[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----NEV., USA, PENN., VA., ARK.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Jun 21 11:00:17 CDT 2005
Las Vegas man jailed in killing of 3-----2 6-year-olds among family
Metro Police have arrested a 35-year-old Las Vegas man in connection with
the killing of his brother and 2 6-year-old children.
Carleton Johnson is charged with 3 counts of murder and robbery with a
weapon. Police said he shot his brother, son and niece inside a southwest
valley apartment Saturday night.
The coroner's office had not released the names of the victims this
Police also allege that after the shootings Johnson robbed a person at the
Windsor Royal Palms apartment complex on Tropicana Avenue near Jones
Boulevard about 9:20 p.m.
He was arrested a short time later.
Police said the victims' bodies were found about 9 p.m. in the complex in
the 4200 block of South Jones Boulevard near Tropicana Avenue.
The adult victim's girlfriend told police she was coming home to the
apartment when she passed her boyfriend's brother leaving the home, police
When she went inside she found her boyfriend and the 2 children dead.
Terrance O'Leary, an apartment neighbor, said he heard something that
sounded like gunshots Saturday night.
Shortly afterward "we heard a neighbor woman screaming," O'Leary said
Other residents declined to comment and went about their daily activities.
A bouquet of flowers lay at the entrance to the apartment where the
shooting occurred late Sunday. The blossoms wilted in the afternoon heat.
(source: Las Vegas Sun)
When Is It 'Cruel and Unusual Punishment'? ---- Supreme Court Bans
Juvenile Death Penalty
Comprehensive neuropsychiatric and psychosocial assessments of death-row
inmates and imaging studies exploring brain maturation in adolescents
played a role in the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to forbid the
execution of killers who were 16 or 17 when they committed their crimes,
according to statements in court documents.
In 1993, 17-year-old Christopher Simmons and a friend, 15-year-old Charles
Benjamin, broke into the home of Shirley Crook (Roper v Simmons, 2005).
She awoke, and the two young burglars bound her hands, covered her eyes
and mouth with duct tape, and shoved her into her minivan. They then drove
her to a state park, where they tied her hands and feet with electrical
wire, wrapped her entire face in duct tape, and threw her off a bridge
into Missouri's Meramec River, where she drowned. Simmons later was found
guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to die by lethal
injection. Benjamin was sentenced to life in prison.
It is Roper v Simmons that recently led the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5 to
4 decision, to affirm a ruling of the Missouri Supreme Court (Simmons v
Roper, 2003). In 2003, the state court held that a national consensus had
developed against executing juvenile offenders and that the death penalty
imposed upon juveniles is "cruel and unusual" punishment prohibited by the
Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It set aside Simmons' death
sentence and re-sentenced him to "life imprisonment without eligibility
for probation, parole or release except by act of the Governor."
For the past 20 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has grappled with the issue
of when a child's thinking has matured sufficiently to be considered
equivalent to that of an adult. In 1988, the court, in Thompson v
Oklahoma, outlawed execution for those who were 15 and younger when they
committed their crimes. Yet, a year later in the case of Stanford v
Kentucky (1989), the same court decided that 16-year-olds were
sufficiently mature to be tried as adults and executed.
The Supreme Court's decision last March bars the execution of those under
18 at the time of the murder. The decision nullifies laws allowing the
death penalty for juveniles in 20 states and voids the sentences of 73
death-row inmates in 12 states.
"The death sentences will be vacated, and those inmates will go through a
re-sentencing process," Joseph McLaughlin, an attorney with Heller Ehrman
White and McAuliffe in New York City, told Psychiatric Times. McLaughlin
filed an amicus curiae brief in Roper v Simmons for the American Medical
Association (AMA), American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
(AACAP), American Psychiatric Association and five other organizations
(AMA et al., 2004). "The outcome for each individual will vary upon state
laws. Some states provide life imprisonment with the possibility of
parole, while others do not," he said.
McLaughlin added, since the juvenile offenders will be removed from death
row, many of them will have access to psychiatric treatment in those
states that provide it.
