[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----N.C., CALIF., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Mar 22 23:01:41 CST 2005
Judge orders files given to defense
More than three months after staying the execution of death-row inmate
Charles Walker, a Superior Court judge on Monday ordered prosecutors to
turn over more investigative files related to his case -- a move that
could lead defense attorneys to file another round of appeals.
The decision came in an often heated three-hour hearing during which one
of Walker's attorneys charged that prosecutors drew up paperwork years
earlier to intentionally deceive the defense into believing they had
received all investigative files when they had not. Prosecutors hotly
disputed that contention.
"That is a complete, 100 % falsehood," said Howard Neumann, Guilford
County chief assistant district attorney, after the hearing. "We complied
with the law in every respect."
Walker's defense attorneys are trying to persuade Superior Court Judge
John O. Craig III that Walker is ineligible for the death penalty.
Walker, 39, was sentenced to death ten years ago for his role in the 1992
murder of 20-year-old Elmon Tito Davidson Jr. of Greensboro, whose body
was never found.
In an unusual move, Craig stayed Walker's execution on Nov. 29, just four
days before the man was scheduled to die by lethal injection. The state
Supreme Court later upheld Craig's order.
Craig wanted to hear further arguments from defense attorneys, who contend
that Walker was convicted based solely on the uncorroborated testimony of
five witnesses who pointed to Walker as the mastermind to escape more
severe punishment for themselves.
Defense attorneys also claim that a jury incorrectly recommended a death
sentence for Walker based on the aggravating conduct of two co-defendants
-- who decided on their own to shoot and cut up the victim when Walker was
not present. According to testimony, the body was thrown into a trash bin
and never found by authorities.
Prosecutors on Monday said that the testimony at issue was corroborated by
a taped phone conversation played at trial in which they claim Walker
admits to moving Davidson's body.
The call, which occurred about 2 months after the killing, was between
Walker and an acquaintance, Antonio Wrenn. Wrenn was a co-defendant in the
case who allowed police to record his conversation to help investigators
gain information against Walker.
After playing the tape in court a dozen or more times, both sides disputed
what was actually said.
"I don't hear it," defense attorney Paul M. Green told the judge about
Walker's alleged admission.
The most heated exchange of the hearing happened when defense attorney
Jonathan Megerian alluded to prosecutors trying to hide information from
the defense that could have helped Walker's case.
He claimed that prosecutors had deliberately drawn up an affidavit in 1997
to make it sound like there was only one file in the Walker investigation
and the defense had received everything from it.
But only recently did Megerian and his co-counsel realize that there were
other police files that weren't turned over containing potentially
"(The affidavit) was misleading, that's for sure," Megerian said
Neumann, who prosecuted the case, angrily denied the accusation.
Despite his initial reluctance, the judge eventually ordered prosecutors
to hand over a total of 3 files. After reading one in court, Megerian
claimed that it contained exculpatory evidence that could have been used
at trial to impeach at least 1 of the state's witnesses.
The significance of that discovery was not immediately known. The defense
signaled they might file an additional motion for appropriate relief.
Meanwhile, Craig must rule on the defense's current arguments, a decision
that could come at any time.
"Obviously, I have a lot of things to think about," Craig said before the
(source: News & Record)
Ex-Calif. prosecutor admits conspiracy
In San Jose, a former prosecutor testified Tuesday he conspired with a
judge to keep Jewish jurors off a capital murder case that ultimately sent
the defendant to death row.
At a hearing ordered by the California Supreme Court, John "Jack" Quatman
recalled how the late Alameda County Superior Court Judge Stanley Golde
lectured him in chambers April 28, 1987, during jury selection for Fred
Freeman, who was sentenced to death for killing a bar patron during a
"What are you doing?" Quatman, now a criminal defense attorney in Montana,
quoted Golde asking.
"No Jewish person can sit on a death penalty jury and vote for death," the
judge said, according to Quatman.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Kevin Murphy will forward his
findings to the California Supreme Court on whether the court should grant
Freeman a new trial.
Murphy limited the scope of Tuesday's testimony solely to jury selection
in Freeman's case, and did not allow questioning on the topic of an
alleged office-wide policy against black women and Jews on capital cases.
State prosecutors tried to show Quatman was lying.
