[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----TEXAS, CONN., N.Y., ALA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Mar 10 00:38:55 CST 2005
Survey: Texans back Supreme Court's juvenile death penalty ruling
Texans firmly support the death penalty but a majority agrees with last
week's U.S. Supreme Court decision that bars execution of people convicted
for crimes when they were under the age of 18, according to a survey by
researchers from Sam Houston State University.
In the latest Texas Crime Poll conducted by the Huntsville school's
Criminal Justice Center, 77 % of the people who responded believed the
death penalty is appropriate. 57 %, including the 23 % opposed to capital
punishment in all instances, said they did not favor executing people
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling last week in a Missouri case, said
execution of juveniles was unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.
The ruling threw out the death sentences of about 70 inmates, 28 of them
"The results of the Supreme Court's decision, in concert with the results
of this survey, reinforce my sense of hope for the general community at
large," Dennis Longmire, director of the school's Survey Research Program,
said Wednesday. "It shows me there is compassion out there.
"We talk about compassionate conservatism. I think Texans in this context
might represent it, because at least most Texans are willing to open
themselves up to the issue of mental maturity."
The survey, designed to aid Texas lawmakers and taken for the 38th
consecutive year, was conducted before last week's decision from the high
"It looks like the court got it right," Longmire added. "Even those of us
in the most active death penalty state in the nation seem to have reached
the same conclusion."
Researchers mailed their questions to 2,463 Texas households in October.
About one-quarter - 23 % - were returned, giving the survey a margin of
error of plus or minus 3.6 % points.
Researchers cautioned the responses from women and lower socio-economic
categories were underrepresented, while the sample overrepresented older
Texans and those with higher levels of education. But Longmire said the
racial breakdown - 57 % white, 12 % black, 25 % Hispanic - was in line
with the population.
Politically, 38 % of the respondents identified themselves as Republicans,
39 % as Democrats. Almost 2/3 of all the people said television was the
source of their crime news.
14 % of the whites were totally opposed to capital punishment, a sentiment
shared by 34 % of the Hispanics and 36 % of the blacks who responded.
Overall, 35 % of the people who favored execution of juveniles said age 16
should be the minimum. Texas law had allowed the death penalty for those
who committed capital murder at 17, an age cited by 12 % as the youngest
they thought was appropriate. 6 % of the respondents favored capital
punishment for those 10 years of age or younger.
On related issues, 69 % said they would "strongly" or "somewhat" support
legislation to create in Texas a life prison sentence without the
possibility of parole. Convicts now given life terms become eligible for
parole after 40 years behind bars.
And 78 % "strongly" or "somewhat" favored creation of a special commission
to study the quality of legal help given indigent offenders facing capital
charges. 88 % would back the same panel looking into whether new
technology like DNA testing should be employed to boost the certainty of
guilt in capital cases. There was less support - 37 % - for a study by
such a commission of whether race is a factor in decision-making in
But 81 % of the survey respondents favored the Texas Board of Pardons and
Paroles meeting as a body when it considers clemency in death penalty
cases. The board now communicates by phone or fax.
"It strikes me that we've got a really strong sense of the need for
holding people accountable," Longmire said of the findings. "We want to
make sure we're getting it right. And a lot of people don't think we're
getting it right."
ON THE NET -- Texas Crime Poll
Committee votes to abolish death penalty
A key legislative committee voted Wednesday to abolish Connecticut's
long-standing death penalty, as serial killer Michael Ross awaits
The Democrat-controlled Judiciary Committee voted 24-15 to replace the
punishment of death by lethal injection with life in prison without the
possibility of parole. It marked the 1st time a bill ending the death
penalty has survived a committee vote.
It is questionable whether there is enough support in the full General
Assembly to pass the bill, but death penalty opponents hailed the
Judiciary Committee's vote as an important step toward eventually ending
"I think for those people who are opposed to the death penalty, this is an
encouraging victory for them," said Kim Harrison, a lobbyist for the
Connecticut Church of Christ since 1988.
She acknowledged the bill faces "a long hurdle" in the House of
Representatives, where the legislation will be debated next.
Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell has said she will veto any bill that would
end the death penalty. To override a gubernatorial veto, legislators would
need a 2/3 majority in both the House and Senate.
A combination of new faces on the Judiciary Committee and frustration over
long delays in Ross' scheduled execution raised prospects for the
legislation on Wednesday. Aside from scrapping the death penalty, the bill
would commute the death sentences of the 7 men on death row, including
Ross, to life in prison.
Ross, 45, who is facing execution for killing 4 young women and girls in
eastern Connecticut in the early 1980s, has decided to forgo his remaining
appeals and face his death sentence.
The killer came within hours on Jan. 29 of becoming the 1st person to be
put to death in New England since 1960. The execution was postponed until
May 11 so his mental competency could be examined.
Ross was mentioned often during the committee's debate, which lasted more
than 2 1/2 hours.
Opponents of the death penalty argued that sentencing Ross to life in
prison without parole would be a tougher sentence than death. Several
lawmakers questioned why the state should give the serial killer what he
wants: relief from his 20 years of imprisonment.
