[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----GA., CONN., PENN., IND., VA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Mar 30 10:17:16 CST 2005
DA possibly will push for death penalty----Pendergrass officer slain
The Jackson County District Attorney could file a notice to seek the death
penalty as early as today against the prime suspect in the Dec. 29
shooting death of a Pendergrass police officer.
And, a second suspect arrested in the shooting death of officer Chris Ruse
will testify against 27-year-old Richard Alexander Whitaker, who faces
three counts of murder in the gunning down of officer Chris Ruse, Jackson
County District Attorney Tim Madison said Tuesday.
Madison, who said he planned to file notices today in Whitaker's case,
would not specifically say whether he would file a death penalty notice. A
Jackson County grand jury indicted Whitaker earlier this month on 17
counts, including 3 murder charges, in Ruse's death.
18-year-old Nolan Leon Chauvin IV of Dacula, who is expected to testify
against Whitaker, pleaded guilty Friday to lesser charges of conspiracy to
commit a burglary, possession of tools for the commission of a crime and
possession of a sawed-off shotgun, according to court records. Chauvin,
who was arrested on aggravated assault and felony murder charges in Ruse's
death, will not be sentenced until after Whitaker's trial, Madison said.
"This seemed to be the fairest way to handle the case and make sure the
person responsible was held fully accountable," Madison said Tuesday of
"He is expected to testify fully and truthfully" against Whitaker, Madison
said. "That is part of the plea."
Whitaker and Chauvin were driving to commit a burglary at an unspecified
location on the night of Ruse's murder, according to court records. The 2
possessed guns and burglary tools, according to two indictments.
Around 8 p.m. on Dec. 29, Ruse tried to pull over their white 1998 GMC
Sierra pickup driving north on U.S. Highway 129 in Pendergrass, according
to authorities. When it did not stop, Ruse pursued the truck, and in
nearby Talmo, the truck overturned.
Ruse was shot and killed as he approached the wreck, authorities
For his convictions, Chauvin will be sentenced to 20 years in prison,
Madison said Tuesday.
(source: Athens Banner-Herald)
Death penalty debate likely, but not passage of its repeal
State House lawmakers appeared ready to stage a debate today on the death
penalty even though the most ardent advocates of its repeal admit they
don't have the votes to win.
"We all know the votes aren't there," said state House Speaker James A.
Amann, a Milford Democrat who opposes repeal but has promised to permit a
debate this year. "But we are going to move forward."
Amann, however, hedged a bit after meeting for more than 2 hours behind
closed doors Tuesday with members of the House Democratic majority. He
said he still had to check with 29 lawmakers who weren't at Tuesday's
caucus and that "there is a possibility" that the whole debate could be
A number of Democratic legislators questioned why the House should waste
hours on such an emotional issue if there was no chance of repeal being
Kim Harrison, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Conference, the United Church
of Christ, said she doubts there will be more than 50-54 votes in favor of
repeal in the 151-member House.
"I think we're unfortunately going to fall short of the magic number of 76
votes," said Harrison, whose organization is one of the most vocal critics
of the death penalty.
The push for a debate on repeal is being fueled by the scheduled May 11
execution of convicted serial murderer Michael Ross, who would become the
1st person put to death by the state of Connecticut in 45 years.
Harrison and pro-repeal lawmakers like state Reps. William R. Dyson, D-New
Haven, and Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, insisted that a debate on the
death penalty is important now even if repeal is rejected again.
"It's a life or death issue and we should debate it," said Harrison,
pointing out that public support for the death penalty has declined over
the years to just slightly more than 60 percent in recent polls. "Were
chipping away at it," she said.
"You go into a debate because an issue is worth debating," said Dyson,
"not because you expect to win every time."
Lawlor said he believes "the public kind of wants there to be a discussion
on this in the wake of the Michael Ross debacle in January."
Ross was originally scheduled to die by lethal injection on Jan. 26 but
his execution was repeatedly postponed as a result of last-minute legal
maneuvers and rulings. He is now undergoing another court-ordered
examination to see if he is competent to continue his rejection of further
(source: The Bristol Press)
2 exonerated Pa. men featured in new anti-death penalty book
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 two overturned death penalty convictions with ties to
Ray Krone, of Dover Township, 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 4 years
on Pennsylvania's death row for the murders of Bonnie Dryfuse, her 2 young
daughters and their cousin.
Kimbell got a second 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 second 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.
(source: Associated Press)
Death Row Inmate`s Case Goes to Appeals Court
The attorney for Bill Benefiel is seeking a stay of execution for his
Benefiel is scheduled to die by lethal injection in three weeks at the
state prison in Michigan City.
Attorney Alan Freedman argues that 2 cases before the US Supreme Court
could affect Benefiel's case.
Freedman is asking a federal appeals court to reconsider its previous
decision to reject Benefiel's claim.
