[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----N.J., NEV., KY., CONN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Feb 7 09:02:17 CST 2005
State weighs amendments to death penalty procedures
9 University students joined community members and religious leaders for
a public hearing on proposed changes to the state's lethal injection
regulations in a full conference room Friday.
Held by New Jersey's Department of Corrections (DOC), the hearing
provided concerned citizens a chance to speak about the proposals before
the DOC votes on whether to approve or change them.
The 1st proposed amendment would allow media access to death row
prisoners in the 3 days prior to execution. The second proposal would
supply additional medical equipment in the execution chamber to
resuscitate prisoners if a stay is issued after the injection.
A 3-judge panel of the Appellate Division voted unanimously last year to
impose a moratorium on executions until the proposed amendments are
passed or rejected.
The last execution in New Jersey was in 1963, and 11 people are currently
on death row.
Princeton Coalition Against Capital Punishment (PCACP) head Danilo Mandic
'07 organized a trip to the hearing, and most of the students who attended
were PCACP members.
The group, a branch of the Princeton Justice Project, worked with a
statewide organization to sponsor a letter-writing campaign in November to
push for the hearing. After 200 letters were collected, a hearing was
The speakers at the hearing all favored the amendments, and most were
opposed to the death penalty.
Many of those who spoke against capital punishment had family members who
had recently been murdered or executed.
Galloway Township resident Eddie Hicks, whose daughter was murdered, read
a statement signed by 13 people who had lost a family member to murder.
"We oppose the State of New Jersey and its Department of Corrections
executing anyone, including the killer of our loved ones," Hicks said. "We
need justice, not more killing."
The group requested that if the DOC does carry out an execution, they
follow the guidelines set forth in the two amendments.
Lorry Post, the first speaker who also lost his daughter to murder, asked
the DOC to "let the public know everything."
Many speakers stressed the importance of public awareness of executions,
saying they believed such awareness would elicit dismay at the process.
"As long as the DOC keeps people in the dark, it hinders the democratic
process," said Kirk Bloodsworth, the first prisoner whose capital
conviction was overturned by DNA evidence.
Other speakers included doctors, community members and representatives
from groups such as the League of Women Voters and New Jerseyans Against
the Death Penalty (NJADP).
NJADP precipitated the amendments in 2001 when they sued the DOC for not
having taken "adequate steps to ensure that it could perform an execution
in a constitutionally sound manner."
"[The DOC] is trying to sterilize the process by not having the press
available," associate director of NJADP Karen Sisti said to The Daily
The DOC argued that press limitation was justified by "considerations of
the inmate's privacy, legitimate penological objections and the security
and safety needs of the correctional institution."
(source: Daily Princetonian)
Court ruling puts many death row cases in question
Many of Nevadas death row inmates could have a shot at a new sentence
under a state Supreme Court ruling that limits the way prosecutors can
seek the death penalty.
The practice of charging a person with 1st-degree murder for a killing
that occurs while another felony is being committed - such as a robbery,
kidnapping or sexual assault and then using that same charge as an
aggravator to seek a death sentence, is unconstitutional, the justices
Prosecutors from across the state have asked the court to reconsider the
ruling which they say reverses a commonly used system that has been in
place for 20 years.
The court has not indicated whether it will rehear the case.
Were still trying to sort this out, but the impacts could be huge, said
Steve Owens, a chief deputy district attorney in Las Vegas. It has given a
lot of people on death row new grounds for a challenge.
Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick agreed.
Weve followed the law and then they come out with this case and change it,
he said. What do we do with all the cases we followed for years?
But defense lawyers say the decision was long overdue.
Its an argument Ive been making for quite some time that those factors
should not be double-counted, said Deputy Public Defender Cheryl Bond, who
wrote the original appeal.
Its a necessary change to the states capital sentencing scheme because
double counting was inappropriate, unfair and unconstitutional, she said.
Bond agreed that the Supreme Court did not make clear whether the ruling
applied retroactively to all death row inmates who were charged under the
felony murder-aggravator system.
But, she said: I argue it should apply to everybody (in that category).
The landmark ruling came out Dec. 29 in response to an automatic appeal by
Robert McConnell of Reno, who pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced
to death for killing his former girlfriends fianc, Brian Pierce.
The high court affirmed McConnells conviction and sentence, but within the
opinion agreed with Bond that one of Nevadas 14 aggravators in death
penalty cases is unconstitutional.
Under Nevada law, people can be charged with first-degree murder if they
killed someone with premeditation and deliberation. But they also can face
the same charge if they are involved in committing a felony and someone
dies: A person tries to rob a convenience store, for example, and ends up
fatally shooting the clerk.
This charge is felony murder. Premeditation must not be proved.
In arguing for a death sentence in such cases, prosecutors must prove to a
jury at least one of a list of 14 aggravators such as a police officer was
killed or the slaying involved mutilation.
Among the list of aggravators is one stating that the murder occurred
while the person was committing a robbery, 1st-degree arson, burglary,
home invasion or kidnapping, according to state statutes.
In its ruling, the justices said that prosecutors can no longer use this
aggravator when a person is charged with felony murder for killing someone
while committing a crime because it duplicates the felony murder charge
and fails to narrow the punishment.
In making this decision, the court looked to the U.S. Constitution.
The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, the court
said. In past decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that capital
sentencing schemes that fail to adequately guide the sentencers discretion
and permit the arbitrary and capricious imposition of the death penalty
violate the eighth and 14th amendments.
