[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----USA, ARIZ., DEL., N.Y., CONN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Apr 28 17:01:00 CDT 2005
End death penalty
With the recent Terri Schiavo conflict, there was a public outcry to keep
her alive with a feeding tube. She had little to no chance of survival,
yet millions of people, including the president, wanted her to remain on
Where are the pro-life voices when the discussion changes to the death
penalty? Not as many people seem to care about state-sanctioned killing.
Death row inmates have a chance to change into better people. When they
are killed, doesn't it teach people that if the state can kill, then why
The same people who argued that it was wrong to "kill" Schiavo need to
speak out that it is wrong to kill anyone.
There are already 12 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have no
death penalty. The other 38, including California, need to figure out that
killing killers is wrong and needs to stop.
Parker Farabee----Walnut Creek
(source: Letter to the Editor, Contra Costra Times)
DEATH ROW STORIES
Humanity's capacity to endure and triumph is explored in The Exonerated'
At last I'll see "The Exonerated" again.
On a cool night in October 2003, this critic took a seat at 45 Bleecker, a
small off-Broadway house in downtown Manhattan, to see a play about which
he knew little - except that the bulk of the text consisted of the words
of people who had been on death row.
This was during the week of the one-year anniversary of the show, which in
New York had a permanent cast of core actors with three roles designated
as rotating slots for celebrities. That Saturday night the 'guest stars'
were the veteran character actor Richard Masur; Kristin Davis of "Sex and
the City" and Kerry Max Cook.
Cook was no actor. He was one of the exonerated. And on that night he
played himself, telling of his conviction and horrific experiences in
prison, reading his own words to chilling effect.
It was one of those moments when the barrier between art and reality was
erased, and it made for an exceptional night of theater.
"The Exonerated" tells the story of 6 people - men, women, black, white -
who landed on death row for murders they said they didn't commit.
Eventually the courts decided they were right and released them.
And what is striking is just how ordinary they are. Some were in the wrong
place at the wrong time. Others were the wrong color. Some should have
chosen better company. And there were those who just had bad luck.
They may have been rough around the edges. They may have made bad choices
that left them vulnerable to a deeply flawed criminal justice system. But
they really weren't all that different from you. Or me. Or most people who
will see the play.
Freeing an idea
The drama by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen has been widely produced in
regional theaters. The 45 Bleecker version was named best off Broadway
play by the Outer Critics Circle and was recognized as a "unique
theatrical experience" by the Drama Desk Awards. There was a touring
production. And earlier this year a star-studded film had its premiere on
Now it will be seen in Kansas City for the first time. The Unicorn Theatre
production, featuring some of our best local actors, opens Friday. (The
final preview performance is tonight.)
And even though it's a play that deals with death and wrongful
imprisonment, it also deals with the human capacity to endure and
"People shouldn't be afraid of the play," Jensen said from New York. "It's
certainly a serious issue, and it's something that is important for the
country to have a real conversation about - not one of these pundit
conversations where people scream at each other. But the play is actually
When the piece is done correctly, Jensen said, it's about being in a long
dark tunnel with no light at the end and realizing that it's up to you to
provide the light.
"That's really the essential message of the play," he said. "The last
thing we want to do is tell people what to think. The play is an
invitation to a dialogue. When theater is done right that's what good
theater does. But I'm coming dangerously close to bragging."
Jensen and Blank, who fell in love and married in the process of
researching the play, are principally actors. He has a recurring role on
"CSI," and she will be in the next Mira Nair film. But their success as
playwrights took them by surprise.
It all began in 2000 when Blank asked Jensen to accompany her to a death
penalty conference at Columbia University.
"And this was early on in the dating process," he said. "We had just met
the month previously, and at that point you pretty much say yes to
everything. I would have said yes to knee surgery if she had asked me to."
The conference offered speakers, panel discussions and documentary films,
but the turning point came when a convict spoke by telephone into a
microphone from death row in Illinois. Everyone was moved, but Jensen
looked around and realized that he was watching a sermon for the
converted. How, he wondered, could people elevate the important questions
surrounding the death penalty to a broader public debate?
"Let's make a play," Blank suggested.
Research behind bars
Together they interviewed 40 former death row inmates by telephone and 20
in person. Jensen figures they went to 20 states in the South and Midwest.
"We were doing this on a shoestring," he said. "In other words we were
sleeping in the car. Motel 6 was a luxury."
Blank said they began the creative process with specific goals in mind.
"The parameters were we wanted to interview people who had been convicted
of capital murder, spent time on death row and then freed amidst
overwhelming evidence of their innocence, and create a play from their
words," she said. "We knew we wanted to work directly with the words of
the people involved. And we knew we didn't want composite characters. And
we did know starting out that we would be dealing with multiple stories."
