[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----OHIO, USA, N.Y., ILL.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Feb 24 09:35:31 CST 2005
Former FBI chief supports killer's plea----Spirko seeking to overturn
John Spirko, in his attempt to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn
his conviction and death sentence for murdering an Elgin, Ohio,
postmaster, has found an ally in former FBI Director William Sessions.
Mr. Sessions joined 2 former federal judges and a prosecutor yesterday in
accusing Van Wert County's former prosecutor of arguing a theory before
Spirko's jury 22 years ago that the prosecutor had to know was at least
Mr. Sessions, who was FBI director under Presidents George H.W. Bush and
Bill Clinton, is also a former federal judge.
"When the ultimate penalty is at issue, justice demands scrupulous conduct
from prosecutors," reads the group's brief urging the high court to hear
Spirko's appeal. "It is not enough for a prosecutor to weigh all of the
evidence, determine that a defendant is guilty, and pursue such a verdict
vigorously if he holds back information unfavorable to his desired
outcome," it reads.
Mr. Sessions declined an interview. He is now a member of the
Washington-based Constitution Project's Death Penalty Initiative, which
has sought a number of reforms in the capital punishment process.
The group has not advocated abolition of the death penalty, and Mr.
Sessions personally supports capital punishment, according to the
Constitution Project's Pedro Ribiero.
A 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel voted 2-1 vote last year to
uphold Spirko's conviction and sentence for the 1982 kidnapping and murder
of Betty Jane Mottinger, 48-year-old postmaster in the small town of
Elgin, 90 miles southwest of Toledo.
She had been stabbed about 15 times in the chest and stomach.
The majority found that photographs kept more than a decade by the
prosecution, which suggested Spirko's alleged co-conspirator was probably
500 miles away in North Carolina at the time of the crime, were
insufficient to overturn the conviction.
"If [Delaney] Gibson was not a participant in the murder, then he was not,
as Spirko told the investigators and claimed at trial, the source of all
of Spirko's detailed knowledge of the crime," wrote Judge Alice M.
Batchelder for the majority. "And if Spirko did not learn the details of
this crime from Gibson, from whence did all of that detail come?"
But dissenting Judge Ronald Lee Gilman wrote that he was not convinced of
Spirko's guilt. He said many details about the crime had been published in
Spirko, now 58, was born in Toledo. Paroled on a Kentucky murder
conviction, he had returned to Swanton to live with his sister in 1982.
Jailed on an unrelated assault charge, he contacted investigators claiming
to have evidence in the unsolved murder of Ms. Mottinger months earlier.
In return, he wanted leniency for himself and his girlfriend for a botched
Prosecutors ultimately discarded most of Spirko's stories as fabrications.
But fragments of those tales, details investigators argued could only be
known to the killer, were later used to convict him.
The prosecution's theory was that Gibson, who had fled Ohio, was the chief
Eyewitnesses placed both him and Spirko in Elgin the morning that Ms.
But further investigation led the prosecution to confirm that Gibson was
in North Carolina the day before and after the murder and that photographs
showed him with a full beard. An eyewitness, now dead, had identified an
old photograph of a clean-shaven Gibson as the stranger she saw that day.
The prosecution informed the defense of the alibi claim and noted there
were "purported" pictures supporting that claim. The defense argues that
the use of the word "purported" was misleading because the prosecution
already had the photos in hand.
"The prosecutors provided sufficient evidence to put Spirko on notice,"
reads the opposing brief filed yesterday by Ohio Attorney General Jim
Petro. "He failed to seek additional evidence [probably because that
evidence would have done him no good on his theory of the case]."
Gibson has since been paroled in Kentucky on a separate murder conviction.
He was never tried in Ohio, and, on the day the 6th Circuit upheld
Spirko's conviction last year, the prosecution dismissed its 22-year-old
murder indictment against Gibson.
(source: Toledo Blade)
'The Exonerated' takes a hard look at justice
The most powerful media indictment of the death penalty first appeared on
Polish TV in 1988: Episode 5 in Krzysztof Keislowski's made-for-TV drama
series, "The Decalogue." In the series, each of the Ten Commandments is
played out in the lives of the residents in a huge, seemingly impersonal
Warsaw apartment complex.
An aimless, hostile young man randomly selects a cab driver, himself an
unsympathetic character with whom the audience cannot identify, and beats
him to death.
