[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----PENN., CONN., MISS.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Feb 24 16:17:36 CST 2005
Cruel and unusual punishment
I used to work with a man named William Nieves. A stocky Latino man,
Nieves was once a victim of mistaken identity. The police, you see,
mistook him for 2 tall, thin African-American men. Eyewitnesses told
police they had seen those 2 tall, thin African American men and not
Nieves, but Philadelphia police and prosecutors withheld that information
from a jury, leaving Nieves, until he was acquitted at retrial, to spend
six years on death row in Pennsylvania for a murder he didn't commit.
Once, during my time volunteering for Pennsylvania Abolitionists United
Against the Death Penalty, where I worked with Nieves, I had dinner with a
man named Ray Krone. Krone was convicted on the basis of circumstantial
evidence, but after 10 years on death row in Arizona, he was finally
proven innocent by DNA which implicated another man.
I was lucky to meet Nieves and Krone. They, of course, were luckier --
lucky not to be dead, executed for the crimes of others, lucky to be among
the 118 people who have been released from death row since 1973, rather
than just another number added to the 946 executed in that time.
Nieves, Krone and the rest of the exonerated had people willing and able
to fight for them, to muster the time, money and sweat that underpaid,
under-funded, overworked and sometimes just plain incompetent defense
attorneys often cannot. They were lucky that they escaped a "justice"
system in which, as the Supreme Court ruled in Herrera v. Collins, proof
of innocence is not enough for a court to stop an execution.
I'm telling the stories of these men because the occupants of death row
are often faceless. They become the pawns of politicians, both Democratic
and Republican, eager to seem tough on crime, feigning sympathy for the
victims and their families by calling for more death. They advocate
spending money on capital punishment -- far more expensive than life
imprisonment -- which should instead go to providing counseling and
financial help for victims' families, forgotten once their political worth
I'm telling these stories because in the next few weeks the fate of 72
more faceless people will be decided.
This past fall, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of a
Missouri man named Christopher Simmons, convicted of kidnapping and
murdering his neighbor when he was just 17 years old. This spring, the
court will announce its decision on the central idea of Simmons' appeal --
is it cruel and unusual, and thus unconstitutional, to execute people for
crimes they committed as minors?
If you're under 21, this country does not consider you responsible enough
to drink alcohol. You're under 18? You can't possibly be expected to
decide whether you should sign a contract, smoke cigarettes or buy
pornography. And don't even think about voting: You're not mature enough.
But, hey, if you're old enough to drive a car, then 19 states think you're
old enough to be strapped down and killed.
This shouldn't be about "cruel and unusual." It shouldn't be about
"evolving standards of decency," the theory which the Supreme Court will
most likely consider in the case, taking into account the question of
whether American society has gotten around yet to dropping its support for
This is about whether the morals of the United States should continue to
be dominated by politicians who are willing to sacrifice children for
cheap political gain. The U.S. has aspirations to being a world human
rights leader, yet stands with only Saudi Arabia, Congo, Iran and Nigeria
in permitting the execution of juveniles. It stands with those countries
in killing people who, because of their youth, were not physically or
mentally equipped to understand the consequences of their actions or fully
control their behavior, according to amicus curiae briefs filed by
organizations including the American Medical Association, the American
Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association.
The crimes committed by some of the juveniles on death row were horrific
and callous, of that there can be no doubt, and their victims should not
be forgotten. But their killers will die for crimes they committed when
they were still minors, unable, according to the standard-bearers of
American medicine, to be fully responsible. They will be killed by the
state in our names.
To countenance the continued execution of juveniles, to allow their deaths
at the hands of a system proven to have no deterrent effect, proven to
execute the innocent and proven to be biased against minorities and the
poor, leaves their blood on our hands. It will not wash off easily.
(source: The Daily Pennsylvanian --Alex Koppelman is a senior
individualized major in the College from Baltimore and former
editor-in-chief of 34th Street Magazine)
Prospect of Ross execution sending people to therapy
Aside from the public debate over the death penalty, private conversations
are taking place in Eastern Connecticut between therapists and their
"It does trouble people, causing a great deal of conflict. I'm conflicted
about it, too," said Dr. Brian Brenton, medical director of psychiatric
services at The William W. Backus Hospital.
