[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, S.C., CALIF., OHIO, MD.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Dec 2 18:42:07 CST 2005
The system failed Ruben M. Cantu
We hope the U.S. Supreme Court is paying attention to Ruben Cantu, a
troubled San Antonio teenager with a history of crime. We hope Texans
remember his name and his words after a Bexar County jury found Cantu
guilty and sentenced him to death.
"My name is Ruben M. Cantu, and I am only 18 years old. I got to the 9th,
grade and I have been framed in a capital murder case.
We all should remember Cantu's case and the lessons it offers as the
country carries out its 1000th execution since 1976 scheduled for today in
North Carolina. It now appears that Cantu was right. That means that Texas
executed an innocent person. He was 17 at the time of the crime.
Cantu's case should shock even hard-core death penalty opponents. Cantu
was no saint. He tangled with the criminal justice system from a young
age. But he apparently didn't rob and shoot Pedro Gomez to death in 1984.
Yet in 1993, Cantu was strapped to a gurney and injected with lethal drugs
for that crime.
Texas' system is barbarous. What else can be said of a system that fails
to sort the innocent from the guilty? What else can be said of a system
whose checks and balances focus almost exclusively on whether the process
was followed and deadlines met rather than the more important - and moral
- questions of innocence and fairness? We're not talking about a few
flaws, but rather deep inequities and defects that deny defendants the
basics for a fair trial, including competent lawyers and investigators and
thorough and rigorous appeals. Nowadays, the wrongfully convicted can be
exonerated via DNA evidence. Thank goodness. But Cantu's case demonstrates
how the system fails when there is no DNA.
No credible eyewitnesses or physical evidence tied Cantu to the Gomez
murder. Witnesses who could have provided an alibi were never questioned,
and it now appears that police pressured the lone eyewitness who survived
the shooting into identifying Cantu as the shooter. That eyewitness, Juan
Moreno, an undocumented worker at the time who was wounded in the
shooting, now says Cantu was never at the crime scene. (A separate witness
now says Cantu was hundreds of miles away in Waco.) Moreno has apologized
to Cantu's mother and gone public to help clear Cantu's name and his own
conscience. Cantu's convicted accomplice, David Garza, said Cantu wasn't
at the crime scene and has named another man as the killer.
All of those facts were brought to light by a Houston Chronicle
investigation. Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed has promised to
vigorous investigate Cantu's claims of innocence. It's doubtful Reed can
pull that off because of her role in the case. As a former Bexar County
judge, she rejected Cantu's death sentence appeal in 1988, the Chronicle
We can't bring Cantu back. But his case can yield constructive lessons
about how to fix Texas' capital punishment system. Gov. Rick Perry can
start by directing his Criminal Justice Advisory Council to investigate
the Cantu case, as state Sen. Rodney Ellis has requested.
The advisory group must be more aggressive in scrutinizing cases before
people are executed. Laying the facts out in the open, no matter how
painful or shameful, will focus attention on the weaknesses and defects in
the system. That should produce solutions and spare innocent people from
Once a person is convicted of a capital crime in Texas, there is precious
little (except intervention from the U.S. Supreme Court) that will stop an
execution. Certainly not innocence.
Remember the name - Ruben M. Cantu.
(source: Editorial, Austin American-Statesman)
Man who killed Upstate store clerk put to death
Shawn Humphries was put to death by lethal injection Friday night for
the1994 murder of a Simpsonville store clerk.
Humphries was pronounced dead at 6:18 p.m.
Gov. Mark Sanford rejected Norris application for clemency earlier Friday.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected Humphries request for a stay of
Humphries was convicted of murder for the shooting death of Mendal Alton
"Dickie" Smith on New Years Day 1994. Prosecutors said Humphries and a
friend decided to rob the store where Smith was working after they had
been drinking beer all day.
Humphries becomes the 3rd condemned inmate to be executed in South
Carolina this year, and the 35th overall since the state resumed capital
punishment in 1985.
Humphries becomes the 57th condemned inmate to be put to death this year
in the USA and the 1001st overall since the nation resumed executions on
January 17, 1977.
Humphries attorney said Thursday that he would have preferred to have been
the 1,000th person executed nationwide since the death penalty was
reinstated, so that his death would be a milestone.
(sources: Associated Press & Rick Halperin)
Clemency for a Crip?
