[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----N.C., TENN., USA, CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Feb 2 15:22:14 CST 2005
Death penalty debate will likely heat up again
The death penalty debate will likely heat up again in the coming weeks and
A legislator has once again proposed a bill for a moratorium.
Supporters want to stop executions 2 years to study the penalty in North
Carolina and fix any flaws.
This might be the year death penalty opponents get their way.
Last year, 2 men were released from prison, both wrongfully convicted of
"There's many that's still in prison on death row that's innocent and
until there's a moratorium to stop the executions to study, not just study
the problem but to fix the problem," Darryl Hunt said. He was wrongfully
That's why death penalty opponents want a 2 year moratorium to study the
penalty and fix any flaws.
"Every trial lawyer who's even tried any criminal case knows jurors
frequently find people guilty who are not guilty," Paul Whitfield, a
defense attorney, said.
2 years ago, the Senate did approve a moratorium but it failed in the
House but in his first speech as sole speaker of the house, Jim Black
hinted this year might be different.
"Over the past few years we have had many headlines about death penalty
convictions overturned. I believe we need to review our death penalty laws
and protocols," Black explained.
The Attorney General Office deals with all death penalty cases. Attorney
General Roy Cooper said there's no need for a moratorium.
"We've increased our use of DNA. We're making sure people who believe
they're innocent have the right to prove their innocence," Cooper stated.
Well known national death penalty opponent, Sister Helen Prejean visited
Her efforts to fight executions were made into the movie "Dead Man
Walking." She believes North Carolina could set an example for the entire
She said, "All a moratorium means is let's recognize we got some problems.
Let's recognize the system isn't working like it should and we don't want
any people going there."
"Nobody wants to execute a person who's not guilty but I think we really
got a lot of good checks and balances and we got what we need," Rep.
Russell Capps (R-Wake) said.
In the end it's up to Governor Mike Easley. Even if the General Assembly
votes for a moratorium he must sign the bill. In the past he's supported
the death penalty.
More than a thousand people have been sent to death row since 1910. That's
when the state took over executions in North Carolina.
The Department of Corrections reports nearly 400 were put to death.
Currently 181 people are on death row. One man has been there since 1979.
(source: News 14 Carolina)
Woman Claims She's The Real Killer
A videotape -- first obtained by NewsChannel 5 -- provides a new twist in
a long running death penalty case. The man on death row actually confessed
to the murder. But now someone else is confessing to the same crime.
A gay prostitute turned cold-blooded killer, Henry Hodges claimed to have
left a trail of victims -- men who reminded him of someone who had
molested him as a boy.
No one knew how many victims.
And in a jailhouse interview back in 1991, even Hodges struggled with the
"More than 5?" a NewsChannel 5 reporter asked Hodges.
"Can you narrow it down more than that?"
"8." One of those cases: the 1990 murder of Ronald Bassett.
Hodges pleaded guilty after he and his 15-year-old accomplice Trina Brown
A jury sentenced him to die.
But in a videotaped statement given to Hodges' investigators, Brown now
says Hodges took the fall to protect her.
"I killed the man," she tells a private investigator.
By all accounts, it was in Centennial Park that Hodges hooked up with
Bassett. They went to Bassett's house a couple of blocks away. Hodges tied
him up, face down on his bed. Then, he let Trina Brown in.
It was all part of their plan to rob the helpless victim.
"I asked Henry if we should kill the man because he would be able to
identify him. Henry told me, no," Brown says.
But Brown says as Bassett lay there, she was reminded about what she hated
about the men he associated with.
"I never wanted them to be nowhere near him. And if I could have killed
every one of them, I would have."
Then, she claims she picked up a rope and put it around Bassett's neck.
"I heard him say please don't kill me, and I did it anyway... I started
pulling and thinking about the fact that he would never touch Henry ever
Brown says Bassett was completely helpless to resist.
"His muscles started jumping. He couldn't do nothing. His hands was tied.
He couldn't do nothing."
It was one brutal murder -- now with 2 self-proclaimed killers with zero
"I would have done it over and over, just to keep them away from him,"
It was reminiscent of Hodges' own statement. "They deserved to die. They
stood for something that happened to me."
Henry Hodges has previously asked a federal judge to let him drop his
But his attorneys have argued that he isn't mentally stable enough.
