[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----N.Y., LA., VA., UTAH, ALA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Apr 13 10:41:03 CDT 2005
N.Y. DEATH PENALTY IS D.O.A.
Assembly Democrats yesterday put what could be the final nail in the
coffin of the state's death penalty - leaving Gov. Pataki fuming.
The Assembly Codes Committee voted down legislation aimed at fixing a
major sentencing provision of the death-penalty law, which had been struck
down last year by the state's highest court as unconstitutional.
By a vote of 11-7, the committee voted against reporting the bill to the
full house of the Assembly for a vote. 3 Democrats and all 4 Republicans
on the panel voted in favor of reporting the bill out of committee.
Without a fix to the law, there is effectively no death penalty in New
Pataki, whose support for reinstating the death penalty helped propel him
to victory over incumbent Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1994, called yesterday's
committee vote "outrageous."
"The Assembly leadership is denying its own members the ability to put a
strong and sensible capital-punishment law back on the books," he said.
Assembly Republicans vowed to introduce next week a motion that
effectively would bypass the committee and allow the measure to come
before the full Assembly, but similar efforts on other legislation have
failed in the past.
"The bill is dead," Assembly Codes Committee Chairman Joseph Lentol said
after an hour of emotional debate by committee members.
Until it was effectively taken off the books last year, no one had been
executed under the death penalty law, which was reinstated in 1995 after
Pataki was elected.
Lentol, who voted in favor of the law a decade ago, argued that rather
than risk putting innocent people to death, justice can now be served with
a maximum sentence of life in prison without the chance of parole.
(source: New York Post)
Death penalty bill will not be put to a vote
The Assembly Codes Committee gave the death penalty a lethal injection
Tuesday by voting to kill a bill that would have addressed a Court of
Appeals decision rendering the statute unconstitutional.
After rebuking repeated requests by the Assembly Republicans to allow the
bill to the floor so it could be debated and voted on by the entire
150-member chamber, the Democratic-led committee voted 11-7 to kill it in
The bill, which is one-word different than one passed by the Senate, would
have remedied the Court of Appeals concern that sentencing guidelines
coerced jurors into voting to impose a penalty of death.
The vote ensures Michael "Murder" Hoffler, a 3-time convicted felony drug
dealer, will be spared the death penalty if convicted of murdering
confidential informant Christopher Drabik. Hoffler's trial starts in
Rensselaer County Court on May 9. Also, Tuesday, County Court Judge
Patrick McGrath sentenced Gregory "G" Heckstall to life without parole for
his role in Drabik's death.
District Attorney Patricia DeAngelis filed a notice to seek the death
penalty against Heckstall and Hoffler after the Court of Appeals June
ruling with the hopes the Legislature would fix the statute by the time
the 2 went to trial.
DeAngelis would not comment on the Assembly's action, but during
Heckstall's sentencing she said he "deserved to die" and that "life
without parole is too good" for the hired gun brought up from New York
City with the sole purpose of shooting a man.
However, while Republicans bemoaned the fact only a handful of Assembly
members determined the immediate future of the death penalty, most
observers on hand were happy to see it abolished.
"The death penalty does not ultimately resolve the matter. People
exercising violence to combat violence is not the answer," said Bishop
Howard Hubbard. "I believe there are other ways to protect society from
violent offenders and I think that by not restoring the death penalty that
wrongful convictions will not result in executions."
Rather than impose a quick fix to the death penalty like the Senate and
the governor, the Assembly held five public hearings during which 170
people testified, the great majority of whom spoke against capital
punishment. Generally, those opposed said the death penalty is cost
prohibitive, is not a deterrent, the majority on death row are minorities
and there is an ever-present risk of putting an innocent person to death.
The Assembly, in essence, used the court's ruling to open debate on the
pros and cons of the death penalty rather than focusing on what the court
deemed unconstitutional. What is clear is that attitudes have changed in
the 10 years since the death penalty was re-instated.
