[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----MAINE, USA, ILL., OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Feb 7 09:00:39 CST 2005
Lawmaker wants to bring death penalty back
A Sanford lawmaker is waging an uphill fight in the Legislature to restore
the death penalty in domestic-violence cases that lead to murder.
Republican state Sen. Jonathan Courtney says he is sponsoring the bill,
which has not yet been drafted, because "a lot of the things we're doing
now (to fight domestic violence) aren't working" and it's time for the
state to get tough by imposing the ultimate penalty on killers who
murder current or former spouses or partners.
Courtney's bill is reviving the debate over capital punishment in Maine at
a time when the issue is front-page news elsewhere in New England. Michael
Ross, a Connecticut serial killer who faces the death penalty there, was
granted a stay of execution by that state's Supreme Court only hours
before he was scheduled to die last month.
Moreover, Mainers were reminded 2 weeks ago that domestic violence can
be fatal, when a jury convicted Gregory Erskine of murdering his former
girlfriend, Lisa Deprez, at her Portland apartment last year.
Ross would have been the 1st person to be executed in New England in 45
years, according to the Associated Press. Connecticut and New Hampshire
are the only states in New England that have the death penalty, which was
abolished in Maine more than a century ago.
Courtney said his bill is designed "to prevent domestic violence and to
make people think twice about it before they go battering a spouse." He
said the time has come "to try something stronger or more forceful,"
because domestic violence remains a big problem despite efforts to prevent
Almost half of the homicides committed in Maine in 2003 stemmed from
domestic violence and the percentage of Maine homicides triggered by
domestic abuse averaged 45 % a year from 1985 through 2003, according to
the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.
But the Legislature is unlikely to view Courtney's bill as part of the
solution, according to legislative leaders in both major parties.
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Kenneth Gagnon, D-Waterville, and House
Minority Leader David Bowles, R-Sanford, agreed last week that Courtney's
bill probably will be defeated.
As Democratic state Sen. Joseph Perry of Bangor put it: "This bill will be
put to death" for several reasons, including the fact that capital
punishment sometimes claims the lives of innocent people.
Courtney admits that he did not consult advocates for domestic-violence
victims before submitting his bill, to find out if they think it's a good
idea. If he had, he would have learned that they may have reservations
"There really is no deterrent" in many domestic-violence homicides because
the abusers are so obsessed with killing their victims that they are
indifferent to the legal consequences, according to Kim Roberts, executive
director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.
Roberts said her coalition has not taken a position on reviving the death
penalty, but she noted that abuse victims are sometimes convicted of
murdering their abusers, so if Maine restored the death penalty in
domestic-violence cases "you could have a victim who is put to death for
killing their own abuser."
The state needs to work on education, prevention and holding abusers
accountable for their crimes, Roberts said. Sarah Standiford of the Maine
Women's Lobby offered a similar view, saying the best way to prevent
domestic violence is to provide adequate funding for education and
The Legislature has a long history of rejecting capital punishment,
including bills in recent years that would have reinstated the death
penalty for cop killers or child murderers. The Legislature is unlikely to
bring back the death penalty in domestic-violence cases "if we're not
willing to impose a death penalty on the most heinous crimes, including
victimization of children," Bowles said.
Maine abolished the death penalty 2 years after Daniel Wilkinson was
hanged at the Maine State Prison in 1885 for killing Bath constable
William "Uncle Billy" Lawrence during an attempted burglary. Newspaper
accounts of the hanging said that Wilkinson suffered a slow, gruesome
death, leading the Legislature to get rid of the death penalty in 1887.
(source: Press Herald)
Pro-death penalty argument faulty
The death penalty is, in every situation, morally unjustifiable and can
only be defended by those who mistake vengeance for justice.
In the 1972 case of Furman v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court made capital
punishment illegal. They reversed that decision in 1976, leaving our
country where it finds itself now.
Since then, there have been 948 people put to death in the United States
for a variety of crimes.
At its most fundamental level, the argument in favor of the death penalty
tends to focus on the benefits of deterrence. The more regularly and
visibly we kill people for their crimes, the less people will want to
commit crimes, they argue. It makes sense in some kind of cyclical way
but, unfortunately for proponents of capital punishment, it is based in
absolutely nothing but their own imaginations.
There has never been any evidence that proves the death penalty acts as a
systematic deterrent to crime. Putting people to death for a crime does
not make other people less likely to commit that crime, and that
immediately removes the only shred of justification that can prop up the
So what exactly is wrong with capital punishment?
The death penalty is racist.
