[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----TEXAS, OHIO, VA., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Dec 17 12:44:51 CST 2005
TEXAS----new execution date
Tommie Hughes has been given a March 15 execution date; it should be
considered extremely serious.
Texas has now set 11 execution dates between January 19 and April 25 of
(sources: TDCJ and Rick Halperin)
Technicality deals retarded death row inmate setback ---- Judges uphold
1-year statute of limitations for filing key appeal
A technicality could spell death for convicted killer Marvin Lee Wilson, a
death row inmate who says his mental retardation should, under federal
law, keep him from being executed.
While trying to untangle Texas courtroom bureaucracy, Mr. Wilson missed a
key deadline for filing an appeal based on mental retardation. But the 5th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said this week that Congress created the
1-year statute of limitations to keep inmates from abusing the system and
that it must be enforced, "however harsh the result may be."
Mr. Wilson, who murdered a man in Beaumont 13 years ago, doesn't have an
execution date yet, and his lawyers are still looking into what legal
avenues he has left. His attorneys say the appellate ruling means that he
could be executed even though his IQ of 61 makes him retarded, and the
Supreme Court ruled 3 years ago that it's unconstitutional to execute
mentally retarded convicts.
It's particularly troubling, they said, because Texas law was what
hindered Mr. Wilson from appealing his sentence based on that decision.
"It's disturbing on a number of levels," said Jim Marcus, executive
director of the Texas Defender Service, who has been advising Mr. Wilson
and his attorney, James DeLee of Port Arthur. Mr. DeLee could not be
reached for comment Friday.
In his appeal to the 5th circuit, Mr. Wilson said he missed the deadline
because he was forced to choose between the appeals he already had going
in federal court and the chance that he could be spared death based on
In his appeal, he also asked the court to throw out the statute of
limitations altogether, saying that it allows states to carry out illegal
executions. The opinion handed down Tuesday did not address that.
The court said that Mr. Wilson appears to have shown that he's mentally
retarded but that he didn't prove that missing the deadline was the
state's fault. But Mr. Wilson's attorneys contend that state law hurt his
chances of appealing based on the Supreme Court ban.
Mr. Wilson, convicted in 1994 of kidnapping and murdering Jerry Williams
in retaliation for being a police informant, already had appeals working
their way through federal courts when the decision came down.
Texas' "2-forum rule" prohibited defendants from litigating the same case
in federal and state courts at the same time. The appeal based on mental
retardation had to start in state court. That meant that Mr. Wilson would
have had to abandon his other federal appeals for good - a risk he put off
until the last day of the statute of limitations, hoping the conflict
would be resolved.
But the court dismissed the new appeal, saying it was filed improperly,
and the deadline passed. Mr. Wilson's attorneys say an exception should
have been made because the 2-forum rule caused the delay.
The court opinion acknowledged that the 2-forum rule complicated matters,
but the judges maintained that Mr. Wilson should have started the process
earlier - presumably at the cost of the other appeals.
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Date Missed, Court Rebuffs Low-I.Q. Man Facing Death
Though the Supreme Court has prohibited the execution of the mentally
retarded, a Texas death row inmate who may be retarded cannot raise the
issue in federal court because his lawyer missed a filing deadline, a
federal appeals court ruled this week.
The inmate, Marvin Lee Wilson, has "made a prima facie showing of mental
retardation," a unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of
Appeals for the Fifth Circuit wrote in an unsigned decision on Tuesday,
meaning the court presumed Mr. Wilson to be retarded for purposes of its
But the panel said it was powerless to consider the case because Mr.
Wilson's lawyer filed papers concerning his retardation in a federal trial
court without first obtaining required permission from the appeals court,
which he did not seek until a deadline had expired.
"However harsh the result may be," the panel said, its hands are tied by
deadlines established in a 1996 federal law, the Antiterrorism and
Effective Death Penalty Act. The same law now forbids Mr. Wilson,
convicted of killing a police informant, to appeal the Fifth Circuit's
ruling to the Supreme Court.
