[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----NEV., CALIF., MO., PENN., IOWA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Apr 28 17:02:01 CDT 2005
Killer of 4's family heard at new penalty phase
A jury trying to determine if a man convicted of tying up and killing,
execution-style, four young men should be eligible for the death penalty
heard testimony from several of his family members on Tuesday.
Donte Johnson was convicted by a jury and sentenced to death row by a
3-judge panel for the murders in 1998 of Matthew Mowen, 19, Jeffrey
Biddle, 19, Tracey Gorringer, 20, and Peter Talamantez, 20.
But after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juries, not judges, can call
for the death penalty, a new penalty phase was ordered by the Nevada
Several members of Johnson's family, who know him as John White Jr., took
the stand on Tuesday in an attempt to shed some light on the background of
the convicted murderer as he grew up in South Central Los Angeles.
Johnson's mother, Eunice Cain, who wore a bright yellow T-shirt with the
phrase "beer goggles" written on it, said she was mentally "a little
slow," had trouble speaking and suffered from asthma and another lung
Cain said she smoked PCP and had an alcohol problem even though she was
the mother of 3.
She said her children saw her husband "beat her and John (Dante) used to
try and stop him but he was too little."
Cain said the beatings included having her teeth knocked out and almost
being thrown out of a window by her husband.
She admitted to being high on drugs on one occasion and putting her
children in a shed for a day where authorities discovered them and placed
them in foster care. Cain would never have custody of Johnson and his 2
sisters again as they would be placed in their grandmother's custody with
10 of their cousins.
Although Cain admitted she had a substance abuse problem she said she
never used drugs when she was pregnant with Johnson.
Johnson's sister, Johnnisha Zamora, said her early childhood consisted of
her mother "leaving us all the time because she was high on drugs."
"She was always smoking (PCP) in front of us and our Dad was always
hitting her in front of us."
As for her and Johnson's father, Zamora said she could "count on my hands
how many times I saw my father growing up."
Zamora said life didn't necessarily get any better once she, her sister
and Johnson moved in with her grandmother, who is known as Big Mamma.
She said she grew up restricted from going past the front gate of her
grandmother's home because there were always "people hanging out and a lot
Zamora recalled when she and Johnson found a woman's dead body on the
street and witnessed a shootout at the house across the street from her
She said Johnson was "the only person I could talk to, because I love
Zamora added that he was a popular member of her family "because he's
Under the questioning of Chief Deputy District Attorney Robert Daskas,
however, it became clear the harsh conditions she grew up under didn't
lead her to crime like it had Johnson.
Zamora, the married, employed, mother of three children agreed with Daskas
that she had "made it out of the neighborhood."
In August 1998 Johnson and two other men bound with duct tape the hands
and legs of the victims and forced them to lay face down before killing
each with a single gunshot to the back of the head in a house the victims
had rented together on Terra Linda Avenue in southeastern Las Vegas.
Because of District Judge Lee Gates' decision to bifurcate Johnson's new
penalty phase the jury will first have to decide if Johnson is even
eligible to be considered for the death penalty.
The jurors have been instructed they are to weigh the aggravators in the
case against the mitigating evidence presented. The prosecutors have
already met the burden of providing an aggravator because Johnson was
convicted of killing more than one person.
Under the rules of a bifurcated penalty phase the jury will not hear from
the victims' families until after they have determined whether or not
Johnson is eligible for the death penalty.
Unlike a jury deliberating about a person's guilt or innocence, a decision
regarding death penalty eligibility does not have to be unanimous. Only
one juror has to determine the mitigating evidence outweighs the
aggravators for Johnson to avoid facing the death penalty.
If the jury does find Johnson is ineligible, they will return to court for
more testimony and argument before deliberating on Johnson's fate, which
would then be a choice between life in prison with the possibility of
parole, life without the possibility of parole and a set term of 40 to 100
years in prison.
The jury won't be told of Johnson's criminal history until after the jury
has determined whether or not he faces the punishment of death.
Because of several rulings made by Gates during pretrial motions there are
several other pieces of information the jury will not hear in either of
the 2 phases.
The jury will not hear about the strangulation of Darnell "Snoop" Johnson
in August 1998 at the Thunderbird hotel on Las Vegas Boulevard near
Charleston Boulevard, which has never been prosecuted. Donte Johnson is
still considered a suspect in the death.