Considering Psychiatric Issues
The legal briefs filed by Simmons (the respondent in the case) and amicus
curiae in support of him described scientific findings of medical,
psychiatric and psychological research relevant to the legal issues
presented to the court. The brief filed by Simmons (2004), for example,
noted that he possessed a low intelligence quotient, had suffered
psychological abuse resulting from his parents' bitter divorce, had
endured physical abuse, was addicted to alcohol and drugs, and had been
diagnosed as "having a borderline personality disorder and a 'schizotypal'
Friend of the court briefs filed by AMA et al. (2004) and the Juvenile Law
Center et al. (2004) seeking to ban the juvenile death penalty cited
several scientific studies, including those conducted by Dorothy Otnow
Lewis, M.D., a psychiatrist at Yale University's Child Study Center, and
her colleagues. Lewis has evaluated numerous murderers who committed their
crimes as juveniles.
In the late 1980s, Lewis, along with Jonathan Pincus, M.D., chief of
neurology at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and
professor emeritus of neurology at the Georgetown University School of
Medicine, and others conducted comprehensive psychiatric, neurological,
neuropsychological and educational evaluations of 14 juveniles in four
states who were condemned to death (Lewis, 1998; Lewis et al., 1988).
Their investigation revealed that 9 of the 14 had major neuropsychological
disorders, 7 suffered psychotic disorders antedating incarceration, 7 had
significant organic dysfunction on neuropsychological testing, and only 2
had full-scale IQ scores above 90. 12 reported having been abused,
including 5 who were sodomized by relatives.
Most of the juveniles attempted to hide evidence of cognitive deficits or
psychotic symptoms and tried to conceal or minimize incidents of parental
brutality. For a variety of reasons, the juveniles' vulnerabilities were
not recognized at the time of their trials or sentencing.
In 2004, Lewis and colleagues published a study of 18 males who had been
condemned to death for homicides committed prior to their 18th birthdays.
They were part of a cohort of 26 condemned juveniles in Texas. Lewis and
colleagues conducted psychiatric, neurological, neuropsychological and
educational assessments. They also reviewed all available medical,
psychological, educational, social and family data. One of the purposes of
the study was "to clarify the ways in which immaturity of their central
nervous systems, traumas to their brains, predispositions to psychiatric
illness, and chaotic, violent and abusive upbringings may have diminished
their judgment and self-control."
Asked about the major findings of the new study, Lewis told PT, "The group
that we saw more recently compared to the group of 14 we saw in the 1980s
had a higher and more normal range of intelligence."
But even though most of the juveniles had average to low-average IQs,
Lewis said, some were repeatedly not passed to the next grade level in
school, while others were placed in special education classes and/or were
transferred to alternate school settings.
In the 2004 study, Lewis said she and her team conducted sophisticated
neurological, neuropsychological and educational testing. All of the
individuals evaluated neurologically and neuropsychologically had signs of
frontal lobe dysfunction, Lewis said. The frontal lobe is involved in
judgment, making decisions and putting breaks on behavior. The
neuropsychological testing was even more powerful than the neurological
exam in identifying executive dysfunction, she added.
Another major finding was that the majority of the group (83%) had
histories, signs and symptoms consistent with bipolar spectrum,
schizoaffective spectrum or hypomanic disorders that long antedated their
offenses. Their problem behavior had been seen early but was
misinterpreted as being high spirits or lack of discipline, she explained.
Lewis emphasized that most individuals with frontal lobe dysfunction,
bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder do not commit murder or
engage in violent acts. "However, studies have reported those who have
such disorders and who come from homes where there is violence and abuse
are significantly more likely to be violent than their peers," she said.
Most of the juveniles Lewis and colleagues studied were raised in families
where there was extreme violence, sexual and physical abuse, and where
some family members exhibited mental illness. The 2004 study provided some
of the details. One juvenile was beaten severely by numerous family
members and sexually abused at age 7. Another was beaten often and, as a
toddler, witnessed his father shoot himself in the head, an experience
that resulted in recurrent flashbacks and for which he felt responsible. A
third, at the age of 3 or 4, was caught by his stepfather eating chicken
meant for adults. The stepfather took a knife and sliced the child's lower
lip. The scar is still visible (Lewis et al., 2004).
Particularly shocking, Lewis said, was when the researchers reviewed court
records from the trials, most showed that no evaluation of the family had
been conducted. In three or four of the records where an evaluation was
made, the families were described as "stable" or "model families."
What's more, Lewis told PT, only 4 of the 18 on death row had undergone
pretrial psychiatric evaluations, 2 for the court and 2 for the defense,
and those were incomplete. To the best of her knowledge, Lewis said no
pre-sentencing neuropsychiatric evaluations were conducted.