The Fifth Circuit court, which hears appeals from Texas, Louisiana and
Mississippi, has been frequently criticized by the Supreme Court for its
decisions in capital cases. Still, said James W. Marcus, executive
director of the Texas Defender Service, the Wilson decision surprised him.
"Executing someone who is categorically exempt from the death penalty,"
Mr. Marcus said, "would be new ground, even for Texas."
The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that executing the mentally retarded was
unconstitutional. But it gave the states little guidance about how to make
In Texas, under a 2004 decision of its Court of Criminal Appeals, judges
consider three things: whether defendants have "significantly subaverage"
intelligence, using "an I.Q. of about 70 or below" as a benchmark; whether
they lack fundamental social and practical skills; and whether they can
demonstrate that both conditions existed before age 18. Other states look
to similar factors, though some use an I.Q. of 75 as a rough cutoff.
At a hearing in state court in 2004, Mr. Wilson's lawyers presented
evidence from a psychologist, Donald Trahan, who said Mr. Wilson's I.Q.
had most recently been measured at 61. A 1971 test had measured it at 73.
In 1987, it was 75.
Dr. Trahan said Mr. Wilson read at a first- or second-grade level, did not
understand how bank accounts worked and had trouble with simple financial
tasks like making change.
A childhood friend, Walter Kelly, said Mr. Wilson had had difficulty with
basic skills as a child.
"He would put on his belt so tight that it would almost cut off his
circulation," Mr. Kelly said. "He couldn't even play with simple toys like
marbles or tops."
Prosecutors presented no evidence of their own at that hearing. In court
papers, they said the nature of Mr. Wilson's crime itself proved that he
was not retarded. The Supreme Court's 2002 decision, they wrote, "was
never intended to protect capital murderers who commit execution-style
Mr. Wilson, now 47, was convicted in 1998 of kidnapping and killing the
police informant, Jerry Williams, in 1992. Information from Mr. Williams
had led to Mr. Wilson's arrest for cocaine possession.
In August 2004, Judge Larry Gist of the state district court in Beaumont,
Tex., ruled that Mr. Wilson had failed to prove that he was mentally
retarded. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed in a 3-paragraph decision
three months later.
Mr. Wilson's lawyer, Jim Delee, then sought review in the federal courts
but became tangled in the procedures and deadlines set out in the 1996
law. The judges who ruled against his client this week were Jacques L.
Wiener Jr. and Emilio M. Garza, both appointed to the appeals court by the
1st President Bush, and W. Eugene Davis, by President Ronald Reagan.
This year the Supreme Court banned the execution of people who were under
18 at the time of their crimes. Mr. Marcus, of the Texas Defender Service,
said it would be inconceivable to execute a juvenile offender even if his
lawyer failed to raise the issue of his age at the proper time.
"If Mr. Wilson had been 14 years old at the time of the crime but, in the
eyes of the court, the issue was raised late, would it be O.K. for Texas
to kill him?" Mr. Marcus said. "The question in this case is no
(source; New York Times)
5th Circuit rejects a late appeal by inmate with low IQ Attorneys for
Texas man facing execution had missed deadline by 40 days
A Texas death row inmate whose lawyers say is mentally retarded lost an
appeal this week before a federal court because he missed a filing
Although the U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of mentally retarded
convicts three years ago, the state contends Marvin Lee Wilson of Beaumont
isn't mentally retarded, and he lost a mental retardation claim in state
His lawyers had taken his appeal to federal court, where the door was shut
on Tuesday by a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because
Wilson's application to file for a writ of habeas corpus was submitted
after a deadline set under a 1996 federal law governing habeas
"However harsh the result may be - particularly in a death penalty case
involving a petitioner who has made a ... showing of mental retardation -
Congress acted deliberately in enacting a strict limitations period," the
The 3 judges - W. Eugene Davis, Jacques Wiener Jr. and Emilio Garza - said
that Wilson had "failed to demonstrate that rare and exceptional
circumstances prevented his timely filing" and refused to expand the
No execution date has been set for Wilson, 47. He was sentenced to die for
the 1992 kidnapping and shooting death of Jerry Robert Williams, 21, a
police informant in a drug possession case against him.