Gates also has ruled the jury won't be able to hear or read some 20
letters Johnson has written to both Smith and Young since he was
originally sentenced to death. In the letters Johnson calls himself
"General" and refers to both Smith and Young as his soldiers as he urges
them to convince others to testify on his behalf.
During the second phase of the hearing the jury will, however, hear
allegations that Johnson was involved in an attack on a fellow inmate.
Although the state dismissed charges against Johnson after Oscar Irias was
thrown over a balcony at Clark County Detention Center, Gates said there
was enough credible evidence to allow the incident to be included in
Johnson's new penalty phase.
(source: Las Vegas Sun)
Cell Survivor----A former inmate breaks down the myths and realities of
It was my 1st night in the U.S. Penitentiary at Lompoc, Calif.
Christened "The New Rock" back in the 1930s after the closure of the
federal penitentiary on Alcatraz, only the baddest of the bad were sent
here. Kidnappers, murderers, thieves, gangsters and mafia men by the dozen
have called this concrete structure "home." I was assigned to Cell Block
L, and in less than an hour, was offered a hit of heroin and a syringe of
methamphetamine. I also learned that an alcohol brewery was producing 5
gallons of homemade wine inside my new cellmates locker. After a lengthy
explanation that I was a recovering addict and not a snitch or sex
offender, my refusal to get high was accepted and my new life began.
The next morning, cell doors slid open and I stood on the 2nd tier of a
3-tier structure. Below and above were the rows of cells the privileged
few call home. Spanning between the second floors are 6 speaker-less TVs
welded in metal cages to stand as babysitters to 180 convicts. The men
emerge, don their radios, and tune in to the TVs FM broadcasts. Home sweet
Becoming a prisoner for the 1st time is a traumatic event. The foreign
sights, smells, sounds and feelings left me physically ill. Emotionally, I
felt some degree of fear, anger, depression, sadness, remorse, guilt and
an overall sense of hopelessness. Combined with being thrown in cages
alongside people who have reputations for being the devils spawn, the
experience was nothing less than a nightmare. All around me, inmates
commonly were faced with divorce, abandonment by friends, impounded cars,
children in custody of state agencies, loss of personal possessions and
I begin to observe a more disturbing reality. The United States is an
Equal Opportunity Incarcerator. Blacks, whites, Hispanics, Russians,
islanders, Cubans, Iraqis and Asians, no one segment of humanity is immune
from our prisons. Paraplegic inmates in wheelchairs roll down hallways,
blind inmates weave through the crowd, 80-year-old men shuffle along and
mumble incoherently, deaf inmates and other mute inmates communicate as
best they can as we traipse into a massive dining area for breakfast.
Then there are my keepers. A famous orator once stated, "To witness the
dregs of society, go to your local prison - and watch the changing of the
guard. Guards posture like proud mules, braying to "Tuck in your shirts!
Remove your glasses! Keep your f**king hands out of your pockets!" When
you look in their direction, you give a thousand-yard stare over their
shoulder to acknowledge listening, but avoid looking in their eyes, lest
you accidentally challenge them. Its a man thing.
And then the unmistakable sounds of fists pounding on flesh cracks the
air. I turn around and size up the situation: two convicts, same skin
color, and no knives. Its a sixth sense you develop to evaluate the
seriousness of the event. Had there been three inmates, thats a riot or a
gang hit; different skin colors, thats a racial issue; knives or weapons,
that's a planned hit. Since its one-on-one, obviously some disrespect has
occurred and the 2 convicts are handling it in the acceptable caveman
An officer "hits the deuces"--a button on his hand-held radio--which
summons a hundred guards like ants to a picnic. The brawl is in the
hallway so the dining room doors are locked, lest more inmates decide the
fighters are getting the short-end of the flashlights and try to join in
the melee. The disruption is quickly suppressed and normal activity
resumes. After all that blood and violence, I just couldnt wait to eat.
I am one of 14 million Americans each year who experience being arrested
and convicted, and one of the 2.5 million incarcerated in prison. At age
20, I was a late bloomer. I started my illustrious criminal career in
Phoenix. After a fight with my future wife, I earned a probation violation
and a one-year sentence in the jail of Joe Arpaio, the Toughest Sheriff in
America, in "Tent City," Maricopa County, Ariz. After being released, I
took a 2-year sabbatical from crime and returned to the northern part of
the state and, eventually, continued my undergraduate studies in
anti-social immorality. I was arrested for possessing marijuana; that act
alone bought me a 5-year stint in the Arizona Department of Corrections.
