[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----USA, FLA., CALIF., MD., OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Nov 15 15:48:26 CST 2004
Number of Death Sentences by State, Race
Prisoners with death sentences by state and race as of Dec. 31, 2003,
according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The figures in the total
column include races other than white and black. Only states with the
death penalty are included.
State Total White Black
Ala. 192 101 90
Ariz. 123 103 13
Ark. 40 17 23
Calif. 629 373 230
Colo. 3 1 2
Conn. 7 4 3
Del. 16 12 4
Fla. 364 238 126
Ga. 111 56 54
Idaho 19 19 0
Ill. 2 2 0
Ind. 35 25 10
Kan. 6 4 2
Ky. 35 28 7
La. 87 27 59
Md. 11 4 7
Miss. 66 31 34
Mo. 52 27 25
Mont. 5 4 0
Neb. 7 6 1
Nev. 84 52 31
N.H. 0 0 0
N.J. 14 8 6
N.M. 2 2 0
N.Y. 5 3 2
N.C. 195 75 113
Ohio 209 102 104
Okla. 102 56 38
Ore. 28 26 1
Pa. 230 79 140
S.C. 71 38 33
S.D. 4 4 0
Tenn. 96 55 39
Texas 453 262 186
Utah 10 7 2
Va. 27 15 12
Wash. 10 5 5
Wyo. 1 1 0
States 3,351 1,872 1,402
Federal 23 6 16
Nation 3,374 1,878 1,418
The number of executions by state in 2003: Texas: 24
North Carolina: 7
(source: Associated Press)
Fewer executions nationwide
The number of death-row inmates in the United States dropped for the third
consecutive year in 2003, while Texas continued to lead the nation in
executions, according to the U.S. Justice Department's annual report,
The nationwide decline follows a sharp rise in the number of inmates
exonerated, mostly a result of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan's decision
to commute 155 death sentences and pardon 4 inmates.
The number of death sentences handed down also fell for the 5th straight
year, to 144. That's the lowest figure since 1973.
Several factors could be at work behind the declines, including a drop in
the murder rate nationally as well as greater hesitance about the death
penalty, said some death penalty experts.
North Carolina (7)
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Ohio (3)
Indiana, Missouri, Virginia (2)
Arkansas, federal government (1)
"Public opinion, although supportive, is less supportive than it had
been," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty
Information Center. "I think there is a strong sense of skepticism about
the death penalty and hesitation about employing it in cases."
Tracy Snell, a Justice Department statistician, said the number of new
death-row sentences lags behind the murder rate by about 3 years. The peak
in sentences was during the mid-1990s, she said, but as the murder rate
declined - by 37 % between 1994 and 2003 - the death-row population also
"It's kind of an obvious thing to point to," she said.
California had 629 prisoners under death sentences as of Dec. 31 - the
most in the nation - but executed none last year.
In Texas, which had 24 executions in 2003 and 22 so far this year, the
death-row population has stayed around 450 for the last several years.
About 30 people are sentenced each year, according to the Texas Department
of Criminal Justice.
3/4 of Texans favor the death penalty, according to the latest Texas Poll.
Most of those supporters say they'd feel the same way even if Texas had a
life sentence without parole.
Of the 38 states that have the death penalty, only Texas and New Mexico do
not have the option of a life sentence without parole, according to the
Death Penalty Information Center.
Jim Marcus, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, said
prosecutors don't seem swayed by recent problems reported in the state's
criminal justice system, including the mislabeling of DNA evidence by the
Houston crime lab.
"It's not as if the problems that led to the moratorium in Illinois are
not present here," said Mr. Marcus, whose group provides legal assistance
to death-row inmates. "There is just less concern about it here."
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Bishop Skylstad elected president of U.S. bishops' conference
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 15 elected Bishop William S.
Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., as USCCB president for the next 3 years.
At the end of the bishops' Nov. 15-18 meeting in Washington, he succeeds
Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., who over the past 3 years
guided the country's bishops through the crisis of clergy sexual abuse of
minors, widely regarded as the worst crisis facing the U.S. Catholic
Church in its history.
Bishop Skylstad, 70, was vice president of the bishops' conference under
He was elected from among 10 presidential nominees on the first ballot,
receiving 120 votes out of 232 cast.
Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago was elected vice president of the
conference. Under conference rules, the remaining nine presidential
candidates run for vice president; the cardinal was elected on the third
ballot with 118 votes out of 230 cast. The 3rd ballot for vice president
was a runoff between Cardinal George and Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of
Pittsburgh, the other candidate who had received the highest number of
votes in the second vice presidential ballot.
Cardinal George is the first cardinal to be elected president or vice
president of the conference since 1971. Archbishop of Chicago since 1997,
he was made a cardinal in 1998. He first became a bishop when he was named
to head the Yakima Diocese. He then was head of the Portland Archdiocese
from 1996 until his appointment to Chicago.
The new USCCB president has been a bishop since 1977, when he was
installed as head the Diocese of Yakima, Wash. He was named to head the
Spokane Diocese in March 1990.
Less than 2 weeks before his election, Bishop Skylstad announced, after a
collapse of mediation efforts with clergy sexual abuse victims in the
Spokane Diocese, that the diocese would enter Chapter 11 federal
bankruptcy protection proceedings by Nov. 29 to deal as fairly as possible
with all abuse victims.
That decision -- making Spokane the third U.S. diocese to announce
bankruptcy proceedings, after Portland, Ore., and Tucson, Ariz. -- led to
wide media speculation that Bishop Skylstad might withdraw from candidacy
or not be elected, despite the bishops' usual practice of electing their
vice president to the presidency.
An experienced ecumenist and articulator of Catholic social policy, Bishop
Skylstad is also known for his outreach to Hispanic migrant farmworkers.
He has been Catholic co-chairman of the U.S. Catholic-Methodist
theological dialogue and headed the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic
He was a key figure in the development of the 2001 environmental pastoral
letter titled "The Columbia River Watershed: Caring for the Common Good,"
by 12 Catholic bishops of the U.S. Pacific Northwest and British Columbia,
Less than a month before the bishops' Nov. 15-18 meeting, he was one of
the conveners of a major national Catholic scholars' conference on the
environment, human dignity and the poor in Owatonna, Minn.
As chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Policy in the late
1990s, he took strong stands opposing capital punishment, even in the case
of Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted of the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma
City federal building that killed 168 people.
"Our passions cry out for vengeance" against McVeigh, he said in 1997.
"However, we as bishops believe that to execute Mr. McVeigh would
tragically perpetuate a terrible cycle of violence and further diminish
respect for life."
Under Bishop Skylstad, the domestic policy committee also issued
statements supporting a higher minimum wage and opposing cutbacks in
He headed a subcommittee of that committee which drafted guidelines for
practices to be observed in Catholic-related hospitals where employees
were trying to unionize. Those guidelines had a significant impact on
labor relations in a number of Catholic hospitals in California.
The subcommittee's 1999 working paper, "A Fair and Just Workplace,"
recommended establishing an environment, free of pressure, intimidation,
false information or misleading claims, in which workers can make an
informed, free choice about whether to be represented by a union or not.
The subcommittee membership included bishops, union representatives,
Catholic health administrators and women religious. In presenting the
working paper, Bishop Skylstad expressed hope that it "may be a road map
for avoiding future conflict" in Catholic health facilities.
During his term as co-chairman of the U.S. Catholic-Methodist Dialogue,
the group issued a 64-page guide of dialogue themes, common prayer, Bible
study and resources for joint activities for use by local Catholic and
Bishop Skylstad has been a supporter of getting local congregations
involved in ecumenical dialogue so that people at the parish level can be
"very up front and honest" about issues and obstacles to unity.
Bishop Skylstad was born March 2, 1934, in Omak, Wash. He graduated from
the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, and was ordained to
the priesthood in 1960 for the Spokane Diocese.
(source: Catholic News Service)
State corrections chief focus of civil trial in prison
death----Indifference to widespread abuse is alleged in the 1999 death of
inmate Frank Valdes.
2 years ago, 4 guards at Florida State Prison - the home of death row and
Florida's most dangerous prisoners - were acquitted of kicking and
stomping an inmate to death. The outcome was so decisive that charges were
dropped against other guards, leaving the death of Frank Valdes
Now, in a quiet courtroom overlooking downtown Jacksonville, Valdes' case
is back, this time in the form of a civil suit filed by his father, Mario
Valdes. And while the eight guards who faced criminal charges are again
facing trial along with several others, the former warden at Florida State
Prison is the new focus.
Frank Valdes killed a Palm Beach County corrections officer in 1987.