George Williamson, a special prosecutor with the state attorney general's
office, asked Quatman whether he knew he was violating his oath of the
state Bar when he illegally eliminated at least 3 jurors he thought were
Jewish. And he grilled Quatman about whether he told anybody immediately
after Golde's alleged statements.
Quatman conceded he neither told his supervisor, nor reported his own or
the judge's conduct to the state Bar. He also testified he did not have a
grudge against the district attorney's office, as state prosecutors
(source: Associated Press)
Trial begins for man accused of kidnapping, killing California girl
DNA consistent with that of Samantha Runnion was found inside the car of
the man on trial for abducting and killing the 5-year-old girl, a
prosecutor told a jury Monday.
And defendant Alejandro Avila's DNA was found under the girl's fingernails
after her body was found the day after her abduction in July 2002, Deputy
District Attorney David Brent said during his opening statement to the
Brent said that DNA was found inside Avila's Ford Thunderbird. The genetic
material was found in what Brent said were dried tears recovered from a
Deputy Public Defender Phil Zalewski told the jury in his opening
statement that cell phone records show that it would have been difficult
for Avila to have been with Samantha at the time of her death.
Zalewski said that his client was obsessed over a breakup with his
girlfriend, and he was driving around randomly, the cell phone records
Responding to the prosecution's allegations about evidence, he said that
the origin of the DNA was suspicious.
Both attorneys spoke for about 15 minutes in Orange County Superior Court.
Avila sat quietly at the counsel table. Erin Runnion, Samantha's mother,
and her husband, Ken Donnelly, sat in the 2nd row.
Virginia Runnion, a witness for the prosecution, said she was caring for
her granddaughter at about 6:30 p.m. on July 15, 2002, when Sarah Anh,
Samantha's 6-year-old playmate, came running in and told her, "Samantha's
been taken, a man came and took Samantha."
Virginia Runnion said she called 911 and rushed outside the family's
Stanton condominium to see if she could see the kidnapper's car but was
Avila, 30, of Lake Elsinore, is charged with sexually assaulting and
suffocating the girl. Samantha's body was found off Ortega Highway in an
area popular with hang gliders.
Avila was questioned by sheriff's deputies 3 days after the abduction,
then arrested on the 4th day.
Avila had been acquitted in January 2001 in Riverside County on charges of
molesting 2 girls, 8 and 9, who were the daughter and cousin of an
Members of the family told police that one girl Avila was accused of
molesting had lived in the same Stanton condominium as Samantha until
about 6 months before Samantha was killed.
Avila faces a possible death sentence if convicted.
(source: Orange County Register)
High court rules death row inmate's religious conversion properly
considered at trial
The Supreme Court says a jury properly considered a convicted killer's
religious conversion before sentencing him to death.
Today's 5-to-3 ruling comes in the case of William Payton, who was
convicted and sentenced in the 1980 rape and stabbing death of a woman in
Garden Grove, California.
The high court said jurors had taken Payton's behind-bars religious
conversion into account -- and denied a request for a new trial.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist did not participate the decision -- from a
case that was heard in November -- because he was undergoing thyroid
cancer treatment at the time.
(source: Associated Press)
Court: Inmate's Religion Used OK at Trial
The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a jury which sentenced a convicted
killer to death had properly taken into account his religious conversion,
even though a prosecutor incorrectly argued it was irrelevant.
In a 5-3 ruling, justices reversed a lower court ordering a new trial for
William Payton. While a California prosecutor was wrong to make that
assertion, the errors did not make a difference in sentencing because
jurors had heard testimony from other witnesses attesting to Payton's
religious conversion, they said.
"Testimony about a religious conversion spanning one year and nine months
may well have been considered altogether insignificant in light of the
brutality of the crimes, the prior offenses, and a proclivity for
committing violent acts against women," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for
He also noted that justices only can overturn the death sentence if it was
unreasonable given all the evidence presented.
"In context, it was not unreasonable for the state court to conclude that
the jury believed Payton's evidence was neither credible nor sufficient to
outweigh the aggravating factors, not that it was not evidence at all,"
In a dissent, Justice David H. Souter argued Payton deserved a new trial
because of the prosecutor's misstatements.
