[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----USA, COLO., N.C., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Nov 30 11:48:59 CST 2004
Executing minors is unacceptable
"Are we a state that executes children?" asked Sen. Rod Smith,
D-Gainesville, during the last legislative session when the Florida Senate
passed a bill to end the imposition of the death penalty on minors.
Unfortunately, the House, under Speaker Johnnie Byrd, never brought the
issue to a vote. So, the answer to Smith's incredulous question is "yes."
Under state law, juveniles as young as 16 may face the ultimate penalty.
How sad that our state continues this anachronistic practice after the
rest of the civilized world has given it up. According to Amnesty
International, the United States joins China, the Democratic Republic of
Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen as the only
countries in the world that have executed juvenile offenders since 1990.
If our legislative leaders can't see that society's sense of decency has
moved on, then it is up to the courts to do so.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case out of
Missouri asking whether the execution of Christopher Simmons - who was 17
years old at the time of his crime - would violate the Eighth Amendment's
prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Last year, the Missouri
Supreme Court set aside Simmons' execution on the grounds that the federal
Constitution no longer tolerates capital punishment for one who committed
his crime so young.
A societal consensus against the death penalty for minors has emerged.
Since 1989, the last time the U.S. Supreme Court approved the death
penalty for juveniles over 15, seven additional states and the federal
government have set the minimum age for execution at 18. All told, 30
states, the District of Columbia and the federal government now bar
consideration of the death penalty for anyone under 18.
Moreover, states that still allow it, rarely impose it. Over the last 10
years, 60 percent of all death sentences imposed on juvenile offenders
came out of three states: Texas, Florida and Alabama. A number of states
that could impose the death penalty on minors have not done so in recent
years. The Missouri high court rightly noted that our "evolving standards
of decency" has marginalized this form of punishment for acts by minors.
In the great majority of places in this country, executing minors is just
no longer deemed acceptable.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment prohibits
the execution of mentally retarded offenders. In that 6-3 ruling, the
court recognized that there was both a national and international
consensus that people debilitated by retardation don't have the same level
of personal moral culpability as someone with normal brain functions.
Juveniles are in the same position. Scientific research demonstrates that
minors don't have the same capacities as adults to control impulses or
understand the consequences of their actions. Their brains are still
developing these mechanisms. For these reasons we don't allow minors to
vote or enter into contracts.
If the ultimate penalty is to be reserved for the nation's most culpable
offenders, minors should be automatically exempt. It is time for the
United States to join the rest of the advanced world and recognize the
inherent justice in this.
(source: Editorial, St. Petersburg Times)
Serial killer White sentenced----Murderer mouths words 'I'm sorry' to
slain women's kin
Family members of 2 women murdered by serial killer Richard White looked
him straight in the eye and sobbed as they spoke at his sentencing hearing
Monday in Denver District Court.
"I wish some day I could hear a reason or answer for how someone could do
something so cruel to another human being," said Effie Laub, whose sister
was raped, tortured and killed.
Family members told White about the children left behind when he killed
their mothers in 2002.
White stared back, nodded and mouthed the words "I'm sorry."
He made no other statement as he was sentenced to 2 life prison terms for
the murders of Annaletia Maria Gonzales, 27, and Victoria Turpin, 34,
whose bodies were buried in his back yard.
He also was sentenced to 144 years in prison for sexual assaults on three
other women who survived.
"Mr. White will not see the light of day as a free man ever again," said
Denver District Judge R. Michael Mullins.
White taunted women he brought to his home at 2885 Albion St., telling
them about the bodies buried in his back yard and warning the women that
they were likely to end up there, too, said prosecutor Kerri Lombardi.
"He has terrorized countless other women," Lombardi said.
"Richard White is a predator," she said. "He made a sport of hunting for,
raping, torturing and killing these women, who spent hours and days
begging for their lives. He enjoyed this game of human torture he
White stuck the barrel of a gun in their mouths and threatened to shoot
them during the rapes, Lombardi said. After hours of torture, he used
cords or belts to strangle them.
White claims to have killed 3 other prostitutes he picked up on Colfax
He also has admitted killing his friend, Jason Reichardt, and faces
another life sentence for that murder in Arapahoe County. He confessed to
the other murders after he was arrested in Reichardt's slaying in
White pleaded guilty in September to avoid facing the death penalty and
agreed to help authorities find his other victims.
The remains of one of them was found Sept. 28 in Costilla County. The
remains have not been identified but White described the victim as
dark-skinned, tall, slender and blind in her right eye. He said she was
staying at a motel on East Colfax Avenue at the end of January 2002 when
he picked her up, according to Lynn Kimbrough, spokesperson for the
White said he picked up two other victims in Aurora and dumped their
bodies in a river near La Junta in Otero County. Those bodies have not
Defense attorney Sharlene Reynolds said White is psychotic and suffered
for years from untreated mental illness. She said he is the victim of
"horrendous" childhood abuse.
