[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----USA, TEXAS, OHIO, CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Nov 15 09:45:23 CST 2004
Jurors Find Death Penalty Cases Demanding, Often Tormenting
The death penalty is the underbelly of the American democracy's criminal
justice system, and the citizens who are asked to serve as jurors in
capital cases find it a demanding and often tormenting experience,
Benjamin D. Fleury-Steiner, University of Delaware assistant professor of
sociology and criminal justice, finds in his new book Jurors' Stories of
Death: How America's Death Penalty Invests in Inequality.
The book, published by the University of Michigan Press, draws on
interviews conducted with jurors over the last decade through the Capital
Jury Project and represents one of the 1st systematic surveys of the ways
in which death penalty decisions are made.
What Fleury-Steiner discovered is that capital case jurors understand
their responsibilities, that they are burdened by the awful truth that
they hold the life of a fellow human being in their hands and that race is
almost invariably a factor in sentencing.
"They fully understand the magnitude of what they are doing, and they take
the work very seriously," he said, "despite the fact that this is an
incomprehensible exercise the state has required them to be a part of."
Fleury-Steiner also discovered that the jurors were not at all reluctant
to discuss the cases they heard and the deliberations that went into their
decisions. For some, in fact, the interviews were therapeutic. "Many of
the jurors interviewed wanted to talk," he said. "They found that family
members and friends simply could not comprehend what they had been
"What I try to do in the book is take the reader inside the world of the
juror, through the stories of their experiences," he said.
Fleury-Steiner said a key to understanding how the jury works is to know
that individual jurors draw on their own identities in making their
decisions. "They need to understand the defendant and do that by
contrasting themselves with him or her," he said.
That is a normal way to proceed, but it is one, he said, that carries a
built-in snare because American society is "mired in racial stereotypes"
that enable jurors to "write off the lives of defendants."
"The argument I make in the book is that we can't fairly evaluate an
individual defendant because of our culture," he said. "Although there
have been some advances, America is still divided by race and class and
there remains a cultural segregation."
The jurors candidly offered views that were both overtly and covertly
racist to their interviewers. Some said they believe African Americans are
more likely to be criminals, an opinion they said was fueled by the media.
Others took jabs at "these people," whom they regard as products of a
failed welfare system.
"That raises questions about punishment and also about our democracy,"
Fleury-Steiner said. "If we aspire to be a society that embraces
multiculturalism and diversity, an institution such as capital punishment
is a hindrance because it compels citizens to draw on all the worst
stereotypes and it does so in the name of the law.
"There is no doubt the defendants in these cases have done terrible things
and should be punished," he said, "but the imposition of the death penalty
goes a step further. Because we are making jurors go the next step in
deciding life and death, it reveals the danger of having this punishment
in a democracy. It forces the jurors to dig back into places inside
themselves and inside the culture that are not that different from the Jim
Crow era, the days when there was racial domination in America. It brings
out the worst in them."
Fleury-Steiner pointed out that the first thing the South African Supreme
Court did upon the collapse of apartheid was to abolish the death penalty.
"They understood that it invites people to engage in intolerance and to
accept the notion that some lives are better than others," he said.
Fleury-Steiner said he does not blame the individual jurors because many
would do the same thing in their place. He does, however, blame the state,
which is knowingly allowing it to occur.
"The law needs to transcend the biases that make people see other people
as inferior," he said. "It is a fundamental human right of any defendant
to be understood for who they are as an individual."
Shifting from a philosophical to a personal level, Fleury-Steiner said the
mere fact that the state asks citizens to make a life and death decision
is "inhuman." "No one I talked to enjoyed being on a capital jury," he
said. "They did the best they could, and a large majority never want to do
it again. They say they were tortured by the experience, and many suffer
Some responded when questioned during the jury qualification phase of the
trial that, if asked, they could recommend the death penalty but then
found when they got into the courtroom that they were no longer dealing in
the abstract. Some reacted to the entire proceeding with anger, venting
their rage at the defendant who forced them to be in the position in the
first place. And, an overwhelming majority of jurors had their minds made
up concerning a punishment before they even stepped into the jury box, he
Fleury-Steiner said that very early on in the Capital Jury Project,
researchers found that jurors do not believe that a sentence of life in
prison actually means life in prison. Their general estimate is that a
life sentence means roughly 7-10 years.