After release, I interned for an additional year as a parole violator and,
during a battle with an addiction to methamphetamine, was arrested for
passing counterfeit treasury notes and pleaded guilty to being a felon in
possession of a firearm. That crime earned me 46 months in federal prison,
where Ive gone on to complete my Ph.D. in misbehavioral science. Ive been
incarcerated 9 of the past 13 years. However, I have been offered a new
lease on life, and in so doing, expose you to the myths and realities of
After arrest and during incarceration, you learn that to survive there are
hundreds of rules to follow, not jailhouse rules, but population rules.
The rules dont differ greatly from laws on the street, with one exception:
Your life depends on abiding by them. In an environment where man is
reduced to his animal core, violence, tribal communities, and basic laws
of survival reign supreme. According to the standards of our society, the
rules are callous, brutal and uncivilized. However, these unwritten rules
have been enacted by millions of men and women - from different cultures -
in order to peacefully coexist.
Some people who have never experienced imprisonment believe these rules to
be "politically incorrect." Those naive opinions dont dictate if or when a
piece of metal is shoved through your kidney in retribution for
disrespecting a common rule. Therefore, you have no choice in living by
any other set of rules.
In order to fully understand the environment, I had to determine the
issues that were besieging me every step of the way. I discovered there
were three types of problems or issues that occurred inside prisons. The
1st were racial issues, next came personal issues and, 3rd, institutional
A racial issue is, quite simply, any problem involving 2 different races.
A racial issue is the most dangerous of all problems, as the entire prison
population becomes involved in its resolution. For example, if 2 blacks
beat up or stab a Hispanic, that is a racial issue and is dealt with on a
racial level. It will result in a race riot. If the attack was allowed by
the Hispanics hierarchy, that was a planned hit and was preapproved. Its
understood that each race takes out its own trash to avoid racial riots.
If a child molester or rapist arrives in the population or is exposed
through the media, members of his race is responsible for removing him
from the general population. No self-respecting father - regardless of
nationality - will allow a predator to exist among the inmates.
A personal issue is any problem between two prisoners of the same race.
The resolution of personal issues can range anywhere from an apology, to a
beating, or even death.
An institutional issue is arguably the least serious of an inmates
problems, as the punishment for breaking a rule is resolved in a civilized
manner or through a disciplinary system. The inmates life is not in
jeopardy if he violates an institutional rule, unless he commits a capital
I soon discovered that the No. 1 rule of prison is respect. It was amazing
how deadly, yet polite, prison can be. If a person bumps into you, expect
an immediate "Excuse me." If you bump into someone, you are required to
apologize, else a personal issue is born. Conversations are never
interrupted. Rude behavior is not acceptable. No burping or blowing your
nose in the dining area is allowed. Good personal hygiene is a must and is
enforced by every racial group, with few exceptions. Respecting yourself
and others around you will afford you the same treatment in return. Table
manners are required, and if you dont know any, you will be taught. Its
just not healthy to argue with a 300-pound, tattoo-clad tablemate.
There are two words every convict immediately learns to remove from his
vocabulary: "Punk" and "Bitch." However cute or funny they sound rolling
off the lips of a favorite comic or movie star, calling someone your
homosexual slave is an instant declaration of war and invitation to a
fight, your beating or your own murder. These two terms are not used in
the same way as they are in the free world. It can be elementary school
name-calling on a deadly level.
As I lived in prison, one fact became clear. Each convict must be prepared
to show his arrest sheets, paperwork, or documents to prove what his crime
was. If they happen to be a confidential informant, child molester, or
rapist, they will be found out, physically hurt, and removed from the
population. God help inmates if the jail refuses to issue these papers or
restricts possession of them. Many innocent men are suspected of being a
snitch or of sex crimes and are unable to prove to the prison population
that they are not. This leaves a person with numerous contusions about the
face and they survive only if they are lucky. Because there are so many
confidential informants and sex offenders, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP)
does not allow Pre-Sentence Reports to be in a convicts possession.
