[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----USA, KAN., PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Feb 24 00:37:27 CST 2005
Use of death penalty is not murder
Regarding "Killing people is never an answer" (Letters, Monday):
The letter writer's contention that "we kill people who kill people to
show that killing people is wrong."
The fact is we kill people who murder people to show that murdering people
is wrong! The distinction is really much too simple to explain, and I
suspect that he wouldn't listen anyway.
Ken Doerfler, Glendale
(source: Letter to the Editor)
Penalty's revival urged
Having decided to gamble on a potential U.S. Supreme Court decision,
senators Tuesday adopted a resolution urging that court to resurrect the
state's capital punishment law.
Sparking their resolution was a December decision by the Kansas Supreme
Court declaring the 1994 death penalty law unconstitutional over a
provision governing how juries weigh evidence for and against execution.
Attorney General Phill Kline has promised an appeal.
Prosecutors have urged legislators not to rewrite the law yet, arguing
that would lessen the chances the U.S. Supreme Court will take Kline's
appeal and overturn the Kansas court. A U.S. Supreme Court decision is the
only way seven men previously sentenced to die would face execution.
The resolution says "manifest injustice" will occur if the U.S. Supreme
Court does not intervene.
The vote was 38-1, with the only no vote coming from Sen. David Haley,
D-Kansas City, who opposes capital punishment. The measure didn't need
The death penalty decision also has inspired an effort to require Senate
confirmation of Kansas Supreme Court justices. A proposal to amend the
state constitution is before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which
expected to vote Wednesday on the measure.
Currently, a 9-member nominating commission, with 5 attorneys as members,
screens applications for Supreme Court positions and forwards 3 nominees
to the governor, who makes the appointment.
(source: Associated Press)
Death row inmate gets new trial--Judge says prosecution withheld evidence
Pennsylvania death row inmate Ernest Simmons, who was once 4 days from
execution for the grisly murder of an 80-year-old Johnstown woman, has
been granted a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct.
About the Innocence Institute
The Innocence Institute of Point Park University is an investigative
reporting organization that probes allegations of wrongful convictions
while helping student journalists learn investigative reporting. It is a
partnership between the department of journalism and mass communication at
Point Park and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In a 52-page opinion issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Sean J.
McLaughlin ordered Simmons, 47, to be retried within 120 days or released
because police and prosecutors "withheld favorable evidence that could
have been used to substantially impeach the testimony of the most pivotal
"When you take a look at what happened in this case, you have to be
shocked," said Robert Dunham, an assistant federal defender with the
Defender Association of Philadelphia, Simmons' appellate attorneys.
The ruling said Simmons' rights were violated by police and prosecutors
who hid secretly recorded tapes and hair evidence that supported Simmons'
The ruling also referenced evidence uncovered in 2003 by the Innocence
Institute of Point Park University and published in a story in the
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The story reported that key witness Margaret
Cobaugh lied on the stand when she linked Simmons to the murder.
"This was not a case of one piece of evidence being overlooked," Dunham
said. "It's not even a case of two or three pieces of evidence being
overlooked. It was, as the court found, a consistent pattern that denied
Ernest Simmons a fair trial."
Cambria County District Attorney David Tulowitzki yesterday said he was
prepared to appeal McLaughlin's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, and take
the case back to trial if those appeals fail.
Simmons was born in 1957 in Philadelphia to a 13-year-old mother, sexually
abused as a child and allowed to roam the streets to find his meals in
trash bins before being bounced around to foster homes. He had served 4
different prison terms by the time he was paroled in August 1991, at age
34, and settled in Johnstown.
One of the convictions involved an attack on an elderly Harrisburg-area
man, and police suspected Simmons in unsolved murders of elderly residents
there. For those reasons, he quickly became a suspect when Anna Knaze, 80,
was slain in May 1992. Her spine was severed, all her ribs were broken and
she was strangled.
Cobaugh, a friend and neighbor of Knaze, provided the only credible
evidence tying Simmons to the murder. Cobaugh testified in 1993 that she
was raped by Simmons just hours after Knaze's killing and that he told her
to keep quiet or "she would get the same thing Anna Knaze got."
Simmons' appeals were denied repeatedly in state court and Gov. Tom Ridge
signed a death warrant setting the execution for April 14, 1996. Four days
before that, Simmons was granted a stay.
Soon, the Defender Association, which represents death row inmates on
appeal, entered the case and found that Simmons' ex-girlfriend had helped
police secretly tape-record Simmons. In the tapes, he denied 19 separate
times having any involvement in the killings, but the prosecution hid the
tapes from the defense at trial.
The appeal also revealed that police Detective Richard Rok, who later was
convicted of assaulting a detainee and sentenced to federal prison, never
told defense attorneys that Cobaugh was unable to pick Simmons' picture
out of an array of mug shots on her 1st attempt. The detective also hid
the fact that he helped Cobaugh, an ex-convict, avoid another prison term
for purchase of a gun by an ex-felon.
Rok later admitted he never told the defense that Cobaugh's clothes were
tested for forensic evidence and yielded hair samples that did not match
In 2003, Cobaugh told reporters from the Innocence Institute that she
"could not positively identify anyone" as her attacker and identified
Simmons only after a police detective told her he knew Simmons had killed
Knaze but "didn't have a witness."
Dunham acknowledged the appellate process could take years.
"Ernie has spent a decade on death row after having been wrongfully
convicted," he said. "The district court's decision is one major step."
Dunham said he hasn't yet been able to talk with Simmons, who is on death
row at the State Correctional Institution Greene.
In a recent letter to the Innocence Institute, Simmons said he was
confident of an eventual exoneration.
"So I'm getting ready for when that time comes, and it will come, my
friend," he wrote on Feb. 16.
(source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
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