[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----COLO., N.Y., IOWA, PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Mar 28 18:10:34 CST 2005
Court overturns Harlan death penalty
A convicted murderer was spared execution today when the Colorado Supreme
Court ruled a jury's death penalty recommendation was tainted because
jurors consulted a Bible during deliberations.
The court ordered Robert Harlan to serve life in prison without the
possibility of parole.
"The Supreme Court finds that it can no longer say the death penalty
verdict was not influenced by passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary
factor," the court said in a 47-page ruling.
The court said Bible passages, including the verse that commands "an eye
for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," could lead jurors to vote for death.
Harlan's attorneys challenged the sentence after discovering 5 jurors had
looked up Bible verses, copied some of them down and then talked about
them behind closed doors.
Prosecutors said jurors should be allowed to refer to the Bible or other
religious texts during deliberations.
Harlan was convicted and sentenced to death in 1995 for the murder and
rape of Rhonda Maloney and the shooting of Jaquie Creazzo, a Good
Samaritan who tried to come to Maloney's aid when she escaped from
Harlan's car. Creazzo was paralyzed in the attack.
An Adams County judge had overturned the death penalty after learning of
the role the Bible played in the jury room, but the state had appealed.
(source: Rocky Mountain News)
As the State Legislature considers reinstating the death penalty, lost in
the debate is any mention of the appalling conditions that are often
inflicted on prisoners sentenced to death.
Since the death penalty was re-enacted during Gov. George E. Pataki's 1st
term, seven people have been condemned to die, but none have been
executed. Prisoners on death row have been kept in virtual solitary
confinement while they await the outcome of their appeals, exoneration or
A recent study by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, of
which I am a co-author, has found that the conditions on New York's death
row are among the harshest in the nation. According to the study, each
condemned man in New York is locked in his isolated 78 square-foot space
for 23 hours each day.
Each cell contains only a toilet, a sink, a bed, a mattress and a pillow.
The cells are not air-conditioned and fans are not permitted. All meals
are given to inmates in their cells during the daytime shift, which means
that inmates go more than 16 hours without food. The inmates cannot see
other prisoners from their cells and are not permitted to hold prison
jobs, attend programs or engage in organized activities. When a prisoner
is allowed out of his cell for his one hour a day, he is confined to a
solitary cage of about 2,000 square feet, aptly called a dog run.
Compounding the isolation, visits are greatly restricted and take place in
booths separated by a plexiglass barrier that prevents physical contact.
Inmates are limited to 2 10-minute phone calls per week.
Judge James L. Dennis of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth
Circuit, in New Orleans, has said that restrictive death row conditions
are "enough to weaken even the strongestindividual." Psychologists who
have studied such conditions have concluded that they can lead to severe
psychological consequences, including withdrawal, hopelessness,
hallucinations, aggression, rage, paranoia and psychosis.
Death row inmates who may be rendered insane by these conditions may no
longer be deemed competent when the time comes to execute them. There is
also the possibility that inmates will be driven by these conditions to
abandon their appeals and volunteer for execution, a phenomenon that
occurs with more than 10 % of all inmates on death row nationally.
And, of course, some prisoners subjected to these conditions might
actually be innocent - last month, an Ohio inmate who was convicted in
1985 became the 119th innocent person to be freed from death row since
Not only are conditions harsh, but the state is also highly secretive
about how it runs death row. The Department of Correctional Services has
refused to open death row to inspection even to representatives of the New
York City bar association asserting undefined security concerns.
When the death penalty law was passed, the Legislature and Governor Pataki
gave the department the authority to close death row to inspection by
judges, members of the Legislature, district attorneys, ministers in towns
where prisons are located and even by the governor himself.
Inmates on death row are not the only ones who must endure these horrible
conditions. New York confines approximately 5,000 other inmates by locking
them into their cells for 23 hours a day. Approximately 2,800 of these
inmates are housed in disciplinary lockdown units, some of which approach
the severity and degree of isolation of the notorious "supermax" prisons
in other states.
The conditions in these units are analogous to those on death row. The
toll exacted by these conditions has not been fully calculated, but some
things are known. A recent review of public data by lawyers from the
Prisoners' Rights Project of the New York Legal Aid Society found that
from 1998 to 2001, 30 percent to 50 percent of prison suicides occurred
within these harsh confinement units, which house less than 8 percent of
the total prison population. There is never justification for prison
conditions that cause mental torture. And it is a mistake to think that
the conditions do not directly affect us. Many inmates will some day
return to be our neighbors, some even from death row. New York State
should not be in the business of creating dreadful conditions that breed
psychotics who then return to society.
Given the extreme conditions of death row, one might expect that the
inmates held there are exceptionally dangerous. But they are not.
The bar association study found that prisoners on death row are among New
York's most cooperative inmates. From 1996, when New York's death row was
established, to 2001, there was not a single reported incident of
violence, an attempted escape or even a serious security violation, like
the possession of a banned item that could be made into weapons.
The time has come to correct these problems. No longer should any areas of
the New York prison system be off limits to observers. Governor Pataki
should ensure that state prisons, including death row, are open to
inspection by responsible persons outside the system. And legislation
should be enacted that ensures that the harsh isolation and brutal
conditions that are inflicted on death row inmates are stopped.
Whether or not the death penalty is reinstated in New York, death row
conditions and the ill treatment of thousands of other inmates in supermax
units need to be part of the debate. We cannot close our eyes to their
suffering. The Legislature and the governor should immediately undertake
reforms to ensure that New York State prisoners are no longer subjected to
what is essentially state-sponsored torture.