Valdes is restrained in 1990 after striking a witness during his trial in
the death of Palm Beach County corrections officer Fred Griffis.
James Crosby stands in his office in 1999 as warden of Florida State
Prison, in front of monitors he had installed less than 2 weeks after
Frank Valdes death to show activity in the facility's X-Wing.
James Crosby, who faced no charges in the criminal trial but is a
defendant in the civil action, now is Gov. Jeb Bush's handpicked secretary
of the Department of Corrections. One former warden has testified Crosby
fostered a "culture of abuse" at Florida State Prison in Starke, and other
witnesses for Valdes' family also have criticized his actions.
"It is my opinion that Mr. Crosby...was aware of the widespread abuse of
force manifest at FSP and that he failed to take the steps necessary to
protect Mr. Valdes and other inmates," Chase Riveland, former head of the
Colorado and Washington departments of corrections, wrote in a review of
Florida State Prison. "He clearly was deliberately indifferent to all of
the information and indicators that would lead a concerned warden to
investigate and put a stop to the abuses."
Greg McMahon, the assistant state attorney who prosecuted the guards in
2002, questioned why Bush appointed someone with an inmate death hanging
over his head to the state's top corrections position last year -
especially after the guards acquitted at trial were denied their request
to return to corrections.
"Makes you wonder what the governor was thinking when he made the
appointment," said McMahon, now a federal prosecutor in Gainesville.
During a recent court hearing, Crosby's attorney, Kevin Blazs, said his
client was not aware of any widespread abuse of the inmates and that there
were simply a few isolated incidents of overzealous guards. Crosby
referred all questions to Blazs.
"If they did something wrong, Crosby and (his investigator) had no
knowledge of it," Blazs said. "It doesn't establish a widespread pattern
Four defendants, including Crosby, have requested that District Judge
Timothy Corrigan throw out the case, which accuses prison workers of
wrongful death and rights violations. If Corrigan decides the case can
proceed, the trial could start in a few months.
Ron McAndrew, the warden who preceded Crosby at the prison, said in a
deposition that he warned Crosby when he arrived that abuse of inmates by
guards was increasing.
McAndrew said he encouraged Crosby to continue using video cameras to tape
guards forcibly removing inmates from their cells, which McAndrew said
kept guards on their best behavior. Crosby stopped the videotaping.
McAndrew said he also warned Crosby about three guards who were becoming
increasingly dangerous. McAndrew was so worried that he wrote their names
on a piece of paper and taped it to the inside of the center drawer of the
desk he was about to hand over to Crosby. Crosby denied ever seeing such a
The judge presiding over the case acknowledged that supervisors cannot
always be held responsible for their subordinates' actions. But he
wondered how many more indicators Crosby needed to determine the prison
had an abusive culture.
"Tell me what's missing," Corrigan asked Crosby's attorney during the
recent hearing. "What do you need to have?"
Concerns about X-Wing
Florida State Prison has always been a rough place to serve time. It
houses the state's most dangerous prisoners - those awaiting execution and
serving life sentences - and is home to the notorious X-Wing, where the
biggest discipline problems are kept.
That's where Valdes was staying in 1999 as he awaited his execution for
the shooting death of Palm Beach County corrections officer Fred Griffis
And that was one of the areas that concerned McAndrew the most when he was
named warden in 1996.
He said he suspected widespread corporal punishment shortly after his
arrival, reading old use-of-force reports and incident reports and talking
with inmates and staff.
"I openly told all new officer staff and those I encountered on a daily
basis that the only difference between simple assault and first-degree
murder is where the inmate's head hits the floor," he said in a
deposition. "I advised staff that if they 'kicked an inmate's ass,' I'd do
everything in my power to put them in prison."
In his effort to curb guard violence in the prison, McAndrew instituted a
policy of videotaping cell extractions - cases in which inmates were not
compliant and had to be removed by force.
During those cell extractions, McAndrew argued, guards are given a virtual
green light to abuse inmates. He ordered the videotaping to keep the
guards in line - an order that was strongly resisted by the guards.
"If a video camera is running, a correctional officer is going to be less
apt to lose his cool and strike an inmate," he said. "He's going to go by
the book if the camera is on."
McAndrew's tenure was cut short in February 1998 when he was transferred
to another prison and Crosby was brought in. Crosby, like McAndrew, didn't
like what he saw when he arrived in Starke, but for a different reason.