MERCY" is not the 1st word that comes to mind in reference to Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger of California. But he now has an opportunity to change
that. To do so, however, he'll have to buck a historic shift in America
away from the granting of executive clemency.
A judge has set Dec. 13 as the execution date for Stanley Williams, the
co-founder of the Crips street gang, who was convicted on 4 counts of
murder in 1981. During his years in prison, Mr. Williams, who is known as
Tookie, has become a voice against violence, writing children's books that
urge youngsters to avoid gangs. His judicial appeals have been exhausted,
and now Mr. Williams's only hope appears to lie in a grant of executive
clemency by the governor.
In legal terms, clemency can refer to both outright pardons and
commutations to lesser sentences. The practice is as old as capital
punishment itself. Pilate, after a voice vote of the gathered throng,
granted clemency to Barabbas rather than to Jesus.
In the United States, a request for clemency shifts a case from the
judicial to the executive branch. In the process, the question changes
from whether the prisoner is guilty to whether he deserves mercy. In our
colonial period and the early days of the republic, roughly half of those
sentenced to death were pardoned. The appeals court system at this time
was rudimentary at best, and clemency was about the only way to correct
errors at trial or to consider facts that came to light after conviction -
and thus to keep the innocent from being hanged.
Often, however, clemency was granted to the guilty as well as the
innocent. Before the rise of the penitentiary system in the 19th century,
the death penalty was virtually the only punishment available for serious
crimes, and it was applied broadly, for rape and robbery as well as for
murder. When two young men in 18th-century North Carolina were condemned
for counterfeiting, the governor issued a pardon because their crimes
could be attributed to "the unsteadiness of youth." The death penalty
painted justice with a broad brush, and clemency offered a way to consider
Mercy was also used to make a moral point. In 1731, 2 condemned burglars
in Philadelphia were hoisted onto a cart that also contained their coffins
and paraded through the streets to the gallows, where nooses were placed
around their necks. Only then did the sheriff read the men's pardon, which
he had carried with him from the jail.
The authorities in many cities performed this sort of theater of the
last-minute pardon as a way to dramatize both the severity of the law and
its mercy. (This sort of thing became so common that prisoners came to
expect it, and some were surprised when the gallows trap opened and
plunged them into the void.)
By the 20th century, clemency had become less stagy but no less common.
Records show that from 1909 to 1954, North Carolina governors, for
example, granted clemency in a third of all death sentences. Florida
commuted a quarter of its death sentences from 1924 to 1966.
Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the practice
has nearly disappeared. There have been 999 executions, leaving 3,400
prisoners remaining on death row, and yet only 230 people have been
granted clemency on humanitarian grounds (171 of them as part of the
blanket grant of clemency in 2003 in Illinois stemming from flaws in the
state's judicial system).
What happened? The Supreme Court got involved, as did politics. In its
1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court rendered every
state's capital punishment law unconstitutional, leading to a
transformation of the death penalty. Once a matter left largely to the
states, the death penalty became deeply enmeshed in constitutional law,
and long appeals became standard.
In some ways, the system improved: cases once appropriate only for
clemency - condemnations of the obviously innocent, minors or the mentally
incapacitated - were now usually handled by the courts.
But another, less benign cause for clemency's decline has been political.
In the 1970's - spurred by voters' fears of rising crime rates -
politicians discovered an advantage in appearing to be tough on crime.
That is why the decision by Virginia's governor, Mark Warner, to grant
clemency to a convicted murderer on Tuesday, on the grounds of evidence
that had disappeared, made national headlines.
If Governor Schwarzenegger were to allow this prisoner to go to his death,
he would suffer little political damage. Tookie Williams fits no one's
definition of innocence. He was convicted of murdering 4 people - a
7-Eleven clerk shot twice in the back during a holdup, and 3 members of a
family during a robbery at a motel - and as a leader of the Crips he set
in motion a criminal enterprise that destroyed countless lives.
But his notoriety, his former viciousness, is precisely what gives him
credibility in his current work - persuading young people to avoid gangs.
His claim for clemency rests on the good work he is performing in prison,
and that is a decision that the court system is not designed to handle.
Rather, it is up to Governor Schwarzenegger to decide whether allowing Mr.
