death penalty news----TEXAS, N.C., USA, NEV., IDAHO, CALIF., TENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Mar 4 22:42:26 CST 2005
Emergency status sought for juvenile execution bills
Following this week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bans the execution of
juvenile offenders, some state senators on Friday asked Gov. Rick Perry to
designate two of their bills as legislative emergencies.
Such status allows the bills to move through the Legislature more quickly
than other bills.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, is sponsoring a bill that would ban the
execution of juvenile offenders. Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, is
sponsoring a bill that would create a life without parole option for Texas
juries in capital cases.
"Until this week, America stood alone in executing juveniles, and Texas
was at the front of the line," Ellis said. "As the state most affected by
the Supreme Court ruling, I believe Texas cannot be passive in its
reaction. We should take a positive, proactive step and pass legislation
codifying the ruling into Texas law."
In a 5-4 decision Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the execution
of inmates convicted of murders committed when they were juveniles
violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The
decision throws out the death sentences of 28 juvenile murderers on Texas'
Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said Perry would sign a bill addressing the
Supreme Court's concern as soon as it reaches his desk. She also said
Perry has encouraged the Legislature to debate the option of life without
Lucio said it is more important than ever to pass a bill allowing juries
to sentence defendants found guilty of capital murder to a life sentence
without the opportunity for parole.
"Essentially, Texas juries will now only have 1 option when sentencing a
juvenile in capital crimes cases: life with the possibility of parole,"
Lucio said. "With the law as it is right now, this means that young
persons who commit these terrible crimes are guaranteed to someday walk
the streets again."
The death penalty and life without parole bills are SB226 and SB60.
(source: Associated Press)
N.C. Supreme Court reverses new trial order for convicted killer
A man sentenced to life in prison for a stabbing death outside a Guilford
County bar in 2001 shouldn't get a new trial, the state Supreme Court
ruled Friday in overturning an earlier decision from the state appellate
In 2003, a divided 3-judge panel of the Court of Appeals determined a jury
was unfairly prejudiced by evidence Darren William Dennison was violent
with his girlfriend.
The justices reversed the ruling, saying Dennison's lawyers didn't object
to the girlfriend's testimony during the trial. Therefore, he waived his
right to appeal that issue, the high court said.
The justices returned Dennison's case to the Court of Appeals to examine
outstanding arguments that have yet to be reviewed.
In another case, the Supreme Court ruled that a convicted killer already
sentenced twice to die will get another resentencing hearing.
The justices also upheld a Superior Court judge's ruling that Ronald Lee
Poindexter didn't deserve a new trial because defense attorneys at his
most recent trial failed to argue that he had a diminished mental
Poindexter was convicted in 1999 of killing Wanda Coltrane 2 years ago and
sentenced to death. In 2001, the Supreme Court ordered a new trial after
He was retried in 2002, again convicted of 1st-degree murder and placed on
death row. During appeals, Poindexter's appellate attorneys argued he
received ineffective counsel during the trial.
Randolph County Judge Clarence Horton vacated the latest death sentence
but refused to order a new trial or to declare Poindexter mentally
retarded as his lawyers requested.
North Carolina banned the execution of certain mentally retarded
defendants in 2001.
Writing for the court, Justice Edward Brady said Poindexter's defense
attorneys would have the opportunity to argue about his mental capacity
during the hearing.
(source: Associated Press)
Death penalty for minors illogical
Sometimes it takes only a small step in the right direction to inspire
In the case of the Supreme Court's decision on Tuesday to outlaw the death
penalty for minors, it inspires the hope that perhaps the United States is
finally waking up to the idea that government-sponsored murder is barbaric
Prior to this decision, 19 states (among them, Texas and Florida, but not
Ohio) permitted the executions of convicted criminals under the age of 18.
Now, the highest court in the land is restricting states from using
capital punishment for this age group.
Though it may be a far cry from abolishing the death penalty completely,
it is a start. Moreover, the decision seems to be part of a trend that
hopefully, for the sake of human rights, will continue.
Just two years ago, the Supreme Court barred executions for any person
considered mentally challenged, on the grounds that such a person would be
incapable of fully understanding the depth of the crime.
Is it safe to say that as sensitive, compassionate human beings, we are
finally catching on?
Some would argue that banning capital punishment serves only to encourage
juveniles to commit more heinous crimes at less risk of "real"
repercussions, citing Christopher Simmons (whose case brought about the
Supreme Court ruling) as an example.