Because of that, he said, there exists a certain disproportionality. For
instance, in a case involving a quadruple murder in which jurors estimate
the defendant will serve 10 years per killing, they would likely agree to
a 40-year sentence. If that same defendant had killed one person, they
would likely recommend death because they would assume that he or she
would serve a relatively light sentence of 10 years.
"After completing the book, I am passionately against the death penalty,"
Fleury-Steiner said. "But, I am even more passionately in favor of the
jury system. It is an important part of democracy, and I strongly believe
that 12 heads are better than one in deciding cases and sentences."
Fleury-Steiner said he has been obsessed with the stories of capital
jurors for more than a decade. His interest grew from a course on the
philosophy of law and justice that he took as a pro-death penalty
undergraduate at Northeastern University. The course made him think and
provided him an introduction to William Bowers, a research scientist and
principal investigator on the Capital Jury Project.
He began working with the data and found he was "fascinated with the
jurors who took the interview as an opportunity to talk about how they
made sense of the decision and the experience. It is an almost surreal
experience. Average people are pulled out of their ordinary lives and told
they have to make an extraordinary decision."
Fleury-Steiner said the death penalty does not align neatly with
democratic ideals, particularly in a nation such as the United States with
a troubled racial history, but he does not believe it will disappear.
"If we have to have the death penalty, let's make it so the process is
more fair," he said. "That is why I am interested in the jurors' words,
what they tell us and can teach us."
Fleury-Steiner received his doctorate in sociology from Northeastern
University, where he also earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice
and a master's degree in sociology. He joined the UD faculty in 2000.
SCOTT PETERSON AND THE DEATH PENALTY
The Scott Peterson guilty of murder verdict has once again brought the
death penalty issue to the fore. That should automatically flap a "moral /
ethical flag" in the Christian's mentality. Do we or don't we? Does the
Christian support the death penalty or does he not? In either case, why?
And "why?" on biblical grounds--not emotional or opinionated or
world-think grounds--but biblical grounds.
Death penalty is a matter that does not call for much deliberation when
one considers the revealed Word as our database for conclusion reaching.
God has already answered the debate for us; therefore, it is up to the
thinking person to reject or receive that divine revelation.
In the Old Testament, God commanded the death penalty in twenty-some
cases. This was not because God was barbaric, but because God was civil.
The Israeli twelve tribes had no law enforcement agencies. Further, they
were surrounded by barbarisms of strange magnitudes exhibited by
neighboring pagan nations.
Consequently, for God to establish an Israeli civil community, He set
forth stringent punishments--some being the death penalty. He Himself
became, in other words, the Law Enforcement Agency for the new nation of
Israel. That chosen community thereby was to model morality / civility to
the surrounding nations.
Extremely severe penalties then were commanded by God in order to bring in
line an Israeli community which tended to be unruly like its neighbors. If
God had been lax in penalties, human nature, being what it is, would have
tested gladly the boundaries. But when penalties were severe, human nature
thought twice before testing the boundaries, hence the death penalty
prescribed by God in some instances.
However, once Israel lost its nationhood by "going a-whoring after other
loves", Israel's civil structure disappeared. Israel as a nation lost its
temple, its government--that is, its two primary components of
culture--religion and politics. Pagan nations then ruled over the
heretofore nation of God. In this loss was the disappearance of death
penalties previously prescribed by God. The death penalty period as
dictated by divine revelation, in other words, ended near the close of the
Old Testament era.
