death penalty news----CALIF., CONN., TENN., CONN., N.Y.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Mar 29 00:20:49 CST 2005
High court to hear California appeal of death sentence reversal
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear California's appeal of a
lower court ruling that overturned the death sentence for a Kern County
man convicted of killing a woman 23 years ago.
Ronald Sanders, 52, was convicted of clubbing to death Janice Allen, 52,
of Bakersfield. She and her boyfriend were bound and gagged when Sanders
robbed the apartment for cocaine. The boyfriend survived.
Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Sanders' jury might
have been improperly instructed, leading to the death sentence. The court
said jurors were asked, among other things, to vote for execution if they
found the murder "heinous, atrocious and cruel."
The appeals court said the jury instruction was too vague and required
jurors to "guess at its meaning."
The San Francisco-based appeals court, however, upheld the murder
conviction by the same Kern County jury. That means Sanders, who is on
death row in San Quentin State Prison, will remain in prison for life
unless the Supreme Court rules in the prosecution's favor or authorities
convince a new jury to sentence him to death.
The high court agreed to take the case without commenting.
Sanders' attorney, Nina Rivkind, said she was disappointed with the
Supreme Court decision.
"I think the decision of the 9th Circuit was correct, and I'm looking
forward to convincing the Supreme Court of that," Rivkind said.
The state Attorney General's office has 45 days to file papers with the
court, she said.
State Deputy Attorney General Patrick Whalen said prosecutors are looking
forward to bringing the case before the high court.
"It gives us another opportunity to reverse the 9th circuit's decision,"
The case is Brown v. Sanders, 04-980.
(source: Associated Press)
Lawmakers say votes are not there to end death penalty
A bill that would abolish Connecticut's death penalty weeks before the
state's 1st execution in 45 years has no chance of surviving a vote
Wednesday in the state House, supporters acknowledged Monday.
The bill, which was approved Monday by the Appropriations Committee on a
28-21 vote, would replace the death sentence with life in prison without
Its passage would halt the execution of serial killer Michael Ross, who is
scheduled to die by lethal injection on May 11.
Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee
and a death penalty opponent, said early vote counts indicate there are
only about 50 to 55 votes in the 151-member House for outlawing
Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell has said she would veto any bill that
abolishes the death penalty. That would mean the opponents would have to
muster a 2-3 majority in both the House and Senate to override Rell's
The bill's supporters take solace that it has made it this far. Previous
legislation to abolish the death penalty has died in committee.
"Legislators actually want this vote to be heard," Harrison said. "For the
1st time, this is a real serious discussion."
If the death penalty is abolished, Ross and the 6 other men on death row
will have their sentences commuted to life in prison without the chance
According to the legislature's nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, that
would save the state at least $1 million. Preperations for Ross' execution
have already cost the state over $292,00. The state's Division of Public
Defender Services spends about $1 million each year to defend people who
face possible execution.
OFA said the state could also save some money by moving the men on death
row to other maximum security prisons. It costs about $66,000 a year to
house an inmate at Northern Correctional Institution because of the
additional staff assigned to handle problem prisoners. It costs about
$35,000 at other prisons.
Death penalty opponents demand rules from parole board
The state Board of Pardons and Parole should create regulations before New
England's first execution in 45 years is carried out, death penalty
opponents told a judge Monday.
Members of the Missionary Society of Connecticut want the board to, among
other things, govern how Connecticut will allow condemned inmates to waive
their rights to appeal death sentences. The board was created by the
General Assembly last year and met in October for the 1st time.
Serial killer Michael Ross, who said he will forgo further appeals, is
scheduled to die by injection May 11. His would be the 1st execution in
New England since 1960.
"We expect our government to obey the law," said society lawyer James
Wade. "The law says the Board of Pardons and Parole is required to adopt
"If you're going to kill people, you've got to set up regulations," Wade
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal argued that policies are in place and
that the Missionary Society, an arm of the Connecticut Conference of the
United Church of Christ, has no legal standing to intervene in the Ross
"Mr. Wade's argument is very novel," Blumenthal told Superior Court Judge
Robert E. Beach Jr.
Ross is on death row for the murders of four young women in eastern
Connecticut in the early 1980s. His arrest in 1984 ended a three-year
spree of attacks that stretched from Connecticut to New York, North
Carolina, Illinois and Ohio. He raped most of his victims, and killed 8 of
them, 6 in Connecticut.
Monday's arguments were similar to arguments Wade and Blumenthal had
before the state Supreme Court in January, when Ross was scheduled to die.
The execution was postponed after a federal judge threatened the law
license of Ross' attorney, T.R. Paulding, if Ross died without adequate
In February, a state judge appointed a special counsel to investigate
claims that Ross is mentally incompetent to call off his appeals.
Ross was not present in court on Monday, though Paulding observed the
"He's really not interested in this," Paulding said. "He's not
particularly interested in what the policies may or may not be."
Blumenthal said Wade's arguments could slow or even halt Ross' execution,
which he said was imposed through lawful procedures.
Wade said he was not seeking to halt the legal proceedings involving Ross.
"We're not trying to stop a process," he said. "We're trying to start a
(source for both: Associated Press)
U.S. Supreme Court rejects death penalty appeal by Alley
The U-S Supreme Court today refused to hear the case of a Tennessee death
row inmate who has exhausted most of his appeals.
The court didn't comment in rejecting the case of Sedley Alley.
He was sentenced to die for the 1985 brutal rape and murder of 19-year-old
Marine Lance Corporal Suzanne M. Collins at the Millington Naval Air
Station outside Memphis.
He was scheduled to be executed in June but received a stay from a federal
judge in Memphis to await a federal appeals court ruling in another case.
The Tennessee Supreme Court declined in January to set a new execution
date for Alley because his appeal was still pending in federal courts.
(source: Associated Press)
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)
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