Simmons is guilty of kidnapping a neighbor, tying her up and dumping her
off of a bridge. Because he was 17 when he committed the crime, Simmons
allegedly bragged that he would not face severe criminal charges.
He was wrong.
Simmons, once on death row, will still serve a life term. That's not
exactly getting off easily, is it?
While it may be too late for someone such as Simmons, who committed his
crime 12 years ago, to receive the counseling and therapy necessary to
change him, there certainly is hope for other adolescent criminals.
An effect of this decision is that there were 70 death row inmates who
were minors at the time of their crimes who will no longer face the death
penalty. These are 70 children who, despite being found guilty of some
atrocious crimes, are still just that -- children. In Simmons' case, he
was a child who endured years of physical and psychological abuse at home.
These young criminals should be held accountable for what they have done.
However, it is not in the best interest of our society to impose the death
penalty upon them. We should detain them, counsel them and study them, so
that we can learn how to minimize such tendencies in future generations of
Many would claim a typical 16- or 17-year-old may be considered mature and
intelligent enough to know the difference between right and wrong, and
also to be able to accept the consequences of doing something that is
But even so, for the government to assume the position of sentencing a
minor to death row is rather absurd, if you consider that a person under
18 cannot vote, get a tattoo or buy a pack of cigarettes -- yet (in some
states) he or she can get "the chair."
There is no logical explanation for why a government should be able to
terminate the life of a citizen who is, basically, disenfranchised because
of his or her age.
Thanks to the Supreme Court, this injustice is finally going to be
And it's about time.
Until Tuesday, the United States was one of only a few countries left in
the world -- including Iran, Saudi Arabia and China -- still allowing for
the execution of minors. By abolishing this practice, the United States is
able to begin the process of accepting the notion that capital punishment
is truly a cruel, unusual and outdated punishment. Finally, we are able to
join in on at least a small component of the international consensus on
Opponents of capital punishment can view the decision with optimism, as it
may serve as a hint as to the changing perspectives on capital punishment.
"The lasting significance of this case is that it opens the door to the
abolition of the death penalty judicially," said Jordan Steiker, a death
penalty expert at the University of Texas. "It suggests that judicial
abolition is a genuine prospect."
(source: Megan Schmidt, Opinion Columnist, The Bowling Green News)
Death penalty foes celebrate ruling
Death penalty foes hailed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Tuesday that bars
the execution of killers who were under 18 when they committed their
crimes. That includes Michael Domingues, on Nevada's death row for a
double murder in Las Vegas.
The 5-4 decision, affecting Nevada and 18 other states, throws out the
death sentences of about 70 juvenile murderers and bars states from
seeking to execute minors for future capital crimes. Justices said such
executions amount to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.
The Nevada Legislature is considering a bill to prohibit such executions,
and Michael Pescetta, an assistant federal defender who specializes in
capital cases, said the ruling should ensure the bill's passage.
"This is one of those things that people internationally have been working
on and it's a worthwhile and good decision," Pescetta said of the court
ruling. "It would be nice if they decided the whole thing (capital
punishment) was unconstitutional - but I'm not holding my breath."
Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, for the 3rd time has
proposed the ban on executions of juveniles. Similar bills passed the
Democrat-controlled Assembly twice, but never made it out of the
Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. Her AB6 would raise the
minimum age for capital charges from 16 to 18.
Giunchigliani said she'll push her colleagues to pass her bill "so they
can make it clear what the policy is." She added she's pleased but not
surprised with the court decision, adding that it focuses in part on new
research into how teenagers' brain chemistry affects their decisions.
"I think the science has changed, and I think Nevada is in step with the
rest of the country," she said.
Richard Siegel, president of the Nevada chapter of the American Civil
Liberties Union, said the Supreme Court ruling indicates the court "is
accepting the influence of international law as well as opinions and
decisions in the United States."
"Historically people will read this decision as a step in the direction of
total abolition," Siegel said, adding that the ACLU "has been fighting for
this decision for over 35 years."
Siegel also noted that in Domingues' case, the Inter-American Commission
on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States, had issued a
nonbinding ruling against the Nevada death row inmate's execution.
Ben Graham of the Nevada District Attorneys Association termed the court
ruling "just another inroad on prosecutors' ability to seek the death
penalty. But we respect what the courts have done and will go on from
"We felt that the ability to seek the death penalty for the worst of the
worst, even though they may be under 18, was a viable tool," Graham said.
