death penalty news----N.Y., PENN., MASS., S.DAK., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Nov 18 09:18:25 CST 2004
Effort to Reinstate Death Penalty Law Is Stalled in Albany
5 months after New York's highest court struck down the state's death
penalty, lawmakers in Albany have little hope this year of fixing flaws in
the law to put capital punishment back on the books. In fact, supporters
and opponents alike say the delay could stop the law from ultimately being
Lawmakers in the Assembly, led by Democrats, are now deeply divided over
the issue, in part because of a changed political and cultural landscape.
While no one has been executed in New York State since 1963, Gov. George
E. Pataki, a third-term Republican, signed a law to revive the death
penalty on March 7, 1995, fulfilling a campaign promise that helped propel
him to victory over Mario M. Cuomo, an ardent opponent of capital
punishment. The issue was galvanizing back then, as surging murder rates
and high-profile crimes like the mass shootings by Colin Ferguson on a
Long Island Rail Road train served as rallying points to restore the death
But in June, the Court of Appeals struck down the 1995 law, which never
led to an execution, finding a central element of the sentencing
Opponents of the death penalty have seized on the ruling as a chance to do
away with it altogether, and legislators in both parties, citing a lack of
urgency in the Assembly and the court's ruling, say they have serious
doubts that Albany has the political will to restore the death penalty in
One Republican lawmaker, Senator Dale M. Volker, said that when the Court
of Appeals struck down the 1995 law, New York heard "the death knell of
the death penalty, for the time being."
Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the Assembly, has said that he
supports the death penalty, but he has also said that many people "are
willing to accept life without parole, which was not an available remedy
before 10 years ago."
He said that the Assembly, many of whose members oppose capital
punishment, would hold public hearings on the matter. The hearings, to be
held around the state, will continue at least through the end of January,
when a newly elected Legislature will have convened. One hearing, on Dec.
15, will be in New York City.
"Many people have questions," the speaker said, adding, "I don't think it
is something that should be on a fast track."
Eliot L. Spitzer, the state attorney general, is among the proponents of
the death penalty in New York. Mr. Spitzer has consistently expressed
support for it and supports it today, Darren Dopp, a spokesman for Mr.
Spitzer, said yesterday. "He has articulated that it should be part of the
law enforcement arsenal," Mr. Dopp said.
Other states, like New Jersey and Connecticut, have yet to carry out
executions since reinstituting the death penalty, although Connecticut is
poised to carry out its 1st execution. Texas is at the opposite end of the
spectrum, having executed more than 300 people since 1982, according to
the Death Penalty Information Center.
Many Republicans in New York are angry that the Legislature is not moving
faster to fix the flaws identified by the Court of Appeals. They have
blamed Mr. Silver for slowing things down. Republicans in the Senate even
passed a bill in August to fix the provision of the law that the court
invalidated. That bill was proposed by Governor Pataki himself.
"We continue to believe it is a strong deterrent, that it is legal and
constitutional and that we can address the court's concern," said John E.
McArdle, a spokesman for Joseph L. Bruno, the majority leader of the
Republican-led Senate. "We spent 20 years trying to get it enacted in this
state, and we'll continue to strongly advocate for its enactment going
An aide to the governor has accused the Assembly leadership of obstruction
by not moving to pass a death penalty measure, a charge that Mr. Silver's
aides dispute. And the Pataki administration plans to keep pushing the
matter even if it spills into the next legislative session in January.
"The people of New York have clearly called for justice, for those who
commit the most serious crimes, by using capital punishment," said Lynn
Rasic, a spokeswoman for the governor. "Speaker Silver claims to favor the
death penalty, but he continues to refuse to allow a vote on this
The death penalty issue was once one of the most emotionally volatile in
New York, but as the crime rate has fallen, it has lost resonance; no one
is marching on Albany calling for executions. Furthermore, opinions on
capital punishment are shifting, opponents and proponents agree. Some
policy makers no longer view the death penalty as a fair punishment for a
certain class of murderers, including those who kill police officers, or
as an appropriate deterrent to crime.
In recent years, juries and state legislatures have shown a pattern of
limiting the use of the death penalty and imposing life in prison without
parole instead, said Jonathan Gradess, the executive director of the New
York State Defenders Association, a group that provides support for public
defense lawyers. He said that since 1973 nearly 120 people have been
removed from death rows in states around the country.