That is why when Jesus appeared as flesh-and-bones divine revelation, He
pronounced, "You used to say, 'An eye for an eye', but now I say to you:
Love your enemies." Jesus pronounced a civility of love toward one's
enemies. "Love your foes, pray for your foes." This was the New Testament
for it was now a new way of dealing with others--all others.
Government was now established primarily within the believer rather than
under Israeli kings. "The Kingdom of God is within you." Law was now
primarily of the heart. "My law will be written on your hearts." That was
the new politic. Further, the tabernacle was now primarily the human
frame: "Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit." That was the new
Therefore, for the New Testament Church Age, it is the law of love toward
all--friends and foes. Jesus provided a simply stated ethic. He refused to
garble it with amendments. But, one may ask: "What about these atrocious
crimes?" The biblical answer is still the same: love your friends and foes
in Jesus. What kind of Christian love then can be shown to a
multiple-murderer / rapist / arsonist / child molester? What kind of
Christian love can be meted out to a Hitler?
It is a Christian tough love. Tough love keeps the exceptional criminal
alive but consigns that one to supervised environs without parole.
Hopefully, even that exceptional criminal then may come upon redemption
through Christ, yet never be placed in tempting circumstances whereby he
again may do others and Himself harm.
Keeping the individual alive also allows the possibility that, realizing
human justice systems to be flawed, that person in truth may be found
innocent though originally pronounced guilty. Indeed, the future may prove
this to be fact if new evidence is forthcoming. History has case files on
those in the aforementioned category.
Reason this moral / ethical situation from God's perspective: Adam and Eve
slew God's love when they played loose with Eden's snake. However, God did
not slay them. Instead, God banished them to their own solitary isles of
remorse, hoping at least for their eternal redemption.
You once slew God's love by going your own stubborn way. In reality, you
pronounced yourself Lord of your life. It is a hurtful truth to you now
that you are a believer; nevertheless, living once in sin and for sin, you
were once that callused toward your own loving Creator. However, did God
obliterate you? No, instead God searched you out, loved you even while you
were enemy, in hopes of redeeming what was left of your destiny.
He now invites each Christian to live out that same kind of persevering,
at-times-tough love toward all others--especially those who are Enemy. God
has already walked for us the path of love-for-foes. We, of all creatures,
should know this for sure. Praise be to a loving, merciful God!
He then invites us to join Him on that love path. He has walked it for us.
He asks us now to walk it for others.
Texas bucks trend on death sentences----The rate declines across nation,
but it holds steady here
Although the number of death sentences imposed nationwide fell to a
30-year low in 2003, Texas has continued to send convicted killers to
death row at a comparatively steady rate, according to new data released
Sunday from the U.S. Department of Justice.
During the past decade, Texas has grown increasingly unique in the legal,
political and cultural factors that help explain why the state accounts
for more than 1 in 5 death sentences nationwide, up from one in 10 in
1996. Nationally, the Justice Department reported Sunday, death sentences
have declined more than 50 % from a peak of 320 in 1996 to 144 last year.
The fall is attributed to several factors, including revised capital
punishment laws in some states and the public's fears about executing
Yet in Texas, juries and courts continue to send an average of 34
condemned killers to death row each year, roughly the same rate as in the
late 1980s and early 1990s, according to the Justice Department.
Explanations for the divergent trends reach beyond the widespread support
for the death penalty among Texans. Specific laws that shape the way
capital punishment is practiced here also account for why Texas
consistently tops the list for most death sentences in the country,
attorneys and legal experts said.
"It's the process that is bloodthirsty, not the juries," said Robert
Hirschhorn, a Texas-based jury consultant. "I don't think the people of
Texas are any more bloodthirsty than the people of Arizona, California or
Hirschhorn and other legal experts point to the distinct sentencing laws
here. Most states ask jurors to choose between death or a sentence of life
without parole. In Texas, however, jurors are given only the option of a
death sentence or a life sentence that allows for possible parole after 40
years in prison.
