[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----FLA., USA., CONN., MO.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Apr 11 03:49:54 CDT 2005
Woman seeking father meets death-row inmate----A DNA test will tell
whether the convicted killer is a New Jersey woman's father.
Tonya Cartagena is finally getting to know the man who very well may be
her father -- convicted death row inmate Sonny Ray Jeffries.
The 22-year-old woman, who recently moved to Central Florida from New
Jersey, met with Jeffries before his court hearing Friday and received
word that he will consent to a DNA test. His participation should put to
rest Cartagena's one burning question: Who is her father?
"I'm convinced [Jeffries is the father] but . . . I'm not getting my hopes
up," she said Friday. "I do want to know for sure if he's my dad. Because
if he's my dad, we can start fresh . . . and try to catch up on a lot of
Cartagena said she intends to maintain a relationship with Jeffries --
even from death row -- if he is her father. If it turns out Jeffries is
not, Cartagena said she will give up her search.
The Jeffries case made news last month, after the death row inmate went to
court to determine whether he is competent to give advice to his attorney.
Jeffries, who was convicted and sentenced to death in the stomping death
of an Orlando landlady during a 1993 robbery, has indicated that he wants
to waive his appeals and speed his sentence.
That means Jeffries seeks to die by lethal injection sooner.
But his appeals attorney, Daphney Gaylord, has argued that Jeffries has a
lengthy history of mental illness and is not competent.
Whether Jeffries is mentally ill has been central to his case for a long
time. He and Harry Thomas robbed and killed Wilma Martin, 68, in her
Orlando home in August 1993.
Thomas pleaded guilty to 2nd-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years
in prison. But it took almost 5 years for Jeffries to go to trial because
he was sent to a state mental hospital twice. Then, in 1998, a jury found
Jeffries guilty of killing Martin, who rented a house to his brother.
Jeffries represented himself during the trial. After his conviction, he
admitted killing Martin but said untreated gonorrhea drove him mad.
On Friday, doctors presented differing opinions on Jeffries' mental state
and competence. Orange Circuit Judge Bob Wattles isn't expected to rule on
his competence for at least 2 weeks.
Cartagena read about Jeffries in the Orlando Sentinel and learned about
his wishes to give up his appeals and, likely, be put to death.
Last summer, she discovered that the man she grew up thinking was her
biological father was not, after a DNA test. Then family members and her
mother indicated that Jeffries could be her father. And she learned where
But her earlier attempts to communicate with Jeffries, who is normally
held at the Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, were unsuccessful.
In court Friday, the heavily shackled Jeffries and Cartagena met in a
private room and briefly chatted. They share similar features --
especially their eyes -- and skin color.
When they returned to the courtroom, Wattles said he would enter an order
for the DNA test based on Jeffries' consent. The test results may only be
used to determine paternity, Wattles said.
Cartagena said she was nervous during their meeting. Jeffries asked about
her family and her 3 young children -- who might be Jeffries'
She didn't have baby pictures to show him. And they didn't embrace each
other, she said. "I'm not ready for that yet," said Cartagena, who also
described the meeting as "very weird."
"It kind of makes me sad," Cartagena said of Jeffries' intent to waive his
appeals. "But this is what he wants and nobody can change his mind."
She said that he indicated to her that "he wants to get it done and over
But Gaylord, Jeffries' lawyer, said he was excited about the meeting and
the prospect that he may have a daughter he never knew.
"I believe it has had an impact on his mind-set. I think it has had an
impact. So that's good for us," Gaylord said.
(source: Orlando Sentinel)
Florida Seeking Death Penalty For Christopher Popjes
The 2 men charged in the death of a 14-year old Florida boy could get the
This morning, a Florida grand jury decided to charge Christopher Popjes,
formerly known as Christopher Buist, on 1st degree murder charges.
Meanwhile, West Michigan native William Popjes was arraigned today. He
pled not guilty.
The state of Florida decided to seek the death penalty for both.
The pair will be in court again next month.
(source: WZZM News)
Time to terminate the death penalty
-- At issue: Should the U.S. end the death penalty?
-- Our view: The system is badly broken and no longer is a deterrent.