More recently a wide-ranging national debate was touched off by George
Ryan, then the governor of Illinois, who declared the state's capital
punishment system broken and issued a blanket commutation of death
sentences, citing a series of close calls in which men on death row were
found to be innocent.
Since then, the death penalty has come under attack in other states.
Recently, a group of lawyers in California asked for a moratorium on the
death penalty there, and the issue is being studied in other states, like
Maryland and Nebraska. In New York, a Democratic state senator, Liz
Krueger, had called for a moratorium on the death penalty before the Court
of Appeals made its ruling.
Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright, a Democrat from Harlem and an opponent of
capital punishment, said: "Just because you have a governor who wants to
reinstate the death penalty doesn't mean it's necessarily the will of the
people. The world has changed so much since 1995, when we passed it, that
it's a new date, a new time. I think we, as legislators, need to hear what
everyone has to say."
David Kaczynski, the executive director of New Yorkers Against the Death
Penalty and someone who gained attention for turning in his brother as the
Unabomber in 1996, is among those planning to speak at the Assembly's
hearings. He said the death penalty was unfair and could lead to the
execution of innocent people.
He also said that at least $175 million had been spent in New York State
on death penalty litigation since 1995, money he said could have been
better spent on victims' families or on crime prevention programs. He said
the death penalty was not being used uniformly in counties across the
"If we've seen anything in New York State over the last nine years, it's
that it's not being evenly applied by the district attorneys," Mr.
Kaczynski said, citing the fact that three of the seven people sentenced
to death in the state came from Suffolk County, a relatively wealthy and
crime-free area. "In effect, we have 62 different death penalty laws:
there are some who seek it often, there are some who seek it very
reluctantly, and there are some who seldom or perhaps never seek it."
Republican supporters of capital punishment, including Senator Volker,
said the death penalty saved money in the state because hundreds of
defendants plead guilty to lesser offenses and avoid trials and their
costs. He said it was still a valid method of deterring crime.
"Every time we pass the death penalty the murders go down, and then after
they go down, people say, 'Well, I don't know if we need the death
penalty,' and then we get rid of the death penalty and the numbers go up
dramatically," said Mr. Volker, who said he would be surprised if the
death penalty was not reinstated by the end of the year.
There is no proof that the death penalty is a better deterrent to murder
than life in prison, said Richard C. Dieter, the executive director of
Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization that researches
the death penalty but takes no position on the issue. "It's hard to prove
a negative, but the overwhelming majority of studies over the past 30
years do not find a deterrent effect from the death penalty."
Kevin L. Wright, president of the New York State District Attorneys
Association, said he could see how opponents of the death penalty might
use the delay to prevent repairing the 1995 law. But he said state leaders
should keep a pledge to fix it swiftly. "I think there is legitimate
concern that an important statute on the books is in need of legislative
repair and hasn't received that attention," he said.
For his part, Mr. Silver has been a longtime supporter of capital
punishment. But after the Court of Appeals ruling, a rift developed among
Democrats and he paused as members debated whether public sentiment for
the death penalty remained strong. In 1995, most Assembly Democrats voted
against the death penalty.
Mr. Silver cautioned against fixing the statute so quickly that it could
be found flawed by a future Court of Appeals. The court has decided 4
times to overturn death sentences under the state's 1995 death penalty
law. It has never upheld a death sentence under the current statute.
In striking down the death penalty, the court, led by Chief Judge Judith
S. Kaye, found a problem with a central provision regarding guidelines for
sentencing in cases where a jury could not reach a unanimous decision
between life without parole and a death sentence. The court ruled that
because a judge had to instruct a jury that a sentence including the
possibility of parole after 20 to 25 years would be instituted if they
failed to reach a unanimous decision, it might coerce the jury to vote for
a death sentence rather than risk a criminal's being set free. And it said
only the Legislature could fix the provision.
(source: New York Times)
DeYoung spared death penalty
It will be life in prison with no chance of parole for Gregory DeYoung,
the Lower Makefield man convicted earlier this week of murdering alleged
drug dealer John George.
The panel of 7 women and 5 men rejected the prosecution's request to send
DeYoung, 34, to death row following a Bucks County Court hearing in
Doylestown on Wednesday.
DeYoung exhaled loudly but showed no other emotion as the verdict was
read. In the courtroom audience, DeYoung's aunt whispered "Yes!" as the
jury foreman spoke.
Deputy District Attorney Robert Mancini would not comment on the verdict
but praised the jury for its hard work during the 2-week trial.
"This jury was intelligent; they worked diligently during this case and
carefully listened to all the evidence in what must have been a very
difficult process for them," he said.
