[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----IND., PENN., P.RICO, FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Apr 22 12:23:11 CDT 2005
Protesters: All killing is wrong
As a retired correctional officer at the Indiana State Prison, Martin
Hayes opposed the death penalty but that didnt keep him from doing his
Working with Indianas death-row inmates, he saw firsthand the men waiting
"I pray for each and every one of them," he said Wednesday night while
standing outside the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, where
convicted murderer Bill Benefiel Jr. was put to death shortly after
midnight this morning.
Hayes knew Benefiel, who worked as a porter inside the prison walls. "I
never had any problems with him. He always carried out his duties."
For Hayes, of Michigan City, the night of an execution is always sad. "I
have a problem with what the state is doing. I believe it is Gods
In the hours before Benefiel was executed, a handful of protesters holding
candles and signs marched outside the gates of the prison, walking to the
rhythm of beating drums and ringing bells.
The protesters, bundled up in winter coats, hats and scarves, held candles
silhouetted against yellow plastic cups. The fragrant smell of incense
lingered in the cool air.
"The love of God prevails over even the most heinous of crimes," said Rev.
Tom Mishler of St. Mary of the Lake Church in Gary. As he spoke to the
crowd, a photograph of Benefiel was on the table in front of him. Various
signs "Execution is no solution," "Thou Shalt Not Kill," and "Murder is
Always a Crime" - leaned against the yellow guardrail behind him.
"God wills us to be people of love," he said, describing Pope John Paul
II's legacy of a culture moving away from death and toward life.
"Sometimes our prayers and voices seem to fall on deaf ears. But were here
to proclaim a message of hope that one day charity and hope will prevail
and the death penalty will be abolished."
According to Mishler, who was speaking on behalf of the Duneland Coalition
to Abolish Capital Punishment, Benefiel, who was diagnosed with a
schizotypal personality disorder, was betrayed by the state when he was
never given the treatment he needed to overcome his disease. He eventually
killed Delores Wells, 19, of Terre Haute, who was tortured and raped for
12 days before she was murdered.
Dawn Ulicni, who read about Benefiels history of physical and sexual abuse
as a child, agrees. She drove up from Portage to support the protest.
"This man was taught (that) abuse and mistreatment is OK," she said. "The
system let him down. Everything that he did and that is happening
seriously makes me ill."
Ulicni, who is studying sociology at Purdue North Central, used to be for
the death penalty, she said.
"I was all about, Do unto others what you would have done unto you, but I
just came to realize there are other ways to handle something like this. 2
wrongs do not make a right," she said, warming her fingers over the flame
of her candle. "The family's pain will never go away; its always going to
Statistics show that capital punishment is not an effective deterrent to
murder, added her classmate, Katy Callan of Michigan City. "It all really
comes down to vengeance, and people wanting to feel like justice was
done," she said.
Society was safe once Benefiel was put into prison, said Scott Napier,
asking, "What are we gaining from doing this except to satisfy someones
In 50 years, John Souder Roser has never missed an execution. On Tuesday,
he led the circle of protesters marching outside the prison grounds,
banging on a drum hanging from around his neck and gripping a sign that
read, "Shame, Never Kill in our Name." The tradition started with his
grandfather. The family lived on the prison grounds in the 1930s when his
father was a social worker at the penitentiary.
"It is wrong to kill anybody for any reason, and thats just the way I was
raised," he said.
(source: Herald-Argus News)
Coroner, DA get lashing in court
The continuing legal bickering between Allegheny County's coroner and its
district attorney appears to be straining the patience of a judge who
already brokered one peace accord between the two last month.
Lawyers for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. and Coroner Cyril H.
Wecht agreed to cooperate with each other in two death investigations
Thursday, but only after Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning admonished
"I don't intend to sit here for the next four or five years being called
to mediate every dispute," Manning said as both sides accused the other of
interfering with their duties.