They have filed this tape as one more reason why he should not be
NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter, Phil Williams, has
interviewed Hodges at least three times over the past 12 years.
Tuesday night at 6 p.m., Phil asks Hodges about the tape.
(source: NewsChannel 5, Jan. 31)
Innocence and the Death Penalty
Despite high-profile death sentences like Scott Peterson's in California,
public support for the death penalty is falling. The reasons lie partly in
mounting evidence that innocent people have been condemned and - in some
cases - put to death. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said in a
speech in 2001 to a group of women lawyers in Minnesota that "the system
may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed." And a
recent report by the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, Innocence
and the Crisis in the American Death Penalty, describes how a shift in
public perceptions of capital punishment has indeed been taking place. The
report notes, for example, that death sentences have dropped by 50 % over
the past 5 years and that the numbers on death row have also fallen.
One factor helping to change previously held views on the death penalty
came through the dramatic action of former Republican governor of
Illinois, George Ryan, in 2000. After the 13th exoneration of a prisoner
in his state, he imposed a moratorium on further executions. Over a dozen
other states have become sufficiently concerned about the danger of
executing innocent persons to appoint commissions to study how capital
punishment is administered in their jurisdictions. And recently two
states, Kansas and New York, struck down their death penalty laws. In 1997
the American Bar Association, which takes no position on the death penalty
per se, nevertheless passed a resolution calling for a moratorium "to
minimize the risk that innocent persons may be executed."
A 2nd factor that has highlighted the innocence question stems from the
widening acceptance of DNA testing that has, as the report puts it,
"exposed some of the system's fatal flaws." Although its use in homicide
cases is limited to those in which there is biological evidence - about
1/4 - for some prisoners it has proven to be literally a life-saving
investigative tool. Many states have yet to enact legislation granting
death row prisoners the right to this kind of testing, but the Justice for
All Act, which became federal law last October, represents a move in the
right direction. It both creates a DNA testing program and authorizes $25
million over 5 years to help states pay for post-conviction testing. It
also mandates preservation of biological evidence in federal cases.
Richard Dieter, the Death Penalty Information Center's executive director,
told America that the act provides an incentive program whereby states can
receive funds for DNA testing "if they have a system which, among other
requirements, preserves evidence."
The act also takes a positive step toward ensuring effective counsel in
death penalty trials by authorizing grants to states for improving the
quality of defense representation in capital cases. The lack of effective
counsel was underscored by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in
April 2001, when she said that "people who are well represented at trial
do not get the death penalty."
But the Innocence report notes that so far, because of what it calls
"official inertia," only slight reforms in the administration of the death
penalty have been made: "More profound changes, responsive to the enormity
of the problems revealed in recent years, have so far eluded the system."
Similarly, although judges often have the opportunity to instruct juries
about the availability of a sentence of life without parole as an
alternative to the death penalty, the option is not always explained to
juries in capital cases. Polls have shown that support for life without
parole for 1st-degree murder has grown significantly as an alternative to
execution, so that now they are within 4 % points of each other. In 1997
the difference was 32 % points in favor of the death penalty.
The U.S. Catholic bishops have long advocated ending capital punishment.
When the 100th person was exonerated in April 2002, Cardinal Theodore
McCarrick, chairman of the Domestic Policy Committee of the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops, saw this as "yet another sign that our
nation should turn away from the death penalty." He went on to say: "Pope
John Paul II [and] the Catechism of the Catholic Church...have made it
clear that our society has other ways to protect itself from those who
commit terrible crimes." Shielding the innocent from execution at least
represents a start in the direction of the wider goal of ending capital
punishment once and for all. Overcoming the "official inertia" of
legislators who fear being labeled soft on crime should be the next step.
(source: Editorial, America Magazine)
Until age 25, brain may be source of risky acts----Teen crash rates may be
result, study says
By most physical measures, teenagers should be the world's best drivers.
Their muscles are supple, their reflexes quick, their senses at a lifetime
peak. Yet car crashes kill more of them than any other cause -- a problem,
some researchers believe, that is rooted in the adolescent brain.
