[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----GA., USA, ALA., N.C.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Mar 18 16:41:35 CST 2005
An Inspiring Story's Loose Ends
It's no surprise that the tragic courthouse slayings in Atlanta have drawn
a swarm of Hollywood producers to the hub of the South. The story is
simple, powerful and profound: a rampage of pure evil followed by an act
of pure redemption.
Brian Nichols, after allegedly killing four innocent people, forces his
way at gunpoint into the life of Ashley Smith, a young woman whose look of
blonde, damsel-in-distress vulnerability could have been ordered up by a
casting director. Smith turns out to be something else -- a tough girl
from the wrong side of the tracks who also knows what it's like to be on
the wrong side of the law.
She has a record for shoplifting and other petty crimes. She's a widow --
her murdered husband died in her arms. She has a 5-year-old daughter, but
not the wherewithal to care for her, so the girl lives with Smith's aunt.
Smith talks to Nichols about her faith in God, and she touches something
inside a man with nothing left to lose. She reads to him from "The
Purpose-Driven Life." She tells him that God must have brought him to that
apartment; that no matter what he's done, his life still has a purpose.
She makes him pancakes. Finally, the most dangerous man in America just
lets her go, and when the police arrive, he surrenders.
The story is inspiring, but a couple of things have been nagging at me, so
I thought I'd share them and maybe they'll nag at you, too.
First, there's the question of race. Nichols is black and Smith is white.
Race seemed irrelevant, since Nichols allegedly killed both black and
white, in an enlightened city largely run by black officials. It was easy
to dismiss the unbidden, illegitimate image -- once used to "justify"
lynchings -- of the powerful black predator threatening the delicate
flower of white womanhood.
But according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which interviewed a law
enforcement official who witnessed the first statement Nichols gave after
his arrest, Nichols's alleged killings was fueled by racial anger.
While in custody on a rape charge, Nichols apparently seethed at the fact
that so many of the other inmates were black. "He called it systematic
slavery," the newspaper quoted the official as saying. Nichols reportedly
felt like a "soldier" while killing his victims with military precision.
So there's the question I can't answer. Nichols, educated at a Catholic
school, had no history of violence before the rape charge, on which a jury
couldn't agree. When you look at him, you don't see a beast; you see a
clean-cut young man with intelligent, sensitive eyes. Will we ever find
out why race was the first thing out of his mouth? Or do we think it even
My other question begins with God and His design. "The Purpose-Driven
Life," by pastor and evangelist Rick Warren, has sold more than 21 million
copies; its point is that God knows why we're here, that God knows what we
are to do with our time on Earth.
Smith started her reading to Nichols where she had left off the night
before, with a passage that begins, "We serve God by serving others."
Perhaps, she told him, he was destined "to go to jail and save many more
people than you killed" by preaching to other inmates and bringing them to
It's a comfort to think that. But given what Nichols is accused of doing
-- killing a judge, a court reporter, a sheriff's deputy and a federal
agent, all in cold blood -- I think it's safe to assume that if he's
convicted, he'll face the death penalty. Maybe he'll plead insanity, but
let's suppose that he's found guilty and sentenced to die.
If Smith was right and Nichols's purpose is to bring other inmates to God,
then the state of Georgia probably will cut that mission short. Or is his
ultimate purpose to die, so that his death will be an example? If so, an
example to whom, and does that make him some kind of martyr? Or does what
remains of his life have a purpose after all?
I can't make sense of it. We are a nation that believes in capital
punishment and also believes in the basic Christian concept of redemption.
Try as I might, I can't reconcile those 2 ideas. So there's my last
nagging question: Which do we value more?
(source: Eugene Robinson, Column, Washington Post)
Whose justice? Recent Court Verdicts Highlight the Ongoing War Against
The divergent verdicts rendered in the Peterson and Blake/Bakley spousal
murder cases in California highlight the ongoing war against women. The
evening news brings two very different results in two California
courtrooms. Robert Blake is acquitted of all charges in the death of his
wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley. He had been accused of shooting her to death
after his attempts to hire a hit man were unsuccessful. Some of the hit
men apparently testified at trial. Then theres the conspicuously absent
co-defendant who, after being cleared of charges, invoked his Fifth
Amendment right to avoid testifying. Also on the news is the finding that
Scott Peterson, previously convicted of killing his 8-months-pregnant
wife, Lacie, will receive the death penalty for those convictions.