A zealous young lawyer tries to save the young man; there are hints that
he has been deranged by the death of his little sister, killed in an
accident for which he was indirectly responsible. But the young man is
quickly convicted, and in the final scene, the guards drag him from his
cell to the execution chamber, tighten the rope around his neck and drop
him through a hole in the chamber floor. Mr. Kieslowski's point is that
the brutality of the crime is mimicked by the brutality of the state. We
have witnessed two murders in the same hour.
I thought of those scenes last week watching and reading about Court TV's
critically praised -- and strongly criticized -- star-studded presentation
of "The Exonerated," where Danny Glover, Aidan Quinn, Brian Dennehy, Susan
Sarandon and others act out the stories of 5 actual men and one woman
condemned to death but, thanks to dedicated defenders and DNA testimony,
are saved just in time from execution.
The current power of "The Exonerated," written as a stage play by Jessica
Blank and Eric Jensen, with a script constructed from court documents and
letters, derives especially from the medium of TV -- the small screen
filled by the character's face. Particularly faces of actors we know, such
as Brian Dennehy and Susan Sarandon. We saw her as Helen Prejean in "Dead
3 of the storytellers are black men, who attribute their arrests and
convictions to racism. One, Delbert Kidd (Delroy Lindo), who says "f -- "
a lot, is a philosopher-poet-ex-seminarian and serves as a chorus, like
the commentator ghosts in "Oz," to tie the tales together.
Kerry Cook (Aidan Quinn), because he was a bartender in a gay bar, was
tarred as a "brutal pervert butcher" by the prosecutor who told the jury
to condemn him as it would "put a sick animal to sleep."
Several of the 6 confessed; they were led, they say, by trickery or
fatigue to go along with their prosecutors.
Some may actually be guilty.
Joshua Marquis, an Oregon district attorney, has written a critique of
"The Exonerated" to be published in the "Journal of Criminal Law and
Criminology" this spring, where he argues that, strictly speaking, several
of the 6, particularly Sonia Jacobs (Ms. Sarandon), convicted with her
husband of shooting 2 policemen, and Mr. Cook, who had been convicted
twice, were released on plea bargains and technicalities, not "exonerated"
in the strict sense of that word. Ms. Jacobs' husband Jesse, by the way,
had already been electrocuted in a grisly botched execution that took him
13 minutes to die.
Another man, Robert Hayes, was sentenced for killing a coworker at a race
track in 1991 and released after a retrial in 1997 in which hairs found
clutched in the victim's hands were shown to be inconsistent with his. The
film advises us, however, during the finale in which the real persons
appear alongside their actors that Mr. Hayes is in jail for murder again.
Last November he was pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of
another horse groom near Syracuse earlier in 1987. High on crack, he said,
he had attempted to rob her, hit her, and slit her wrists and hanged the
body to make it look like suicide. An investigator found that Mr. Hayes
had a history of assaults at tracks around the country.
The discovery that at least one of the 6 narrators who have won us over is
obviously a "bad guy" may take some of the moral steam out of the show.
Ultimately, however, the case against the death penalty does not stand or
fall on whether the innocent die. The law itself must die because, as Mr.
Keislowski shows us, it turns the state -- that is, ourselves -- into
killers as well.
We leave the last word to the real Delbert Kidd, who tells us in the
film's last scene: "I believe God sent me to death row so that I could be
a witness against it."
(source: Jesuit Fr. Raymond A. Schroth is a professor of humanities at St.
Peter's College in Jersey City, N.J. -- National Catholic Reporter)
Who Got The Death Penalty
New York State's death penalty law was in effect just short of 9 years
before the Court of Appeals struck it down for its "coercive jury
instruction" last June.
While Governor George Pataki says he wants the death penalty restored, it
is not clear that the death penalty will be made legal once again in New
York. Opponents of capital punishment make many arguments - that it does
not deter crime, that it is immoral for the government to kill people,
even that it is expensive: before it was rule unconstitutional, only .11 %
of those arrested for murder faced the death penalty, and yet the costs of
administration were in excess of $250 million per year. But the most
passionate argument is probably the uneven way in which the death penalty
In New York State, those people who committed murders outside New York
City, and those killing white victims, were much more likely to have been
sentenced to death.