Mancini said he is ready to try DeYoung's co-defendant, Edward Boback.
That case begins Dec. 8.
"Both of these men were equally culpable. Neither one was offered a deal
to testify against the other. It's a shame for the victim's family that
they have to endure 2 trials, but we are prepared to prosecute him,"
On Monday, the jury found DeYoung guilty of 1st-degree murder in the
December 2002 slaying of George, 46, of Falls.
George was found dead inside a blood-spattered room of the Villager Motor
Lodge on Route 13 in Bristol Township. He had been stabbed more than 50
times in the face, head and neck.
Police say DeYoung and Boback plotted to kill George so that DeYoung could
avoid paying back a $4,000 drug debt. In his statement to police, DeYoung
blamed the killing on Boback, saying his younger co-defendant exploded in
a frenzy inside the motel room, accidentally stabbing and shooting DeYoung
in the process of killing George.
Mancini argued that DeYoung deserved the death penalty because, among
other factors, George was tortured.
DeYoung's attorney, Bradley Bastedo, put numerous witnesses on the stand
who testified that DeYoung had a tumultuous childhood marked by
abandonment, abuse and drug addiction. He pointed to one mental health
expert's report that called his client a "lost soul with no identity."
DeYoung's lawyers, Bastedo, Peter Hall and Kenneth Hone, did not comment
after the trial.
George's family also declined to answer questions. Mancini said he spoke
with them during the case, and that they were grateful for the diligence
of Bristol Township police and county detectives.
Mancini said the victim's violent past - he was an alleged drug dealer who
had prior weapons offense convictions - did not deter him from vigorously
"If there is justice for any of us, there must be justice for all of us,"
he said. "Mr. George did not deserve to die alone on the floor of a cheap
motel. No one does," he said.
Sister fights death penalty
While most people have an opinion on the death penalty, few have ever
witnessed an execution in person.
Yesterday at the Noble and Greenough School, Sister Helen Prejean of the
St. Joseph order described her own experience getting to know and then
watching convicted murderer and rapist Elmo Patrick Sonnier being killed
by electric chair in a Louisiana prison.
Sonnier was executed about 15 years ago by 3 jolts of 1,900 volts of
electricity. Prejean, who met the man after contacting him to be a pen
pal, said that after he was declared dead she left the room and vomited.
Hundreds of students packed the school's auditorium to hear Prejean's
tale, which she later made into a book, "Dead Man Walking." In 1996, a
movie debuted based on the book and starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn.
Sarandon won the Best Actress Award at the 1996 Academy Awards for her
role depicting Prejean.
At the Dedham school's assembly yesterday, Prejean described not only the
feelings of Sonnier as he sat waiting for death in his cell, but also
those of the shaken prison guards who killed him, and the heartbroken
family members whose loved ones were murdered by him.
She said she understood all sides, but Prejean also told the group she
personally thinks the death penalty is "torture" and should be abolished.
"We have prisons. We have ways of incapacitating dangerous people,"
She cited statistics to back her anti-death penalty stance. She said 117
people on death row have been taken off after being proven innocent. Some
recent cases in Illinois, where Northwestern University journalism
students proved death row inmates innocent, led the state to place a
moratorium on the death penalty.
"Because the system is so flawed, because people are not always well
represented (in court), the truth doesn't always come out at trials,"
Her latest book about that topic, "The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness
Account of Wrongful Executions," will be published in January.
But even when men are proven guilty without a doubt, Prejean said she
believes the death penalty is wrong. She said one of the prison guards who
electrocuted Sonnier later quit his job, unable to sleep or eat.
"We've got to ask ourselves, 'If I believe (death row inmates) ought to
die, could I do it?'" Prejean said.
In all, Prejean has accompanied 5 men to their prison executions.
After her discussion, students were allowed to meet Prejean. The author, a
member of Amnesty International, also set out a petition for students to
sign calling for a national moratorium on the death penalty.
The connection between Prejean and Nobles began in June 2004 when she was
part of a group that included several Nobles faculty and students in
Billings, Mont. The group was there to construct a sweat lodge for a
(source: Daily News Transcript)
High court to consider South Dakota death-row case
The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled arguments for Jan. 12 in a South
Dakota death-row case involving Charles Russell Rhines, who admitted
murdering a former co-worker in the burglary of a Rapid City business.
Rhines wants the high court to decide if his future appeal strategy is
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that U.S. District
Judge Karen Schreier could not put Rhines' federal habeas corpus petition
on hold while he continued to pursue habeas claims in state court.