"You look at the fact pattern of the one person we have in Nevada and
anyone who supports the death penalty could understand why it was given to
Domingues was convicted of the Oct. 22, 1993 murders of Arjin Chanel
Pechpho, 24, and her 4-year-old son, Jonathan Smith, at their home in Las
Vegas. Domingues, who was 16 at the time, lived next door.
Prosecutors said Domingues, in what began as an attempt to steal a car,
forced his way into the home, strangled Pechpho and fatally stabbed her
four-year-old son after trying unsuccessfully to electrocute him.
Domingues is 1 of just 3 juvenile offenders ever placed on Nevada's death
row. The state's Nevada's last execution of a juvenile offender was in
1949. The state Supreme Court rejected his appeal and the U.S. Supreme
Court had declined to review his claim that executing those under age 18
violates an international treaty.
(source: Associated Press)
IDAHO----new death sentence
Azad Abdullah headed to Idaho's death row
A Boise man convicted of killing his wife is headed to death row.
Azad Abdullah still maintains his innocence in his wife's death. He is now
headed to Idaho's death row for the Oct. 5, 2002 murder of Angie Abdullah.
Judge Cheri Copsey sentenced Azad Abdullah just after 5 p.m. today.
He was found guilty last year of the 1st-degree murder of his wife Angie.
She was found dead in the couples burned down home Oct. 5. 2002.
Today was the 1st time we've heard the 27-year-old defendant speak since
his conviction on 1st-degree murder, attempted murder, arson and injury to
Before Azad Abdullah addressed a judge, the defense attorneys called 3 of
his siblings who each asked Judge Copsey for leniency.
Then Abdullah himself told the judge he should be sentenced based on his
character, devotion to his faith, and the love he feels for his children.
"The feelings that I have are not only bad, my heart is breaking to pieces
from the day my wife has passed away. I will never heal until she comes
back, which is impossible. She was very dear to me and to my children,"
Judge Copsey said it was the 1st time she had heard the defendant
recognize his actions may have adversely affected his family.
In addition to the death sentence, Judge Copsey gave Abdullah 80 years in
prison for 5 other crimes including 3 counts of attempted murder, 1 count
of arson and 1 count of felony injury to a child.
Copsey called it a "sad moment" and added there were "no winners" in this
case. She ruled that mitigating factors could not overcome the horrendous
nature of Azad Abdullahs crime.
(source: KTVB News)
Death Sentence Overturned Over Ipsens Inconsistent Arguments
1 of 2 men sentenced to death after a prominent local prosecutor argued
inconsistent theories at their separate trials had his sentence overturned
yesterday by the California Supreme Court.
"[W]e conclude that fundamental fairness does not permit the People,
without a good faith justification, to attribute to 2 defendants, in
separate trials, a criminal act only one defendant could have committed,"
Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar wrote for the court.
The justices overturned the death sentence of Peter Sakarias for the 1988
murder of Viivi Piirisild, saying Deputy District Attorney Steven Ipsen
engaged in willful misconduct by arguing different theories of each
defendants role in order to maximize the possibility of winning 2 death
Ipsen is president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys and a
member of the State Bar Board of Governors.
The court accepted the conclusion of its appointed factfinder, Los Angeles
Superior Court Judge Thomas Willhite Jr., that Ipsen acted deliberately
when he argued that Sakarias struck the victim 3 times with a hatchet,
even though he had previously argued that Sakarias' accomplice, Tauno
Waidla, inflicted the same 3 blows.
The trials took place 8 months apart because Sakarias had been initially
found incompetent to stand trial.
What most likely happened, according to all of the evidence, is that
Sakarias was telling the truth when he told police that Waidla struck the
first blow and that Piirisild was already dead when Sakarias struck the
last two blows after the body had already been moved from the front of the
house, where the victim was attacked, to a bedroom, Werdegar wrote.
The court voted 6-1 to overturn Sakarias death sentence, but unanimously
rejected Waidlas bid for resentencing. Any violation of Waidlas rights was
harmless, Werdegar reasoned, because there is no reasonable doubt he would
have drawn the death penalty under any theory supported by the evidence.
Waidla and Sakarias were convicted 14 years ago of murdering Piirsild, an
Estonian American. The victim and her husband had befriended the two men,
young Estonians who defected from the Soviet military, but had a falling
out with them.
The defendants direct appeals were rejected by the high court in 2000.