How Many Arrested, How Many Sentenced
Since 1995, when the death penalty was restored in New York, 6,545 arrests
have been made for murder, according to statistics compiled by the Capital
Of these, 500 resulted in 1st-degree murder indictments.
Of these 500, 58 resulted in a "death notice" being filed - a notification
by the prosecution that it may seek the death penalty.
Of these 58: 9 cases are still pending, 27 resulted in life without parole
from a plea bargain; 1 defendant committed suicide in jail; one death
notice was withdrawn, 5 were given very long sentences; and 15 so far have
been given trials.
Of the 15 who have been given trials, One's sentence is still pending; one
was acquitted; one was sentenced to 115 years to life; 5 were sentenced to
life without parole.
And 7 defendants were sentenced to death.
All 7 are still alive.
Where You Kill Makes A Difference
The chance of a 1st degree murder indictment turning into a death notice
varies depending on where one is accused of doing the crime. Only six
percent of the murder one indictments in New York City resulted in a death
notice, compared to 23.1 % upstate.
The chance of being convicted and sentenced to death is much greater in
the New York suburbs than elsewhere. (Given the few death sentences one
should be cautious about drawing inferences about patterns, since the
three death sentences in the suburbs all come from Suffolk and from three
quite sensational cases. However, the use of a death notices certainly
enhances the prosecution's chances of getting a long sentence from a plea
Race of Defendant, Race of Victim
Those accused of killing a white victim are more than twice as likely to
receive a death notice than are those accused of killing only a non-white
victim. Similarly they are twice as likely to go to trial and over 5 times
as likely to receive the death sentence. These figures are statistically
significant according to an analysis by David Baldus, an expert on the
application of the death penalty.
Because of the disparity in the application of the death sentence upstate
versus downstate, and given the demography upstate versus downstate,
blacks accused of murder are much less likely to receive the death
Andrew A. Beveridge has taught sociology at Queens College since 1981,
done demographic analyses for the New York Times since 1993, and provides
expert testimony on a range of cases, including housing discrimination.
The opinions expressed are his alone.
(source: Gotham Gazette)
Judge to rule on admitting serial killer's confession in murder trial
In Lawrenceville, a judge will rule next month whether jurors in the
murder trial of Julie Rea Harper can hear the confession of a serial
killer on death row in Texas that he, not Harper, is responsible for
stabbing to death the woman's son.
Harper was convicted in 2002 of first-degree murder in the Oct. 13, 1997,
slaying of her 10-year-old son, Joel Kirkpatrick, as he slept in his bed
in her Lawrenceville home. That conviction was overturned on a technicality,
and a new trial is set to start on Dec. 5.
During a preliminary hearing Wednesday in Lawrence County Circuit Court,
Judge Barry Vaughan said he would issue his ruling on March 11 about
whether or not jurors will be allowed to hear the confession of Tommy Lynn
Sells, who is awaiting execution for the fatal stabbing of a 13-year-old
Texas girl in 1999, made his confession to an author and later to Illinois
officials, saying he had killed Joel.
Defense attorneys argued that his confession is credible, saying his
statements corroborate information that Harper gave to police immediately
after the killing.
"This is not a close call," said Ron Safer, one of Harper's attorneys.
"(Admitting the confession) is not a difficult decision. What kind of
justice system would we have if we didn't allow the jury to hear this
serial killer's confession?"
But prosecutors said the confession did not mesh with the known facts in
the case and was partially based on information Sells gleaned from the
Internet. Prosecutors also argue that Sells was merely trying to become
part of a pending case to postpone his execution.
Authorities have implicated him in at least a dozen murders, including a
13-year-old Springfield, Mo., girl killed 2 days after the murder in
Ed Parkinson, the special appellate prosecutor handling the case, said
Sells' confession should be "viewed with suspicion" and argued it should
not be admitted. But even if it is, he said after Wednesday's hearing that
he was confident the case against Harper would hold up.
"I'm very satisfied with the strength of the state's case," he said. "I
wouldn't be prosecuting a person I didn't think was the right person."
Prosecutors have said Harper murdered her son to get back at her former
husband, who had just won custody of the boy. Harper, who is free on
$750,000 bond, has always blamed a masked intruder, who she said struggled
with her before fleeing.
(source: Associated Press)
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