Recent news is pushing the capital punishment debate back into the
spotlight. This week, Amnesty International reported that 3,797 people
were openly executed in 25 countries last year, but that it has evidence
to assume the actual number may have been closer to 10,000.
What it didn't say was how many of those executed probably were innocent.
Even in the U.S., new evidence is challenging some long-held assumptions
about death sentences. The Moratorium Campaign's Sister Helen Prejean
helped dispel some of those myths during a presentation Sunday at Siena
The popular assumption is that -- in cases of life and death -- courts
insure innocent defendants never receive the death penalty. In fact,
however, 118 people on death row have been freed since 1973 after it was
determined their cases were badly mishandled or they were completely
innocent. One such person is Ray Krone, who spent 10 1/2 years on
Arizona's death row before DNA tests cleared him and implicated another
man for a 1991 murder. Last month in California, Blufford Hayes Jr.'s
death sentence was overturned by a federal appeals court that ruled
prosecutors knowlingly lied about a witness.
Madison Hobley, meanwhile, was freed by Illinois Gov. George Ryan after
internal police investigators supported a claim by Hobley and 9 other
death row inmates that they were tortured into giving confessions.
Krone, Hobley, Hayes and the other 115 are the lucky ones. Nobody can say
for sure how many were not so fortunate but Joseph O'Dell and Leonel
Herrera probably were two of the unlucky ones. O'Dell was executed in 1986
in Virginia on circumstantial evidence including testimony (later
recanted) by another inmate. His requests for DNA testing were denied, and
the state destroyed the evidence after his 1997 execution. Herrera was
executed in 1993 even after new evidence showed his brother was the actual
killer of two police officers. Texas law, though, required new evidence to
be presented within 30 days of a conviction so his appeal was denied.
Both men went to their deaths proclaiming their innocence.
It's hard to argue that some murderers -- "the worst of the worst" -- do
not deserve retribution. The focus should be on what is best for society,
though, and determining whether capital punishment does that better than a
sentence of life in prison:
-- Most studies have found the death penalty has little or no effect on
murder rates. Texas actually experienced more murders after it resumed
executions. California's rate has stayed steady, and its law obviously
failed to deter Scott Peterson.
-- Legal costs make it far more expensive to execute an inmate than to
imprison him. A Duke University study found North Carolina spent an
average of $2.16 million more on each death penalty case than on those
involving life in prison. The Timothy McVeigh case reportedly cost the
government $82.5 million to investigate and $15 million for defense costs.
-- Sentences are haphazardly applied. More than 80 percent of executions
take place in states that made up the old Confederacy. People such as
O'Dell and Herrera are executed while others such as Charles Manson remain
-- Death sentences are nine times more likely to be handed down to poor
defendants, whose lawyers often are paid at a rate far below what they
normally would receive.
Without a doubt, an executed killer will never kill an innocent person
again. Neither, however, will a government that sentences those convicted
of murder to life in solitary confinement. Michigan can be proud for
picking the latter option, thereby avoiding a system that should itself be
(source: Editorial, The Adrian (Mich.) Daily Telegram)
Pendulum begins swing away from death penalty ----'Culture of life' agenda
pushes advocates of capital punishment to rethink positions
It started when Rick Santorum, a conservative Republican senator from
Pennsylvania, announced two weeks ago that he was questioning his once
unyielding support for the death penalty.
Then Sen. Sam Brownback, an equally conservative Kansas Republican, chimed
in, saying capital punishment contradicts the efforts to establish a
"culture of life," a phrase that became prominent during the controversy
over Terri Schiavo's fate.
Neither lawmaker has suggested that the United States abandon the death
penalty altogether -- it should still be reserved for the "most horrific
and heinous of crimes," Santorum said.
But the apparent change of heart from 2 of its unequivocal supporters
illustrates a broader tendency.
"We've come to a new era in this issue," said Richard Dieter, head of the
Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit group in Washington critical
of the death penalty. "There is a sense that there are problems with the
death penalty, that there's a need for reform."
With an increasing number of convictions reversed by DNA evidence,
receding murder rates and the huge financial costs of putting people to
death, public support for capital punishment dropped to 50 % last year
from 80 % in 1994, according to a Gallup poll.