Williams to continue living behind bars might better serve society's
interests than sending him to his death - that is, to decide whether that
older conception of clemency still has a place in our culture. (As he
weighs this decision, Mr. Schwarzenegger might consider that the last
California governor to grant clemency to a death-row inmate was his
political hero, Ronald Reagan.)
Commuting Mr. Williams's sentence would almost certainly bring charges
that Mr. Schwarzenegger is soft on crime. But the governor has prided
himself on being a political maverick. What better way to confirm his
strength than by revealing the quality of his mercy?
(source: Op-Ed; Mark Essig is the author of "Edison and the Electric
Chair."----New York Times)
No Special Break for Tookie----Celebrities and 'Redemption' Aren't the
Point. States Shouldn't Kill.
Big-time Hollywood stars, including Jamie Foxx, Snoop Dogg and Danny
Glover, are leading a high-profile campaign to persuade another big-time
Hollywood star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to save the life of a convicted
murderer on California's death row named Stanley Tookie Williams. Sorry,
but I can't join the glitterati in showing the love.
Williams's case is about the power of redemption, his supporters say, but
I think it's more about the power of celebrity. The state shouldn't
execute Williams, but only because the state shouldn't execute anybody --
the death penalty is a barbaric anachronism that should have been
eliminated long ago, as far as I'm concerned. But it can't be right to
save Williams just because he's a famous desperado (or former desperado)
with famous friends, and then blithely go back to snuffing out the lives
of other criminals who lack his talent for public relations.
Tookie Williams, scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Dec. 13,
is famous because he was a co-founder of the Crips -- the Los Angeles
street gang whose epic war with a rival gang, the Bloods, is one of the
founding legends of the "gangsta" strain of hip-hop culture.
Snoop Dogg was briefly a Crip before discovering it was much more
lucrative, and much less dangerous, to recite clever couplets about
nihilistic violence than to actually participate in turf battles,
shootouts and beat-downs.
"Now tell me, what's my [expletive] name?" Snoop boasted on one of his
early songs. "Serial Killa!" the chorus shouted in response. But it was
all make-believe for Snoop -- these days, you can see him in a television
commercial playing golf with Lee Iacocca. The vast majority of his fans
understood all along his music was just artifice, and I'm not ready to
hold the artist responsible for the relative few who took all his pretend
violence and misogyny seriously.
But Williams is a different story: The bullets in his gat were real. He
was convicted of the 1979 murders of four people in 2 separate robberies
-- convenience store worker Albert Owens, 26; and motel owners Yen-I Yang,
76; Tsai-Shai Yang, 63; and their daughter Yee-Chen Lin, 43. Williams has
been on death row since 1981; that he has consistently maintained his
innocence of all four killings hardly makes him unique. There's no
dramatic new DNA evidence or anything like that to cast doubt on his
What does make him special, according to his supporters, is that he has
been so lavishly repentant about the culture of violence he helped create.
Since about 10 years ago, Williams has been apologizing for his role in
founding the Crips -- in recorded messages meant to be heard by youth
groups, and in a series of children's books. A longtime supporter
maintains a Web site where Williams, using the overly flowery language of
a jailhouse autodidact, urges young people to stay away from gangs. True
believers have even suggested him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2004 actor Foxx starred as Tookie Williams in a made-for-TV movie,
"Redemption," that sought to portray his behind-bars transformation from
gangster to Gandhi. In interviews, Foxx has said he is convinced that
Williams's metamorphosis is genuine.
But Williams's time is running out. This week the California Supreme Court
rejected a final appeal to reopen his case, and intervention by the
federal courts is considered unlikely. Williams's supporters are asking
Schwarzenegger to use his power as governor to intervene and commute
Williams's death sentence to life without parole. The governor has agreed
to consider Williams's case.
Of course, there are hundreds of other men on death row who repent of
their crimes and would appreciate a little executive clemency, but they
don't have movie stars pleading their cases. Oh, and also lacking a
publicity machine are the 4 people Williams was convicted of killing.
For me, this case just reinforces my belief that there is no way the death
penalty can be fairly applied. Among the ranks of the condemned are few
genuinely innocent men -- although one is too many. But death row is
brimming with genuinely repentant men, not because some divine revelation
has hit them but simply because they have grown older.