Freedman said mistakes were made in jury instruction during the penalty
phase of the Benefiel's trial.
Benefiel, 49, was convicted for the 1987 torture-slaying of 19-year-old
(source: WTWO news)
Preventing wrongful convictions----It highlights mistaken identification
in nine of 11 Virginia cases
Mistaken eyewitness identification is the major reason innocent people
have been sent to prison in Virginia, a two-year study of 11 wrongful
Preventing such tragedies could be as simple as changing police procedures
or as expensive as improving the quality of legal help given poor people
in Virginia, which pays court-appointed lawyers the lowest fees in the
These findings and recommendations are included in a 134-page report to be
released today by the Innocence Commission for Virginia, a collaborative
effort of The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, the Administration of
Justice Program at George Mason University and The Constitution Project.
The 11 selected cases involved serious felonies that occurred since 1980.
Each innocent person was either pardoned or cleared by a court, or a
prosecutor conceded that the wrong person had been convicted.
The 11 spent a total of 118 years behind bars. In many cases, the true
perpetrators remained free when innocent people were sent to prison.
"This is as much about crime reduction as it is about how to protect the
innocent," said Jon B. Gould, George Mason University professor on the
commission's steering committee.
Gould and lawyer Donald P. Salzman, also on the commission's steering
committee, said the commission was making no statement on how many, if
any, innocent people remain in Virginia prisons.
9 of the 11 cases studied involved mistaken identification by victims or
other eyewitnesses, particularly when the eyewitness was of one race and
the alleged perpetrator of another.
"Suggestive," or otherwise poor, police procedures used in photo lineups
also played a part.
Many departments in the state still show eyewitnesses a spread of suspect
photos simultaneously, rather than one at a time. Studies have shown
eyewitnesses make fewer errors when shown photos one at a time.
The commission also was critical of what it called "tunnel vision" by
police when investigating a crime. In such cases, police might ignore
evidence pointing to a suspect other than the one they believe to be
Also cited was the failure of prosecutors to disclose to defense lawyers
evidence favorable to defendants. In some cases, the prosecutors were
unaware police had such material.
The commission made a series of recommendations it believes could
dramatically reduce the risk of wrongful convictions. Among them:
Videotape interrogations of all suspects in serious felony investigations.
Train law-enforcement officers to avoid "tunnel vision" when investigating
Pay lawyers representing indigent defendants enough to ensure effective
and adequate representation.
Allow those who pleaded guilty to petition the courts for a chance to
prove their innocence. At least 2 of the 11 wrongfully convicted men had
Have localities maintain an open-file policy in which prosecutors share
with the defense all the information that law enforcement and prosecutors
have collected, with the exception of information that could endanger
witnesses or jeopardize public safety. The innocence commission's concerns
were somewhat addressed in recent years when the Virginia General
Strongly encouraged police and sheriff's departments to show crime victims
and witnesses mug shots one at a time, or sequentially, instead of a group
of photographs at once.
Established an indigent defense commission to improve the quality of legal
representation given defendants too poor to afford their own lawyers.
Relaxed the state's draconian 21-day rule. Previously, any evidence of
innocence was prohibited from ever being heard in a state court if
discovered more than 21 days after sentencing. Now, DNA evidence is exempt
from that prohibition, and those who did not plead guilty to crimes have
one chance to introduce new, nonbiological evidence of innocence.
Stopped penalizing prisoners who seek a new appeal after their appeals
were tossed out because of lawyer error. Essentially, the Virginia Supreme
Court used to allow inmates just one civil challenge to their criminal
convictions, and asking for a belated appeal because of lawyer error used
that one chance.
Now, such an appeal does not count against the inmate. Commission members
said yesterday that while the changes are laudable, they do not go far
Lynchburg Commonwealth's Attorney William Petty, a member of the Virginia
State Crime Commission, said he has not read the report and could not
comment on it.
However, he said he already has an open-file policy at his office and
noted that other prosecutors in the state do as well. "In almost every
case, they can come by and look at my file. The thing that shocks me is I
have very few attorneys that take me up on that," he said.
Petty said some prosecutors do not share their files.
However, state law requires authorities to make known to the defense any
material favorable to the defendant concerning his or her innocence, or
that would help them during sentencing.
The prosecution must be informed of any alibi defense and any reports from
expert witnesses, and whether the accused plans to use an insanity
defense, Petty said.
Gould said that during this year, he hopes to meet with lawmakers, judges,
bar associations, law-enforcement officials and anyone who can help bring
"We are willing to meet with anyone who wants to talk with us," Gould
Steven D. Benjamin, a Richmond lawyer on the commission's advisory board,
pointed out that one of the 11, Jeffrey Cox, was driving to work in New
Kent County in 1990 when he was stopped and arrested for the abduction and
murder of a 63-year-old Richmond woman.
Cox, Benjamin said, wasn't exonerated until 2001. "It could be any one of
us," he warned.
(source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
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