The numbers of executions and death sentences have almost halved in the
past 5 years, according to figures supplied by the Death Penalty
Information Center. Last year, 59 death row inmates were executed, down
from 98 in 1999; December was the 1st month in a decade that passed
without an execution.
There are other signs of the death penalty's decline. Last month, the U.S.
Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that it was unconstitutional to
execute juveniles, or those who committed capital murder when they were
New York's Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, declared the death
penalty statute unconstitutional last year. A bill to reinstitute the
death penalty, which was passed by the state Senate last month, is
expected to fail a state Assembly committee vote scheduled for Tuesday.
In Texas, which led the nation with 23 executions last year, Houston
Police Chief Harold Hurtt called for a moratorium on executions on cases
from his county, Harris County, after the local police crime lab was
"I think it would be very prudent for us as a criminal justice system to
delay further executions until we have had time to review the evidence,"
Hurtt said last fall. Gov. Rick Perry has rejected Hurtt's call, despite
similar appeals from state and local lawmakers.
Even President Bush, who signed off on 152 executions in his six years as
Texas governor, called for "dramatically expanding" the use of DNA
evidence in capital cases in his State of the Union address in January.
Bush also called for an increase of federal funding for defense lawyers,
saying that "people on trial for their lives must have competent lawyers
by their side."
Perhaps even more unexpected were the statements from Sens. Santorum and
Brownback, who had both voted against measures in the mid-1990s that would
have made it easier for death-row inmates to appeal their sentences.
"While I still believe that the death penalty has some value, I have seen
that there are serious questions about its use, such as possible wrongful
convictions," said Santorum, through a spokeswoman.
"Whereas before I was an unquestioning supporter, now I am inclined to
urge more caution," added Santorum, who in 1994 voted against a proposal
to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment.
Brownback was even bolder.
"If we're trying to establish a culture of life, it's difficult to have
the state sponsoring executions," he told U.S. News & World Report this
month. He also suggested that taxpayer funding for abortions and capital
punishment should be eliminated.
"My hope is that we form a left-right coalition on life," he said.
Brownback's comment indicates a potential broadening of the conservative
"culture of life" agenda, which has been limited primarily to opposition
to abortion, same-sex marriage and stem-cell research.
"One of the really interesting things about the movement against the death
penalty is how diverse it is," said Brooke Matschek, a spokeswoman for the
Religious Organizing Against the Death Penalty Project, a Philadelphia-
based activist organization. "People are starting to understand that it's
not a perfect system."
Santorum, who is Catholic, first expressed his change of heart late last
month, after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops began a campaign to
end the death penalty in the United States on the heels of a sharp decline
in support for capital punishment among America's Catholics.
According to a Zogby International poll of 1,000 Catholics in March, just
48 percent supported capital punishment -- down from 68 percent in 1994.
John Zogby, who heads the polling organization, called the difference
Among America's evangelical Christians, support has dwindled from 82 % in
1996 to 59 percent in 2004, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on
Religion & Public Life -- although influential conservative evangelical
groups, such as Colorado-based Focus on the Family, continue to back
"There are still some contradictions with people who consider themselves
pro-life but not when it comes to the death penalty," said Matschek.
Dieter, of the Death Penalty Information Center, noted that the majority
of Americans still back the death penalty, and that death sentences and
As of Jan. 1, there were 3,455 inmates on death row, according to the
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund -- 81 more than 2003, the most
recent year in which the Justice Department supplies figures. The increase
can be traced in part to the rise in the number of inmates on federal
Next month, Connecticut is scheduled to carry out the 1st capital
punishment in New England in more than four decades, executing serial
killer and rapist Michael Ross. Two weeks ago, the Connecticut House of
Representatives voted down a bill that would have replaced the state's
death penalty with life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
A similar bill failed Tuesday in the Texas Senate.
Ohio executed 7 inmates in 2004, up from 3 in 2003.
Juries from the liberal Bay Area imposed three separate death sentences in
the space of a week in December, first against Scott Peterson for
murdering his wife, Laci, then, a day later, against Stuart Alexander who
killed three meat inspectors, and, 3 days after that against Glenn Taylor
Helzer, who dismembered the 5 people he murdered.