New warden, new course
Crosby toured the facility and found it filthy, unorganized and chaotic.
During his initial tour, an inmate jumped from one tier to another during
what was considered a normal way of getting around.
"Hell, I thought the guy was escaping," Crosby said in a deposition. "I
was surprised. I had not spent time at FSP."
Crosby quickly called the assistant secretary of the state corrections
department to take a look.
"I showed it to him," Crosby said. "I said, 'I want you to see what I'm
walking into, because you're getting ready to get some complaints from
some inmates. So, you know, you need to decide, do you want it like this?
Or do you want it run correctly?' And he said, 'We don't want it run like
this.' I said, 'OK.'"
Andrew McRae, a prison chaplain at the time, said wardens before Crosby
made strong efforts to keep the "good old boy" guards who regularly beat
up inmates in check.
"Once Mr. Crosby got there, that vanished," McRae said in a recent
deposition. "It seemed like it was on a downhill spiral."
The videotaping stopped. Crosby told attorneys during a deposition that he
found there was no policy ordering wardens to tape cell extractions, so he
ended the practice.
Riveland, the former warden who reviewed the prison on behalf of Valdes'
family, said wardens across the country were not waiting for orders to
videotape cell extractions.
"The absence of video cameras on FSP's highest security wing was in
contrast to generally accepted and normative correctional practice," he
wrote in his report.
Blazs, Crosby's attorney, said during the recent court hearing that while
Crosby knew of several isolated incidents of abuse, there was no way to
predict what was going to happen to Valdes. He also said there was no
indication of what Riveland described as a "rogue culture" of abusive
But Valdes saw it differently, and he became intent in early 1999 to tell
someone about it.
Letters told of abuse
Valdes began writing letters to media outlets across the state, describing
abuse at the prison. Guards allegedly learned of Valdes' attempts, and
Valdes told friends he was concerned the guards were going to hurt him.
He told a friend at the prison that he thought he would be killed as soon
as Crosby went on vacation. That was on Friday, July 16.
The next day, guards entered his cell.
The guards testified during their criminal trial that Valdes had
threatened one of their lives the previous day. Valdes had been a longtime
disciplinary problem, fashioning knives and attacking staff and inmates.
That's why they went in after him, the guards said.
They testified that he was not cooperative, so they followed procedure by
using chemical agents to subdue Valdes. He continued fighting back, so
they went ahead with the cell extraction.
That's where the stories differ.
Most of the guards said Valdes was only mildly hurt during the cell
extraction and later injured himself. But one guard who participated
testified the guards were intent on teaching Valdes a lesson.
"Who you going to kill now, (expletive)?" guard Raymon Hanson quoted
another guard as shouting during the cell extraction. Then, Hanson said,
the guard kicked Valdes "as hard as somebody could."
Valdes was taken to the infirmary, where nurses checked him out and
released him. Valdes was found unconscious later in a cell with his jaw,
shoulder blade, chest bone, nose and several ribs broken. He died that
Like the prosecutors who tried the guards, the Valdes' family attorney,
Guy Rubin of Stuart, believes that guards beat Valdes before taking him to
the infirmary. Then, Rubin believes, Valdes was beaten a 2nd time by more
Crosby first heard of the beating while jogging during his vacation. He
called the prison when he returned home to get a status report and went to
the prison, where officers explained what happened to Valdes.
"He had threatened an officer's life," Crosby said. "You are concerned
whether they have a weapon or not. The chemical agents did not work.
That's the key factor.
"I would have expected them to use chemical weapons up to the three times,
which was the max you are to supposed to use them, before they did it.
Yeah, when you go through with all that, that would have been one of the
times it would be appropriate to use a cell extraction."
(source: West Palm Beach Post)
Jurors to Face Less Legal Jargon---A state panel is drafting simplified
instructions for juries in criminal cases. New 'plain language' is already
being used in civil trial
Hoping to make jury instructions in criminal cases more user-friendly, the
Judicial Council of California is rewriting them to replace legal jargon
with common, recognizable phrases.
The council, the policymaking arm of the California courts, approved new
"plain language" instructions for civil cases last year. Those for
criminal matters are expected to be approved next year.
The terms are complicated enough to bewilder even the most devoted "Law &
Order" fan: malice aforethought, gross negligence, mitigating factors.
