[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----USA, VA., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Jul 29 17:02:09 CDT 2005
ACLU Says Habeas Legislation is Unconstitutional, Should be Rejected by
the Senate Judiciary Committee
The Senate Judiciary Committee today has begun to consider legislation
that would strip federal courts of their jurisdiction and take away
defendant's safeguards against being wrongfully convicted and even
executed. The committee will continue to consider this legislation after
the August recess. The American Civil Liberties Union opposes this bill,
saying it unconstitutionally violates the doctrine of Separation of Powers
and threatens the independence of the federal judiciary.
Senate bill 1088, the Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005, eliminates state
prisoners ability to access federal courts in order to have their criminal
cases reviewed. If passed, it would prevent the federal courts from
reviewing many types of legal errors in criminal cases.
"This bill virtually eliminates a state prisoners ability to call for a
federal court to review their case, if for example, their lawyer fell
asleep during trial." said Jesselyn McCurdy, an ACLU Legislative Counsel.
"Inexperienced lawyers, and prosecutorial misconduct, among other things
are some of the reasons why convictions are overturned as a result of
habeas proceedings. This bill would eliminate state prisoners ability to
access federal court as a court of last resort."
Since 1976, when capital punishment was resumed in some states, federal
habeas corpus has been the principle means by which the federal courts
have forced the states to adhere to constitutional standards for the
imposition of the death penalty. Those standards are essential if capital
punishment is to be administered in a fair and nondiscriminatory manner.
Yet death penalty statutes are complex and state courts often fail to
interpret them correctly. Thus, in many cases federal habeas proceedings
become the court of last resort for state prisoners with claims of
innocence. If S.1088 is enacted many wrongfully convicted people will
never have the opportunity to establish their innocence in a federal
Currently, courts determine whether states have established competent
legal counsel for people sentenced to death. Under S.1088, the U.S.
Attorney General, the chief prosecuting officer, would have the authority
to decide whether states indigent defense systems are providing adequate
representation. It is inappropriate for the Attorney General, an
unobjective observer, to make this type of decision and this demonstrates
that supporters of this legislation are not sincerely interested in
providing competent legal representation .
"The bottom line is that this bill strips the federal judiciary of their
power by taking away the ability for state prisoners to gain access to the
federal courts," said McCurdy. "This bill should be called the Steam
Roller Procedures Act of 2005 because nothing will be left of habeas
corpus in this country if this legislation is passed."
For more on the ACLUs concerns with Habeas Corpus and Court Stripping, go
A time-saver poor defendants don't need
Right now a sneaky, nefarious bill that threatens to close down access to
federal courts is masquerading in sheep's clothing. The ''Streamlined
Procedures Act'' (S. 1088; H.R. 3035) says it will make federal habeas
corpus more efficient, but it is actually designed to eliminate, not
streamline, federal habeas review for the indigent.
Probably you have never thought about habeas corpus, but it is an
important part of the Constitution of the United States. It means that the
federal courts can step in if a person is held in custody in violation of
the Constitution. For example, if a person has been convicted while being
represented by a lawyer who slept through his trial (this actually
happened in Texas, and the Texas state courts did nothing about it), or if
the police or prosecutors had evidence that shows the person is innocent,
a federal court can force the state to obey the Constitution and give that
person a new and fair trial. The founders of our country deemed it a check
on the power of the government to imprison or execute wrongly.
Most of the exonerations of the innocent that we have heard about have
occurred after direct appeal counsel dropped the ball for one reason or
another, thus "procedurally defaulting'' issues for later review by either
state or federal courts. Under these bills, however, review of these cases
will generally be eliminated unless actual innocence can be shown.
However, an analysis of the more than 100 DNA-based exonerations across
the country reveals that proof of innocence emerges only after the rubble
of other legal errors is swept aside.
The world of federal habeas is complex and obtuse. I have written two
articles on this topic, co-authored a textbook on the law of habeas corpus
and practiced (and still practice) in the field. As it exists now,
meritorious claims (such as that prosecutors withheld evidence that shows
the accused is innocent) are hard enough to get before a federal court.
There are cases in which the evidence is clear that the defendant did not
get a fair trial and would have been acquitted if he had, and prosecutors
have been successfully hiding behind technicalities for years to avoid. I
am tempted to ask, when faced with one of these prosecutors relying on
technical evasion of the merits of the issue: What are you afraid of? Why
can't we just get to the issue and see what is fair, what is just, what is
constitutional instead of spending years and hundreds of thousands of
dollars while you erect one procedural blockade after another?
This bill would make it even easier for the prosecution to avoid getting
to the merits on issues, would erect needless barriers to court, and would
contribute to the current view that form is more important than substance.
The U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 2 says, "The Privilege
of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases
of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it." Today's right
wing is fond of harkening back to the original intent of the framers of
the Constitution. I wish they would read the Constitution and do as it
Andrea Lyon, director, Center for Justice in Capital Cases, DePaul
University College of Law
(source: Letter to the Editor, Chicago Sun-Times)
Wolfe wins stay of execution
Justin Michael Wolfe, who was convicted of a murder in Bristow, has won a
stay of execution while he awaits a federal appeal.
Wolfe, 23, was scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, July 27, for the
2001 murder-for-hire killing of 21-year-old Danny Petrole Jr. in Petrole's
"(The execution) has been stayed," said Larry Traylor, a spokesman for the
Virginia Department of Corrections. "It was stayed late Friday afternoon
so it is not going to occur.
Last week, Wolfe's attorneys petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay
of execution. On Friday, the high court turned down that request, but the
attorneys immediately filed another federal appeal. The execution date has
been postponed indefinitely until the outcome is decided.