Habeas corpus is a procedure in which prisoners argue against the legality
of their sentences and often claim that their constitutional rights have
In an effort to shorten the lengthy appeal process in death-penalty cases,
Congress passed a law in 1996 that regulates federal habeas relief. Under
the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, those petitions must
be filed within 1-year of completion of all state court appeals.
Roberto Lange, a Sioux Falls attorney appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court
to represent Rhines, will argue in January that Congress did not intend
for the one-year restriction on federal habeas proceedings to expire while
state habeas actions are pending.
He insists Schreier properly ruled that Rhines could continue in state
court with issues not exhausted there while freezing the time clock on his
request for a writ of federal habeas corpus.
Allowing federal judges to have that discretion will not lead to legal
games by prisoners hoping to delay their executions because the judges can
place limits on those prisoners, Lange will argue.
"The stay can be conditioned on a (prisoner's) conscientious pursuit in
state court of unexhausted claims and can be refused when the (prisoner)
is abusing the writ," Lange stated in written arguments filed with the
U.S. Supreme Court.
Rhines has alleged that he did not get a fair trial and that he illegally
received the death penalty.
Because Rhines' federal habeas corpus petition was filed more than a year
ago, an adverse decision from the U.S. Supreme Court would forever bar him
from having a federal judge consider the issues he has raised, Lange
"It deprives prisoners like Rhines of their statutory and constitutional
right to present the merits of their claims at all in federal court,"
5 other U.S. appeals courts have said a one-year time restriction on
federal habeas corpus proceedings does not expire while state habeas
proceedings are pending, Lange added.
The state will argue in January that Rhines should not be allowed to
continue his appeal efforts in both state and federal courts. It also will
argue that Rhines cannot legally bring up some issues not raised earlier.
Farthest along in his appeals, Rhines is among four people on death row in
South Dakota and is considered 1st in line for lethal injection. No one
has been executed in the state since 1947.
Rhines, 48, was found guilty of 1st-degree murder for fatally stabbing
Donnivan Schaeffer, 22, at a Rapid City doughnut shop. Rhines had been a
baker at the shop but was earlier fired. Schaeffer also worked at the
shop. He was killed during a burglary.
Rhines initially was to be executed in 1993.
(source: Associated Press)
Peterson team seeks new jury, venue----Panel must decide life or death
Scott Peterson's lawyers asked the judge in his double-murder trial
Wednesday for a change of venue and a new jury to decide whether he should
be sentenced to death or life in prison for the killings of his wife and
Peterson's lead attorney, Mark Geragos, made the request in papers
delivered to the San Mateo County Superior Court Wednesday afternoon. No
details of the request were immediately available.
Judge Alfred Delucchi will decide Monday whether a hearing on the request
will be held in his chambers or in open court.
"The judge will be reviewing the motion on Monday morning," Court Clerk
Peggy Thompson said.
Peterson was convicted Friday of first-degree murder with special
circumstances in the death of his 27-year-old wife, Laci, who was eight
months pregnant at the time. The jury also convicted him of 2nd-degree
murder in the death of his unborn son, Conner.
Outside the courtroom Friday, people cheered and car horns sounded as the
news of the verdicts spread. Geragos was not in the courtroom for the
The convictions followed a high-profile, 5-month trial and 44 hours of
deliberations by the 6-man, 6-woman jury. Arguments are scheduled to begin
Monday in the penalty phase of Peterson's trial.
Delucchi said last week the penalty phase should then take less than a
week. Delucchi dismissed 3 jurors during the case and replaced them with
alternates -- one 4 weeks into the trial and 2 more last week during
Prosecutors had accused Peterson of killing his pregnant wife on or around
December 24, 2002. They said he dumped her body, weighted with homemade
cement anchors, in San Francisco Bay.
After 184 witnesses testified over a period of 23 weeks, Geragos said in
closing arguments that prosecutors had introduced no direct evidence that
Peterson killed anyone, and he admonished jurors to weigh only the
evidence and to put aside their feelings about his client.
Peterson was arrested April 18, 2003, just days after the remains of Laci
and their unborn son washed ashore separately near the marina where
Peterson said he launched his boat on a fishing trip he took Christmas Eve
When Peterson was arrested near San Diego, he was carrying nearly $15,000
in cash, and prosecutors said he was preparing to flee to Mexico. He also
had dyed his hair blond and grown a beard.
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