These 2 cases seem glaringly different on first glance. I know that Bonnie
Lee Bakley was disparaged for her sometimes quasi-criminal past. She was
painted as a groupie - a woman somewhat unhinged by her need for attention
and desire to be associated with famous people. Robert Blake knew all
those things before he had a sexual relationship with her. He also knew
those things before he married her. She gave birth to a child fathered by
Blake whose older daughter is now raising that child.
Okay, so Bakley wasnt a perfect person. She certainly did not deserve to
die. Trashing the victim is all too typical of criminal defense attorneys
whether the evidence against their client is mountainous or lean. It seems
that in our courts, jury nullification in murder cases is tolerated if the
victim is shown to be a "bad enough" person. All too often, those victims
are women whose only crime is choosing the wrong marriage partner.
Laci Peterson, on the other hand, was the ideal wife. We are all now
familiar with the picture of Lacie proudly displaying her obviously
pregnant belly. Her radiant smile seems sometimes impish, sometimes
angelic, always beaming. Her joy in her expectant motherhood is readily
apparent and touching.
Scott, on the other hand, was the errant husband deceiving his girlfriend
by telling her he wasn't married. Lying about virtually everything in his
life on the seemingly unending tapes that were played in the courtroom as
part of the prosecutions evidentiary offering.
I do believe that the way the victims were perceived by everyone involved,
along with Blake's superior financial resources, accounts, at least in
part, for the differences in the outcomes. Those factors weigh far more
heavily in criminal court decisions than any amount of evidence or proof.
Another factor to consider is the investigation process that provides the
evidence available to the prosecution. One has to wonder whether or not
"good" victims like Laci Peterson elicit a more thorough investigation
than those victims whose backgrounds are clouded with real, imagined, or
Whether you believe Blake and Peterson to be innocent or not, the two dead
women are examples of the all-too-often minimized war on women that is
waged daily from coast to coast and border to border in the good 'ol USA.
Not every case is as high profile as these two are. But for the families
involved, every domestic violence incident is a life-altering experience
particularly when someone dies as a result,
Consider these statistics:
In 95% of reported domestic assault, the female is the victim and the male
is the perpetrator. 3% of reported domestic assaults are homosexual male
couples. In 2% of reported domestic assaults, the female is the
Each year, 7% of all American women are physically abused by their spouse
14% of all American women acknowledge having been violently abused by a
husband or boyfriend.
In 1998, 35% of all violence against women was by an intimate partner. 75%
of domestic homicides occur after the victim has left the perpetrator. 28%
of all homicides of women are related to domestic violence.
Violence against women in the home causes more injuries to women than car
accidents, mugging, and rapes combined.
Every day, 4 women are killed by their intimate partner.
Kids in homes of Domestic Abuse are 1000x more likely to abuse as adults,
74x as likely to commit crimes against other people and 24x as likely to
commit rape or sexual assault.
(source: Murray Strauss, University of Durham, N.H.)(Recent research from
American Psychological Association confirms this study.)
These numbers point out the reality of domestic violence. They tell you
who is being abused and by whom. They tell you why the victims "don't just
leave." They speak volumes as to the truth of women's lives.
The cases heard in Tennessee courtrooms are just as bad as the two heard
in these California courtrooms. We may have a few battered women's
shelters. We may have a few advocacy programs in place. We may have
domestic violence task forces, working groups, and other associations
populated by sometimes well-meaning professionals. But until we cut more
deeply into the flesh of the beast in the living room, the numbers cited
above will never change.
We must begin early. The children are the hope for change in this battle
against a monster that deforms many lives. Until we begin to teach our
children - all of our children - that love makes no excuses for violence,
we will spend our resources and energies cleaning up after this beast.
(source : Tennessee Independent Media Center)
Supreme Court makes no sense
I cant believe I am about to say this, but I agree with Supreme Court
Justice Antonin Scalia. On March 1 the highest court in our land voted to
abolish the death penalty in regard to "minors." In a 5-4 vote, Democrats
on the court were able to end a practice that holds some 16- and
17-year-olds fully accountable for their practices of murder in the 1st
When did people in this age group begin to be so stupid that we can no
longer prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law?
The court cited the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause in the
Constitution to strike down the practice, saying that only those 18 and
above are culpable. Justice Anthony Kennedy, in the opinion of the
majority, also cited international pressure to stop such a practice.
