death penalty news-----TEXAS, ARIZ., MASS., VER., MO.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Jul 18 18:27:05 CDT 2005
There's no justice in death chamber
95 times, I personally walked a man who was sentenced to die to the death
chamber in Texas. From the very first person executed by lethal injection,
through 16 years of walking those eight steps from the holding cell in the
death house to the impeccably clean gurney in the death chamber, I led a
man - some were older, some convicted in their teens, some mentally ill,
some very hardened by life and, I fully know, some who were innocent.
Each one was different. They were brought to my unit early in the morning,
usually, to be held for death at midnight, so I was with them for 18
hours, and in some cases even longer if their cases went to appellate
courts and stays were held until 3, 4 or 5am - or the latest which was
6.20am the next day.
More than 200 men came to the death chamber in my time as chaplain there,
and of those, 95 were murdered by the state in the name of "justice", but
in all reality, it was "retaliation" or "punishment" or simply "murder by
During those many hours I spent talking with, mostly listening to, the men
who would die after midnight when needles filled with three chemicals were
inserted into their bodies, there was one question that was asked by many
of those waiting to die: "How can we say that killing is wrong if we
continue killing in the name of the state?"
When I ministered to the first man executed, in 1982, we had less than 100
prisoners on Death Row. Texas has now executed more than 300 men and
women, and we have 500 on death row yet more and more murders are taking
place in Texas.
Edinburgh-born Kenny Richey spent 18 years on death row in Ohio for the
murder of a child he says he did not commit. That sentence was overturned
in April but he now faces a retrial.
Many believe there are enough flaws in the case for Richey to be
exonerated but one thing is certain. If Kenny Richey is murdered in the
name of the state or country, it will not bring back the victim.
And in my many years of visiting both the families of the victims and the
families of the condemned, there is no so-called "closure".
The loss is still there, the pain is still there, and the cry for
"justice" is not satisfied. It is plain and simply murder by law to try to
tell others that murder is wrong. Even the philosophy is wrong. It does
not work as a deterrent.
Let me add some factual reviews of "justice in a civilised society". Once
a man was brought into the death house to be executed. He had been
convicted of murder. To show how simple-minded (or retarded) he was, he
had used a bicycle to try to escape from the scene of the crime and the
When he arrived at the death house, all he wanted to do was use his
colours and a colouring book.
Another man was involved in a case with his "fall partner", the prison
term for someone who is convicted along with him, but usually is the
"snitch" who blames everything on the other one.
The one convicted had a stroke several days before his execution date, and
was flown to a major hospital 150 miles away, to be put back into health
good enough to be killed. He was then flown back, not in a very good
condition, and I spent that day with him.
He was too sick to live, and could hardly be understood, but we talked as
much as possible.
Is this justice, to heal a man just enough to murder him? And I know he
Another case was a man who was sitting in a car when his "fall partner"
murdered a highway patrolman in an undercover drug bust.
Everyone knew who did the shooting, but the murderer got off with a short
sentence and the innocent man, by action, but not by Texas law, was
murdered for just being there. Is this justice?
Several of our murdered-by-lethal-injection inmates were 17 when they
committed their crime. International law forbids their being put to death.
But Texas, under the leadership at the time, said: "We do not have to obey
Yet we expect to receive help from the international community when we
And on and on it goes - and I am certain that others have been innocent.
One man has been declared innocent this year by the courts, but he was
murdered by our state years ago. Is this justice?
(source: Edinburgh Evening News (The Reverend Carroll Pickett was minister
to 95 executions in Texas. His book, Within These Walls: Memoirs of a
Death House Chaplain, will be published on July 28 by Vision, priced
Questions Still Linger Over Tucson Capital Murder Case - Star Prosecutor
Disbarred Over Allegations Of Eliciting False Testimony
A dozen years have passed since Martin Soto Fong was convicted in a triple
homicide at a convenience store in a threadbare Tucson neighborhood, part
of an apparent robbery gone awry.
Soto might have quietly disappeared into the prison system like scores of
other murderers - except for the clouds that linger over the prosecutor
who won the conviction, Kenneth Peasley.