A National Institutes of Health study suggests that the region of the
brain that inhibits risky behavior is not fully formed until age 25, a
finding with implications for a host of policies, including the nation's
"We'd thought the highest levels of physical and brain maturity were
reached by age 18, maybe earlier -- so this threw us," said Jay Giedd, a
pediatric psychiatrist leading the study, which released its first results
in April. That makes adolescence "a dangerous time, when it should be the
Last month, State Sen. William Mims, R-Loudoun, Va., cited brain
development research in proposing a Virginia bill that would ban cell
phone use in vehicles for drivers younger than 18. It passed Friday.
In Maryland, delegates Adrienne Mandel and William Bronrott said the
research could bolster three bills the Montgomery County Democrats
submitted to the Legislature Friday. The bills would expand training and
restrict passenger numbers and cell phone use for certain teenage drivers.
The measures also are supported by crash statistics and a soon-to-be
released study from Temple University, which used a driving-style test to
show that young people consistently take greater risks when their friends
The research has implications beyond driving: Attorneys cited brain
development studies as the Supreme Court considered whether juvenile
offenders should be eligible for the death penalty. The court is expected
to reach a decision by midyear.
Critics of brain-imaging research -- and Giedd himself -- emphasize that
there is no proven correlation between brain changes and behavior.
Still, the findings imply that many life choices -- college and career,
marriage and military service -- often are made before the brain's
decision-making center comes fully online. But for young adults, "Dying on
a highway is the biggest risk out there," Giedd said. "What if we could
predict earlier in life what could happen later?"
While society and tradition have placed the point of intellectual
maturity, the "age of reason," years earlier, the study -- an
international effort led by NIH's Institute of Mental Health and UCLA's
Laboratory of Neuro Imaging -- shows it comes at about age 25.
The process is generally completed a year or two earlier in women but
varies greatly from person to person. Why that is, Giedd said, "We still
"We have to find out what matters. Diet? Education, video games? Medicine,
parenting, music? Is the biggest factor whether you're a musician or a
jock or the amount of sleep you get?"
As important, Giedd said, is the study's finding that the brain matures in
a series of fits and starts.
While it remains to be proven, he said, this "may be a key to when the
brain is most receptive" to learning certain skills, such as driving.
The study, which is ongoing, involves scanning the brains of 2,000 people
ages 4 through 26 using magnetic resonance imaging, a radiation-free tool
that permits researchers to view the organs of healthy people in minute
At Temple University in Philadelphia, psychology professor and researcher
Laurence Steinberg plans a new study: scanning teenagers' brains while
they perform a task that simulates driving decisions, in an effort to
understand the biological underpinnings of risk-taking among young people.
Steinberg said the NIH/UCLA research supports his theory that teen
recklessness is partly the result of a critical gap in time -- starting
with the thrill-seeking that comes in puberty and ending when the brain
learns to temper such behavior.
Since children today reach puberty earlier than previously, about age 13,
and the brain's reasoning center doesn't reach maturity until the mid-20s,
Steinberg said, "This period of recklessness has never been as long as it
(source: Washington Post)
Court clears execution path for Crips founder, children's author
A federal appeals court on Wednesday said Stanley "Tookie" Williams, a
founder of the notorious Crips street gang who was nominated for a Noble
Peace Prize while in prison, can be executed for killing 4 people in 1981.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant Williams another
hearing based on his argument that prosecutors violated his rights when
they dismissed all potential black jurors from hearing the case. Agreement
from a majority of the 24 active judges is required to grant a rehearing.
Judge Johnnie Rawlinson was joined by eight other judges in a written
opinion favoring a rehearing. She said Williams, who is black, deserves a
new trial because his attorney did not object to the unlawful removal of
black panelists during jury selection.
"If our judicial system is to inspire a sense of confidence among the
populace, we must not, we cannot permit trials to proceed in the face of
blatant, race-based jury-selection practices," said Rawlinson, a Clinton
appointee who is black.
"The very legitimacy of our system of justice depends upon continued
vigilance against such practices."
Williams will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, said his
attorney, Andrea Asaro of San Francisco.
"If you have a biased jury considering your guilt or innocence, that's
unconstitutional," Asaro said. "This raises constitutional implications
for the fairness of the trial."
She noted a 1986 Supreme Court ruling prohibiting race from being a reason
for excusing jurors.
The majority of judges who declined a rehearing did so without comment.
Wednesday's ruling was the latest setback for the former Los Angeles gang
2 years ago, a 3-judge panel of the San Francisco-based court approved his
execution but did not fully consider the jury selection process or whether
William's counsel was ineffective. Asaro then asked the court to rehear
the case, leading to Wednesday's decision.
