[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----CALIF., N.C., PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Nov 22 13:19:46 CST 2004
Peterson jury faces difficult task
A high-stakes battle over Scott Peterson's life begins today at the same
courthouse where hundreds of gawkers whooped it up after a jury found him
guilty of murdering his wife, Laci, and the fetus she carried.
The public outburst 10 days ago, punctuated by newspaper special editions
blaring "Guilty" headlines, may affect Peterson's fate. His lawyer says
the display could prejudice the jury as it decides his punishment. He
wants a new jury selected and the rest of the trial moved to another city.
Raw emotion is likely in the trial's penalty phase as prosecutors try to
convince jurors that the former fertilizer salesman should be executed.
Laci's family and friends, particularly her mother, Sharon Rocha, are
expected to play on juror sympathy with poignant memories of the slain
Should Peterson testify?
Police investigators also may testify about Peterson's lies and deceptions
after Laci vanished on Christmas Eve 2002. He pretended to lead a search,
engaging hundreds of volunteers, all the while carrying on an affair.
Defense lawyer Mark Geragos has a more delicate task. Legal analysts say
it would be risky for Peterson, 32, to testify. If he told jurors already
convinced of his guilt that he didn't kill Laci, he'd risk alienating them
even more. But if he admitted guilt and asked for mercy, he'd blow his
chances of getting off on appeal.
"This jury hates him," says Paula Canny, a San Mateo criminal lawyer who
has followed the case closely. "If he gets up and says, 'I didn't kill
her, I loved my wife,' they're going to hate him even more."
But Peterson could overrule his lawyers and testify anyway. "His life's on
the line," says Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola University near
Los Angeles. "He may want to take the stand and say, 'Look, I really
didn't do it, and even if you think I did, you really need to know the
other side of me.'"
Geragos almost certainly will put Peterson's parents on the stand and
possibly other relatives and friends.
The spectacle of Rocha bashing her son-in-law in front of Peterson's
mother, Jackie, is troubling to some. "What Sharon will be doing will be
very, very harmful to Jackie, and they used to be good friends," says
Robert Talbot, a University of San Francisco law professor."
Juries in California capital murder cases render death verdicts, unlike
many states where they only make recommendations to judges. Judge Alfred
Delucchi expects penalty-phase testimony to end by Nov. 30. The 12 men and
women who deliberated over seven days before voting to convict Peterson
then will deliberate again to decide his sentence.
Many analysts think it won't be execution because Peterson doesn't fit the
profile of condemned defendants in the state of California.
"Face it, he doesn't look like most of the people we put on death row,
except for perhaps Ted Bundy, who had many more killings to his name,"
Levenson says. California juries tend to save the death penalty for "the
vilest of the vile," as Canny says, career criminals who commit heinous
Analysts say the jury's split verdict - first-degree murder for Laci,
2nd-degree for the fetus - could signal a life sentence without parole
instead of death. And after listening for five months to a circumstantial
case - no cause of death, no murder weapon - lingering doubt may nudge the
jury away from a death sentence.
"The death penalty is a lot to live with, even for very conservative
jurors," says Peter Keane, a professor at Golden Gate University's School
of Law in San Francisco. "They may be politically in favor of it, but when
they have to live with it for the rest of their lives, it's not easy for
them to do."
On the other hand, a jury in turmoil voted quickly to convict Peterson
once the judge replaced two of its members. "The flip side is he's a baby
killer, did a horrible crime, lied about it and is completely
narcissistic," Levenson says.
Analysts doubt Delucchi will give Geragos a new jury, a motion the judge
denied twice before. But the defense argument that the jury has been
compromised would be an issue lawyers would try to exploit when they
appeal the convictions. "It's very hard to get another jury without some
kind of extraordinary reason," Talbot says. "Legislative intent was for
the same jury in both phases."
When Delucchi booted the 2 jurors, he handed the defense leverage,
Levenson says. "A lot of good case law for defendants in California says
judges should not be dismissing jurors just because they disagree with
The fishing boat
Besides juror misconduct, another potentially fertile appeal area is the
dispute between the judge and Geragos over the fishing boat prosecutors
say Peterson used to dump Laci's body. Geragos wanted to demonstrate for
the jury that the boat would have tipped had Peterson tried to throw his
pregnant wife's body, weighed down with cement, overboard. The judge said
Later, during deliberations, the jury asked to see the boat again. Jurors
got inside and rocked it. Geragos claims that was more juror misconduct.
But it isn't enough for the verdict to be reversed on appeal, Keane says.
Delucchi, who has tried 23 other capital cases, said the trial "will be an
appellate lawyer's Petri dish" because of so many issues.
If Peterson gets the death penalty, he could grow old before he's executed
because of the glacial pace of capital appeals in California. The
condemned usually wait 5 years just to get a state-appointed appeals
lawyer. Infamous serial killer Charles Ng, sentenced to die in 1999 for
murdering 6 men, 3 women and 2 babies, still doesn't have one. His case
Once a lawyer is named, a condemned killer's first appeal is directly to
the state Supreme Court. That takes several years. In a second layer of
state appeals, called habeas corpus, lawyers raise issues that weren't
raised at trial. That adds still more years. And only when all state
appeals are exhausted can appeals to the federal courts begin.
California reinstated the death penalty in 1976 but has executed only 10
killers. The state has 629 condemned men and 14 women - all in some stage
of appeal. California's last execution, in January 2002, was Stephen Wayne
Anderson, killer of an 81-year-old widow.
(source: USA Today)
Penalty Phase to Begin in Peterson Case
Scott Peterson's life now rests in the hands of the same jurors who found
him guilty of murdering his pregnant wife.
