[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----USA, FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Mar 26 20:33:05 CST 2005
Starved of sufficient funding, the comprehensive Justice for All Act that
Congress adopted and President Bush signed last year is headed toward
being just another example of this administration's saying one thing and
The Justice for All Act, which was originally called the Innocence
Protection Act, was passed by Congress with solid bipartisan support.
That support undoubtedly was influenced by Mr. Bush's signal in his State
of the Union address that he was tired of business as usual on criminal
justice issues, including the death penalty.
"People on trial for their lives must have competent lawyers by their
side," he said. "No one should be held to account for a crime he or she
did not commit."
Taking him at his word, Congress rolled out the Justice for All Act,
authorizing millions of dollars to help federal, state and local
governments address the serious problems that crime victims, prosecutors,
defense attorneys and prisoner advocates have complained of for years.
For example, more than 300,000 rape kits and other crime scene evidence
are sitting around in crime labs across the country awaiting analysis. The
law authorized $755 million to reduce that backlog.
Also authorized was $25 million to help states pay for post-conviction DNA
testing. Such testing has proven crucial to the exonerations and releases
of more than 100 wrongly convicted prisoners, including several on death
The law authorizes $375 million to train defense lawyers and prosecutors
in capital cases, though the continuing scandal is how stingy some Old
South states remain in paying for the defense of indigents charged with
The law has many other provisions that won broad support from groups that
are usually at one another's throats. Unfortunately, that fragile
coalition may not last now that Mr. Bush is backtracking by proposing
significantly lower spending than is necessary to carry out the mandates
that Justice for All authorized.
Sadly, this looks more like the continuation of business as usual than its
A purposeless penalty
While we students were on Spring Break, many of us found ourselves drawn
in on Friday, March 11 to the story of Brian Nichols. Nichols, who was on
trial for rape, had escaped from custody allegedly by grabbing a
policeman's gun, shooting and killing the judge, court reporter and
another guard, then hijacking several cars and fleeing. As the case
unfolded, the entire city of Atlanta (where the incident had taken place)
seemed to shut down, as Nichols fled with nothing to lose. After all, he
assuredly faced the death penalty if caught. Once again, the death penalty
had failed to serve the people it was supposed to protect.
The time is long overdue for Americans to reconsider the death penalty,
recognize that this punishment fails in all its purposes and begin the
movement towards the total abolition of the death penalty in America.
While America remains one of the last remaining industrialized countries
to still have the death penalty at all, its place here seems very firm.
While parts of the death penalty are eroding (we may no longer execute the
mentally retarded, and, as of just a month ago, we may no longer execute
juveniles), the death penalty itself unfortunately remains just as much a
part of the American judicial system today as it was 200 years ago.
The most frequent argument in support of the death penalty, for example,
is that it deters criminals from committing crimes. This is simply untrue.
In fact, according to the Uniform Crime Reports, the annual reports
released that show crime rates across the country, death penalty states in
the United States actually have a higher murder rate than states without
the death penalty. In fact, when Oklahoma reintroduced the death penalty
in 1990, studies reported in Criminology magazine showed that there was a
jump of an average of one additional stranger-homicide (a person murdering
someone they did not know) per month. The death penalty had failed to
serve as a deterrent, and it can even be argued that the death penalty
served merely to re-introduce the acceptability of violence in society in
Another argument in favor of the death penalty is the idea that a murderer
should face the worst penalty possible.While this is certainly a
reasonable argument to make, the flaw is the idea that the death penalty
is the worst penalty possible.Spending the rest of one's natural life in
jail, contrary to what many will argue, is no picnic. Inmates have nothing
to do with their lives but eat, exercise an hour a day and sit there and
think about the mistakes they made. This is far more haunting and
unpleasant than having it all come to an end in 10 to 15 years. Many argue
that someone still in prison gets family visits, TV and still gets to live
some semblance of a life. This kind of argument is not only mostly untrue,
but also an argument for prison reform and not relevant to the death
Finally, beyond the flaws in the logic supporting the death penalty, the
death penalty itself has major drawbacks.The biggest one is that it is
irreversible. If someone innocent has been wrongly convicted, this person
no longer has any avenue of appeal if they are dead. Over the course of
the past 30 years, for example, 119 death row inmates have been determined
to be innocent and released.
