle's new wife - whom he married about 2 weeks ago -
wrote in an email, "Troy sincerely regretted his offense and thought of
his victim every day. Being a religious person, he knew that Jesus had
forgiven him for his sins."
She also wrote he is "ready to leave this world in peace."
The Hortons are ready for that too.
(source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times)
Are judges taking a narrow view of justice? -- The grand jury selection
method often seats jurors who have ties to law enforcement
Breakdown by profession of the 65 of 129 grand jury commissioners in 2002
and 2003 who have some connection to local government and/or the legal
system of Harris County:
- Employees of the court system of Harris County: 24
- Attorneys: 14, including 2 former prosecutors, and a judge on the 14th
Court of Appeals
- Harris County Community Supervision & Corrections Department: 11
- Current or retired peace officers: 6, plus the spouse of a
senior-management law enforcement officer
- Private investigators: 2
- Officials with government al or quasi-govern mental bodies or agencies
such as Houston City Council and the Harris County Children's Assessment
Center : 4
- Bail bondsmen: 2, plus one spouse
HOW THEY'RE PICKED
The 2 methods of appointing grand jurors in Texas:
- Commissioners appointed: A state district court judge appoints three to
five people as commissioners. The commissioners then nominate between 15
and 40 residents who, according to the statute, should "represent a broad
cross-section of the population of the county, considering the factors of
race, sex and age." Those names are then sealed and delivered to the
judge. From those, the judge selects 12 grand jurors and two nonvoting
alternates. This method is used in Harris County.
- Jury-duty pool: Judges select qualified individuals from the regular
trial-court jury pool to serve as grand jurors.
A 1940 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court requires that grand juries - the
panels of citizens that decide whether criminal suspects will be indicted
- represent "a broad cross-section" of the community.
But 64 years later, law enforcement officers and others with courthouse
jobs that make them less likely to sympathize with a defendant are a
strong presence on Harris County grand juries. And even though Hispanics
make up 1/3 of the county's population, only 9 % of grand jurors are
Hispanic, and most of those jurors are nonvoting alternates.
For example, 4 of the 12 grand jurors from the August 2004 262nd State
District Court have ties to the local legal system. 2 - including the
foreman - are retired Houston police officers. One was a former
administrator with the High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal
Justice. Another had worked as a supervisor in the Harris County District
Clerk's Office, the administrative office for criminal and civil
The narrow variety of grand jurors came to light in a University of
Houston-Downtown study conducted by criminal justice instructor Larry
Karson, who reviewed 32 Harris County grand juries impaneled in 2002 and
2003, with further reporting by the Houston Chronicle.
Part of the problem is due to the selection process. Of Texas' 5 largest
counties, only Harris, Travis and Tarrant still choose grand jurors
exclusively through commissioners selected by the presiding judge, who
often end up being his colleagues or employees, who then turn to their
Of the 129 Harris County grand jury commissioners selected in 2002 and
2003, 65 - just more than 50 % - were in some way linked to the area's
legal establishment. The study identified those individuals as judges,
attorneys, court employees, bail-bond agents, probation officers and law
enforcement officers. One judge even selected three of his court employees
as grand jury commissioners.
"It's not that (the commissioners) are intentionally conspiring or doing
something bad," Karson said. "But it's not a fair representation of the
community to have half of your grand jury commissioners come out of the
For appearance's sake
A Chronicle review earlier this year of 193 officers from 18 local law
enforcement agencies who killed or wounded citizens in the past five years
showed that since 1999, only 2 of those officers have been indicted.
Additionally, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice,
Harris County has more people on the state's death row than do the next
seven largest Texas counties - with a combined population twice that of
Karson and others said that with Harris County's tough-on-crime
reputation, it is especially important for all involved to appear fair and
"When you're indicting somebody for the ultimate crime for which we give
the ultimate penalty, it's important that the system not just be fair but,
in addition, look fair," said Murry B. Cohen, a respected former jurist
who served on the state's 1st Court of Appeals before returning to
practice law in June 2002. "The system should strive to avoid creating
legitimate questions about its own legitimacy."