Tookie Williams is 51; his body has softened, his rage dissipated. The
state of California will not be killing the same man it sentenced to death
24 years ago. But don't buy the argument that he's a special case, because
(source: Washington Post)
Why a "Tookie" Williams
In a candid, and revealing moment, Stanley "Tookie" Williams told a
visitor at San Quentin prison that he helped found the notorious Crips
street gang because he wanted to smash everyone, make a rep, get respect
and dignity, and that he wanted his name to be known everywhere. He got
his wish in more ways than he ever dreamed of. The demons that drove
Williams in his reckless push for identity and prominence also drove him
to become the nation's best known condemned prisoner. He faces execution
December 13 for multiple murders.
William's revelatory glimpse into his thug past tells much about the
anger, alienation, and desperation that have turned legions of young black
men into social pariahs, and that propel them to wreak murder and mayhem
in mostly poor, black communities. But today's Tookies didn't crop up from
The transformation in the early 1970s of the old-line civil rights groups
into business, and professional friendly organizations, and black
middle-class flight from the inner city neighborhoods, left the black
poor, especially young black males, socially fragmented, politically
rudderless, and economically destitute. Lacking visible role models of
success and achievement, and competitive technical skills and professional
training to compete in a rapidly shifting economy, they were shoved even
further to the outer margins of American society.
Yet, the Tookies instinctively know that the material goodies suspended
before them in movies, on TV and in advertisements are the primary
measures of an individual's worth in a consumer-obsessed culture. They
desperately want them but they know that in many cases they can't attain
them, at least through legal means. This increases their frustration and
anger. The American dream may be a dream deferred, but it's still a dream
that many spend their lives in futile pursuit of.
That alone doesn't explain the inner rage that consumes many poor young
black males. They are in a pathetic hunt to live up to the perverse and
distorted image of manhood that American society reserves for white men,
and denies black males.
Far too many young black males have become especially adept at acting out
their frustrations at society's denial of their "manhood" by adopting an
exaggerated "tough guy" role. They swagger, boast, curse, fight and commit
violent self-destructive acts. Their tattoos, signs, code speak language,
dress, gaudy colors, graffiti tagged walls, drug dealing and gunplay are a
ritual part of the identity and power quest that once pushed Tookie to the
The accessibility of drugs, and guns, and the influence of violent-laced
rap songs also reinforced the deep feeling among many youth that life is
cheap, expendable and easy to take. In far too many cases, police and city
officials throw up their hands in despair, or downplay the crime and
violence they commit as long as their victims are other blacks. The
exception is when there's a loud and pained outcry from residents over an
especially heinous and outrageous killing.
The body count of unsolved homicides in predominantly black neighborhoods
in Tookie's old South Los Angeles haunts numbers in the hundreds. The
pattern is similar in other cities. Police say it's because the witnesses
and victim 's relatives and friends won't cooperate, but often they do and
arrests still aren't made, and when they are, the punishment appears less
severe than the punishment meted out to blacks if the victims were white
or non-blacks. The 4 victims Williams' is convicted of killing were white
and Asian. The sense among young black males that their lives are severely
marginalized fosters disrespect for the law and implants the troubling
notion that they have an open license to pillage and plunder their
Williams was long gone from the scene by the time the Crips devolved and
morphed into the hundreds of factions nationally, and internationally,
that have since become major players in the gun and drug plague. The
memory of the thug life that Tookie helped spawn, as much as the public
demand by prison officials, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, Los
Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, and police officials, that
Tookie pay with his life for the murders he was convicted of, is why
Tookie is still roundly condemned by many.
But Tookie feels deeply responsible for the Frankenstein monster that he
helped create, and has profusely and openly apologized to the families of
the victims of gang violence in letters and taped messages. His contrition
is not too little too late, but it is still slight consolation to the
victims that his violent quest for identity and manhood claimed.
The Tookie that thousands are fighting to keep from a December 13 date
with the executioner is not the same Tookie that decades ago wanted to
smash everyone. Yet there are still thousands like him that do. A very
much alive Tookie who understands their anger and alienation could help
lesson their numbers.
(source: Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is
the author of 'The Crisis in Black and Black' (Middle Passage
Press)----Independent Media Institute)
Prosecutor weighs options in old slayings, including plea bargain
Plea bargains could be an option in Pennsylvania for 2 Ohio men charged in
the brutal slayings of two college students in 1999.
The Ohio Supreme Court threw out a murder conviction and death sentence
for Terrell Yarbrough 1 year ago because the crime started in Ohio but
ended in Pennsylvania.