"People have been executed in Texas because of missed deadlines," said Jim
Marcus of the Texas Defender Service.
"What's different about this particular situation is whether Mr. Wilson is
categorically exempt from the death penalty because he has mental
How deadline was missed
Marcus said defense lawyers were weighing their options, which include the
filing of a new writ of habeas corpus directly with the U.S. Supreme
Court. He said such writs are rarely granted.
"The question now is whether the Supreme Court will get involved or not,"
Marcus said an expert witness testified in a state court hearing that
Wilson had an IQ in the low 60s. But the state contested the claim of
mental retardation, and the claim was denied by a state district judge and
the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2004.
According to the 5th Circuit panel, Wilson's lawyers filed successive
applications for habeas corpus in both federal district court and state
court on June 20, 2003, the last day he could file under a 1-year period
allowed by federal law. The period began with the Supreme Court's June 20,
2002, decision banning the execution of mentally retarded inmates.
The 5th Circuit dismissed the federal application to allow Wilson's state
application to run its course through Texas courts. That time wasn't
counted against his deadline, but the clock began ticking again when the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued its final judgment denying Wilson's
state application on Nov. 10, 2004.
That left Wilson with one business day to refile his application in
federal court. The new deadline was Nov. 12, since Nov. 11 was a federal
The 5th Circuit panel noted that Wilson attempted to refile his
application in federal district court on Nov. 12 but said his lawyers
failed to get the appellate court's prior approval, as required by federal
"Not until Dec. 22, 2004, a full 40 days after his filing deadline, did
Wilson properly file his new motion for authorization (from the 5th
Circuit)," the panel wrote.
"The actions of his counsel - particularly in waiting until the very last
day of the limitations period to file his (1st) application - appear to us
to be more indicative of brinksmanship than of careful diligence," the
James Delee, a Port Arthur attorney who also represents Wilson, had told
the 5th Circuit that defense lawyers had "presented ample evidence to
support a claim of mental retardation."
"Strong, objective evidence showed that Mr. Wilson has low intelligence,
significant adaptive deficits and onset before age 18 that is
characteristic of the mentally retarded," he wrote.
But the Texas attorney general's office argued that the state court's
determination that Wilson wasn't mentally retarded "precludes him from
making the prima facie showing (in federal court) that he is mentally
(source : Houston Chronicle)
Suspect in Nava shooting indicted
With unusual swiftness, a Tarrant County grand jury has indicted the
suspect in the fatal shooting of Fort Worth police officer Henry "Hank"
Stephen Lance Heard, 39, remained in the Tarrant County Jail on Thursday
on $2 million bail. He is now awaiting trial on a capital murder charge in
the death of Nava, who was gunned down Nov. 29 inside a northwest Fort
Worth mobile home.
The grand jury also indicted Heard on a charge of aggravated kidnapping,
stemming from accusations that he held a 26-year-old woman hostage for
about 3 hours.
Prosecutors said they presented the case to the grand jury quickly because
they had sufficient evidence to go to trial. The move came 2 days after
defense attorneys filed a motion to have a pre-indictment hearing.
That hearing, called an examining trial, would have allowed both sides
"the right to question, review and cross-examine every aspect of the
case," defense attorney Mark Daniel said in a written statement.
"The district attorney returning indictments in these cases legally
terminates that right," Daniel's statement read.
Prosecutor Betty Arvin, who is handling the case with Alan Levy, said that
police have been working non-stop on the case and, while there is still
work to be done, the case was ready to be presented to the grand jury.
"When a grand jury returns an indictment, there is no need for an
examining trial," Arvin said.