A one-time star litigator in Pima County, Mr. Peasley was disbarred last
year for intentionally eliciting false testimony to win capital murder
convictions in the trials of Sotos co-defendants. Both men are free now -
Christopher McCrimmon acquitted in a retrial and Andre Minnitt released
when the state Supreme Court vacated his conviction.
Soto remains in prison.
"I do not believe McCrimmon and Minnitt did this," said Karen Clark, the
State Bar of Arizona attorney who headed the effort to yank Mr. Peasley's
law license. "I have seriously strong doubts about (Soto) Fong."
The case began with a 911 call late on the night of June 24, 1992: At the
El Grande Market in a lower-income neighborhood, 3 bodies were on the
floor covered in blood.
Shot to death were Fred Gee, manager of the family-owned market; his
elderly uncle, Zewan Huang; and store employee Ray Arriola, police said.
About $300 was missing from the register.
Detective Joseph Godoy and others chased down leads and processed
evidence, but no suspects emerged for months.
Then, on Aug. 31, two calls came to different investigators from anonymous
sources, seeming to point to Mr. McCrimmon and another man.
Using the tips and other interviews, Mr. Godoy soon had suspects: Mr.
McCrimmon, Mr. McCrimmons buddy Mr. Minnitt and Soto, a 17-year-old former
employee of the store.
It was a start but not enough for charges.
That changed a few days later when Keith Woods, a 3-time convicted drug
offender, was picked up for another offense. Facing 25 years in prison if
convicted again, Woods said he had information about the market murders.
He later testified against Mr. McCrimmon and Mr. Minnitt; under a plea
agreement, he avoided a lengthy prison sentence.
Mr. Godoy interviewed Woods, but didnt record the first 45 minutes. "No
plausible explanation" was offered why some of the interview was untaped,
the Arizona Supreme Court found.
In the recorded portion of the interview, Woods said, Mr. McCrimmon and
Mr. Minnitt told him that they and another guy named "Cha Chi" had
committed the robbery and murders.
Mr. Peasley said Cha Chi was Soto.
Soto denied it, but was convicted and sentenced to death.
Next, Mr. Minnitt and Mr. McCrimmon were tried together and convicted,
though their convictions were overturned in 1996 because of juror
misconduct in the case.
It was during their retrials that allegations surfaced of false testimony
by Mr. Godoy. Mr. Godoy had testified that Woods was the first to tell him
about Mr. Minnitt, Mr. McCrimmon and Soto; in fact, the anonymous calls
had led the detective to the 3.
Mr. Godoy eventually admitted that his testimony - that the men were not
suspects before Woods approached investigators - was untrue.
That might have been a trivial matter in some cases, but in this case,
much hinged on Woodss credibility, said Ms. Clark, the Bar investigator.
And prosecutor Mr. Peasley knew it. In his trial arguments, he said
Woods's testimony should convict Mr. McCrimmon and Mr. Minnitt.
Twice Named Prosecutor Of The Year
Mr. Peasley, twice named Arizona Prosecutor of the Year, had won dozens of
capital cases and even trained other prosecutors. "Peasley could convict a
ham sandwich. Hes that good with juries," Ms. Clark said.
But his knowing use of false testimony, which won the convictions and
death sentences for Mr. McCrimmon and Mr. Minnitt, cost him his law
"We cannot conceive of a more serious injury, not just to the defendants
but to the criminal justice system, than a prosecutors presentation of
false testimony in a capital murder case," the Arizona Supreme Court said
in ordering the disbarment, a rarity for someone of Mr. Peasleys stature.
10 Attorneys Disbarred In 2004
In Arizona, 10 lawyers were disbarred last year and seven the year before.
Most stole money from clients or committed similar offenses, Ms. Clark
said, adding that Mr. Peasley may be the only U.S. prosecutor disbarred
for intentionally eliciting false testimony in a capital case. The
American Bar Association doesn't track such cases.
