[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----KAN., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Nov 29 21:55:15 CST 2004
Legislators consider death penalty changes
State legislators met today to consider changes to Kansas law that are
designed to protect from the death penalty people with severe mental
disabilities who commit murder.
"Kansas should not put people with significant cognitive disabilities to
death," Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Kansas Advocacy and
Protective Services, said. "Life in prison without parole is enough," he
A House-Senate Judiciary Committee is considering how the death penalty
law considers defendants who say they are mentally retarded.
Kansas law exempts the mentally retarded from the death penalty, but how
and when the law determines if a person is mentally retarded during a
capital-murder trial are in question.
A 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared that executing a mentally
retarded person was unconstitutionally cruel and inhuman.
The House-Senate committee will make a recommendation on the state law for
the full Legislature that meets in January.
Searching for a Silver Lining in Death Penalty's Gender Bias
Editor's Note: The execution of a woman in Texas, scheduled for Dec. 1,
shows, in its relative rarity, longstanding notions of women as the
inferior sex. But warped notions of male chivalry and female victimization
as least offer some possibility that the state might learn to put
compassion before bloodlust when it comes to capital punishment, the
The only time that executions stir more than a public yawn these days is
when a woman is scheduled to die. That was true again this week, when the
scheduled execution of Frances Newton in Texas, Dec. 1, drew a flurry of
headlines. Newton, an African American, was convicted in 1987 of murdering
her two children and her estranged husband to collect $100,000 in
insurance money. Newton's attorneys claimed that she was the victim of
lousy representation, tainted evidence and a rush to judgment by cops and
In Texas, the claim of legal taint, racial bias and pitiable defense
attorneys is so routine it almost always falls on deaf ears in the state
court system. In most cases, the condemned are eventually executed. But
Newton is a woman, and that guaranteed that her claim would get noticed.
Even Texas departs from its death row "dispatch them quick and often"
stance when it comes to women offenders. Newton has languished on death
row for 17 years while her appeals meandered through state and federal
Newton's case, though, is hardly unusual. Women commit more than one in 10
murders. But only one in 50 convicted women murderers get the death
penalty, and few of those sentences are ever carried out. Female
executions account for slightly more than 1 percent of executions. Women
are far more likely than men to get their sentences commuted to life
If Newton is executed, she will be the 1st woman executed since 2002. When
Oklahoma executed 3 women in 2001, the state had the grisly distinction of
executing more women in 1 year than any other state in U.S. history.
The gender bias that riddles the death penalty as much as racial and class
bias is a good thing in that it saves the lives of women. What's
problematic is the rationale for saving their lives. Prosecutors regard
women as less violent, less threatening and more emotionally unstable than
men. If they kill and maim, they supposedly do it out of blind love or
loyalty to a man. This reinforces the notion that women are the dainty sex
in need of guidance, protection and, ultimately, male control. This strips
them of any social and moral accountability for and control over their
acts. It makes it even easier to marginalize women.
Husbands and boyfriends physically and emotionally savage many women. Yet,
if women kill their mate, courts more often than not consider it
self-defense. They are not branded or demonized as dangerous, violent
sociopaths. When that argument doesn't fit, and women kill for the same
reasons men do, many prosecutors, judges and juries still are reluctant to
impose the death penalty. If they do impose it, there's a similar
reluctance to carry out the sentence.
That happened in the case of pick-ax murderer Karla Faye Tucker in Texas.
Before Tucker was executed in 1998, conservative evangelicals Jerry
Falwell and Pat Robertson, both death penalty hard-liners, rallied to her
defense and demanded that she not be put to death. Robertson publicly
called her "a sweet woman of God." Robertson and the evangelicals claimed
they backed her because of her jailhouse born-again Christian conversion.
But scores of men have also grabbed at the Bible and found God on death
row. There's no record that Robertson or the others called any of them
"sweet men of God" and leaped to their defense.
The gender double-standard has raised howls from some condemned men, death
penalty opponents and even some feminists, who argue that gender, just as
race and wealth, should play no role in determining who lives and who dies
in the nation's death chambers. But that argument won't get any further
than the argument that racial bias is ample reason to dump the death
penalty. The Supreme Court put that to rest years ago when it ruled in
McClesky vs. Kemp, which mandated that generalized statistics of race were
insufficient to invalidate a death sentence. For a defendant to have any
chance of having his sentence overturned, he'd have to prove that the
death penalty was imposed based on racial bias in his particular case,
something that is usually very difficult to prove.
Even if more women wound up on death rows, and were executed as fast as or
faster than men, it wouldn't make the death penalty any fairer or less
barbaric than it already is. While gender bias perpetuates stereotypes of
female victimization and warped notions of male chivalry, it still offers
some hope that prosecutors, judges and juries are willing to put legal
fairness and human compassion before the bloodlust to legally kill. That
should be the case regardless of whether the accused is Frances Newton, or
(source: Pacific News Service contributor Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a
political analyst and author of "The Crisis in Black and Black" (Middle
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