Arvin said the investigation is ongoing and additional charges may be
filed against Heard at a later date.
She said a final decision has not been made on whether prosecutors will
seek the death penalty. The Capital Murder Review Committee, a group of
chief prosecutors who review all capital murder cases, is expected to make
a decision as early as January.
"We try and gather as much information as we can before making that
decision," Arvin said. "We are working on that now."
Police have said that Nava and 2 other officers had gone to a northwest
Fort Worth mobile home on Nov. 29, searching for Heard, who was wanted on
a parole violation warrant.
After officers were given permission to search the home by a female
occupant, officer Nava opened a bedroom door and told officers that Heard
was inside. The affidavits state that Heard opened fire and a gunbattle
Police have said that Heard fled to a nearby home, where he held a woman
hostage. After a 3-hour standoff, police said, Heard surrendered.
Nava, who was shot above the left eyebrow, died 2 days later.
Heard told reporters in a subsequent interview that he fired the gun
because he thought Nava was a robber.
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Climate in Ohio calls for an end to death penalty
In principle, I favor the death penalty. Cold-blooded killers such as
Stanley "Tookie" Williams, whose guilt wasn't really in question, merit no
sympathy or consideration simply because they are more articulate or
media-friendly than their victims.
The problem with the death penalty is that, so long as we have prosecutors
who convict innocent people on less-than-ultimate proof, and when faced
with proof of innocence continue to insist on maintaining the conviction,
we can never be sure when imposing the death penalty.
Thank God, Clarence Elkins was not sentenced to death [and has been set
free], but the prosecutors in his case are the poster children for
abolishing the death penalty. Being tough on crime in Summit County
appears to mean jailing innocent relatives of the victim so that the
guilty can go free to rape and kill again. While the death penalty is
appropriate for killers, thanks to people like the prosecutors in Summit
County, it is no longer a viable option in Ohio. The legislature should
(source: Letter to the Editor, Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Parole board games ---- Mishandling of hearings hurts prisoners, crime
victims and judge
The Ohio Parole Board has misled the public to believe that prison inmates
convicted of aggravated murder and rape might go free because of a ruling
made by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge David E. Cain.
Cain is unfairly taking the blame for the board's mistake piled upon
A spokesman for the parole board chalked up the agency's actions to simple
confusion over which inmates are affected by Cain's 2004 ruling in Ankrom
vs. Hageman. Let's hope that's true, because it looks suspiciously like
disgruntled state officials playing politics.
Cain ruled in Ankrom that the board's method for determining the parole
eligibility of inmates convicted before 1996 was flawed. As a result, some
inmates were serving much longer sentences than they should, he said.
Cain wrote that those inmates deserve parole hearings in which their
circumstances are given meaningful consideration, and if the board chooses
not to release an inmate, it has to give a reason.
The Ankrom decision applies only to inmates who plea-bargained for lesser
charges. In all but a few scenarios, the ruling wouldn't apply to people
convicted of rape and aggravated murder.
But for reasons that are unclear, the parole board has done everything in
its power to give the public the impression that Cain wants Ohio's worst
criminals out of prison.
Since the board began to comply with the ruling in June, it has labeled
every parole hearing an "Ankrom hearing," even if the Ankrom decision
The board also has been sending letters to victims and their families to
notify them that an "Ankrom hearing" soon will be held for a particular
Cain is conspicuously named in the 1st sentence and last paragraph. Angry
crime victims and their loved ones have been contacting Cain, wondering
why he'd be such a monster as to suggest that those who've committed
heinous crimes should go free.
Worse than that, now that Cain has chastised the parole board for its
misinterpretation of the ruling, the board has delayed hearings it
promised for people convicted of aggravated murder while it reconsiders
The ire coming from inmates over this development isn't directed at the
parole board; it's directed at Cain. But he didn't make the mistake. Every
time an inmate hears he's getting a long-awaited hearing, the board raises
his hopes and then dashes them when that hearing is canceled.
