death penalty news----OHIO, CALIF., USA, FLA., IND., VA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Dec 30 01:59:47 CST 2005
URGENT ACTION APPEAL
22 December 2005 Death Penalty
UA 221/05 (Originally issued 24 August 2005 and re-issued 9 September
2005; 1 November 2005; 10 November 2005)
USA/Ohio: John Spirko (m)
John Spirko is scheduled to be executed on 19 January. He was sentenced to
death in 1984 for the kidnap and murder of Betty Jane Mottinger in August
1982. He denies carrying out the murder and no physical or forensic
evidence links him to the crime. Concerns about Spirko's guilt have been
raised by the courts considering his case and by members of the Ohio
Parole Board considering a clemency petition.
Spirko had two execution dates postponed by Governor Taft in 2005, each
time only days before he was due to be put to death. The first time was in
September at the request of the Ohio Parole Board, which wanted more time
to consider a clemency petition; the second was in November, to allow time
for DNA testing of evidence from the crime scene, after the Board had
voted against a clemency recommendation.
The DNA testing is now in progress, and Spirko's attorneys are attempting
to get more information on this. The state has now found fingerprint
evidence from the crime scene, which it had lost, and Spirko's attorneys
are urging the authorities to check these prints against the national
database of criminal suspects' fingerprints.
Prosecutors at John Spirko's trial are alleged to have knowingly presented
a false case against him, linking him to the crime through the involvement
of a co-defendant, Delaney Gibson, who they had evidence to suggest was
500 miles away at the time of the crime. Delaney Gibson was charged but
never tried in the crime, and all charges against him were dropped in May
2004. One of the original state investigators was recently reported to
have stated that he told prosecutors at trial that he believed Delaney
Gibson did not take part in the murder. Spirko's attorneys have argued
that this casts doubt on John Spirko's conviction and warrants reopening
of the case. An appeal to review the case in US District Court was denied
in October 2005. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is now
considering a further appeal.
The Ohio Parole Board voted 6-3 against making a clemency recommendation
to the Governor in October 2005. The three dissenting members reportedly
concluded that there was too much doubt to allow the execution to go
ahead, expressing concerns about these issues.
Writing a dissent to the majority opinion in May 2004 which dismissed John
Spirko's appeal for an evidentiary hearing on claims that the prosecution
at trial knowingly presented false evidence, federal judge John Gilman
said that ''the case against Spirko was far from overwhelming'' and left
him with ''considerable doubt as to whether he has been lawfully subjected
to the death penalty.'' He noted, ''a striking fact about the record in
this case is the complete absence of any forensic evidence linking Spirko
to the crime,'' and said that the state's case against John Spirko was
built on ''three shaky pillars'' with ''a foundation of sand''.
Former federal judge William Sessions, who has been active in an
initiative to promote procedural safeguards in death penalty cases, two
retired federal judges and a former federal prosecutor have reportedly
raised concerns about John Spirko's conviction and death sentence.
Betty Jane Mottinger, the postmistress of Elgin, a small town in Ohio, was
kidnapped and murdered in August 1982. John Spirko contacted police two
months later, offering to trade information about the murder in exchange
for help with charges he was facing in another, unrelated case. He
reportedly gave a series of differing accounts of the murder, according to
one of which his best friend and former cellmate, Delaney Gibson, had
admitted to him that he had carried out the murder. Prosecutors at trial
argued that Gibson and Spirko committed the crime together, saying that
the information John Spirko had provided could only be known by the
murderer, and relying on the testimony of an eyewitness who testified that
she was ''100 percent sure'' that she had seen Delaney Gibson outside the
post office the morning Mottinger disappeared. The prosecution allegedly
had evidence that Gibson was actually 500 miles away at the time.
Amnesty International opposes all executions, regardless of issues of
guilt or innocence. This is a punishment that is an affront to human
dignity and a part of a culture of violence rather than a solution to it.
