death penalty news----TEXAS, TENN., GA., N.C., IOWA, ILL.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Nov 16 22:32:51 CST 2004
Clear Instructions: But state still not responsive on death penalty
The U.S. Supreme Court couldn't have delivered a clearer message: Texas
courts continue to mishandle mental retardation issues in death penalty
cases, and the high court is getting weary of it.
In separate decisions Monday, the Supreme Court ordered LaRoyce Lathair
Smith off Texas' death row and returned the case of another Texas death
row inmate to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration.
The Supreme Court ruled thatjurors in Mr. Smith's case did not have an
opportunity to fully consider whether mental retardation played a role in
his murder of a Taco Bell night manager in Dallas County 13 years ago. The
high court took a similar position in returning the other case for
Even before the Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that executing mentally
retarded criminals was cruel and unusual punishment, Texas' sentencing
system was badly flawed and in dire need of an overhaul. But these latest
Supreme Court rulings again question how Texas courts treat inmate claims
of mental retardation in death penalty cases and provide further evidence
of why Texas needs to put a stop to executions until experts can
thoroughly review the process.
What was particularly troubling to the justices in Mr. Smith's case was
that the state's top appeals court did not heed the standard set by the
Supreme Court regarding instructions to the jury. That's inexcusable.
Mr. Smith committed a hideous crime. But the state's justice system
continues to spring leaks in its handling of death penalty cases. The fair
and just solutions are a moratorium on executions until experts have
completely reviewed every death row case and an overhaul of the state's
criminal justice system.
That's the Supreme Court's message, and Austin should listen.
(source: Opinion, Dallas Morning News)
Former death row inmate's confession reinstated
In Chattanooga, a state appeals court has reinstated a secretly taped
confession in a 1985 murder case in Chattanooga.
And an attorney for a man freed on bond after 15 years on Tennessee's
death row says he will likely be retried.
The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals says Michael Lee McCormick's
confession that was taped by an undercover investigator can be used as
McCormick was convicted and sentenced to die for the 1985 Valentine's Day
murder of Chattanooga pharmacist Donna Jean Nichols. He remains free
Tuesday on a 100-thousand dollar bond that was posted on his behalf in
October 2003 pending the appeal.
McCormick's attorney, Michael Richardson, says he is sure there will be
another trial unless a likely appeal to the state Supreme Court is
(source: Associated Press)
GEORGIA----possible military death sentence
Victims' fathers want death penalty in couple's slaying
The fathers of an Illinois couple fatally stabbed at Georgia's Robins Air
Force Base told a military court the airman accused of the killings should
be put to death.
James Bielenberg Junior, the father of victim Jamie Schliepsiek, said the
killings were clearly a capital crime.
Officials accused 22-year-old Senior Airman Andrew Paul Witt in the July
Fifth slayings of Schliepsiek and her husband, Senior Airman Andrew
The killings were the first on the base in its more than 60-year history.
The testimony of Bielenberg and the dead airman's father, David
Schliepsiek of Peoria (Illinois), came on the 2nd and final day of a
The presiding officer for the hearing must recommend whether Witt should
be tried by general court martial, which could carry the death penalty.
(source: Associated Press)
No Death Penalty for Ann Miller Kontz
The widow charged in the arsenic poisoning of her husband, Eric Miller
won't face the death penalty. The prosecutor announced that decision
Tuesday. Many people might be surprised considering the agony of an
arsenic poisoning death, but those who know the gracious nature of the
victim's family, aren't surprised at all.
It was only a few words from Colon Willoughby, the Wake County District
Attorney. "I have elected in my discretion to not seek the death penalty."
But it brought great comfort to Ann Miller-Kontz's mother. Nancy Brier put
her head on her husband's shoulder and quietly wept. Her daughter would
not face the death chamber if convicted of the arsenic murder of her first
husband, Eric Miller.
Paul Kontz, Ann Miller's new husband was also in the courtroom and on his
way out he acknowledged relief. "Of course. Of course."
But it was the victim, Eric Miller's family that played a big role in
keeping Ann Miller-Kontz from facing the death penalty. "Our family
supports the District Attorney's decision not to seek the death penalty."
The fact is the Miller's not only supported the DA, they counseled him not
to make it a capital case. That puts the family over one hurdle, but they
still face many more in dealing with the trial of their former
daughter-in-law and the mother of their granddaughter, Clare. "We want
justice for our son. Nothing will bring him back but we need to have some
Those answers may still be a long time coming. Defense attorneys say
prosecutors have handed over 10,000 pages of evidence. Right now they
can't even predict when they'll be ready for a trial.