Capital punishment supporters said it would be unconscionable to commute
Ross' sentence to life in prison because of the horrific nature of his
crimes. They reminded fellow lawmakers of the victims' families and the
fact Ross murdered a total of 8 young women in Connecticut and New York.
Most of them were also raped.
"We're going to commute his sentence? I don't want to be a party to that,"
said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, the ranking Republican on the committee.
Rep. William Hamzy, R-Plymouth, said the crimes committed by the other men
on Connecticut's death row were also so terrible that juries decided the
death penalty was warranted.
"This bill does much more than eliminate the death penalty," he said.
"This bill commutes the sentences of people convicted by a jury of their
peers. Who are we to second-guess those juries and those judges?"
Others argued that Connecticut's death penalty law is written very
narrowly to cover only the worst of crimes, such as murder of a child and
murder of a police officer. They said there is no question that everyone
on the state's death row is guilty.
Currently, in capital felony cases, a jury can choose between death or
life in prison without chance of parole.
Many arguments were offered for abolishing capital punishment in
Connecticut, including the high cost of executing someone and the risk of
possibly killing an innocent person. Connecticut and New Hampshire are the
only New England states with a death penalty law on the books.
"We can do something better, better than what it is that we have," said
Rep. William Dyson, D-New Haven, who has been regularly protesting the
death penalty in the Legislative Office Building since the legislative
session began in January.
The two co-chairmen of the Judiciary Committee, who both supported the
bill, said they see public opinion gradually changing on capital
punishment in Connecticut and across the nation. Ten years ago, the state
legislature voted for a bill that was supposed to make it easier to
execute someone. On Wednesday, a committee voted to abolish executions in
"There is a growing recognition that it's a false choice to say you're
either for or against the death penalty," said Sen. Andrew McDonald,
D-Stamford, the committee co-chairman. "Serving until you naturally die is
a very difficult sentence to serve."
(source: Associated Press)
State Senate passes death penalty bill
The state Senate passed legislation Wednesday to reinstate the death
penalty and announced the creation of an online petition where people can
express their support for the bill.
Sponsored by Republican state Sen. Dale Volker of Erie County, the death
penalty bill passed the GOP-controlled body 37-22. The only Republican to
vote against the legislation was Sen. John Marchi of Staten Island.
The death penalty was reinstated in New York in 1995, after Gov. George
Pataki took office. But in June, the state Court of Appeals effectively
placed a moratorium on executions when it ruled that jury-instruction
provisions in the statute could coerce some jurors into voting for death
against a defendant.
Volker said the Senate bill addresses the court's concern by mandating
that a sentence of life without parole be imposed on defendants when
juries can't reach a decision.
State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said capital punishment needs to
be back on the books to deter violent crime. Minority Leader David
Paterson accused Republicans of rushing the legislation through the
Senate, adding "they've closed the door to all discussion."
The state Assembly, which in 1995 passed the death penalty bill 94-52,
held a series of public hearings on the issue recently. Assembly Speaker
Sheldon Silver has not said whether the legislation will make it to the
floor of his house for a vote this year.
"I believe that, if death penalty legislation is brought to the floor of
the Assembly, it will be met with strong support," said Assembly Minority
Leader Charles Nesbitt, a Republican. "Either way, it is irresponsible to
let such an important issue simply fade away."
The state Capital Defender's Office said there were 6 notices to seek
death pending against accused killers as of Wednesday. Capital defenders
also have been assigned to 17 other cases in which prosecutors are holding
open the option of filing a death notice. Meanwhile, 2 men on death row at
the time of the court ruling are appealing their convictions.
No one has been executed in New York since the death penalty was
reinstated a decade ago.
As for the new Senate Web site, http://www.DeathPenaltyNY.com, Bruno said
"it was public pressure that put the death penalty into law 10 years ago
and public pressure is needed to fix the law and bring it back."
(source: Associated Press)
2 exonerated death row inmates discuss their life-changing ordeals
"In 1980 I was wrongly accused, tried, convicted and sentenced to death
for capital murder." That is how Peter Pringle, who served almost 15 years
in an Irish prison for a murder he did not commit before being exonerated,
began his presentation to a crowd made up mostly of Cornell law students
in Myron Taylor Hall's Moot Court Room Feb. 28.
Pringle appeared along with Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs, who also was proven
innocent after serving time on death row in the United States for a crime
she didn't commit. They were part of a program sponsored by the Law
School's Cornell Death Penalty Project. Titled "The Exonerated," it aimed
to help law students understand what can happen when people are wrongly
convicted of capital crimes.
Pringle and Jacobs met in Ireland in 1998 while Jacobs was speaking at an
event sponsored by Amnesty International. Although the details of their
individual cases were different, they saw many similarities in their
experiences, leading Pringle to declare that "the face of injustice is the
same ... in Ireland or anywhere else." The pair began traveling together
to share their stories with audiences around the world.