At times, she said, he wanted the death penalty.
"He just couldn't deal with the magnitude of what he had done to these
victims and their families," she said.
White's father apologized for his son.
"The English language does not contain the words to express the sorrow we
feel," he said. "I know how horrified and remorseful he is. My son's not
sane. I love him more than I can say but when these things happened he was
delusional. He believed things that were not true."
After the sentencing hearing, Turpin's sister, Destiny Martinez, was not
moved by the apology.
"There is not enough mental illness in the world to make someone do
something like that," she said.
Authorities seek help identifying remains
The Denver District Attorney's Office is trying to identify a woman
Richard White says he killed. The woman:
- Had dark skin and dark, crimped hair just a little longer than shoulder
- Was possibly 5 feet 10 inches or 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighed 120
pounds and may have been about 25 years old
- Was blind in her right eye
- Had a bad scar on her forearm
- Was staying near the Family Motel on East Colfax Avenue at the end of
(source: Rocky Mountain News)
Judge stays Friday's execution of Greensboro man----Charles Walker was
convicted on others' testimony; judge wants to hear more about that, and
about jurors' instructions
A Superior Court judge has stayed Friday's scheduled execution of a
Greensboro man who was convicted of murder based largely on the testimony
of his co-defendants, with no physical evidence to link him to the crime.
Judge John Craig said yesterday after a hearing in Guilford Superior Court
that he wanted to hear more about arguments that Charles Walker may not be
eligible for the death penalty because his conviction was based solely on
the testimony of others involved in the crime. Such testimony is often
deemed unreliable because those involved in the crime are motivated to
tailor their stories to minimize their own guilt, Walker's attorneys said.
State law prevents a defendant considered to be an accessory before the
fact to a capital felony from receiving the death penalty if the jury
finds that the conviction was "based solely on the uncorroborated
testimony of one or more principals, co-conspirators, or accessories to
the crime." Walker's attorneys, Paul Green and Jonathan Megerian, argued
that although a jury convicted Walker of first-degree murder by acting
with others who committed the crime, the statute should apply to him as
"The purpose of this statute is clearly to protect people, North Carolina
citizens, from being sentenced to death on testimony that everybody
considers to be inherently unreliable," Green said.
Craig said he also wanted to hear more arguments about whether jurors
received appropriate instructions about an aggravating factor that they
cited as a reason to impose the death penalty.
Walker, 39, was convicted of murder in the 1992 death of Elmon Tito
Davidson Jr., in Greensboro. Walker has maintained his innocence.
Davidson's body was never found and there is no physical evidence of the
However, 4 others charged in the crime reached plea agreements with
prosecutors. 3 of them testified against Walker at his trial and have been
released from prison; the fourth is eligible for parole next year.
2 other women who testified against Walker were never charged, but
Walker's attorneys argued that they could be considered accessories after
the fact to the murder.
In a 1995 trial, jurors decided that Walker was guilty of first-degree
murder by acting with others to kill Davidson, rejecting evidence that he
had delivered the fatal shot to Davidson himself.
Jonathan Babb, a special deputy attorney general, argued that the statute
did not apply to Walker because the evidence showed his responsibility for
the crime is greater than that of someone who is an accessory before the
fact. A person is considered to be an accessory before the fact if he
persuades others to commit a crime, but is not actually close enough to
assist with the crime if needed when it is carried out.
"There is a drastic difference in degree of culpability between someone
who is at the scene and someone who is not at the scene," Babb said.
The jury, Babb said, decided that Walker's role merited the death penalty
and that the verdict should stand.
The state attorney general's office can appeal Craig's ruling to the N.C.
Supreme Court before Friday and ask that the execution go ahead as
scheduled. Babb declined to comment on a possible appeal.
Walker did not attend yesterday's hearing, but 15 of his family members
did. They hugged his attorneys outside the courtroom after Craig's
Angela Douthit, a cousin who lives in Clemmons, said she had been
"expecting a miracle," and thought that Craig's decision qualified.
Gretchen Engel, the director of post-conviction litigation for the Center
for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, said that appeals based on
questions about guilt have been mostly unsuccessful in the past, but that
several high-profile cases of inmates being exonerated have raised
awareness of flaws in the justice system.
One of the inmates who was exonerated - Darryl Hunt - spoke at a small
rally of death-penalty opponents before yesterday's hearing. Hunt, who was
wrongfully convicted of the 1984 murder of newspaper copy editor Deborah
Sykes in Winston-Salem, said he has reviewed Walker's case and believes
that he is innocent.