Another study cited in the amicus curiae briefs was that of Cauffman and
Steinberg (2000). In that study of more than 1,000 adolescents and adults
(ages 12 to 48), researchers found that psychosocial maturity is
incomplete until age 19, at which point it plateaus. Adolescents scored
lower on measures of self-reliance and other aspects of personal
responsibility. They had more difficulty seeing things in long-term
perspective, were less likely to look at things from the perspective of
others and had more difficulty restraining their aggressive impulses.
Brain Research Sheds Light
Researchers at Harvard Medical School, the University of California at Los
Angeles, the National Institute of Mental Health and others have been
collaborating to map the development of the brain from childhood to
adulthood and to examine implications of that development. Some of the
findings were in the brief presented by AMA et al. (2004).
"Adolescents rely for certain tasks, more than adults, on the amygdala,
the area of the brain associated with primitive impulses of aggression,
anger and fear," the brief said. "Adults on the other hand tend to process
similar information through the frontal cortex, a cerebral area associated
with impulse control and good judgment. Second, the regions of the brain
associated with impulse control, risk assessment and moral reasoning
develop last, after late adolescence."
It also noted that brain imaging studies have confirmed that the "frontal
lobes are still structurally immature well into late adolescence" with
both myelination and pruning being incomplete.
Supreme Court Opinion
In writing the majority opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice
Anthony Kennedy cited from psychological and sociological studies. There
are three general differences between adults and juveniles under 18, he
said, that demonstrate juvenile offenders cannot with reliability be
classified among the worst offenders:
First, as any parent knows and as the scientific and sociological studies
respondent and his amici cite tend to confirm, a lack of maturity and an
underdeveloped sense of responsibility are found in youth more than in
adults and are more understandable among the young. These qualities often
result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions ... It has
been noted that adolescents are overrepresented statistically in virtually
every category of reckless behavior.
Additionally, childhood is more than a chronological fact, he wrote. It is
a time and condition of life when a person may be most susceptible to
influence and to psychological damage. Juveniles' own vulnerability and
comparative lack of freedom to extricate themselves from a criminogenic
setting means they have a greater claim than adults to be forgiven for
failing to escape negative influences in their whole environment.
The third broad difference, according to Kennedy:
is that the character of a juvenile is not as well formed as that of an
adult. The personality traits of juveniles are more transitory, less fixed
... The reality that juveniles still struggle to define their identity
means it is less supportable to conclude that even a heinous crime
committed by a juvenile is evidence of irretrievably depraved character.
He pointed out that an individual must be at least 18 years of age before
being diagnosed as having antisocial personality disorder.
"If trained psychiatrists with the advantage of clinical testing and
observation refrain, despite diagnostic expertise, from assessing any
juvenile under 18 as having antisocial personality disorder," he added,
"we conclude that States should refrain from asking jurors to issue a far
graver condemnation--that a juvenile offender merits the death penalty."
Kennedy also warned that there is simply too great a risk that jurors
would be influenced by the cold-blooded nature of a juvenile's crimes even
when an offender's lack of maturity, vulnerability and lack of true
depravity should require a sentence less than death.
Kennedy further explained that "evolving standards of decency," which led
the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 to ban the execution of mentally retarded
people, are similar with respect to juveniles and that the "United States
is the only country in the world that continues to give official sanction
to the juvenile death penalty."
Commenting on the Supreme Court's ruling, Richard Sarles, M.D., AACAP
president, said, "This decision does not diminish the crimes that place
juveniles on death row, but it does recognize that there are
considerations to be made because of their age." David Fassler, M.D., a
child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Vermont, noted to
the press that the ruling affirms the Children and Family Justice Center,
Center on Children and Families position held by nearly every major
national religious denomination, child advocacy group, and legal and
medical organization, including the AMA and hundreds of others who have
called for an end to the juvenile death penalty.
AMA, APA, American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry et al. (2004), Brief
submitted as amicus curiae in Roper v Simmons.
Cauffman E, Steinberg L (2000), (Im)maturity of judgment in adolescence:
why adolescents may be less culpable than adults. Behav Sci Law
Juvenile Law Center, Children and Family Justice Center, Center on
Children and Families et al. (2004), Brief submitted as amicus curiae in
Roper v Simmons.
Lewis DO (1998), Guilty By Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores the
Minds of Killers. New York: Ivy Books.