"The trial judge utterly failed to correct these repeated misstatements or
in any other way to honor his duty to give the jury an accurate definition
of legitimate mitigation," Souter wrote. He was joined by Justices John
Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Payton's is one of the longest-running death penalty cases. He was
convicted and sentenced in the 1980 rape and stabbing death of Pamela
Montgomery of Garden Grove, Calif.
Currently, there are more than 600 inmates on death row in California,
although the state has executed only 10 people since 1992 due to
protracted legal challenges and concerns about fairness of the system.
His lawyers have said that about 70 cases involve death row inmates who
claim that mitigating factors after a crime - such as a religious
conversion - were not properly considered because of inadequate jury
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist did not participate in consideration of
the case, which was heard in November while he was being treated for
Rehnquist returned to the bench Monday after a 5-month absence because of
the illness. He was back again Tuesday for 2 more arguments.
The 80-year-old chief justice's voice remained hoarse and he moved slowly,
but he appeared fully engaged and seemed to enjoy being back at work.
Rehnquist read an opinion, asked half-a-dozen questions during the first
argument, smiled at his colleagues' quips and made a couple of his own.
He provoked laughter with a comment to an attorney representing famed Los
Angeles lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., who is named in a lawsuit the court
is considering. As the attorney began describing a hypothetical scenario
in which Cochran was running for mayor of San Francisco, Rehnquist
remarked, "I thought he lived in L.A."
The ruling was in Brown v. Payton, 03-1039.
On the Net: Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourtus.gov The opinion in
Brown v. Payton is available at:
Catholic tide turning away from executions
Widespread use of DNA evidence combined with church teachings on human
life have prompted a sharp drop in the number of Catholics who support the
death penalty, according to a study released Monday by the nation's Roman
The poll, billed as the largest and most comprehensive study of Catholic
attitudes on capital punishment, found that 48 percent of more than 1,700
Catholics surveyed support the death penalty--a plunge from 2002 when
another survey reported Catholic support for capital punishment at 64
Almost a third of the Catholics opposed to the death penalty said they had
previously supported it but have changed their minds. When asked why they
reconsidered, the No. 1 reason cited was religion.
"This is a seismic shift in public opinion," said John Zogby, president of
Zogby International, which conducted the poll in November. Zogby said the
increased use of DNA evidence in exonerating people on death row has
created a "cataclysmic event" that is altering public opinion.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, D.C., said at a
Monday news conference that he was among those Catholics who had
reconsidered his support of the death penalty. Growing up in a family of
police officers, McCarrick said support for capital punishment was "part
of growing up." But as a pastor, McCarrick said he came to believe the
death penalty hurts all people, not just the one being executed.
"We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing. We cannot defend life
by taking life," said McCarrick. "I'm not a young man. But as a pastor,
teacher and citizen, I hope I will see the day when the nation I love no
longer relies on violence to confront violence."
Release of the survey coincides with an aggressive new Catholic campaign
to end the death penalty that includes a new Web site (www.ccedp.org),
educational materials for parishes and schools, legal advocacy and
brochures outlining the church's position on the issue.
Rev. Robert F. Drinan, a professor of law at Georgetown University Law
Center, called the shift in Catholic opinion a "dramatic development."
Although use of DNA evidence is one factor in the shift, Drinan said, he
also pointed to the persistent pleas of Pope John Paul II to protect life.
"There are many factors involved in this and DNA is just one," said
Drinan. "The Catholic Church has evolved in its teaching on the death
penalty. Before they would say it was allowed in extreme cases to protect
society. Under Pope John Paul II, that has changed. It's an evolution in
In his 1999 encyclical "The Gospel of Life," the pontiff called on
followers of Christ to be "unconditionally pro-life" and "proclaim,
celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation."
"A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human
life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done
great evil," he wrote. "Modern society has the means of protecting itself,
without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform."
Some Christian leaders who support the death penalty say its justification
can be found in the book of Genesis, in which God said to Noah and his
family, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for
in the image of God made he man."
According to the Zogby survey, however, most Catholics said their reason
for opposing the death penalty also comes from the Bible: the commandment
that states "Thou shalt not kill."