"What you are basically saying to the jury is, 'Either kill him or let him
go back out on the street. What are you going to do?'" Hirschhorn said.
The life-without-parole option makes it easier for prosecutors and juries
to compromise. They can forgo a death sentence and still rest assured the
convicted killer will never walk the streets again, Hirschhorn said.
In recent years, several large death penalty states have adopted life
without parole as an option in capital-murder cases, a trend that has
contributed to the decline in death sentences elsewhere.
In Florida, death sentences have been cut in half since 1994, when life
without parole became an option for jurors to consider.
Florida averaged about 37 death sentences annually in the 8-year period
preceding the law's change, compared with about 17 per year in the 8 years
after life without parole became an option.
Since lawmakers in Ohio made life without parole an option in 1996, death
sentences there have declined by 1/3.
"It enables a defense attorney to stand up and say 'It's not an issue that
this person is going to bother you again. This person is going to spend
the rest of his life in prison,' " said Douglas Berman, an Ohio State
University law professor who studies capital punishment.
Violent without parole
Texas and New Mexico are the only states among the 38 with capital
punishment laws that do not offer life without parole as an alternative to
the death penalty. Texas state legislators considered doing so, but voted
down a life-without-parole bill in 2001 and 2003. The Legislature will
consider a similar law in the 2005 session.
Some legislators and prosecutors, including Harris County District
Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, believe it could be a dangerous policy, creating
a population of hopeless inmates who would become violent without possible
parole as an incentive to behave.
After the U.S. Supreme Court lifted its ban on capital punishment in 1977,
Texas was among the first states to resume regular executions. As a wave
of violent crime swept across the state in the 1980s, Texas courts were
sending 30 to 40 killers to death row each year.
During that period, officials set in motion an efficient system for moving
prisoners from death row to the death chamber.
District attorneys' offices assigned lawyers to aggressively counter
state-level appeals, while the state Attorney General's Office took over
the sometimes costly task of handling federal appeals, which is the last
review before execution dates are set.
As a result, Texas has one of the highest rates of executions. Roughly 35
percent of inmates sent to death row between 1977 and 2002 were put to
death. Since the punishment was resumed here, the state has executed 333
men and 2 women. About 446 inmates remain on death row.
Only Virginia has carried out a higher percentage of death sentences than
Texas. Nearly 2 of every 3 inmates on death row there between 1977 and
2002 were executed.
Slow to follow through
In contrast, many states have placed capital punishment laws on the books
and filled their death rows, but have been slow to follow through with
executions. California courts imposed more than 700 death sentences
between 1977 and 2002, but the state executed only 10.
Watching convicted killers sit on death row for more than 20 years has
been discouraging for prosecutors, said pro-death penalty analyst Dudley
Sharp. He said that could account for some of the decline in death
"Part of this is due to prosecutorial frustration," said Sharp, who lives
"Prosecutors in Texas don't have to worry about that."
Capital murder defendants rarely have enough money to hire their own
attorneys, and many observers blame the state's poorly funded and
decentralized system for indigent defense for the state's high rate of
"Texas is still doing a very bad job of paying death penalty lawyers
enough to do a really good job at the punishment phase of the capital
trials," said David Dow, a professor at the University of Houston Law
Center. "Unless you are paying them or giving them the resources to do a
real investigation and conduct the tests that they have to, no one is
going to give life sentences where a life sentence is warranted," Dow
Texas lawmakers passed the Fair Defense Act in 2001, which set standards
for indigent defense and enhanced the requirements and resources for
defense attorneys handling capital cases. While many attorneys believe the
system has improved, many counties have been criticized for not
implementing all of the law's mandates.
In recent years 2 states, Illinois and Maryland, imposed statewide
moratoriums on executions, but Maryland's was rescinded shortly after
Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich took office in November.
Other states have considered a similar move or other reforms.
In Texas, altering the state laws surrounding capital punishment
traditionally sparks heavy political opposition in Austin, said Keith
Hampton, an Austin attorney who lobbies on behalf of the states criminal
defense lawyers association.