Jurors must decipher such terms to decide guilt or innocence, or whether a
defendant should receive the death penalty. Confusion can lead to disputes
and deadlocks, misunderstandings and mistrials.
Because jurors' educations and language skills vary, judges say, the
instructions must be understandable to everybody. They also have to be
simple enough to keep jurors' attention.
"The average American attention span has been reduced to a gnat's
eyelash," said Carol A. Corrigan, a state appellate justice heading the
jury instruction task force. "If we can't get it onto a bumper sticker or
in a 10-second spot, no one is going to listen."
The jurors' job is to apply the law to the facts. If they don't understand
the law, Corrigan said, jurors can't do their job.
The task of rewriting has fallen to a group mostly composed of lawyers,
jurists and professors, who are researching the law to determine the best
way to explain it to jurors - without convoluted language and double
negatives. The project began 8 years ago, after a Judicial Council
commission on improving the jury system determined that instructions were
"impenetrable to the ordinary juror."
The new civil instructions have been generally well-received, despite some
initial "growing pains," according to Lyn Hinegardner, an attorney with
the state Administrative Office of the Courts.
Lawyers and judges have expressed concerns about the computer program that
adjusts the instructions to specific cases. But they also have reported
that jurors appeared to be understanding the legal concepts better.
Problems with existing criminal instructions have led to challenges in
appeals courts. In one case, appellate judges threw out the 2nd-degree
murder conviction of a Los Angeles man because the instructions, and the
prosecutor's argument, misstated the nature of the defendant's intent that
was required to find him guilty.
In a San Diego case, appellate justices let stand a conviction of robbery
and assault with a deadly weapon, but they reprimanded the trial judge for
failing to define the phrase "preponderance of the evidence" to jurors.
California is a pioneer in the movement to make instructions more
understandable. But in a system tied to tradition, the job has not been
easy. Many judges and lawyers are reluctant to make changes.
"It's almost like the Bible," said Loyola Law School professor Peter
Tiersma, who sits on the committee.
"People don't want to change one word."
Tiersma said the instructions contain archaic language dating to the 1800s
and earlier, and are often long, formal and full of legalese.
"People in America don't speak the same way in 2004 that they did in
1804," Corrigan said. "Yet the law draws on opinions that have been
written in that entire span."
One criminal instruction reads: "A witness who is willfully false in one
material aspect of his or her testimony is to be distrusted in others. You
may reject the whole testimony of a witness who willfully has testified
falsely as to a material point, unless, from all the evidence, you believe
the probability of truth favors his or her testimony in other
The new instruction would read: "If you decide that a witness deliberately
lied about something important, you should consider not believing anything
that witness says. Or, if you think the witness lied about some things,
but told the truth about others, you may simply accept the part that you
think is true and ignore the rest."
The California District Attorneys Assn. proposed many revisions, arguing
that some instructions either misstate the law or are biased in favor of
the defense. Executive Director Dave LaBahn cited one proposal to replace
the word "victim" with "person killed." LaBahn said he also fears that
there will be more verdicts challenged based on errors in jury
"Because we have a tried-and-true jury instruction system now, it's hard
to get people excited about throwing that all out and doing it over," he
said. "If you have a reversal of a significant case, it will bring into
question - why did we do this?"
Defense attorneys also have objected to some of the proposals as unfair or
unclear. Arguments turn on the language, said Albert Menaster, who heads
the appellate branch of the Los Angeles County public defender's office,
so ensuring that the instructions are accurate and evenhanded is crucial.
However the final version turns out, judges expect there to be challenges.
David S. Wesley, supervising judge of the Los Angeles County Superior
Court's criminal departments, said lawyers inevitably will appeal verdicts
based on the new instructions.
But Wesley says he also expects that when judges read instructions to
jurors, they will see fewer baffled expressions and blank stares.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Amnesty Aids in a Sad Case
In the summer of 1987, Kenneth Clair was found guilty of the Nov. 15, 1984
murder of Linda Rogers in nearby Santa Ana. The jury sentenced Clair to
death and, since then, he has been incarcerated at the San Quentin State
Californias death row currently houses 635 men and women. Capital
punishment in California is usually assigned to cases of first-degree
murder with special circumstances.
The state must provide evidence against a defendant to prove guilt beyond
all reasonable doubt. Yet the ultimate decision of guilt rests on 12
jurors. The death penalty is only an option for first-degree cases
involving no mitigating circumstances and beyond any question of doubt.