Nevertheless, Dieter says he detects a fundamental shift of attitude about
"Although the death penalty remains real and can pop up in different
places," he said, "it doesn't seem that it's being universally embraced."
(source: San Francisco Chronicle)
Witness: Ross Trapped By His Own Words, Guilt----Testimony Counters
Serial killer Michael Ross testified Friday that it is his firm decision
to be executed next month, even in the face of pleas by the woman he loves
to file appeals that would prolong his life.
But it was revealed Friday through sworn statements by Ross confidante
Martha Elliott that Ross feels trapped by his public assertions that he is
prepared to die to spare the families of his victims further pain. If he
reneges, she said, he believes he would be taunted by fellow inmates and
tormented by those who would mock him in the press.
"It would be too humiliating for him to do so," Elliott said in a
deposition March 24. "He would rather be dead than humiliated."
If Thursday's pronouncement by court-appointed psychiatrist Dr. Michael
Norko that Ross is mentally competent to opt for execution made his death
by lethal injection May 11 seem a near certainty, Friday's testimony may
have radically altered those odds.
Superior Court Judge Patrick Clifford, in these reopened competency
hearings, is focusing on whether Ross' decision to die is voluntary and
not a product of coercion by others, his conditions of confinement or a
mental illness that undermines his ability to make a rational decision.
Ross was composed through most of Friday's hearing, even when his father,
Dan Ross, testified he does not believe Ross has the capacity to show
remorse or sincerely comprehend the pain of his victims' families.
"I don't think he has any real compassion," Dan Ross testified during his
relatively brief 20 minutes on the witness stand. Dan Ross agreed that his
son is "very religious."
A love story is oddly woven into this hearing on whether Ross will become
the 1st man executed in New England in nearly 45 years.
Susan Powers of Oklahoma wrote to Ross after she read one of his writings
online, and visited him sometime in the summer of 2001. A romance flared,
despite the glass barrier that barred physical contact. Their visits were
lengthier when Ross was briefly transferred to New York to stand trial for
the killing of one of his earliest victims, 6-year-old Paula Perrera.
Already under multiple sentences of death in Connecticut, Ross ultimately
pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Perrera's killing.
Ross said he and Powers were engaged briefly, but after she was involved
in a car accident in the summer of 2002, Powers ended her relationship
with Ross, notably on his birthday - July 26. Ross became so despondent
that he attempted suicide in March 2003.
As his original execution date of Jan. 26 of this year neared, Ross wrote
Powers. She responded, visited, and re-entered his life.
He testified Friday she has "complicated" matters to be sure, because she
is trying to "cash in" on a promise he made her in 2002 that he would
avail himself of all appeals open to him.
"I told her I can't do that," Ross said.
He wept as he read excerpts from several letters he has written her
recently, in which he reiterates, "I have no choice." This provided fodder
for special counsel Thomas Groark to question Ross at length about whether
he was acting of his own volition.
"I don't have a choice," Ross answered Groark. "I have to do what I
believe is right."
In one letter to Powers dated Feb. 20, Ross said his decision "was so easy
before you came back into my life. I stop the system from re-victimizing
the families of my victims and, as a fringe benefit, I get out of dodge."
Groark asked him what he meant by his reference to Dodge, commonly
associated with the Dodge City of the Wild West. Ross replied, "I wouldn't
have to be in prison anymore."
Clifford appointed Groark, a prominent civil lawyer, to argue the case for
Ross' incompetence and inject into these new proceedings the adversarial
element that was missing last December. Ross' attorney, T.R. Paulding, and
New London State's Attorney Kevin Kane have found themselves on the same
page in advocating Ross' right to proceed to his execution.
Groark launched a two-pronged attack in his methodical questioning of
Ross. First he sought to undermine Ross' insistence that he was motivated
primarily by concerns that his victims' families not have to endure
further hearings and the publicity they spawn. Then he used various
letters and articles Ross has written in an effort to highlight Ross'
ambivalence and lack of sincerity about what he contends is his real
motive - to escape 18 years of life on death row through state-assisted
Paulding in turn pointed to letters written by Ross dating as far back as
1987 - when he was convicted of kidnapping and strangling 4 young women
from eastern Connecticut in 1983 and 1984 - to emphasize Ross' consistent
compassion for the families of his victims.