Lewis DO, Pincus JH, Bard B et al. (1988), Neuropsychiatric,
psychoeducational, and family characteristics of 14 juveniles condemned to
death in the United States. Am J Psychiatry 145(5):584-589.
Lewis DO, Yeager CA, Blake P et al. (2004), Ethics questions raised by the
neuropsychiatric, neuropsychological, educational, developmental, and
family characteristics of 18 juveniles awaiting execution in Texas. J Am
Acad Psychiatry Law 32(4):408-429.
Roper v Simmons 543 U.S. (2005).
Simmons (2004), Brief for the respondent in Roper v Simmons.
Simmons v Roper 112 S.W.3d397 (Mo. 2003).
Stanford v Kentucky 492 U.S. 361 (1989).
Thompson v Oklahoma 487 U.S. 815 (1988).
(source: Psychiatric Times, May 2005)
Race and the jury system
Writing for the 6-3 majority that overturned the death penalty conviction
of Thomas Miller-El, Supreme Court Justice David Souter wrote, "When this
evidence on the issues raised is viewed cumulatively, its direction is too
powerful to conclude anything but discrimination."
It is somewhat reassuring to know that when discrimination is too powerful
to ignore, the high court will not turn a blind eye. The Miller-El case
involved a defendant who was convicted of the 1985 robbing and killing of
a clerk at a Holiday Inn. During jury selection, prosecutors used their
peremptory strikes to eliminate 10 of 11 potential African-American
Some of the methods used by Dallas County prosecution were so ridiculous,
Souter labeled it "trickery." Prosecutors eliminated black jurors even
when they were 4-square for the death penalty. Potential black jurors were
asked more penetrating questions than were white jurors about whether the
possibility of rehabilitation would affect a vote for death. White jurors
who voiced mixed feelings about the death penalty were kept on the jury
while black jurors who were ambivalent were struck.
Prosecutors shuffled the order of potential jurors to drive black jurors
to the back of the queue. Prosecutors gave a bland description of the
death penalty to white panelists but tried to provoke black panelists into
voicing ambivalence about the death penalty with more graphic descriptions
of the anticipated fatal injection to the defendant. This was all in
keeping with evidence that Dallas County had formal and informal policies
of excluding people of color from jury service from the 1950s through the
"Happenstance is unlikely to produce this disparity," Souter wrote.
The Miller-El case was so bad that Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a
concurring opinion that questioned whether it was time to end peremptory
challenges altogether. Justice Thurgood Marshall advocated their
abolishment in 1986. "The use of race- and gender-based stereotypes in the
jury selection process seems better organized and more systematized than
ever before," Breyer wrote. He added that peremptory challenges based on
stereotypes "betray the jurys democratic origins and undermine its
It would be even better if the nation began to challenge the criminal
justice system that betrays democracy every day. While the highest court
mercifully stopped jury shuffles and discrimination for Miller-El, the
lower courts are shuffling into jail thousands more African-American and
Latino men. Racial bias continues to riddle the system, according to a
2005 review of 32 state and eight federal studies by the Sentencing
Project, a Washington think tank that advocates for more constructive
alternatives to incarceration.
For instance, a Pennsylvania study found that, controlling for the type of
crime and past criminal records, white men aged 18-29 were 38 percent less
likely to be imprisoned than black men aged 18-29. When white men under 30
were sentenced to prison, their average sentence was nearly three months
shorter than for same-aged black men.
A study of the federal courts found that 23 % of white defendants in drug
cases received reductions in sentencing - even under mandatory sentencing
- compared with only 13 % of African-American and 14 % of Latino
defendants. In Detroit, the average sentence for black-on-white sexual
assault cases was more than 3 years longer than for black-on-black sexual
assaults and more than 4 years longer than white-on-white sexual assaults.
In Florida, black people charged with drug offenses were 3.6 times more
likely than white people charged with drug offenses to be sentenced more
severely as "habitual offenders." In Kansas City, black defendants
received sentences for drug offenses and property crimes that were
respectively 14 months and 6 1/2 months longer than for similar crimes
committed by white perpetrators.
On the death penalty, the evidence long ago showed that it is meted out on
a biased basis. The federal government itself concluded that murders of
white people were more likely to result in death sentences than murders of
people of color. About 1/2 of the nations murder cases had white victims,
but 81 % of executions between 1976-2002 were over white victims.