Mr. Peasley has said the misstatements at trial were oversights, not
intentional misconduct. He maintained he didn't do anything wrong and
accused the state Bar of unfairly targeting him. He did not return calls
from The Associated Press, seeking further comment.
He now works as an investigator for a criminal defense lawyer in Tucson
and cannot be readmitted to the Bar for 4 more years.
Mr. Godoy said he lied because he knew he couldnt talk about confidential
informants - the anonymous callers - without violating the defendants
constitutional right to confront their accusers.
"The mistakes they say were intentional were never intentional," he said
in an interview.
Mr. Godoy has retired from the police force. Three separate grand juries
considered perjury charges. 2 issued indictments, which were dismissed by
a judge, who found the grand jury was presented irrelevant prejudicial
information and was manipulated in the proceeding.
The same judge, Lina Rodriguez of Pima County Superior Court, had
volunteered previously to be a character witness for Mr. Peasley in his
Bar discipline proceedings, Ms. Clark said.
Meanwhile, Soto is still seeking a new trial. The judge found that the
specific misconduct that freed Mr. Minnitt and Mr. McCrimmon didnt occur
in Sotos original trial, but his current lawyer argues other misconduct
tainted the case.
He was on death row until an unrelated ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court
found that people who committed crimes as juveniles couldnt be executed.
He awaits resentencing on Aug. 15 and could get 3 life terms.
Soto, now 30, said in a phone interview he thought he was being framed
even in his 1st interviews with Mr. Godoy.
"You're wrong. Youre setting me up," he said he told the detective. In an
appeal, he claimed Mr. Godoy may have planted the crucial fingerprint
Such a claim might be dismissed as outlandish if it werent for the pattern
of misconduct already demonstrated, Ms. Clark said.
"How in the world could I have set (Soto) up?" Mr. Godoy said. The
fingerprints, found on a produce bag at the markets counter and on a food
stamp near the register, prove that Soto killed his former boss and the
others, he said.
Investigators theorized that Sotos presence made the crime possible
because the victims recognized him and allowed him into the store at
Richard Gee, the managers younger brother, agrees. He supports Mr. Godoy
and Mr. Peasley and believes they did good work.
"If (Soto) walks away free," he said, "you just let a killer off the
But Ms. Clark points to an additional problem with the Soto case: 2 police
reports covering the same anonymous tip were filed - and they named
One identified the market murderers as a "black man named McKinney" and
"Cha Chi." The other said "McKinney" and "Martin Soto" were involved.
A major part of Sotos defense was that he was a victim of mistaken
identity. Soto, a Mexican citizen whose mother was Chinese, was not "Cha
Chi," he argued. Another Martin in the neighborhood used that nickname.
Sotos trial attorney, James Stuehringer, received the "Martin Soto"
report, but its not clear whether he received the other report, referring
to Cha Chi. That report was sent to a lawyer in an unrelated case.
Legally, Mr. Peasley was obligated to disclose all the reports to Mr.
Mr. Stuehringer has said he doesnt recall whether he ever saw the "Cha
Chi" report, though he presented trial evidence challenging the Cha Chi
nickname, mentioned by Woods. He also argued that Mr. Godoy rushed to
judgment on Soto. Raising the conflicting reports could have bolstered
those lines of defense, Ms. Clark said.
In a twist, Mr. Stuehringer later represented Mr. Peasley, when Mr.
Peasley was being investigated by the Bar. Calls to Mr. Stuehringer for
comment have not been returned.
Ms. Clark said she believes Sotos case was an injustice but added, 'How
can you ever know what the truth was?'