Every time the parole board sends out a letter to a victim saying that the
inmate who raped her is getting a hearing, the news rips her apart -
needless suffering if the inmate isn't actually eligible.
Through its actions, the board has harmed much more than a judge's
reputation. Whether board officials truly are confused by the Ankrom
ruling or the maneuvering stems from spite, the mistakes and blame game
(source: Editorial, Columbus Dispatch)
Court denies murderer's attempt to overturn death sentence
A federal appeals court ruled this week that a man sentenced to death
received a fair trial although his two Portsmouth defense attorneys were
embroiled in a race discrimination lawsuit against one another.
Dexter Lee Vinson, convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend, argued that his
attorneys had a conflict of interest because one was suing the other,
claiming she was bypassed for promotion because of her race while employed
in the Portsmouth Public Defenders Office.
Vinson, now 42, was convicted in 1998 of the murder and sexual mutilation
of his ex-girlfriend, Angela Felton, a 25-year-old mother of 3.
Felton's body was found in a vacant house in the Academy Park section of
Portsmouth. She had suffered massive cuts to her limbs, buttocks and
genital area and was bludgeoned about the head and face.
Vinson denied any role in the slaying. "Nobody really knows what
happened," he told the jury at his trial.
Vinson was represented at trial by Portsmouth Public Defender John H.
Underwood III. A judge appointed private attorney Tanya Lomax as
Lomax, who is black, had been employed as an assistant defender in
Underwood's office from about 1991 to 1997 and in that period had filed a
race discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission claiming that 3 white women were promoted over her. Later, she
filed a federal lawsuit.
A jury found in Underwood's favor after hearing testimony that Lomax was
difficult to work with and had poor relationships with other staff
Underwood, reached Friday at his office, declined to comment. Lomax could
not be reached.
Vinson, seeking to overturn his death sentence, argued before the appeals
court that he should get a court hearing so a judge could decide whether
his trial counsel "labored under a conflict of interest."
But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Vinson was
made aware of the civil action between Lomax and Underwood and chose not
to obtain alternate counsel.
He also signed a waiver stating he understood the potential conflict but
wished to continue with the 2 attorneys.
The appeals court wrote that Vinson did not "establish constitutional
error by clear and convincing evidence."
Vinsons attorneys did not respond to questions Friday. He has been on
death row since 1999. No execution date has been set.
(source: The Virginian-Pilot)
Oldest Death Row Inmate Is Denied a Delay----Judge rejects Clarence Ray
Allen's assertion he is too ill to assist in clemency efforts. Allen, 75,
arranged a triple slaying from prison.
A federal judge in San Francisco has declined to delay the Jan. 17
execution of the oldest man on California's death row, who says he is so
ill that he has been unable to assist his attorneys in preparing a
Clarence Ray Allen, 75, was sentenced to death in 1982 for commissioning
the murder of three people in Fresno. If the sentence is carried out as
scheduled, Allen would become the oldest person executed in California
since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978.
Allen is legally blind, has heart ailments and diabetes, and uses a
wheelchair. His attorneys assert that top officials in the California
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and at San Quentin State
Prison have provided inadequate medical care to Allen. They also say that
the state violated Allen's rights to counsel, to due process and to be
free from cruel and unusual punishment.
The California attorney general's office vigorously opposed delaying the
execution, saying that Allen has had sufficient opportunity to meet with
his attorneys regarding a clemency petition.
In an order released Friday, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White agreed.
White said Allen had not met the legal standard to obtain a temporary
restraining order in two important respects.
The judge said Allen had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. In
addition, White said that under a 1998 U.S. Supreme Court decision, "only
minimal due process protections apply to clemency proceedings" and that
Allen had failed to demonstrate that the state had violated that standard.
White said that although Allen's attorneys cited several incidents of
"alleged disregard for his medical needs," they had presented no specific
allegations regarding the effect those actions had had on Allen's ability
to help them with a clemency petition.