It is good that Breyer noted that racism in jury selection seems better
organized and more systematized than ever before. But the nation, in its
law-and-order mode of the last quarter century, has ignored conclusions
such as those given by the Sentencing Project that racial bias in the
entire criminal justice system, even if it is "somewhat hidden" and
"somewhat surreptitious," is a "very real part of the process."
Happenstance is unlikely to end the disparity. It will take a peremptory
strike by America.
(source: Boston Globe)
Justices Overturn a Death Sentence, Citing an Inadequate Defense Counsel
The Supreme Court overturned a Pennsylvania man's death sentence on Monday
on the ground that his lawyers' failure to search his record for evidence
that could have persuaded the jury to spare his life fell below minimum
constitutional standards for the effective assistance of counsel.
As a result of the 5-to-4 decision, Pennsylvania must now either give the
defendant, Ronald Rompilla, a new capital sentencing hearing or sentence
him to life in prison for the 1988 murder of the owner of a bar in
The decision was the second in eight days in which the Supreme Court
overturned a death sentence. Last Monday, in a case from Texas, the court
overturned a 20-year-old murder conviction as well as the death sentence
on the ground that the jury selection had been infected by racism.
The court also ruled in March that the Constitution barred capital
punishment for those who committed crimes before the age of 18. In the new
case, Rompilla v. Beard, No. 04-5462, as in the case last Monday,
Miller-El v. Dretke, the justices accepted a death row inmate's appeal
from a federal appeals court's denial of a writ of habeas corpus. The
Supreme Court then proceeded itself to grant the writ, which is a judgment
that a conviction or sentence was unconstitutional. Justice David H.
Souter was the author of both opinions.
In both cases, the majority engaged in an unusually detailed examination
of the record and concluded that the court's own precedents required a
ruling for the defendant. In the Pennsylvania case, Justice Souter cited
the court's precedents as well as the standards for performance of defense
counsel published by the American Bar Association.
That publication, identifying a "duty to investigate" and instructing
lawyers to "explore all avenues," "describes the obligation in terms no
one could misunderstand in the circumstances of a case like this," Justice
Souter said. The American Bar Association filed a brief on Mr. Rompilla's
But Justice Souter's assertion that the court was applying existing
standards and not making new law provoked a sharply worded dissent from
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who called the ruling a "remarkable leap" and
a "radical departure" from the court's previous treatment of the question
of inadequate legal counsel.
Justice Kennedy accused the majority of "distortion" of the most directly
relevant precedent. "This elevation of needle-in-a haystack claims to the
status of constitutional violations will benefit undeserving defendants
and saddle states with the considerable costs of retrial and/or
resentencing," he added.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist joined the dissent, as did Justices
Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justice Souter's majority opinion was
joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G.
Breyer and Sandra Day O'Connor, who also filed a concurring opinion.
There were indications that Justice O'Connor had changed sides in the five
months the case was under consideration, enabling Justice Souter to
convert a dissenting opinion into an opinion for the court.
This case was the last to be decided of the 10 cases the court heard
during its January argument sitting. From this group, it was the 2nd
majority opinion for Justice Souter, with the other 8 justices each having
only one. Justice Souter almost never receives an extra assignment during
an argument sitting. It happened only once in the last term, in a police
interrogation case from Missouri, a 5-to-4 decision that was probably also
the product of a late vote switch.
The point of contention among the justices in the case on Monday was the
failure by Mr. Rompilla's defense lawyers, members of the Lehigh County
public defender's office, to examine the file of a rape case in which he
had been convicted 14 years earlier. The case was germane because the
prosecution had announced its intention to use the case to show that Mr.
Rompilla was a previously convicted violent felon, one of the "aggravating
circumstances" on which the Pennsylvania death penalty law permits juries
to rely in imposing a sentence of death.
The file was maintained in the same courthouse where Mr. Rompilla's murder
trial was taking place and was easily obtainable by the defense, Justice
Souter noted. "It flouts prudence to deny that a defense lawyer should try
to look at a file he knows the prosecution will cull for aggravating
evidence, let alone when the file is sitting in the trial courthouse, open
for the asking," Justice Souter said, adding that "no reasonable lawyer
would forgo examination of the file."