The internal struggle is knowing the heinous details of a crime, while
also realizing the punishment could be the end of another life, Brenton
Michael Ross, who has admitted to murdering eight women in Connecticut and
New York in the 1980s, is scheduled to die by lethal injection May 11. It
would be the state's first execution since 1960. Ross was less than two
hours from being executed Jan. 29.
"It's a very real scenario people can't ignore anymore," Brenton said.
"The longer it's hanging in front of people, the more upset people are
going to get."
In addition to details of the case and Ross' crimes, media coverage has
"I think it's disturbing -- scary -- for people to have that degree of
detail," Brenton said.
Those uncomfortable or troubled by the issue should limit exposure, he
said, adding the same held true for people traumatized by Sept. 11.
In addition to therapists, Brenton said many people will take comfort
talking to friends or local clergy.
The Rev. Lou Harper, pastor at the First Congregational Church of
Griswold, said he is always more than willing to talk to those in need.
But in this case, at his small church in the Pachaug section of Griswold,
discussing the subject in public nearly has become taboo. Too many people
in the area were touched by Ross' killings.
"That subject in our little community is more of a forbidden topic than
sex was in the '50s," Harper said. "When the Michael Ross issue is over,
perhaps there can be some dialogue. We can look back at how it affected a
ON THE WEB
For background on the Connecticut death penalty and the Michael Ross case,
go online to www.norwichbulletin.comfor an archive of stories.
For more information, visit www.ucfs.org
(source: The Norwich Bulletin)
MISSISSIPPI-----16-year-old could face death penalty
Weir 16-year-old indicted
A Weir teenager accused of killing a police chief planned to shoot an
officer, an investigator testified at a preliminary hearing in Choctaw
County Justice Court on Thursday.
Christopher Fair, 16, was bound over to the grand jury, which indicted him
for capital murder Tuesday. Arraignment was set for today (Thursday) at 10
a.m. at the Choctaw County courthouse.
Fair was charged in the Feb. 4 shooting death of French Camp Police Chief
Anthony Lucas, who had joined other officers in a high-speed chase that
started with a traffic stop in Ackerman and ended at Fair's parent's home
on White's Road.
"He said he decided he was going to shoot an officer before he got to the
residence," Clay Bain of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation
testified. "He said he knew (Lucas) was an officer."
Killing a law enforcement officer is a capital offense, punishable by the
death penalty or life in prison.
Fair confessed to shooting Lucas, Bain testified before a
standing-room-only crowd of officers from several departments and family
members of Lucas and Fair.
Bain said that there were 4 people in Fair's vehicle. When he parked, 2
ran in the house, 1 ran behind the house and another ran into nearby
woods. Lucas went into the house and was shot while he was questioning
occupants, Bain testified. Other officers on the scene were Choctaw deputy
James Turner, Ackerman police officer Ed Fiebig and Weir Police Chief Hap
"(Fair) said he went into the house and retrieved a single-barrel 16 gauge
shotgun," Bain said. "He cocked the hammer, aimed it behind his left ear
and pulled the trigger."
He then set the shotgun beside Lucas and fled into the woods. He gave
himself up a few hours later when a National Guard helicopter, equipped
with a spotlight, joined the manhunt.
District Attorney Doug Evans, who has been a prosecutor for a dozen years
and was with the Grenada police and sheriff's departments for 10 years,
said it's the 1st case he's tried of an officer being killed in the line
of duty in the 7-county district.
"I've had a lot of capital cases ... but you just don't expect something
like this -- not here," he said.
He wasn't surprised, however, that a teenager was charged with the crime.
"A lot of our youth, they don't have any feelings about killing someone,"
said Evans, who last month got a murder and sexual battery conviction
against Justin Haynes of Ethel. Haynes was 16 when he killed Janette
Nowell of Kosciusko last year. "If someone 15, 16 pulls a gun these days,
they're probably going to pull the trigger."
Fair was being held without bond in the Choctaw County Jail, but he was
staying at the Winston County Correctional Facility at times, Choctaw
Sheriff Doug McHan said.
(source: The Kosciusko Star-Herald)
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