(source: Associated Press)
Mitt's execution bill should be DOA
All too often debates about the death penalty dissolve into either
emotionally charged arguments over morality or intellectually sterile
exchanges of facts, figures and scientific research. Neither type of
discussion appears to change many minds on the propriety of
Logic about the utility of capital punishment, however, suggests that
legislation proposed by Gov. Mitt Romney to reinstate the death penalty is
just a bad idea. Restoring capital punishment makes little sense,
especially in light of Massachusetts' distinction as having the lowest
homicide rate among the urban states and the lack of consensus in public
Romney's bill strives to eliminate the chance of error by fashioning a
foolproof system informed by science, such as DNA and other high-tech
approaches to produce a no-doubt standard. The layers of safeguards,
including a tandem of top-notch defense attorneys, wide latitude in hiring
experts, appeals and post-conviction review, would make the state's
capital punishment machinery the most expensive in the land. When Romney
called his proposal a gold standard, he wasn't kidding, at least about the
Romney apparently isn't concerned about the millions that this process
would cost the taxpayers. In 2002, then-candidate Romney made his
"I don't think that the death penalty has anything to do with cost," he
argued during a debate with Democrat Shannon O'Brien. "But it has
everything to do with deterrence - to send a statement loud and clear to
terrorists, cop killer and others."
In light of his commitment to science and uncritical trust in scientific
evidence, it is perplexing that the governor is so dismissive of decades
of scientific studies refuting the deterrence myth.
Suicide bombers certainly are not deterrable by the prospect of death.
Other terrorists even welcome execution to advance their agenda and status
As for cop killers, slaying an officer is often a deliberate move to
escape arrest. For someone maneuvering to avoid any penalty, the severity
of that punishment is of no real significance.
It is the likelihood of punishment, and not its severity, that has the
potential to deter. Ironically, the narrow applicability of Romney's bill
would negate any deterrent effect that capital punishment could arguably
carry. Designed to apply only to the worst of the worst, which translates
into the rarest of the rare, how could it deter?
I am not arguing for a broader-based bill - a silver or bronze standard.
The death penalty does not protect us any better than the current
sanction, life in prison without possibility of parole. The deterrence
issue is relative, not absolute. The question is not whether offenders are
dissuaded by death, but whether they are any more dissuaded by death than
by life without parole.
Much of the debate last week surrounding Romney's bill addressed whether
it would guarantee an error-free death penalty. However, in these
difficult economic times with so many critical social programs
underfunded, it is foolish to spend millions in an attempt to execute a
tiny handful of murderers.
(source: Opinion, Boston Herald)
Inmate removed from Vt. death row----His new location is not disclosed
Donald Fell, the man sentenced to die in Vermont's 1st death penalty case
in nearly 50 years, has been removed from the state.
Federal marshals took Fell from his jail cell Friday, a day after a
federal jury ruled that he should be put to death for abducting and
killing Tressa King, a North Clarendon woman, in November 2000.
''He's no longer in Vermont," US Marshal for Vermont John Edwards said
Friday. ''We're not going to disclose which facility he is being held at,
but he is out of state."
Fell's most likely destination is Terre Haute, Ind., home to the federal
prison system's death row.
Fell, a 25-year-old Pennsylvania native, has been housed at the St. Albans
jail since his arrest in December 2000.
Robert Hoffman, Vermont corrections commissioner, said Fell was held at a
Vermont jail Thursday night.
"He was kept under active observation last night, and it was uneventful,"
Hoffman said Friday morning.
Federal Bureau of Prison officials contacted Friday said they could not
comment on where Fell is housed. The bureau's website has an "inmate
locator" section, and Fell's name is listed on the site, but his location
is not disclosed.
If Fell was not immediately taken to the prison in Terre Haute, he may be
in a federal facility closer to Vermont. He has to return to the state for
a formal sentencing hearing sometime in the next several months.
Currently, 39 people are on federal death row. In June 2001, Oklahoma City
bomber Timothy McVeigh was the first person executed under the federal
death penalty statute since 1963. Vermont abolished the death penalty in
the 1960s, but the US government has the authority to execute people
charged with certain federal crimes. Fell was charged under federal law
because King's killing involved crossing the Vermont state line.
(source: Associated Press)
Vt. doesn't need the death penalty
I have been so proud to live in a state where we have abolished the death
Please, let's work to keep it this way.
A human being is a human being, no matter what crimes he or she may have
We incarcerate to protect society and to give one the chance to repent and
Might we leave the final judgment to God and nature?