When asked about attitudes on the death penalty, 63 percent of Catholics
surveyed said they were concerned about what the use of capital punishment
"does to us as a people and country." Even among those who support the
death penalty, a majority shared that concern, Zogby said.
John Carr, spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said
that finding offered some hope that more Catholics could be persuaded to
change their opinion.
"We know we have a long way to go on this. This is not a campaign of
judging people but persuading people."
(source: Chicago Tribune)
It's time to kill the death penalty
On March 1, in a much-criticized decision, Roper v. Simmons, the United
States Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for juveniles, declaring
it unconstitutional. 2 weeks later, a California judge sentenced Scott
Peterson to death. Both cases have kept the spotlight on the death
With this renewed attention, one thing is clear: It's time to officially
kill the death penalty. The Arizona legislature ought to set the example
and outlaw it now. But it won't until we Arizonans demand it. We should
and we must.
Although reasons for abrogating the penalty abound, there are five
particularly persuasive reasons.
First, the death penalty should go because it's permanent, but not
error-free. When we talk about punishing people through an imperfect
justice system replete with human error, permanence is an exceptionally
bad thing. The problem is that even if DNA or other evidence eventually
proves that a person didn't commit a crime, we can't reverse the penalty
once the person has been executed. There's no 2nd chance.
And the proven error rate is alarmingly high. More than 114 people have
been exonerated from death row since 1972. That's more than three people
per year. Moreover, those are just the people whom we know science has
exculpated. But DNA testing often isn't even used because many
jurisdictions can't afford it or have no established procedure for
In other words, until modern science becomes cheap enough to be used in
every death penalty case - to invariably rule out the possibility of a
defendant's innocence - we're running the risk of sending innocent people
Worse, there's a high probability that we've already executed innocent
That's especially troubling because our justice system was established
with precisely the opposite objective: People are presumed innocent until
proven guilty. If reasonable doubt exists in a criminal case, the
defendant walks. As the saying goes, "It's better that 10 guilty men go
free than one innocent man suffer."
The 2nd reason the penalty should go is because it doesn't promote the
goals of our criminal justice system - namely, rehabilitation, education,
deterrence and retribution. The death penalty advances none of these
It provides little, if any, social utility beyond that which is
accomplished by a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of
parole. Furthermore, when a person is executed, we make no attempt to
promote the interests of education or rehabilitation; instead, we
implicitly give up on the offender. In a civilized society, revenge alone
shouldn't trump the important, longstanding criminal justice goals of
rehabilitation, education and deterrence.
Third, the death penalty should go because it doesn't effectively deter
crime. Supporters claim that the death penalty prevents murder by scaring
would-be killers with the fear of a death sentence. However, no evidence
supports that conjecture. Quite the contrary; studies repeatedly
demonstrate that executions do not deter crime. It's just that simple.
Fourth, let us not forget that race discrimination is another inherent,
irreconcilable problem with the death penalty. Although black Americans
make up about 12 % of the population, they account for 42 % of current
death row inmates. Since 1976, black Americans make up 43 % of total
executions, but they comprise only around 25 % of the population. And
though both blacks and whites have been the victims of murders in almost
equal numbers since 1977, 80 % of the people executed in that period were
convicted of murders involving white victims.
Fifth and last, we should oppose the death penalty because it contravenes
basic respect for human life. In fact, all pro-life Christians should
assail the death penalty. "Pro-life," to be consistent, means choosing
life in all circumstances - including opposing abortion, euthanasia and
capital punishment. For example, the Catholic Church officially opposes
the death penalty, except in very narrow, limited circumstances. Other
Christian denominations profess similar doctrine.
Surprisingly, however, there are few anti-death-penalty marches or
rallies, even from those who assert that their ultimate aim is to foster a
"culture of life." Sadly, that "culture of life" seems to include only
some lives - not those whom society has condemned for their bad acts.
The real irony of that position is that it's plainly hypocritical. Jesus
Christ taught us to protect the marginalized, outcast and downtrodden. Who
better exemplifies a modern pariah than a convicted killer? Pro-life
Christians have a duty to oppose the death penalty.
For all of these, and more, reasons, Arizonans - and all Americans -
should urge legislators to terminate the death penalty, and now. Even one
more execution is one too many.
(source: Columns,Dillon Fishman is a 3rd-year law student; Arizona Daily
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