Inmates throughout the BOP suffer boot-parties on an alarming scale
because of this "trick bag." Luckily for me, I stand rather tall and dont
"look" like a sex offender (whatever they look like) and have not been
As I walked across prison yards, I soon learned that any fast movements or
sudden shifts in body language indicates a disturbance, usually a fight or
stabbing. Therefore, no fast movements or horseplay is allowed and inmates
of my own race will correct me if I get out of hand. Which brings me to
the next rule.
The No. 2 rule of prison is you must become a racist. Racism is not
supremacy. Racism in prisons and jails across America is not a problemit
is a solution. If a convict publicly supports a supremacist ideology,
inmates of his own race will correct his opinion to avoid a racial
conflict. Survival in prison depends on, first, knowing the difference
between a racist and a supremacist; second, accepting that you are from a
specific race of people; and third, being proud of your lineage.
When humans are locked behind concrete walls they digress into separatist
tribes. I had to choose the tribe that resembled me physically, not
philosophically. Acceptance is crucial. If I looked white, I must be
white. If I looked Mandarin, I must be Mandarin. I was raised to be
nonjudgmental but have had to reserve that philosophy for another time. If
I appeared to deviate in loyalty to my race, or if I showed any weakness
and didnt discard my street beliefs, I would be doomed to a prison term of
horrible brutality, not only from my resembled tribe, but also by the race
I rejected. In prison there is no fence sitting. If I disagreed with this,
I would have been abruptly dealt with.
The separation of races is for safety. When tension is high behind locked
gates, I couldn't depend on the boys in blue to come and rescue me if
something went awry. The only men I could rely on for safety was my chosen
tribe. If a racial riot erupts and my position is not clear in the minds
of those around me, one of the first casualties would be me. My groups
protection during a conflict was my best chance of surviving it. Being in
the middle of three race riots, the importance of this ideology could not
have been more clearly proven.
When street life mixes with prison life, an incarcerated person will have
problems. I watched several interracial family members visit with an
inmate who claimed to be from a particular country. He lied to fit in.
After the visitors left the institution, the inmate was beaten senseless
by his chosen tribe, which leads to the 3rd rule.
The third rule of prison is if you fight, you fight to survive - not for
sport. Prison is brutal. There are beatings, stabbings, poisonings and
murders throughout institutions in the United States. It is a consequence
of the environment. If I am confronted in a jail setting, there is no time
to discuss why Im being attacked or any other reasons behind the assault.
If it is obvious my opponent wants to fight, I take him by surprise and
fight to survive. There are no rules such as, "You cant sucker punch," or
"Let's take this to an out-of-the-way place and settle it like men." All
of that gibberish is a distraction, a waste of time, and will only get me
hurt. It is not a boxing match and there is no referee to determine the
winner. The winner is he who stands at the end of the battle. A few lumps
on my head and a paint job on my eyes is far better than what could happen
if I didnt immediately fight - a boot party from my own people. The rule
is to get down, get dirty and get done. Fights happen a lot, however,
there are circumstances that always lead up to them, such as violating the
next 3 rules.
The 4th, 5th and 6th rules of prison are: stay away from drugs, dont
gamble and dont borrow or loan anything. There are more drugs in prison,
and they are more accessible, than on the streets. They are delivered
straight to your cell. Even with the best efforts of teams of guards,
scores of FBI agents and a broken criminal-justice system, the illicit
drug trade is stronger than ever inside the micro-world of prisons. With
billion dollar budgets, even the government cant bend or break the will of
1,500 inmates who desire to get drunk, high or otherwise intoxicated.
Drugs in prison are more expensive. A gram of heroin or speed on the
street costs about $100. In prison it sells for over $1,000. Having a drug
habit without a job is an invitation to an execution for not paying a drug
debt. Over 60 % of all issues in prison are drug related. The drug user is
scammed with low quality, cut drugs. Dealing with professional con men and
convicts, the drugs will not weigh what is expected and the quality will
be poor, putting the user in a position to defend himself against an
The drug user endangers his family outside. Doing street-to-street
transactions to pay for a habit leaves the users family open to
unscrupulous people collecting drug money. Who will protect the family if
the bill is not paid? Who will protect the user if the family doesnt pay?
Who will protect the family if the drug dealer wants more money?
