[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----N.C., MO., ILL.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Jun 1 12:09:57 CDT 2005
Make the death penalty fair----N.C. should halt executions while fixing
system of capital punishment
Nearly all N.C. policy makers agree that the death penalty is in need of a
thorough review. More than 60 % of North Carolinians agree we need a
temporary halt to executions while this review of the death penalty is
conducted to ensure fairness in these life or death cases.
Innocent people have been put through the horror of being sentenced to
death and waiting for their turn in the execution chamber. The families of
innocent victims are ill-served by a capital sentencing system that
purports to offer finality and closure, but in fact results in the
reversal of the death sentence because of egregious error in more than
two-thirds of the cases.
Everyone -- the victims' family, the accused and the people of North
Carolina -- deserve better. Our state needs a fair and just system to sort
out who gets the death penalty and who does not. The present system
plainly isn't such a system.
Some opponents of this reform effort ask why no study has been done since
the moratorium has been on the table. Numerous studies of capital
punishment have been conducted since a legislative commission concluded
its work in 2000 and recommended a moratorium on executions.
Studies of the system have documented several fatal flaws:
Racism: A UNC study on the death penalty discovered that race continues to
play a deciding role in who gets the death penalty. All other things being
equal, a person's odds of receiving the death penalty increase 3.5 times
when the victim of the crime is white.
Inadequate representation: The Common Sense Foundation conducted a study
of the lawyers who had been appointed by our courts to represent the
people currently on death row. The study found that one in six death row
inmates were represented at trial by lawyers who have been disciplined or
disbarred while less that one percent of lawyers are so disciplined
Miscarriages of justice: Several N.C. newspapers have done extremely
thorough investigative stories on specific capital cases and death penalty
issues. All of found serious flaws with the administration of capital
punishment in North Carolina.
While some important reforms have been enacted in recent years, almost
none of those new laws apply to people already sentenced to death.
Piecemeal reforms, while valuable, are no substitute for a comprehensive
The halt to executions would be temporary. It would expire in two years
without need for further action from the General Assembly. House Bill 529
is no more and no less than what it purports to be. It is a bill to give
legislators the information they need to make the death penalty more
reliable and to make any reforms fair for those already sentenced to
(source: David Neal, spokesman for the North Carolina Coalition for a
Moratorium and Executive Director of the Fair Trial Initiative; Opinion,
Death-row cases may get a stay----Proposal to put executions on hold while
study conducted clears House
Death-row inmates would get a 2-year reprieve from executions while a
legislative committee studies how the state applies the death penalty,
under a bill that passed an N.C. House committee yesterday.
Many spectators and lobbyists, many of them opposed to the death penalty,
looked on in a packed hearing room as legislators heard testimony and
debated the bill for 2 hours.
Supporters said that several recent cases - including those of Darryl Hunt
in Winston-Salem and Alan Gell in Bertie County - had revealed weaknesses
in the criminal-justice system. Executions shouldn't occur until those
weaknesses are dealt with, they said.
"If our system has produced cases with innocent people on death row, what
are we going to do about it?" asked Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Orange, the
sponsor of the bill. "I don't think the answer can be 'nothing.'"
Others feared that a moratorium would eventually lead to the abolition of
the death penalty. Legislators can study the death penalty without a
moratorium, they said.
"Why in the name of God haven't you been studying instead of lobbying?"
asked Rep. Debbie Clary, R-Cleveland. "The fact that you haven't spells
out very clearly what your ultimate goal is here, and that is to abolish
the death penalty."
The committee voted 8-6 along party lines in favor of the bill. A vote by
the full House could come as early as today.
Though the bill is far from becoming law, the vote was significant in that
the House has been the major obstacle to such a moratorium in the five
years that legislators have been debating the idea. The Senate voted 29-21
in favor of a moratorium two years ago, but in the House the proposal
didn't get even a vote in committee until yesterday.
Gell and Hunt both attended the hearing and spoke. Gell spent nine years
in prison, half of the time on death row, in connection with a 1995
killing in Bertie County. He was later acquitted and is suing the
prosecutors in federal court.
Hunt was convicted twice in connection with the 1984 killing of Deborah
Sykes, a copy editor at The Sentinel, the former afternoon newspaper in
Winston-Salem. He was never on death row, but did face the death penalty
Hunt was cleared through DNA evidence and another man later pleaded guilty
to the murder.
A juror from Hunt's 1st trial said that Hunt got a life sentence instead
of death because jurors were unsure about his guilt.
"People talk about the system," Hunt told legislators. "People do not
understand how bad the system is because they can never put themselves
"Everyone is victimized," he said. "From the person that was killed, to
their families, to the person who's being accused, and if they're
innocent, their families."
