[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----TEXAS, IOWA, VER., ALA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Jun 20 10:49:45 CDT 2005
Never Steal a Turkey in Lubbock, and Other Tales of Texas Justice -
Racism, 'Tuff on Crime' judges and gutless politicians warp the system.
The U.S. Supreme Court rules yet again that another Texas case was
wrongfully decided - this time because 19 of 20 blacks had been knocked
off the jury pool - and I'm asked to explain what's wrong with criminal
justice in Texas, in 750 words. Sure, no problem.
I don't like to be cynical, but one can get a little tired after a long
time watching justice meted out in this state. The story doesn't change
much, and nothing seems to get better. But for what it's worth, here's
what's at the bottom of it.
(1) Racism. In 1998, James Byrd Jr. was dragged to death behind a pickup
truck for being black in Jasper. 2 of the 3 men responsible got the death
penalty. This was not 1st time in Texas a white man was given the death
penalty for killing a black man. It was the 2nd.
(2) More racism. In 1999, about 1/5 of the adult black citizens of Tulia,
population 5,000, were arrested and accused of cocaine dealing on the
uncorroborated testimony of a bent narc and notorious liar. No one even
stopped to ask how a town that size could support 46 cocaine dealers until
a reporter from the Texas Observer showed up.
(3) We elect our prosecutors. There are 254 counties in Texas, nearly
every one with its own elected district attorney. The way to get elected
is to be "Tuff on Crime." The way to lose is to be "Soft on Crime." In the
big cities - Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, among the 10 largest in the
nation - we get the usual plead-out mill: perp's public defender advises
him to cop to reduced charges, anything to avoid a trial.
But in the small towns and rural areas where heavy crime is rare, a D.A.
has to whup on whoever gets caught. Sometime in the '80s, a guy in Lubbock
stole 12 frozen turkeys. They were recovered, still frozen. Not only no
damage, but no defrost. The guy bought 75 years, which works out to 6.3
years per bird. Don't steal a turkey in Lubbock.
(4) We elect our judges. Only way to get elected is to be Tuff on Crime.
Only way to lose is to be Soft on Crime. In the Case of the Sleeping
Lawyer, a guy on death row appealed on grounds his lawyer had slept
through his trial, thus providing him with less than adequate counsel. The
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that even though the lawyer slept
through much of the trial, he didn't sleep during the important parts, so
the conviction stood.
(5) An appeal process that isn't worth squat. If you're in, you can't get
out. If you draw the death penalty in Texas, you effectively have 30 days
to present new evidence. After that, you're toast. Doesn't matter if
someone else confesses on Day 31. Doesn't even matter if you could provide
DNA evidence proving it wasn't you. (The Legislature is still trying to
fix that one.) Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are of the
opinion that actual innocence is not necessarily a bar to execution
(Herrera vs. Collins). It took a near-miracle to get the Tulia drug
(6) Gutless politicians. Texas runs the largest prison system on Earth.
Texas executes the retarded, the insane and people who were children when
they committed their crimes, until the Supreme Court stopped that only 3
months ago. Texas executes foreigners without notifying their home
countries. Every poll shows Texans do not want to execute people in these
categories. Politicians are afraid to stop it for fear someone will say
they're Soft on Crime.
You've met Labrador retrievers brighter than some of the people we
execute. We had a guy on the row who thought he was going to die because
he couldn't read. He spent hours on his bunk trying to memorize the ABCs.
Never could do it. We execute people easily as crazy as the one in Florida
who spent years crawling around on all fours, barking, under the
impression that he was a black dog in the seventh circle of hell. But I'm
sure they understand right from wrong, and know why they're being
(7) A bent system. For years Texas used an expert witness most people
called "Dr. Death." Never saw a perp he couldn't guarantee would be a
mortal menace for the rest of his days. Only one solution: Kill him. Just
1 little hitch: In many of those cases, Dr. Death never examined the
accused, never talked to the accused, never got near the accused. He was
reprimanded twice in the 1980s by the American Psychiatric Assn., then
expelled from the group in 1995 because his evidence was found unethical
In another case, the Supremes threw out the death sentence because the
psychologist said the perp was a danger on account of being Latino. Then
there was the Houston police lab, so unbelievably sorry, sloppy and just
plain maliciously wrong that the courts had to throw out a bunch of those
But please don't get the idea that just because a few of these errors were
caught on long-shot appeals, justice actually works here. We know about so
many more miscarriages it would make you vomit, and can't even guess at
how many we don't know about.
I'm at 932 words and I haven't even gotten to the 5th Circuit, the parole
board, why you can spend months in jail without ever seeing a lawyer .