The drug user endangers himself. Exposure to incurable diseases is a
reality that is ignored by thousands of inmates every day. Almost all
prison drugs are smuggled into the institutions by way of vagina, rectum
or mouth. These paths leave the intravenous drug user exposed to
infectious, horribly painful diseases such as HIV, AIDS, hepatitis A, B,
C, D, and now hepatitis E. Contracting the hepatitis virus often
progresses to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. If the user has the
disease for an extended period of time, the result is liver failure and
The drug user endangers more of his freedom. Internal possession laws have
been enacted and are enforced in some institutions. Federal laws are in
effect that could put the user behind bars for an extended amount of time,
as much as 20 additional years.
The side betting and gambling that occurs in prison has the same chance of
being controlled as the illegal flow of drugs does. If there is anything 2
men can gamble on, they will gamble. Gambling leaves one of the inmates
open to getting ripped off, in debt, or in danger of being assaulted.
Living in a fish tank with a bunch of sharks, I expected no less. I
avoided gambling my entire time in prison.
Borrowing or loaning personal items leaves one open to becoming a victim.
Its called a "Trick Bag." You never know what might develop. Across
America inmates thrive behind bars by supplying commissary items through
"inmate stores." If you borrow a candy bar, you typically owe the store 2
candy bars. Getting credit in jail is a bad position to be in. Many fights
and stabbings occur because of nonpayment of store bills. With any items
of value, whether stamps, paper or pens, men will always barter, trade and
An important rule that one learns is not to become pals with the prison
staff. I showed them the respect they afforded me but I had to beware: The
prison population had eyes, ears, paranoid minds - and knives. If anyone
thought I was having lengthy discussions with staff, I would be in danger
from all the races. My solution to this problem - because I had times
where I needed to speak to staff - was to have another convict present
during any discussions.
I learned another lesson. After a man was beaten with combination locks I
asked why. "He was a jailhouse thief ... on the same level as child
molesters and rapists." Dont steal from anyone in jail. Its always nice to
learn these little details.
Youre going to be raped in prison! - Despite the best efforts of Hollywood
writers promoting the belief that every convicted male falls victim to a
deviant, raging bull-queer, the reality is that homosexuality in male
prisons is virtually nonexistent. Are there homosexuals in prison? Yes. In
some prisons homosexuals are not tolerated; in others, they are allowed to
walk the prison yards only by the grace of the population. A man Ill call
Danny has been locked up for over 22 years for a kidnapping and murder. He
is an openly gay male (his words). Even Danny refuses to engage in any
form of copulation due to the physical reprisals that will befall him. He
is allowed to live among others only because he refuses to participate in
his lifestyle. It is his rule for survival. On the other extreme, there
was a pre-operative transvestite named Susie. Susie had long, flowing
hair, tattooed eyebrows. When she/he walked across a prison compound, even
the heads of hardened criminals turned - until they realized what Susie
was. Susie had no scruples and didnt care about her/his safety. Susie
pulled several inmates from the closet. She/he was allowed to exist only
until fights erupted over her/him.
Practicing homosexuality while in prison is a disruptive behavior that
results in fights and killings. It leaves in its wake victims and
victimizers; therefore, the populace makes rules for and against its
existence. Each prison yard has its individual code.
Heterosexual male convicts and female convicts dont copulate - in any way
- with the same sex. Period. When men are deprived of the touch of a
woman, they become mono-sexual and resign themselves to a solitary
lifestyle. After years without female companionship, many men are
reluctant to approach any woman and are emphatic about staying completely
away from them. Some men feel that having women working in prisons is
cruel and unusual punishment, while others have expressed "... thoughts of
raping women," images that never before entered their minds were it not
for the deprivation of a healthy sexual relationship and the specific
charms of a female.
Women who have endured incarceration have said in interviews that more
than 90 % of them participate in homosexual activities. "Gay for the stay"
is one convicts perception. The women consider themselves bisexual and,
when they leave prison, return to their husbands and boyfriends. As
another woman stated, What happens in prison, stays in prison. ..."
Heterosexual female convicts are faced with trying circumstances. They are
often extorted for sexual favors by male guards. Many end up pregnant and
are shipped off to other institutions. If the male staff member is
identified, he is usually relocated to a different facility. Today there
are laws in place that prohibit and criminalize this behavior, but
For sexual gratification, heterosexual women must also resort to a
mono-sexual lifestyle. The prison showers are common areas for these
solitary acts. Privacy is virtually impossible, so modesty seems not to be
an issue. Thirsting for the charms of a man, some women resort to
manufacturing their own sexual aids. Michelle, from the BOPs womens
facility in Dublin, Calif., states, "We made sex toys from rubber gloves
and stuffed them with socks to [masturbate] with - Homosexuals [women]
improved the toy by [sewing] it to a bra and used it as a strap-on with
each other." (I had to pause the interview to get a clear mental picture.)