"After a 10-year experience a lot has transpired," said Chairman of the
Assembly Codes Committee, Joseph Lentol, D-Brooklyn, who voted to kill the
bill Tuesday but voted for the death penalty in 1995 when it passed the
Assembly by a vote of 94-52.
In 10 years, the state spent $170 million implementing the death penalty
yet has not put one person to death.
Assemblyman Ronald Canestrari, D-Cohoes, also voted for the death penalty
10 years ago but said he would not vote to re-instate it because the wide
spread use of DNA evidence has led to finding more and more innocent
people on death row.
On the flip side, Gov. George E. Pataki and state Senate Majority Leader
Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, said the death penalty is a deterrent and a
major reason violent crime is down in this state.
Assemblyman David Townsend, R-Oriskany, a former state trooper, said the
death penalty is needed to protect all New Yorkers, but particularly law
(source: The Troy Record)
Author: Death penalty 98% political -- BR murder victims' moms challenge
Death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean lectures to a group at the LSU
Law School Tuesday.
Sister Helen Prejean told a group of mostly LSU students Tuesday night
that Louisiana and other states need to change the "climate" that
continues to breathe life into this country's system of capital
Prejean said there are still politicians, including district attorneys,
who use the imposition of death sentences as a political means of winning
"I would say that the death penalty is 98 % political. It is about 2 %
about criminal justice," Prejean said during a lecture at LSU. Prejean is
on a speaking tour for her second book, titled The Death of Innocents.
"People running for office will say, 'I got 5 death penalties or I got 3
She also said that the death penalty has become something most commonly
found in the "climate" of the south.
Prejean said that 80 % of the executions that have been carried out since
the death penalty was reimposed in the 1970s occur in 8 of the 10 southern
states where slavery existed the longest.
Prejean, a strong opponent of the death penalty, is most widely known for
having written the book Dead Man Walking. Prejean has said she became
aware of Louisiana's death penalty process through visits to a death row
inmate, Patrick Sonnier. Her book chronicled her experiences on death row
as a spiritual advisor.
In the new book, Prejean gives an eyewitness account of witnessing the
execution of 2 men she believes were innocent. One of the men, Dobie
Gillis Williams, who was executed in Louisiana and the other, Joseph
O'Dell, who was executed in Virginia.
Prejean said recent United States Supreme Court rulings that have banned
the execution of juveniles and the mentally retarded indicate that the
United States is beginning to take the lead of the majority of other
countries in the world where death penalties do not exist.
Prejean said individual states are changing on their own. She said the
state of New Mexico, which had few death sentences, has a bill to abolish
the dealth penalty altogether. Others have taken different tacts.
In Colorado, she said, the state better funds public defenders and the
state has only 2 inmates on death row.
During a question and answer session, 2 mothers of victims of serial
killer Derrick Todd Lee challenged Prejean's views.
Ann Pace, of Jackson, Miss., is the mother of Charlotte Murray Pace, a
former LSU graduate student. Lee was convicted of killing Charlotte Murray
Pace at her home on Sharlo Avenue on May 31, 2002.
Lee has been sentenced to death in that case.
Lee has also been convicted in Port Allen of killing Geralyn DeSoto of
Addis and was sentenced to life in prison.
Pace told Prejean that with some offenders, such as Lee, death is the only
"Some offenders are unsafe in any venue at all," Pace said after she
showed the crowd two pictures of her daughter, one smiling before the
attack and the other taken after her death.
"It was an end of a nightmare at the end of that trial," Pace said. But
because of advocates against the death penalty such as Prejean, Pace said,
she and other victims' family members will have to remain diligent to see
that the sentence gets carried out.
"Your advocacy has an extremely dark side," Pace told Prejean. "I don't
see you as someone who has compassion for me."
Instead, Pace said she sees Prejean as a person whose advocacy she'll
"have to fight for the rest of my life."
Lynne Marino of New Orleans is the mother of Pam Kinamore. Authorities
also contend that Lee is linked by DNA to Kinamore's death. Police have
booked Lee on a count of first-degree murder in Kinamore's death, but the
case has yet to be taken before a grand jury.