Had the lawyers looked in the old file, Justice Souter continued, they
would have been led to evidence of the defendant's limited mental capacity
and background as an abused child, as well as his likely diagnoses of
fetal alcohol syndrome and schizophrenia. According to evidence later
unearthed by the new lawyers who handled Mr. Rompilla's habeas corpus case
in federal court, he and his brother had been locked by their father in a
small wire-mesh dog pen that was "filthy and excrement filled." Mr.
Rompilla was sent to school in rags. He dropped out in the ninth grade.
Mr. Rompilla's initial lawyers had not extracted this information in
interviews with their client, who was often uncooperative, or with family
members, who presented a more benign image of his upbringing. Justice
Souter said that an adequate defense would have presented the information
as evidence mitigating against the death penalty, and that there was a
"likelihood of a different result" had the lawyers done so.
In his dissent, Justice Kennedy said "there is no reasonable probability"
that, short of giving "intense scrutiny to every single page of every
single document," the defense lawyers would have been led to the
information about Mr. Rompilla's childhood.
A "rigid requirement" that defense lawyers give that kind of scrutiny to
trial records, he said, would harm defendants by steering their lawyers
away from other strategies. "The Constitution does not mandate that
defense attorneys perform busy work," Justice Kennedy said.
Both Justice Souter and Justice O'Connor, in her concurring opinion,
denied that the court was imposing any such "rigid requirement." Justice
O'Connor, in fact, said she was joining the majority "because the court's
opinion is consistent with the case-by-case examination of the evidence
called for under our cases."
The effective assistance of counsel is guaranteed by the Constitution's
Sixth Amendment. The Supreme Court's major precedent, Strickland v.
Washington, established a 2-part test for defendants to meet in order to
show that their defense was constitutionally inadequate: first, that the
representation "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness," and
second, a "reasonable probability" that the outcome would have been
different but for the defense lawyer's failings.
For 16 years after announcing that test in 1984, the Supreme Court did not
find any case in which a defendant's legal representation was inadequate.
Beginning in 2000, however, it has decided 3 consecutive cases, including
Monday's, in which it found the representation to have been
Eric M. Freedman, a professor at Hofstra University School of Law who is a
specialist in the death penalty and habeas corpus, said the trend
indicated that the court was increasingly troubled by problems of adequate
representation for capital defendants. "They are starting to put some
teeth in their scrutiny" of these cases, Professor Freedman said in an
interview. "The basis themes of fundamental fairness in the administration
of the death penalty have penetrated the Supreme Court as well as the
(source: The New York Times)
Critical Audit Prompts Va. to Review DNA Evidence
Virginia has begun a review of DNA evidence used in at least 160 cases by
the state's Division of Forensic Science following a study critical of the
Robert J. Humphreys, a Virginia Court of Appeals judge, is leading the
effort, which will review evidence in cases that date from 1994. About two
dozen are death row cases, and the analysis marks the 1st time a state has
volunteered to revisit the cases of executed felons on a large scale.
One case involves Robin Lovitt, an inmate on death row who is scheduled to
be executed July 11. State officials have said that other evidence was
used to convict Lovitt and that his fate will not be affected by
Humphreys's review. Emily Lucier, a spokeswoman for Attorney General
Judith W. Jagdmann, said the office does not consider Lovitt's conviction
a DNA case.
The audit that led to the review criticized the Virginia lab's role in the
case of Earl Washington Jr., a former death row inmate who spent 17 years
in prison before he was pardoned in 2000. DNA evidence was not gathered
for Washington's conviction, but it was used later to determine his
In its study, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors concluded
that a chief scientist failed to follow proper procedure when testing a
piece of evidence in Washington's case and that his analysis of that
evidence was wrong.
The auditors also concluded that an internal review failed to properly
identify the errors made by the scientist, Jeffrey Ban.
Humphreys's team of half a dozen national forensics experts began its
research last week. The analysis stops short of actually testing or
retesting DNA. Instead, experts will determine whether scientists who
handled the evidence followed proper procedures. The review should take
about eight weeks.
"You need to have impeccable credentials to go into court," said Del.
David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), a member of the House Courts of Justice
Committee and co-chairman of the Virginia State Crime Commission. "If they
can't show that tests were done properly, that hurts prosecuting crimes."
The General Assembly enacted a law this year that makes the Division of
Forensic Science, which runs the crime lab, an independent state agency
and creates an advisory board to help oversee its work. Several criminal
defense lawyers have said that the changes were inadequate because they
did not create a watchdog department to review the lab's reports and
Humphreys did not respond to phone messages left at his offices in Hampton
Roads and Richmond.