Some argue that these cases show the appeals system works, and we don't
actually execute those who have been wrongfully convicted. This also is
untrue. A case discussed in the Thomas M. Cooley Law Review of 1997 was
the 1990 execution of Jesse Tafero in Florida for murdering a state
trooper. Just 2 years later, it was discovered that the primary
prosecution witness had perjured himself in the case, and Tafero's wife
(who was convicted with all the same evidence of the same crime) was
determined to be not guilty of the murder. Had Tafero been alive in 1992,
he also would likely have been found not guilty. Instead, the state of
Florida had already murdered Tafero. Murder is always wrong, and it is
better to let hundreds of guilty criminals live in jail than to murder one
While the death penalty still holds an entrenched place in American
society, it is time for the death penalty to be brought to an end. The
sanction fails as a deterrent, fails as an effective punishment and risks
the murder of innocent people. The death penalty has no place in the 21st
century. It is time for America to catch up with the rest of the world and
abolish the death penalty.
(source: The Cavalier Daily (Sam Leven's column usually appears Tuesdays
in The Cavalier Daily, March 25)
Life and death in the U.S.
Whatever was going through the mind of Jeff Weise on Monday, as the
teenager shot dead nine people in Minnesota, it probably wasn't any of the
recent pronouncements of George W. Bush. Only the day before, the
president had taken the almost unprecedented step of cutting short his
holiday to "save" a woman's life as it ebbed away in a hospital in
Florida, signing a congressional resolution to allow her parents, who have
consistently failed in their court battle with her husband, to try their
luck with another judge.
There is no doubt in the administration's collective mind about Terri
Schiavo's right to life -- and by extension, the right to life of all
Americans -- even though she has been in a vegetative state for 15 years.
"Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together last night to give
Terri Schiavo's parents another opportunity to save their daughter's
life," Bush declared after signing the emergency legislation. "This is a
complex case with serious issues, but in extraordinary circumstances like
this, it is wise to always err on the side of life."
So exercised have Schiavo's supporters become about her plight that 4 of
them, including a running mate of then Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in
the 1988 presidential election, were arrested after attempting to enter
the Las Pinellas hospice near Tampa where her feeding tube was
disconnected by order of a state judge last Friday.
For all those people, politicians and activists alike, the right to life
is paramount -- a position quite different from the one taken by the
president when he was governor of Texas between 1995 and 2000 and
repeatedly failed to "err on the side of life" in death penalty cases.
Each year, the United States comes near the top of the dwindling list of
countries that continue to use capital punishment, finding itself grouped
with flagrant human rights abusers such as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
And while it may be fanciful to suggest that the institutionalized
violence of the state toward its residents influenced Weise to open fire
on his grandfather, his grandfather's companion and seven others, there is
a perplexing disjunction between the high value Americans place on life in
theory and its apparent cheapness in practice.
A version of this thought may have occurred to many people as they observe
the rising casualties in the president's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But
what intrigues me in the wake of Monday's mass murder, the latest in a
long series that has even produced its own slang term -- "going postal,"
derived from the number of disgruntled postal workers who have turned guns
on their colleagues -- is why the very public commitment to a "culture of
life," endorsed at the weekend by both houses of Congress, has such little
impact on bitter, angry people such as Weise.
Perhaps they are influenced by another piece of right-wing rhetoric, which
insists on the right of every U.S. citizen to bear arms, regardless of the
consequences: more than 30,000 gun-related killings a year.
Since Weise killed himself four days ago, apparently after turning one of
his weapons on himself inside the school where he found most of his
victims, evidence has emerged to suggest that the teenager, who lived in
Red Lake, a Native American reservation in the far north of Minnesota, was
a neo-Nazi who signed himself Native Nazi or Todesengel (German for angel
of death) when he used Internet chat rooms.
"I guess I've always carried a natural admiration for Hitler and his
ideals, and his courage to take on larger nations," he wrote last March.
Weise's admiration for Hitler seems to have had its roots in his feelings,
as a member of one of the United States' most disadvantaged minorities,
"As a result of cultural dominance and interracial mixing," he wrote on
another occasion, "there is [sic] barely any full-blooded Natives left."
It is not hard to see why Nazi rhetoric about racial purity might have
appealed to a youngster who felt isolated and rejected. Weise's
background, with its extreme frustrations and dislocations, is a familiar
story of modern life in the United States -- not the folksy, uplifting
kind that appeals to the president and his supporters but considerably
more authentic than Bush's fantasy about bringing Schiavo back to life.
