[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----CALIF., USA, MD.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Dec 30 01:02:52 CST 2005
Why capital punishment?
During my years of service as an agent of the State of California I was
called upon to participate in the litigation of two capital cases, both of
which arose out of murders committed in 1982. As of this writing, neither
of these men has been executed. I handled both cases to completion --
i.e., affirmance -- in the state court system and began representing the
state in federal habeas corpus (a limited but time-consuming process) in
one of them before I retired. Clearly, each man was guilty of the offences
charged (each admitted his guilt) and the sentences were lawfully imposed.
At the time I was assigned these cases, our office permitted "scrupled"
deputies -- those who opposed the death penalty on moral grounds -- to
reject capital cases and to make up the work by litigating other lengthy
cases. I never knew how many of our "C.O.s" (conscientious objectors) were
really conscientious, or rather objected to the inordinate amount of
effort, stress and frustration involved.
The records were long, the issues complex and the quality of defense
representation on appeal excellent. I found myself -- the power and
majesty of the state personified -- opposing a cadre of doctrinaire
attorneys of the highest caliber fighting for a cause they believed in:
opposition to the death penalty. In the course of a three-year evidentiary
hearing in one case, the well-known lead defense counsel blatantly refused
to obey a lawful order. When I asked him later how he could justify his
actions, he answered, "Hey, I'm trying to save a man's life here."
Once, I received a letter from a clergyman associated with Amnesty
International asking me to rethink my position on capital punishment. I
wrote back and offered to discuss the matter with him, but received no
reply. Now, after the high-profile execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams,
we are once again examining the issue of capital punishment. To my mind,
and after years of soul-searching, it is an issue as to which reasonable
minds can differ, and so the resolution of the debate is properly
relegated to the domain of politics: When the majority of Californians
reject capital punishment, it will cease to exist here.
During the same period, I participated in an annual program for
high-school students in Los Angeles called "Law Day," presented by the
Constitutional Rights Foundation. The heavily attended event examined a
number of issues of interest, including capital punishment. I would
present the "pro" position, opposed by experienced defense attorneys.
During these debates, the same arguments against the death penalty were
raised again and again, in large measure the same points being raised now
by abolitionists: The death penalty doesn't deter killers;
state-sanctioned killing undermines the sanctity of human life; mistakes
may lead to the execution of innocent defendants; we are the only
civilized state that puts its citizens to death. I would respond to these
arguments as follows:
While I am no penologist, I do know that the focus of California criminal
statutes in general changed radically in 1977. Under the old
rehabilitation model, open-ended sentences, such as "One year to life,"
were commonplace, even for relatively minor offenses, potentially
resulting in extended terms for offenders who were unable to convince
their custodians that they were rehabilitated.
The change to determinate sentences, under which the legislature declared
that imprisonment was intended to constitute punishment, resulted in
fairer sentencing, but also reflected a new purpose for penal sanctions.
The same approach negates the contention that capital punishment is
unnecessary, as it does not deter.
The specter of state sanctioned killing, although stark, does not negate
the validity of capital punishment, either. We send our troops into combat
with a specific license to kill when appropriate. The possibility of
erroneous execution, although extremely regrettable, is not inconsistent
with the allocation of risk in society at large: Product failure, from
automobiles to pharmaceuticals, also regrettable, is seen as part of life.
Even if capital punishment were eliminated, the possibility of mistaken
long-term imprisonment would remain.
The last contention -- that we are the only civilized society that still
allows capital punishment -- requires a sad admission. Perhaps we are not
quite as civilized as we would like to believe. We have the highest murder
rate in the industrial world, by far. The wanton mayhem exacted daily in
the United States requires some response, or the very notion of justice
We might say that those put to death become a sort of sacrificial
atonement for this very failure. We do not choose these individuals. By
their crimes, they have in essence volunteered. Perhaps when our society
becomes truly civilized, when our homicide rate falls substantially, the
tide will turn. I pray that day comes quickly.
(source: Washington Times - Frederick Grab is a former California deputy
Murder rate in small cities jumps 13%
Murder increased by 2.1% across the USA during the first 6 months of 2005
and was on track to nearly reverse a 2.4% decline recorded last year,
according to preliminary FBI figures released Monday.
The largest spikes over the same period in 2004 occurred in some of the
nation's smallest cities - population 10,000 or less - where homicides
were up 13%, the report found.
Murder and robbery were the only major crimes to increase in the
preliminary review of 10,374 agencies. The review showed overall decreases
in violent and property crimes, continuing a decade-long decline.