(source: Letter, Rutland Herald)
Proof that innocent people have been executed could save others from the
Condemned men usually are resigned, stoic even, as their execution draws
Larry Griffin was different as he faced lethal injection in 1995. "Larry
went down with an attitude," attorney Sean OBrien said. "He had bread and
water for his last meal."
Most inmates thank their lawyers for trying to save them, said OBrien, who
has been with many in their final hours. Griffin did not.
"We did everything we could," one of his lawyers told him.
"It wasn't enough," the condemned man replied.
OBrien told that story as he spoke to a group of lawyers Tuesday in Kansas
City. He had a reason for discussing an execution that occurred 10 years
ago. The day before, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce had
announced that, because of evidence pointing to Griffins possible
innocence, she was opening a new investigation into the murder for which
he was executed.
If Joyce determines Griffin did not kill Quintin Moss in a 1980 drive-by
shooting in St. Louis, it would be the 1st time since the death penalty
was reinstated in the United States that a person was cleared of a crime
after being put to death.
Griffin always denied killing Moss. No physical evidence connected him to
the shooting. The prosecutions key witness was a felon from Boston, a
heroin addict in the federal government's witness protection program. He
claimed to have been about 20 feet away when shots fired from a moving car
killed Moss, 19, and wounded another man.
Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan law professor who opposes the death
penalty, adopted Griffins case as a project. The NAACP Legal Defense and
Educational Fund financed a yearlong investigation. Among other things,
witnesses said the heroin addict, a white man, wasn't at the scene when
the murder occurred in the nearly all-black neighborhood.
Gross has a political motive for clearing Griffin in memoriam. Evidence
that an innocent man had been executed would sway a public that is
becoming increasingly queasy about the death penalty.
More than 100 death row prisoners around the nation have been freed after
new evidence nullified their convictions. But advocates of capital
punishment claim the exonerations prove the system works because no
innocent person has been put to death.
That argument leaves OBrien cold.
"When people ask me, 'Has Missouri executed an innocent person?' I point
them to Larry Griffin," he said.
OBrien and his law partner, Kent Gipson, took on Griffins appeals in the
early 1990s. Griffin, who grew up in a St. Louis housing project, had been
convicted of murdering Moss, a drug dealer, a decade earlier.
The attorneys located Robert Fitzgerald, the heroin addict who had
testified for the prosecution.
"He told us a much different story," O'Brien said. "He admitted that he
lied when he testified in court, that he didnt see Larry Griffin."
But Fitzgeralds reversal wasn't enough. A federal judge who reviewed the
case chose to believe the account given at trial.
The missing link was the man wounded in the drive-by shooting. Neither the
prosecution nor the defense had called him to testify. OBrien and Gipson
looked for him but had limited Internet resources at the time.
"We couldn't find him," O'Brien said.
After Griffins execution, an investigator working for Gross located the
man in Los Angeles. He had left Missouri after the shooting. The man told
the investigator hed seen the face of the shooter, and it wasnt Griffin.
"He was shocked to find that Larry Griffin had been executed for the
murder of Quintin Moss," O'Brien said.
Joyce is courageous to reopen the investigation. Too many prosecutors
refuse to acknowledge the possibility that guilty verdicts can be wrong.
They can, though. The fact that new evidence is coming to light in
Griffins case now should resound in the U.S. Congress. The Senate and
House are considering legislation that would prevent many death row
inmates from challenging their convictions in the federal courts after
other appeals have failed.
The proposed legislation, named the "Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005,"
would narrow the circumstances under which an inmate could seek federal
review, bar the courts from considering key issues, and set arbitrary
timetables for rulings.
It is a frightening proposal. DNA testing has proven, without a doubt,
that innocent people are sentenced to death. Closing a window of appeal
increases the likelihood that they will be executed.
Sponsors of the Streamlined Procedures Act are catering to critics who
claim the appeals process for capital cases is too costly and takes too
In Larry Griffins case, the span between arrest and execution took 15
years. That is looking increasingly like a fatal rush to judgment.
(source: Barbara Shelly is a member of the Editorial Board; Kansas City
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