Red Lake is one of the poorest reservations in the region, with
unemployment running as high as 65 percent and more than half the
population below the poverty line. Weise's father killed himself 4 years
ago, his mother is unavoidably absent; in an echo of the Schiavo case, she
is confined to a nursing home after suffering brain damage, and the boy
himself had recently been excluded from school, apparently because he was
suspected of being the author of a threat to "shoot up" the place on
Students who knew Weise describe him as weird and antisocial, exhibiting
some of the traits characterized by the psychoanalyst Alice Miller as "the
loneliness of the contemptuous." Miller describes disrespect and contempt
for others as "the weapon of the weak," which may have catastrophic
effects when children become adults (or reach the middle teenage years, in
Weise's case). Poor, effectively orphaned, avoided by classmates and
sensitive to his status as a member of a racial minority, Weise was hardly
in a position to learn that life -- his own or anyone else's -- had much
In Bush's America, where the political class has embarked on a mission to
resuscitate the brain-dead, no one seems to have either the will or the
power to intervene in the everyday existence of young people whose lives
are going horribly awry. Whole sections of U.S. society grow up with guns
and violent death, if not the internecine rivalries of gang culture,
making the right-to-life debate currently being conducted in Congress and
the Florida courts seem like a surreal joke.
I don't think this is an accident. Politicians enjoy occupying the high
moral ground and it is easier to emote about the pain of Schiavo's
parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, than to address the disfiguring
inequalities of the richest nation on Earth -- especially when you are
personally implicated, as the current president is, in making those
The Schindlers are not alone in refusing to accept a harsh medical fact,
which is that their daughter has in effect been dead for 15 years; there
have been cases on this side of the Atlantic in which family members,
buoyed by false hope, refused to accept the inevitable. But Bush's public
endorsement of a right to life is at best a diversion, at worst a sham,
making it all the more shocking that so many members of Congress rushed to
The new law may not "save" Schiavo, even assuming such a thing were
possible, because the federal district court is no more inclined to fly in
the face of medical reality than its state counterpart. More surprising,
so soon after elections in which a right-wing moral agenda played a
significant role, opinion polls show a clear majority in favor of the
proposition that the court decision should be respected.
In the Schiavo case, it may be that ordinary Americans have a more
sophisticated grasp of the meaning of slogans such as the "right to life"
than their political leaders. Or maybe the president's Superman costume
split at the seams last weekend, revealing not Clark Kent but the smirking
politician who helped more than 150 prisoners to an early exit from death
(source: Seattle-Post-Intelligencer (Joan Smith is a columnist for The
Independent in Britain, March 25)
High court vacates 20-year-old conviction
The murder conviction that sent a man to death row 20 years ago was
vacated Thursday, with the Florida Supreme Court saying that evidence
withheld by prosecutors might have been enough to change the verdict.
James Floyd, now 45, was condemned for the fatal stabbing of Annie B.
Anderson of St. Petersburg in January 1984.
A neighbor, Tina Glenn, told police she was watching "All My Children"
when she saw a car pull up at the home of the elderly Anderson and saw two
white men go inside. She saw them leave, acting suspiciously, about an
2 days later police arrested Floyd, a black man, as he tried to cash a
check from Anderson's checkbook. Floyd said he got the checkbook from a
trash bin. A jailhouse informant testified Floyd confessed to the murder.
Prosecutors never told Floyd's trial attorney about Glenn's testimony.
In Thursday's 4-2 decision, Florida's high court said the state's failure
to provide the defense with that information and other, less significant
information "severely compromised Floyd's constitutional right to a fair
The decision was supported fully by Chief Justice Barbara Pariente and
Justices Harry Lee Anstead and Raoul Cantero. Justice R. Fred Lewis
concurred in the result only; Justices Charles Wells and Kenneth Bell
dissented and Justice Peggy Quince did not participate in the case.
Bernie McCabe, state attorney in Pinellas County, said he didn't know if
the state would bring Floyd to trial again.
"We'll have to see what we can put together," he said.
But Martin McClain of Weston, a lawyer representing Floyd, said he didn't
think Floyd would be convicted again.
"I'm convinced that if they take it back to trial they cannot get a
conviction, based on what the neighbor lady saw," said McClain, a veteran
lawyer for death row inmates.
In Thursday's unsigned opinion, the high court noted that there was no
direct evidence against Floyd; no eyewitness or DNA evidence, or a
"Glenn's eyewitness account is unsettling, given the circumstantial nature
of this case," the court wrote.
It might have made a difference in the outcome, and that means the
conviction cannot stand, according to the opinion.
"We conclude that our confidence in the defendant's murder conviction has
clearly been shaken by the evidence that the State suppressed in this
case," the court wrote.
"While there is not a 'smoking gun' in the suppressed evidence that would
completely exonerate the defendant, there was also not a 'smoking gun' in
the State's case against him.
"Just as irrefutable evidence of guilt is not required for a conviction,
irrefutable evidence of innocence is not required for a conviction to be
In another capital case Thursday, the high court ordered a trial judge to
hold an evidentiary hearing in an appeal by Dwayne Parker, who is on death
row for the 1989 murder of William Nicholson, a bar patron who chased
Parker after a holdup at a nearby Pizza Hut in Pompano Beach.
(source: Associated Press)
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