Although the audit did not uncover any systemic problems at the lab, a
spokeswoman for Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) said the review could restore
confidence in one of the nation's most respected crime laboratories and
lead to changes in laboratory policy.
"Even in this review, we've sought to have a very independent process,"
said Ellen Qualls, Warner's director of communications, adding that three
cases from each examiner in the department will be reviewed. "At every
step of the way, Virginia has sought to go above and beyond what was
Legal experts said the review must determine whether the Earl Washington
case was an isolated incident or an example of long-standing problems
within the lab.
A successful analysis by the investigators "would look at the errors that
happened in the Earl Washington case and determine the source of those
errors and figure out whether they are systemic," said Betty Layne
DesPortes, a criminal defense lawyer in Richmond who heads a legal panel
for the American Academy of Forensic Science.
"One of the overriding themes of the errors was a lack of strict adherence
to scientific protocol. A full investigation of the errors is crucial to
maintain our integrity in the results," she said.
She added that so far, she has been impressed by the methodology and
approach Humphreys has taken with the review.
The review will include not only all death row cases since 1994 that hung
on DNA evidence but also more routine testing done by Ban and others,
state officials said.
Kilgore Backs Death Penalty for Accomplices
Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore proposed Monday that
accomplices to murder be eligible for the death penalty.
Kilgore, who offered the idea last year while serving as Virginia's
attorney general, said the move would allow prosecutors to charge gang
leaders and others who order killings with capital murder. He included the
proposal as part of an initiative that he said would curb gang violence.
"Gangs are the modern-day mob," Kilgore said in a statement detailing the
proposals. "They are organized, dangerous, deadly crime syndicates that
prey on our youth and target our communities."
Kilgore also proposes to increase rehabilitation for young offenders,
allow civil lawsuits against gangs, stiffen sentences for gang-related
offenses and establish new laws against obtaining false identification
Kilgore's Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, called the
announcement an effort to distract people from a poor record on fighting
gangs. Kilgore was the state's secretary of public safety in the mid-1990s
and served as attorney general from 2002 until February, when he resigned
to devote more time to the campaign.
In recent years, Northern Virginia law enforcement officers and community
leaders have been struggling to contain gang violence, which they see as a
Delacey Skinner, a spokeswoman for Kaine, declined to say whether he
favors expansion of the death penalty to accomplices.
"What I see is an attempt to reintroduce the whole death penalty
discussion and not really deal with the problem of gangs," Skinner said
State law allows the death penalty in murder-for-hire cases, and sniper
John Allen Muhammad was successfully prosecuted for capital murder in part
under an exemption that allows terrorism convictions even in cases where
it is not clear who pulled the trigger.
But Virginia courts, and courts across the nation, have rejected other
attempts to impose the death penalty on accomplices. In the Muhammad case,
the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the conviction could stand -- even
though it was not clear whether Muhammad or partner Lee Boyd Malvo pulled
the trigger -- because the murders could not have happened without
Kilgore said that as governor, he would urge the legislature to broaden
the death penalty to apply to the killing of a witness in a trial and to
crimes committed in a gang-related offense. An aide said Kilgore wants to
eliminate a rule in all capital murder cases that the death penalty be
applied only to the triggerman.
"It would apply to everybody. But the focus for us is to get after the
gang leaders," said Kilgore's policy director, Carrie Cantrell. "We had
the legislation for the anti-terrorism statute. That statute was upheld by
the courts. This would be a similar process."
Steven D. Benjamin, the immediate past president of the Virginia
Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the Kilgore proposal would
vastly expand the cases in which prosecutors could seek the death penalty.
He said that could fuel the debate over whether the death penalty is
imposed fairly in the state.
"There are already questions about the fairness and evenhandedness" of the
death penalty's application, Benjamin said. If the Kilgore proposal
passes, he said, "we are eliminating a check on our passion and our
Benjamin said Kilgore's proposal would probably be constitutional but
would be subject to interpretation by courts. The triggerman rule, for
example, is a precedent created by legal cases over the years in which
judges have refused to allow prosecutors to expand the use of the death
State Sen. William C. Mims (R-Loudoun), who serves on the Courts of
Justice Committee, said he believes it would be constitutional to impose
the death penalty in cases of gang-ordered killings. The legislature has
referred a similar bill to the state's Crime Commission for study.