Willhite found "unconvincing" Ipsens testimony that the inconsistency was
"Despite a lapse of 8 months between trials, it is unlikely that a
competent and committed prosecutor like Ipsen, handling the severed trials
of two defendants jointly charged with capital murder, would simply forget
at the 2nd trial what specific factual theory of the gruesome killing he
presented at the first," the judge wrote.
Willhite also noted that at Waidlas trial, Ipsen solicited testimony from
the autopsy physician that an abrasion on the victims back was
nonhemorrhagic and therefore appeared to have been inflicted after death;
when the same witness testified at Sakarias trial, Ipsen did not ask him
about the abrasion, thus avoiding testimony consistent with Sakarias claim
that the body was dragged into the bedroom after the victim died.
None of the parties argued that Willhites findings were unsupported by
substantial evidence, Werdegar noted yesterday.
Justice Marvin Baxter, who voted to uphold both death sentences, argued in
dissent that Ipsen did not act in bad faith.
"Our referee found that Ipsen himself was sincerely uncertain which of the
2 murderers had committed this particular act," Baxter wrote. "Under these
circumstances, I cannot find bad faith in Ipsens efforts to make a
plausible case against each petitioner."
Each theory, Baxter argued, was sufficiently plausible that the prosecutor
could reasonably have presented each of them at the separate trials.
There is a considerable split of authority in the federal courts, Baxter
went on to note, as to the extent to which conflicting theories or facts
may be used to convict defendants who are separately tried for the same or
The U.S. Supreme Court, , he noted, has granted certiorari in Stumpf v.
Mitchell (6th Cir. 2004) 367 F.3d 594, in which the Court of Appeals
overturned an Ohio death sentence for a murder that occurred in the course
of a home invasion robbery.
The court held that the defendants rights were violated when prosecutors
obtained a death sentence on the theory that he fired both the fatal shot
and another that wounded the victims husband, then presented evidence at
his accomplices trial that the accomplice had admitted firing the fatal
shot in a conversation with a fellow inmate at the jail.
Baxter also argued that given the brutality of the crime, and the evidence
that the two men had broken into the victims house and waited for her with
the intent to kill her as well as to steal property, Sakarias would have
received the death sentence regardless of who struck the fatal blow.
"The undisputed details of Sakarias' role in the brutal murder are
aggravated in the extreme," Baxter wrote.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer's spokesman, Nathan Barankin, said the
decision clarifies that "district attorneys will need to identify their
theory for the crime that was committed and argue it consistently." He
declined to say whether that is good law, and said no decision has been
made as to whether to seek rehearing.
Sakarias' attorney, Cliff Gardner, told The Associated Press that Ipsens
conduct "was egregious and it's a travesty that the state defended it." He
added that if prosecutors retry the penalty phase, "it will come into
evidence that he took a squarely different position in a different trial."
Ipsen did not return a MetNews phone call, nor did Waidlas attorney,
Deputy Federal Public Defender Sean Kennedy.
The case is In re Sakarias, 05 S.O.S. 1187.
The justices yesterday also decided another capital case, unanimously
upholding the death sentence of Cedric Harrison for killing 2 Oakland
women as a result of what was alleged to be a drug deal gone sour.
Justice Carlos Moreno, joined by Werdegar, insisted in a concurring
opinion that the prosecutor argued improperly by using Biblical references
that the majority concluded were more "literary allusion" than an appeal
to substitute religious principles for public law.
The argument was not prejudicial, however, given the strength of the
prosecutors case, Moreno said.
That case is People v. Harrison, 05 S.O.S. 1169.
(source: Metropolitan News Company)
State Supreme Court upholds death sentence in guard slaying
The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of Andrew
Thomas, a Memphis man convicted in the 1997 shooting of an armored truck
guard during a robbery.
Thomas was convicted of murder 2 years after the shooting when the guard,
James Day, died of complications of the gunshot wound that damaged his
spinal cord and caused other major injuries.
Thomas was 24 at the time of the shooting and previously had been
convicted of 9 felonies.
In an automatic Supreme Court review of the death sentence, justices
agreed the death sentence was not a "disproportionate" punishment.
Justice Adolpho A. Birch Junior agreed with the other justices on Thomas'
But dissented with the punishment as he usually does, again citing his
belief that the state has no process to protect against disproportionate
imposition of the death penalty.
An August 10th execution date was set for Thomas, who still has appeals
(source: Associated Press)
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