(source: Commentary, Los Angeles Times----By Molly Ivins, Molly Ivins is
the author, most recently, of "Who Let the Dogs In? Incredible Political
Animals I Have Known" (Random House, 2004)
IOWA----re: federal death penalty
Penalty phase resumes in Johnson case
In Sioux City, the penalty phase of the federal murder trial of Angela
Johnson resumes today in Sioux City.
The 41-year-old Klemme woman was convicted last month of helping her
boyfriend kill 5 people, including 2 children, in a drug slaying in the
Mason City area in 1993.
Testimony in the penalty phase ended on June ninth. The jury, which took a
week off, returns today to hear final arguments. The jury will then get
the case, and can recommend life in prison or the death penalty.
Johnson's boyfriend, Dustin Honken, was also convicted of murder. The jury
recommended the death penalty. He awaits sentencing.
(source: Associated Press)
Death Penalty Case to Begin in Vermont
Donald Fell started drinking in the 3rd grade and began using cocaine,
marijuana and LSD soon after, according to court documents. He was
abandoned by his father at 10 and by his mother 3 years later. A doctor
who evaluated him called Fell "the most drug-abusing and chronically
intoxicated individual" he had ever evaluated.
Defense lawyers hope that Fell's background of neglect and abuse will help
persuade jurors to spare Fell's life if they find them guilty of murder.
Opening statements were scheduled to begin Monday in federal court in
It is the 1st time in more than 40 years that a defendant in Vermont has
faced the death penalty.
Fell, 25, is on trial for the death 5 years ago of Terry King, 53.
Prosecutors say King was murdered as part of a grisly killing spree during
which Fell and his co-defendant Robert Lee also killed Fell's mother and a
King was abducted when she arrived for work at a Rutland supermarket. She
was bludgeoned to death as she prayed and pleaded for her life in New York
state. Fell and Lee were arrested three days later in Arkansas driving
In 2002 federal prosecutors and defense attorneys had reached a plea deal
to have Fell plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life without
parole. But that deal was struck down by the Justice Department, which
insisted on the death penalty.
The most ardent supporters of the death penalty in the case have been
King's relatives, some of whom are taking leaves of absence from their
jobs to attend the jury selection and trial.
"He murdered 3 people in less than 8 hours. What is the death penalty for
if it's not this?" said King's sister Barbara Tuttle.
The Fell case has taken on a high profile among federal death penalty
watchers across the country. In 2002 U.S. District Court Judge William
Sessions III, in a ruling as part of the Fell case, said the death penalty
was unconstitutional. His opinion was subsequently overturned by the 2nd
Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York.
Vermont hasn't executed a prisoner since 1954 and the last time a
defendant was sentenced to death was in 1957, although the defendant in
that case was later pardoned.
The jury will decide the case in 2 phases. The 1st will be guilt or
innocence. If Fell is found guilty, the jury will then decide if he should
be executed or sentenced to life in prison without parole. Lee hanged
himself in prison in September 2001.
Fell's attorneys have suggested during jury selection that if convicted,
they would argue he should be spared execution because he had a chaotic
childhood marked by sexual abuse and alcoholism around him.
The trial is expected to last several weeks.
On the Net: Death Penalty Information Center:
Alabama Man Convicted in Police Slayings
In Birmingham, a jury on Sunday convicted a man in the shooting deaths of
3 police officers who were killed last year while trying to arrest the
man's roommate. Kerry Spencer, 25, also was convicted of attempted murder
for attacking a 4th officer who was wounded but survived.
The 3 officers were killed while trying to serve a misdemeanor warrant on
Spencer's roommate, Nathaniel Woods, at a reputed drug house on June 17,
Woods, who is also charged in the slayings, is scheduled to be tried Aug.
Defense attorney Mike Blalock said Spencer fired in self-defense when
confronted by officers Carlos Owen, Charles Robert Bennett and Harley
"I didn't mean to kill nobody, man," Spencer testified Saturday. "This was
a decision I had to make to stay alive or be shot. I did what I had to
Jurors watched a 36-minute videotaped confession taken by police about
seven hours after the shooting. In the video, Spencer told detectives "I
shot every (expletive) body who was pointing a gun at me."
On Saturday, prosecutor Mara Sirles asked Spencer how the officers were a
threat to him since 2 of them were wounded in the back. Spencer said it
all happened quickly.
"I never stopped shooting until they fell," he said.
The sequestered jury was set to begin deliberations Monday on Spencer's
sentence. They could recommend the death penalty or life in prison without
parole. A judge is not bound by that recommendation and will sentence
(source: Associated Press)
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