"There are some diehards who are terrified of any change at all. As soon
as you suggest change in the tiniest hair on the head of our capital
murder scheme, everybody closes ranks," Hampton said.
"It's almost like it's a cherished icon."
Cultural differences between Texas and other states underpin the legal and
political factors surrounding capital punishment, said Rolando Del Carmen,
a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University in
"I think Texas is simply a law-and-order, sock-it-to-'em state," Del
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Released Death Row Inmate Speaks About Supreme Injustice
He spent almost 18 years on Florida's death row for a crime he didn't
Juan Roberto Melendez will speak at the Texas Tech University Law School
forum Monday at 12:30pm about his story of supreme injustice. Melendez was
wrongfully convicted of murder, but 17 years later he was granted a new
trial in which a taped confession by the real killer was permitted.
Monday Melendez will tell his story of an innocent man who spent almost 2
decades on death row.
(source: KCBD-TV News)
Lawmakers Look At Death Penalty Study
The surprise House vote last week to require a study of Ohio 's death
penalty system reflected both a national debate over moral values as well
as old-fashioned legislative maneuvering.
The bill by Democratic Representative Shirley Smith collected dust in
Republican-controlled committees the past 4 years.
Then conservative Republican Rep. Tom Brinkman unexpectedly tried adding
it to an unrelated bill on criminal sentencing. Brinkman is a Roman
Catholic who opposes abortion and capital punishment.
His ploy gathered enough last-minute Republican support to give it the
votes needed to pass.
Doug Berman is an Ohio State law professor who studies the death penalty.
He says the vote could reflect the conversation about moral values during
the just concluded election.
(source: Ohio News Network)
Peterson Trial's Conclusion Leaves Void
Now that Scott Peterson has been convicted of murdering his pregnant wife
and her fetus, some people in this city where he was tried are feeling a
void: emotional in some cases, financial in others.
Some residents who regularly attended the trial say the conclusion of the
real-life soap opera drama leaves a void in their lives.
Linda Torgeson didn't know anyone directly involved in the case but
attended just about every day of the trial.
"I am going to miss it," the 54-year-old teacher said.
The announcement early last year that Peterson's trial would be moved to
Redwood City, a sleepy bedroom community just south of San Francisco,
brought a touch of excitement to tourism officials.
"We're ecstatic," Anne LeClair, president of the San Mateo County
Convention and Visitors Bureau, said at the time. "The economic impact is
The trial was moved because a judge found the attention given the case
meant Peterson couldn't get a fair trial in his hometown of Modesto, about
90 miles east, and LeClair predicted the media crowds expected to flood
this town of about 75,000 would bring an economic windfall of $8 million
to $16 million.
But 10 months later, that windfall appears to have been a whimper, with
Redwood City spokesman Malcolm Smith saying the effect on local businesses
A steady number of reporters did stay for months covering the trial, but
the expected crowds came only at key times, such as the days when
Peterson's lover, Amber Frey, took the witness stand.
The cost to the county for the trial could top $1 million, although much
of that is expected to be billed to Stanislaus County, where the case
originated, according to court officials.
Media organizations have put some money into local coffers. The California
Broadcasters Association paid the county $60,000 for use of a listening
room near the courthouse where the trial was broadcast over an audio feed,
said Peter Shaplen, hired by the television networks to coordinate the
media. Television stations paid Redwood City $550 a month for parking.
More than $13,750 was paid in November alone, Shaplen said.
Friday's conviction doesn't mean that the county's link to Peterson is
over. He will remain in the county jail until jurors arrive at a sentence
-- life in prison or the death penalty -- for 1st-degree murder in the
death of his wife and 1 count of 2nd-degree murder for the killing of
their fetus. She was 8 months pregnant.
A sentencing hearing, expected to take a week, begins Nov. 22.
(source: Associated Press)
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