As for Allen's assertions that his repeated movements from one facility to
another prevented him from being examined by medical experts and meeting
with his lawyers, White noted that the inmate has met with his legal team
nine times since his heart attack in September. Allen also has been
examined 8 times since returning to his cell on Oct. 6 after surgery,
Allen also said state officials denied him laser eye surgery, which would
have improved his vision and permitted him to be tested for organic brain
His attorneys say finding signs of such brain damage would provide
mitigating evidence relevant to Allen's clemency petition.
But White said there is nothing in the law that requires the state to help
Allen prepare his clemency petition.
Moreover, White said that on Tuesday Allen's attorneys had "filed a
lengthy and thorough clemency petition," which the judge said belies
Allen's assertion that state officials interfered with his clemency
The judge said Allen's attorneys have made Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
aware of his medical condition in their clemency petition.
Schwarzenegger could grant the petition, deny it or issue a reprieve. No
California governor has granted clemency in a capital case since 1967.
Schwarzenegger has denied clemency to all 3 death row inmates who have
requested it, including Stanley Tookie Williams, who was executed Tuesday.
The California attorney general's office, which considers Allen's crimes
particularly egregious, will oppose clemency and is expected to file a
formal response with the governor.
In 1977, Allen was convicted of arranging the 1974 murder of his son's
girlfriend, Mary Sue Kitts, who was a potential witness against him in a
market burglary case. While serving a life sentence at Folsom State Prison
for contracting Kitts' murder, he offered another inmate, Billy Ray
Hamilton, $25,000 to kill 8 people who had testified against him in the
After being released from prison, Hamilton in 1980 killed one of the
witnesses, Bryon Schletewitz, son of the store owner, and two young market
employees, Josephine Rocha and Douglas White. Allen was convicted of the
three murders, and of conspiracy to murder the 8 witnesses. Hamilton also
received a death sentence, and 2 other individuals involved in the triple
homicide received sentences of life without parole.
Service for Williams Is Scheduled for Tuesday----The killer was executed
at San Quentin this week. His ashes are to be spread in South Africa.
A memorial service for Stanley Tookie Williams, a co-founder of the Crips
gang who was executed at San Quentin this week, will be held at a South
Los Angeles church Tuesday, organizers said.
The service is scheduled for noon at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal
Church and will be officiated by Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam,
said supporter Jasmyne Cannick. Other participants will include the Rev.
Jesse Jackson, recording artist Snoop Dogg and NAACP President Bruce S.
Gordon, she said.
Williams, 51, was convicted of murdering four people 26 years ago. He was
executed by lethal injection Tuesday, hours after Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger denied his clemency petition. His case drew international
media attention, in part because Williams had become an anti-gang activist
and had been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
He requested that his ashes be spread in South Africa. Cannick said his
request would be honored.
She said the funeral was a chance for Williams to be remembered as a man
who made contributions to the community.
"This is an opportunity for people who knew Mr. Williams, who were friends
with Mr. Williams, who respected his work to be able to pay their final
respects," Cannick said.
A Los Angeles Police Department spokesman said officers would be in the
area but would not intrude on the service.
"We will monitor it like we would any other large event like this," said
Lt. Paul Vernon. "We don't anticipate any problems."
The church, at 7900 S. Western Ave., holds about 1,500 people, organizers
said. They said they planned to show the service on screens outside for
any overflow crowd.
Inmate's Bid for a Hearing Upheld
A federal appeals court on Friday paved the way for Ricky Lee Earp, who
has been on death row since 1992, to get a hearing on his claims that a
Los Angeles County prosecutor intimidated a witness whose testimony could
have aided him in avoiding a conviction and death sentence for the rape
and murder of his goddaughter.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed a decision it rendered in
early September saying that Earp was entitled to a hearing on two claims:
prosecutorial misconduct and constitutionally ineffective representation
by his trial lawyer.