Also speaking in favor of the moratorium were Tom Ross, the executive
director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and a former Superior Court
judge, and Vince Rabil, a former assistant district attorney in Forsyth
County whose brother, Mark Rabil, was an attorney for Hunt.
Legislators also heard from victims of crime who argued that the system
already has enough safeguards. Dick Adams of Grifton spoke about his son
Richard, who was killed at a Steak and Ale on Stratford Road in
Winston-Salem in December 1982.
John Sterling Gardner Jr. was convicted of murdering Adams' son and was
executed in October 1992.
"If we cannot determine whether the system is fair in 9 1/2 years, my
question to this group is what are we going to learn in two years?" Adams
said to legislators.
Hackney's bill would create a 15-member commission to study the death
penalty. They would look at, among other issues, whether state-appointed
defense attorneys have been adequate, possible racial discrimination in
sentencing and prosecutorial misconduct. The commission would report back
to the General Assembly in 2007 and 2008.
The bill would not affect the ability of prosecutors to bring capital
cases to trial, of juries to sentence people to death or of capital cases
to continue through the appeals process. It would put a hold on executions
for two years.
Gov. Mike Easley, a Democrat and a former prosecutor, has repeatedly said
that he opposes a moratorium, though he has not said whether he would veto
such a bill.
(source: Winston-Salem Journal)
Missouri Supreme Court upholds death sentence
The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the death sentence of a man
who raped and murdered his Lake St. Louis neighbor in 1995.
Michael Shane Worthington, now 34, argued on appeal that his early lawyers
were ineffective and should not have advised him to plead guilty to
murder, rape and burglary in the death of Melinda Griffin, a 24-year-old
His appeal also argued that he should not have been sentenced to death.
It said more investigation should have been done into his troubled past to
better refute the prosecution, that his parents should have been called as
witnesses, and that the 2 judges should not have allowed to make rulings
related to his case.
His appeal argued that one had an alleged conflict of interest and the
other, who made campaign comments related to the death penalty, created
the appearance of prejudging the case. It also argued that death by lethal
injection causes unnecessary pain and is unconstitutional.
The Missouri Supreme Court found his lawyers had made reasonable decisions
and rejected the argument related to lethal injection.
According to court records, on Sept. 29, 1995, Worthington took drugs and
then cut through neighbor Melinda Griffin's screen window at her
condominium. He strangled her to temporary unconsciousness, raped her and
then strangled her to death.
He stole valuables and her car before being arrested 2 days later.
(source: Associated Press)
Lawsuit alleges authorities conspired against former Illinois death row
A former Illinois death row inmate whose double-murder conviction was
overturned in 2004 filed a lawsuit Friday alleging authorities conspired
to frame him and another man still serving a life sentence in the case.
Gordon Randall Steidl, 53, alleges revenge and efforts to protect a
politically connected businessman fueled the conspiracy that landed Steidl
in prison for 17 years, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in
The lawsuit alleges authorities manipulated and threatened key witnesses
in the case against Steidl and Herb Whitlock, who were convicted of
stabbing Dyke and Karen Rhoads to death and setting their home in Paris
ablaze in 1986.
The civil rights lawsuit -- filed a year to the day after Steidl was
released from prison -- is against the city of Paris, Edgar County, former
State's Attorney Michael McFatridge and nine local and state investigators
who worked on the case.
City, county and state officials declined comment Friday, saying they had
not seen the lawsuit.
Steidl alleges he was targeted because weeks before the killings, he told
FBI agents he had information that McFatridge was allegedly involved in
gambling and narcotics. McFatridge, now a lawyer for the Veterans
Administration in Danville, did not return calls seeking comment.
The lawsuit contends authorities focused on Steidl and Whitlock to steer
the investigation away from an unnamed, politically connected businessman
whom a subsequent investigation labeled as a suspect in the killings. No
charges were ever filed.
G. Flint Taylor, one of Steidl's attorneys, said he will seek about $2
million for each year Steidl spent in prison, where he was stabbed for
refusing to participate in a death-row hunger strike when serial killer
John Wayne Gacy faced execution.
"I don't think any amount of money can ever make Randy Steidl whole for
what he endured during his years on death row," said Michael Metnick,
another attorney for Steidl.
Steidl was released from prison after a judge ordered a new trial and
prosecutors said they couldn't make their case in time. The judge ruled it
was "reasonably probable" Steidl would have been acquitted had his defense
attorney done more to challenge the state's case.
Steidl has petitioned Gov. Rod Blagojevich for a pardon that would erase
the Rhoads killings from his record. Whitlock is seeking a new trial,
claiming he also was wrongfully convicted in the slayings.
(source: Associated Press)
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