When did the United States start caring what other countries say? Do the
words "War in Iraq" mean anything to you?
I find 16- and 17-year-olds just as capable of making the decision to
murder as someone 45 or 46 years old. That is why we give drivers licenses
to these "adults." A car is a very deadly weapon, but we give full access
to "minors" under the age of 18.
As a college student, most would expect me to be crying "Victory!" as a
liberal, but today I cry "Shame!" when the courts become the lands sole
judge of morals.
(source: Letter to the Editor, Brownsville Herald)
A moral approach to a minor affair
America has broken its international isolation concerning the execution of
minors who commit capital offenses on Tuesday, March 1. In a 5-4 decision
the United States Supreme Court stated such executions, 22 since 1976, are
unconstitutional. This is nothing more than a question of what makes up
this countrys moral fiber.
Is it gripped by blinding vengeance that leads law-abiding citizens into
supporting and thus partaking in killing? Or is it taking the high road of
forgiveness, that is the basis of many of the religious ideologies that
millions in this country subscribe to.
Conservative Justice Anthony M. Kennedy sided against the dissenting
Conservative Justices. He did so despite earlier concerns he voiced during
Oct. 12 oral arguments that he was "very concerned" about gangs using
minors as "hitmen" because of no longer facing death as punishment. In
that regard, our focus should not be to start "offing" kids that have been
lost by society and embraced by violent street gangs. What causes the rift
in societys morals? Is it caused by the murderous teenager or the
environment that allowed the teen to become murderous?
Certainly, the focus on teen violence should not be on punishment, but
instead on prevention. If crimes such as rape and murder are being
committed by minors in this country, then perhaps we are not focusing
nearly enough of our resources into fixing the problems before they arise.
More often than not, people dont have punishment in mind when committing a
murder. Alcohol and drug abuse play the largest role in homicides. Is
someone who is wasted going to stop and think, "Hey, I might get the death
penalty if I do this?"
Is anyone in the right frame of mind when they murder someone? In the case
of organized crimes and premeditation, care is taken into not getting
caught, no matter what the sentence.
Life without parole is a suitable substitute for the death penalty.
Someone beginning such a sentence is leaving their freedom behind forever,
but not their humanity. Our society should not be in the business of
stripping away ones humanity.
The business of eye-for-an-eye justice is outdated by thousands of years.
Its used ad-hoc anyway; we dont rape rapists or burn down the house of an
arsonist. If someone blinds someone in an act of violence, without killing
them, do we remove the eyes of the perpetrator? Certainly not.
Frank Friel, former head of Organized Crime Homicide Task Force in
Philadelphia illustrated a point that many criminologists have been saying
for years. "The death penalty does little to deter crime. Its fear of
apprehension and the likely prospect of swift and certain punishment that
provides the largest deterrent to crime."
In Japan, low crime rates are enjoyed by a population that exists under
such an insurance - you commit a crime, youre gonna get caught. It may not
be the only deterrent of crime, but it is certainly the most effective.
It seems people complain about prisoners getting cable television so much
that they forgot that prison is not a fun place to be. Overturning the
death penalty for minors doesnt suddenly mean "no punishment for minors."
Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor that lost his
family and witnessed unimaginable horrors while imprisoned in Nazi
concentration camps during his teen years, admittedly disagrees with using
the death penalty.
Said Wiesel, "With every cell in my being, and with every fiber of my
memory, I oppose the death penalty in all forms." He shares the same
contention many family members of victims share. It simply does not bring
closure; it doesnt bring the victim back.
There are countless arguments against the death penalty, but none are more
convincing than those made by corrections officers who are charged with
the task of carrying out the actual execution.
Fred Allen, a former prison guard in Texas who participated in executions,
said in an interview, "All of a sudden something just triggered in me, and
I started shaking... my wife asked Whats the matter? And I said I dont
feel good. And tears, uncontrollable tears, was coming out of my eyes and
I said I just thought about that execution that I did two days ago, and
everybody elses that I was involved in... all of these executions just
(source: W. John Tritt, Opinions Editor, The Keystone (Kutztown
AG seeks execution date for Sibley
Alabama Attorney General Troy King asked the Alabama Supreme Court
Thursday to set an execution date for a man who gunned down an Opelika
police officer who approached him in a shopping center parking lot to
inquire about a child reported to be in distress. George Sibley Jr. and
his common-law wife Linda Lyon Block were convicted of capital murder for
the 1993 killing of Opelika police Sgt. Roger Motley.