There are many who question the validity of the courts decision in Clairs
case. While there are many processes by which individuals can appeal a
decision, Clair has yet to be exonerated. Clair maintains his innocence.
"I am innocent and sit in a cell thinking about a conviction after a trial
where no defense argued on my behalf," Clair says on his Web site. "But I
am fighting the state every step of the way and am hoping that someone
will realize that the wrong man is locked up."
For years Clair has participated in e-mail and pen-pal programs to meet
friends outside San Quentin. Through these efforts, Clair met a woman by
the name of K. Bandell with whom he corresponded for a number of years.
Bandell herself is no stranger to the world of death row, being an ardent
anti-death penalty activist for years. But something about Clairs case
struck her as unusual. As she said in a phone interview with the New
University, "[Kenneth claimed], 'I didnt do anything.'"
Bandell continued, "I knew him well enough that it struck me as authentic.
The psychological profile of a killer does not fit [Clair]."
Motivated by the possibility that an innocent man was sitting on death
row, Bandell took it upon herself to research the facts behind Clairs
case. Her results were stunning.
A rare evidence hearing in August 2004 enumerated many of the possible
faults in the original trial. Key witnesses to the crime were never
mentioned in the original trial. A key alibi witness never testified, and
in fact has not been located until very recently.
Expert testimony, which described what condition the murderer should have
been in when found, was never given.
Clairs previous lawyer, Julian Bailey, issued the following statement
regarding her performance as defense: "The defense I presented at the
guilt phase of Mr. Clairs trial was that the prosecution had not proven
its case beyond a reasonable doubt. I did not present an affirmative
Regarding her performance during the penalty portion of the trial, Bailey
added: "After having read these materials [statements by specialists along
with other new evidence], I have concluded that my mitigation
investigation and my representation of Mr. Clair at the penalty phase of
his trial were inadequate."
6 of the original 12 jurors have also issued statements of their own,
challenging their original verdicts given the recent evidence that has
come to light.
1 juror in particular, Elise Tower, a student with law school experience,
said, "I did not want to be the one to cause a hung jury. I went ahead and
voted Kenneth Clair guilty of murder because I believed surely the
conviction would be overturned on the automatic appeal. I was shocked when
I learned that the conviction wasnt overturned on appeal and I lost faith
in the judicial system."
Bandell stated in an interview, "Whoever went in to kill Linda Rogers was
well orchestrated. The theatricality of the murder was beyond [Clair]."
At the time when the crime was committed, Bandell described Kenneth as
being "very disorganized. - He stumbled each day." Along with Bandell,
those who know Clair personally believe he is not capable of such a crime.
Johnnie Stokes, Clairs half sister, discussed his temperament.
"This is what his mother told me." 'He couldnt do a thing like that, hes
my most gentle child,'" Stokes said.
Stokes continued, recalling a story Clairs mother had told her.
"There came a time of a big flood," Stokes said. "Their house was raised
so they were safe, but [Clair] remembered this old couple whose house was
on the ground. He asked his mother, 'Can I get them and bring them home
tonight so they dont get into trouble?'"
Afterward, according to Stokes, Clair brought the couple inside his house,
gave them clothes, food and anything they needed.
Both Bandell and Stokes uphold the utmost confidence in Clairs innocence.
But Clair has some help at UCI, too. Recently, Amnesty International began
to take a vested interest in Clairs case.
Through the traditional method of letter writing, Amnesty hopes to compel
Governor Schwarzenegger and state legislators to put a moratorium on the
death sentence, or to help exonerate Clair.
The group held an anti-death penalty panel on Nov. 3 to promote awareness
about issues behind the death penalty. It was through this panel that
Clairs case became known.
But as each day goes by, Clair comes closer to his execution date. "He's 2
courts away from execution," Bandell said.
Another decision will come from a District Court judge in January of next
year and, as Bandell said, "what Kenneth would prefer is a retrial."
(source: New University Newspaper)
California's Record on Wrongful Convictions
A recent San Francisco magazine article entitled "Innocence Lost,"
examines California's record of wrongful convictions. The researchers
report that the nation's largest criminal justice system has sent more
innocent people to prison for longer terms than any other state. Among the
exonerees are three from the state's death row and nearly 200 people who
were serving either life or very long terms. The magazine notes that
despite these numbers, state lawmakers have repeatedly passed up
opportunities to put safeguards in place that could prevent such errors
from happening in the future. Among other key finding's in the magazine's
year-long review of wrongful convictions were the following:
Over the past 15 years, at least 200 California inmates have been freed
after courts found they were unjustly convicted - nearly twice the number
of exonerations as in the next 2 states (Illinois and Texas) combined.