"I expect it will be back before the General Assembly in 2006 and there
will be a whole lot of support for it," Mims said.
(source for both: Washington Post)
Reasons for Death Penalty Announced----Howell to Face Trial This Fall
In Bentonville, prosecutors on Monday announced their reasons for seeking
the death penalty against Timothy Howell, accused in the September
stabbing death of Elvin Ramirez in Bentonville.
Two aggravating circumstances make the death penalty appropriate against
Howell, said Benton County deputy prosecutor Clay Fowlkes: The act was
cruel and depraved, and Howell has been convicted of a prior violent
A jury found Howell, 41, guilty in 1984 of stabbing Kenneth Joslin to
death. The lead prosecutor in the case was David Clinger, now a Benton
County circuit judge. Howell was sentenced to 20 years and served 8.
Benton County Circuit Judge Jay Finch wants to hold a jury trial this fall
but must coordinate with other judges to borrow a courtroom, since his has
no jury box.
Finch ruled Monday on 37 motions submitted by defense attorney Billy Bob
Webb. These included:
- Compel the state to publish its criteria for seeking the death sentence
and to provide data concerning prior homicide prosecutions in the judicial
district since promulgation of the current death penalty statute in 1975.
This motion was denied.
- Prohibit introduction of aggravating circumstances. This was denied.
- Force the state to disclose mitigating circumstances. This was granted.
Also Monday, a hearing was held for Timothy McChristian, 20, Howell's son,
who is charged with 2nd-degree battery in the incident. A review hearing
was set for Oct. 7 and a jury trial for Oct. 31.
According to court documents, Elvin Ramirez was found stabbed in the
heart, lying in a pool of blood inside an apartment on Northwest "D"
Street on Sept. 2. He died several days later after life support was
Ramirez, 37, had been visiting a woman at the Bentonville apartment when
Howell arrived, wielding a crowbar in one hand and a black-handled knife
in the other, the woman told police.
A young man was with Howell, the woman said. She called for help, then saw
Howell swing the crowbar and hit Ramirez between the shoulder blades
before she chased him from the house, according to court documents.
Police arrested Howell and McChristian Sept. 3 at a Neosho, Mo.,
residence. They were later returned to Arkansas. The men admitted being at
the apartment, and Howell admitted hitting Ramirez with a pry bar but
denied having a knife. He said he went to the apartment to confront
Ramirez about an earlier incident involving his niece.
McChristian is free on a $50,000 bond. Finch set a $1 million bond for
Howell in March.
(source: The Morning News)
Motions multiply during capital-murder-case hearing
Circuit Judge Jay Finch dealt with several motions during a hearing Monday
in Timothy Glenn Howells murder case.
Howell is charged with capital murder in connection with Elvin Roberto
Ramirezs death. He died Sept. 4, 2004, from a puncture wound to his heart,
according to court documents.
Neosho, Mo., police arrested Howell, 41, and his son, Timothy Joe
McChristian, 20, hours after the incident occurred at 406 N. W. D St.,
Apt. A, in Bentonville.
Howell is accused of acting with premeditation and purposely causing
Ramirezs death by stabbing and cutting him multiple times and causing
blunt-force head trauma. If convicted of capital murder, Howell could
receive life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Prosecutors believe there are two aggravating circumstances which justify
the death penalty: The crime was committed in a cruel and depraved manner,
and Howell has previously been convicted of murder.
Many of the motions dealt with the death-penalty concerns, and the judge
denied each of them.
Finch will set a pretrial hearing and jury trial in the case after talking
with Circuit Judges Tom Keith and David Clinger about the use of one of
their courtrooms for the trial.
Howell was found guilty of 1st-degree murder for stabbing Kenneth Joslin
to death in April 1984. Howell was later sentenced to 20 years in prison.
He was released on parole on March 24, 1992. He completed his parole in
McChristian was released from jail on $50,000 bond on Oct. 28, 2004. He
has pleaded not guilty to his charge of battery in the second degree. The
charge is punishable with up to 6 years in prison. McChristian admitted
being the second person at the scene with his father, according to court
McChristians jury trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 31, and a pretrial
hearing in the case is set for Oct. 7.
Howell is being held in the Benton County Jail on $1 million bond.
(source: The Benton County Daily Record)
More information about the DeathPenalty