Lyon was executed on May 10, 2002. Sibley has been on death row for nearly
11 years, according to a release from Kings office.
Opelika police Capt. Melvin Harrison said the family of Roger Motley, the
police department and the community have been waiting for word.
"We wholeheartedly agree with what Attorney General Troy King is saying,"
Harrison said. "People are curious about this case. They want to know
whats going on. Whether I'm on duty or off duty, in the grocery store or
in the office - people are talking about it, asking about it. This has
been the latest word weve heard concerning this case."
On Oct. 4, 1993, Sibley and Block were fugitives from Florida where they
faced sentencing for a burglary and stabbing attack on Blocks 79-year-old
former husband, according to the release. They parked at the Pepperell
Corners Shopping Center in Opelika where Block got out to use a pay phone
and Sibley stayed near the car with Blocks son. A passer-by was concerned
the child might be in danger and alerted police after she heard the child
call for help. When Motley approached the vehicle and asked Sibley for
identification, Sibley pulled out a pistol and opened fire. Block began
shooting at Motley from the rear while running toward the vehicle. Motley
was shot several times and mortally wounded during his attempt to
ascertain whether a child was in danger and in need of assistance, the
"We cannot, and I will not, allow attacks against law enforcement to go
unpunished," King said. "Sgt. Roger Motley was a public servant devoted to
the defense of Alabamas citizens and was answering the highest call of our
society -- the protection of a child -- when his life was cold-bloodedly
taken." He said every day law enforcement officers throughout Alabama put
their lives on the line, never knowing when they are responding to
something that could turn deadly.
"They do not waver in our defense, and we must not waver in theirs," King
said. "The least we owe to them is to bring their killers to justice. Mr.
Sibley has earned his death sentence and victims, law enforcement and
justice demand that his punishment be delivered."
Sibley was convicted of capital murder on May 20, 1994, and a jury in Lee
County Circuit Court unanimously recommended that he be sentenced to
death, according to the release. In its review of the evidence, the
Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the states case against
Sibley was "airtight."
Following his conviction and throughout the appeals process, Sibley has
adamantly refused to avail himself of his right to various appeals, the
release stated. Sibley has either declined to respond or outright rejected
repeated attempts by the courts and by the state to notify him of the
appeals open to him before they expired.
The state had set a date for Sibleys execution on Nov. 7, 2002, according
to the release. 6 days before this scheduled execution, Sibley sought a
stay of execution which was granted while courts considered whether to
hear his late appeal, which was subsequently dismissed by the federal
district and appeals courts. Sibley was granted an extension until Jan.
21, 2005, to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider his appeal, but has
not done so as of Thursday.
In his petition to the Alabama Supreme Court, King stated, "There are
currently no stays of execution in this case, and there are no proceedings
pending in any state or federal court. It is time for Sibleys sentence of
death to be carried out."
Harrison said while the time for closure in the case has come, there will
never be complete closure for the family.
"The hurt will be there forever," he said. "There is no closure for
missing a father, a husband, a son, a relative or a friend -- Roger was
all of that."
(source: Opelika-Auburn News)
Donaldson health care administrator fired ----RN lost job for failing to
make medical progress at lockup, says staff inadequate
The administrator over health care at Donaldson Correctional Facility was
fired for failing to improve medical care at the beleaguered lockup, but
not before issuing repeated warnings about inadequate staff.
Stephanie Lawson, a registered nurse employed by the private contractor
Prison Health Services, said she was especially frustrated that no
full-time physician was assigned to the western Jefferson County prison,
which houses about 1,625 men.
"I was terminated for lack of progress at the site, and it's an impossible
site to manage with the staff that PHS has allocated for health care,"
Lawson said. "It's just wrong."
Lawson, 36, was fired the 1st week in March, the same week Donaldson
Warden Stephen Bullard was placed on administrative leave after writing a
memo about inadequate staffing and poor conditions. Department of
Corrections officials have said Bullard was placed on leave because of his
own complaints about the stress and health problems associated with his
Bullard and his superiors have acknowledged the shortage of correctional
officers at Donaldson, which has meant mandatory overtime for the officers
Impaired health care:
Those shortages impaired health care as well, Lawson said.