California has been sentencing people to life at an alarming rate. More
than 30,000 inmates are serving life terms, twice as many as in the entire
European Union, which has a population 12 times larger. Approximately 17%
of California inmates are lifers, compared to 9% of prisoners in the U.S.
as a whole.
Some 63% of wrongful convictions in San Francisco's research sample of 30
cases involved serious police error or misconduct. Some 47% of wrongful
convictions in the sample involved serious prosecutorial error or
misconduct. More than 90% were upheld on direct appeal.
In a survey of 676 voters conducted for the magazine by David Binder
Research, 69% believe lifers should have the same rights to free attorneys
and levels of appeal as people facing execution. Of those polled, 61% also
support adding safeguards to prevent wrongful life sentences and 78% favor
firing police or prosecutors who break the rules to get a conviction.
Currently, action is rarely ever taken against these individuals.
While DNA databases may be helpful in freeing some wrongly convicted
individuals, only about 10% of criminal cases have any biological evidence
- blood, semen, etc. - to test.
California's "three strikes" law has added approximately 7,500 people
serving life terms to the state's prisons. It has pressured some innocent
people to accept deals and plead guilty to crimes they didn't commit
rather than risk the automatic life sentence of a 3rd strike.
(source: Death Penalty Information Center)
Passions over punishment
Not since O.J. Simpson has a murder case so riveted the public and
inflamed a community.
The national fascination with Scott Peterson's trial and the local
passions surrounding it didn't ebb last Friday, when a jury in San Mateo,
Calif., found him guilty of killing his wife and her fetus. Still to come:
whether he should die for his crimes.
Considering the highly charged atmosphere enveloping the jurors, the
chances that Peterson will get a fair, dispassionate hearing on that
life-and-death question are slim.
The potential for emotions to decide Peterson's fate highlights how
capriciously capital punishment is applied.
That possibility was heightened when San Mateo County Superior Court Judge
Alfred Delucchi sent jurors home for nine days, where they'll likely
discover that the Petersons' hometown of Modesto is still seething with
anger over the double slayings.
Those passions were palpable outside the courthouse when the verdicts came
in. Pandemonium broke loose, people cheered and horns honked. Even Scott
Peterson's mother was jeered as she left the courthouse.
Amid this tumult, jurors are supposed to decide Peterson's punishment
Other jurisdictions have found ways to avoid a delay between verdict and
sentencing. Even in the highest-profile cases, the sentencing hearing
often begins within two days of the verdict. That was true in the case of
Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that
killed 168 people. He was sentenced to death. True, too, for Lee Malvo, a
19-year-old found guilty last year of being one of the Washington-area
snipers who terrorized the region. A Virginia jury spared his life.
Keeping the Peterson jury sequestered and moving speedily to the penalty
phase make more sense. But that's just a detail.
A better solution is to abolish capital punishment. Even if jurors vote
for death, Peterson might not be executed for years, if ever. Since 1978,
when California voters reinstated the death penalty, more than 630 people
have been condemned to death. Yet only 10 have been executed.
A sentence of life in prison without any chance of parole can be carried
out sooner and at less cost. It poses no risk of executing a person who is
later found to be innocent.
And it certainly prevents jurors from sending a person to his death
because they got caught up in the emotions of the moment.
(source: Editorial, USA TODAY)
Death penalty phase opens in Abeokuto case----Psychiatrist suggests man
convicted of killing girl, 8, tried to feign mental illness; Baltimore
County judge to decide sentence
In an interview nearly 2 years after the death of 8-year-old Marciana
Ringo, Jamaal K. Abeokuto told a forensic psychiatrist that a voice not
only told him to kill the girl but gave him 4 reasons why he should end
her life, the psychiatrist testified today.
But that level of detail coming from a supposed delusional episode is
unlikely, and points instead to attempts to feign mental illness, Dr.
Gregory Fey told Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger Sr. at
the start of the death penalty phase of Abeokuto's case.