The penalty phase in Peterson's case was set to begin Monday, 10 days
after he was found guilty of 1st-degree murder for killing Laci Peterson
and 2nd-degree murder for killing her fetus.
Jurors will choose between a life sentence or execution. They are expected
to hear testimony much more laden with emotion than they did during the
five-month guilt phase of his trial.
A delay was possible because defense lawyers filed a motion last week
seeking to have a new jury seated in another county to weigh the sentence.
The lawyers claim San Mateo County is too prejudiced against Peterson for
this jury to be impartial. The judge planned to review the motion Monday
The penalty phase is like a miniature trial, absent most of the typical
rules of evidence. Unlike the guilt phase of a trial, it allows jurors to
hear pleas for leniency and heartfelt recollections of the victim.
This phase will begin with opening statements from both sides, followed by
testimony from friends and family members and closing arguments, before
the jurors are once again sequestered for deliberations. "Witnesses are
pretty much allowed to say whatever they want," said Robert Talbot, a
University of San Francisco School of Law professor who has observed the
"Laci's family will be talking about the impact on their lives without
Laci there and not having a grandchild. The Petersons are going to attempt
to show there is something of value in him that shouldn't be destroyed by
the death penalty."
Talbot said defense lawyers also are allowed to "argue lingering doubt,"
playing to jurors who may still be somewhat uncertain about the
The Peterson penalty phase wasn't forecast to be like most murder trials,
where the convicted person has a history of violence, anti-social behavior
or a childhood marred with abuse.
"You're not going to have any of that here because there isn't poverty in
his background and there isn't parental abuse or a criminal record. He
seemed to have a pretty good childhood," Talbot said.
No testimony was expected from one of the prosecution's star witnesses,
Peterson's former mistress, Amber Frey. Wiretapped telephone calls between
Peterson and Frey played for jurors portrayed the 32-year-old former
fertilizer salesman as a habitual liar and a cad.
Speculation that Frey would be a defense witness because of her apparent
opposition to the death penalty is unfounded, said Frey's attorney, Gloria
Allred. "I think that would be ridiculous," said Allred.
(source: Associated Press)
A case for clemency----Charles Walker execution marks a wrong turn for
Never in North Carolina, and perhaps not in the United States, has the
state executed a convicted murderer when there is no body or even a trace
of blood indicating a crime was committed. In modern times the state has
not executed a defendant without a confession of guilt or some sort of
physical evidence, or at least testimony from a witness who had nothing to
gain from testifying.
But unless Gov. Mike Easley commutes Charles Walker's death sentence to
life imprisonment, the state will execute a man who a jury concluded did
not fire the fatal shot -- an outrageous injustice since one of the 2 men
who admitted doing the killing is now out of prison and the other is
eligible for parole.
Here's the story.
Elmon Tito Davidson was last seen in August 1992. Authorities believe he
was murdered Aug. 12 at a Greensboro housing project. But no body, no
clothing, no blood or any other physical evidence was found.
Five people testified against Charles Walker in the killing. Each was
trying to avoid prison, or worse.
Authorities offered Mr. Walker the opportunity to plead guilty to
2nd-degree murder. He declined.
Rahshar Darden, who pleaded guilty to 2nd-degree murder, admitted shooting
Mr. Davidson 5 times. Jesse Thompson, who did not testify but who took the
same 2nd-degree murder plea Mr. Walker declined, admitted slashing Mr.
Davidson's throat and firing the fatal shot.
It's difficult to imagine a more pointed example of what's wrong with the
way the death penalty is applied in North Carolina. This case has it all:
. A case in which 25 investigators not only couldn't find a body, they
couldn't even find physical evidence of a crime.
. A prosecution built entirely on testimony from witnesses scrambling to
. An inept defense that failed to provide relevant evidence about Mr.
Walker's mental illness and appalling physical abuse by his mother.
. A severely mentally ill defendant unable to recognize that a
prosecutor's offer of a plea bargain meant that, if he had accepted, he
likely would be eligible for parole today.
How did this become a capital case? Prosecutors had less discretion at the
time. After Mr. Walker rejected a plea to 2nd-degree murder and fired his
lawyer, their only option was to seek the death penalty. Numerous jurors
now say they would have imposed life imprisonment had that option been
available. They sentenced Charles Walker to death not for killing Mr.
Davidson, but for acting in concert with the real killers.
Mr. Walker's lawyers argue that under N.C. law it would be
unconstitutional to impose the death penalty for a conviction on the basis
of uncorroborated testimony from participants. But that's up to Gov.
Easley to decide.
When a case like this arose in 1992, Gov. Jim Martin commuted the death
sentence of Anson Maynard to life in prison. That case also lacked
physical evidence and was based on uncorroborated testimony. Gov. Martin
was not convinced of either the defendant's guilt or innocence. "It is for
cases like this that the power of clemency is given to the governor," he
said at the time.
So it is. And so Gov. Easley should use it.
(source: Opinion, Charlotte Observer)
Lawyers seek stay for mass murderer
Attorneys for a man scheduled to be put to death on Dec. 2 for killing six
adults and seven children during a 1982 shooting rampage in Wilkes-Barre
have asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to stay his execution.
Lawyers for George Banks launched the latest in a long series of appeals
on Friday, saying he was "severely mentally ill and legally incompetent."
They asked for his execution to be put off while the merits of the appeal
are considered, and to give him time to ask the state for clemency.
If they fail, Banks, 62, would become the fourth person put to death in
Pennsylvania since the commonwealth reinstated the death penalty in 1978.
All three executed inmates ended their appeals voluntarily.
His case has been before the state Supreme Court 3 times. A federal
appeals court twice overturned Banks' death sentence because of a
potentially confusing jury instruction, but both times the decision was
reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
(source: Philadelphia Inquirer)
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