It appears that in the next several weeks, the judge will grant a bond
hearing for Miller-Kontz and may also take up other issues at that time
including setting a tentative trial date.
(source: ABC News)
IOWA----federal death sentence
Judge seals motion for new trial in death penalty case
A federal judge has agreed to seal a motion requesting a new trial for
Dustin Honken, the former drug dealer who was convicted last month in the
1993 slayings of 5 people.
U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett sealed Honken's post-trial motion today
(Tuesday), siding with defense attorneys who said making the motion public
would threaten efforts to keep the identity of jurors secret.
Federal prosecutors did not object to Honken's request to file the motion
Despite the ruling, court officials say the hearing scheduled for December
16th will be open to the public.
The 36-year-old Honken was convicted by a federal jury in Sioux City of 17
criminal counts in the 1993 slayings of 3 adults and 2 children.
The jury recommended the death penalty in the deaths of the two children
and life sentences for killing the 3 adults.
(source: KWQC News)
Activists gather at Kent to speak against death penalty
More than 130 activists from across the country attended the 4th annual
national convention of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty last weekend
at Kent Hall.
The convention included numerous guest speakers, discussions, and
presentations concerning the status of the death penalty throughout the
country. The Campaign to End the Death Penalty, a national grassroots
organization with 12 chapters, has met at the University for the past
three years to assess the anti-death penalty movement, evaluate its
victories, and consider its challenges.
This year, convention members passed a resolution condemning life in
prison without parole as being essentially equivalent to the death penalty
because it ensures that the convict will die in confinement.
"Life without parole is another form of the death sentence," said Tanya
Trowell, a Hyde Park chapter member and the organizer of the convention.
"We believe people can be transformed and rehabilitated. We believe in 2nd
The remainder of the convention focused almost entirely on capital
punishment, with speakers lambasting it as a racist institution that
disproportionately punishes the poor. Activists also faulted capital
punishment with killing innocent people, costing states more money than
life in prison, and not actually deterring crime.
Mike Stark, the Baltimore-Washington organizer of the campaign, said he
made contacts with other activists and rekindled his motivation for the
cause at the convention. "It's to share ideas and network and also to be
energized," he said. "Obviously, the anti-death penalty movement is still
a minority position, so its energizing to be in a room with other people
dedicating their time to the same cause."
Katie Kathleen, a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas at Austin, said
touching base with other activists was the most valuable part of the
convention. "It gives a chance for activists to share their experiences
nationally and get a sense of whats going well for us, poor for us, and
what we need to be doing," she said.
Convention-goers also discussed the current political situation and its
effect on the efforts to end the death penalty. Stark said Senator John
Kerrys failed presidential bid does not bode well for their cause. "Kerry
lost and were not immune from the impact that has on the broader
movement," he said. "The post-election climate raises questions. The
question of how to organize under George Bush remains a real issue."
Still, opponents of capital punishment have tangible political victories
to their credit, Stark said. "The death penalty has been a matter of
national debate since [former Illinois] Governor [George] Ryan imposed a
moratorium in 1999," he said. "Its clear were in a new stage in the
national debate with concerns over innocence, racism, and fairness. We see
ourselves in a debate we have every confidence we can win."
Many of the attendees at the convention have first-hand experience with
the death penalty. The first guest speaker, Ryan Matthews, spoke about his
recent exoneration from death row in Louisiana. Jeannine Scott, a member
of the Austin chapter of the Campaign, talked about how her husbands
sentence was commuted from death to life in prison.
Scott said she went from a passive opponent of the death penalty to a
partisan activist after her husband was convicted of four counts of
homicide in 1999 and prosecutors sought capital punishment. "I was aware
that there were problems with the death penalty, but not conscious about
how deep these problems went," she said. "I went through denial and rage
and decided that sitting there and silently seething was not good for
anyone, so I decided to direct my energy to making sure that no one else
will have to go through what weve gone through."
Individual speeches sometimes turned into communal chants. On several
occasions, the room erupted into choruses of, "They say death row, we say
hell no!" or "Aint no power like the power of the people and the power of
the people wont stop!"
Scott said the protest chants were impromptu but not accidental. The
convention aimed to stir the emotions of activists and reenergize them to
continue the fight, she said. "Its for the energy, joy, happiness, and
excitement of knowing that though we have a tough struggle, we can make a
difference individually and certainly together."
(source: Univ. Chicago Maroon)
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