Earp, who is now 45, was convicted in 1991 of raping and murdering his
18-month-old goddaughter, Amanda Doshier.
Earp's girlfriend had left Amanda with him when she went to work one day
in August 1988. Hours later, Earp called paramedics for help, saying
Amanda had fallen. She died in a hospital two days later.
Earp later said another man, Dennis Morgan, had come to the house in
Palmdale and killed the girl. But Morgan testified that he had never been
to the house.
In one of his appellate court claims, Earp alleged that the trial
prosecutor from the county district attorney's office had committed
prejudicial misconduct by dissuading Michael Taylor, who had been a jail
mate of Morgan's, from testifying.
Taylor had submitted a declaration stating that he had overheard Morgan
say he had visited the house where Earp was watching the child on the day
of the murder. Taylor said the prosecutor verbally abused him until he
retracted his statement.
Earp's appellate attorneys also alleged that his trial lawyer failed to
investigate leads that could have yielded mitigating evidence in the
trial's penalty phase about his childhood emotional and neurological
problems. The lawyers, Dean R. Gitts of the federal public defender's
office and Robert S. Gerstein of Santa Monica, cited a history of
alcoholism, depression and suicide in Earp's family and "evaluations that
would have evinced organic brain damage resulting from head trauma
sustained in childhood."
The state attorney general's office sought a rehearing but did not get the
required majority vote of the 9th Circuit.
(source for all: Los Angeles Times)
'The state should not administer death' -- The rate of executions in
California is speeding up, but opinion is beginning to turn against the
death penalty, says Dan Glaister
Forget "Hasta la vista, baby" and "I'll be back". The phrase by which the
California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, might best be remembered is
"Stop me before I kill again".
Those words were scrawled over a picture of him in all his Terminator pomp
held aloft by a protester outside the gates of San Quentin prison on
The protests came as Stanley "Tookie" Williams became the 12th person to
be executed since California brought back the death penalty in 1977.
At 647 people, the state's death row is the largest in the US, giving
Californians the luxury of expressing support for the death penalty in
ballots and opinion polls while not having to witness the fruits of that
support - the judicial killing of prisoners. But that situation is about
Many of the death penalties imposed in the state date from the early 80s,
shortly after the ending of a moratorium. Like Williams, many death row
inmates have spent more than 20 years taking their cases to various
appeals courts. And like Williams, many of them are now approaching the
end of that particular road.
The antiquated execution chamber at San Quentin is about to see a lot more
use. And California, to its shame, is about to become the new Texas, which
has the highest number of executions of any US state since 1976.
Meanwhile, the US has its own place in the top 10 for executions in the
world, lying fourth behind China, Iran and Vietnam.
Judicial killings in California will resume early in the new year, with
75-year-old Clarence Ray Allen set to be executed on January 17. He is
likely to be followed, in February, by Michael Morales.
3 other death row inmates - Mitchell Carlton Sims, William Payton and
Kevin Cooper - are thought likely to be given execution dates next year.
Some observers think there will be more.
The rate is speeding up. This year, there have been two executions in the
state (the previous one, in January, was of Donald Beardslee). In 2003 and
2004, there were none. But now the enthusiasm of prosecutors and
politicians for the death penalty in the days after it was reinstated is
bearing its strange fruit.
Campaigners against the penalty are pinning their hopes on a proposed
moratorium, due to be voted on by the state legislature in early January.
The moratorium has been proposed by Democrats who want the state's
execution schedule to be put on hold for three years pending the results
of a special committee's investigations into wrongful convictions.
The possibility of error and the influence of politics and any number of
other factors have moved a man who was central to the return of the death
penalty in California to change his mind.
Don Heller wrote the legislation to bring it back - a measure put before
voters and approved in a special ballot. "On its face it is fair and
neutral," he says, "but in reality it's not fairly applied.
"Too many human variables enter into the decision-making process governing
human death. It's clear that, in applying the death penalty, there is
discrimination against the poor and minorities," he adds, with that claim
backed by a study published in September by the Santa Clara Law Review.