(source: Michael B. Mushlin is a professor at Pace Law School; Opinion,
New York Times)
Girl's death has lawmakers talking about death penalty in Iowa
The abduction and death of a 10-year-old girl allegedly at the hands of a
registered sex offender had some lawmakers talking Monday about
reinstatement of the death penalty in Iowa.
"These instances where our children, especially this little girl who had
special needs was a victim and then murdered, what more perfect crime
would there be than that for the death penalty, said Rep. James Van
While such a debate is not likely to go very far this year, legislation
that sets new limits on how close registered sex offenders can live to
schools is likely to be introduced.
A federal court last year stuck down a 2002 law that barred sex offenders
from living within 2,000 feet of schools and day care centers. U.S.
District Judge Robert Pratt ruled that the law was unconstitutional
because it infringed on the 14th Amendment right to due process.
Along with his ruling, Pratt issued a permanent injunction barring
enforcement of the law, which was challenged in a class-action lawsuit on
behalf of Iowa sex offenders.
Attorney General Tom Miller appealed the ruling with the 8th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
Jetseta Gage was taken from her Cedar Rapids home on Thursday night,
police said. Her body was found Friday in a mobile home in rural Johnson
Roger Paul Bentley, 37, of Brandon, was charged Monday with first-degree
murder and kidnapping. Police said he appeared to have blood stains on his
clothing and evidence suggests the girl was sexually abused, according to
The states Sexual Offender Registry said Bentley was convicted in 1994 of
lascivious acts with a child. He served 2 years of a 5-year sentence.
(source: Associated Press)
State men's cases used in book's argument -- Crime-show host outlines
flaws in justice system
To viewers of the TV shows "Cold Case Files" and "American Justice," Bill
Kurtis personifies the system.
On the programs, police track down and nab the bad guys while Kurtis, a
former CBS anchorman who once called himself the "darling of law
enforcement," leads viewers along the trail to the guilty.
But in a new book, "The Death Penalty on Trial," Kurtis argues the system
is so flawed the ultimate penalty must be abolished. He illustrates his
case with 2 overturned death penalty convictions with ties to
Ray Krone, of Dover Twp., York County, spent more than 10 years in Arizona
prisons before DNA evidence cleared him of killing bartender Kim Ancona
and led to a new suspect, who is awaiting trial. Krone had been convicted
twice, largely on the basis of expert testimony about a bite mark that was
later shown to be scientifically flawed.
The prosecution hid the fact that a nationally renowned dental expert had
rejected the theory that Krone's teeth matched a bite mark on the victim.
The other case involved Thomas Kimbell, a New Castle man who spent four
years on Pennsylvania's death row for the murders of Bonnie Dryfuse, her 2
young daughters and their cousin.
Kimbell got a 2nd trial because his attorney had not been permitted to
question a woman who was talking on the phone with Dryfuse.
The woman testified at the 2nd trial that Dryfuse said her husband was
pulling into the driveway shortly before the murders. After that trial,
Kimbell was acquitted, but the prosecution remains convinced of his guilt.
"That's the one thing that has surprised me," Kurtis said in an interview
with The Patriot-News. "The prosecutors -- they're believers. They
convince themselves strongly in what they're doing in the case, and it is
almost impossible for them to admit they were wrong somewhere. They will
go to their graves convincing themselves the guy is guilty."
Kurtis, who holds a law degree, used to be a supporter of the death
penalty. He covered the trials of such infamous murderers as John Wayne
Gacy, Charles Manson and Richard Speck.
He was driven to re-examine his beliefs when former Illinois Gov. George
Ryan pardoned 4 death-sentenced prisoners and commuted the sentences of
all of Illinois' 164 death row inmates to life terms without the
possibility of parole.
Ryan's decision, in his last days in office, came in the wake of 13
exonerations of convicts on that state's death row.
Kurtis said flaws in the system -- overzealous prosecutors, underpaid and
inexperienced defense attorneys, investigations tainted by tunnel vision
-- boil down to putting someone's fate in the hands of jurors who may have
doubts, but are afraid to set a killer free.
"It's a flip of the coin; the system's that shaky," he said.
He said polls showing most Americans believe in the death penalty come up
with smaller numbers if the alternative is life without the possibility of
And while he sees public opinion starting to waver, he believes the change
may come in the court system, as evidenced by two recent decisions by the
U.S. Supreme Court barring the death penalty for juveniles and the
The debate over the death penalty often brings into play the words of
English jurist William Blackstone, who said it is better to have 10 guilty
people go free than to convict one innocent man.
Kurtis said those who favor the death penalty continually challenge those
who oppose it to find one case where an innocent person has been executed.
While there isn't a case that has been proven, Kurtis said several are in
question and that may eventually turn a majority against the death
"I think we're approaching the tipping point," Kurtis said.
He says his own "peripeteia," a Greek term meaning a sudden reversal of
beliefs, is complete. Even in heinous cases such as the one involving
Gacy, who killed more than 30 boys and men and buried many under his
house, Kurtis said the death penalty should not be an option.
"Once you walk down the road toward eliminating the death penalty, you
have to go all the way and apply it fairly," Kurtis said.
"As much as I try to avoid getting into moral issues, once you commit to
not having a death penalty you have risen above this base emotion that
goes back to the caveman days called revenge. Once the system locks in,
your brain has to take over from your heart and your emotions and lift
ourselves above this caveman mentality."
(source: The Patriot-News)
More information about the DeathPenalty