Zappala and Wecht have been at it since January. First, Zappala challenged
the coroner's right to conduct open inquests. Then the district attorney
launched a probe to determine whether Wecht was performing private
forensic work on public time. Earlier this month, the FBI searched Wecht's
office, seizing computers and log books.
Yesterday's squabble between the 2 powerful Democratic row officers
concerned two cases: the Feb. 23 hanging death of John Walker in a Dormont
police holding cell and the January 2003 death of 3-month-old Krista
Lauder in Mt. Lebanon.
Wecht filed court papers last week accusing Zappala of ignoring Manning's
March consent decree allowing the Coroner's Office to continue conducting
open inquests, which can be held when there is a question about the cause
or manner of death.
Coroner's Solicitor Timothy Uhrich said Wecht wanted to review police
reports and a videotape of the cell area for an open inquest into whether
Walker, 43, of Dormont, committed suicide. Zappala refused to turn the
items over to Wecht, saying the decision to hold an inquest was
When Assistant District Attorney Kevin McCarthy told Manning yesterday
that the tape shows Walker hanged himself, the judge sided with Zappala.
"Conducting an inquest when the facts are evident on a videotape is
nothing more than a publicity stunt," Manning said.
McCarthy then agreed to make a copy of the tape for Wecht, provided it is
not used in an open hearing.
After Wecht filed last week's complaint, Zappala's office filed its own
motion Monday, accusing the Coroner's Office of obstructing justice in the
upcoming trial of Robert Lauder, 33, of Sewickley, who is accused of
killing his infant daughter.
Assistant District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini said Uhrich would not allow
her to discuss with two pathologists what their testimony would be
concerning the child's death.
Uhrich said his office was blocking access to the doctors because of
Zappala's investigation into Wecht's private work.
"The commonwealth has a right to prepare its witnesses and prepare its
case," said Manning, growing more frustrated.
Uhrich then relented, saying he would make the pathologists available.
(source: Pittsburg Tribune-Review)
Death penalty decision kept a secret for now
In San Juan, a federal jury reached a decision Thursday on whether a man
should face life imprisonment or the death penalty for killing a security
guard, though jurors will not reveal the verdict until they decide the
punishment for his co-defendant.
Defense attorney Steven Potolsky and prosecutor Maria Dominguez said the
12-member jury had reached a verdict. They declined to comment further.
Jurors reached the verdict after deliberating for nine hours over 2 days.
If they impose the death penalty, Lorenzo Catalan Roman, 25, would be the
1st person in Puerto Rico to be condemned to death since 1927 when a
farmworker was hanged for beheading his boss with a machete.
U.S. District Judge Juan Prez Gimenez ordered the jury not to reveal its
verdict until deciding the sentence for co-defendant Hernando Medina
Villegas, 24, who could also face execution. His order came after he
granted a defense motion to have the jury deliberate the men's punishments
(source: Miami Herald)
'The Exonerated' serves time at FST
There won't be any celebrities starring in Florida Studio Theatre's
production of "The Exonerated."
The script for the play, which has attracted big-name celebrities at
performances in New York and on tour, is so powerful that stars of stage
and screen aren't necessary, said Kate Alexander, associate director of
Florida Studio Theatre.
"The focus is on the words," said Alexander, who directs "The Exonerated,"
opening Tuesday at FST's Gompertz Theatre. "The play is so strongly
written, we wanted the characters to look like the people that they really
are, not like celebrities."
"The Exonerated" is part of Florida Studio Theatre's inaugural series of
new plays, called FST's Stage III. The series is designed to showcase
relatively new work, or "cutting edge" contemporary plays, and get
The play was written in 2000 by two New York actors, Jessica Blank and
Erik Jensen. At a Columbia University conference on the death penalty,
Blank and Jensen learned about people who had been on death row and were
They were so moved by the stories they heard that they felt compelled to
do something. Being actors, they set out to write a play.