It has not been shown to deter crime more effectively than other
punishment, and denies the possibility of rehabilitation and
reconciliation. In the US the capital justice system is marked by
arbitrariness, discrimination and error, and the US authorities have
frequently violated international standards in their pursuit of judicial
killing of prisoners including people whose guilt remained in doubt.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible:
- expressing concern that John Spirko is scheduled to be executed in Ohio
on 19 January;
- expressing sympathy for the family and friends of Betty Jane Mottinger,
explaining that you are not seeking to excuse the manner of her death or
to minimize the suffering caused;
- expressing concern at reports that prosecutors are alleged to have
presented a false case against John Spirko at trial;
- noting the dissenting opinions of the courts and the three members of
the Ohio Parole Board, relating to doubts about John Spirko's culpability,
and the lack of forensic evidence linking Spirko to the crime;
- calling on Governor Taft to grant clemency to John Spirko.
Governor Bob Taft
77 South High Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215-6117
Fax: 1 614 466 9354
Email: (via website)
Governor.Taft at das.state.oh.us
Salutation: Dear Governor
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. All appeals must arrive by 19 January
Amnesty International is a worldwide grassroots movement that promotes and
defends human rights.
This Urgent Action may be reposted if kept intact, including contact
information and stop action date (if applicable). Thank you for your help
with this appeal.
Urgent Action Network
Amnesty International USA
PO Box 1270
Nederland CO 80466-1270
Email: uan at aiusa.org
Phone: 303 258 1170
Fax: 303 258 7881
END OF URGENT ACTION APPEAL
Los Angeles County sends most murderers to death row
Here is a breakdown by county of the 652 death sentences being served by
646 inmates on death row (some inmates have multiple sentences):
Contra Costa: 17
Del Norte: 0
El Dorado: 2
Los Angeles: 193
San Benito: 0
San Bernardino: 32
San Diego: 36
San Francisco: 1
San Joaquin: 9
San Luis Obispo: 3
San Mateo: 14
Santa Barbara: 9
Santa Clara: 26
Santa Cruz: 0
[source: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation]
(source: The Sacramento Bee, Dec. 24)
Leading the World in Real Moral Values
"An eye for an eye and the whole world is blind"-- Gandhi
A couple of years ago, I met Stanley "Tookie" Williams, who was put to
death last week. He was a smart and affable man. He was also very likely
responsible for the murders for which he was convicted.
In my years in government, having served as chief of staff to Lieut. Gov.
Catherine Baker Knoll, I often worked with the Board of Pardons, and met
several inmates on death row. Some of them were seemingly warm people who
may have been guilty of murder - others were cold and could very well have
been innocent. I could never be completely sure, though, no matter how
closely I read their cases or talked to them.
One day, I hope to be a mother, and devote my life to my children. If my
child were gunned down in the same way Tookie Williams' victims allegedly
were, the murderer would be a dead man himself, by my own hands. Of
course, I would go to prison for life, but that would be a small price to
avenge my dead child.
In that moment, I would be rejecting all the moral lessons I had been
taught about the value of every human life.
That is the precise reason we don't allow victims to determine the
punishment of the perpetrator. It is also the reason no government should
make decisions of life and death when there is an iota of doubt.
Because of the sliver of doubt that always exists about the certainty of
guilt of those on death row, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a
Republican, declared a moratorium on executions in his state in the year
2000. Ryan was troubled by a report in the Chicago Tribune that examined
almost 300 death penalty cases. It found that 33 people on Illinois' death
row were represented by lawyers who had been disbarred or suspended and
that in nearly 50 other cases, people were convicted on the basis of
testimony from jailhouse informants, usually regarded as flimsy evidence.
Illinois is not the only state with a questionable execution record.
Indeed, while governor of Texas, George W. Bush refused to grant stays of
execution to a man who was represented by a lawyer who constantly fell
asleep at trial as well as a number of mentally retarded defendants. Bill
Clinton, as governor of Arkansas, refused to grant clemency to a mentally
handicapped man who shot out part of his brain at the time of his arrest.
None of these people were fully able to grasp what they were being tried
for, let alone capable of assisting in their defense. In fact, according
to mental health experts, there is a danger that the mentally retarded
will admit to a crime because of their desire to please.