Since 1976, 80.6 % of the victims of capital cases were white. Even the
United States General Accounting Office admitted in 1990 that "in 82 %
of the studies [reviewed], race of the victim was found to influence the
likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death
Of the 204 interracial murders that have resulted in death sentences since
1976, 192 of them involved a black defendant and a white victim. Only 12
of them involved a white defendant and a black victim.
Black victims, in other words, are not deemed worthy of the same "justice"
that white victims are.
The death penalty results in the death of people incapable of controlling
or understanding their actions.
Oliver Cruz had an IQ of 64, which officially classified him as mentally
retarded. He was executed in 2000.
Napoleon Beazley was a juvenile when he committed murder. He was executed
These are hardly the only 2 cases, but they illustrate that there is a
fundamental problem with any system that will execute juvenile offenders,
the mentally ill, and the cognitively impaired.
The death penalty is irreversible.
Oops, we made a mistake in the trial? Gosh, too bad the defendant has
already been executed.
In any system of justice there is the possibility of error. Subjecting
people to a permanent punishment is incredibly short-sighted.
The death penalty has resulted in the incarcerations and sometimes even
the deaths of innocent people.
Whether due to mistaken identity, false testimony, incompetent legal
counsel, forced confessions or myriad other factors, it is an irrefutable
fact that innocent people get sentenced to death.
Lloyd Eldon Miller spent 11 years on death row only to be found innocent
the day before his scheduled execution.
James Richardson spent 25 years on death row for a crime it was later
determined he didn't commit.
Cameron Todd Willingham was sentenced to death for an arson that killed
his three children. For over a decade in prison he professed his
innocence, and new information from multiple fire experts indicated that
the original investigation was severely flawed and that the fire may have
even been accidental. Willingham was executed in 2004.
As of Oct. 6, 2004, there have been 113 death row exonerations in 25
different states, according to deathpenaltyinfo.org. There are no hard
statistics on the number of innocent executed, but a 1987 study by the
highly respected Stanford Law Review estimated that 23 people had been
executed for crimes they didn't commit.
So how is it possible that so many innocent people have been sentenced to
an irreversible punishment?
The death penalty punishes those who cannot defend themselves.
Many people who commit capital crimes are economically disadvantaged and
have no access to competent legal counsel.
Aden Harrison, Jr., an African-American man, could not afford a lawyer and
so was appointed one. Specifically, he was appointed lawyer James Venable,
a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Harrison was sentenced to
Jesus Romero was represented by a lawyer who introduced no mitigating
evidence whatsoever, and whose closing statement was only 29 words. Romero
was executed in 1992.
Cases such as these are clear violations of the defendants' constitutional
rights to a fair trial and due process.
The death penalty is also hated by the international community.
The United States, Iran, and Saudi Arabia account for over 80 percent of
the executions recorded by Amnesty International.
Since 2000, the only 4 countries to have executed juvenile offenders
are the United States, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and
Since 1997, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has passed an
annual resolution calling for the abolition of the death penalty. The 2004
resolution was co-sponsored by 76 member states.
Ultimately, the death penalty is a vengeful, inhuman and short-sighted
practice. It undermines everything that we consider our nation to be great
for. Freedom, humanity, truth, justice, and equality cannot fully exist in
a society that is executing the innocent, giving unequal treatment to
minority victims, and preying on the poor, the mentally ill and the
The existence of capital punishment in a society as advanced and free as
ours should be a source of infinite shame.
(source: Kurt Hunt, Opinion, The (Mich.) Eastern Echo)
Police lineups' flaws spur new approach----Standing suspects in a row has
come under fire; Illinois is testing an identification method that may
help avoid falsely imprisoning people
For 18 years, the photographs that lined Steve Avery's prison cells linked
him to the outside world. They helped him see his children grow up. They
made him feel as if he hadn't completely missed those birthdays and
But the dozens of yellowed snapshots--now stored in a cardboard box in his
blue trailer here--also are bitter reminders of the moments and memories
stolen from him while he served time for a rape he didn't commit.
Although 16 witnesses placed him elsewhere on July 29, 1985, when Penny
Beerntsen was brutally attacked on a Wisconsin beach, she identified Avery
in a lineup and swore it was him during the trial. But almost two decades
later, DNA evidence proved she was wrong.
Avery's case--he was released from a Wisconsin prison in September
2003--dramatically highlights flawed police lineup procedures, where
well-meaning witnesses, even crime victims themselves, confidently pick
the wrong person, experts say.