"We wanted to bring this immediate emotional and human experience to
people," Blank said. "We wanted to go beyond a newspaper story or a
special on television. We thought about theater."
Blank and Jensen did months of research, assisted by organizations like
the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University in Chicago
and pro bono defense lawyers. They interviewed 40 exonerated individuals
on the phone and 20 in person.
They presented their idea to producer Allan Buchman of 45 Bleecker Theater
in Greenwich Village. He told them to write a script that he could produce
for three nights before the 2000 election.
"We spent the summer of 2000 on whirlwind trips going out to interview the
exonerated people," Blank said.
Blank and Jensen later edited and condensed the interviews to monologues.
Director and actor Bob Balaban, who had directed Jensen in another show,
said he would "call up some friends" about doing the first readings, which
included 11 stories.
"Bob called back and said that Tim and Susan wanted to do the first
readings," Blank said.
Blank and Jensen were floored. Balaban's friends were Tim Robbins and
The play began to attract more celebrities, including Debra Winger, Ossie
Davis, Charles Dutton, Steve Buscemi and Richard Dreyfuss.
"But, the same question kept coming up," Blank said. "Audiences understood
what happened to these people, but wanted to know more about what went
wrong in our justice system for this to happen to so many people."
The 11 stories were cut to six stories and Blank and Jensen added scenes
taken from actual court transcripts and case files to explain the
circumstances that led to the wrongful convictions.
In its final form, the play ran for 600 performances off-Broadway, which
was followed by a national tour, a film version on Court TV and a book,
"Living Justice: Love, Freedom and the Making of 'The Exonerated,' "
written by Blank and Jensen.
The New York and touring productions have raised $700,000 for the
exonerated individuals who were interviewed.
"We started a real human conversation," Blank said. "Judging from audience
talkbacks, I think people in this country are starved for this kind of
"The Exonerated" explores the criminal justice system and the death
penalty, but it also raises other questions about humanity and American
culture and society, Alexander said.
"This play asks questions like, 'What is class? What is justice? Why do we
have to find a pariah so quickly for a crime rather than finding the
truth?'," she said.
The exonerated individuals, including a poet, a vegetarian mom, a black
preacher and a young white man, are recognizable to audiences.
"They were given a scarlet letter," she said. "What's frightening is any
person could be drawn into that Kafkaesque nightmare. We realize we could
"We're watching everyman as hero," she said. "All of the circumstances are
stacked against them, but they rose up anyway - without any support."
New York actor Stephen Hope plays Kerry, a man who spent 22 years on death
row in Texas. Convicted of rape and murder when he was 23, Kerry was
released at age 45 after DNA evidence led to his exoneration.
"He was a rebel as a young man and he got into trouble for a couple of
things," Hope said. "He stole and wrecked a car and later discovered it
was a car that belonged to a deputy sheriff. After that, he was a marked
Kerry met a young woman and "they made out - that was the extent of it,"
"3 months later, he was arrested for her rape and murder and sentenced to
death in Texas," Hope said.
What amazes Hope about the exonerated individuals in the play is their
"Kerry is a wonderfully positive character with a sense of humor," he
said. "If people can go through these things and come out the other side
of it with hope, it's incredible. The play honors the human spirit."
The set and costumes are simple and the characters will sit in a
semicircle on stage with their scripts on music stands.
The cast also includes Beth Duda, Donei Hall, Nate Jacobs, Gregory Mikell,
Leroy Mitchell, Steve Mountain, Robert D. Mowry, Anne O'Sullivan and David
"Richard Hopkins (artistic director) wants people to react," Alexander
said. "This play is will definitely stimulate thought and conversation."
A collection for donations for the real-life exonerated whose stories are
in the play will be taken after every performance.
If you go
What: "The Exonerated"
When: Tuesday through May 22. Please call the theater for show times.
Where: Gompertz Theatre, Florida Studio Theatre, 1247 First St., Sarasota
(source: Herald Today)
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