"It really did kind of all tie in," she said. "How can I be expected in 10
months to turn this place around when there is not even adequate
She spoke highly of the officers but said they often were tired. A few men
sought care in the health unit for chest pains or headaches. "A body can
only take so much," Lawson said.
A key concern is care for inmates with chronic health problems, such as
diabetes, which can lead to kidney failure and costly dialysis if left
Just over a year ago, the Corrections Department settled a lawsuit over
care for diabetic inmates. Rhonda Brownstein, an attorney with the
Southern Poverty Law Center who represented inmates in the case, visited
Donaldson on Thursday and found several inmates with dangerously elevated
blood sugar levels.
"While the care has improved a lot in the last year and three months since
we settled the case, it still has a long way to go, and the big problem is
a lack of follow-up, and that's caused by a lack of adequate staff," she
Without a dedicated physician and more nurses, the care is inconsistent.
"It's going to end up costing the state far more money to take care of
these people if they end up on dialysis," Brownstein said.
PHS has declined to comment on Lawson's termination, or replacement,
saying it's against company policy to discuss personnel issues. PHS also
fired Lawson's boss, the regional administrator over Donaldson and several
other prisons, the same day Lawson was fired.
Lawson's staffing complaints are similar to those raised by Dr. Valda
Chijide, the former HIV doctor at Limestone Prison. Chijide resigned
earlier this year after sending PHS several memos detailing inadequate
support and staffing at the north Alabama prison.
Lawson's firing leaves Donaldson minus experienced staff in the two top
posts, overseeing the prison and the health care unit.
Considered by many people in the Department of Corrections to be the
toughest prison in the state, Donaldson houses mentally ill inmates and
men on death row. It is so crowded the sewage system is overloaded.
The corrections department has temporarily transferred Warden Terry
McDonnell from Kilby Correctional Facility to Donaldson.
Lawson said she made some improvements while at the prison. But until a
permanent doctor is in place, instead of doctors from temporary staffing
agencies, there will be problems, she said.
23 medical employees were assigned to Donaldson, including records,
support, nursing and herself.
"Until there's more staff there, there's not going to be a drastic
improvement," she said.
(source: Birmingham News)
Investigator says prosecutors solely to blame in Gell case
The lead investigator in the case of Alan Gell, who was sentenced to death
when prosecutors withheld evidence in his murder trial, says blame for the
mishandled case rests solely with the 2 lawyers involved.
The North Carolina State Bar has been reviewing its decision last year to
issue written reprimands, the lightest possible punishment, for
prosecutors David Hoke and Debra Graves. The decision was criticized
because the bar's Disciplinary Hearing Commission didn't call key
witnesses from the Gell case - including chief investigator Dwight Ransome
and Gell himself. The commission appeared to rely only on Hoke and Graves'
version of events.
Ransome, a State Bureau of Investigation agent, testified Thursday before
a bar committee, bristling with anger at times as he gave his first public
account of his part in the case.
"Was it your impression that Mr. Hoke and Ms. Graves were trying to put
this off on you?" asked panel member Jim Cooney, a Charlotte lawyer who
represented Gell at his 2nd trial.
Ransome nodded and said: "And not by themselves."
Gell spent nine years behind bars, half on death row, for the 1995 murder
of Allen Ray Jenkins. He was acquitted at a new trial in December 2002
that allowed the withheld evidence: statements of people who saw Jenkins
alive after Gell had been jailed, and a taped conversation of the star
witness saying she had to "make up a story" for police.
Hoke and Graves have maintained that they didn't produce the evidence,
despite a judge's order to do so, because they hadn't read the complete
case files and didn't know about statements. They said they relied on
Ransome to tell them what was in the file.
Ransome said Thursday that he challenged the lawyers' story and they later
backtracked, acknowledging that he delivered the entire file to Hoke
nearly two years before Gell's trial. They also backed off on the
assertion that Ransome had drawn up the witness list, which contained the
names of everyone who had seen Jenkins alive while Gell was in jail.
Ransome wouldn't say who drew up the list.
Giving the witnesses' statements to Gell's lawyers was the responsibility
of the prosecutors, not the investigator, Ransome said. Other agents took
the statements early in the investigation, and he put them in his file and
forgot about them, he said.
"If there is anything that is a fault of mine, that's it, and the only
responsibility I'll claim in this," he said.
(source: The News & Observer)
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