"That day I heard the news was worse than the day I was assaulted," said
Beerntsen, who now lives in Naperville and vividly recalls identifying
Avery. "I just wanted the earth to open and swallow me. I felt so
horrendous and so guilty about being a part of this miscarriage of
In a pilot study under way since last fall, a different way of conducting
lineups that some say could sharply reduce the number of false
identifications is being tested in Chicago, Evanston and Joliet.
Suspects in traditional lineups are arranged shoulder to shoulder in the
same room, and witnesses use a process of elimination to select someone
who looks most like the perpetrator, said Gary Wells, a psychology
professor at Iowa State University who has researched mistaken
identifications for more than 25 years.
Wells and other researchers advocate another approach, the "sequential"
lineup, where suspects are brought in one at a time so witnesses can
examine each individually.
Already used in New Jersey and with half a dozen police departments across
the country, the sequential lineup is being tested in the three Illinois
communities, a project that will conclude later this year.
"Psychologically, it's a very different experience," Wells said. "With the
[traditional lineup] it's a relative judgment process that leads to the
identification rather than what we're after, which is true recognition."
Mistaken identification--which was a factor in more than 75 % of the
155 DNA exonerations across the country since 1989, according to the
Innocence Project--can be cut in half or more with sequential lineups,
Although Chicago Tribune policy is not to name rape victims, Beerntsen has
become an advocate for criminal justice reform and regularly shares her
story with convicted criminals, politicians and the public.
Beerntsen recalls leaving her husband and daughter on a bright July
afternoon and taking a jog on a Manitowoc County beach about 30 miles
north of Sheboygan. It wasn't far from her family's candy and ice cream
store, which she helped manage.
After going about 3 miles, she was running back when a man darted from
beneath a fallen tree, put her in a chokehold and dragged her to a wooded
area beyond some dunes.
The 5-foot-2 Beerntsen, then 36, kept talking about her two children,
hoping to evoke a sliver of compassion. But he beat her unconscious and
Beerntsen remembers making a mental note of the man's face during the
"When he grabbed me, two thoughts went through my head," she said. "I need
to stay calm, and the second was, I need to get a good look at this guy."
She also made a point of scratching him and thought to crawl on her wrists
after the assault to preserve whatever evidence was under her nails. Those
scrapings were tested in 1996 but were inconclusive.
Man had run-in with deputies
While she was being examined at a hospital, Beerntsen recounted the attack
to a sheriff's deputy, who thought the rapist's physical description
sounded like Avery. The department already was familiar with him because
he was accused of running a sheriff deputy's wife off a road 6 months
Just hours after the attack, Beerntsen looked at nine photographs laid out
on her hospital bed. She picked Avery.
A few days later, she picked him again, this time from a lineup of eight
Beerntsen was so sure Avery was her attacker that when she saw him in
court, the hair on the back of her neck stood on end and she shook, she
After the Wisconsin Innocence Project took on Avery's case, a pubic hair
saved from the rape kit was tested and matched Gregory Allen, whose
information was on file because he was serving a 60-year sentence for a
1995 sexual assault.
When Beerntsen learned the truth, she was devastated.
"You can forgive a wrong that's done to yourself more than you can forgive
yourself, albeit unintentional, for something that was done to someone
else," she said.
For his part, Avery never believed a jury would find him guilty. Even
after Manitowoc County sheriff's deputies barged into his home in Maribel,
Wis., in the middle of the night, Avery thought the truth would protect
But when the verdict was read and he found himself sentenced to 32 years
in prison, Avery realized his life was forever altered.
He went to prison at age 23 and got out when he was 41.
A high school dropout who had been laid off as a sheet-metal worker, Avery
tried to keep up with the lives of his family: a wife, stepson and 4
children, the youngest twin boys born 6 days before his arrest.
But his wife divorced him, and only one of his daughters returned his
letters. Avery still can't distinguish his twin sons.
For 18 years, an intense anger consumed him--anger at the sheriff's
investigation that made him the prime suspect and at a judicial system
that found him guilty even though so many people swore he wasn't at the
beach the day of the attack.
But when Avery left the Stanley Correctional Institution in northwestern
Wisconsin and ate barbecued ribs for the 1st time in almost two decades,
that anger melted away, he said.
"They stole it all from me, but the hate, it isn't there anymore, not like
it used to be," he said.
Illinois studies reforms
Similar cases prompted Gov. George Ryan's Commission on Capital Punishment
to recommend changing Illinois' lineup procedures in 2002.
The following year, state Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston) introduced a bill
in the General Assembly requiring sequential lineups across the state. She
agreed to a pilot study last year to test the 2 procedures.
"We're going to learn which one is better," she said.