"If you're rich and have the funds, the probability is that you're not
going to end up on death row."
But Heller says that even if the system were perfect, he would not now
support the death penalty. "The state should not be in the position of
administering death," he says.
The committee - the California Commission on the Fair Administration of
Justice - was set up last year, and its members hold a wide range of views
on the death penalty. It will complete its work against a rapidly changing
and contradictory landscape.
In the first years after its reintroduction, the death penalty was handed
down "widely and wildly", in the words of Lance Lindsey, the executive
director of Death Penalty Focus.
"It was a political tool, and politicians - including elected prosecutors
and judges - were moving defendants into the death process faster than the
courts could keep up."
But the pace slackened over recent years. Until the end of the 90s,
between 30 and 40 death penalties were handed down in California each
year. Last year, only 9 were issued. This year, the figure is even lower.
Similarly, public opinion in the state has evolved. In 1983, support for
the death penalty in opinion polls registered at 83%. By last year, it had
dropped to 68% in one poll and 57% in another.
As every pollster knows, it all depends on the question. Those approval
ratings are in response to whether a person supports the death penalty.
However, when respondents were asked whether they would support life
without parole or the death penalty for 1st-degree murderers, only 38%
chose the death penalty.
"It's a very odd time for us," Mr Lindsey says of the challenges facing
anti-death penalty campaigners. "It will be very bipolar because we have
this momentum with the commission and public support in the polls for the
death penalty falling, and then we have a Texas-style execution process."
Like many campaigners, he has come to believe that the death penalty is a
function of politics. His initial idealism, he says, has given way to
pragmatism. "There has to be a political solution," he says, "which means
we have to take the political approach, which means an incremental
The committee is due to begin considering the proposal for a moratorium on
January 10. Clarence Ray Allen is scheduled to die by lethal injection on
January 17. Let's hope the increments come quickly.
(source: The (UK) Guardian)
PERSPECTIVES ON EXECUTION OF STANLEY 'TOOKIE' WILLIAMS
Stanley "Tookie" Williams has been executed 27 years after our justice
system decided he was guilty. If we decide our justice system isn't good,
let's change it. Otherwise, let's respect it and abide by its decisions.
It may be that one out of every 10 persons we put to death after a fair
trial is not guilty. Thinking about my children and grandchildren, I'd
much rather take the risk of my being taken unjustly for a guilty person
and put to death when I was not guilty than having nine killers running
free (after completing their sentences, their seeing the light or whatever
excuse they may contrive) and putting my descendants in harm's way.
If Williams was not guilty, sorry, but that's the way it has to be unless
we change our system.
We have been feeding, rooming and taking care of Williams for 27 years, at
a rate of $40,000 per year, which means we have spent more than $1 million
on him that could have been assigned to the education and welfare of a few
DAVID FLOR SR., Miami
The state should stop murderers like Stanley Williams from doing further
violent harm. The state could execute murderers like Williams if doing so
will stop others from following their path.
But the killing of Williams was not necessary to protect society. Life in
a maximum-security prison without chance of parole is a hell-hole as
effective as any death sentence in removing murderers from society. No
criminologists cling to the argument that executions stop others from
So truly, the only reason to kill Williams was the desire to take from him
what he took from others. Such feelings flow naturally from the families
of his victims. Of course, they want him dead. But must society stand in
the shoes of the victim? Do we not strive for a for a more-rational, less
emotion-driven response? Was Gov. Schwarzenegger's opinion of Williams'
"remorsefulness" relevant to the goal of protecting society?
People and societies kill. It is an act that is accepted, even celebrated,
when it is driven by necessity. But killing Williams did nothing to
protect society from present or future harm. The world is neither safer
nor more dangerous. All we are left with is the fleeting taste of revenge.
ELISE LINDER and GLENN SHELDON, Coral Gables
(source: Letter to the Editor, Miami Herald)
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