Cris, another woman from Dublin, states, "... Girls took bars of soap,
molded them to resemble a penis and slipped a latex glove over them." The
consequence for getting caught in any sexual act is being transferred to
Tent City Durango Jail in Arizona.
As for prison rape, Ive traveled in and out of minimum-, medium- and
maximum-security prisons for nine years and not one rape occurred on those
compounds. That is not to say it doesnt take place, just not as frequently
as some have professed and others had hoped.
If a prison rape by a known sexual predator does occur, prison officials
are held accountable for allowing the incident to take place. Prisons have
been forced to classify each inmate according to their crimes and separate
the sexual predators, sex offenders and their ilk from a population of
incarcerated fathers, else the predator is found with numerous knives
sticking from his body. On the other hand, sex-play and sexual harassment
runs rampant throughout every jail system as a test of machismo, character
and strength. There isnt usually a physical touching, just a barrage of
insults and vulgarities exchanged as the new "fish" is either accepted in
his jailhouse pod, dorm or prison clique, or rejected. If a touching does
occur and the man being touched doesnt object, thats homosexuality. If he
does object, thats a fight, and the man establishes a level of respect for
The worst attribute of prison is the prison staff. The staff is a
lifeline, a connection to all things important. They have total control
over mail, phones and visitations with loved ones. Having that unique
position, especially if the staff is uneducated or untrained, can be a
horrific experience for any convict. Power trips and confusion are common
personality defects of staff. Some prisons suffer from staff infections -
a condition where the captors victimize the population entrusted to their
care. They find excuses for mistreatment and then justify it with blanket
statements to inmates, such as, "... if you dont like whats going on, dont
come to jail." However clever this comment sounds, it fails to address any
problems, adding to their captives misery.
There is a popular myth that jail and prison is free to inmates. What is
the price of freedom? Nothing in jail is free.
Culture shock. Dealing with people from other races, nationalities and
religions has been the most difficult challenge to endure. Some foreigners
have been raised in cardboard houses with dirt floors with no inside
plumbing. They know nothing of personal hygiene, of regular bathing, of
brushing teeth, or of other habits that Ive grown to accept as normal.
Prisons today have changed dramatically from those of the past. A U.S.
penitentiary is still the most dangerous of them all. Most men have no
hope. They are permanently separated from families, from life, and have
nothing to live for. Ill-treatment and unfair sentences are alarmingly
common. With an attitude of "locking prisoners up and throwing away the
key," one begins to question the real motives behind lengthy
incarcerations. Are we actually promoting crime by being unjust and
handing out these life sentences for property or financial crimes? Who
profits from it? Who are the real losers? More than 90 % of the
incarcerated men and women will one day return to be our co-workers and
our childrens neighbors. Seeing the system from the belly of the beast,
one can only hope for better alternatives to Americas human warehouses.
(source: Salt Lake City Weekly)
Executions remain a monstrous thing, and I feel guilty
I killed a man Tuesday night.
It's not easy accepting responsibility for taking a life, but I do.
When Gov. Matt Blunt decided Tuesday to let the scheduled execution of
convicted murderer Donald Jones move forward, he did so with Missourians
in mind, he said.
"We have capital punishment in our state because we believe some crimes
are so horrific and so terrible that the only reasonable penalty, the
penalty that fits the crime, is indeed the death penalty," Blunt told
reporters Tuesday. "And we will apply the death penalty this evening."
A few minutes after midnight, Jones died from the lethal combination of
drugs pushed into his veins. The state's will was done. And I, as a
Missouri citizen, must accept my part in the killing.
During his trial, Jones said "the monster" inside caused him to kill his
grandmother 12 years ago. High on crack and desperate for drug money,
Jones repeatedly stabbed and bludgeoned Dorothy Knuckles, 68, before
trading her car for more crack cocaine.
Did illegal drugs cause a crazed killer's actions? I can't say. From what
I read about the case, the murder wasn't premeditated. But the homicide I
took part in Tuesday was. After all, the state debated it, scheduled it,
provided a last meal of pizza, chicken strips, Pepsi and apple pie . . .
then proceeded to kill a man.