The study also found:
- During 2002 and 2003, at least one grand jury and one trial-court jury
operated in violation of state law by seating members who already had
served as a commissioner or juror more than once in the previous 12
- A Houston police officer served as a member of one of the grand juries
that investigated the Houston Police Department crime lab scandal.
- Retirees frequently and repeatedly serve as grand jurors. Karson and Jim
Brooks, a grand jury foreman who is a retiree, said older people tend to
take the word of authority figures such as district attorneys more often
than younger people do.
State District Judge Cliff Stricklin of Dallas County said that when he
first assumed the bench, he used the commissioner system but has since
gone to the jury-pool method, in which qualified individuals are chosen
from the regular trial-court jury pool.
"I think it opens the doors to people who wouldn't normally even know
about how to serve on a grand jury," said Stricklin, a Republican.
But in Harris County, the selection of grand juries remains tilted toward
those connected to the system. Grand jury commissioners are selected by
the 21 state criminal district court judges of Harris County, most of whom
were career local prosecutors before becoming judges.
Most local judges contacted by the Chronicle were quick to defend the
"My grand juries, as a rule, have been very diverse, and I work very hard
to find people who will serve from different neighborhoods and different
socioeconomic backgrounds," said state District Judge Kent Ellis. "I think
focusing on the commissioners is the wrong place to look."
Picks are close at hand
A look at Ellis' grand jury commissioner selections, however, reveals that
he didn't search very far to find them. In August 2002, Ellis chose two
court reporters and an employee of the Harris County District Clerk's
Office. One year later, Ellis used two of the same three people as
State District Judge Bill Harmon didn't look that far. In November 2002,
Harmon chose 3 employees of his court to serve as grand jury
commissioners. He declined to discuss those selections with the Chronicle.
Though Harmon was the only Harris County judge to limit his choices to
employees of his own court, most judges chose people connected to the
system. That includes former state District Judge Ted Poe, who was just
elected to Congress.
In February 2002, Poe's selections included Elaine Stolte, a former court
employee who is now executive director of the Harris County Children's
Assessment Center, a quasi-law-enforcement agency that deals with victims
of suspected child abuse.
Poe also selected Judge Eva Guzman of the 14th Court of Appeals as a grand
jury commissioner. She was one of only a handful of Hispanics to serve as
a commissioner in 2002 and 2003.
Karson said several Hispanics were named to fill nonvoting alternate
positions on grand juries.
"There also was not one Hispanic grand jury foreman," Karson said. "And
then they try to give you the appearance of Hispanic participation by
appointing them as alternates who don't vote."
But while Poe has no apologies for his commissioner selections, nor the
use of the commissioner method of selecting grand juries, he was,
nevertheless, surprised by the study's findings. And he said he thinks it
would be a good idea to have a mix of the 2 selection methods.
Poe also would like to see an end to the practice of what he calls "grand
jury shopping" by the District Attorney's Office. There are no
restrictions on how many times prosecutors can present criminal
allegations to as many grand juries as they need to obtain an indictment,
"I think the District Attorney's Office selects the grand juries that they
want to present cases to - especially the hard cases," Poe said.
"The District Attorney's Office should present cases to those grand juries
in a lottery system. That's the fairest way for the defendant, the victim
and the state."
But Andy Tobias, the grand jury coordinator for local prosecutors, said
there is a rule in the District Attorney's Office prohibiting "jury
shopping." He adds that the only time prosecutors go to a second grand
jury is in cases where a police officer has been involved in a shooting
and a prosecutor discovers that a law enforcement officer is a member of
the initial grand jury.
That in-house rule, however, did not prohibit prosecutors from pursuing a
capital murder indictment from a grand jury with a retired Houston police
officer in a case involving a slain HPD officer.
In April 2003, Houston police officer Charles Clark was shot to death
while responding to a robbery at a check-cashing store. Two men were
subsequently charged with capital murder. 1 of the 2 has been convicted
and sentenced to death. The suspects were indicted by a 262nd District
Court grand jury that included former HPD officer Andy Geffert, who served
as an aide to former Police Chief B.K. Johnson.
Similarly, HPD officer Ora L. Chandler, assigned to the physical abuse
unit of the department's juvenile division, served as a member of the
grand jury that investigated wide-ranging problems at the HPD crime lab,
which sometimes processed her work.
