[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, MISS., USA, N.Y.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Apr 3 19:17:07 CDT 2005
New Trial Centers on Questions of Death Penalty So Far
Ricky Joseph Langley wanted a new trial after being convicted of murder,
and he got it.
But now his lawyers are arguing about just how new they want the trial to
be. The lawyers for Langley are opposing the prosecutor's intention to
seek the death penalty for their client. They say the last jury to hear
Langley's case convicted him of 2nd-degree murder -- effectively rejecting
the death penalty. And they say it would be unfair to seek the death
penalty this time around.
Prosecutors say Langley's last trial shouldn't have a bearing on whether
they pursue a 1st-degree murder charge this time around.
Langley has already been convicted twice -- and both convictions have been
overturned. He's accused of strangling a 6-year-old boy from the town of
(source: KBTV News)
Federal appeals court denies appeal by Miss. death row inmate
In Jackson, a federal appeals court has upheld a ruling denying death row
inmate John B. Nixon Sr.'s claims that his attorney didn't do a good job
and that his Rankin County jury shouldn't have been told about a previous
Nixon appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans
after a federal judge in Jackson - in decisions between 1998 and 2002 -
denied Nixon's claims.
The 5th Circuit this past week ruled that Nixon's claim of ineffective
counsel involved only disagreement over courtroom strategy. And the
appeals court said the evidence against Nixon was so overwhelming that the
introduction of the rape conviction was a minor issue for consideration by
Nixon, a former Utica auto repairman, was convicted of capital murder in
the Jan. 2, 1985, murder-for-hire of Virginia Tucker, 45, in her Brandon
home. Tucker's ex-husband, Elester Joseph Ponthieux of Raymond, is serving
a life sentence for hiring Nixon to kill her.
Virginia Tucker's husband, Thomas, was wounded and identified Nixon as the
2 of Nixon's sons and a friend were also convicted in the killing.
Among the ineffective counsel issues raised by Nixon were that his
attorney presented an unprofessional closing argument during sentencing.
Appeals Judge Edith H. Jones, writing for the 5th Circuit, said Nixon's
attorneys made the decision to plead for his life rather than rehash the
evidence that convicted him at trial.
"As a strategic decision, this was not unreasonable," Jones wrote.
Jones said Nixon's sons were willing to testify against him and other
family members wouldn't testify for him.
"Contrary to Nixon's claim that this argument all but invited a death
sentence, defense counsel was merely acknowledging the jury's verdict and
asking for mercy," Jones wrote.
According to court documents, Nixon had pleaded guilty to rape in 1958 in
Texas. At Nixon's trial, prosecutors were allowed to use the rape
conviction to support their seeking the death penalty.
Nixon argued the information on the rape conviction unfairly turned the
jury against him. Nixon said he probably would have gotten the same life
sentence as Ponthieux except for the rape conviction.
The 5th Circuit said the two cases were different.
Jones said the evidence showed Nixon agreed to kill the Tuckers for money,
brought his two sons along with him, rejected the Tuckers' attempts to pay
him to leave them alone and wounded Thomas Tucker when he tried to flee.
Jones said the jury heard only the barest details of the rape conviction.
"Nixon was the paid killer and the central character in the grisly
events," Jones wrote. "Nixon, moreover, was engaging in heartless,
calculated murder for hire and bringing his children into the criminal
enterprise as well; these facts qualitatively distinguish Nixon's guilt
from that of Ponthieux."
(source: Associated Press)
Television host Bill Kurtis, once a strong defender of the death penalty,
is now an outspoken critic of a judicial system that sentences people to
The Death Penalty on Trial tells captivating stories about two men
convicted of brutal murders. Both were sentenced to die. Neither man
Yet the flaws and weaknesses in our judicial system almost sent both
innocent men to their deaths.
Kurtis, who produces Cold Case Files and anchors American Justice for A&E
Television, identifies several reasons why our courts often convict the
wrong people: overzealous and dishonest prosecutors, corrupt police
officers, unreliable witnesses, incompetent defense lawyers and jailhouse
informants looking to get a break for themselves.
"Eyewitnesses have been shown to be notoriously unreliable.
Jailhouse informants, while sometimes shockingly impressive, simply lie."
There are powerful moral and ethical arguments against the death penalty.
Kurtis simply looks at the facts.
And he comes to a simple conclusion. The potential for mistakes and errors
in our justice system is too great to justify using the death penalty as
an ultimate punishment.