Even if we were 100 % sure that every single person executed was guilty,
the death penalty would still be wrong because the only reasons for
execution would be revenge and the belief that the guilty party was beyond
Personally, as a Catholic, I have been taught that seeking revenge against
sinners is a paved road straight to hell. But leaving beside religious
beliefs, our own government has put these moral values into our law for
good practical reasons.
For example, if someone is fired from their job for reasons they believe
to be unjust, it does not give them the right to steal from the company
from which they were fired. When slavery was outlawed, it did not give the
right to former slaves to capture their former owners and force them into
servitude. To allow for acts of retribution in the law would lead to mass
Likewise, the belief that a life can be redeemed, while a part of my
church's doctrine, is not exclusive to it. Indeed, all the great leaders
of our time, who were victims of the most heinous crimes against them,
believed that the hope for redemption lives within all of us. Gandhi,
Martin Luther King, Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela are just a few.
Virtually all civilized western nations have adopted this principle of
redemption in their law, especially in Europe, which had seen the
institutionalized nihilism of Nazi Germany. The United States ought not do
things just because Europe and the rest of the world does. But on these
issues of morals, human rights and human dignity, the U.S. ought to lead
It is time for people to demand that the United States, which is a beacon
of hope and freedom, reclaim its place as the world's leader in
establishing real moral values in the way it operates. There would be no
better way to set ourselves down that path than ending execution.
(source: Bruce Shapiro, Huffington Post, Dec. 22)
Murderer ready to die before execution
Readers: Last week we told you about what's believed to be the last
hanging in Palm Beach County before the state centralized executions and
instituted the electric chair in 1923.
Shelby Wise was accused of stabbing Claude Brown to death in April 1914 in
West Palm Beach during a fight. On June 26, 1914, after deliberating for 2
1/2 hours, a jury found Wise guilty of 1st-degree murder.
"Hopeless, no possible chance for life, the prisoner sat with downcast
eyes," said a June 26, 1914, story in the Tropical Sun, a predecessor to
The Palm Beach Post. "From not one face left in the courtroom did he read
a sign of mercy, showing plainly that for him, death had already begun."
Wise spent his time in jail singing gospel songs and preaching to fellow
inmates and even the press.
"My soul is right with my maker, and I am ready to die," he told
"Whiskey and bad women were the cause of it," he said of Brown's murder.
"Indeed, I am sorry. But then, it is all over. And I am not worrying about
it any more."
At the county jail, on First Street in downtown West Palm Beach, work on
the scaffold began. Gov. Park Trammell delayed the hanging by 2 weeks to
let Wise's lawyers appeal for a lesser sentence. But the state's pardoning
board turned Wise down. Told of his fate, Wise smiled and said, "All
On the morning of July 2, Shelby White smoked a cigarette, then stood as
deputies placed a black hood over his head. The lever was pulled, and he
fell through the trap door.
(source: Palm Beach Post, Dec. 28)
Execution date set for man convicted of 2 murders
The Indiana Supreme Court set a Jan. 27 execution date for a man condemned
in the 1981 shooting deaths of a Russiaville couple.
The court, in a ruling dated late Wednesday afternoon, rejected the latest
appeal by Marvin Bieghler and ordered that his death sentence be carried
out. The high court gave Bieghler until Tuesday to petition for a
rehearing, but said he had received extensive judicial review and should
not seek a rehearing if he intended to raise arguments already addressed.
Bieghler was convicted in 1983 of two counts of murder in the
execution-style shooting deaths of Tommy Miller, 20, and his pregnant
wife, Kimberly Jane Miller, 19.
The couple were found dead Dec. 11, 1981, in their mobile home near
Russiaville. Howard Superior Court Judge Dennis Parry sentenced Bieghler
to death on a recommendation from the jury.
Bieghler, a reputed supplier and dealer of marijuana, was convinced that
Tommy Miller told police about his drug operation, according to court
documents. He also claimed Tommy Miller owed him a drug debt.
Bieghler dropped a dime on each of the dead bodies, according to court
records. By dropping the dimes, Bieghler was sending a message to other
possible informants that snitches won't be tolerated, authorities have
But authorities said Tommy Miller was not a police informant.