Breaking the rules
The grand jury returned no crime-lab-related indictments but issued a
statement critical of both the lab and the District Attorney's Office.
Chandler said she was upset by the crime lab debacle and took a harsher
view of it than did some other grand jury members.
"I don't think I was empathetic toward the crime lab workers," Chandler
Although there is nothing statutorily improper with police officers
sitting on grand juries that investigate police matters, there are
specific restrictions about how frequently grand jury members can serve.
State law prohibits any person from serving as a grand jury commissioner
and/or grand juror more than once in 12 months.
But during the two years on which the UH-DT study focused, at least one
Harris County grand jury and one group of grand jury commissioners were
impaneled despite violations of that rule.
In August 2003, Sgt. Cindy Vara of the Precinct 1 Constable's Office
served in violation of the statute when she was appointed as a
commissioner by state District Judge Don Stricklin after having been a
commissioner for state District Judge Carol Davies in November 2002.
Likewise, in August 2002, Xavier Pulido, a Harris County adult-probation
officer, was selected as a grand juror by state District Judge Paul Murphy
after having served as a grand jury commissioner in February 2002 for
state District Judge Susan Brown.
Both Pulido and Vara told the Chronicle they could not recall exactly when
they served, and neither was aware of any possible conflict with state
Pulido and Vara are not the only grand jurors and commissioners to
frequently serve. County grand jury records are brimming with examples of
citizens who are repeatedly named as grand jurors and commissioners year
Of the 12 grand jurors from 262nd District Court who issued capital murder
indictments in the shooting death of HPD's Clark in 2003, four of them,
including retired officer Geffert, were selected by the same court for
grand jury duty in 2004.
State District Judge Mike Anderson, who presides over the 262nd court,
says he is proud of his choice of grand jurors, and he singled out former
officers Geffert and Massey as men of great integrity. Anderson also
points out that, considering the amount of time involved in serving, it's
not easy to find people to sit on a grand jury.
"There's not a huge contingent of people who want to do this," Anderson
He said, however, he would not be opposed to looking at the possibility of
Harris County using some sort of mix of the commissioner and jury pool
methods of selecting grand juries in order to get panels more
representative of the community.
"I don't have all the answers, and I'm all about learning," Anderson said.
As for jurors or commissioners serving too often, the head of the district
attorney's appellate division said the violations are without consequence
if the criminal cases involved already have been adjudicated.
"If we're talking about indictments handed down some period of time ago,
and those cases have already been disposed of, it's too late to complain
about it," Assistant District Attorney Bill Delmore said.
But Troy McKinney, a recent past president of the Harris County Criminal
Defense Lawyers Association, said the way grand juries operate in Harris
County is "unconstitutional."
"The grand jury is supposed to be a buffer between the state and the
citizenry to prevent abuses," McKinney said.
"But (the judges and prosecutors) just make up the rules that they think
make it the most expedient for them, regardless of whether it complies
with the law or not."
Tobias acknowledged that he used to forward the names of people who wanted
to serve on grand juries directly to courts. He says he now tells such
volunteers to call the courts themselves.
In January, state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, plans to hold hearings
into problems at both the HPD and Texas Department of Public Safety crime
laboratories. He said he also would like to take a look at some of the
concerns about the grand jury system.
"I want to throw this into our hearings and just pull some district
attorneys and judges in there and ask them to explain it to us," Whitmire
said. "There needs to be some transparency to the system."
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Louisianian removed from Texas death row -- Bell Jr., born in Lafayette
Parish, convicted in killings of Port Arthur couple.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered 2 men - 1 from Louisiana -
removed from death row Wednesday, ruling they are mentally retarded and
ineligible for execution.
The court ordered the sentences for Walter Bell Jr. and Alberto Valdez
reduced to life in prison, but some of the judges worried Bell, the
longest serving death row inmate, could be paroled. Bell was born in
Bell, 50, has been on death row for 29 years, more than any other Texas
prisoner and one of the longest in the nation, for the slayings of Ferd
and Irene Chisum at their Port Arthur home.