Crime analysts on Monday were struggling to explain the sudden spike in
The FBI could not immediately provide a breakdown of the locations where
murders were rising, leading some experts to suggest that the ills that
have long plagued urban America - gangs, drugs and the proliferation of
weapons - were taking root in the suburbs.
"Unfortunately, it looks like the small towns are playing catch-up with
the big cities," said Jack Levin, a professor at the Brudnick Center on
Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University in Boston. "What starts
in Detroit or Chicago eventually becomes a problem in the suburbs. Crime
moves where the population goes."
Mary Ann Viverette, police chief in Gaithersburg, Md., and president of
the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said that police in
small and large cities are seeing people increasingly respond with
violence to even minimal provocation. "Because of a lack of resources in
some of these places, police are often forced to react to incidents rather
than be in a position to disrupt them," Viverette said.
Explaining fluctuations in crime, especially violent crime, has proved to
be difficult. While murder increased 13% in towns with fewer than 10,000
people, murder declined 16% in towns only slightly larger, between 10,000
and 24,999 residents.
Murders declined last year after three successive years of increases. The
increases had been blamed on a resurgence in gang activity and illegal
drug sales, combined with a faltering economy.
This year, Charlotte police, for example, are at a loss to explain a jump
in killings. Last week, the murder count stood at 83, compared with 56 at
the same time last year.
Killings related to domestic violence, gang activity and robberies are all
up this year.
"It's very difficult to explain," said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police
Department spokesman Keith Bridges. "There are increases all across the
(source: Associated Press)
Capital Punishment On Trial
Convicted murderer Stanley "Tookie" Williams was executed on Dec. 13 by
the state of California. The salience of the death penalty as a political
issue has waned even as the rate of executions has increased. Public
support for capital punishment is declining and some politicians have
qualified their support for the practice.
Critics of the death penalty, who attracted little political support until
very recently, have pursued a strategy that emphasises three main
International Context: The use of the death penalty places the United
States in an uncomfortable position, since most of the other countries
that use capital punishment are, at best, only marginal democracies.
International human rights discourse generally assumes a right not to be
executed by the state.
Racial Disparity: More than 38% of executed inmates are African Americans,
who comprise only 12% of the population at large.
Executing Innocents: Recently, opponents have focused on the possibility
of mistakes in the application of the death penalty, which might lead to
the execution of an innocent person. Advances in investigative technology
have bolstered their argument. While none of the individuals actually
executed has been retrospectively proven innocent, a number of inmates
currently awaiting execution have had their convictions thrown into doubt.
These events have significantly reduced public confidence in the death
penalty. In a 2005 Gallup poll, 59% of respondents believed innocent
people had recently been executed. There have also been policy
consequences. Illinois, where more death row inmates had been exonerated
than executed, imposed a moratorium on the death penalty until confidence
in the process could be restored.
The Supreme Court recently halted executions of the mentally handicapped,
and this year extended the ban to those under 18 years of age at the time
of the crime. These rulings were partly in response to public disapproval
of such executions, but also stimulated by the perceived U.S. deviation
from international norms. The Court has chosen to manage the death penalty
at the margins, rather than directly challenge the process. Gallup's
regular annual survey shows that public support for the death penalty has
declined to levels not seen since the early 1970s.
The expansion of the practice to additional states has halted. The 12
states that do not employ capital punishment are unlikely to change their
policies. The federal death penalty, re-established in 1988, is rarely
The political consequences of declining support for capital punishment are
significant. During the 1980s and early 1990s, candidates (usually
Democrats) who opposed the death penalty faced a political liability. More
recently, the issue has lost some of its previous electoral potency.
Although a majority of the public continues to back capital punishment,
increasing unease about its just application has led to a decline in
support. In many states, it has ceased to be an effective social "wedge
issue" that Republicans can exploit against Democrat opponents. Unless the
administration of the process improves significantly, public support for a
moratorium will continue to increase.
Is there really something funny about an execution?
Last Monday, when Tookie Williams' execution was imminent, one local radio
station's news update described him as awaiting "a poke in the arm." The
next day, the same reporter informed Pittsburgh that Mr. Williams had
received "the poke of eternal sleep."
I don't know what to call this -- I mean, besides unbelievably tasteless.