Marino, who responded to Prejean's claim that DNA is clearing people of
crimes for which they have been sentenced to death, said it would be wrong
to "throw out the baby with the bathwater."
Marino said family members are not seeking vengeance against Lee, but they
In all, Lee is accused of killing seven women in South Louisiana.
Prejean did not respond directly to the comments of Pace and Marino.
Prejean said she does not know how she would react if someone close to her
"When you hear the anguish of a person who has lost a loved one, how can
you look at that person and say, 'You shouldn't feel that way,'" Prejean
But, Prejean said society has a way of keeping dangerous criminals away
from its people, and that's by putting them in prison for life, if
(source: The Advocate)
U.S. Faulted In Slaying Of Witness
A 16-year-old federal witness was not properly supervised in an FBI safe
house in Maryland, which became the scene of drinking and drug use
involving the same violent street gang whose members are now accused of
killing her, according to federal court testimony yesterday.
While Brenda Paz was staying at the Silver Spring apartment in 2003,
police investigated the report of a rape there, FBI agent Lawrence
Alexander testified. The next day, he said, 10 people were arrested at the
apartment, including members of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13. Paz, a key
government witness in a crackdown on the violent gang, then disappeared.
Defense attorneys for four MS-13 members being tried on murder charges in
U.S. District Court in Alexandria blamed the government yesterday for not
protecting Paz, even though a psychological report had indicated she
needed close monitoring. The defense argued that plenty of gang members
wanted Paz dead but that their clients didn't kill her.
"She wasn't really closely monitored by your office, by the U.S. Marshals
Service or by county detectives, was she?" defense attorney Jerome Aquino
asked Alexander yesterday, the trial's 2nd day.
"No," replied Alexander, who said he visited Paz twice a week. Paz's
court-appointed guardian, Greg Hunter, testified under questioning by the
defense that there was drug use and underage drinking at the safe house.
The government later put Paz in a witness protection program and gave her
a new identity before she disappeared once again. But at issue yesterday
were the 3 months she spent in the Silver Spring apartment in late 2002
and early 2003.
During yesterday's testimony, the four defendants sat in a courtroom under
heavy guard. MS-13 is considered the most violent street gang in Northern
After Paz disappeared from the FBI safe house, she resurfaced and was
placed in the witness protection program run by the U.S. Marshals Service,
where she received a new identity. But she could not cut her ties to her
MS-13 friends, who located her in a hotel room in Minnesota. When federal
agents visited, she passed the gang members off as friends or told them to
hide, defense attorneys said.
Paz, then 17, left the program and returned with MS-13 to Virginia, where
her pregnant, tattoo-covered body was found on the banks of the Shenandoah
River in July 2003. Prosecutors say she was targeted for death by MS-13
after gang members found her diary, which contained police business cards
and details of her dealings with law enforcement.
The FBI and federal prosecutors yesterday declined to comment on their
handling of Paz. A spokesman for the Marshals Service, Dave Turner, said
only that Paz left the program on her own and that "she was alive when she
Paz, a longtime MS-13 member known within the gang as "Smiley," was
scheduled to be a witness in a federal murder trial in Alexandria in 2003.
One of the MS-13 members later convicted in that slaying, Denis Rivera,
20, of Alexandria, is among the men on trial in Paz's killing. Also
charged are Oscar A. Grande, 21, of Fairfax County, Ismael J. Cisneros,
25, of Vienna, and Oscar Garcia-Orellana, 31, of Fairfax.
The government is seeking the death penalty for each. Prosecutors have
said that the men formed a "kill team," targeting Paz for her cooperation
with authorities, and that the slaying was organized from Rivera's jail
cell in Alexandria. Paz was stabbed repeatedly while a rope was held
around her neck, prosecutors said.
(source: Washington Post)
Death-row inmate to get new hearing on guilty plea
The Utah Supreme Court has ordered a hearing on death-row inmate Douglas
Lovell's 12-year-old request to withdraw his guilty plea in the murder of
Lovell pleaded guilty to the 1985 murder of Yost and was sentenced to
death for the crime Aug. 18, 1993. His attorney filed a notice of appeal
of the sentence Aug. 30.