Therefore, a sentencing scheme must genuinely narrow the class of persons
eligible for the death penalty and must reasonably justify the imposition
of a more severe sentence on the defendant compared to others found guilty
of murder, the court said.
The Supreme Court said if you use the felony to get a 1st-degree murder
charge in the 1st place, you cant use the same felony to get a death
sentence, Bond explained.
You already enhanced it to get the murder charge, you cant enhance again
to get death, she said. It cant be used twice.
She said prosecutors still have a long list of aggravators to chose from.
But Owens of Clark County said this one was important.
They have, in effect, found one of our primary ones unconstitutional, he
said. A good number of those on death row have one or more of the felony
aggravators. Those are now all in question.
In a brief filed in January with the Supreme Court, Owens joined the
Washoe County district attorneys office in asking for a new hearing on the
The states felony murder and felony aggravator statute has been upheld by
the Nevada Supreme Court in several cases, he said, and should continue to
Plus, he said, the court failed to give guidance on how the ruling should
impact past and pending cases.
Conceivably, a large segment of the death row population whose convictions
and death sentences have been final for some time will have new grounds
for post-conviction relief, Owens wrote.
Rather than bringing clarity and certainty to the issue, the ruling leaves
the status of the felony aggravator uncertain.
(source: Reno Gazette-Journal)
Local Killer Awaits Possible Death Sentence Today
A man convicted of murder for three killings in the 1980s could get the
death sentence Monday.
Sherman Noble was convicted in December, 18 years after he was first
arrested in connection with the crimes. Jurors recommended two death
sentences and life without parole for 25 years
Noble spent some of the time between his arrest and trial in a state
mental hospital after being diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Execution rate to remain slow -- Experts say death row cases to receive
same scrutiny as Ross
For now, the execution of serial killer Michael Ross is on hold.
But when it looked like he would be put to death late last month, it
raised the question of whether executions in Connecticut would become
The answer appears to be no.
Even if the legislature does not abolish the death penalty, experts say it
will probably take years for the next person in line on death row to
exhaust his appeals.
The most likely candidates are Sedrick Cobb of Naugatuck, who killed a
23-year-old Watertown woman in 1989, and Daniel Webb, who in 1989 murdered
a 37-year-old bank official.
Some observers believe their fate is hinged to that of Ross, who now
awaits a new hearing to see if he is mentally competent to make the
decision to exhaust his appeals.
If Ross' execution is rescheduled and carried out relatively quickly, some
believe the wheels of justice will turn faster in the cases of Cobb, Webb
and the state's four other officials death row inmates.
"It's human nature," said defense lawyer Michael Courtney. If Ross is
executed, he said the attitude of Connecticut officials could be: "The sky
didn't fall in, so let's move to the next one."
Cobb appears closest to the end because he has gone farther in his appeals
process, said Ronald Gold, who defended Cobb at his trial.
Cobb, a former delivery man from Naugatuck, was convicted of kidnapping,
rape and murder in the Dec. 16, 1989, attack on 23-year-old Julia Ashe of
Watertown. He flattened her tire in a store parking lot, and then offered
to help her. But he pushed her in the car, forced her to drive to a
secluded area, raped her, bound and gagged her and drowned her.
Webb, 42, was convicted for kidnapping Diane Gellenbeck, a Connecticut
National Bank vice president, from a Hartford parking garage. He took her
to a nearby park, raped her and shot her 5 times as she tried to escape.
Casey Jordan, a criminal justice professor at Western Connecticut State
University, said predictions that Connecticut will pick up the pace of
executions is a "valid concern, but I don't think it's the reality."
Cobb, Webb and the others will get the same judicial scrutiny Ross' case
has received, slowing the rush to execution, Jordan said. "Connecticut
doesn't just execute at whim," Jordan said, noting the state has not put
anyone to death in 45 years. "Connecticut has proven the death penalty is
only going to be used in the most extreme cases."
Gold, a death penalty public defender who represented Cobb, said he has
heard people say that this execution will "open the floodgates" to more
But he's not sure that's the case. "To me, it's pure speculation," he
said. Gold did note the state Supreme Court seemed to signal a willingness
to move forward by some of its final decisions in the Ross case that
lifted barriers to his execution.
Courtney said he's heard in other states, executions have proceeded
quicker once the 1st one happened. "The 1st one is always the toughest,"
Even though "nobody is close to execution in this state," judges could
subconsciously make decisions that could hasten the process, even if it's
ever so slightly, Courtney said.
"Subconsciously, if someone has already been executed they feel they don't
have to look as hard at the next one," Courtney said.
One other thing could slow the executions complaints about conditions on
Connecticut's death row.
Last week, 5 death row inmates went on a hunger strike. At present, the
inmates are alone in their cells 23 hours a day, and each gets an hour of
solitary recreation outside the cells. They said they should be able to
interact with one another and called their years of solitary confinement
"inhumane and tantamount to psychological torture."
The statement mentions the phenomenon know as "death row syndrome," a
theory that solitary isolation can cause severe mental health problems and
Public defenders also have mentioned the syndrome in connection with the
Ross case. They plan to argue harsh prison conditions, and not sympathy
for the families of the women he raped and killed, led him to give up his
The syndrome is expected to come up during Ross' mental competency
(source: Danbury News Times)
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