If it were only a matter of personal style, I'd call it "the Kevin
Federline-ing of America." Mr. Britney Spears didn't invent the
backward-capped, gum-chewing, tattoo-spangled, saggy-bottomed,
wife-abandoning, inarticulate vision of young manhood that has swept the
nation, but he does embody its nadir. Mr. Federline represents -- for the
next 15 minutes, anyway -- a certain demographic's utter lack of uplifting
aspiration. He personifies the failure of middle-class values.
But when the issue is not individual ickiness but misguided mass
communication, what do we call it? The Howard Stern-ification of all
media? Maybe. Mr. Stern's show is gone from the Clear Channel empire, but
perhaps his vulgar influence survives.
The station with the, um, light-hearted attitude toward capital punishment
is Clear Channel's WPGB-FM, where locals Jim Quinn and Rose Tennent and
national hosts Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Michael Savage
hold forth. It's one of many stations I sample regularly, though with talk
formats, I usually have to change the channel 2 volleys into any given
argument. Life's too short to waste any of it on other people's fights.
But I'm not expecting the same kind of aggression and opinionizing from
hourly news updates. It didn't start last week, either; the same reporter,
34-year-old E.J. Becker, observed months ago that a just-convicted killer
might get the death penalty "if the jury's feelin' frisky." (Wow -- one
can only hope, right?)
When I called Jay Bohannon, WPGB's program director, on Friday to ask
about the station's grotesque treatment of capital punishment stories, he
said, "There's a deliberate attempt to make our sound distinctive. It's a
little more relaxed and conversational. We're certainly not enforcing
"There are times I cringe. [The reporters] take a little more liberty with
heinous criminals -- that's when they tend to use merciless expressions. I
don't have a problem with it. Some people do, and we get occasional
In our brief conversation, Mr. Bohannon mentioned twice that although some
of the station's syndicated talk hosts proclaim themselves sources of
news, "we never promote our talk shows as news."
But the problem here is not the creeping of facts and information into
entertainment segments; it's the creeping of entertainment values into the
serious news. Does it get any more serious than someone's death?
To be fair, WPGB is not the only news outfit to relax its professional
standards. Disappointments range from local television stations' delight
in announcing that some wrongdoer has been "busted," to the unctuous
Morris Jones, of Fox News's "News Central," teasing an upcoming story,
"We'll show you how to get in Pamela Anderson's pants." (She'd simply
donated a pair of her shorts to an online charity auction.)
This trend in news mirrors the overall coarsening of the culture -- one in
which porn stars and their how-to books are now considered mainstream.
That kind of thing justifies using the term "Stern-ification" -- but it's
worth noting that the oft-fined Stern has fled public airwaves for the
brave new world of subscription radio.
On another local radio show, a deejay joked that if Tookie Williams
deserved clemency because he'd written children's books, then Scott
Peterson might soon be cranking out a volume called, say, "Fishing With
Mommy." I laughed and groaned and turned the show off, but that gross joke
was uttered on a rock station, not a would-be serious newscast.
The program line-up on WPGB, however, is rock-solid conservative. How does
the reporters' ha-ha-he's-gonna-die attitude jibe with the shows? Although
some of the "law-and-order" types might have had a hardened tone (I don't
know -- I didn't hear it), Sean Hannity had at least two impassioned
arguments with callers over whether Jesus, in promising the dying thief a
home with him in paradise, had abolished the death penalty.
Perhaps the newsies' flippant attitude is less Howard Stern's influence
than, say, Jon Stewart's. Not even Iraqi war deaths have been exempted
from Stewart's irreverent approach. With absolutely nothing sacred, the
only transgression these wisecrackers' fear is the sin of not being funny.
But at least Stewart calls what he does "fake news."
In the same broadcast that aired news of Williams' "poke of eternal
sleep," Mr. Becker relayed state Sen. John Pippy's decision not to run for
lieutenant governor, "significantly reducing the number of times we get to
say 'Pippy' on this program" -- and thereby proving that you can be
distinctive, even funny, without being tasteless.
(source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Ruth Ann Dailey is a Post-Gazette staff
Glendening Says Execution in Current Racial Climate are Wrong
Former Governor Parris Glendening says conducting executions before
addressing racial issues highlighted in a University of Maryland study is
Glendening made the comments in an editorial that appears in the
Glendening imposed a death penalty moratorium while the study was being
conducted. Governor Robert Ehrlich lifted the moratorium after taking
University of Maryland criminologist Raymond Paternoster examined records
of more than 13-hundred death-penalty-eligible cases between and concluded
that geographic and racial disparities exist.
(source: The Associated Press)
More information about the DeathPenalty