In 1974, he was convicted of killing Irene Chisum and given the death
penalty. On appeal, the sentence was commuted to life. In 1982, he was
convicted of Ferd Chisums slaying, but that conviction was overturned.
In 1994, he was retried and condemned for Ferd Chisums killing. His
attorneys challenged that death sentence, noting the 2002 U.S. Supreme
Court ruling that bars execution of mentally retarded inmates.
School records as early as 1963 listed Bell as mentally retarded with an
IQ in the mid-50s, well below the 70 IQ generally accepted as the
threshold for retardation.
Although the 9-member court agreed Bell is retarded and ineligible to be
executed, 4 of the judges wanted to take steps to make sure he stays in
Bell was sentenced to life in prison at a time when those convicts were
eligible for parole after 20 years. Today, they face a minimum of 40
Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, joined by judges Lawrence Meyers, Mike
Keasler and Barbara Hervey, wrote in a dissenting opinion the court should
have considered granting Bell a permanent stay of execution instead of
reducing his sentence.
A permanent stay would effectively keep him incarcerated on death row and
prevent his release.
The ban on executing mental retarded killers "does not ... negate the fact
that a jury found applicant to be a future danger to society," Keller
wrote. This is not what the jury had in mind for applicant or, apparently,
what the Legislature had in mind for men like (Bell).
State law does not make Bells release mandatory. Any decision to free him
would have to be approved by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Bells attorney, Bill Christian, said Bell has not caused problems for
prison officials while on death row.
"I dont think he poses any danger," Christian said. "That is something the
parole board will take a hard look at and be the final decision maker."
Valdez, 49, was condemned for the 1987 slaying of Corpus Christi police
officer Joseph Bock. After a high-speed chase, Valdez took Bocks revolver
and shot him 4 times, twice in the head.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Mike Viesca said the men
wouldnt be moved off death row until their cases were processed to get
them into the general prison population.
(source: Lafayette Daily Advertiser)
Some choose death penalty -- Chapman may soon join ranks of 'volunteers'
Marco Allen Chapman is waiting to learn if the state will execute him.
He's accused of stabbing to death two young children and nearly killing
their older sister and mother in their Warsaw home in 2002. Chapman says
he wants to be killed.
And if a judge accepts Chapman's request later this month, he will become
the second Kentuckian to "volunteer" for the death penalty.
The request isn't that unusual nationwide, criminologists say.
Of the 943 people executed since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the
death penalty in 1976, 110 people, or 11 percent, have volunteered,
according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.
The phenomenon began when convicts' waits on death row began stretching
for a decade or more, says Richard Dieter, executive director of the
center. The average wait in the United States since 1976 has been 10 years
and four months. Despite efforts to speed up the process, Dieter said the
wait just gets longer.
The average wait for people executed in 1993 was 10 years and 9 months.
"It's hard to get in the mind of a killer so you know why they volunteer,
but mental illness must certainly be a factor," said Dieter.
"Sometimes they fight initially, but drop their appeals because they are
exasperated by conditions on death row. Receiving the death penalty is
actually like receiving a sentence of solitary confinement for nearly life
and then death," Dieter said.
In February 1999, Wilford Berry became the 1st inmate executed in Ohio
since 1963. He voluntarily waived all appeals and selected lethal
injection as the method of execution. He was serving a death sentence out
of Cuyahoga County for the 1989 murder of Charles Mitroff. Since then, 2
additional volunteers have been executed in Ohio.
Kentucky's first volunteer was Edward Lee Harper Jr. He was the 2nd person
executed in Kentucky since the reinstatement of the death penalty.
Harper had been on death row for 16 years when he decided to drop all
appeals and was executed in May 1999.
Harper shot to death his adoptive parents, Alice and Edward Harper Sr., in
their bedroom in 1982. Prosecutors depicted him as a spoiled child and
cold-blooded killer who tried to make it look as if a burglar had murdered
his parents so he could inherit about $245,000.
Harper's lawyers argued their client was mentally ill, saddled with
failures and could never grow up.
Randall L. Wheeler, an assistant public advocate in Frankfort, got
involved with the Harper case when courts were deciding whether he was
competent to decide not to continue to appeal the death sentence.