"Voices don't supply four motivations," Fey said. "It just doesn't work
Abeokuto, 24, was convicted in August of first-degree murder and
kidnapping in Marciana's death and has asked Bollinger -- not a jury -- to
decide whether he should be sentenced to death or to life in prison.
Fey spent much of the morning on the witness stand, detailing Abeokuto's
life up to the time of Marciana's death. It was only more recently, the
psychiatrist said, that Abeokuto's lawyer, Warren A. Brown, gave him the
go-ahead to talk about the crime itself.
Abeokuto laid out a series of events, with significant gaps -- which he
attributed to memory lapses -- beginning the morning of Dec. 3, 2002, at
the 8-year-old's Baltimore apartment and taking him to work, to a wooded
area and to where Marciana's mother, Milagro White, worked, the
psychiatrist said. White was Abeokuto's girlfriend, according to
Marciana's body was found in a wooded area near Joppatowne in Harford
County nine days later. Her throat had been slashed. The trial was moved
from Harford to Baltimore County after Abeokuto requested a change in
Abeokuto told Fey he was in a limbo between waking and sleep when the
voice told him to "kill Marci, kill Marci," the psychiatrist testified.
The voice told him killing Marciana would help with finances, bring him
and White closer together, help the remaining children -- White's son and
Abeokuto's daughter -- to bond and push Marciana's father out of the
combined family's life, Fey said.
"If Marciana died tragically, it would bring Milagro White closer to him
in that it would make her more vulnerable," Fey said. "It would make her
Testimony was scheduled to continue this afternoon.
(source: Baltimore Sun)
Call for death penalty study follows values debate, increase in executions
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 Rep. Shirley Smith, a Cleveland Democrat, collected dust in
Republican-controlled committees the past 4 years. Then Rep. Tom Brinkman,
a conservative Cincinnati Republican, unexpectedly tried adding it to an
unrelated bill on criminal sentencing.
The ploy by Brinkman, a Roman Catholic who opposes abortion and capital
punishment, gathered enough last-minute Republican support to give it the
votes needed to pass.
The vote could reflect the conversation about moral values during the just
concluded election, said Doug Berman, an Ohio State University law
professor who studies the death penalty.
Exit polls on Election Day showed that people ranked moral values as the
issue most affecting their vote for president. Those values included
positions on gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research.
"The conversation is, 'We're going to get serious about a culture of
life,'" said Berman. "Well, this is part and parcel of a culture of life."
Add the death penalty to that conversation for another factor that
explains what happened, said James Canepa, Ohio's chief deputy attorney
general of criminal justice.
"Capital punishment is one of those issues like abortion, like war, that
gets people thinking about what their moral values are," Canepa said.
The vote also was a relatively easy one to make, he added, akin to
agreeing with a statement such as "do you like ... puppies?"
In the meantime, both the attorney general's office and the state public
defender - on opposite sides of the issue - already publish comprehensive
analyses of the death penalty, something lawmakers may not have known,
Publicity about problems with capital punishment elsewhere also may be
affecting people's decisions, said Dan Coble, a Capital University law
He pointed to former Illinois Gov. George Ryan's decision to empty that
state's death row following revelations about wrongly accused inmates.
"A lot of people are looking around and saying, 'It could be the same in
our state,'" Coble said.
In Ohio, Gov. Bob Taft has allowed the execution of 15 inmates, but
commuted the sentence of Jerome Campbell last year because of evidence
questions and what a jury didn't know about informants who helped convict
"The governor commuting that maybe brought a few little things home to
roost," Brinkman said. "People saying, 'You know, the governor has been
pretty steadfast in letting these go along. He finds one that isn't good,
maybe it does need to be studied.'"
Smith's bill also may have come up in the right place at the right time.
Brinkman used a lame duck session to make his proposal, giving House
lawmakers some comfort in knowing the idea might not go far.
In the past, Republicans also had feared that if they allowed the bill
hearings it could be changed to include a moratorium on the death penalty,
said James Tobin, associate director of the Catholic Conference of Ohio's
Department of Social Concerns.
Instead, it was presented as an up or down vote on a bill to study the
issue only, making it more palatable, he said.
That was the case for lawmakers like Rep. Charles Blasdel, an East
Liverpool Republican who supports capital punishment but voted for the
"Anybody's who in favor of the death penalty should not be afraid to be
sure that it's being properly used," he said.
(source: Associated Press)
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