[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TENN., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Nov 21 22:07:21 CST 2004
Tennessee's death penalty at a standstill
He was convicted of stuffing a plastic bag down his wife's throat and
suffocating her 20 years ago. But like 4 other death row inmates in
Tennessee, Johnson got a stay of execution even though he's exhausted
In each of the 5 cases, the execution was blocked because Tennessee is not
putting anyone to death while the courts wait for resolution in the
complicated case of Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman.
Abdur'Rahman was sentenced to die for stabbing a Nashville drug dealer to
death in 1986. But he claimed much later he was the victim of a dishonest
prosecutor who concealed evidence.
The question is whether Abdur'Rahman's case deserves a 2nd look because he
has new evidence of his innocence. Or does his appeal just raise the same
issues other courts have already dealt with?
It's a complicated procedural question, but a favorable ruling for the
state could start a string of executions in Tennessee, where there has
been only one in the past 44 years.
"The reason why this case is so important from a procedural standpoint is,
what exceptions do the courts want to make to let prisoners come in and
make claims late," said David Raybin, a legal analyst who helped write
Tennessee's death penalty laws but is not involved in the case.
"This has very little to do with guilt or innocence."
Death row inmates get one federal appeal in which they can bring up
problems with the trial. But the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act doesn't allow a second petition. "It's our position he gets
one and only one shot at the writ of habeas corpus," state Solicitor
General Michael E. Moore said. "(Abdur'Rahman) had it all the way to the
Supreme Court and lost. That ought to end the matter. This litigation has
to have some end at some point."
In other words, the state has argued the court doesn't have to hear
Abdur'Rahman's claims of prosecutorial misconduct because it wasn't part
of his initial federal appeal.
Bradley MacLean, who has represented Abdur'Rahman for eight years, said
the procedural question is being debated in many federal circuits.
"Abu-Ali has never had his entire case heard and ruled on," MacLean said.
"His claims (of prosecutorial misconduct) have never been fully addressed
by any court."
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay 2 days before Abdur'Rahman's
execution in April 2002 and heard arguments later that year. But the court
declined to rule and sent the case back to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of
Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers, who typically doesn't talk about
pending cases, told The Associated Press a favorable ruling for the state
could have a sweeping impact.
"It would be a giant step for us," he said. "Hopefully it will put this
issue to rest."
The 6th Circuit could issue a narrow ruling that applies only to
Abdur'Rahman's case, but Raybin doesn't think that will happen. He said a
ruling against Abdur'Rahman would break the logjam on death row.
"I would expect to see multiple executions in succession," Raybin said.
But a ruling for Abdur'Rahman would give death row inmates additional
opportunities for appeal, Raybin said, delaying the already lengthy
It's been 11 months since the 6th Circuit heard arguments in the case with
"It can only indicate there can be some dissension or they may be waiting
on other courts in other issues to help them," Raybin said.
Summers said the state uses a 13-step process to review death penalty
cases, giving those convicted every possible chance to contest the
legality of the trial. But Summers said the process, which was designed to
last six or seven years, now drags on for more than 20. "People who are
against the death penalty will never believe the system is fair," he said.
"Since they can't apparently defeat it on a wholesale basis, they'll try
to do it on a retail basis - case by case, step by step - and try to wear
the system out." For MacLean and Abdur'Rahman, waiting for a court ruling
is better than waiting for another execution day.
"Abu-Ali remains hopeful. He's anxious just like I am," MacLean said. "We
both believe in the truth and justice in our position. That's what gives
(source: Associated Press)
Death penalty losing its grip
It's probably too early to call it a radical change, but there's a flicker
of hope that American society is coming to think of capital punishment as
a cruel anachronism. Polls show about 80 % support for capital punishment,
but a new report has found that the number of death verdicts hit a 27-year
low last year. Possible factors include the exoneration of about 100
death-row inmates and the fact that jurors now have the option of imposing
life without parole in 47 states.
During 2003, juries imposed 144 death penalties, down 24 from 2002. By
comparison, from 1994 through 2000, the yearly total averaged 297 death
verdicts, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The number of prisoners on death row at the end of 2003 dropped to 3,374 -
vs. 3,562 a year earlier, continuing a 3-year trend. Also, 267 death
sentences were commuted (a number inflated by Illinois Gov. George Ryan's
commutation of 155 death sentences and pardoning of four death-row
Capital punishment is on the books in 38 states, including Colorado.
For a decade beginning in 1967 there was a virtual moratorium on the death
penalty because of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that found flaws in how
capital punishment was administered. Executions resumed when Gary Gilmore
went before a Utah firing squad in 1977. Since then, at least 940 more
people have been executed.
Texas led the states with 313 executions, followed by Virginia with 89 and
Oklahoma with 69. Colorado has executed only one prisoner in the last 37
years, Gary Lee Davis in October 1997. Colorado has only 3 prisoners on
death row now: Edward Montour, Robert Harlan and Nathan Dunlap.
Despite support in public-opinion surveys, jurors seem less enthusiastic
about capital punishment. "I'm not surprised at the reluctance on the part
of American juries to impose the death penalty," said U.S. District Judge
John Kane, who speculated that some death-penalty jurors may hesitate
because of news reports and television shows about errors in death-penalty
It's hard to pin down the reason for the drop, but Mark Silverstein, legal
director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Colorado, noted that "we
certainly have seen more cases of people who have been on death row for
years who are finally exonerated. ... Maybe the public is more aware of
the fallibility of the criminal-justice system and the fallibility of the
human operators of that system."
"I think recent events in Illinois (where journalism students at
Northwestern University helped exonerate several wrongly convicted death
row inmates) and the continued exoneration of people due to DNA evidence
is making some people hesitant to impose the death penalty," said Dean
Neuwirth, a Denver appellate lawyer.
Also, Neuwirth noted, the public is "in the abstract generally supportive
of the death penalty" but it's a different matter for a juror sitting on a
potential death case.
Over time, the Supreme Court has narrowed application of the death
penalty, banning execution of the mentally retarded, for example. Early
this year, the court agreed to re-examine execution of defendants who were
juveniles when their crimes were committed.
The Post has opposed capital punishment since 1965. Perhaps growing
antipathy for actually imposing the death penalty will someday lead the
court to conclude that it has truly become a "cruel and unusual
punishment" and ban it altogether.
(source: Editorial, Denver Post)
More information about the DeathPenalty