Wolfe is a Chantilly resident who was convicted in January 2002 for hiring
Owen Barber IV, 24, also of Chantilly, to kill Petrole in March 2001.
Wolfe admitted to dealing marijuana but has denied involvement in the
The 3 men were active players in a large regional drug ring. Petrole alone
reportedly sold more than $1 million worth of marijuana, and police seized
one of the largest caches of drugs in Prince William history when they
searched his home as part of the investigation.
Barber confessed to shooting Petrole 9 times, telling police Wolfe ordered
the killing to escape a drug debt. Barber said he participated because he
was in debt to Wolfe at the time.
As part of a deal with prosecutors, Barber pleaded guilty to 1st-degree
murder and testified against Wolfe in exchange for a life sentence, which
he is serving out at Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap.
Wolfe awaits word of his appeal on death row at the Sussex I State Prison
According to Traylor, death row prisoners are moved from Sussex I to the
Greenville Correctional Center in Jarrett several days before their
execution. The death chamber is located at the Greenville prison, where
condemned prisoners spend their final days.
Traylor said Wolfe had not yet been moved when the stay was granted and
that he will remain on death row while the appeals process continues.
The appeals have centered on more than 3 dozen alleged errors made during
his trial and the inadequacy of his court-appointed attorney, who has
since lost his law license for problems handling other cases.
Wolfe, who turned 20 just days after the killing, is 1 of 4 men currently
awaiting execution for Prince William crimes.
Paul Warner Powell was 22 when he stabbed his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend,
Stacie Reed to death in her Yorkshire home, then raped and stabbed her
younger sister, who survived to testify against him.
Larry Bill Elliott, a former army intelligence officer, was convicted in
2001 of the Woodbridge murders of Dana Thrall and Robert Finch.
Prosecutors said he first shot Finch, the ex-husband of Elliott's
girlfriend, and then murdered Finch's friend Thrall as well when she
stumbled upon the killing.
John Allen Muhammad was convicted of the sniper killings that terrorized
Northern Virginia in 2003. He was first tried and sentenced to death by
Prince William County jurors for the sniper killing of Dean Meyers at the
Sunoco Station on Sudley Road. He and his teen accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo,
have since been tried and convicted in other localities as well.
(source: Gainesville Times)
'M*A*S*H' star urges love over fear
Actor and activist Mike Farrell, who's been involved for decades in human
rights issues --- especially as a steadfast opponent of the death penalty
--- gave an information-ladened and emotionally charged address at the
closing July 22 session of the week-long Social Action Summer Institute at
Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
Focusing on "why I work for justice," the 66-year-old Farrell, who is best
known for portraying Capt. B.J. Hunnicut in the popular television series
"M*A*S*H" from 1975 to 1983, said his motivation came from ingrained
feelings against injustice and inequality.
"I do it because I hate and, I suppose, fear injustice," he told more than
100 people gathered in St. Robert's Auditorium. "The phenomenon of the
powerful praying on the weak had always tapped a reservoir of rage in me
--- probably because I was fearful in a family dominated by a rather
frightening, volcanic man.
"Add to that the promise implicit of being raised in a society that claims
to honor and cherish the values of every human life. And the fact of my
having a certain amount of visibility through working in an industry that
touches so many lives and offers so much opportunity for contact, adds to
a sense of personal responsibility."
The former Marine and UCLA student said he was continually inspired by the
courage of others --- especially those once referred to as the "least
"While I do believe in the possibility of personal transformation, I don't
try to change the hearts and minds of others," he explained, "but rather
to touch them, believing as I do that we're all fundamentally the same,
with the same hopes and beliefs and aspirations."
Farrell recounted visiting a man in El Salvador imprisoned for organizing
teachers who showed him acid scars of torture on his chest, and
interviewing a woman in Santiago, Chile, whose husband had been
"disappeared" for years. He recalled meeting another man in Virginia's
deathhouse across a "cooling" table where guards with asbestos gloves
would place the still smoldering bodies of those sentenced to die in the
He also spoke of going to Rwanda in 1994, right after the genocide had
been carried out. After visiting a church where Tutsi men, women and
children had been hacked and burned to death, and smelling the still
sickly sweet air, the horror kept replaying in his mind all night.
"This holy place --- and it literally was that to those who sought refuge
here --- was now a new testimony to the unholy," he observed.
Farrell quoted from the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., Clarence Darrow,
H.G. Well and John Steinbeck on the goodness mankind was truly destined to
become. He read a letter written by a friend named Joe Giarratano, an
inmate at Red Onion State Prison in Virginia. The prisoner had been on
death row until Farrell joined with the Virginia Coalition on Jails and
Prisons to petition the governor, who commuted the man's sentence hours
before his scheduled execution.
All of these people and experiences had gone into Farrell's own commitment
to fight injustice, a struggle he stressed was needed now more than ever
in American society. A climate of fear, he reported, has given rise to
articulate, persuasive and seductive voices on AM radio and television,
from the halls of Congress, and even the pulpits of some churches that
gave people permission to hate.
"For me, the answer is understanding that we're all on a journey --- a
journey from the caves to the stars," Farrell said. "There will always be
those who want to live in fear, and they will find everything imaginable
to go back to the caves and drag as many of us as they can with them.
"But the stars are where we belong, and it only requires a little courage
to reach them. It is the courage to step forward, even though we break new
ground on a path not yet visible. We have to be willing to stand up to
their slander, to listen carefully and renounce their lies wherever and
whenever we hear them."
Then the actor, who had portrayed the compassionate physician, witty
friend and concerned humanist on "M*A*S*H," urged, "Support truth, oppose
wrong. Protect innocence. Promote good. We can stand for what's right and
better. We can know that the answer isn't fear, but love."
(source: The Tidings)
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