"It's shocking to me that the system can actually convict a person who's
innocent and let the guilty people walk the street," Hunt said.
(source: Winston-Salem Journal)
High Court Won't Slow Process for Peterson - The state's top jurists
refuse to postpone the trial's penalty phase, due to begin today.
The California Supreme Court on Monday declined to delay the penalty phase
of the Scott Peterson trial, setting the stage for the same jury that
convicted him of killing his pregnant wife and unborn son to now determine
whether he should live or die.
Prosecutors are expected to launch the penalty phase today by presenting
vivid testimony of how Laci Peterson's slaying, on Christmas Eve of 2002,
has devastated relatives, including her mother, Sharon Rocha, who once
counted Scott Peterson as a trusted friend.
The court's decision follows an appeal made by defense attorney Mark
Geragos on Wednesday to impanel a new jury in another county, such as Los
Angeles, to handle the penalty phase. Geragos argued that the current
panel has been tainted by the intense publicity surrounding the case.
Of particular concern, Geragos has said, was the "lynch mob atmosphere"
created by an estimated 1,000 people who gathered at the courthouse and
cheered after the verdict was read.
But the high court refused to intervene at this point in the 5 1/2 -month
Criminal trial analysts said that Peterson's request for a delay may be
part of a legal strategy designed to put some time between the guilty
verdict and the penalty phase and, as one put it, "let jurors' emotions
cool off a little."
"Obviously, the jury must have felt very antagonistically when they came
back with that verdict," said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola
Law School. "It can't hurt. The further you go into the holiday period,
the more forgiving jurors can be."
On Nov. 12, the 6-man, 6-woman jury convicted the 32-year-old Modesto
fertilizer salesman on 1 count of 1st-degree murder in the death of Laci
Peterson and one count of 2nd-degree murder for the killing of the
couple's unborn son, Conner.
Prosecutors are expected to paint Peterson as a liar, philanderer and
heartless killer, presenting a video highlighting Laci Peterson's life and
retelling the facts of the case in detail.
Prosecutors argued that Peterson strangled or smothered his wife and
dumped her body into San Francisco Bay, about a month after he began an
affair with Fresno massage therapist Amber Frey.
About four months later, the bodies of Laci Peterson and her unborn son
washed up on the shore, near where Peterson had told police he had been
fishing on the day she was first reported missing.
The speculation is that Geragos will argue that his client's life should
be spared because there was too much lingering doubt in the largely
circumstantial case to condemn Peterson to die.
Trial analysts do not expect Peterson to testify on his own behalf, given
that hundreds of secretly tape-recorded conversations between Peterson and
Frey showed him to be a chronic liar.
"I think it is highly unlikely that Peterson will take the stand,"
Levenson said. "The tapes make him out to be such a liar that it is
doubtful whether the jury would take seriously anything Scott Peterson
"Ultimately, however, Peterson will have to decide that for himself. It's
his call," Levenson said. "This man's life is on the line. He may decide
he's got nothing left to lose."
The penalty phase is expected to last about 4 days before the jury resumes
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Death penalty upheld in '91 Antioch slayings
A man who pleaded guilty to the 1991 killing of 3 women in Antioch must
face the death penalty, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The state high court unanimously upheld a 1992 Contra Costa jury's
sentence of death for William Ramos Jr.
Ramos, 52, confessed in 1992 to killing his stepdaughter, Tanya Karr; his
sister-in-law, Minnie Mae Coombs; and his girlfriend, Janice Butler. He
killed Coombs and Karr as retribution against his former wife for cheating
him out of money, according to testimony during the 1992 penalty trial. He
killed Butler for disclosing her affair with him to his former wife.
Ramos' attorneys argued that the original trial court should have held a
competency hearing before accepting his guilty plea. The attorneys said
that Ramos had requested death and told a news reporter that he "would
kill again, if crossed."
These facts were not enough to raise a competence question, the justices
"The record demonstrated that he knew what he was doing and was capable of
making that decision (to kill)," said Dane Gillette, an assistant attorney
A psychiatrist testified that Ramos had a paranoid personality deriving
from an abusive childhood and his service in Vietnam. The psychiatrist
also said that Ramos could still have understood the seriousness of his
actions, according to the court opinion.
In another case, a Nevada jury had convicted Ramos of attempted murder in
1996. He had a history of violence in jail, including an attack on a
Contra Costa sheriff's deputy.
Ramos can continue to appeal his sentence. The California Supreme Court
upholds nine out of 10 death penalty convictions, but the 9th Circuit
Court of Appeals overturns more than half, according to Death Penalty
Focus, an anti-death penalty group in San Francisco.
Ramos' attorney was not available for comment.
(source: Contra Costa Times)
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