The play runs 90 minutes with no intermission and builds dramatic suspense
by cutting back and forth between the stories of 6 people:
- David Keaton (on death row from 1970 to 1979)
- Delbert Tibbs (1974-77)
- Sonia 'Sunny' Jacobs (1976-92)
- Kerry Max Cook (1977-97)
- Robert Earl Hayes (1990-97)
- Gary Gauger (1993-96)
We learn the circumstances of their arrests, the crimes of which they were
accused, their experiences in prison and their view of life now.
Blank said neither she nor Jensen had any experience as journalists. So
she asked a reporter friend how to do an interview. The reporter's advice:
In the weeks before the interview, when you think of a question write it
on a piece of paper and put it in a jar until you have about 200 of them.
You'll probably never use them, but you gain comfort from knowing you can
fall back on them if necessary.
For their first live interview, Blank recalled, they came prepared with
notebooks bulging with questions. But nobody ever mistook them for
"I actually think that the people we spoke to were more readily able to
open up to us because we weren't journalists, because the questions that
we were asking were unusual," Jensen said. "I think most people, when they
encounter an exonerated person, they're like, 'Well what is it like
thinking that you're going to die?' There's a standard five or six
questions that your average cable television reporter would ask someone.
So a lot of barriers dropped away, and I think we got a lot of responses
maybe the average journalist wouldn't get because - we just really wanted
to know about their stories from their perspective and the effect it had
To the stage
In New York the play was staged as reader's theater: actors seated on
stools reading the real words of the characters they played. Cynthia
Levin, the Unicorn's producing artistic director, said she was taking a
different approach. Scenes will be staged, video images will inform the
action on stage and often the audience will see episodes described in the
"I had many specific visual images that I wanted to portray," Levin said.
The set is designed with what looks like a jury box on either side of the
stage and a central playing area that can become a courtroom, a jail cell
or an interrogation room as needed.
"It's very presentational but still very theatrical," Levin said. "I can't
help but believe that we are very attuned to visual stimulation, and if we
can set a scene in a particular place the audience will buy it."
Levin counts as a career highlight her staging of another well-known
example of documentary theater, "The Laramie Project," which depicted the
aftermath of the beating death of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo.
"I love the chance to produce these docudramas," Levin said. "There isn't
anything more important than to show injustice. That is part of our
mission, to show what goes wrong and how to right - to allow people a
chance to see what needs to be changed and to try and fix our world. Not
even in this play do you have to be against the death penalty. But until
the system is fixed, we need to be very careful."
Jensen and Blank have both appeared in stage versions of the show and play
small roles in the TV film. But Blank said they didn't write the piece
with acting possibilities in mind.
"Both of us are primarily actors, but we didn't write this piece for
ourselves," she said. "It was never conceptualized as a vehicle for us as
actors or anything like that. This play has never been about us. It's
always been about the stories and getting the stories out there."
The play was intended to reach a wide audience, but there is one
demographic group whose feedback has special meaning for the playwrights:
the exonerated, including death-row veterans as well as those who were
falsely imprisoned but never faced the death penalty.
"We've gotten a lot of really excellent feedback from them," Blank said.
"We feel that this play in a way doesn't tell the story of just these six
people. It tells the story of the wrongly convicted in general and what
they've endured. And we really perceive that as a shared story.
"So when we get feedback from other exonerated individuals (who say) we
got parts of the story right or that they related to it or it moved them
or it was cathartic for them, that means a lot to us."
"The Exonerated" runs through May 22 at the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main St.
Tickets cost $15 to $25. Call (816) 531-7529. (source: Kansas City Star)
Judge sets June retrial date for once-condemned inmate
A Superior Court judge tentatively set a June 9 date for a new trial for a
death row inmate whose conviction was overturned earlier this month.
Judge Richard Weiss threw out Clarence David Hill's 1989 murder conviction
based on DNA testing completed several months ago. Weiss ruled that
considering the DNA evidence, a new jury may not convict Hill.
The tests show that the victim's blood wasn't present on Hill's clothing
or on his bed sheet, refuting the prosecution's main arguments.
Hill, 56, was found guilty of burning his landlord, Dale Edmundson, to
death. He was sentenced to death in 1990.
Assistant Arizona Attorney General J.D. Nielsen said he will appeal
Weiss's ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith said he isn't sure if he will pursue the
death penalty against Hill if the case goes to trial again.