Ross distinguished accepting execution from embracing his death.
"I've said on the stand I don't particularly want to die," Ross told
Groark. "It's not clear-cut. Different things I feel at different times.
There are no simple answers. At times when I'm depressed, I'd just as soon
be executed. There are times when I'm feeling good and I care more about
Ross, though visibly upset at times, also showed Friday that he has not
lost his cutting wit. In one letter to Powers in January, he says to
change his mind "would dishonor and betray who I truly am. Too many have
tried to dishonor me lately." Groark asked him who he was referring to in
that latter statement.
"The public defenders," Ross said of his former lawyers who filed numerous
motions, against his will, to try to halt his January execution. "I don't
think you were part of this yet," Ross told the recently appointed Groark,
"But it would be you nowadays."
Elliott is a former editor of the Connecticut Law Tribune who wrote about
Ross' effort in the mid-1990s to stipulate to a death sentence rather than
endure a second penalty hearing, where the gruesome details of his
killings would be rehashed.
"He does not like to sit in court and listen to what he's done because
he's ashamed of it," Elliott said during her telephone deposition. She now
lives in California.
She also said Ross "would rather die than live under the conditions he now
lives under for the rest of his life."
Elliott was visiting Ross along with his former public defender, Barry
Butler, on Jan. 28, after his execution had been halted 12 hours earlier
by Paulding, whose law license had been threatened by a federal judge.
Butler had brought along a transcript of the telephone conference between
Paulding and Chief U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny. Elliott read
aloud to Ross a portion in which Chatnigny ventured that Ross so clearly
suffered from a mental illness that he possibly should not have been
convicted, let alone be sentenced to death.
"His demeanor changed completely," Elliott said. "He was excited. ... It
was like the heavens opened up and the [alleluia] chorus was singing to
But Elliott added that even the possibility that at least one judge
believed he deserved a life sentence would not motivate Ross to halt his
"He can't do it himself," Elliott said. "He's publicly said this is what
he is going to do. He's fixated on this. He even said he couldn't change
The hearing is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. Monday in Superior Court in
(source: Hartford Courant)
Family of victim, accused seek leniency in death penalty case
Relatives of a death row inmate who killed his St. Louis grandmother in
1993 after she refused to give him money to buy crack cocaine are asking
the governor for leniency.
"We have had enough death in our family," said Matthew Knuckles, a Rock
Hill alderman for 16 years. "We just don't want any more grief to come
Last month, the Missouri Supreme Court set an April 27 execution date for
Donald Jones, 38. He was convicted on June 16, 1994, of first-degree
murder and armed criminal action in the beating and stabbing of Dorothy
Knuckles, 68. A judge sentenced him to death on July 22, 1994.
Matthew Knuckles and another brother of the victim, Lester Knuckles, the
former mayor of Velda Village (now Velda City), are leading the effort to
persuade Gov. Matt Blunt to reduce Jones' sentence to life in prison
The family is circulating a petition, has filed a request for clemency
with Blunt and is working with lawyers to file more court appeals.
Bill Swift, a public defender in Columbia, said one of the issues he will
ask the Missouri Supreme Court to reconsider is a U.S. Supreme Court
ruling that increases the requirements for defense lawyers to examine a
defendant's life history.
Regardless of the legal issues, he said, the family's own opposition
should be compelling enough. Relatives also asked the trial court to spare
"This family went to the prosecutor and then went into court and said, 'We
don't want the death penalty,' and yet their preference was ignored,"
Swift said. "Usually, the courts talk about how the victim's family wants
the death penalty. Not this family."
Scott Holste, a spokesman for Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, said
the office remains opposed to overturning the sentence.
Blunt, meanwhile, planned to review the case, said Jessica Robinson, a
spokeswoman for the governor. She said he has asked the state Board of
Probation and Parole to consider the case and offer a recommendation.
(source: Associated Press)
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