"There were a number of things in Harper's background that made us believe
he wasn't competent," Wheeler said.
In October 1998, Ervin Ray King was believed to be the 1st Kentuckian to
volunteer for the death penalty before a trial. He didn't defend himself
during sentencing and didn't allow his attorneys to mount a defense.
King told Jackson Circuit Judge Cletus Maricle that in February 1998 he
killed and robbed Paul Drew and Donnie Walters and that he deserved, and
wanted, to die.
Maricle ordered a psychological evaluation for King. He found King was
mentally competent and sentenced him to death in April 1999.
Soon after, King changed his mind.
Maricle later accepted a plea agreement that sent him to prison for 45
years without the possibility of parole.
Commonwealth Attorney Linda Tally Smith said she wants to avoid any
possibility of Chapman being able to change his mind.
Chapman told a judge last month he wanted to fire his lawyers, plead
guilty and be sentenced to death.
Instead, Boone Circuit Judge Tony Frohlich ordered a full
neuropsychological evaluation and therapy.
Kentucky State Police accuse Chapman of stabbing to death the 2 youngest
children of Carolyn Marksberry. A 3rd child, 10-year-old Courtney Sharon,
survived by pretending to be dead. Marksberry was stabbed 15 times, but
(source: Cincinnati Enquirer)
To the editor:
An open letter to Governor Fletcher:
Dear Governor Fletcher:
As a physician, you are a member of a highly respected profession. You
have worked hard to achieve this respect, attending medical school at the
University of Kentucky College of Medicine, and training in family
medicine as well. You are currently licensed in the state of Kentucky
(license 23994), and have not been subjected to any type of disciplinary
action in the past 10 years.
Although you are not a member of the American Medical Association, you
must be aware of the AMA's ethical code, particularly since this ethical
code is endorsed by Kentucky's State Board of Medical Licensure, as noted
in Kentucky law (KRS 311.565(j))
Not only does the AMA ethical code provide general guidelines for moral
behavior of physicians, such as "A physician shall be dedicated to
providing competent medical care, with compassion and respect for human
dignity and rights," but it also makes specific reference to a physician's
relationship to a condemned prisoner. The AMA states that a physician
"should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution" and
defines participation to include "an action which could automatically
cause an execution to be carried out on a condemned prisoner."
On November 8, Dr. Fletcher, you signed a death warrant for Thomas Clyde
Bowling, an action that is not only contrary to your dedication to
"competent medical care, with compassion and respect for human dignity"
but also will automatically lead to his execution. Your pen is like
poison: without your signature, Mr. Bowling will live, albeit behind bars,
for the rest of his natural life.
Of the nearly 1000 executions in the United States since capital
punishment resumed in 1976, not once has a physician ordered the killing.
You have created a dangerous precedent. Not only have you clearly violated
the AMA code of ethics, but your action is all too reminiscent of the
participation of physicians in the killing of physically and mentally
disabled individuals (including the "criminally insane") in Nazi Germany
at the dawn of World War II. As one of Hitler's top aids often commented,
"the syringe belongs in the hand of a physician."
Governor Fletcher, I strongly urge you to reconsider your decision. If not
for the sake of your profession, then for the sake of your own record as a
physician, I urge you to spare Mr. Bowling's life.
Jonathan I. Groner MD
Columbus, OH 43205
Note: Dr. Groner is the author of "Lethal injection: a stain on the face
of medicine" which appeared in BMJ (British Medical Journal) in November,
2002, and "Lethal Injection: the medical charade" which appeared in Ethics
and Medicine in Summer, 2004.
Death Penalty Study to Get Court Review
The release of a study of race and Maryland's death penalty nearly 2 years
ago prompted a flurry of action in Annapolis - a moratorium on executions
was proposed in the General Assembly and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, troubled
by the report's findings, said it warranted further review.
But the momentum soon faded away.
The moratorium bill failed by one vote in the Senate. Steele never
convened his task force on race and capital punishment in Maryland. And
the state executed its first inmate since 1998 in June.
Despite fizzling in Annapolis, the report may soon get another chance.
Three death row inmates, running out of appeals, have filed or plan to
file legal challenges to their death sentences based on the Maryland
That means judges will likely have to determine if Maryland's death
penalty law allows race to seep into the decisions prosecutors make.