If the ruling survives scrutiny by the Supreme Court, it could pave the
way for as many as three executions in California this year. That would be
the most since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978.
Last month, a Redwood City man was executed for killing 2 women in 1981. A
week later, the 9th Circuit cleared for execution the leader of a Fresno
crime ring who ordered murders from his cell at Folsom State Prison.
Williams and a high school buddy, Raymond Washington, started the Crips
street gang in Los Angeles in 1971.
Williams was sentenced to death in 1981 for fatally shooting Albert Owens,
a Whittier convenience store worker. He also was convicted of using a
shotgun a few days later to kill 2 Los Angeles motel owners and their
daughter during a robbery.
He claims he is innocent, arguing that jailhouse informants fabricated
testimony that he confessed to the murders.
While in San Quentin State Prison, Williams was nominated in 2001 for a
Nobel Peace Prize for his series of children's books and international
peace efforts intended to curtail youth gang violence.
The case is Williams v. Woodford, 99-99018.
(source: Dateline Alabama.com)
Prospective Wesson jurors questioned about penalty options
For the 1st time Wednesday, lawyers in the Marcus Wesson mass murder trial
had a chance to ask prospective jurors about their views on the death
penalty and life sentences. Attorneys also gauged their knowledge and
opinions of the case.
3 of the 6 people questioned individually during the morning session were
excused from jury duty. More potential jurors will be questioned this
afternoon in Fresno County Superior Court.
They all filled out a 21-page jury questionnaire. Public defender Peter
Jones and prosecutor Lisa Gamoian asked them to elaborate on their written
Fresno County residents who sat in the middle of a courtroom jury box
expressed a range of opinions about possible penalties if Wesson, 58, is
convicted of killing 9 of his children.
The District Attorneys Office has said it will seek the death penalty. A
man said he knows about the case, thinks Wesson is probably guilty. He
added that he strongly believes in the death penalty and feels a sentence
of life in prison without the possibility of parole is waste of time. "I'm
probably not a good choice," he conceded before Jones, Gamoian and Judge
R.L. Putnam. They agreed that he should be excused from jury duty.
Putnam said he would excuse two other prospective jurors who explained
they couldnt, or probably couldt, impose the death penalty.
Those who remained in the jury pool said they could weigh both penalty
options - life in prison or execution - if they were selected to a
12-person panel that agreed Wesson was guilty of the March 12 mass murder.
Of the 540 people who reported for the 1st day of jury selection last
month, 322 remain as potential jurors.
Wesson is accused of Fresnos worst mass murder and also faces 13 sex
Putnam has said he expects to have a jury picked by the end of the month.
Testimony could begin in March.
(source: Fresno Bee)
Scott Peterson Trial Costs May Lead To Government Layoffs---County Asks
Scott Peterson's 6-month murder trial and 3 months of jury selection
racked up costs of more than $700,000 for the San Mateo County Superior
Court, slightly more than 1/2 of which has been reimbursed, a judge said
The trial was moved from Modesto in Stanislaus County after a judge found
Peterson couldn't get a fair trial in the town where he and his wife,
Laci, lived. State law requires costs for moving a trial to be paid by the
Presiding Judge George Miram said the money has been coming in from the
Stanislaus County court too slowly. The San Mateo court has only received
about $400,000 so far.
"It's money out of pocket for us," Miram said. "The day will come, if we
don't get reimbursed, that we'll be looking at a loss of positions or
Stanislaus County Court Executive Officer Michael Tozzi said his court
cannot afford to pay any additional costs without its own cutbacks or
layoffs. He said his court has asked the state to help.
In addition to court costs, entities of San Mateo County, including the
sheriff's department and public works office, spent roughly $500,000 on
Peterson-related items, said Lee Lazaro, director of finance for the
sheriff's department. Those costs included extra deputies, security,
transportation and housing for Peterson in the jail.
Stanislaus County, an entity separate from the county's court, is
responsible for reimbursing those costs, Lazaro said.
Peterson was convicted Nov. 12 of murdering his pregnant wife and the
fetus she carried. Jurors recommended a death sentence. Peterson is set to
be formally sentenced March 11.
(source: Associated Press)
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