During the study, Evanston is using a case numbers to determine who gets
what kind of lineup. Suspects assigned even numbers get the traditional
lineup while others are lined up sequentially, Deputy Chief Joe Bellino
The only glitch so far for the relatively small department is finding a
person with no knowledge of the case to fulfill the "blind administrator"
requirement, Bellino said.
With the sequential approach, someone without any knowledge of the suspect
is to conduct the lineup as a way of avoiding body language or commentary,
no matter how slight, that might influence the witness.
In Joliet, lineups in the eastern half of the city are being conducted
sequentially. And in Chicago, all lineups in the Harrison Police District
on the West Side are being done that way.
Sheri Mecklenburg, coordinator for the pilot program and chief counsel to
Chicago Police Supt. Philip Cline, hopes to submit a report to the General
Assembly on the findings from all three jurisdictions at the end of the
year. Then lawmakers will decide whether to adopt the practice statewide.
'We have ways to improve'
But Locke Bowman, legal director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the
University of Chicago Law School, thinks the study is unnecessary.
Bowman represented John Willis, who was exonerated in 1999 of a string of
Chicago robberies and sexual assaults. While there's no way of knowing if
sequential lineups would have prevented the dozen or so women who
identified him as the attacker, using the approach is a no-brainer, Bowman
"The Willis case just makes crystal clear that when we have ways to
improve this, we need to employ them," he said. "I can't conceive why
anything needs to be studied."
Avery admits he doesn't know whether the lineup procedure is solely to
blame for his conviction. But he does believe he's owed for the 18 years
of his life he missed and is suing Manitowoc County, the former sheriff
and the former district attorney for $36 million.
Since his exoneration, Avery has been helping out at his family's
auto-salvage company, plans to remarry in July and hopes for more
"I'd like to hear 'Daddy' and 'Mama,'" he said. "That's one thing I miss.
So I figure I'll have a couple more so I can hear that."
(source: Chicago Tribune)
Death penalty challenged -- Lawyers say man was brain-damaged
In 1988, a 3-judge panel in Hamilton County sentenced William H. Smith
to die for the stabbing death of Mary Bradford one year earlier.
Now, after he's spent 17 years on Ohio's death row, Smith's attorneys say
his life should be spared because he was mentally impaired at the time.
The request comes one month before the 47-year-old man is scheduled to be
Hamilton County prosecutors say Smith stabbed Bradford 10 times, raped her
as she lay dying and then stole electronic equipment from her apartment.
The Ohio Parole Board will hear the arguments Tuesday, then make a
recommendation to Gov. Bob Taft about whether Smith's sentence should be
commuted to life in prison.
All death row inmates have a clemency hearing. Since executions resumed in
Ohio in 1999, there have been 16 clemency hearings, with Taft granting one
request, that of Cincinnati native Jerome Campbell.
In 1991, Gov. Richard Celeste commuted the sentences of seven death row
inmates days before leaving office.
In September 1987, Smith, then 30, met Bradford, a 45-year-old single
mother of 4, at a West End bar.
Smith told police he and Bradford left the bar together. At her Pleasant
Street apartment, Smith said, they argued over drugs, prompting Bradford
to threaten Smith with a butcher knife, which he took away from her.
He told police he slit her throat and then had sex with her as she lay
dying on her bed.
Smith was convicted of two counts of aggravated murder, one count of rape
and one count of aggravated robbery. In addition to the death penalty, the
three-judge panel sentenced Smith to consecutive 10-25 year prison terms
for rape and robbery.
Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Ron Springman called Smith's story
"There was never any evidence of a struggle," he said. "He set out to kill
her that night."
And, it was brutal, Springman said. There were 10 stab wounds.
Smith's attorneys, an Ohio public defender and Jennifer Kinsley of Sirkin,
Pinales & Schwartz in Cincinnati, aren't challenging his conviction or the
facts of the case.
Kinsley said she would focus on Smith's mental status. She says judges
never heard evidence that would have suggested Smith deserved life in
prison rather than death.
She said a neurologist found that Smith has brain damage. A scan showed
lesions on his brain, possibly, Kinsley said, from severe drug and alcohol
abuse when he was a teenager.
At a young age, Smith was hospitalized for mental illness and given shock
treatment, Kinsley said.
"We feel if the 3 judges knew that, it could have changed sentencing,"
Bradford's children agreed with seeking the death penalty. Today, her
oldest daughter said she still believes the death penalty was an
Martha Bradford, 50, said Smith took advantage of a woman weaker than
himself. She said her mother suffered from severe asthma.
"He low-down brutally murdered her," Martha Bradford said. "He shouldn't
be in society."
(source: Cincinnati Enquirer)
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