(source: Associated Press)
Capano lawyer wants off case----Bernstein says his client is broke
The attorney representing convicted killer and one-time millionaire Thomas
Capano wants a judge to release him from the case because his client is
Joseph Bernstein, who has handled Capano's appeals since his conviction
for the 1996 murder of Anne Marie Fahey, filed a motion Monday asking for
a taxpayer-funded attorney to be appointed in his place.
Capano "doesn't have any money," Bernstein said Wednesday. "All I can say
is he can't afford to pay me or anyone else."
Fahey was the scheduling secretary for then-Gov. Tom Carper, now a U.S.
senator. A jury found that Capano killed Fahey because she was about to
break off an affair with him, then dumped her body in the Atlantic Ocean.
Prosecutor Ferris Wharton said Bernstein's request was expected. "This was
not an out-of-the-blue kind of thing," Wharton said.
Capano told the court in September he was broke and requested a
court-appointed attorney to replace Bernstein, but the judge denied the
According to a court transcript of an October 2004 proceeding, Superior
Court Judge T. Henley Graves expressed reservations about letting
Bernstein go, as well as Capano's claims of poverty, noting the case was
"very far advanced for us to change."
As for getting taxpayers to pay Capano's legal bills, Graves said, "We are
going to have to have a full-blown hearing as to ... his assets and where
his money is going. ... Before I could give you any money from the state,
I would have to determine he's indigent."
Graves also ultimately rejected Capano's appeal of his death sentence,
denying his claim of ineffective counsel at trial as well as his argument
that recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions required his death sentence to be
Last month, Graves set June 7 as Capano's execution date.
An appeal has been filed to the Delaware Supreme Court, however, and
attorneys expect the execution to be delayed until the appeal is heard.
Capano also has the option, if he fails in the state courts, of taking his
appeal to the federal court system.
Bernstein said it is possible that the judge will appoint him to continue
representing Capano at taxpayer's expense. "It is up to the court," he
Wharton said if the court chooses a lawyer other than Bernstein, it would
likely delay proceedings because the new lawyer would want time to review
In the October hearing with Graves, Bernstein estimated it would take
longer than 6 months for another attorney to "figure out what is going
Professor Thomas Reed of Widener University School of Law said people
filing appeals don't have a constitutionally guaranteed right to a
taxpayer-funded attorney. It is likely, however, that one will be
appointed in this case - if the court finds Capano is broke - because it
involves the death penalty and some constitutional questions.
(source: The News Journal)
The New York Assembly, which approved the death penalty for 20 years, had
the wisdom and decency to schedule hearings on that issue this past
December and January.
As a representative of New York State Religious Leaders Against the Death
Penalty, I was privileged to participate for a full nine hours on December
15th. Only two of the many speakers wished the death penalty reinstated.
20 years of close study have exposed injustices within the system,
including wrongful convictions.
Many citizens, including some families of murder victims, now oppose this
vindictive, barbaric practice. The United States is out of sync with all
of Europe and in step with Iran and China, unworthy models for the
upholding of human rights.
New York State has become part of a national trend away from the death
penalty. Sheldon Silver and the New York State Assembly deserve
appreciation for their willingness to change a position when that change
is warranted by experience and evidence. It is clearly time to eliminate
this shameful procedure once and for all.
Sister Camille DArienzo, Glendale
(source: Queens Chronicle)
Attorney Appeals Ruling That Serial Killer Can Waive His Appeals
An attorney appointed to argue that serial killer Michael Ross is mentally
incompetent is setting off a new round of legal moves in an effort to stop
the first execution in New England in 45 years.
Hartford attorney Thomas Groark filed a request in New London Superior
Court today to block Ross' scheduled May 11 execution.
Also on Thursday, Groark appealed New London Superior Court Judge Patrick
Clifford's decision to the state Supreme Court that Ross was mentally
competent to forgo his appeals.
Ross, 45, has admitted killing and raping 8 young women in Connecticut and
New York in the early 1980s.
Ross fought off attempts by public defenders, death penalty opponents and
his own family to stop his execution last year and came within hours of
death in January. His attorney asked for a new competency hearing only
after being chastised by a federal judge for helping Ross hasten his
Clifford's ruling last week came after a six-day hearing in which
psychiatrists gave conflicting assessments of Ross' mental competence.
Calls were placed to Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano and Ross'
attorney, T.R. Paulding, seeking comment.
Clifford appointed Groark in February to argue that Ross was incompetent,
but it was unknown if Groark had any standing to file appeals.
Of the 6 New England states, only Connecticut and New Hampshire have the
death penalty. No one is on New Hampshire's death row and the state has
not executed anyone since 1939. Rhode Island has not put anyone to death
since 1845; Maine, 1885; Massachusetts, 1947; and Vermont, 1954.
(source: Associated Press)
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