What purpose did the execution serve? It wasn't vengeance. Family members
- both to the victim and the murderer - didn't want vengeance. They
forgave Jones and fought to have his sentence commuted to life in prison.
Age has a way of whipping young, foolish men into older, wiser men. I can
think of no greater punishment than a lifetime of incarceration. Hell is
life in a cage reliving the cruelty of one's stupid acts.
Proponents of the death penalty claim executions serve as a deterrent to
crime. But there are arguments on the other side. The Washington-based
Death Penalty Information Center cites FBI statistics showing that
Southern states, which account for 80 % of the country's executions, have
the highest murder rate.
Even if those favoring the death penalty are correct, I doubt if other
cracked-out, drugged-up killers will think about Jones' death when the
"monsters inside" lead them to unspeakable acts.
I went to see Jones' uncle, Matthew Knuckles, Wednesday. Knuckles and
several other family members witnessed the execution at the new death
chamber at the state prison in Bonne Terre.
Knuckles didn't see a monster strapped to a gurney awaiting a lethal
injection Tuesday night. He saw his nephew, "Donnie" - the kid who, long
ago, played with his children, tickling them with impersonations of "Bert"
from Sesame Street.
"The man who killed my mother wasn't Donnie," Knuckles said sadly. "They
killed a sick man last night! I sat there and watched them kill my
Knuckles sobbed as he described how the family, from an adjoining room,
watched their relative take his last breath.
"He turned to us and mouthed the words 'I love you,'" Knuckles recalled.
"They gave him the drugs, he jumped once and then, just lay there . . .
like he was asleep."
Some will say Jones' death was more humane than his grandmother's. Indeed,
it appears so. But is there really such a thing as humane execution?
A report released early this month questions that theory. Researchers from
the Miami Miller School of Medicine claim executions by lethal injection
aren't painless or humane. They may not even meet veterinary standards for
putting animals down, the researchers said.
National support for the death penalty is waning, according to the Death
Penalty Information Center. Still, it's legal in 38 states. Blunt governs
a state stubbornly clinging to the archaic notion that killing is the best
punishment for another killing.
I don't support the death penalty but I'm not absolved. A man was killed
Tuesday night and my state is prepared to kill more. We citizens, too,
have a monster inside.
(source: Sylvester Brown, Jr.; St. Louis Dispatch)
Convict says DNA shows he didn't kill----Jailed for 17 years in a rape and
murder, he asked to be exonerated.
A Burlington County man serving 40 years in prison in a 1987 rape and
murder petitioned New Jersey Superior Court yesterday to overturn his
conviction, saying modern analysis of crime-scene evidence proves he could
not be guilty.
Attorneys for Larry Peterson, 54, said DNA tests on hair, skin and semen
samples taken from the victim not only show that their client is innocent
but provide a genetic profile of whoever the killer is.
"There can be no question that the DNA evidence would probably change the
jury's verdict in this case," the 47-page motion argues. "The DNA results
show that the unknown male, not Larry Peterson, committed the crime."
The Burlington County Prosecutor's Office has 30 days to respond. If
Peterson's conviction is overturned, it would be up to the prosecutor to
decide whether to retry the case.
The body of Jacqueline Harrison, a 25-year-old mother of two, was found on
a dirt road near a soybean field in Pemberton Township in August 1987. Her
pants and underwear were pulled down, and a tree branch was sticking out
of her mouth.
The coroner ruled she had died of asphyxiation.
The use of DNA in New Jersey criminal proceedings was still 2 years away
when Peterson was tried in 1989. There were no eyewitness accounts, but 4
people testified that he had confessed. Both Peterson and Harrison were
The prosecution offered microscopic hair comparisons as evidence, and said
skin found beneath Harrison's fingernails had come from scratches seen on
Peterson's arms in the days after her death.
Peterson, who worked at a lumber warehouse, said he had been scraped while
stacking pallets. He denied that he had admitted killing Harrison, and
said he was with a woman in a motel the night of the murder.
The jury, asked to find him guilty of capital murder, came back with a
lesser charge that resulted in a term of 40 years without parole.
"This man has spent over 17 years in prison for the crimes of another
man," said Vanessa Potkin of the Innocence Project in New York, which is
Peterson had been trying for a decade to have the samples tested when a
state appeals court granted permission in December 2003. The tests were
opposed by the Prosecutor's Office, which would not comment on yesterday's
The DNA results were handed over in February.