"The race issue will finally get litigated and resolved," said Michael
Millemann, a University of Maryland law professor who also represents
death row inmate John Booth.
In the state-commissioned study released in January 2003, University of
Maryland Professor Raymond Paternoster studied 6,000 murder cases between
1978 and 1999, including 1,311 homicides that were eligible for the death
penalty under state law.
He concluded that race plays a major role in how the death penalty is
used. Prosecutors were much more likely to seek death sentences in cases
with black defendants and white victims, Paternoster found.
Geography was also key - Baltimore County, where prosecutors pursue the
death penalty in all eligible cases, sought the most death sentences.
Jurisdictions like Prince George's County and Baltimore City, with the
state's highest homicide rates, rarely ask for executions.
Three inmates, all black men with white victims, argue that Paternoster's
findings prove they were unfairly sentenced.
Attorneys for Wesley Eugene Baker, who committed his crimes in Baltimore
County but faces trial in Harford County because of a venue change, have
filed appeals claiming his sentence was imposed under the influence of
In Prince George's County, a judge has signed a death warrant for Heath
Burch but stayed the order while his attorneys file their appeal based on
the Maryland study. Booth's case is expected to be heard sometime next
year in Baltimore City.
Some prosecutors disagree with the study's conclusions. In Baltimore
County, where four of the seven inmates currently on death row committed
their crimes, State's Attorney Sandra O'Connor pursues capital punishment
in every case that is eligible.
That prevents prejudice of any kind from entering the decision making
process, said Assistant State's Attorney Ann Brobst, who is prosecuting
the Baker case.
"I think either never to seek the death penalty or to seek it whatever
factors exist is clearly racially neutral," she said.
The courts may be as skeptical of the role of race as these prosecutors.
A Supreme Court ruling in the 1987 case McCleskey vs. Kemp over a similar
study in Georgia found that discrepancies in sentencing "are an inevitable
part of our criminal justice system."
That has significantly dulled the effect of appeals based on broad,
statistical analyses of capital punishment, according to University of
Iowa law professor David Baldus, who authored the Georgia study.
Defense attorneys must prove that the decision to seek the death penalty
was driven by racial prejudice in a specific prosecutor's office or with a
particular prosecutor, he said. Broad-brush studies rarely go that deep.
"The court says statistical evidence is irrelevant," he said. "You've got
to come up with an admission by a prosecutor or jury that they took race
into account. That's impossible to do."
Cornell University law professor John Blume, who has litigated several
appeals based on racial studies, said the chances of any of the Maryland
inmates succeeding are slim.
Appealing a sentence on racial grounds is best done by focusing on a
specific office, he said. That means doing a miniature study on a
prosecutor's office to get close to McCleskey's requirement that there be
some specific proven racial animus.
"By looking at it on a smaller level, you can attempt to demonstrate more
likelihood of bias," Blume said. The 3 Maryland inmates using the Maryland
study may be using
that tactic. Paternoster said all three have asked him to cull his data
for detailed reports on death penalty decisions in Baltimore City,
Baltimore County and Prince George's County.
Blume also noted that the Supreme Court has been willing recently to take
on death penalty questions. The court has barred the death penalty for the
mentally retarded and people under the age of 16 and is currently
considering whether those younger than 18 should be eligible for
Paternoster said he was disappointed that his work had little effect in
Annapolis. But the courts provide an avenue for his work to be reviewed
and produce a conclusive result, he said.
"The next logical step would be to force things to happen," he said. "To
me this is what the legal system does when all else fails."
(source: Associated Press)
Father Guilty in Girl's Starvation Death
In Kittanning, a father was convicted Thursday of 1st-degree murder in the
starvation death of his 4-year-old daughter, whose body was found in a
picnic cooler outside his home.
The jury will return to consider whether James Tatar, 42, will be
sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.
Kristen Tatar's 11 1/2-pound body, partially decomposed, was found in the
cooler set out behind the Parks Township house for trash pickup in August
2003, about a month after she died.