A co-defendant, Nathan Herring, was convicted of the murder, escaped a
death sentence and is serving life in prison.
The 2 were tried for the 1999 robbery, abduction and shooting deaths of
Franciscan University of Steubenville students Aaron Land and Brian Muha.
Death penalty charges against Yarbrough are certain, as early as next
month, and similar charges against Herring are being considered, John
Pettit, district attorney for Pennsylvania's Washington County, said
Friday. He said plea bargains could be an option in any charges brought in
Pennsylvania, a decision he would make "as soon as I know everything I
need to know."
Pettit said he's been busy handling an unrelated double homicide and
hasn't rushed to file charges before now because there is no time limit in
a murder case. He said double jeopardy wouldn't apply because it's a
different entity bringing the charges.
Charging Yarbrough in Pennsylvania is important because last year's ruling
erased the murder from his record, said Land's mother, Kathleen O'Hara.
"We need justice," O'Hara said. "According to the legal system there's no
crime other than burglary, so Aaron should technically be alive and should
be home for Christmas."
Yarbrough, 25, is serving 53 years for aggravated burglary, aggravated
robbery and kidnapping for the parts of the crime that happened in Ohio.
The state Supreme Court's unanimous decision on Dec. 1, 2004, said
authorities made a mistake trying Yarbrough for the murders because of
where they happened.
Muha, 18, of Westerville in suburban Columbus, and Land, 20, of
Philadelphia, were robbed and kidnapped at their apartment in
Steubenville, but were shot 12 miles away along a western Pennsylvania
In April, Gov. Bob Taft signed a bill into law that says crimes beginning
in Ohio but ending with an out-of-state slaying can still be prosecuted by
Pettit said plea bargains can ensure a defendant goes to prison and,
especially in capital cases, can save money because of the added cost of
death penalty prosecutions.
"You're guaranteed that somebody is going to pay their burden if they take
that plea to life," said Pettit, a Democrat in his 22nd year as an elected
But with a trial, "you might get one juror that holds out," he said.
Pettit said that of the 5 people he helped put on death row, 4 were
offered plea bargains but rejected them.
For the students' families the case is far from over.
After Yarbrough's 2000 trial - but before the Ohio Supreme Court threw out
his murder conviction and death sentence - the U.S. Supreme Court banned
the execution of the mentally retarded.
As a result, Yarbrough filed an appeal of his death sentence on the
grounds that his IQ of 67 and his limited mental capacity would prevent
That appeal would come into play in any new charges in Pennsylvania, said
Kelly Culshaw, an assistant Ohio state public defender.
Meanwhile, Herring, 24, appealed his murder and death sentence last month,
citing the state Supreme Court's decision in Yarbrough's case.
Herring's original attorney refused to file such an appeal, saying it
could lead to a new trial and the death sentence that Herring avoided the
But Herring's new lawyer, Michael Partlow, said Friday he believes Herring
will win the appeal and won't be tried again in Ohio.
O'Hara, 54, a Philadelphia psychotherapist, wasn't sure how she felt about
a plea bargain. O'Hara, who is not opposed to the death penalty in
Yarbrough's case, said she wants the case prosecuted to the fullest.
Muha's mother, Rachel Muha, is a Roman Catholic opposed to capital
"The best thing in my mind would be for Terrell Yarbrough and Nathan
Herring to just say they're guilty, and maybe get life in prison, and
we'll be spared a trial and it will be over," said Muha, who runs a
foundation in her son's memory to help poor children.
"That's what I keep hoping and praying for."
On the Net: Ohio Supreme Court: http://www.sconet.state.oh.us/
(source: Associated Press)
Baker's request for stay of execution rejected----Appeals court decision
narrows legal options for convicted killer set to be put to death sometime
The Maryland Court of Appeals today denied a request by Wesley Eugene
Baker for a stay of his execution.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has signed a warrant that calls for Baker to be
put to death sometime next week. Today's court decision leaves Baker with
narrowing legal options. He still has emergency appeals before the U.S.
Supreme Court, and he has asked Ehrlich for clemency.
A spokesman for Ehrlich said the governor continues to review the case.
Baker could be executed as early as Monday. He was convicted of killing
Jane Tyson in front of her grandchildren outside a Baltimore County mall
(source: Associated Press)
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