Kurtis opens with the story of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a
longtime backer of the death penalty. After studying how innocent men had
been condemned to die in his state, Ryan announced, in January 2003, that
he was commuting death sentences for 164 inmates to life in prison without
Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II sent Ryan notes of congratulation for
2 murder cases
Kurtis picked his case studies carefully. Both men were white. Both were
"Race and poverty are major factors in why the death penalty is not
applied fairly throughout the United States," Kurtis wrote. "I wanted to
move beyond those points to other failings of the system just as
egregious, but not as well-documented."
Roy Krone was convicted in the 1991 murder of Kim Ancona, an attractive
36-year-old manager of the CBS Restaurant and Lounge in Phoenix, Ariz.
Ancona, who dated Krone a few times, was stabbed to death in the early
morning hours in the men's room of her lounge.
Krone was arrested within a few hours, then later convicted twice for
killing Ancona. He spent 10 years behind bars.
Finally, DNA tests revealed Ancona's real killer was Kenneth Phillips, a
sexual offender who lived just 600 yards away from the CBS bar. When
authorities linked him to the murder, Phillips was already serving time in
prison for another sexual crime he committed a month after stabbing
When Krone walked out of jail in April 2002, he was the 100th inmate
released from Death Row since 1973.
In the case of Tom Kimbell, 2 juries looked at almost the same evidence.
But they reached 2 different verdicts in the 1994 stabbing deaths of
Bonnie Dryfuse, her 2 daughters and a niece in a mobile home park in
There was no physical evidence to prove Kimbell committed the murders.
Kurtis shows how preventing the first jury from hearing one line in a
telephone conversation might have assured his conviction.
When Kimbell was acquitted after his second trial, the man who was
probably the real killer, Bonnie's husband Thomas Jake Dryfuse, quickly
During a telephone interview, Kurtis said he understands why prosecutors
often suppress evidence that might protect defendants.
"The career path for a successful prosecutor is to wrack up wins so he can
get elected, perpetuates himself in office. The temptation for a
prosecutor to suppress evidence, forget about it, is just so great,
especially with pressure from the community and the victim's family."
"When I zero in and work for months and work on a story, the last thing I
want to do is admit there is another side," Kurtis said.
Kurtis said a principle stated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1935 is too
"A prosecutor's proper interest is not that he shall win a case, but that
justice shall be done," the court stated.
After Gov. Ryan left office, Illinois officials ignored his pleas to stop
executions, Kurtis said.
"In Illinois today, we have 10 new guys on death row, after the former
governor commuted the sentences of those 164 others to life without
"The Death Penalty on Trial" presents these interesting facts: - Since
1930, 3,859 people have been executed: 1,751 were white and 2,066 were
- Only 4 countries execute more people than the United States: China,
Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
- The U.S. was1 of 6 nations - the others were Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria,
Saudi Arabia and Yemen - that sentenced juveniles to death. Then, on March
1, the Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that such executions were
Many other recent books back the conclusions Kurtis reaches.
In 1998, David Protess and Rob Warden published "A Promise of Justice"
about the Ford Heights Four, young African-American men convicted of
killing a white couple in suburban Chicago in 1978.
Using research done by Northwestern University journalism students, the 4
men were eventually found innocent, but not before they spent a total of
65 years in prison. 2 were on death row.
In 1992, Northeastern University published "In Spite of Innocence," which
chronicles the stories of more than 400 Americans wrongly convicted of
crimes punishable by death. Some were executed. Most spent years in
"The administration of justice is complicated, too complicated to make
death its product," Kurtis concludes.
Bill Kurtis, The Death Penalty on Trial: Crisis in American Justice. New
York: Public Affairs (Perseus Books), 2004, 218 pages. Hardcover, $25.
(source: West Virginia Gazette)
Prisoners on Death Row
To the Editor:
In "Breeding Psychotics" (Op-Ed, March 27), Michael B. Mushlin writes of
prisoners on death row in New York: "All meals are given to inmates in
their cells during the daytime shift, which means that inmates go more
than 16 hours without food."
Dinner at 5 and breakfast at 9? I don't know if I could stand it.
If we are talking about prisoners who have been convicted of crimes
serious enough to get them sentenced to death, how do inmates' rights and
living conditions even enter the conversation?
Law-abiding citizens should not be required to foot the bill for the
coddling of death row inmates. Those guilty of heinous crimes are a cancer
to society and deserve immediate excision.
Michael Geiger -- The Bronx
(source: Letter to the Editor, New York Times)
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