The girl's mother, Janet Crawford, pleaded guilty and testified against
Tatar. Under the plea agreement, the most Crawford could face is a life
She testified that Tatar taunted the girl and wouldn't allow her to eat
dinner with the rest of the family because she wasn't potty trained.
Defense attorneys argued that Crawford is a liar who pleaded guilty to
avoid the death penalty. Prosecutors said Tatar withheld food from his
daughter as discipline, leading to her death.
(source: Associated Press)
Peterson Faces Tough Road in Penalty Phase
The jury that convicted Scott Peterson saw a man with 2 faces: in public,
a loving father-to-be with a steady job and stable home, and in private a
cheating husband who yearned for bachelorhood and was willing to kill for
it. Convicted Friday of murdering his pregnant wife and her fetus,
Peterson must now present a unified image on 2 fronts -- he must convince
jurors that his life is worth sparing while arguing to the courts that he
was wrongly convicted.
Some experts said he might have a chance to win an appeal, given the
dismissal of 2 jurors during deliberations. After his sentencing, defense
investigators are likely to interview panelists, looking for any signs of
"These jurors are about to go under the microscope," said Loyola Law
School professor Laurie Levenson.
Peterson faces life in prison or the death penalty for the 1st-degree
murder of his wife, Laci, and second-degree murder of the fetus.
While the first part of the trial focused on evidence, the penalty phase,
beginning Nov. 22, will be laced with raw emotion as rules of evidence
that prohibit inflaming jurors are cast aside.
Blockbuster testimony is expected from Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon
Rocha, who will testify about losing a 27-year-old daughter and the
grandson she was waiting for.
"She's going to get up there and she's going to break down. Her voice is
going to crack," said Daniel Horowitz, a criminal defense attorney and
regular trial observer.
Peterson is unlikely to take the stand and beg for mercy -- doing that
would require him to admit to the murders, and throw away any chance of
arguing his innocence. Instead, testimony will likely include pleas from
his parents to spare his life.
Jury consultant Ed Bronson said Peterson's defense attorney, Mark Geragos,
will try to tap any lingering doubt over whether Peterson was a calculated
killer. The defense is expected to remind jurors that the 32-year-old
former fertilizer salesman has no criminal record or history of violence.
"Are you so sure that you are willing to kill this man?" Bronson said.
But even if jurors unanimously vote for death, Peterson might not be
executed for decades, if ever. Only 10 executions have been carried out
since California brought back capital punishment in 1978. None of the 650
current condemned -- some of whom have been awaiting death for decades --
have completed their appeals.
"You're more likely to die of natural causes on death row than be
executed," Levenson said.
On appeal, Peterson's attorneys will likely focus on two key issues during
the jury's deliberations, said former San Francisco prosecutor and trial
observer Jim Hammer.
"The biggest issue is juror removals," Hammer said. "Kicking someone off
the jury is one of the riskiest things you can do in a trial. ... 2 jurors
in 2 days? I've never heard of that happening before."
1 juror was ousted after performing her own research on the case outside
of the evidence presented at trial. Violating the gag order, the juror
said Friday night that she supported the verdict. Another, the jury
foreman, was removed a day later. The reasons for his ousting remain
sealed by the court.
The 2nd point of appeal is the viewing of the boat prosecutors allege
Peterson used to dump his wife's body into San Francisco Bay.
Jurors climbed inside the boat, parked in a garage near the courthouse,
rocking it from side to side. Defense attorneys had argued it would have
been nearly impossible for Peterson to have heaved his wife overboard
Geragos sought a mistrial after the viewing, claiming jurors violated the
law by conducting an experiment. The motion was quickly denied.
"If the court of appeals finds that to be an experiment, that could lead
to a reversal," Hammer said.
The judge said he expects the jury to begin deliberating Peterson's
sentence by Nov 30. The jury then will be sequestered again while deciding
Regardless of any appeals, expected motions for a new trial, or the
ultimate sentence, Peterson must prepare himself for prison. He remains in
county jail until sentencing.
"It will be a hard time for him. Initially, he may be segregated. But life
segregation can be difficult," Levenson said. "It's more likely he'll end
up in general population. He's going to have to learn how to survive. As
far as the inmates are concerned, he's a wife killer and a baby killer."
(source: Associated Press)
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