One day later, the judge received a handwritten letter from Lovell in
which he said he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea and that he had tried
to contact his attorney "over a week ago" to withdraw the plea.
The justices said in Tuesday's opinion that they should have made clearer
in a 1995 ruling that the trial court should have considered the merit of
"When we stated in our opinion on Mr. Lovell's direct appeal that 'all of
Lovell's claims fail,' we did not intend to dispose of Mr. Lovell's
pending motion to withdraw his guilty plea, which was still awaiting
action in the trial court," the justices wrote Tuesday.
The justices ordered the trial judge to examine Lovell's 1993 request.
"We do so with sensitivity to the distress that the perpetuation of these
proceedings visits upon the surviving victims of Ms. Yost's murder," they
said, "but we are confident that this outcome is mandated by the interests
Yost, 39, disappeared shortly after testifying against Lovell at a
preliminary hearing on charges that he kidnapped and raped her in April
Prosecutors said Lovell kidnapped Yost from her South Ogden home, drove
her to the mountains east of Ogden, and strangled her to keep her from
testifying at his trial. Yost's body was never found.
(source: Salt Lake Tribune)
Senate committee votes for death penalty moratorium
A state Senate committee voted for legislation Tuesday that would place a
3-year moratorium on executions in Alabama, but nobody on the committee
expects the moratorium to become law.
"I can assure you it won't," said Sen. Hank Sanders, who is sponsoring the
Sanders, D-Selma, got the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote 7-4 for his
bill. The committee approved similar legislation last year, but it died in
Sanders said he would like a moratorium so the state could study the
impact of poverty, legal counsel, gender and race on the imposition of
death sentences. But he said he knows his bill lacks broad support.
Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, voted for the legislation to foster
public discussion about how the death penalty is administered.
"I don't think it is going to pass, but it will further the debate, and
that is positive for Alabama," he said.
The Senate committee also voted 9-2 to approve 2 death penalty bills
sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham. One bill would let a
jury decide how to sentence a person convicted of capital murder because a
judge could no longer override the jury's decision, as can be done now.
The other would require a jury to be unanimous in deciding on a death
sentence. Currently, 10 out of 12 jurors must agree that a death sentence
The 2 bills now go to the Senate for consideration, but supporters said
they have little chance of passing with only 9 meeting days remaining in
the legislative session.
(source: Associated Press)
Sparing a terrorist
Eric Rudolph has made a deal with federal prosecutors that will spare him
from the death penalty, but his admission to four bombings in the South
during the 1990s will lead to multiple life sentences without hope of
That result can be viewed as serving justice, or not.
Rudolph, who is to appear in court today, killed 2 people and injured more
than 150 others with homemade bombs that were sadistically spiked with
nails and screws. His targets were an Atlanta park during the 1996
Olympics, a gay nightclub and two abortion clinics.
Opponents of capital punishment -- and we include ourselves among them --
can find reasons to be satisfied. Horrifying crimes have been solved, and
a lifetime in a steel cage is a suitably grim fate.
Yet, the Rudolph case makes a troubling statement about the death penalty
Rudolph's role in the deal included directing law-enforcement agents to
where he had hidden explosives. It's good that this danger is removed. But
is the reasoning that a suspect who may still pose a threat should be
spared, while a prisoner who has been subdued may be executed?
Moreover, Rudolph was represented by a daunting legal defense team, a
principal member of which also had helped the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski,
escape the death sentence.
That is familiar terrain, of course. Defendants with good lawyers are
rarely executed; those with incompetent attorneys are less fortunate.
Rudolph is not an anti-abortion activist or anti-gay moralist any more
than Kaczynski was a conservationist. Both are domestic terrorists.
One would expect their cases to bolster the strongest rationale for the
Instead, the fact that both avoided execution punctuates a powerful and
countering argument: Capital punishment -- who lives and who dies --
cannot be decided rationally.
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