Since 1989, 158 convicted people nationwide have been exonerated through
DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project, which was involved in
more than 100 of the cases.
7 cases were in Pennsylvania and 3 in New Jersey. 1/3 of the cases
involved false confessions or admissions, Potkin said.
Among the notable cases in the region is that of Nicholas Yarris, who was
released last year from death row in Pennsylvania. He served 22 years
before DNA tests showed he did not rape and kill a woman from Boothwyn,
Potkin said yesterday that the test results in Petersen's case included
6 pubic hairs found on the body and a stick belonged to Harrison. An
expert had testified that they were Peterson's.
Blood and skin matter found under Harrison's nails did not belong to
Peterson. Witnesses had testified that they saw fresh scratches on
Peterson's arms in the days after the murder, and prosecutors suggested
that those were defensive wounds.
Semen in the oral and vaginal swabs taken from the victim belonged to an
unidentified male, not Peterson, and the semen on her clothes matched that
of a prior consensual partner. Experts had testified that semen was found
only on Harrison's underwear and pants, and was not present in any body
Potkin's motion contends that the semen in the victim's mouth and vagina,
along with the scrapings under her nails, belong to the same man.
The appellate court, when granting the DNA testing, ruled that the
conviction should be thrown out if DNA results showed someone else was
Yesterday, Potkin said Petersen had told her that it was harder for him to
do time in prison now that he felt he had been exonerated.
She criticized the Prosecutor's Office, saying it had taken too long to
address Peterson's case. "There is no question the test results prove his
innocence," Potkin said, "but he is still sitting in prison in Trenton."
Harrison, the mother of girls ages 3 and 6, was a food-service worker at
the New Lisbon Developmental Center in Woodland Township. Her family could
not be reached for comment yesterday.
(source: Philadelphia Inquirer)
Let's leave vengeance to the Lord
The drive to re-instate the death penalty in Iowa is doomed, despite the
anger stirred by the recent murder of a child in Cedar Rapids and the fact
that two-thirds of the state's adults favor it.
Senate co-president Michael Gronstal says he'll continue to make sure the
Senate doesn't consider the bill, and Gov. Tom Vilsack is sure to veto it
if it does make it through the Legislature. I find, somewhat surprisingly,
that I'm glad.
Never had a big problem with the death penalty for a good many years. Some
people richly deserve to get fried and I'll shed no tear for the likes of
Timothy McVeigh and a lot of others who've met the executioner. But ...
The "buts" started weighing heavily over the last few years, as inmate
after inmate on Illinois' death row was proven to be innocent of the crime
that put them there. The count's at 13 now, and Illinois is hardly the
only state with a problem. Since 1973, 119 people on the death rows of 25
states have been exonerated.
119 is a big number, too big for any person of conscience to ignore.
Illinois is trying to repair its death penalty law so that it can continue
to execute the deserving, without worrying about killing the innocents. If
that can be done, fine and good.
In the meantime, though, we know that the number of innocent people
executed in Iowa since 1965 is zero. That's a number that's pretty easy to
live with, as more and more Iowans acknowledge. Though 67 % favor the
death penalty, the number is down from 81 % in 1993. Given that the most
recent poll was taken in the wake of a highly publicized child murder,
even the 67 percent figure may be a spike upward.
Iowa was among the first states to abolish the death penalty, and it's
hardly become a hotbed of murder and a haven for murderers as a result.
Only 3 states have lower murder rates than Iowa's 1.6 per 100,000
residents. Interestingly enough, of the 13 states with the lowest murder
rates, eight are no-death penalty states, which pretty much destroys the
I've been among those who've argued in support of the death penalty by
saying it makes no sense to pay for keeping someone in prison for life;
just kill 'em and save the money. Even this argument is falling as a hard
look at the numbers indicates, however counter-intuitively, that
executions are more expensive than a life-without-parole system. There's
considerable controversy on this topic, given that anti-death penalty
advocates were early sources for the numbers.
But rigorous official studies in Tennessee, North Carolina and Kansas,
among other places, support the assertion that life-without-parole is a
significantly less expensive option.
So the death penalty really isn't a deterrent, and it's more costly than
the life-without parole option. What's left to justify it?
Not much, except vengeance, and "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith
Let's leave it to Him.
(source: Quad-Cities Online -- John Beydler is news editor at Quad-Cities
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