Wednesday's ruling rejected Bieghler's successive petitions for post-
conviction relief and a claim that Indiana's form of execution, lethal
injection, was unconstitutional because there was no guarantee it was pain
free. He also argued that executing him 24 years after the murders
violated his constitutional rights, and there was insufficient evidence to
support his conviction and sentence.
If Bieghler seeks a rehearing by Tuesday, the state would have until Jan.
9 to respond.
Indiana has executed 5 people this year, the most since the death penalty
was reinstated in the 1970s.
(source: Associated Press)
Moussaoui Trial Offers Close View for a Few
Hundreds of Northern Virginia residents will soon get a front-row seat at
a key legal event in the war on terrorism.
Officials plan to summon 500 people to the federal courthouse in
Alexandria, where a judge will determine whether they will sit on the jury
in the death penalty phase of the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, the
only person convicted in a U.S. case in connection with the Sept. 11,
2001, terrorist attacks.
Under a recent order from U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, the
court will mail summonses to prospective jurors in Alexandria and in
Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Stafford and Fauquier
counties. Recipients will be instructed to report to the courthouse Feb.
6, where they will fill out extensive background questionnaires and, a
week later, be questioned about their responses.
It is the 1st step in jury selection for the death penalty trial of
Moussaoui, a French citizen who pleaded guilty in April to conspiring with
al Qaeda in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The
12-member jury will determine whether Moussaoui will be executed or spend
the rest of his life in prison.
The process of selecting a jury is expected to take a month, far longer
than most cases at the Alexandria federal courthouse, which is known for
hosting high-profile proceedings. In the recent case of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali
-- a Falls Church student charged with plotting with al Qaeda to kill
President Bush -- jury selection took less than 4 days. Abu Ali was
convicted and faces up to life in prison.
But picking a jury to decide Moussaoui's fate will be more complicated.
The trial is expected to last several months, at a courthouse just miles
from the Pentagon, and the jury pool is filled with government workers.
The case has received extensive publicity.
Perhaps the most significant challenge will be finding jurors who can be
objective about Sept. 11, one of the most traumatic events in American
history. "September 11 is what sets this case apart from the others," said
Thomas Munsterman, director of the Center for Jury Studies in Arlington,
part of the National Center for State Courts.
"Who has not been touched by 9/11?" he said. "And then the question
becomes how closely have you been touched by the event."
Prosecutors declined to comment on jury selection in the Moussaoui case.
Defense lawyers expressed concern in a recent court filing that finding
unbiased jurors will be difficult.
"The problem will be finding jurors who can set their pre-existing notions
-- and emotions, for that matter -- about September 11 aside," the lawyers
Moussaoui, 37, pleaded guilty to six counts of conspiring with al Qaeda
and said that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had personally instructed
him to fly an airplane into the White House. But he denied he was planning
to be a Sept. 11 hijacker and said his attack was to come later.
Moussaoui has been in the Alexandria jail for 4 years. He was arrested on
immigration violations more than 3 weeks before Sept. 11. The conspiracy
charges were brought against him in December 2001.
The trial has been delayed several times, most recently because of a
constitutional showdown over access to top al Qaeda detainees. Moussaoui
wanted to interview the captives, saying they could clear him. Brinkema
agreed, but the government vehemently resisted on national security
Eventually, a federal appeals court ruled that Moussaoui could not
interview the detainees but could present to the jury portions of
statements they made to interrogators.
A spokesman for the U.S. District Court in Alexandria declined to say when
summonses would be mailed for Moussaoui's trial. Under Brinkema's order,
the 500 prospective jurors will come to the courthouse in 2 groups, 1 in
the morning and 1 in the afternoon. After completing the questionnaire,
they will be called back in small groups starting Feb. 15 to be questioned
by the judge.
A pool of 85 prospective jurors who are deemed qualified to sit on the
panel will be whittled down March 6; prosecutors and the defense can each
use as many as 30 peremptory challenges to strike individual jurors. A
panel of 12 jurors and six alternates will be selected, and opening
statements are scheduled to begin the same day.
(source: Washington Post)
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