In Pringle's case, 2 police officers were killed in a shootout following a
bank robbery in Ballaghdereen, Ireland. The perpetrators fled the scene.
Pringle was later picked up by police and charged with the crime, despite
the fact that there was no evidence linking him to it. At his trial,
police officers falsely claimed that he had confessed to the robbery
during interrogation. Pringle was sentenced to death, despite the fact
that when another officer was asked to identify the man he had seen at the
scene of the crime, he pointed not at Pringle but at a bystander in the
Pringle spent the next 14 years fighting to prove his innocence. At one
point, his lawyers told him to plead for forgiveness, but he wouldn't take
their advice. "I refused to allow [the plea]," he said. "I would not plead
for clemency for something that I didn't do." Instead, Pringle decided to
serve as his own counsel and had friends send him the legal papers that he
needed to study to craft his defense. After winning access to the
documents used against him in court, he was able to show that his alleged
confession had actually been written down in an accusing officer's
notebook prior to Pringle's interrogation. In 1995 he finally was
exonerated and released.
Jacobs told a similar story of a flawed legal system, this time in the
United States. She and her husband were arrested when a man whom they and
their children were traveling with shot and killed a policeman after he
approached their car at a rest area in Florida. That man, who was on
parole at the time of the incident, secured a plea bargain by falsely
testifying against Jacobs and her husband, who were both sentenced to
death as a result. At the time, Jacobs was 27 and had a 9-year-old son and
a 10-month-old daughter. At one point, prosecutors offered to release her
if she would implicate her husband, who by that time had already been
executed. Jacobs refused. She was eventually released on a different plea
after having served 17 years in jail, five in solitary confinement. "By
the time it was resolved," she said, "I was an orphan ... I was a widow
... and I was a grandmother."
Both Pringle and Jacobs talked about the extreme emotional stress brought
on by their ordeals. "[Before this happened], I believed in truth and
justice and the American way, and I believed that God wouldn't let this
happen to us," Jacobs said. "The worst part [of being convicted] was that
everything I had been taught to believe in was gone ... right and wrong
Pringle admitted to having considered suicide, but said that he didn't
want his family to have to deal with that stigma. "I knew that if I killed
myself they'd say that I'd done it out of guilt," he explained. Instead,
both he and Jacobs turned to meditation and yoga as a way of dealing with
Jacobs also turned to the Bible for inspiration. "I chose to believe in
God because without God it was hopeless. So really, I chose to believe in
hope," she explained.
Jocelyn Getgen '00, J.D. '07, was very moved by the pair's speeches.
"Their ability to turn a horribly negative situation into something so
positive ... was just very inspirational," she said. "You can't walk away
from a speech like this and not feel some sort of hesitation about sending
somebody to death."
(source: Courtney Potts is an intern with the Cornell News Office)
High court ruling has local effect - 2 on death row will spend life in
The U.S. Supreme Court has granted a reprieve to a couple of death row
inmates from Shelby County who were convicted of 2 of the most gruesome
murders in the county's history.
The court's controversial decision was made last week with the ruling that
the Constitution does not allow for the execution of criminals who
committed capital crimes as juveniles.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy offered the majority opinion which
indicated that executing those who were minors when their crimes were
committed constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel
and unusual punishment."
Mark Duke, who was 16 at the time he brutally murdered his father,
soon-to-be stepmother and her 2 daughters, ages 6 and 7, was sentenced to
death in March 1999. He has been on death row at Holman Prison since that
Marcus Pressley, who was also 16 at the time he committed capital murder
at a pawn shop on Highway 280 in 1996, was sentenced to death and has been
on death row at Holman Prison since that time.
Assistant District Attorney Bill Bostick said he and other members of the
DA's office were disappointed with the high court's ruling.
"I was disappointed, especially knowing the circumstances surrounding
these 2 cases (Duke's and Pressley's)," Bostick said.
"I was extremely disappointed in some of the reasoning used in making the
decision," he said, indicating the court's majority opinion focused on the
"court of international opinion."
"I don't care what they do in France or other countries, and it's hard to
say there's a consensus when 19 states still allowed for these
Justice Kennedy noted in his majority opinion, "the stark reality that the
United States is the only country in the world that continues to give
official sanction to the juvenile death penalty."
Kennedy was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David
Souter and John Paul Stevens. Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices
Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
In dissenting, Justice Scalia argued that the decision of the court was
depriving each state of its right to have juries decide, on a case-by-case
basis, whether an individual offender warrants the death penalty.
Bostick said he was surprised with the court's split decision.
"We didn't expect the vote to go that way."
He said District Attorney Robby Owens provided information about the Duke
case, in particular, to Alabama Attorney Gen. Troy King, who wrote a brief
and submitted it to the Supreme Court.
As to the future, Bostick said the ruling was not clear on what happens
now. He said that Duke and Pressley along with Alabama's other 11 inmates
who were affected by the ruling, would spend the rest of their lives in
"Both still have active appeals in the system," he said, however.
"This ruling doesn't change their conviction - just their punishment."
(source: Shelby County Reporter)
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